Thursday, April 17, 2014

Speed-Blogging on Purgatory Thursday, 2014: On CEO Pay, The Two Countries of the USA and The Plight of Black Girls

Purgatory Thursday is my translation of the Finnish name for this day in the Christian calendar (kiirastorstai).  I like the mouth feeling of the term.

What to read today, to go with the tone I set above?  How about executive compensations?

The Times reported that the median compensation for C.E.O.’s in 2013 was $13.9 million, a 9 percent increase from 2012. The Wall Street Journal, which did its own, smaller survey a few weeks earlier, described the 2013 pay increases as representing “moderate growth.”
Find out what the average growth rate in the US workers' wage packet is and then compare the two.  It's a lot better to be a CEO than the average worker, and the term "moderate growth" has a different meaning for the two groups.

Here's a fun picture of the executive compensations of non-profit leaders, separated by gender.  You can move your cursor over the dots and find out more about the people.  The blue dots are guys, the yellow dots are gals.

Talking of graphs and such, it's worth noting that the southern states in the US differ from the northern states along many social and economic variables.  These comparisons show a few of them.

The differences are partly due to history (and even earlier due to climate), but it's certainly worth asking how that pattern correlates with various states' political leanings.

Finally, do read this Salon post by Brittney Cooper about black girls.  She describes the impact of growing up in circumstances which may leave the same markings on children as growing up in war zones does and makes an important point about the societal invisibility of the suffering she describes:

What threads these women’s lives together is the collective lack of national care for their stories. Black women have been passing these narratives around the blogosphere and social media to each other, posting collective laments, and wondering if anyone else cares. These stories are not national news to anybody else, but they are national news to us.
We must do better.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the WSJDLive Sausage Fest

Where The Digital World Connects.  That's the blurb for the WSJDLive conference, to be held next October.  Want to learn more about the conference?

At WSJDLive, leaders from both established and emerging tech companies will explore the most compelling tech opportunities evolving around the world. Through dynamic on-stage interviews, intimate roundtables with experts on cutting-edge topics, and interactive events, WSJDLive participants will connect with peers in an environment of unparalleled discussion, debate and global discovery.

Want to learn even more?  Here are the speakers.  They show some racial and ethnic diversity and there's variations in eyeglasses and hair color.  On the other hand, all the speakers are men.

My Twitter feed has lots of funny stuff about that last bit.  But the problem is a bit deeper than just the Wall Street Journal's usual preference to have sausage fests (as some called this) or their blindness to the fact that they are having one, again, and the problem is that most of those men are CEOs.  Capitalists, if you wish.  And women are scarce among the CEOs.

This doesn't mean that I'm defending the speaker selection process, and it doesn't mean that the conference couldn't find any female CEOs with the relevant experience.  Neither does it mean that conferences focusing on CEOs are necessarily the best idea to talk about how the digital world connects.

But it's important to note that inequalities of various types are not just interpersonal or perception dilemmas, amenable to simple solutions, such as reminding conference builders of the importance not to have gender or race blinders attached to their eyeglass frames.  Those reminders are not useless (and can be important as a way of opening the initial gates), but as long as the underlying structural problems remain, we need to put more effort into solving those structural problems.

Put in a different way, the problem here is twofold:  First the absence of female speakers in the conference, and, second, the absence of women among the relevant group of CEOs.  To ask for just more female speakers doesn't fix the second part.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, Continuing Pregnancy Can Be A Crime For Users Of Illegal Drugs

Tennessee is going to make pregnancy into a potential criminal offense for women who are using illegal drugs:

The state legislature has passed a bill that would allow police to investigate drug-taking mothers if their unborn children are harmed by their addiction.
Tennessee may become the first state with a law that could criminally prosecute pregnant women if they harm their unborn children by taking illegal drugs. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and infants born with birth defects would be grounds for police investigation and charges that could put the mother behind bars for up to 15 years.
Last week, the proposed legislation to allow for criminal assault charges to be brought against drug-addicted pregnant women overwhelmingly passed the Tennessee Senate with bipartisan support after already sailing through the House. The bill states that “nothing shall preclude prosecution of a woman for an assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.”
Now think about that for a while.  What's the best thing* for a women addicted to illegal drugs to do should she get pregnant, if she wants to avoid the chance of such investigations?

