Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh hells no.

Moral dilemma courtesy of Broadsheet: If this guy "founds" a way to deliver electric shocks over the internet, do I use it?

You're not a geek, dude. You're a business guy with a bit of technical savvy and a hell of a lot of lingering issues re women.

And this guy?

I have another point about how (mostly male) pubescent tech geeks suffered in moldy basements poring over tech manuals in their formative years, and now deserve all the celebrechauns and seed money being thrown at them. I'm trying to phrase it in a way that is not offensive to those of you who were spending these years attending parties and learning generally accepted social mores. Still working on it.

Total Perspective Vortex, stat. (Just as soon as I stop laughing at the idea that I spent my formative years attending parties and picking up social skills.)

Oh, and all y'all who say "well, there really are some women like that": the point, you has missed it. (You don't need a seminar to avoid superficial people, if that's what you want; you just need some fucking standards.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Useful Psychology

Victor Gijsbers at The Gaming Philosopher has an interesting discussion of the use of "psychology" (really, about varying responses based on simulated emotional states) in interactive fiction.

Voices of reason

A group of Stanford faculty got together and released this set of ten principles for using/discussing racial and ethnic categories:

Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity

Statement 2: We recognize that individuals of two different geographically defined human populations are more likely to differ at any given site in the genome than are two individuals of the same geographically defined population

Statement 3: We urge those who use genetic information to reconstruct an individual's geographic ancestry to present results within the broader context of an individual's overall ancestry

Statement 4: We recognize that racial and ethnic categories are created and maintained within sociopolitical contexts and have shifted in meaning over time

Statement 5: We caution against making the naive leap to a genetic explanation for group differences in complex traits, especially for human behavioral traits such as IQ scores, tendency towards violence, and degree of athleticism

Statement 6: We encourage all researchers who use racial or ethnic categories to describe how individual samples are assigned category labels, to explain why samples with such labels were included in the study, and to state whether the racial or ethnic categories are research variables

Statement 7: We discourage the use of race as a proxy for biological similarity and support efforts to minimize the use of the categories of race and ethnicity in clinical medicine, maintaining focus on the individual rather than the group

Statement 8: We encourage the funding of interdisciplinary study of human genetic variation that includes a broad range of experts in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences

Statement 9: We urge researchers, those working in media, and others engaged in the translation of research results to collaborate on efforts to avoid overstatement of the contribution of genetic variation to phenotypic variation

Statement 10: We recommend that the teaching of genetics include historical and social scientific information on past uses of science to promote racism as well as the potential impact of future policies; we encourage increased funding for the development of such teaching materials and programs for secondary and undergraduate education

Any of the scientists in the crowd wanna chime in?

I suspect that, to the degree which it's acknowledged at all, this will be dismissed as an intrusion of politics into science (like it wasn't there already) - I don't expect these sorts of things to stop any time soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

And that settles my 3d-gen console decision

Final Fantasy XIII will be released on the XBox 360.

(via Feminist Gamers.)

No Country for Solo Men

An interesting comment thread has cropped up on the LiveJournal polyamory community in response to an advertisement for "poly speed dating." The event (but, strangely enough, not the advertisement) had a caveat that "solo men who are only looking for women" are no longer permitted to register.

I'm of two minds about this sort of thing. On the one hand, while there may be a bit of indignation (since I'd likely be among the excluded group, and that rankles a bit even when it's an event on the other side of the country) I can see the reason for this; it's going to be a bad time for all if there's no attempt to balance the genders among the het-only folks (from what I can tell, the event isn't itself restricted to het dating; if that's the case, I'd love to see their algorithm).

On the other hand, a lot of these sorts of things wind up taking an overtone of commodifying women; the entry fee for men becomes "$12 and a woman." And in addition to being generally squicky, the people this brings in are not necessarily ones who are particularly interested in the exercise; it doesn't solve the problem if the het side of the speed-dating event is full of people who may not actually be interested in dating anyone.

