Mar 102009

Because I cannot be arsed to read the news while there is work to be done, I find that a lot of what alerts my ‘blog-post dammit’ sensors comes from other blogs, and today is no exception. By David Davis (no, not that one) at the Libertarian Alliance, I was entirely brought up short by a singular piece of commentary:

And, to round off, what a load of feminazi crap from Rowenna Davis at the Grauniad, about the “bloke-o-sphere.” Thanks to “And there was me thinking” for hat-tipping me off to this fem***z* august woman journalist. Perhaps it’s that males are just more intellectually and literarily creative? We can’t fabricate babies, you lot have to do that for us (and yourselves, don’t forget that, ever): so we write more, and harder, and faster, and with more exquisitely crafted anger feeling instead. The pen is mightier than the p**** I guess.

Many eons ago (a couple of years in reality), I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the wonders of University Challenge, that exquisitely British quiz programme hosted by the even-more-exquisite Jeremy Paxman. During the course of several rounds of filming and, later, numerous Monday evenings spent shouting trivia at the television set in tandem with some of the brightest young minds in the country (‘Wadham-Harris!’), it became apparent to me that females made up rather less than 50% of the contestant pool. On our own team (of which I was not a member, lest you accuse me of delusions of grandeur), there was one female, who answered precisely two starters-for-ten in the entire course of the team’s progress. I remember asking my then-boyfriend, the captain of our team, why women were so under-represented in the competition.

To give him his due, he considered the question carefully rather than, a la David Davis, leaping to the defence with accusations of feminazism. Eventually, he said something along the lines of: ‘To be successful on University Challenge, one has to be aggressive and take risks. If you don’t know the answer, you have to come up with a plausible guess and run with it. Those tend to be male traits, I suppose.’

Much later, or perhaps it was around the same time, I asked him why it is that females, on average, perform much better in school, but males perform better at university. His response was similar: ‘When you think about the university examination system, you know that most of it consists of writing rather long essays in answer to rather vague questions. What achieves good marks doesn’t seem to be simple repetition of facts. Instead, errors of fact are overlooked if an answer is bold enough or has enough flair. Men, I suppose, tend to be rather bolder and more given to flashes of insight.’

My own experience as a teacher would seem to support his conclusions. When I taught history in the US (in a mixed school), my best students were male. Even when they misreported the circumstances of historical events, their essays often displayed a deeper understanding of the material and a more rigorous level of analysis than those of the females.

What does this mean for women in the blogosphere, then?

A quick survey of my own blogroll (which is rather more extensive than what you will find in the right-hand sidebar), reveals that there are two women on it: one, Megan McArdle, is an MBA who writes for the Atlantic, and the other is a feminist. This is not to say that I’m not aware of other female bloggers: David Davis tips his hat to one, Dennis often features another, and who hasn’t heard of the lovely Trixy? And yet those five women represent the sum total of my conversance with the female side of the interweb-commentariat. Of the two on my blogroll, I read Megan McArdle to keep up with the American libertarian world, and I read the feminist because she is angry and sweary and uses neologisms like ’empornulate.’

Rowenna Davis (no relation to David) says:

Second, it’s worrying because – like any forum – virtual spaces develop institutional cultures over time. The House of Commons building might be gender neutral, but fill its chambers with mainly men for hundreds of years and sexism begins to looks like part of the furniture. So too with cyberspace. Unlike parliament, the internet was not made exclusively for men, but mainstream political blogs are starting to become defined as such.

In such a context, it’s hard to stay true to yourself online. When editing LabourList, I felt the need to turn up the aggression, to be more cutting than I would like to be and less willing to compromise. Online, I felt a similar pressure that Thatcher may have felt in the Commons – the need to compensate for my femininity in a world dominated by aggressive masculinity.

Her choice of the words ‘aggression’ and ‘aggressive’ certainly hearkens back to my ex’s remarks and suggests that the blogosphere, like University Challenge and university exams, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice.

