Jun 30 2009

Female geeks and nerds of the world UNITE!

This post is inspired by a really really good thread on the often fabulous MetaFilter about geek feminism. Its not often that you get intelligent, articulate and thoughtful threads on gender issues. They very quickly descend into aggressive defensiveness and apoplectic rage. A bit like….

Person M: oh here we go – playing the gender card. when u chicks gonna to get over it??? we re all equal now!!!! Stop MOANING.

Person F: Great, out come the MISOGINISTS! Yeah, try being a woman in AFGANISTAN – women r made to where burkas!!!!!!! and they cant even go out of their home!!!!

You also by and large get 3 Person Ms to every 1 Person F. You get the picture…

Can I first draw your attention to some fascinating links from the MeFi thread:
Nerds and Geeks – book reviews on Pandagon
Feminist Geeks
How People Explain Female Geeks – Geek Studies
Cerise – Female Gamers website

I don’t want to reiterate all that was said on the thread – it really is worth reading – but I just thought I’d show my solidarity with the female geeks and nerds out there (for I acknowledge the difference betwixt nerd and geek) and echo their frustrations with geek/nerd men. It boils down to this: we expect more from you.

Yes we live in a sexist world, a society that objectifies women and where the pay gap hangs on stubbornly. But sexism, as with racism, homophobia etc, is borne out of ignorance if not a concerted effort to maintain supremacy.

Nerds and geeks should therefore understand power dynamics and – after years of having your head shoved down toilets – you should understand bullying and marginalisation. You are intelligent, often leaders in your obscure nerdy field, you should be able to comprehend the concept that equality does not mean ‘the same’ and that there may be a theory that draws together gender stereotyping, the pay gap, the lack of rape convictions, the glass ceiling, and the way that what women wear has almost become an international crisis.

You are scientists (or at least you look like one) so you should be able to interrogate evidence rather than fall back on lazy stereotypes. There are women involved in opensource software, that know their Petri dish from their agar plate, know the difference between mode, mean and median, and watch songs about PCR on YouTube. AND IT DOESN’T MEAN THEY HAVE A ‘MALE BRAIN’.

But most of all, you must not believe that your special exclusive little subculture, which skilfully excludes all the jocks, the stupids, the popular kids and quacks, is immune from the machismo that excludes women and turns them off even more than your lack of personal hygiene.

As mentioned in the MeFi thread – rape jokes in WoW, soft porn images in software presentations and sexually violent anime are the same as titty calendars, sexually violent porn and rape jokes in the locker room. What makes it worse is that female geeks and nerds expect more from you.

This guy has the right idea…
*Disclaimer: contains massive geekiness and schmaltz. Apologies*

Jun 29 2009

More reasons not to be a Goddess

I got a response from Mark! (background to this here) Unfortunately, it has simply added to the barriers I have in being a Goddess. We can now add “I smoke cigars” to my list of unGoddesslike behaviours.

Hi Mark

I’m not sure that I meet your Goddess requirements by any measure, however, I am intrigued as to why you are doing this. Why are you being so specific about the kind of woman you are looking for and do you think having a ‘shopping list’ is the best way to go about it? These are genuine questions.

The main thing that I find troubling is your definition of ‘surrender’ and ‘control’. Taking surrender to mean “give up or agree to forgo to the power or possession of another” – doesn’t mean your control over a woman? If you have zero interest in wanting to control a woman then why have you defined the necessary length of her hair and size of her waist (no exceptions)? It is certain that you do not want an equal relationship but very much want to be the “powerful” one. There just seems to be a tiny bit of cognitive dissonance going on here.

Thanks for your time.



Hi Naomi,

Thank you for your response. I doubt if I can resolve to your satisfaction the “congnitive dissonance” you perceived, but I will make a brief attempt.

Your quoted definition of “surrender” is from the dictionary, and is NOT what I mean by that word… I am talking about spiritual “surrender,” which is the most EMPOWERING thing in the world. It means surrendering the ego and dissolving into God. Numerous women who have responded to my web site KNOW this and it is what they WANT in a relationship. See, e.g., the writings and videos of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar… he talks about this extensively.

As for my “shopping list” why do you narrowly point to the “hair” and “waistline” items on my list? Why not take issue with the fact that I seek a woman who is “believes in God”? Or that I seek a woman who “is extremely intelligent and creative”? Or that I seek a woman who is “tobacco free and drug free”? What if she chooses to become an atheist, or she chooses to smoke cigars? Am I “controlling” her by stating otherwise in my profile?