I should acknowledge that closing admission once there's an imbalance is very different from closing admission from the outset. In the latter case, sometimes it may be based in a correct assumption that such an imbalance will occur, but the impression I get a lot of the time is that it's something like the highly patriarchal polygamous communities that routinely cast out men from the group to make sure that those men who remain don't have any "competition."

So what *is* the best way to handle this? In the long run, I think what's needed is to reform attitudes; I have a suspicion (totally unsubstantiated, of course) that if you took away the subset of men who are just looking for any way to get laid, and you added in the subset of women who would be interested except for those men or societal pressure, the numbers would be pretty well-balanced.

In the medium run, what's needed is to foster an attitude within the institution that everyone is an agent rather than a commodity.

In the short run, it's pretty much up to the organization, and it seems to break down into a classic utilitarianism problem - do you do what's immediately best for the most people (i.e., restrict solo het guys for the benefit of everyone else), or adopt an approach that leaves fewer people singled out (so to speak) but negatively impacts the event for a lot more?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unsafe at Any Page Length?

Anyone know what the deal is with these folks (found via Parenthetical)?

GuideStar lists an organization called "Citizens for Safe Libraries" as a 501(c)(3), but that organization is based in Utah while the contact info for is in New Jersey and Illinois, so I'm thinking they're different. (Which raises some ethical issues with having a link for donations, if it's going to some guy's bank account.)

Google suggests that, despite the representation on their website as a concerned citizens' group, this is largely one nutjob with an axe to grind, using the net to link up with a few other people to form a letter-writing campaign--pretty much the 21st century version of the folks who've gone around trying to get Judy Blume pulled from libraries for the last few decades. There seem to be a few other groups like this out there (Citizens of Positive Education, for example, which seems to be the same sort of group, only in Ohio).

What I'm really curious about is how these groups intersect with the other socially conservative forces - specifically, conservative Christian churches (not that religion is a prerequisite for this sort of thing, just that they tend to have a structure already in place for it). Sometimes this happens by way of religious organizations putting up a secular front to win wider support, but a lot of the time it's independent "grassroots" groups that all get their talking points from the same place. (Which I suppose is why Looking for Alaska is on so many hit lists.)

Am I being paranoid?

As for the larger issue itself... I have the privilege of largely avoiding the issue of age-based restrictions (or general restrictions made in the name of protecting the children), as law libraries don't typically have minors as patrons.

As a child, I read a lot of material that many folks would have probably considered inappropriate, largely because I read a lot of material and didn't limit myself (I first read Stranger in a Strange Land in middle school, though I didn't understand much of it at that time). Shyness saw to it that I wasn't seeking out Playboy or The Joy of Sex (or for that matter sex ed materials of the sort more often seen as age appropriate) at the library, but the librarians allowed me to check out the more "adult" materials I did ask about. I don't remember if there was any sort of parental control option available - the only time my folks took issue with my reading material was a particularly garish nonfiction book about medieval magic, which they asked me to not keep with the other library books in the living room where guests might see.

Of course, this sort of issue isn't usually framed in the best interest of the child - rather, it's assumed that the parents know the child's best interests better than the child (which perhaps explains why Stephen King's Carrie is so often challenged?). There's no distinction made between protecting children and controlling them.

If it were completely up to me, I'd have no age-based restrictions; if a minor has enough acumen to seek something out, they're welcome to it. (Such a policy doesn't mean that the library couldn't revoke the privilege of accessing some material if the patron is just going to snigger over a naughty word or nude illustration.)

I guess what it comes down to is that I have a hard time picturing these materials doing actual harm. (With the possible exception of Bridge To Terabithia. Assigning that to fourth graders was just sadistic.) Certainly I don't see the sorts of materials that commonly get challenged as harmful (probably because I don't count rebelliousness as "harmful", and because I don't believe that adolescents aren't interested in sex unless they read a Gossip Girl novel). Certainly it doesn't cause the sort of harm that's better remedied by censorship than by providing better information.

