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Why Does the Texas Legislature Believe That Embryos Have a Heartbeat?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 10:00pm in

Image credit: Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons ____ The Texas statute that went into effect last week is one of many similar...

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Percentage of Women Graduating with Philosophy Degrees Increases

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 5:42am in

Tags 

data, gender

In 2020, 39% of undegraduates leaving colleges with degrees in philosophy were women, up from 35% in 2017, reports Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside).

At his blog, The Splintered Mind, Professor Schwitzgebel writes:

Women were very steadily 30-34% of Bachelor’s recipients in philosophy from 1987 to 2016. In 2017, they reached 35% for the first time. In 2018, 36%. In 2019, 38%. In 2020, 39%. Although this might seem like a small increase, given the numbers involved and the general slowness of cultural change, this constitutes a substantial and significant movement toward parity. This increase appears to be specific to philosophy. For example, it is not correlated with the percentage of women graduates overall which rose from 51% in 1987 to 57% in 1999 and has remained steady at 57-58% ever since.


from “The Philosophy Major Is Back, Now with More Women” by Eric Schwitzgebel

He notes that the trend is especially pronounced among those with philosophy as a second major:

Aggregating over the past four years of data (2017-2020), 42% of graduates with a second major in philosophy were women, compared to 36% of graduates whose only or primary major was philosophy.

More information here.

IDENTITY CRISIS

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/08/2021 - 5:38pm in

Radical Gender Theory and the Left

As a trans person, I’ve really been struggling with the idealism of trans activism as it pertains to identity. They seem to say that however you identify your gender is who you are. So if you say you’re a woman, you’re a woman, and if you say you’re non-binary, then you are. But isn’t this the core of idealism, to put identity in the determinant position? 

—comment on Reddit’s r/communism forum

In his latest series of documentaries Can’t Get You Out of My Head (reviewed by Guy Rundle in Arena no. 6), sociologist and film-maker Adam Curtis focuses on a number of individuals who sit at the uneasy intersection of modern individualism, an increasingly technologised vision of the human mind and human behaviour, and a liberatory politics denuded of grand historical narratives. Key portraits in this gallery include the US rapper Tupac Shakur, who attempts to recreate in music something of the political radicalism of his mother (the Black Panther Afeni Shakur) but finds himself trapped by celebrity culture, and the countercultural author Kerry Thornley, who sought to satirise conspiracy thinking, only to succumb to it in later life. But perhaps the most interesting figure of all, in terms of the ideological positioning of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ radical Left, is the transgender activist Julia Grant, whose story Curtis glosses in an article for the Guardian

Julia Grant grows up near Blackpool in the 1970s. She comes to London—and realises that she wants to live as a woman. She is part of a shift that will sweep through modern society that says that true freedom doesn’t come any longer from changing the world—but changing yourself—to become who you know inside you really are. At the start of the 1980s, Julia sets out to take on the medical establishment. An anonymous psychologist behind the camera in the TV documentary A Change of Sex wants to stop her. Julia has extraordinary courage—and decides she will stand up to him and what he represents about an old uncaring society in Britain.

Here, as in the documentary itself, Curtis’s admiration for Grant is more than tinged with reservation. For while Grant does indeed show plenty of courage in her clashes with her (assigned) psychiatrist, who is callously unsympathetic to her desire for gender reassignment surgery, she is also a paradigmatic case of the individualisation of politics that is one of Curtis’s principal themes. The question, for the Left no less than for Curtis, is whether this ambivalence necessarily implies a demotion of Grant’s struggle for recognition. If Julia’s claim to womanhood is bound up with a more general malaise, what do we make of the claim itself?  

