All posts filed under: Women

It’s Time for Progressives to Protect Women Instead of Pronouns

On my way out of Edinburgh University last week, where I’d just delivered a speech on how feminists should resist male violence, I was attacked by a shrieking “transgender person” (to cite the term used in a Scotsman headline). Had it not been for the three burly security guards surrounding me, I would have been punched. I usually use female pronouns to refer to trans women, as a courtesy. But this is a courtesy I won’t extend to someone seeking to hurt me physically. This was a man—specifically, a misogynist who’d become notorious under the (since deleted) Twitter handle TownTattle. He was deeply offended that I’d been allowed to speak. That’s why he wanted to hurt me: for being a woman who opened her mouth. The event at which I’d appeared was called Women’s Sex-Based Rights. It focussed on the threat to women-only spaces and organizations posed by gender activists who seek to erase any legal distinction in regard to the treatment of male- and female-bodied individuals. In the run-up to the event, trans activists …

An Unhelpful Study about Women in Physics

An article promoted by the American Physical Society (APS, the world’s largest organization of physicists) has claimed a recent study shows that “Yes, Sexual Harassment Still Drives Women Out of Physics.” Unfortunately, the study does not ascertain the severity of the harassment, who engages in harassment, and whether harassment gets more or less severe as people advance in the field. Moreover, the conclusion that harassment drives women from physics contradicts publicly available data on the progression of women in physics careers. Harassment is a matter that we should take seriously, but we should act thoughtfully, and the study at hand does not provide enough evidence to justify alarm. The authors gauged the incidence of harassment by asking approximately 460 students to indicate “Never,” “Once,” “Twice,” or “More than twice” for the following survey items (text verbatim from the article, numbers added for convenience): While in a context associated with physics, someone… …made sexual remarks or told inappropriate jokes or stories …made comments of a sexual nature or tone about your body, appearance, or clothing, or …

The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning

In 208 AD, the Roman warrior emperor Septimus Severus arrived in Britain with 40,000 soldiers, intent on subduing the tribes inhabiting the northern part of the island. These tribes were part of the Caledonian confederacy, which occupied modern Scotland. But to the Romans, most everyone who lived outside the empire was a barbarian, full stop. So when Severus became frustrated by the Caledonians’ (sensible) refusal to submit to pitched battle, the emperor settled on another strategy, which we would now call genocide. In 210, he assigned the job of extermination to his son Caracalla, a mass-murdering lunatic who would later assassinate his own brother Geta in front of their mother. It likely was only Severus’ death in 211 that cut the operation short and saved Scotland from a complete holocaust. Caracalla always is listed by historians among the worst emperors of Roman history. But tellingly, his attempted annihilation of the Caledonians isn’t typically cited in the historical bill of particulars. In ancient Rome, genocide was seen as an acceptable military tactic if it was directed …

Rethinking Abortion Advocacy

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it “commentary,” however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest. In an effort to be part of the solution, I’d like to explain why I’m pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It’s painful to watch a movement use bad reasons …

The Abortion Issue Isn’t About ‘The Patriarchy’

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the most restrictive ban on abortion in the United States. The legislation bans all abortions—even in cases of rape and incest—with exceptions being offered only to pregnant women whose lives are in serious danger. Medical practitioners who perform abortions will be liable for felony charges, which carry a potential sentence of up to 99 years in prison. (Mothers will not be liable.) Alabama has gone even further than other states that recently have passed anti-abortion laws, since those laws ban the practice only after a heartbeat is detected—usually at six or eight weeks into a pregnancy. The Guardian’s headline on the Alabama story—These 25 Republicans—all white men—just voted to ban abortion in Alabama—channelled a dominant social-media meme by putting gender front and centre. Twitter and Facebook were rife with claims that Alabama’s bill, like other anti-abortion laws, was really all about men attacking women’s rights and bodily autonomy. Perhaps the most succinct articulation of this view goes back to 1971, when feminist Gloria Steinem famously claimed: …

