{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Linkspam: Feminism & Pop Culture

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Remember that time long, long ago when I started posting weekly linkspams? Y’know, that time before my already busy schedule leapt to new heights of insanity?

It may not be weekly, but it is linkspam.

Feminism & Women
  • The good people at Overthinking It created this fantastic Female Character Flowchart that captures a whole lot of pop culture female character cliches in one fell swoop. It’s massive in both size and awesome.
  • For the two hundredth and forty-second time, females and males have equal math skills before stereotyping. I don’t know how many more ways scientists can come up with to tell the rest of the world it isn’t that girls are bad at math, it’s that we keep telling and treating them as if they are bad at math.
  • Do accusations of sexism spur greater awareness of sexist language? This study thinks so. I had a conversation with a couple of male friends about this not too long ago.
  • Nice write up about what we’re really talking about when we measure pop culture with the Bechdel Test. It’s not about that women shouldn’t talk to or about men, it’s about how women presented in pop culture regularly only talk to or about men when they’re even there at all. It’s about the absence of women in our stories as anything other than romantic partners or two-dimensional tokens.
  • Linked to from the above, Pixiepalace has won me over with her explanation of the Reverse Jane Austen Principle: “It is a truth universally acknowledged by the entertainment industry that a female character in possession of a name and a ringless left hand must be in want of a boyfriend.” I think this often comes from a belief by the entertainment industry that women won’t want to watch female characters that aren’t somehow involved/tangled in romance, as if it’s central to our enjoyment. This is one of several reasons I love Emily Prentiss and Elle Greenaway from Criminal Minds, two fine female characters without romantic subplots.


Pop Culture
  • Another great post from Overthinking It, this time about Fixing Season 5 of Doctor Who. It’s a long post that only the most dedicated meta readers are likely to finish, but it covers most of my problems with the plot and themes of the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with all the proposed fixes, but I do mostly agree with the general through-line here. Season Five of Who left me firmly in a “meh” space, and this post articulates some of the reasons why.
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Linkspam: Feminism, Privilege & Menswear Squee

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I am officially switching linkspam day from Monday to Tuesday. I hardly have time to eat on Mondays never mind blog, so I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked that day. So, technically, that means I’m not actually late. *wink*

Feminism & Women
  • Feministe asks why, when asked to cover Reshma Saujani’s New York Congressional campaign, the reporter chose to write, not about issues, but about shoes. This is a long-standing debate about the way things should be and the way things are, and how and when females do or should respond in which way. A female Congressional candidate shouldn’t have to worry about the message her shoes are sending any more than a male Congressional candidate worries about his. The reality, however, is that women in politics will be judged on their appearance and fashion choices in the current cultural climate and have to deal with it and all its maddening mixed messages if they want their opinions heard. Fair is not always synonymous with reality is the point I think Susan Dominus was trying to make in the origina New York Times article, though in a roundabout, meandering sort of way. In the end, the article seemed to be more about the shoes than it was about anything else, which is probably a pretty good example of exactly what we’re talking about here.
  • On Livejournal, Karnythia talks about the challenges of being pretty. Society does privilege attractive people, but as a woman and a person of colour the intersections of misogyny still cause problems, some of which can be exacerbated by being pretty. More opportunity, but also more grabbie hands (and sometimes actual hands, because being female means your body is public property to some people).
  • In news about women being just as bad as men when it comes to sexism, Caster Semenya’s competitors are still flailing about her gender. Outstanding talent and ability in athletes — male and female — should be praised, not vilified. Regardless of whether or not this issue should have ever even been an issue (much less a public one) it has been officially settled. Calling her a “man” at this point is a cheap shot. How can women ever expect men to treat us better if we don’t treat each other better?


  • This post is called The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality but it’s valid reading for everyone. This is about the realities of implicit bias, of unconscious -isms, of invisible discrimination and naïvety. The tricky thing about -isms is how subconscious they are, how they set into our brains without our knowing it and create rules we don’t consciously know about. Think you’re “colourblind”? Think you don’t treat women differently than men? You’re not and you do. This isn’t something we should feel guilty about, but it is something we must awknowledge in order to change. We are all biased: no one is exempt. Some people are just more aware of our biases than others, and actively try to catch and correct them.