Yup, you got it.  She should get an abortion.  But because all this comes from the same ideological roots as the desire to ban all abortions, the forced-birthers have turned themselves into pretzels:**

Weaver and the bill’s other supporters feel that the Safe Harbor Act did not go far enough in reducing rates of babies born with NAS or punishing pregnant drug abusers. “Here’s the double standard. If I hit a lady who’s pregnant and they’re both [mother and fetus] killed, that’s two counts of homicide. But a woman who is pregnant can stab herself in the stomach and hurt her baby and not be charged with anything,” says Weaver. “It [the Safe Harbor Act] made a woman who was pregnant above the law.”
Those "two counts of homicide" are because people who have Weaver's opinions supported laws which define the death of a fetus as a homicide.  So Weaver is arguing against herself, in a fashion.

All these initiatives come from the desire to define personhood as beginning from conception (as long as it's not in a test tube but in a uterus).  That defining personhood this way reduces the personhood of the person whose uterus it is doesn't matter.  Women addicted to illegal drugs are seen as criminals, women injecting themselves in their own stomachs are viewed as potential killers of the real person inside them, and women giving birth to a child with birth defects could then be put behind bars for up to fifteen years, even if the birth defects had nothing to do with any drug use, and even if imprisoning the mother that way could be in the worst interest of the child.
*Those who participate in drug treatment programs will not be charged, according to the bill.  But such treatments may not be available for all affected women, especially those in rural areas.
**NAS stands for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. As far as I can tell, its effects are temporary and treatable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Phyllis Schlafly on Hypergamy

I bet you never thought you'd read that combination of words in a title!  Phyllis Schlafly is an older version of the American conservative female anti-feminists, a type which has more recent examples many of the gals of the Independent Women's Forum.  Schlafly is well known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.  But she also deserves to be well known for preaching to other women about the importance of staying at home and not having a career while making that preaching into a nice career for herself.

Anyway, Schlafly has now opined on the question of the gender gap in earnings, and here's where things get very interesting.  She states:

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I’m not saying women won’t date or marry a lower-earning men, only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all. [...]
The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.

So delicious!  Never mind lesbian women or women who choose not to partner at all, never mind that the pay gap is much smaller in some other countries than in the US, and people still date and marry across the gender divide.  What Schlafly hints at here is the old conservative trade-off between marriage and independence:  Want to get educated and have a career, girl?  Then you will die alone except for those hundreds of cats.

This is a very common anti-feminist meme and it doesn't die even when evidence doesn't support it.

Next that hypergamy bit.  It's probably straight out of evolutionary psychology of a certain type.  The idea is that women "marry up" in terms of resources and that men "marry up" in terms of their female partners' looks, youth and overall fecundity.  This is assumed to be a hard-wired sex difference, created as an evolutionary adaptation during a time when prehistoric humans lived in small extended-kin based nomadic groups.  That nomadic tribes of that type are unlikely to be able to accumulate the kind of male resources the theory stipulates for the adaptation to be selected looks like a major problem to me.  The sexually attractive resources of anyone, whether male or female,  in such groups would most likely be embodied in health, youth and various food-acquisition skills.

The alternative theory is, obviously, that the tendency for women to "marry up" cannot be disentangled from the long history of laws, traditions and norms or from the history of women's lesser access to alternative ways of making a living than through marriage.  In short, hypergamy cannot simply be assumed to be some innate sex difference, as long as cultures organize the resource-accruing activities differently for men and women and when that organizing results in women earning less than men, on average. 

Indeed, if hypergamy is caused by societal rules about women and inheritance, women and paid work and what the proper gender roles should be (with emphasis on a division of labor which leaves women without independent sources of income), then Schlafly's own argument would contribute to it.  Was it taken seriously, that is, as a "simple but profound difference" between the sexes.

For more on how hypergamy looks to be changing when the genders are more equal, see my post here.
Added later:  Given the Ayaan Hirsi Ali honorary doctorate debate (see below), it might be fun for you to know that Phyllis Schlafly was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2008 by Washington University in Saint Louis.  The explanation for that award was:

In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly's views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold.[58]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Speed-Blogging Monday 4/14/14: On Scott Walker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and The Silence About Earnings

This is the Tax Day in the US and time for me to face how much money I lose by writing so much for nothing.  On the other hand, Uncle Sam won't get that money to pass it on to corporations in the way those subsides often work.  But you could send me money if you have any under the sofa cushions/pillows (or wait until my May fund drive).  (Why do I find begging so hard?)

First, on one of the nine Nazg├╗ls, the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker:

Amid reports that Wisconsin ranks 25th in the country in paying women as equally as men, Gov. Scott Walker is taking flak for repealing a state law that allowed workers to seek punitive damages for pay inequality and other discriminatory workplace practices.
The criticism was leveled at Walker on Equal Pay Day, April 8, the symbolic day when women’s earnings finally catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year.
Wisconsin passed an equal pay law under Democrats in 2009, allowing plaintiffs to sue in state court as well as federal court. Supporters argued the federal Equal Pay Act did not provide adequate financial compensation to aggrieved workers.
But Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2012 repealed the state equal pay law, leaving Wisconsin as one of only five states in the nation without one.