A Girl’s Place in the World

Worth mentioning here is the way in which the boy’s plight differs from the girl’s in almost every known society. Whatever the arrangements in regard to descent or ownership of property…the prestige values always attach to the occupations of men. —Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 1935 It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obsession in history is that of man with woman’s body. —David D. Gilmore, Misogyny, 2001 In the volume Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin recounts meeting a woman who had undergone a male initiation among the Central Iatmul fisher-foragers of Papua New Guinea. One day years back, when the woman was a young, pre-pubescent girl visiting her mother’s village of Tigowi, she had climbed a Malay apple tree to get some fruit. At that moment, two men were blowing flutes in a fenced-off enclosure nearby and saw the girl in the tree. This was a serious matter, as the flutes were meant to be kept secret from the women and children, who were …

A Victory for Female Athletes Everywhere

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week upheld the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations governing eligibility for the women’s category in international elite athletics competition. In effect, CAS decided the question “who is a woman” for purposes of elite sport. And it ratified the IAAF’s preferred answer: A woman in sport is anyone whose legal identity is female—whether they personally identify as such or not—and who has testosterone (T) levels in the female range. That may seem like a mere technical ruling. But as I’ll explain in this article, the ramifications are profound for female athletics everywhere—a cause that has been central to my life and to the lives of millions of girls and women worldwide. The female range for testosterone is categorically different from the male range. In general, males have 10 to 30 times more T than females. Most females, including most elite female athletes, have T levels in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). For men, typical values are 10 to 35 nmol/L. The …

Lies, Damned Lies, and STEM Statistics

Concerns about the number of women in STEM are misplaced for three reasons. First, the definition of the “T” is STEM is narrow and arbitrary (a lie); second, the definition of the “S” in STEM is narrow, arbitrary, and flagrantly wrong (a damned lie); and, third, while the causal attribution of sexism to explain low numbers of women in STEM (narrowly defined) is undoubtedly true in particular cases, it is unconvincing as a general explanation of the relative low numbers of women in some broad fields of PhD study. Better explanations for these disparities are readily available. Victory for Women in US PhD Awards Nine Years Running In the US, women have earned more PhDs than men for the past nine years. The most recent figures are shown in Table 1. Based on the data, I have added a column labelled “Parity.” A broad field is classified as having parity if the female percentage figure is in the range 40-60. If the female percentage figure is greater than 60 it is classified as female majority. …

Schrödinger’s (Wo)Manhood

Much like Schrödinger’s unfortunate cat, which is simultaneously dead and alive, manhood and womanhood in our era are held to be simultaneously entirely in the brain and everywhere except the brain. In matters concerning gender equity in STEM, one must profess that the differences between men and women manifest solely in the pelvic and chest anatomy, not the brain. Consequently, if women constitute less than 50 percent of the people studying or working in a field, the only acceptable explanation is sexism, not a difference in the typical preferences of the two sexes. On the other hand, transgender activists maintain that the distinction between being a man or a woman is entirely in the mind, and a person’s reproductive anatomy is not what defines them as male or female. Whatever a person states about his or her gender identity reflects their authentic inner nature, and may not be challenged. Scholars who raise questions about transgender identity face not only criticism and counterarguments (fair game for anyone making a claim), but also demands that their published …

Glamourising the ‘Childfree Life’ Ignores Reality for Most Childless Women

Twenty-five years ago, I made the decision to marry the man I love. I was 23 when I packed up my life in Montreal and moved to New York City for him. I had yet to actually meet this man, but as I drove down the I-87 to my new home, I was confident that I was headed exactly where I always expected to be: in love, married, and a mother. And on my first job interview in New York City, I even inquired about maternity benefits. After all, I was expecting twin girls. To clarify, I wasn’t pregnant. But since I was 10-years-old, I imagined that one day, I’d have twin girls – despite no familial history of twins. But as the years in New York went by and I remained single, I eventually let go of that dream. I didn’t care if I had three boys. I just wanted to be a mother. Ultimately, I let go of that dream, too. I’m now 49, still single, and on the other side of hope …