Belittling Accomplished Women

April 15, 2019 § 2 Comments

Earlier this month, the algorithm developed by Dr. Katie Bouman, who was a Harvard post-doc and is incoming Assistant Professor at California Institute of Technology, helped to verify a supermassive black hole inside a distant galaxy. The photograph of her when this image, the first of a black hole, was processed, went viral.

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Bouman acknowledged that the work was the result of a team effort, making it clear that this wasn’t only her accomplishment, on Facebook.

And then the belittling of Dr. Bouman began.  On-line trolls, who can’t seem to believe a woman could do this, attacked her.  It got so bad that even FoxNews noted this ridiculousness.

But perhaps even worse, the centre and left attempted to celebrate Dr. Bouman’s accomplishment, but did so in a belittling, embarrassing manner.  I saw tweets referring to her as ‘a little girl.’  Others commented on her looks.  But, perhaps the worst was from Occupy Democrats, a Facebook group.  Occupy Democrats were attempting to give Bouman credit, but, oy vey, did it fall short of the mark.

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This is a textbook example of how women are belittled.  First, she is DR. Katie Bouman. Second, she is a young woman, not a ‘young lady.’  I don’t think it’s necessary to get into the issues with the term ‘lady’ here.  She was indeed a grad student three years ago, but she was then a Harvard postdoc and now she is incoming Assistant Professor at Cal Tech.  She also did not single-handedly pull this off, something she was very quick to acknowledge, as noted above.  Finally, ‘Good job, Katie!’  Come on, man!  Good job, Dr. Bouman.

Thankfully, someone has addressed this, fixing up Occupy Democrats’ meme.

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But, you see, this is nothing new.  I have been teaching at the college and university level now for over two decades.  I am married to an academic.  I cannot tell you how often I have seen this kind of thing, the belittling of women.

Students oftentime cannot process that their female professors have PhDs, and thus either call them Ms., or, perhaps worse, by their first names (as in ‘Good Job, Katie!’).  Course evaluations include comments on the bodies of female professors.  But this gets magnified by male colleagues who just watch this happen and stay silent.  Studies show that female professors get lower evaluations from students than male colleagues.  Male colleagues also belittle their female colleagues, especially successful ones, most notably with patronizing language.  I’ve overhead colleagues debate which of their female colleagues they would want to see naked (it goes without saying I’ve heard this and worse about female students).

Ultimately, what the misogynist internet trolls and what Occupy Democrats did is infuriating.  And yet, oh so not surprising.  We need a better world.

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Jordan Peterson: Professional Bore

February 5, 2019 § Leave a comment

Jordan Peterson is a bore.  He appeals to the basest instincts of masculinity, believing that men are under attack in this world.  He also believes, fundamentally, that order is a masculine trait and chaos is a feminine one.  This reflects the age-old misogyny of Christian thought in the West that said that reason was masculine and nature feminine.  One is ordered and disciplined, one is chaotic.

Peterson stepped off the deep end a long time ago. Peterson rose to fame in Canada a few years back in opposition to Bill C-16, which gives legal protection to transgender people.  As the CBC notes, it added the term ‘gender identity or expression’ to three parts of Canadian law: 1) The Charter of Rights and Freedoms; 2) The Criminal Code, in those parts that deal with hate crimes; 3) that part of the Criminal Code that deals with sentencing for hate crimes.  Peterson was appalled, arguing wrongly that this would criminalize the failure to use an individual’s preferred pronouns.  He himselfrejects the idea of non-binary gender identity (indeed, this became the rallying cry of the right in both Canada and the US, where Peterson warned Americans that this was coming for them in an article in The Hill).  But he went further, as he is wont do, claiming that Bill C-16 was an attack on freedom of speech in Canada, the greatest such attack, as a matter of fact.  And so he joined the conservative hysteria that we were all going to be jailed for not using the proper pronouns.  He also received a letter of warning from the University of Toronto, where he teaches, informing him that he must accord to people’s wishes wth their preferred pronouns.

Coupled with this misogyny is a subtle form of racism.  Peterson thinks that white privilege simply doesn’t exist.  He has, to be fair, clearly and loudly rejected white supremacy and prefers his followers to do so as well.  But, frankly, you cannot claim there is no such thing as white privilege and not be racist.  The idea of white privilege is meant to point out that we live in a culture dominated by white people and those who are not white have a more difficult time in getting ahead (I wrote about this here).