I dislike it when women smoke, and I have no interest in a relationship with an atheist. Likewise, I dislike it when women have short hair or are overweight. I am seeking a woman to whom I will be attracted on all levels, and if she chooses to do dumb things (rather than being “intelligent” per my profile), then that will be a huge disappointment to me. And I will WEEP if she chooses to cut her hair short or she chooses to start eating junk food and gets fat.

Furthermore, if you look at most women’s profiles, they have THEIR “shopping lists” and I often see things like “clean shaven” or “toned” or “athletic”. What if the man choses to grow a beard, or become a couch potato?

God bless you.



Yes, I did quote the dictionary definition of ‘surrender’ – my bad. I’m replying now, will keep you updated….

Jun 28 2009

Made Up Science

The fab Rebecca from Skepchick.

See my earlier blog on L’Oreal’s use of SCIENCE to sell colourful fat to rub on your face. Oh, and how supportive of women is L’Oreal? Very. As long as you’re not black.

Jun 27 2009

Am I the Goddess you’re looking for?

[Kali, Hindu Goddess of Death]

I was obviously deeply excited to see this website where a hunk of a man was looking for a ‘Goddess’. I was obviously fantastically keen to apply, but there were a couple of things that I thought would get in the way for eternal happiness with ‘Mark’. What do you think?

  • I don’t believe in God.
  • I don’t really believe that Mark is on the brink of a large-scale financial success
  • I don’t believe he does speak DIRECTLY to God.
  • I don’t like people who CAPS words unnecessarily or over-use exclamation marks!
  • I don’t really think he is looking for a woman with a razor-sharp intellect or at least the other few of thousand words kinda undermine that desire.
  • I find pre-nuptial agreements offensive.
  • I don’t mediate every day, unless you count sitting on the bus on the way to work, staring zombie-like out of the window.
  • I don’t chant, unless you count shouting catchphrases like “Oh for fuck’s sake” or “he is such a fuckwit”.
  • My mind is rarely peaceful.
  • I have frequent “unwelcome thoughts” and constant “mental chatter”. Some unwelcome thoughts include the idea of bald, middle-aged fuckwits filled with sexual intensity *shudder*
  • When I get hurt or upset I stew on it for weeks, sometimes years.
  • I frequently feel hatred and the desire to hurt people, but then I probably spend too much time on the internet.
  • I don’t unconditionally love many people. In fact I don’t much like most people. I even hate some of my closest friends.
  • I don’t think I ever had childlike innocence and I have a particular suspicion of middle-aged men who want a woman to be childlike.
  • I have bad posture.
  • I have a fairly trim waistline – which I think gives me extra points. But I wouldn’t be willing to keep it trim for a man because I have self-respect and prioritise my relationship with pies and cakes over any man. No exceptions.
  • My hair has grown recently, mostly due to my laziness but I have spent many years with a crop and if there is any thing that would make me cut it all off again it would be a man wanting me to grow it for them. No exceptions.
  • I have a fairly low voice for a woman.
  • I’m not fantastically healthy (see relationship with pies and cake).
  • I am mostly tobacco free, but then do often have a fag when I’m pissed and high.
  • I’m not a vegetarian and would rather die than never eat sausages again.
  • My room (as I don’t own a house) is dirty, chaotic and full of crap
  • My main mental health issue is the frequent desire to kick men in the balls. But I am trying to deal with it.
  • Saying “outside the box” makes me want to kick Mark in the balls.
  • I’m pretty unreliable which I, but no one else, find endearing and lovable.
  • I’m not an actress and feel no desire to become one.
  • I wouldn’t be willing to travel the world with Mark or appear on TV with him because its crass, cloying and the heteronormativity of it makes a little bit of sick appear in my mouth.
  • I don’t really think that a sacred sexual union with Mark is crucial for manifesting his Global Vision. But would ostensively be to get his rocks off.
  • I haven’t been a prostitute and think that if men want their ‘Goddess’ to be one its because they wish to dehumanise, purchase and own a woman for her sexual services
  • I don’t long to be worshiped as a Goddess by a man. Its creepy.
  • I don’t want to be controlled by someone and believe submission, surrender and the looking a particular way for someone else are fundamental to control
  • I don’t really like 100% straight people, they are massively dull.
  • I don’t respond to anything as a LADY and I’m not a GIRL. I’m an adult and condescension makes me want to kick men in the balls.
  • I like walking on the street side of the pavement as it allows me to run away faster.
  • I like to make choices and exercise my free will.
  • I don’t own any vases.
  • I like music.
  • I watch downloaded telly.
  • Mark doesn’t seem funny – apart from in a funny-weird way.
  • I don’t want to live in Los Angeles.
  • I find the top Mark is wearing in the ‘August 2004’ pic offensive.
  • I think he does want to control his Goddess. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written 6000 words on exactly what he wants from a woman right down to the length of her hair and how long she mediates for each day. And that creeps me out.
  • I do indeed have a tendency to accuse men of being controlling when they try to control things.