Rowenna Davis goes on:

But facing that world alongside other female bloggers gave me hope. I was lucky enough to have commentators like Sadie Smith tweeting alongside me, and blog-readers like Grace Fletcher-Hackwood questioning the male-dominated blogroll. While editing, I saw first-hand that – given a critical mass – the internet can work for women as well as against them.

But changing the content for one day is not enough. If women don’t keep up a lively presence online, the “blokeosphere” will rule. Ultimately, the internet is what we make it. This poses a challenge to mainstream political blogs – who have a responsibility to make space for female voices – and to women, who have a duty to fill them.

It’s rather heartening to know that ‘mainstream’ political blogs, of which I read precisely none according to what this woman’s definition probably is, suffer the same dearth of oestrogen as the libertarian blogs I frequent. Whilst I don’t support the idea that any internet community has ‘a responsibility to make space for female voices,’ I do agree that women, if they want their voices heard, need to enter the space and start making waves.

The delightful Tim Worstall mentioned a related problem recently when he ridiculed Mary Honeyball MEP for contradicting her own argument about gender quotas, and let’s be fair, the woman is a stupid ass:

It took all-women shortlists to raise the number of Labour women MPs to 27% of the parliamentary Labour party. Compare this with the Tories – who, incidentally, oppose quotas – of whom only 9% are female. Quotas do work, and I do not believe we will get significantly more women elected representatives without them.

Only 26% of MPs are female, meaning that Westminster does not have enough women for them to form a critical mass – estimated to be around 30% – where they can bring about changes.

Only by getting more women into parliament will some of the structural barriers that prevent more women from being elected be removed. Female MPs are role models who raise women’s and girls’ aspirations. Quotas are a short-term measure that will ensure long lasting democracy and equal representation.

Although women comprise, as is often cited, half of the population, women do not comprise half the population’s representatives. I don’t want to get into the issue of quotas, which are a silly idea in any situation (vide Tim, supra) and already discredited more than ably over at Musings on Liberty, but it’s interesting to see how Honeyball attacks democracy in the name of…democracy. Democracy is not only choosing for whom one wishes to vote, but choosing whether or not one wishes to stand for office. When more men than women wish to stand, and more people prefer to vote for men over women, that is democracy, however much it might offend the sensibilities of equality-seekers.

And why do we have this confluence of more men running and more people voting for men? Perhaps it is because politics, like University Challenge, university exams, and the blogosphere, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice. If a majority of men and women believe that women possess those traits in insufficient quantities, then women will neither stand for office nor receive votes.

The question, is seems to me, is: why are aggression and flair considered primarily masculine, rather than feminine, traits? We all know women who possess them, and we all know men who don’t. Are women employing these characteristics in other spheres of their lives? Is David Davis right in suggesting that women divert their strenuous efforts into the creation of babies?

I don’t know the answer. I know that I am not a person who is much given to flair. I am rarely loud. I do not craft my anger into exquisite, invective-filled blog posts, and other people’s pens are indeed mightier, as David Davis says, than my pussy. I am not aggressive. So maybe this blog is doomed to fail, I will never have a career in politics, and Gail Trimble truly is the man.

What I do know, however, is that whinging on about what women are entitled to, whether it be space in the great political debate, seats in Parliament, or exams tailored to fit their character traits, is a counter-productive waste of time. Women are entitled to be treated as human beings, with all attendant rights and liberties. No more, no less. And the more we focus on dragging down men to pull ourselves up, the more harm we do to our primary, legitimate, and above all imperative goal.

Mar 082009

Dennis, whilst ducking for metaphorical cover, accuses me in the comments of poor showing lately, and I must admit this is true. A backlog of tedious marking sapped most of my energy this week (although I did make a move into the GTD realm, which was oddly satisfying), the last of which was expended at a school charity event in which I competed for the three-legged race title with Mr Smug Git. (Yes, we won.)

As for the weekend, most of things that would have gotten my goat have been rather more ably ranted about by others, whose rage acts as a sort of catharsis, after the reading of which I feel like a boat that has passed through the rapids and now drifts lazily through shallow eddies: calm and purged of the evil humours, the recipient of successful emotional phlebotomy.