But back to the misogyny.  Beyond Peterson’s claim that order is masculine and chaos feminine, Peterson has concluded the problem is feminism, as it seeks to level inequalities, which he argues are simply the way things have always been.

Peterson favours what he calls ‘enforced monogamy.’  In the wake of the terrorist attack in Toronto last spring, in which an ‘incel’ drove his truck into a crowd, killing at least 10, Peterson told the New York Times that male violence toward women happens because they are involuntarily celibate (hence the term ‘incel’).  He said of the killer, “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him.  The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”  He goes on:

“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”

I laugh, because it is absurd.

“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”

That, my friends, is sexist.  Plain and simple.  Peterson’s idea of ‘enforced monogamy’ is meant to help men, and therefore it would be coercive to women.

He goes on.  He read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and concluded that:

it’s so whiny, it’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ’50s ensconced in their comfortable secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity. It’s like, Jesus get a hobby. For Christ’s sake.

In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he argues that ‘healthy women’ want men who are better than them, men who are smarter than they are, who will dominate them, and control them through status.  ‘Healthy women’ want to be dominated.

Peterson’s ultimate problem is he believes that there is such a thing as a natural hierarchy in the social world and he believes that these hierarchies are essentially god-given and therefore right and natural.  He thinks gender equality overthrows this natural order, as Kate Manne makes clear in a discussion of 12 Rules. Manne defines misogyny as a desire to control women (which she differentiates from a hatred or fear of women in the heart of men).  And, to return to Peterson’s argument about ‘healthy women’ wanting to be dominated, well, that is misogyny.

At any rate, Peterson was in Canada’s lesser-known and read national newspaper, The National Post, last week ranting about the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines for treating men and boys.  This is the first time the APA has issued guidelines for treating men and, of course, you’re noting right now that psychology cut its teeth normalizing the behaviour of (white) men.  But these guidelines are focused on the pratfalls of masculinity in the early 21st century and, to a degree, toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity is the form of masculinity that is vicious, violent, and generally dangerous for all, including its practitioners.  I grew up in a milieu of toxic masculinity.  It means alcoholism, drug addiction and violence directed towards those weaker.  This is not what masculinity is supposed to be, it is not how men are supposed to act in society.

So back to Peterson’s fit in The National Post.  Peterson argues that the APA’s guidelines are ‘an all-out assault on masculinity — or, to put it even more bluntly, on men.’  Indeed, men, gather your guns, we’re under attack!!!

He then goes on a rant denying scientific consensus about masculinity and gender roles.  And then complains about what he sees as a war on traditional masculine roles and behaviours.  Except, the thing is? No one really questions that part of masculinity.  We question the assoholic behaviour of men and Peterson denies that being an asshole is damaging to men.  The evidence, which he ignores, suggests otherwise, of course.

Next, he postulates about violence and notes that boys are indeed more likely to be violent than girls.  He then does what he accuses the authors of the APA guidelines of doing: citing himself to prove his point.  His point appears to be that violence is not a learned behaviour, but an innate one.  But then he also notes that the boys who grow up to be violent come from fatherless families.  He also claims that the experts have all agreed on this.  I’m not a psychologist, but even a cursory glance at the literature suggests otherwise.  But why would Peterson let facts get in the way of a good argument?

But all of this is just a precursor to another of his favourite flogging horses: the idea that there is a war on Western society, that Western civilization is apparently seen ‘as an oppressive patriarchy: unfairly male-dominated, violent, racist, sexist, homo-, Islamo- and trans-phobic — and as uniquely reprehensible in all those regards.’ Oh brother.  Here we go again.  (This, of course, is why he denies white privilege exists, which, of course, is easy for a white, heterosexual, tenured male university professor at one of Canada’s élite universities).

This is lazy scholarship and rhetoric. In fact, his rhetoric crosses the line into hysteria and paranoia.  Bill C-16 was the ‘greatest attack’ on freedom of speech in Canadian history.  The APA has declared war on men.

This allows Peterson to claim that anything that he doesn’t like about the modern world is because we’re cannibalistic in the West, we like to eat our own.  It means that it is easy for him to blame the feminists and their fellow travellers.  He’s the intellectual equivalent of those pseudo-Christians in the US who complain about the ‘war on Christmas’ each each year and attack Starbucks for its holiday cups.

Peterson long ago stopped being an academic or even and intellectual or a thinker.  Instead, he is just an ideologue.  And a rather boring and predictable one at that.  But he’s made all the more dangerous because he is well-dressed and is a university professor and uses the instant credibility that brings to go on ideological rants, rather than engage in discussions about ideas.  And ultimately, that’s because Peterson has no more ideas.  And they are built on slippery and false logic.