But, but I am NOT a Scientologist!!

I’ll email him and see how I get on – fingers crossed!!!!

Jun 23 2009

Men, no women, are responsible for rape

The whole ‘she was asking for it’ line has almost become a cliche when talking about rape. Unfortunately, it’s still a prevalent attitude. Back in 2005, Amnesty International launched the results of an attitude survey into rape which found that a third of people felt that a woman was wholly or partially responsible for being raped if she was being flirtatious.

This survey has been replicated by various different organisations including the Scottish Government and the findings are pretty consistent.

It is in this context that you should see if you can spot any differences between the headline from a press release from the University of Leicester:

And the story that resulted in the Daily Telegraph:

Notice any difference? Go on, look really hard.

In the study, psychologists at Leicester Uni asked men to consider themselves in various scenarios with a female acquaintance and find out if or when they were more likely to coerce a woman into sex. The scenarios differed with the acquaintance wearing different clothes, drinking alcohol, being aware of her previous sexual partners or her being assertive.

The main finding was that men who considered themselves sexually experienced were more likely to coerce women into sex. These men found resistance from a woman sexually arousing. Interestingly, alcohol had the opposite effect than expected with men more like to coerce sober women rather than those that were drunk.

Yet Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent, states that alcohol has a bearing on whether men will coerce a woman into having sex. He also says:

Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester said that men showed a “surprising” propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous.

Now, this is not in the press release and may have come from a phone interview. But it does look like he has mixed up women’s promiscuity with men’s. Remember, the Leicester Uni headline was “Promiscuous men more likely to rape”.

So what’s going on here? We already know that a large proportion of people will happily admit that under certain circumstances women are responsible for being raped (let alone those who think it but wouldn’t admit it in a survey, it being a rather despicable view). So does Richard Alleyne in the Daily Telegraph just think that maintaining that belief is more palatable for his readership? Is he intentionally playing into our woman-blaming culture? He is the ‘science correspondent’ so you’d think he would know about study design and, you know, the results. So, he seems to have willfully misrepresented this study to again make women feel responsible for their own rape or sexual assault.

This has also been blogged on here, but they seem to have just worked from the Telegraph article rather than the press release or original study. As the headlines show above, that is never a good idea…

[And thanks to @CliveAndrews for sending the articles]

Jun 21 2009

Women just aren’t funny, while patriarchy is hilarious

[I heart Sarah Silverman]

I have been speaking to a friend a lot recently about how much Spiked Online sucks. As a supposedly intelligent, progressive website it is regularly weirdly reactionary, poorly written and strangely often plays into the hands of big business. Of course I moaned about it but didn’t really know what to do. However, now I think is the time for the sceptics to strike as is well demonstrated by the indefatigable Gimpy.

And what do they go and do but hand me a terrible article on gender by Patrick West to criticise. So settle in and lets deconstruct a little.

For a site that claims to be libertarian they are very selective about the power dynamics they choose to oppose. Government forcing us to do stuff – bad, patriarchy squeezing us into oppressive flawed and frankly lame gender-stereotypes – fine, indeed ‘natural’.

Patrick West decides to criticise moaning women who complain about aggressive atmospheres in TV panel shows and in politics. Put simply, if you don’t like the rules that us boys have made for our club, then get out. But he also goes further by saying that women aren’t as funny as men and that a hand full of women have adapted to the adversarial nature of the House of Commons so other women should similarly ‘grow some balls’. Nice.

Let’s start with the spurious claim that men are naturally funnier, like there’s some funny chromosome or identifiable ‘natural template’ of comedy. Call me a lay scientist, but I think that is likely to be bollocks.