David Davis (no, not that one) at the Libertarian Alliance has flagged up a trio of AQA science GCSE papers, the questions on which make even me, with my liberal-arts mind, feel like a scientific genius. With my superior knowledge of the ins and outs of the public exam system in this day and age, I can reveal that after 12 March, the January 2009 papers will be available on the interwebs. I was fortunate enough to invigilate one of the biology papers, and thus I can provide a sneak preview of one or two of the questions therein:

Paper 1, Question 5 – Explain how agricultural activities are contributing to global warming.

Paper 2, Question 4 – Importing tomatoes may be more damaging to the environment than consuming tomatoes grown in Britain. Explain why.

I have it on good authority that even science teachers think this stuff is bollocks.

Next, Vindico has written an excellent post about Jade Goody as a bulwark against Marxism. She is indeed someone who has improved her circumstances in life, and without hypocrisy or the wibble that comes with following the state-prescribed Route Out of Poverty. Jade Goody is unapologetic and unashamed, and when people call her trashy, ugly, or unpleasant, a red haze of anger descends over my eyes. She is a human being – and no worse than most – and my regard for her includes empathetic horror, eye-watering pity, and the heart-wrenching fellow-feeling for a woman exactly my own age who is facing imminent non-existence. I cannot imagine anything worse, and I wouldn’t wish such an end on my worst enemy, let alone on a woman who has cleverly capitalised on the innate voyeurism of the British public to lift herself out of squalor and build herself and her children an enviable fortune.

Finally, the Devil levels blistering attacks upon, amongst others, Margot Wallstrom and Gordon Brown, essentially for their seeming inability to recognise that the realities inside their heads and outside them do not correspond. For all the fact that she is a woman herself, Margot has some damned funny ideas about women, and I object vociferously to her presumption to speak for us all. If I take what she says about women’s concerns at face value, I discover to my amazement that I am actually a man, caring nothing, as I do, for things like shared wealth and the preservation of the environment. She stands for all that I hate about the feminist movement: namely, this idea that women deserve some sort of special treatment to make up for the fact that they are women. Fuck that. If feminism has any legitimate goal, it should be that women are treated as human beings, with all of the attendant rights and liberties that any human being deserves. Continuing to differentiate us as a group and using that differentiation as an excuse to deprive other people of their rights and liberties is not only counter-productive, but insidiously evil.

Upon Gordon Brown’s delusions I shall not comment; the Devil has already done so, and with better invective than I could hope to produce.

On a different note, there is this theory tiptoeing around the blogosphere that the government wants us to riot this summer so that they can invoke the Civil Contingencies Act. There is some proof that the inflammatory baiting of our dear leaders is having an effect; I report a conversation witnessed on Facebook, of all places:

Status: John proposes a medieval-style riot in which we lynch the bankers (this must not, repeat not, turn into a pogrom).

Commenter: Hmph. That’s exactly what the government wants you to do.

John: By God, I’ve been programmed. I knew I should have worn the tin-foil hat. KILL THE BANKERS. KILL THE BANKERS. SPARE THE BUREAUCRATS (who do a difficult job in trying circumstances). I’m just a drone controlled by The Man. Tragic.

Yup – there’s the problem with all of us, right there: not enough love for the bureaucrats, who do a difficult job in trying circumstances. Send the love, y’all! They work their asses off, 10-4, four days a week, to fix the mess we’ve made. While you’re at it, why not pick your own bureaucrat to sponsor and send him (or, more likely, her) a nice fruit basket?


Feb 282009

Inspired by a conversation last night debating the merits and shortcomings of the feminist movement in general and the feminist lobby specifically, I’ve been toodling around these interwebs following further trains of thought and have come across an obscenity appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Forty years after liberated women felt able to say “no” to their partners’ demands for sex, they have been urged to say “yes” more often to keep their men happy.