Clothing & Costuming
  • A fantastic primer on menswear, with special emphasis on suit styles and cuts. I cannot begin to express my glee at this. I love menswear, and wish more of my male friends would let me go clothing shopping with them. As much as I didn’t enjoy the cut-through culture of working at Tip Top Tailors years ago, I do miss the deep satisfaction of matching men with just the right suit, shirt and tie. This tutorial may appear to the uninformed to be comprehensive, but menswear lovers will know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
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Linkspam: Feminism, Science & Usability

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Even during crazy weeks when I’m up to my eyeballs in work, Fringe shows and social appointments, I still manage to read piles of stuff on the Internet. Here is a sampling of the most interesting things I’ve stumbled upon this week.

Feminism & Women


Science & Technology




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Preventing Homosexuality & Non-Comforming Women: When Science & Medicine Go Astray

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Over at the Bioethics Forum, a trio of “uppity” women have written an exposé on the research of pediatric endocrinologist Maria New to engineer females in utero to be heterosexual and adhere more closely to female behavioral stereotypes. The article is lengthy and a little science heavy for those of us with a liberal arts education, but it’s absolutely worth reading.

It boils down like this:

New is giving pregnant women the steroid dexamethasone to prevent the development of ambiguous genitalia in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is caused when a fetus receives an excess of androgens, and can lead to a number of things besides ambiguous private bits, including rapid childhood growth, delayed puberty and infertility. For all the outcry going on in feminist circles about this, it is I think important to note that CAH is a legitimate disease that can have lasting effects, and it’s important not to brush that under the rug.

However. This all goes astray due largely to motive. New and her partner Heino Meyer-Bahlburg are pointing to these surges of prenatal androgens as having a significant impact on sexual orientation, noting “research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens” and “findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation”.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though, and here’s where we start wading into seriously murky waters. Because it turns out these nefarious little androgens don’t just influence sexuality. Follows are two quotes from articles written by New and Meyer-Bahlburg:

“CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

“Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in [girls and women with CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior. We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization.”

Most telling and troubling is this quote, which New reportedly said during a slideshow presentation/dexamethasone pitch to parents:

“The challenge here is … to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

Read the full article these quotes are pulled from at the Bioethics Forum.

There are several points of fail here, but I want to point out three in particular.


The idea of “preventing gayness” is both horrible and, sadly, unsurprising. It is not medicine or science’s place to alter people to conform to society’s norms, and the extrapolated future world this kind of people-engineering leads to is not a world I want any part of. I am reminded strongly of Scott Westerfeld’s excellent trilogy Uglies, Pretties and Specials where bodies, brains and behavior is fiddled with to smooth out those unsightly “abnormal” wrinkles to make people more socially compliant, “normal” and “happy”. This is not acceptance or tolerance. This is an outright attack on homosexual, bisexual and transexual people’s right to exist.

From Alice Dreger:

“It sends the message that you must conform to the most conservative social norms to count as acceptable and to be allowed to live, with full rights, free of discrimination and abuse in American society. … A democratic medical establishment does not alter people’s bodies to fit regressive social norms; it advocates for patients by demanding the social body get its act together. As a white woman who grew up with a black brother, I can tell you that the solution to my brother’s suffering was not to have his skin bleached and his hair straightened, prenatally or postnatally.”

Read more from Alice Dreger at Psychology Today.


As a woman who is a poster child for “uppity”, I take massive offense at the idea that I am “abnormal” or need “repair”, and as a feminist the idea that females could be engineered to adhere to conservative, sexist, stereotypical housewife and mother roles is beyond enraging. If women want to be wives and mothers, to be quiet and unassuming, to stay at home, cook and take care of babies, then that’s their business. I have no problem with that life. But when people — and most especially female scientists working in traditionally male dominated fields — tell me I am behaviorally broken or wrong, then I am going to throw down and you will see what this arrogant, aggressive, “masculinized”, career-oriented, childless, unmarried female is made of.