There's something about governor Walker which rubs my scales the wrong way.  If you think I'm just typically female in being overly emotional, have a look at the stuff he has managed to do in the past in that poor state.

Second, Brandeis University first offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary doctorate and then withdrew the offer.  You can guess the kinds of things this combination of events lends itself to, including accusations of liberal fascism and the culture of "shut-up"   and of course the Ross-Douthat interpretation of what's going on at Brandeis:

According to Douthat, Brandeis is trying to silence Ali, but to get to that point he has to conflate the Brandeis case with the Brendan Eich case at the Mozilla Foundation.  Because Ali was invited to come and speak at Brandeis, so she wasn't really silenced.  On the other hand, it's true that people who get their honorary doctorates first dangled in front of their faces and then snatched away publicly probably won't want to come and speak at the offending university.

I don't have anything interesting to say about the underlying dilemmas which could be discussed for the next hundred years.   Obviously, of course,  universities should study the backgrounds of people they are going to reward with honorary doctorates, given that honorary doctorates are about rewarding.

Third, why is it the customary rule in the US that salaries are secret?  Here's one answer to the question:  because firms require that secrecy.  Michelle Chen notes that the Paycheck Fairness Act (which Republicans suffocated at birth) would have made some salary information more visible:

The Paycheck Fairness Act would have shielded workers from retaliation if they discuss their salaries with coworkers. Employers would have had to “prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons,” according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. In addition, the bill would have closed disparities in the legal remedies available for violations of the Equal Pay Act, so workers could claim the same kinds of damages provided under other wage discrimination laws. And overall, workers would have had an easier time seeking compensation in federal court, rather than the bureaucracy of the National Labor Relations Board, which tends to yield weaker penalties.
The bill would also have directed the Labor Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to proactively gather data and investigate wage discrimination on a broader scale.

If you don't know what the guy in the next cubicle makes, you might not know that you are not being paid fairly (or that he isn't paid fairly).  So all this links to the ease with which a firm could be sued for race and/or gender discrimination, which is the reason why Republicans had to kill the act.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blog Housekeeping Questions And Other Adventures in Cooking

First blog housekeeping question:  Are you, my sweet (and possibly nonexistent) readers interested in the more granola-type dissection of news which are not exactly studies?  For instance, the new Pew survey about the rise of stay-at-home-mothers in the US from 2000 to 2012?  I have a long piece about it stored in my brain, but I'm not typing it out if it's not of interest to anyone else.

And a related question:  Are the longer posts readable or not?  Should I chop up stuff more or not do long-form writing at all?  I have two posts which would become very long, one on the question what is rape culture and the other one on the question of what feminists think about prostitution.  Both of these topics have been recently much debated in articles, books and on Twitter, but, as is the case usually, I first do long debates inside my skull and then people are onto other games.

Then the cooking adventures:  A beetroot loaf recipe came to me much praised, so I decided to try it last weekend.  The ingredient list called for three beetroots, to be grated.  I chose what I deemed to be medium sized ones, not knowing the weight which the recipe didn't state. 

After grating them, I had grated beetroot in all the bowls in the kitchen, I looked like someone who had just carried out a mass murder, and most surfaces in the kitchen were covered with red droplets.  The more serious problem was how to adjust the other ingredients, given that I just may have grated too many beets and given that I pretty obviously didn't have enough of the other ingredients.

For reasons not known to anyone, I decided not to discard any of the grated beets but just to stretch the rest of the recipe to three large beet loaves.

The result wasn't appetizing.  And beetroot loaves go bad really fast even inside the fridge.

This is probably a metaphor about life and the need for balance between work and family and such.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Body Hair And Gender

I was going to write a funny post about the spring fashion trends in armpit hair:  do you bleach it, curl it, braid it or do you just use it as a noose to kill all those men you so obviously hate if you have armpit hair.  That's because of the new Veet ads which tried to argue that not having armpit or leg hair is an innate female characteristic.  But Veet, the honorable rat, pulled the ads, which left me nothing to write about.

Why waste a good post?  Topics having to do with leg hair or armpit hair or shaving off all your pubic hair don't rank terribly high in feminist importance, certainly not compared to stories like this one or this one or even this one.  Still, it is good to understand how we decide what being a woman should look like in various cultures, and body hair enters those definitions in pretty significant ways.  The most common rule is that women should have long hair on their heads and long eyelashes.  The rest of their bodies should preferably be completely hairless (with the exception of lines for eyebrows).