Sex therapist and psychologist Bettina Arndt said different libidos were creating a generation of men who were “miserable, angry and really disappointed” that their need for sex was “being totally disregarded in their relationship”.

Up to this point, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Arndt, her research, and the poor men who expected to continue having sex with the women they got involved with. If my partner never seemed interested in sleeping with me, not only would I feel rather inferior as a lover, I’d quickly become hyper-receptive to other people who did seem interested. Fulfillment of sexual needs is one of the more attractive aspects of having, as they say, ‘a relationship.’ My partner would never expect me to remain with him if he weren’t fulfilling my emotional needs; a person’s attitude toward sexual needs should be no different. It’s no giant surprise, then, that men whose ‘need for sex’ is being ‘totally disregarded in their relationship’ are ‘miserable, angry, and really disappointed.’

However, there’s a simple solution: end the relationship.

But no! The task Arndt has taken upon herself, as a sex therapist, is to find a way to prevent this. Somehow it seems wrong to end a relationship because one partner is sexually dissatisfied; the emotional connection, the years and years of investment in one another, the fact that non-sexual attraction has not abated – surely these are worth preserving! In order to falsify sexual excitement in a relationship that has become platonic (at least on one side), somebody is going to have to perform some impressive mental and emotional contortion.

And I think we all know who that’s going to be.

First, however, we should have a look at some gory, anecdotal details.

Arndt has written a book based on the diaries of 98 couples, who kept records of their sex lives for periods from six to 12 months. The Sex Diaries, an excerpt of which appears in Good Weekend today, revealed women dreading bedtime and men hurting from rejection.

A woman, 54, from Hobart spent the first 10 years of her marriage fighting about sex, always nervous about an unwanted advance. “He’d be snoring loudly and I’d still lie there worrying that the hand was going to come creeping over.”

On the other hand, a 43-year-old Townsville man wrote: “I just feel so lonely. We get on really well, we don’t fight or argue, but when it comes to intimacy, or sex, she doesn’t want to know.”

Woman from Hobart: it’s not that she doesn’t like sex; it’s that she doesn’t want it when she doesn’t want it. What’s wrong with that? It’s not that I don’t like pizza; but I’m not going to force myself to eat it when I’m in the mood for curry.

Townsville man: your lady is, de facto, what I like to call a ‘friend.’ You know, the people you get on with really well but don’t have sex with. You’re not entitled to sex with the rest of your friends, are you?

Arndt said while giving women the right to say “no” to sex was an undisputed success of the women’s movement, “the female libido tends to be a fragile, easily distracted thing that gets buffeted by normal life and a couple can’t afford to have their intimacy reliant on that fragility”.

Yes, we all know that women had to be ‘given’ the right to say no, because although your right to control your body when it comes to slaving in the fields was recognised in the early nineteenth century, it wasn’t extended to slaving in the bedroom until much, much later.

Since this entire piece of cock-waffle appears to be based on anecdote, I shall now proffer my own. I was in a relationship once with a man who didn’t give me nearly enough sex. His libido was, like women’s, ‘a fragile, easily distracted thing that gets buffeted by normal life.’ Were I still in that relationship, I would have read this article with interest; after all, both my partner and I would have been grateful to know how to overcome his lack of desire for sex.

Arndt said low-libido partners, which are mostly women, needed to put sex on the “to-do list”, even if they didn’t feel like doing it.

“The notion that women have to want sex to enjoy it has been a really misguided idea that has caused havoc in relationships over the last 40 years.”

With the right approach from a loving partner, if women were willing to be receptive “and allow themselves to relax … they would enjoy it”, she said.

Ah, well. That low-libido partner and I would have been fucked, and not in the sense we wanted, by this article. Arndt’s solution won’t work with men, you see. Unlike women, men ‘have to want sex to enjoy it.’ Even more to the point, men have to be enjoying it to be doing it at all.

Women, on the other hand, have no such impediment. To violate their personal space is perfectly easy, and painless if you have a bit of lubricant. Never mind that they don’t want it and don’t enjoy it; they must lie back and think of the good their sacrifice will do their relationship.