Being funny is something that is beaten out of girls at a young age. Being funny is often synonymous with being smart and being clever two things that are seen as deeply unattractive in young women by young men. Put simply, funny girls don’t get laid. Young, insecure men certainly don’t want to get naked in front of a smart young woman who might laugh at their cock. Humour is a powerful thing, it cuts people down, it pokes fun at them, it makes them look ridiculous and men don’t like that coming from a woman.

Its not that men are funnier or more aggressive than women, it that females are brought up to be attractive in the eyes of men – that means feminine, and that means not funny. In all these stupid surveys about what women look for in a man, a guy who can make them laugh always comes top. When do men ever look for being funny as a top quality in a woman?

As for women ‘growing some balls’ and wouldn’t it be better if women were just more like men, again I’m afraid Mr West that I think you’ll find that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Let’s just say for argument’s sake that women should be more like men in politics. If you want to lazily stereotype people and then try to defend such ‘generalisations’ as scientific, then fine let’s enter that science-free zone for a second.

When women are assertive what they quickly find is that other people actually think they’re aggressive. Men being assertive are just being men and nobody notices or comments on it. Women being assertive are cold, bolshy, pushy, unnatural, surly, and generally a bitch. So Margaret Thatcher was often portrayed as being a man, and indeed encouraged that portrayal. Barbara Castle, Shirley Williams, and Ann Widdecombe have all been portrayed at one time or other as mad, bad or useless.

(As an aside I’m getting really sick of the use of a handful of examples as ‘proof’ of anything. Those three women’s careers span over half a century in which there were hundreds of male MPs. You know their name because there were so few)

If women don’t want to take on certain masculine traits in order to succeed in their field, and particularly if they dare to criticise that culture, they are accused of “crying when they got insulted”, that they “moan about ‘ya-boo’ politics” and are “timidly retreating” from challenges.

Let us step out of that science-free zone where ‘generalisation’ is a mathematical term that allows you to be a fuckwit.

To put that into algebraic terms:
Where A is men’s height and B is women’s height.
A > B ≠ any ungrounded statement you want to make

How about you analyse that behaviour in a way that doesn’t maintain your power? Do you think that perhaps ‘ya-boo’ politics is not the best way to run a country? Could it possibly be that the people that are put off by cock-knocking in Parliament might actually be intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic, rationally minded people (female or male) who have something to contribute to discourse and debate? You generally find that those who shout the loudest have the least to say, (see BNP etc).

Now I say all this as an assertive woman, but one who has often been called aggressive, blunt and argumentative when I ‘act like a man’ (read: have an opinion). If I stay and fight I’m a bitch if I don’t want to play by male rules I’m timid. Seriously, there is no pleasing anyone. But I also recognise, that although I am able to stand my ground and thrive in a combative environment not everyone can or wants to. This includes men but mostly impacts on women and this is the crucial point – by creating barriers to entry into politics, the arts, comedy or anything, you are losing out and perpetuating the same bullshit over and over again.

Ultimately saying that adversarial, combative, ya-boo debate is the best form of politics is anti-intellectual. That argument is nothing to do with the substance and all about the style and posturing. It’s rhetoric over rationality.

Jo Brand commented on the structure of certain TV panel shows not working well for women. That doesn’t mean that women are less funny. (For a start the only funny ones on Mock the Week are Frankie Boyle and Dara O’Briain) It means that the set up, where they have to fight for air and verbally jostle for position, and the atmosphere, which is probably as much backstage as what we see on our screens, is not conducive to women being able to be heard. They could have hilarious things to say, but Jo Brand doesn’t feel they get the chance.

I’m not saying that there need to be an equal opps policy on Mock the Week, but women should be allowed to criticise that aspect of it without being told that they are weak, moaning and unfunny.

I don’t want anything to be diluted or weakened and I do not believe that enabling women to participate meaningfully will lead to that. That is a myth perpetuated by those in power – if we change something then awful things would happen! Things would CHANGE! I actually think (in fact know) that breaking down gender stereotypes leads to more diversity, more creativity and is more dynamic. It is the femininity vs masculinity, power vs weakness dichotomy which is stale, discredited and monotonous.

Viva la evolution.

Jun 6 2009

How to get your research in the Daily Mail

[From Lolcats]

Many years ago I used to work for a press cuttings agency and would therefore read most of the papers every day. One of the most interesting things about this job was seeing how the same story was retold by different papers through different ideological lens. You didn’t think you were getting unbiased news did you? And if that was what people wanted, they would read AP or PA everyday.

No, news is given to us with the light or heavy spin of political opinion. And research is used to enable this in the mainstream press.