I find it surprising that this question has barely arisen in the responses to Curtis’s documentary. As one of the first ‘transsexuals’ to share their story with a mainstream audience, Grant would have cut an exotic figure when she first came to prominence in the 1980s. But in recent years transgender issues have entered mainstream culture and politics with remarkable rapidity and force, such that we now have an entirely new language in which to talk about sex, gender and the relationship between the two. For some, this new language contains a recognition that the old one could not fully register, or even perhaps begin to register, the rich complexity of sex and gender, while for others it represents an attempt to rewrite the rules of nature itself. Indeed, and whatever else they denote, words and phrases such as ‘gender fluidity’, ‘non-binary’, ‘cisgender’ and ‘heteronormativity’ are ideological Rorschach prints that will strike the culture warrior as either the conceptual architecture of a new and hopeful gender politics or the modish cant of ‘cultural Marxists’ bent on revolution by stealth. Grist to the outrage-media’s mill, the status and rights of transgender people—i.e. people whose gender identity is at odds with their birth sex—is an issue in which the underlying themes of our political era coalesce. Identity, safety, rights, language, expertise and techno-science are all in the discursive mix. 

For a section of the contemporary Right, the issue of transgender activism is now an ideological twofer that allows it to hold its conservative/reactionary and liberal/libertarian troops together for the sake of a few raids into progressive territory. On the one hand, it can take the claims of transgender activists as an opportunity to press its case for traditional notions of sexuality and gender, and on the other it can present the style of that activism (not always erroneously, it should be said) as an attack on classical liberal verities such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. No doubt it is significant that the conservative psychologist Jordan Peterson came to prominence on the back of a controversy about an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which, he argued, would compel Canadians to modify their use of gendered pronouns when addressing transgender and non-binary people—a stance that it suited him to present as a liberal defence of open debate but was also, clearly, an antechamber to his views on the ‘crisis of masculinity’ that had come about as a consequence of postmodernism and identity politics. Similarly, the Safe Schools anti-bullying program was characterised as both a postmodern assault on long-established beliefs and behaviours and as an example of intellectual policing, all the more sinister for being aimed at kids whose sexuality and critical faculties were both in the early stages of development. (Again, this characterisation was not entirely erroneous. The materials for the Safe Schools program do appear to channel a view of the body as a ‘blank slate’ onto which culture projects gender, while the decision to introduce such subject matter in the form of an anti-bullying program, instead of as part of the syllabus, may appear from a certain angle to be an attempt to get one’s retaliation in first.) 

In broadly progressive circles, by contrast, support for transgender and non-binary causes is acquiring the quality of a shibboleth. Clearly, much of this support is based on simple solidarity with a marginalised group subject to prejudice and violence, and on a deep (and deeply liberal) conviction that it is wrong to require someone to live in a way that feels untrue to their ‘real’ self. But there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that radical gender theory has left its mark on progressive politics as well, even if only superficially. The sudden prominence of the word ‘cisgender’ to describe those whose gender identity correlates with their birth sex, the incorporation of pronoun preferences into social media profiles and the like, the passing of laws that make it permissible to change the sex on one’s birth certificate without assessment or reassignment, and a succession of highly mediatised controversies around allegedly ‘transphobic’ statements on the part of celebrities and journalists, suggest not only broad acceptance (or unthinking assimilation) of the core tenets of radical gender theory but also a desire to put that acceptance in the shop window of progressive politics. The recent statement by Duncan Maskell, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, that academic freedom does not extend to comments that cause ‘harm’ to transgender people, will strike many on the Left as overreach, and some of us as ludicrous (not because we are in favour of harm, but because we see how the extension of the harm principle is eroding what’s left of the public sphere). But it is the symptom of a more general feeling that the question of transgender selfhood is settled, and that statements to the contrary are politically toxic. 

TERF wars 

In some progressive circles, however, the idea that one’s gender identity can be neatly separated from one’s physical being, or that one’s physical being is itself ‘gendered’ in a way that makes any talk of its reality necessarily ideological, is proving deeply controversial. For an older generation of feminists, in particular, the prominence of transgender issues can often seem like a challenge to, and even a rejection of, some very different shibboleths to the ones on offer from GLAAD and its analogues. Often characterised (not always unfairly) as ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ (TERFs), these activists and commentators may make the point that some of the men who identify as women (and vice versa) are apt to reproduce the stereotypes that underpin patriarchal attitudes. More basically, their objections stem from a feeling that transgender politics downplay or deny the centrality of the body to female lived experience. It was this issue that got J. K. Rowling into hot water when she objected to the phrase ‘people who menstruate’ in an article on menstrual health in the global South. Or here is the journalist Suzanne Moore, in the article that got her sacked from the Guardian:

The radical insight of feminism is that gender is a social construct—that girls and women are not fated to be feminine, that boys and men don’t have to be masculine. But we have gone through the looking-glass and are being told that sex is a construct… Female oppression is innately connected to our ability to reproduce. Women have made progress by talking about biology, menstruation, childbirth and menopause. We won’t now have our bodies or voices written out of the script. 

In an article in The Sociological Review, a number of British academics characterised these comments, and others like them, as inseparable from a reactionary campaign against transgender and non-binary rights, and it is true that the doctrine of ‘my enemy’s enemy’ will mean that any criticism of queer/radical gender theory will be taken up and weaponised by those whose opposition to ‘transgenderism’ is fuelled by simple prejudice. But to assume that criticisms such as Moore’s are therefore channelling such prejudice is obviously a non sequitur that serves to stifle genuine debate, precisely in the way that the Right often claims. Moreover, it stifles debate about precisely the thing we need to be debating as we move deeper into the techno-scientific era—namely, the ontological status of the human being/animal in a society that invites us to regard ourselves as in some sense above, or remote from, nature. Reading the criticisms of Moore and Rowling, and many other commentators besides, one has the sense that biological sex (or, more usually, ‘biological sex’) is regarded as, at best, a red herring, and, at worst, a Trojan horse from which, when night falls, the forces of reaction will emerge and set about their bloody business. But of course for certain traditions within feminism, and also for the wider material Left into which those feminist traditions were marbled, the issue of whether there is a physical ‘nature’ that is prior to and influential on cultural meanings or ‘scripts’ is one of foundational importance.

As Arena’s Simon Cooper has noted, in a piece on the fallout from Germaine Greer’s comments on the status of transgender women, ‘it’s one thing to distinguish between sex and gender; it’s quite another thing to say embodiment and biology float free of history and culture, subject to the needs of identity’. Greer has suggested, with characteristic indelicacy, that she doesn’t ‘believe a woman is a man without a cock’ and that ‘If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13, there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know’—comments that have earned her a severe dressing-down in some sections of the mainstream press. Nevertheless, and as Cooper suggests, we should look past Greer’s off-colour flourishes to her invocation of those ‘markers of embodiment’ that are, for her, inseparable from the experience of being a woman. As he puts it:

Greer’s listing of some of the features and biological processes of the female body—ovaries and uterus, menstruation and menopause—is not simply biological essentialism but indicates how these things are integral to gendered identity. They are physical processes subject to culture and to forms of social integration and understanding, and they are experienced over time. Their meanings can/should be challenged as part of a political project, but they cannot be dismissed by an act of will.

That such meanings, derived in part from biology, are ‘dismissed by an act of will’ is evident from some of the reactions to the Greer controversy, and to others, in progressive circles. In an essay in Meanjin, for example, Eleanor Robertson referred to Greer’s ‘biological essentialism’ and accused her of ‘policing a line of demarcation she perceives as the enabling force of collective struggle’ and of attacking ‘nascent forms of solidarity she doesn’t understand’. Engaging in a bit of ‘policing’ of her own, Robertson describes as ‘morally and organisationally bankrupt’ the idea that there may be a biological basis for female solidarity, though why such a basis must always lead back to the ‘class interests of men’ she doesn’t say. Similarly, the revelation in 2015 that a US anti-racism activist had been ‘passing’ as Black caused many progressives to tie themselves in knots in response to (often mischievous) comparisons between the activist in question, Rachel Dolezal, and the transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner. What should have been an opportunity to think through a few important distinctions, and to consider the ways in which gender and race are socially and psychically constructed on the basis of biological differences that may or may not shape experience in ways prior to those psychosocial constructions, descended into a brawl in which any comparison between Dolezal and Jenner was treated in progressive circles as axiomatically transphobic and racist. The (Black) professor Adolph Reed, a tireless critic of identity politics, was happy to point out what he and others regarded as a double standard: ‘The transrace/transgender comparison makes clear the conceptual emptiness of the essentializing discourses, and the opportunist politics, that undergird identitarian ideologies. There is no coherent, principled defense of the stance that transgender identity is legitimate but transracial is not, at least not one that would satisfy basic rules of argument’.