The whole idea that mismatched libidos can, or ought to, be evened up in this way is disgusting and senseless. Women should not feel they have to hand over control of their bodies in order to stay in their relationships; men should not feel they have to stay an a relationship that doesn’t satisfy their needs.

And Arndt’s plan won’t work. I guarantee it. Because what these people really want is for their partners to want to have sex with them. And that can’t be falsified.

[H/T Twisty.]

Divison of labour?

 sexism: alive and well  Comments Off on Divison of labour?
Feb 102009

The amazing Megan McArdle links to a fascinating post by a university professor about the expectations of men and women regarding childcare roles. It looks at the heteronormative divison of labour in families and examines whether this is a product of the socialisation of women as carers.

The post is very anecdotal and not in any way actual proof of anything, but it relates closely to my remarks about the constraint of women according to their biology.

And some of the comments are…thought-provoking.

Feb 052009

Via that mine of information, Tim Worstall, this agony question in the Guardian: ‘Why wouldn’t my partner marry me?’

Tim highlights the questioner’s final, desperate enquiry (‘Why will a man sleep with a woman, when he won’t marry her or tell her he loves her?’) and wonders how any adult woman can ask that in all seriousness.

He’s right.

Genius-level IQ is hardly required to come to the conclusion that sex is quite different from love/marriage. For one thing, sex isn’t supposed to last the rest of your life. (Thank goodness; we’d never get anything done.) For another, love at least has never been a prerequisite for sex, nor, as in this case, a postrequisite. Generally, and contrary to popular feminine belief, if a man doesn’t tell a woman he loves her, it’s probably because he doesn’t. It’s not commitment-phobia; it’s not fear of emotional vulnerability. He’s just not in love. (This argument is true for marriage, too, I reckon.)

What the missive-writing woman really wants to know, I imagine, is ‘Why does this man want to spend years of his life cultivating a relationship with me if he doesn’t intend to formalise it?’

There are two really obvious answers to that. First, in this day and age, ‘formalising a relationship’ (i.e. getting married) is a religio-social and legal concept that has no actual bearing on how the participants feel about one another, as divorce rates show. If one is happy in the relationship and confident of the partner’s devotion and fidelity, what is the need for formal marriage?

And if one is not happy in the relationship, or confident in the partner’s devotion and fidelity, why the desire to marry to such a person in the first place?

(I’m aware that if you are particularly religious, or you wish to enjoy the fiscal protection marriage brings, that argument is irrelevant. Fair enough.)

A likely reason this poor woman’s boyfriend is in no great hurry to marry her is because he already enjoys the benefits of marriage without any of the hassle or responsibility. Another important fact that men fear, is that sex becomes “boring” for them once they’re married. Statistics show that a couple who is yet to get married tend to look for kinky things to try in bed, but once they’re past their honeymoon their sexual life starts to deteriorate. So if they’ve lived together; they traveled together; they probably shared their incomes; they obviously slept together. Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?

Feb 022009

This morning, having returned from my aborted trek to work through the barren waste that is Britain under four inches of precipitation, I switched on BBC Breakfast just in time to hear some (male) official-looking interviewee claiming that Britain’s children are the unhappiest in the developed world, and this is partly due to mothers who go out to work.

Just in time to save me from choking on my indignation, the female host of the program interjected, ‘But the survey still shows that more than three-quarters of British children say they are happy, doesn’t it?’

Cue relieved sigh.

Then, via Tim Worstall, I came across this melodramatic headline in the Telegraph: Female empowerment has caused family break-up, Church-backed report warns: ‘Female empowerment has contributed to the break-up of the traditional family, leaving a generation of children emotionally damaged, according to a controversial report on the state of British childhood.’

Oh, has it indeed? Let’s just see how, then, shall we? The article begins:

The study, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, criticises the parents of young children for spending long hours at work and relying on childminders.

It describes an increase in the number of mothers going back to work when their babies are less than a year old as a “massive” social change and cites the fact that women are now less dependent on their husbands as a cause of family break-up.

