All posts filed under: Women

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 …

Why Are Rates of Mental Illness Soaring Among Young Women?

Young women today do better at school than boys, they are more likely to go on to university, take more of the top jobs and, at least until they are thirty, earn more than men. Yet women are clearly not celebrating. In Britain, research published last week shone a light on the state of the nation’s mental health. It revealed an alarming increase in the number of women aged 16 – 24 reported to be suffering from a mental health condition. This echoes the findings of similar research conducted in Australia and America. According to the latest statistics, almost 30% of young British women have a problem with their mental health. One in five suffer from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder; this compares to 12 per cent of men the same age. The number of young women screening positive for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has trebled to 12.6 per cent in just seven years. Almost 20 per cent of women aged 16 – 24 report self-harming. For once, headlines that shout about …

Women are Far More Anxious than Men — Here’s the Science

Anxiety disorders — defined by excessive fear, restlessness, and muscle tension – are debilitating, disabling, and can increase the risk for depression and suicide. They are some of the most common mental health conditions around the world, affecting around four out of every 100 people and costing the health care system and job employers over US$42 billion each year. People with anxiety are more likely to miss days from work and are less productive. Young people with anxiety are also less likely to enter school and complete it — translating into fewer life chances. Even though this evidence points to anxiety disorders as being important mental health issues, insufficient attention is being given to them by researchers, clinicians, and policy makers. Researchers and I at the University of Cambridge wanted to find out who is most affected by anxiety disorders. To do this, we conducted a systematic review of studies that reported on the proportion of people with anxiety in a variety of contexts around the world, and used rigorous methods to retain the highest quality studies. …

The Paradox of Female Happiness

Women are about 75 per cent more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression. Women are also about 60 per cent more likely to report an anxiety disorder. These sharp discrepancies observed by Oxford professor Daniel Freeman, were found in eight of 12 nations from which statistics were taken. They also support a study which found that women reported higher levels of happiness than men in the 1960s but that this gender gap has now reversed. Why the change? What does this mean when women are healthier, better educated, enjoy more economic freedom and more opportunities than we did 35 years ago? Since the 1960s it has become socially acceptable to leave unhappy marriages. The stigma that once existed around free expression of female sexuality has softened. Legislation is in place to protect women from sexual harassment. By many objective measures, women in the West have never been more liberated. For all of this improvement many women are unhappy. Freeman, a clinical psychologist, noticed a gap in the literature on sex differences in …