This makes him boring and a bore.

The Date Rape Song

December 19, 2018 § 3 Comments

For roughly the past 25 years or so, I’ve referred to ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ as the date rape song.  The lyrics are creepy as all get out. And yes, I know the song was written in 1944.  And I know that the lyrics actually reflect pop culture in the 1940s, including jokes about drinks being spiked (with alcohol) and young men and women were not allowed the kind of freedom depicted in the lyrics in 1944.  And that the song was actually written by a married man so he and his wife could sing it at their housewarming party.    I get that.  But it’s not 1944, it’s 2018.

The lyrics of the song include the woman saying she ought to say no and the man complaining about his wounded pride; then she wonders what he put in her drink; and then she even says the ‘answer is no’, and he continues to badger her.  In 2018, this conjures up images of rape culture, of roofies, and continues the idea that it’s romantic to badger and harass a woman until she gives in.  And in the context of #MeToo, this shouldn’t be acceptable.  The fact it took us until now to figure this out is something else, of course.

I posted something along these lines on Facebook earlier this month (minus the historical context) when a series of radio stations in Canada decided to stop playing the song.  Personally, I see that as no major loss.  There are still countless Christmas songs we can listen to in 45,000 different versions until we want to pull our hair out.  The song kinda sucks anyway, I mean, aside from the rape-y feel to it.

And then the commentariat!  My feed lit up with my friends arguing against me.  I even got chastised for being a bad historian for failing to note the song is from the 1940s.  Over and over, the context of the song was explained to me.  But that’s the thing, this cuts both ways.  If we want to consider historical context for things, then let’s discuss Confederate War monuments.

Historical context is a real and important factor in debates about history and artefacts from the past.  And ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is an artefact.  Questions of historical context and artefacts are immediately loaded.  So, to take the example of the Confederate War monument, it does not belong in a public park, but on the grounds of a museum or inside the museum, where it can be historicized and explained, and put into its context.  That is possible and doable.  And it solves the problem of ‘erasing history,’ which gets pro-Confederates riled up.  But a song is not a monument.  A monument is not a a living artefact.  In the past couple of years, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ has been recorded by a wide variety of artists, from Cee-Lo to Trisha Yearwood.  So in addition to being an artefact, it’s a contemporary pop song.  And radio DJs can’t be expected to provide the historical context of the song, nor can we expect that in our Spotify and Apple Music playlists, or on our satellite stations on our TVs.

Something else was fascinating about my Facebook post and the blowback I got.  There was a very clear disconnect between the ‘likes’ and the comments.  The comments were all written by men, save for one woman, a good friend, who noted that she attempts to keep the context of the song in mind when playing it or when she hears it.  As for the likes, they were 90% women.

At the end of the day, I find the song creepy.  And have for a long time.  And while I don’t think the song should be banned (I’m generally not a fan of this kind of censorship, having grown up in the era of Tipper Gore’s PMRC).  But I am fine with radio stations refusing to play it.  That’s their choice.  We generally skip the song when it plays on random Christmas playlists or Apple Music Radio around here.  Life goes on.

But, perhaps due to what I do for a living, having spent much of the past 20+ years in classrooms with university students, I do see very clearly the effects of pop culture on the kids.  I see the effects of rape culture on both the men and women in my classes, I see the effects of misogyny, racism, classism, etc.  And I see that they (like I did at their age) take their cues from pop culture as a whole first, their education second (generally-speaking).

And it is in this sense that I see the problems with ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ all the more.

The Montréal Massacre

December 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

Twenty-nine years ago today, a violent misogynist marched into the École Polytechnique in Montréal, separated the men from the women and gunned down fourteen women.  Another fourteen were wounded.  He then killed himself.  In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.  He claimed that feminists attempted to play the advantages of being women whilst also seeking to claim advantages that belong to men.  He had a list of nineteen prominent women in Québec whom he considered to be feminists and whom he wished dead.

The Montréal Massacre shocked a nation.  I was sixteen and living at the other end of the country, in the suburbs of Vancouver.  This felt a little more real for me because I am from Montréal.  My mother, also a montréalaise, was ashen-faced and shocked watching the news, crying.  At school the next day at school, a Thursday, the shock was real and palpable.  Nearly all of us felt it.  Nearly all of us were sickened.  Some were crying in the hallways.  Some looked like zombies.  We talked about this incessantly.  We didn’t understand.  We didn’t understand such violent misogyny.