I know this isn't really tenable in the society I live in, so perhaps it's for the best that I'm looking to be part of a more specialized field.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kyle Payne

He presumably has similarly shaped chromosomes and similarly shaped bits. If you think that because of that, his crimes have anything to do with my feminism, I suggest you find other blogs to read.

(If you have no idea what I'm referring to, see these posts at Fetch Me My Axe and Renegade Evolution.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On "not getting it" or "getting it somewhere else"

There's a discussion at Pandagon about Dagmar Herzog's book Sex in Crisis that's taken some interesting turns, at least one of which I'm probably to blame for.

The one I've been arguing about started with the discussion of the expectation that, because for Christians sex within marriage is the only acceptable form of sex, wives as the gatekeepers of their husbands' sexual morality are required to be "available on demand." (Not much mention is made of the reverse; I'm not sure if this is because men are assumed to be always ready and willing or if women are assumed to not actually have libidos. Probably both.)

From there, "dwhite10701" argued that this was a case of conservative Christians taking a good idea too far, that while saying that a wife should be "a 24/7 tootsie" is incredibly creepy, of course any long-term relationship involves sex you or your partner don't want to have, because "if they don't get it at home they'll get it somewhere else."

And that creeped me the fuck out.

I'm pretty much zero-tolerance these days about cheating - "these days" being ever since actively identifying as poly, so there's probably some convert's zeal going on there. It also stems from having been cheated on. (On the other end of things, I'm not totally innocent, as I regarded a LDR as "open" without making that explicit, and it was mostly dumb luck that she did too.) Using a partner's lack of desire as an excuse to cheat instead of working to remedy the issue or ending the relationship is simply lazy and cowardly.

The discussion managed to move away from cheating and more toward what one should expect in a relationship. A lot of folks took up the position that of course in a committed, long-term relationship there are going to be times when you have sex you don't want to have, but it's okay because there'll also be times when your partner has sex they don't want to have.

And that, too, creeps me the fuck out.

Maybe I'm being naive. I've never been married; I've only had one long-term relationship that involved living together. But the idea that it's better to have bad sex (because let's face it, sex that one of the participants doesn't want to have isn't going to be good) than no sex just doesn't resonate with me. Not only is it going to be immediately suboptimal, but congratulations, you've just opened the door to doubt your partner's desire in all future encounters. That's really worth it? Seriously?

To be clear, what I'm talking about are situations when one person's genuinely not interested. Though I talk about this as a desirous/non-desirous binary, it's more of a continuum where most experience is between those two poles, somewhere in the realm of "I may not be actively desiring sex at the moment, but may be persuadable." Which is a perfectly fine place to be, provided "persuadable" doesn't turn into "are we there yet?"

Gender stereotypes hurt men too

Dave Hill has an article up at Comment Is Free about how feminism is a good thing for men as well as for women:

Men should embrace these principles too, not only for women's sake but also for their own. All else being equal, to be born male is to inherit legacies of entitlement that continue to outweigh those bestowed on those born female. Yet the state of maleness carries its own burden of expectations and constraints. Contemporary studies of boyhood shed light on what we've always known – what I still remember vividly from my own boyhood – about the disabling and limiting influence of male behaviour conventions, homophobia and general "gender policing" on men in the making and the huge anxieties that inform them.

All in all, it's a good article for a general-public audience.

The comments are fairly predictable and often infuriating. At first glance, it seems pretty evenly split between supporters and detractors, but that could change as more blogs link to the article.