The same rules implicitly define what it means to look like a man in those same cultures, though you cannot get the male conventions as simply reversals of the female rules.

Several things about such rules are worth pointing out:  

First, the societal conventions turn incredibly rapidly into the kind of rear-brain loathing reactions towards anyone who has violated the rules.  This makes people interpret them as natural, as something that has always been true and always will be true.

As an example, I have read several recent Internet comments where the idea of pubic hair on women is used as an insult and as something revolting and disgusting, yet adult women usually do grow pubic hair, just as adult men do.  Likewise, in the US the assumptions that men should have very short hair and that women should shave their legs are both quite recent when put into a historical concept.  But the power those expectations have or have had is out of proportion to their purely cultural nature.

And I think the reason for the strength of such feelings is that they help in making men and women look more different from each other.  They can be added to the list of things one can use to tell someone's gender, and once they are in that list they become identified with biological differences.

Second, what is odd about the way body hair is conflated with secondary sex characteristics is the fact that women and men can both grow armpit hair, that women and men can both grow leg hair and pubic hair.  In some sense the way women ought to look, as biological creatures, is not the way biology has built women!  And that must be fixed.

The usual explanation for that tendency is to exaggerate biological average sex differences.  While I agree that there's something to that theory, it doesn't explain the whole process.  For example, men naturally have quite a lot more facial hair than women.  Why don't we have enormous pressure (outside the group of Islamic fundamentalists) for men to grow luxuriant beards? * Why don't we have beard care creams and beard perms and beard decorations (little swords or baseball team logos?) 

I think cultures assign women most of the work of exaggerating of sex differences, from Victorian wasp waists to 1950s pushup bras to silicone breast implants and the need for Brazilian waxes.  Not all the work, but most of it.

Third, the reason why violating the rules is met with such revulsion by many is not only because they have been merged together with secondary sex differences but also because those violations are then seen as attempts to deny the existence of secondary sex differences and ultimately to fight against the existing gender roles and norms. 

Thus, the so-called feminazis who refuse to shave their armpits or legs are not viewed as biologically natural women (which would be the actual definition) but as not-real-women, because what that rear-brain in some people tells them is that these women are rejecting the social norms for womanhood altogether, and by doing that they are threatening the social norms for manhood, too.  It's an attack, my friends, on everything some hold dear!

It's good to be aware of all this because it teaches us about the cultural coding of gender.  At the same time, we don't have to take it too seriously in our own lives.  Shave if you like the idea.  Leave stripes if you wish!  The body hair will not beg you to live or scream when the razor cuts, and you could always save the cut-off bits for years until you have enough for a pair of nice woolen socks.
*Or bald heads.  That would work, too.  That men often fight against the arrival of baldness is probably not linked to the way we assign gender to people but to the desire to come across younger.  Both men and women spend effort and money on that.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Autism And Obese Fathers. Today's Research Popularization Critique.

A Norwegian study has found a statistically significant correlation between autism in children and their  fathers'  obesity:

A Pediatrics study finds the risk for autism spectrum disorder strongly associated with paternal obesity (that is, with a BMI of 30 or more).
Investigators examined the relationship in a Norwegian cohort of some 93,000 children, whose health was tracked in national databases. By the end of follow-up, at a mean age of 7 years, the odds ratio for autism spectrum disorder among children of obese fathers was 1.53, compared with those of normal-weight fathers. Maternal obesity was not significantly associated.
The authors express surprise at the findings, which suggest an unidentified genetic or epigenetic mechanism.
I would be a bit hesitant about interpreting the results at face value until they have been replicated in other studies.  The reason, oddly, is that very large sample of data (93,000) that they work with*.  Even though a larger sample is usually  better than a smaller sample, analyses which use very large samples can sometimes be too good a thing.  For instance, they can find differences which are tiny or unimportant in practical terms statistically significant, because (from the comments to the linked post by its author):

In short, it happens because a large sample size greatly increases the power of an analysis to detect a difference. And THAT occurs because the test statistic that determines statistical significance is based on a formula that, in effect, gets multiplied by a value based on the sample size (such as the square root of the sample size). So, assuming a given difference and a given standard deviation for the data, increasing the value of sample size (n) increases the test statistic and results in an increased likelihood of statistical significance. Therefore, a humongous sample size can "override" a difference of very small size, inflating the test statistic, and result in statistical significance, even though the difference is so small that it has no practical consequence.
Indeed, the head researcher warns us about taking the results as definitive, though he also seems to believe in a genetic or epigenetic explanation.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the tentative interpretation of what to do IF the results are meaningful in practical terms.  An example from Fox News site: