Friday, August 12, 2016

Sex and Sermons: Fundamentalists and Women's Sexuality. A Re-Posting.

Originally posted here.

A delicious topic:  How fundamentalist religions cope with sexuality in general and with women's sexuality in particular?

The short answer is that all fundamentalist religions frown upon non-reproductive sex, including homosexuality.  They also wish to  take the ownership of a woman's sexuality away from her and assign it to her parents or her husband.  The deeper answer is that those religions want control of all fertility.  Those goals require that women should not be able to control their own reproduction. 

At this point in my writing I feel a strong pull towards discussing how getting more people-in-the-pews or on prayer mats keeps religions powerful and large, how that works against the whole idea of contraception or even non-reproductive sex,  and how it ultimately means that women must be assigned the role of producing babies for the common good but not the role of determining how many or at what intervals.

This time I won't go there.  Instead, I want to look at that fascinating storm of emotions which are revealed when, say, an Islamist preacher argues that the world will end if the sexes are allowed to intermingle at work or in the public sphere.  Why will the world end?  Because such intermingling will cause people to copulate like bunny rabbits, on the streets, in the stores and on the roofs!  Marriage will collapse!  Nobody knows what man sired what child!  Chaos ensues!

See what a frightening and powerful force sexuality is to such a preacher?  It's almost as if the only thing which stops him from participating in such orgies is that women are segregated from men and properly covered up.  One frail wall of fabric is all that keeps the flood of erotic tornadoes at bay.

And the maintenance of that wall of fabric is the duty of women.  Indeed, while all fundamentalist religions want to appropriate women's sexual agency, none of them wish to take any responsibility for the sexual attraction between heterosexual men and women.  That task they see as belonging to women alone.

Men are viewed as sexually liable to stray** and women are to stop that straying.  Hence the solution to the imaginary storm of random sex the fundamentalists so fear is to make women behave better, to make women the goalkeepers in the game of pre-marital sex (where heterosexual men are expected to try to get the puck in the net and heterosexual women are expected to try to avoid that outcome), to tell women to avoid places where rape and other sexual assault might happen (as John Kasich has just suggested), to tell women to cover up so that the weak men will not fall into sin (did she wear a mini-skirt?  was her hair showing?)

Thus, although the fundamentalists want to control all sexuality and rule out homosexuality altogether, much of their focus is on the control of female sexuality.   Customs such as female genital mutilation (FGM) are to make women less sexual, more faithful wives, less likely to take lovers***. Female masturbation is the most pleasant of roads to hell and dildoes the homes of Satan.

And then there is the novel idea of sado-masochistic sex as a road to heaven for women, a form of religious female submission turned into the language of pronography [sic], this being one depiction of the kind of sexuality that is seen as acceptable among some believing women of fundamentalism.

When I put all this together (whether it belongs together or not), I get an explanation of women's sexuality inside various fundamentalist movements:

Women should not be active agents in sex, they should be active agents in stopping the kind of sex the fundamentalist fathers don't want them to experience, but otherwise their role should be passive and subject to the control of their kin. 

The incentives for women not to have "improper" sex consist of largely punishments.  The US anti-feminist right and the home-grown misogynists argue that sexually active unmarried women become soiled toilet paper, will never be able to have a happy marriage, will end up alone and weeping over their cats, whereas nothing much is written about the destiny of sexually active unmarried men, as long as their partners are female.  That's because men cannot become soiled toilet paper.

Other types of desired punishments abound.  Some pro-life activists seem to regard unplanned pregnancies as the proper punishment for "sluts" and the resulting children as an appropriate life sentence.  Those who don't want to subsidize "sluts" having sex in their health insurance policies when contraception is also covered never to howl out in despair about how other people's Viagra prescriptions amounts to exactly the same kind of subsidies.

The differences are driven by the deeply hidden assumption that it is women who are responsible for not having sex of the wrong type.  On the whole, very few restrictions in that field apply to heterosexual men's erotic life.

Finally,  consider this form of punishment for women who report a rape or a sexual assault at the Brigham Young University:

Students say Honor Code involvement means a victim who reports an assault faces possible punishment if she or he was breaking curfew, violating the dress code, using drugs or alcohol or engaging in consensual sexual contact — all banned by the code of conduct — before an attack.
In a statement, BYU said a student "will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault," and that its Honor Code proceedings are "independent and separate" from Title IX investigations.
But multiple BYU students investigated by the school's Honor Code Office disagree, saying they were scrutinized as a result of reporting a sex crime. In some cases described by past and current students, Honor Code investigations were launched even when the accused assailants were not BYU students — the alleged victim being the sole possible target.

This smells to me like a (much) milder version of the difficulties of proving rape under the sharia law****.  If a woman fails to make her case she can then be punished for adultery.  In both of these cases,  the specter of punishment for consensual sex serves to make women less likely to report rape or sexual assault.

*   From 2006, this story gives us the most explicit version of the belief:

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?
"The uncovered meat is the problem."
The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."
He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men.
"It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

** An extremely sexist assumption, by the way, amounting to assuming that men have no self-control at all or even need it.

***  FGM is a cultural practice but appropriated by religions:

No religion promotes or condones FGM. Still, more than half of girls and women in four out of 14 countries where data is available saw FGM as a religious requirement. And although FGM is often perceived as being connected to Islam, perhaps because it is practiced among many Muslim groups, not all Islamic groups practice FGM, and many non-Islamic groups do, including some Christians, Ethiopian Jews, and followers of certain traditional African religions.
It has been justified as follows:
Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.

**** For an extreme example, see Saudi Arabia's practice.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fractional Husbands. A Re-Posting.

This post* is from the imaginary series of what weird stuff Echidne's mind latched onto when it was supposed to do real work, and has to do with the way polygyny is traditionally defined:  One man with more than one wife, ranging from two to some very large number.

But suppose we flip that around, without changing the truth value of the definition at all:  One woman with a fraction of a husband, the size of the fraction depending on how many women have to share him.

Isn't that fun?  The first definition of polygyny sounds like a potentially good thing for the lucky husband**:  lots of sexual variation, lots of opportunity to make the wives compete with each other for attention, lots of power.

The second definition (mine) shows why polygyny may not be a good thing for any woman who would prefer at least one whole husband.

All that is simplified.  But the basic nature of polygyny is that the women are expected to share, and not only the one husband, but also his resources, including any inheritance he might one day leave behind.  And all the children must compete for the one man's attention.

Then there is the traditional division of power in polygyny:  The lion's share of it goes to the husband.  But even if that aspect was fixed the general sharing problem would remain.

*  First published here.  For something similar, in that we tend to view some topics from a biased angle, see this post on mail-order husbands.

**  But not for all those heterosexual men who won't find even one wife because someone else is taking more than one.  That's a real problem, given the fairly equal sex ratios at birth, at least in the absence of enough warfare to kill lots of men.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Letters from the Ant-Hill. A Re-Posting.

This was first posted in 2010, but its concerns:  about the lack of proper vacation time in the United States,  are still with us.  If anything, they might be stronger today, because any hope of collective action by American workers might be waning with the waning of unions.  By the way, I find it deeply ironic that the so-called "family values" party doesn't want families to spend time together.  That's visible in all the policies the Republicans oppose: parental leave, proper vacations and so on.

Have a look at this list of statutory minimum employment leaves by country and then check out the attached map. Don't forget to scroll all the way down to United States. 

Now, I'd call that minimum requirement of zero days (and even the U.S. averages of actual leave taken) cruel, especially during times like this when a job is hard to get and difficult to hold onto. Who would ask for leave, however necessary it might be for health reasons, for reasons of relaxation and refueling and for reasons of spending time with one's children, work on one's relationships (or one's house or that great American novel) and so on?

And let's not forget that the forty-hour week is really just a pleasant pretense, these days, in many industries and especially in white-collar jobs with any income attached to them. Sure, you can argue that those "choosing" such jobs are picking the money over the time. But then they cannot really convert that money into time for themselves before retirement. If even then.

Could this be the reason for the fierce consumerism I sometimes lament here? If you are never going to have any real time for living, expensive toys are a good substitute?

Connect the rest of the dots in this story, by remembering the lack of proper maternity leave here, and you might start to see why this scarcity of proper and socially sanctioned time-off not only hurts all workers but also almost sanctions the traditional gendered division of labor:

The Designated Worker Ant is expected to be busy working, almost all the time. The other necessary tasks must either fit into the dwindling number of hours left over after work or they must be picked up by someone else: kids, laundry, those broken and tangled emotional connection threads. The latter work is unpaid but necessary, and the rigid labor market expectations may say that they honor those obligations from the Full-Time Worker Ants but that's just talk. In reality they'd prefer the workers to be robots which can be turned on and never turned off and all "negotiating" (to be discussed later) starts from that position.

The usual outcome is that women, the traditional providers of all those unpaid services, will be more affected by the myth of the Designated Worker Ant. It is women who are more likely to work two shifts: one at paid work and one at home, it is women who are usually in charge of finding and monitoring paid child-care arrangements, it is women who are more likely than men to not become the Designated Sole Worker Ant in ant families which pick this solution but to either work fewer hours for money or not at all, and therefore it is women who fall off the ant career paths more often than men.

But being the Designated Worker Ant is not all good for anyone. People are not ants and workworkwork with a few expensive toys thrown in is not a good prescription for a happy life. Not even for men, though the culture has managed to cast that fate as a form of winning for men though not for women. What it is one wins remains a mystery, however, given the losses of close family relationships, mind-expanding hobbies and time to work on that great American novel or that old family chair with the broken leg.

Why am I writing on this topic again? Probably because I just came back from a very long vacation (not all of it spent vacationing, though), and realized how life-saving it has been, how very necessary, how crucial for making me love writing again. Without the vacation I wouldn't have realized how dry I had squeezed my Inner Lemon, how tired I was, how hard I had worked. Even goddesses who love their work get tired!

So what about the rest of us ants in this anthill? Surely the same opportunity should be available for all of us? We are not robots. Maybe that should be tattooed on every forehead in this country, right next to "we demand better working conditions"?

Yes, something that extreme might be necessary, because the opposite messages keep playing in the media all the time: We Must Work Harder To Win The Globalization Wars! The Chinese Charge Less! The Indians Will Take Your Job You Lazy Ant! Europe Cannot Survive Its Long Vacations And Its Great Laziness!

And even the hesitant little stories questioning these rigid work rules frame the plot with questions such as "Why Do Americans Want To Work So Hard?" As if they were given any choices about it! But note that reading several such stories even I started believing that it's just something about the water here that makes Americans eager not to have vacations. Just the way it is.

But of course the real answer is much simpler: No country got nice vacations by gently asking for them politely, in private negotiations between one worker and one firm. The firm would just laugh at an applicant stating that he or she wanted four weeks off every year, because another sucker could easily be found who wouldn't make that demand. And if I'm applying for a job as a janitor at IBM or the local university I cannot make any kinds of demands at all.

No, all those great vacation rules were achieved through political action and trade unions, and collective action is the only way to get the counterveiling power which makes the corporations agree to more humane working conditions in general. Globalization has increased the power of the corporations to fight such actions, true. But without a renewed collective effort both here at home and internationally those conditions will never improve. Indeed, they will probably get worse.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

For Your Toolkit 1.: Why HIre Any Men If Women Are Cheaper And Equally Productive Workers?

I'm offering you a hammer or a saw or a chisel in these toolkit posts, not to build furniture or a house with, but to equip you to argue with people who, say, don't believe in the existence of any gender gap (and/or racial gap) in wages.

This first post* in the series:

If you read the comments (yeah, I know) to this blog post about the Wal-Mart case, you will come across an old chestnut about sex discrimination in earnings. It goes like this:
If women were really as good workers as men but were paid less because of discrimination, why would Wal-Mart, or any other firm, hire men at all?
The implication is an obvious one: Wal-Mart does NOT discriminate against women. The reason women earn less is that they deserve less, being less capable workers. If this were not the case, wouldn't Wal-Mart just hire all women at those lower wages?

Or put in different terms, a firm run by someone who doesn't discriminate against women would use this information to hire an all-female labor force. Because women would cost less to employ for the same levels of productivity, that firm would have higher profits than the discriminating firms. Over time firms of the former kind would take over the industry, and -- presto! -- discrimination would die a natural and painless death.

This argument was initially made by Gary Becker, an economist, a very long time ago. It is not an uncommon argument from conservatives (or from certain types of anti-feminist sites.) That does not mean that it shouldn't be discussed. So let's do that by looking at what is unrealistic about the specific conclusions.

To do that, the model to begin with is Becker's basic model. He covered the concept of discrimination (whether based on race, gender or other group characteristics) as a dislike (or hatred) by either the owner/managers of the firm, by the co-workers or by the customers. AND he covered discrimination in an artificial model where all participants know all relevant information. That information includes the true productivity of every single worker.

Most of the time Becker treated the three possible discriminating identities separately.
Thus, in the first model only owner/managers have a dislike towards workers from a particular group. That, my friends, is the model from which the above conclusion comes, though even then it would only work to eradicate discrimination from the whole industry if the industry was essentially a competitive one. If the industry is not sufficiently competitive, the bigoted owner/managers can hang on and practice discrimination.

Did that read as rather dry? I can't think of a juicier way of telling the story, but basically Becker argues that if the only problem we have consists of some bigoted owner/managers, while everyone else is just so sweet, sufficiently well-lubricated markets can get rid of those nasty bigots, always assuming that everybody knows everything relevant about everyone else.

There are no misconceptions in the model. Even the bigoted owner/managers of a pizza parlor, say, know that Joe and Jane are equally good pizza-bakers. They just hate Jane and are willing to hire her only if they can get her for less money.

This cannot last if we can find at least non-bigoted nice owner/manager.

That's the background of the old chestnut. Becker, having become immersed in the imaginary world of his simple model, concluded that competitive industries would never exhibit any long-run sex or race discrimination. Only oligopolies or monopolies could survive with at least some bigoted owner/managers.

But what happens if we let not only the owner/manager dislike poor Jane,  but also the customers she serves?

Suppose that some customers storm out when Jane serves them but none do when Joe serves them. In what sense are the two still equally productive? Now Jane won't bring as much revenue to the firm, despite being an equally good pizza-baker. In fact, from the firm's point of view she is a worse employee than Joe, because she will contribute less to the firm's profit. And this has nothing to do with her baking ability.

The situation has changed, has it not? Even a sweet non-discriminating pizza parlor owner might have to get rid of Jane now. Even if her baking skills exactly equaled Joe's baking skills.

The point of this sub-model may be the fact that perfect information about a worker's productivity, a completely unrealistic concept, still wouldn't be sufficient to keep the discrimination against Jane separate from her ultimate productivity. Jane would end up either fired or earning less than Joe.

Which sorta cracks the chestnut, at least in service occupations.

The various Becker models can be played with to produce differing predictions. But they all suffer from that perfect information assumption. Information about people's actual productivity is not freely available. If it was, no firm would ever hire someone unsuitable or subject new workers to trial periods and such. Indeed, if everybody knew everything else life would be very different from how it actually is.

More realistic models allow for missing information about the true productivity of workers, at least in the short-run. What takes its place? One possibility is statistical discrimination.

Suppose that Jane has applied for a job, gotten an interview, and now walks into the firm's human resources office, clad in a neat suit, carefully made-up and carrying her resume. How will the representative of the firm on the other side of the desk assess her likely productivity?

One possibility is that the interviewer will use both the information in Jane's resume, the information produced in the interview and the interviewer's own ideas about how people who "look like" Jane have fared in the past. Or how that person regards them in general. That Jane is female is part of that information.

This might mean that the way the interviewer sees women in general could affect the way Jane is viewed. If the company has never hired women before, Jane presents it with a risk. If the interviewer doesn't think much of women's abilities in the advertised job opening, Jane may be rated lower than an equally qualified applicant who just happens to be called Joe.

More realistically, bigoted views about a certain group of workers can seldom be fully separated from their assessed productivity. Someone who dislikes Jane because of her gender will find fault with her pizzas, too. There are few jobs where the measurement of productivity is easily disentangled from the overall impression a worker gives someone. And it's the latter which often determines pay raises and promotions.

Which is a long way to say that firms mostly cannot tell the true productivity of their workers. It's bound up in the same tight bundle with all sorts of views, including possibly discriminatory ones, as well as personal likes and dislikes. A Wal-Mart manager who expects women to quit to have children will promote fewer women to management, not because she or he hates women but because of the use of the class "women" in the evaluation of all individuals in it.

And yet the basic Becker model doesn't even allow for such motives!

Neither does it include social norms. Social norms matter. A lot. Yet they are absent in that old chestnut, as well as in Becker's general work.

To see why they matter, suppose that in a certain society the social norm states that women should not supervise men at work. Suppose, also, that there are quite a lot of trained women in that society who could do the job of supervision, defined in the technical sense. Borrowing from Becker's world, wouldn't an owner/manager who doesn't care about this social norm have a great opportunity there? Just hire all these women for management jobs! They will work for less, given the lack of opportunities the social norm causes, right?

To make things really simple, suppose, finally, that there are enough male workers who don't mind a female supervisor and enough nice customers to patronize this firm. I have set up the whole thing so that great profits are an obvious conclusion.

Until the firebombs and the broken windows and the death-threats, perhaps, to make things lively. If the rest of the society cares enough about the upholding of this particular social norm, the fact that all the direct players don't care about it is irrelevant. The firm which violates the social norm will be punished. Perhaps not with violence but economic boycotts would work, too.

The point of this example is that well-lubricated markets and non-bigoted direct participants may not be enough to end discrimination against women or minorities.

This post has gotten very long, for which I apologize. I could have written even more about the problems of taking simple economic models for reality and the mistakes that causes. And on empirical findings which contradict the conclusions of the old chestnut. And so on.

* Originally from here.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Housekeeping Post

The next three weeks will see lots of re-posting on this blog, as well as stuff I have created for your enjoyment in the last two weeks.  I'm going to add fresh posts when/if I get the chance.  I wish you all a very good August!