The complaints mostly boil down to the following types of statements:
  • "This article was unnecessary."
  • "Women feminists don't care about the issues men face!"
  • "Feminism is about female supremacy, not equality!"
  • "Women (and, by extension, women feminists) want to pick and choose between patriarchy and feminism as benefits them most!"
  • "Feminists are trying to emasculate men."
  • "Women aren't attracted to feminist men."
  • "The strong, silent warrior/provider type isn't altogether a bad thing, so what's wrong with demanding all men fit that role?"
Additional discussion can be found at Feministing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The last P stands for property

Technorati's "feminism" feed brings the anti-feminist nutjobs out of the woodwork, including one calling himself "The Counter-Feminist" (not gonna directly link him; you can do a bit of searching if you really want), who posts an email from one of his supporters containing the following quotation:
According to modern sensibilities a woman's sexual favors are hers to bestow, whenever to whomever she so pleases. The idea of a womans sexuality as "property" is thus retained, only it becomes the EXCLUSIVE property of the female.
This is actually a technique I see quite often:
  1. Assert something that "they" say
  2. Point out some potential benefit to (some) women or harm to (some) men.
  3. Blame women and feminists interchangeably for that effect.
In this case, what's happening is that the quoted commenter is working within a "sex as property" idea, and then blaming feminism for the effects of that paradigm.

We see the technique again (with the faint glimmering of recognition that, maybe, this has something to do with the patriarchy/kyriarchy as well):
As might be expected, most of our society's judgmental attitudes toward male sexuality are not original to feminism though feminists have been more than happy to exploit them.
Of course, the ways in which feminists are said to "exploit" these attitudes are:
  1. Valuing girls' virginity more than boys' (which explains all those feminist-run "purity balls")
  2. Reserving "courtship, weddings, marriage, children" for women (and not, apparently, vice versa - it could just as easily be said that the attitude is to reserve women for courtship, weddings, marriage and children)
  3. Establishing relationships as an exchange of sex for other benefits (and again, not vice versa - there's apparently no power in being able to use economic clout to compel sex)
  4. Granting women a "protected and untouchable status" (because, as we all know, nothing says "top of the hierarchy" like "untouchable")
Now, with respect to the property argument, I can see what would on the surface be a very similar point made by some types of feminists: that the idea that sex is a "favor" for women to "bestow" (upon men, presumably) doesn't really provide for sexual agency, even if you vehemently affirm that it's *their* favor to bestow; it's still something that's done "to" rather than "with." It's the realm of "Just Say No Means No"; it's the argument-by-adhesiveness made by abstinence-only "sex educators" who liken sexuality to a lollipop or a strip of tape; it's the scarcity economics model where a "favor bestowed" is worth less the more people receive it. It also works as denial of agency because it sets up sex as something that is "bestowed" or "refused" as a reward or punishment, which is another way of saying that "I want to/don't want to" isn't a good enough reason.

The anti-feminists, on the other hand, argue (simultaneously, it seems) that "nobody really thinks of women, or of sex, as property" and "but women really embrace this idea of property, because gatekeeping is power." Because, after all, the problem with sexuality as power from this perspective is that it's power they don't feel they have. (It's such a burden on us men, having to hand out hot dickings to everyone who passes by.)

The difference, I think, can be highlighted by looking at the two groups' proposed solutions. The anti-feminist solution appears to be less to abandon the idea of sex as property and more to look at sexuality (women's, anyway) as a commons - something out of Brave New World, perhaps, where sex isn't property only because nobody ever says "no" to anyone else. (One of the fundamental attributes of property, after all, is that the owner can refuse to grant access to others.)

Most of the feminist solutions I've seen are to move from sex-as-property to something more like sex-as-performance - the idea isn't so much that the property model is bad because it divides humanity into sexual haves and have-nots, but that it's bad because commodification alienates people from their sexuality. (More on both those ideas at some later date - they've both been kicking around in my head for a while but aren't ready to post.)

The later part of the post just degenerates into the typical "patriarchy means an active conspiracy by men brought about by facially discriminatory laws, and anything else is just The Way The World Works, and no sense trying to change that," and is even less worth responding to than the rest of it.

Because consumer advocacy is for skinny people

Consumerist posts, without explanation or comment, The 10 Fattest States In the Country. Commenters who point out that this correlates heavily with the poorest states are drowned out by folks who just want to whine about having to see fat people out in public.