Pass over the fact that any study backed by the Ass-Hat is suspect for that very reason (the luxuriantly-be-eyebrowed hoon), and direct your attention instead to the suggestion that women’s attempt to escape from the slavery of their biological construction damages children. But, cannily, so far our intrepid reporter has not said anything objectionable; women going back to work after birthing is indeed a massive social change (or at least it was when it became commonplace about 35 years ago) and, indeed, women are now less dependent on their husbands (either because they have suddenly become humans with full personal agency, or because so many of them lack husbands that surviving without one became a necessary skill). How, though, is this a cause of family break-up?

“Compared with a century ago, two changes stand out: first, most women now work outside the home and have careers, as well as being mothers.

“Seventy per cent of mothers of nine-to-12-month-old babies now do some paid work, this compares with only 25 per cent 25 years ago – a massive change in the way of life.

“Meantime, the children are cared for by someone other than their parents.”

The comparison, then, is being made with conditions extant in roughly 1909 – an era when, indeed, women mostly remained in the home. However, if one is going to compare women’s lifestyle choices now to those prevalent in 1909, must not one also, for the sake of thoroughness if nothing else, compare the happiness-status of the children, too? I wonder how many of the shorties working twelve hours a day down the mines were free of ’emotional damage.’

There is also the fact that (a) economic conditions, even before this recession began, have more or less necessitated a two-income household for most families, and (b) women’s entry into the workforce in the middle of the twentieth century was also a necessity, at least for those countries whose economies were trashed by the Second World War.

And whilst doing their duty for king and country, women discovered that they liked working; staying at home all day looking after brats who can’t walk or talk is pretty goddamned dull.

They also dared to realise that having an income of their own liberated them from the virtual serfdom under which they had lived in their marriages. For some, whose husbands were abusive/philandering/financially incontinent, the shiny new possibility of leaving without facing starvation or returning to their fathers in disgrace must have appeared as an oasis in the desert.

Life is, therefore, better for children and better for women. Superseding that is going to require some pretty damning evidence. Do we get some?

The article goes on:

“As a result of increased break-up, a third of 16-year-olds in Britain now live apart from their biological father.”

Oh really? A third of 16-year-olds living apart from their biological fathers is not due to the fact that their biological fathers are feckless twits? That their mothers are intellectual dullards (how difficult is it to lay hands on a condom in a nation where all contraception is free?) who have no business spawning in the first place? That custody laws in this country are heavily biased in favour of the mother?

Are these not more serious fucking problems than the fact that Mum is out working while the brat is in school so that she can ensure there’s enough money at home to keep him nourished, clothed, and entertained?

And then, bizarrely:

[The report] will draw on a Unicef study published in 2007 which showed that children in Scandinavian countries appeared happier than their British counterparts despite similar levels of family separation.

So… in other places, family breakdown does not cause childhood misery. Anybody know how Scandinavian countries compare to Britain in features like paternal absenteeism, teen pregnancy, and nakedly partial custody laws? Some statistics would be nice, but I’m prepared to bet a red dime that Scandinavian countries have less of all three.

Finally, as per journalistic convention, we get a bit of opposition at the end of the piece:

Sue Palmer, the educationalist and author of the book Toxic Childhood, said…

…”Women moved to the workplace on men’s terms,” women’s work that had traditionally been done in the home had never been valued because it was free.

“That is how everybody forgot that rearing children is a time consuming and important project.

“The point that we have got to take for the future isn’t that we take women back to the kitchen sink but that we must value what they brought to the social mix in the past.”

How relieved women around Britain must feel to have such an incisive mind working so assiduously on their behalf!

Fuck me if she doesn’t miss the point by a country mile: female empowerment is not a significant cause of ’emotional damage’ in children (as this article shows, almost against its own will), but even if it were, women do not exist to make children happy. Women are human beings too; to fault them for the deterioration of British youthful contentment is to subordinate them, fully-grown individuals with personal agency, to children.