It is not, then, transgender people as such but the informing assumptions of radical gender theory that need to be debated and challenged. The idea that there is no significant relationship between sex and gender carries with it an assumption about human beings that should strike those on the material Left as a challenge to an idea of freedom without which ‘the Left’ as a political entity would never have come into being at all—the idea that human beings can only flourish if certain material needs are met, and that these needs derive from our status as creatures that are bound by and are a part of nature. Indeed it is precisely the materiality of freedom that separates the Left from the (liberal) Right. While the right-libertarians of the Institute of Public Affairs regard freedom as reducible to negative rights such as freedom of speech or the freedom to own property, socialists are supposed to know that freedom entails enabling conditions that are ultimately based in our creatural needs—that arise, so to speak, from embodiment

Indeed, radical gender theory presents the Left with an ‘identity crisis’ of its own, in a way that goes beyond the usual (and often legitimate) gripes about how the politics of identity has taken contemporary progressives away from issues of class or material distribution. That crisis does not begin with radical gender theory. Nor, rest assured, will it end with it. But it is very important to understand exactly what is at stake in this debate, and the very different visions of the future that necessarily emerge from it. 

New subjectivities 

As Guy Rundle demonstrates in his article, ‘How radical gender theory hijacked Marxism and why we need to get it back’, published in Crikey in 2016 in the midst of the Safe Schools controversy, the route from revolutionary socialism to radical gender/queer theory is based on two problematic aspects, or perceived aspects, of Marx’s thought. The first is the idea that the economic ‘base’ dictates the cultural and institutional arrangements that constitute the ‘superstructure’, up to and including the family unit; and the second is the idea that human liberation entails a transcendence of our biological condition—an idea based, in my opinion, on a highly tendentious reading of Marx. (For a thorough critique of this idea, see Norman Geras’s Marx and Human Nature.) In the 1960s, as the limitations of the base-superstructure model became apparent, some on the Left looked to deepen the idea that social and cultural meanings were ‘constructed’ by turning, first, to structuralism—an idea from anthropology that stressed how societies create meaning and hierarchy by constructing oppositions (e.g. male/female) that effectively define each other—and then to the ‘post-structuralist’ idea that social meanings are entirely constructed. When this notion of the arbitrariness of social meaning combined with the notion that liberation necessitates a radical break with nature, many radicals moved decisively beyond the philosophical materialism that had defined revolutionary socialism and adopted the idealism (as I take it to be) of post-structuralism. Fleshed out in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), the new ‘queer theory’ asked us to consider ‘the duality of sex’ as itself a construction. ‘[W]hat is “sex” anyway?’ Butler asked; ‘Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such facts for us?’ But as important as these questions were, the underlying notion that social meanings are entirely constructed—that they are ideological ‘all the way down’—has militated against any clarifying answers. For a large section of the radical Left, it has simply become enough to say that there is no relationship between sex and gender. 

As Rundle notes in his article, such beliefs are connected in a deep way to a particular form of being in the world. The post-industrial economy in countries such as Australia is one in which a newly expanded class of ‘knowledge’ or information workers deals principally in data, texts, images, statistics and the like. It is a world not of old-style manual labour but of representations of the world, and it is within such a cultural and intellectual ecology that something like queer theory (in its hard and soft versions) is able to take hold and flourish. Indeed, it is significant that queer theory was nourished in the academic fields of criticism and cultural studies before being re-exported to the social sciences—a history to which the many references to ‘tropes’ and ‘scripts’ and ‘performances’ attest. ‘There’s a lot of identities, selves, and self-shaping in the literature of Safe Schools’, writes Rundle; ‘there’s a decided absence of actual bodies and sex, the viscous, vicious, unequal, powerful and chaos-bringing embodiment of sex, which is pretty uppermost in adolescents’ lives’. Queer theory offers a dematerialised activism for increasingly dematerialised thought-worlds. 