I remain shocked by this event even today.  What I didn’t know or understand about violent misogyny as a teenager I now do.  I am a professor myself and teach my students about misogyny.  And violent misogyny.  I often talk about the Montréal Massacre, even to American students.  In 1989 I was shocked by the irrational hatred of men towards women.  In 2018, I am still shocked, but more jaded, I know it’s there and and am not all that surprised when it plays out.

In 2017, my wife and I went to the Women’s March in Nashville, TN.  A lot of the older women protesting, the women of my mother’s generation, were carrying signs saying ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Still Protesting This Shit.’  They were right.  This is the same shit.

Every 6 December in Canada, we wring our hands and ask how and why did this happen?  But we haven’t done much to make it so that this cannot happen again.  In the United Staes, we have done even less to make women safe.  This is just immoral and wrong.

The worst part is that nearly all of us know the killer’s name.  I refuse to utter it, I refuse to use it.  To do so gives him infamy, it gives him something he does not deserve.  Instead, I am always saddened that we cannot recite the names of the dead.  Here is a list of the women he killed that day in 1989:

  • Genviève Bergeron, 21
  • Hélène Colgan, 23
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21
  • Maud Haviernick, 29
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewic, 31
  • Maryse Laganière, 25
  • Maryse Leclair, 23
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28
  • Michèle Richard, 21
  • Annie Saint-Arneault, 23
  • Annie Turcotte, 21

It saddens me to think that these fourteen women died because one immature little man decided they’d ruined his life by trying to gain an education.  The futures they didn’t get to have because of one violent misogynist with a gun depresses me.  And every 6 December, I stop and think about this.  I pay tribute to these women.  And I think about how I can make a difference in my own world to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Double Standards and False Equivalencies

October 12, 2017 § 1 Comment

Harvey Weinstein is disgusting.  At the very least, he is guilty of being a lecherous, disgusting man.  At the worst, he’s a rapist.  His defence of coming-of-age in the licentious 1960s and 70s is bullshit.  Many men came of age then, and they don’t commit sexual assault.  Nor is Weinstein alone, I’m sure.  As my friend Matthew Friedman noted, he is certainly not the only Hollywood mogul who used his power to bully young women into places they didn’t want to go, to use his power to sexually abuse them.  Think of the long-standing and endless jokes about casting couches and the like.  Weinstein just got caught. After 40 years.  In many ways, Weinstein is like the president, who, of course, boasted on tape for Access Hollywood, how he commits sexual assault.  As Marina Fung noted in the Huffington Post, the Weinstein tape is the sequel to the Trump tape.  And, of course, let us not forget last year’s scandal in Canada, where Jian Ghomeshi was accused of similar things as Weinstein and walked.  And then, of course, there is Bill Cosby.

Make no mistake, Weinstein, Trump, Ghomeshi, and Cosby are just the tip of the iceberg. And thus far, there have been no criminal consequences for any of these men.  Hell, Donald Trump was elected president.  Weinsten, Ghomeshi, and Cosby have lost their good reputations, so there’s that.  But that doesn’t really amount to much.

Republicans, of course, are having a field day with Weinstein, especially because he is such a huge donor to Democratic Party causes.  And he donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year (and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012, and John Kerry’s in 2004, and Al Gore’s in 2000, and Bill Clinton’s in 1992 and 1996, and so on).  A lot of conservatives are calling Hillary Clinton to account for Weinstein (and her husband, and Anthony Weiner).  And even some progressives are calling on her to account for Weinstein (and her husband and Anthony Weiner, and Donald Trump).

This is also bullshit.  It is also creating a false equivalence.  Hillary Clinton has nothing to account for when it comes to Weinstein, nor do Democrats in general.  What Weinstein did is downright reprehensible, as I’ve made clear.  But he is one (formerly powerful) man.  She has nothing to do with what he did.  Nor does she have anything to do with what Anthony Weiner did.

We can start with the hypocrisy of conservatives demanding Hillary Clinton account for Weiner when they refuse to for Donald Trump.  But we can go further.  Calling out Hillary Clinton is just further proof of the sexism and misogyny in our culture.  It is further proof of the way in which our culture (and I mean the totality of our culture, progressives, centrists, and conservatives) holds women to a double standard.

It is bad enough that Harvey Weinstein violated countless young women.  It is worse that our culture expects the female Democratic Party candidate for President in 2016 to account for this disgustingness.