This can be well demonstrated by this story about an interview with Sir Stuart Rose by the Observer (trailing the full interview in their Magazine) and in the Daily Mail. The story is that Sir Stuart Rose gave his personal opinion on women and the ‘glass ceiling’. He is the Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer, one of the biggest retailers in the country, and so we are expected to care what he thinks.

Now the Observer pad this article out by getting reactions from other organisations namely the Fawcett Society and Refuge. Fawcett gives stats on the number of women in senior positions in various sectors and Refuge gives a fairly meaningless quote about changing expectations.

The Daily Mail rehashes this article (rather than the original interview) and adds in it’s own bit of ‘new’ research about female happiness. Couple of interesting points about the Daily Mail piece:

  1. It leaves out key pieces of information
  2. Edits the quotes from Fawcett and Refuge in a way that I think distorts their meaning
  3. And throws in a piece of research on female happiness as a way of directly linking the concept that ‘women have crashed through the glass ceiling’ and ‘women are less happy because of it’.

Key information left out – the Fawcett stats on women in top positions in different sectors.
By leaving this information out the fundamental assertion that Sir Stuart makes goes unchallenged in the Daily Mail article. It would be a sentiment that the Daily Mail would agree with “How can there be gender inequality when we’ve had a female Prime Minister/CEO/fighter pilot” etc. You don’t need a GCSE in statistics to work out the significance of this statement. You don’t even need to have gone to primary school.

‘Interesting’ editing of quotes.
I was at first surprised to see Refuge quoted in this piece, given that I think it is fair to say they are a feminist organisation. That was until I realised the Daily Mail hadn’t included the whole quote given to the Observer:

“There has been a subterranean war between men and women, which has largely been won by women who don’t understand what they’ve lost. The hard-won freedom of choice has imprisoned women. I just see an exhausted generation trying to do it all.

Only the highlighted text made it into the Daily Mail article. For more on judicious misquoting, watch this video. WARNING: Contains Ann Coulter.

But most interesting of all, the Daily Mail leads on a “new study”, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (pdf), that the Daily Mail says claims women are “less happy nowadays despite 40 years of feminism”. Sigh. I know you can probably guess what is coming but I think it needs to be spelt out for posterity.

Firstly, this is not a new study. In fact the Daily Mail has already covered this piece of research at least FIVE times, the first back in 2007 (see here, here, here, here (all pdfs) and here).

As an aside, notice the picture they use of a WOMAN on a COMPUTER with her back turned on a LITTLE BLOND GIRL. How could she?

Secondly, the study is an attitudinal one and the researchers themselves point to many of the problems with their study design: different data sets, shifting expectations, increased ‘emotional intelligence’. This is not a longitudinal study, this is not a cohort study, this is not a study using the same parameters or methodology for each survey.

What concerns me more is the fact that the study has yet to be peer-reviewed (only being accepted into the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, but not yet published and still no link to their data-set) and yet has obviously been widely press-released and the authors proudly boast their media coverage which includes; The New York Times, CBS News, Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Pennsylvanian and the Western Mail (Wales).

Is this science? The study itself has merit bearing in mind the limitations it points to. Knowledge is a good thing, I don’t think this is a particularly enlightening piece of research but I wouldn’t say it was worthless.

What I do have a problem with is what seems to be the authors’ prioritisation of sensationalised press coverage over academic peer-review. They have for the past 2 years seen the fruits of their labours; wide coverage in the mainstream press and links to stories hinting that perhaps, you know, feminism has gone too far.

The Daily Mail is not particularly pro-women, they are always going to write this kind of guff and find some study or other that will back up their ideological position. Researchers however, should be aghast at the manipulation of their work and should be ashamed of the reactionary articles that reference them rather than proudly linking to them on their website. Unless, this is what passes for academic success these days.

Jun 3 2009

It’s not the size that counts, it’s the opportunity cost

[from xkcd]

I’m really only linking to this study about penis length and shoe size to a) insert the cartoon above and b) remind everyone that there are people dying in the world.

But at least now we know: “The supposed association of penile length and shoe size has no scientific basis.” No can we please as a culture move on?

Jun 1 2009

Men are from Simpleton…

[Brooker supporting Water Aid. See he’s not such a miserable bugger]

I’m just finishing off a post about the Daily Mail being wrong, but thought I’d draw attention to this fabulous column by Charlie Brooker today. Arf.

I believe the ‘dick-swinging contest’ is called cock-knocking in some parts….