The sudden prominence of radical gender theory, then, is consistent with a form of life in which identities do indeed appear to float free of embodied being. But of course it is precisely this ‘freedom’ that capitalism in its current phase finds it so rewarding to cultivate, not least through new technologies in which it is not only possible but necessary to perpetually construct one’s identity—technologies to which performance is central. As grounded social life recedes in the face of neoliberalism, our relations with others become increasingly mediated, as well as increasingly ephemeral and fraught; and the more we are remade as individuals who must continually remake ourselves, the more we turn to the marketplace. This is not to adopt a crude base-superstructure-ideology model, or to suggest that queer theorists are neoliberalism’s useful idiots, but to stress the way in which new subjectivities are folded into both techno-scientific capitalism and certain kinds of activism. In a time of ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman), ‘fluidity’ is celebrated, albeit often in the contradictory form of a great proliferation of new fixed sexual/gender identities. 

The focus on the psychic ‘safety’ of transgender and other minority groups is central to this picture. For the Right, the progressive emphasis on safe spaces, trigger warnings, no-platforming and so forth is evidence of a ‘snowflake’ generation; but this is to misunderstand entirely the cultural shift that is taking place. For while accusations of offence and bullying are often tiresome and politically expedient, they are also clearly related to the cultural and technological developments described above. Subject to constant curation and monitoring, and scattered across a range of media, identities need to be shielded from injury lest they break apart entirely. The endless expansion of the ‘harm principle’ is a necessary bulwark against psychological crack-up—a supplement to the new armouring competencies of mindfulness, resilience and empathy. That queer theory was introduced to mainstream Australia through an anti-bullying program is in this sense perfectly explicable. 

Radical gender theory, then, is difficult to separate from the wider shifts that are taking place as capitalism steers us ever deeper into the techno-scientific era—an era that even now offers ways to change or transcend our given embodiment, through implants, brain–computer interfaces and (perhaps most important in the long run) CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology. At the moment, many of these technologies are subject to rigorous ethical constraints, though the medical imperative to ‘do no harm’ is as likely, in my view, to permit new interventions as it is to hold them back. But as we become habituated to such technologies as are already extant, and as the market continues to heroicise the sovereign, wired-up individual, they are sure to become less marginal. What this will mean for gender and sexuality in the long term is impossible to say, but surely it is significant that the sector that is often held up as exemplary in its attitude to LGBTQ issues is the one charged with innovating such transformative tech. Indeed my sense is that radical gender theory makes for a pretty tidy fit with the body-as-hardware/mind-as-software view of human beings favoured by many in Silicon Valley and its analogues. Though worlds apart in many ways, the informing assumptions of radical gender theory share a common base with the technological ‘transhumanism’ that seeks to dramatically extend human life and even replicate human consciousness in a way that ‘liberates’ us from our bodies entirely. 

Such an ambition remains in the realms of fantasy. But the view of human life that fuels it is sure to sanction—will continue to sanction—interventions that radically recast the relationship between human beings and the ‘natural world’, up to and including the human body. In such circumstances, one would want to see a Left that could think critically about the subjectivities that allow such promethean dreams to flourish, and demand not only common ownership of such technologies as are already with us (as per the ‘fully automated luxury communists’) but also an urgent moratorium on a developmental ethos that is itself inseparable from techno-scientific capitalism. My fear is that radical gender theory, and the ways of seeing to which it is related, make that difficult, if not impossible. 

A promethean synthesis? 