The Perilous Territory of Roman Britain

August 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most fascinating things become the centre of public shitstorms.  For example, recently, a British conservative got all worked up into a later over a BBC cartoon for kids that appears to show a Roman family as African, as in black.  Chances are, this character was based on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the Roman Berber governor of the province of Britain from 139-42.  He was from what is now Algeria.  Mary Beard, Professor of Ancient Literature at Cambridge University and author of the Times Literary Supplement’s column/blog A Don’s Lifegot involved on the discussion on Twitter and noted the ethnic diversity of the Roman Empire in general, which is kind of obvious, given the geographic spread of said Empire.

And then, things got insane, as they do on Twitter.  Beard was attacked in the typical misogynist tones of social media. And then, NYU Professor of Risk Management, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, got involved and mocked Beard on Twitter.  Now Taleb is usually somewhat of a buffoon on Twitter, he seems to have fun with the platform. And there is nothing wrong with this.  But, he acted like a prat.

His response:

Then British journalist Nick Cohen got involved:

Ah, the fragility of the male ego.  But, here’s the thing, Beard did not go after his credentials.  She went after his knowledge-base and area of expertise.  Beard, of course, knows a thing or two about a thing or two about Rome.  Taleb, on the other hand, is a professor of risk management.  Apples and oranges.  But, male privilege means that one does not need to defer to greater expertise on the part of a female colleague.  This reminds me of the time that my wife, who was then writing a dissertation on Northern Ireland, was told by a male colleague that The Troubles were ended because of the Cranberries’ song, “Zombies,” as if the people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, suddenly realized that they were the zombies!

But Taleb was just a bore.  He became the cover Twitter misogynists used to attack Beard, not for her ideas or commentary.  No.  They commented on her body, her age, and so on.  And they denigrated her academic qualifications.  Commentators continually referred to Prof. or Dr. Taleb and to Ms. Beard.

This, I hate to say, is par for the course in academia and the wider world.  I cannot count the number of times I have seen or heard this in action, where my female colleagues are disrespected in this manner.  One reported that her course evaluations talked more about her body than her teaching efficacy.  Another reported that her looks seemed more important to her students than her knowledge.  The now largely disused site RateMyProf initially only allowed hot tamales to indicate the hotness of a professor for women.  Eventually, it was applied to men as well.

Women have to work harder to gain the respect of students.  I see this almost everyday at work.  And, frankly, this is bullshit.

The thing is, we’re taught to believe that we live in a time of progress, that things are getting better.  They’re not.  The simple economic measurement women’s wages as a percentage of men’s for equal work has barely changed in the past 30 years.  And then there’s social media.  Remember #Gamergate?  That’s one egregious example.  Beard’s story is another. But it happens every single day.

I don’t think this is getting better.  I think it’s getting worse.  And the same is true, in many ways of racism, homophobia, and the like.  Social media allows people to hide behind anonymity to be bullies.

We need to be better.  This cannot keep happening.  We need to do a better job of educating people, so that they’re not bullies.  And the thing is, I’m not sure that many of the people who act like this online actually recognize their real-world actions.  As in, it’s easy to call someone names on a computer screen, not seeing the actual impact of it.  There are, essentially, no consequences for the abuser in this world.  Thus, education.  We need to convince people that there are consequences of their on-line actions, just as there are consequences for their real-world actions.

Maybe then we can live in a world where women, amongst others, aren’t attacked on-line for the simple fact of their gender (or race, orientation, etc.).

 

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

December 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Today is the 27th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre.  On this morning, 6 December, in 1989, an armed gunman walked into the École Polytechnique, separated the men from the women, and shot 28 people, executing 14 female students.  Why? Because they were women and he felt that feminists had ruined his life.  As per usual, I refuse to name him.  He should be forgotten, he does not deserve infamy (he killed himself at the scene).  His suicide letter contained the names of 19 other Quebec feminists he wished to kill.

For Canadians of my generation, the Massacre was and remains deeply shocking.  It resonates. I remember where I was when I heard the news, I remember the shock I felt, and then the anger.  I grew up in a violent household, my mother the target of my step-father during drunken outbursts.  His violence appalled me.  All violence against women appalls me.  Deeply.

And here we are, 27 years on, and violence against women is still prevalent.  For this reason, name and remember the victims of the Massacre in Montreal 27 years ago, to honour them. May they continue to rest in peace:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21.
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21.
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29.
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25.
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23.
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28.
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21.
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20.
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31.

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