This kind of sexist and homophobic thinking is why Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan has been criticised for ridiculous things like not crossing her legs when she sits and playing softball. And why athlete Caster Semanya’s gender identity was publicly and medically questioned. Kagan and Semanya don’t fit neatly into society’s definition of what it means to be and look female, so we parade them around and label them as “abnormal freaks”.

These women are not broken and neither am I. We do not need to be fixed, most especially before we have developed our own gender identities and personalities. When parents start trying to customize their unborn baby’s behavior and cosmetic physical appearance to sooth their own heteronormative and gender binary biases, science and society has strayed into unethical waters.


The thing not enough people are talking about when it comes to New’s research and the clitoral surgeries going on at Cornell University is the dubious medicine and science going on here.

In the Cornell case, Maggie Koerth-Baker notes on BoingBoing these are purely aesthetic surgeries that can and often do have well-documented life-long side-effects, performed when patients are infants and cannot consent, and are mostly to placate parental discomfort and “fix” female babies so they conform with societal physical norms.

“There’s been no research on outcomes for intersex adults, but there have been lots of intersex adults who’ve spoken up about being miserable with the results of childhood surgeries. Realistically, there are probably people who are happy with their surgeries, too. But, with the evidence we have, all we can say for sure is that there’s no guarantee surgery is the right way to go, psychologically, for each individual. Meanwhile, the standard practice is to not offer individual choice.

I’m going to go out on a limb and call that wrong. But this isn’t just oppressive to people who don’t fit a neat gender binary. It’s also not scientific medicine.

I love modern medicine. The skeptic movement has turned me into an advocate of evidence-based medicine — the simple idea that tradition, anecdote and common sense aren’t good enough reasons to ask a patient to spend money and risk side-effects on a treatment. If there’s no solid, scientific evidence, what you’re doing isn’t medicine.”

Read the full article by Maggie Koerth-Baker on BoingBoing.

I couldn’t agree with this more. When legitimate science and medicinal techniques are wielded against people unable to consent for wibbly justifications of comfort, abstract potential unproven future psychological gain, and society’s physical aesthetics, it ceases to be legitimate science or medicine at all. The literature suggests there is no evidence or medical justification for this kind of surgery on infants, so why is it being done?

When it comes to New’s research with dexamethasone, Dreger reminds us the research being done is not conforming to standard clinical trial procedures. Women are not being fully informed of the risks, and Dr. New has come under fire repeatedly from multiple medical societies for her methods and poorly controlled trials.

From a letter from Alice Dreger to the CARES Foundation which promotes prenatal dexamethasone:

“There are also important scientific questions raised by what appears to have been such a poorly controlled trial. If these studies were not run as real scientific trials from the start, as they should have been, then it is very hard to know what really happened during the pregnancies in which women were administered dexamethasone.

We are also very concerned by the disjuncture between what Dr. New advertises on her Foundation’s website (“Dr. New maintains contact with all children treated prenatally”) and the substantial number of patients missing from the follow-up studies on which she is a coauthor. Dr. New has made the same claim about continuity of contact with all patients to the CARES Foundation, even though her studies suggest otherwise.

Studies of prenatal dexamethasone give us substantial reason for concern for these mothers’ and children’s physical and mental well-being, particularly given that this usage is aimed at preventing a cosmetic issue (one not even shown to increase a girl’s psychosocial risk) and that 87.5% of the mothers started on prenatal dexamethasone will not even be carrying a fetus that is 46,XX 21-hydroxylase deficient. As mentioned earlier, studies have already shown some concerning adverse effects on exposed children.”

Read the full letter to CARES.

This whole thing is surrounded by fuzzy medical science and motivated by reasons other than the health and wellbeing of mothers and children. Evidence-based medicine this ain’t, and that part needs to be talked about more.

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Links to Gender Commentary Re: Semenya

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I just wanted to throw these links out there because I think they’re worth reading.

The Unforgivable Transgression of Being Caster Semenya
Excerpt under the cut

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