It seems to me that many progressives are desperate to avoid the questions thrown up by radical gender theory, not least because its most strenuous advocates have mounted guard over the rights and safety of transgender and non-binary people with passion and single-mindedness. For these progressives, the idea that ‘all claims to liberation from an inherited conservative order are valid’ (Rundle) is the fundamental political value. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that many of them would accept the full implications of radical gender theory in its Butlerite form, and it is here that the progressive attitude to science and/or expertise is likely to play an important role. As the expert-managers of the knowledge economy, rightly appalled by the Right’s stupidity and nihilism in respect of climate change and vaccination, many ‘soft’ progressives now evince a more or less reflexive regard for scientific or credentialled opinion. Positions are asserted (often correctly) on the basis of ‘the science’ alone, rather than any worked-out position, and my sense is that, in the case of trans issues, this reflexive reverence has now combined with a spirit of solidarity and compassion in a way that effectively removes the topic of gender theory from the sphere of contention. Dan Andrews’ comments in March 2016 on proposed government changes to the Safe Schools program, which set the experts against the ‘bigots’, were in this sense representative of a more general progressive stance. Similarly, the ABC’s documentary on the paediatrician Michelle Telfer, who has been subject to a vicious campaign from The Australian, stressed both her compassion and her professional rigour, but had little to say about the science and psychology informing the process of gender reassignment it is her role to facilitate.

My point is not that the small minority of transgender people who want to transition shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Such transitions may indeed be what some people need in order to be/feel free. My point is about the way an issue of identity and recognition has quickly become a taken-for-granted good, and medicalised under certain pressures. No longer able to think outside the social and economic conditions in which they play a central role, progressives have shifted the burden of decision to social actors they trust as ‘theirs’: the activist charity, the medical practitioner, the academic with a feel for how conventional notions of x or y are replete with bias and bigotry, and, of course, the experience and choices of those who would live differently, outside the mores of mainstream society. If this process can occur with an issue as central to human culture as sex and gender, it can occur with almost anything.  

For all the (very real) threats we now face from the new reactionary Right, the most momentous development of our era has been the continued subordination of nature by techno-scientific capitalism—a socioeconomic ensemble to which a certain idea of liberation is central. It follows that a radical left-materialism must begin by acknowledging our groundedness in nature, reflect on the cultural and intellectual conditions that have permitted a contrary world-picture to flourish, and identify, as aspects of the same delusion, the idea that we can endlessly manipulate the environment, and the idea that we can manipulate ourselves to better fit the cultural reality that has grown up in the shadow of that promethean project. Today techno-scientific capitalism presses in on us at every turn. A socialism that has nothing to say about that, and about the kinds of creatures we are, is a socialism that will reproduce its radically antihuman assumptions and facilitate its assault on ‘all that is solid’.

“Menstruation Vacations” Are Adapting Work for Women’s Health

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/07/2021 - 6:00pm in

Right now, about five percent of the world population have their period. It is one of the most familiar biological phenomena, experienced every few weeks by billions of women. And yet, it is often a taboo topic. Which is why, when 30-year-old Kristel de Groot, the Dutch founder of the California food supplement startup Your Super, had to give an important three-hour presentation in front of a boardroom, she didn’t dare to speak openly about the fact that she was having trouble focusing because of period pain.

“I thought, I am sitting in front of all these men — and at the C-suite level it’s almost always men — and I am not 100 percent, but I can’t say that out loud,” she recalls.

The experience was a turning point. 

In June 2020, de Groot introduced 12 annual “Moon Days” for her full-time female employees, which they can use in addition to regular sick days during their period. “I call it a ‘do-what-you-can day’ — stay at home, take it easy, cancel all your appointments, or come in and work as usual,” de Groot says. “It’s to create empathy around the issue, and also encourages the team to listen to their bodies.”

Kristel de Groot and Michael Kuech

What their bodies are often saying is: I need a break. Some 20 to 40 percent of women report experiencing period pain, mood swings and fatigue. Up to 80 percent say they have at least once experienced problems that prevented them from working fully. 

Before de Groot implemented Moon Days, she asked her employees in a survey about their experience. Some 65 percent of the 110 employees at Your Super are women, and about half of them reported being impacted by their menstrual cycle. “Some said, oh, I just pop a pain killer. Others say they have low energy and can’t focus. Some don’t have any difficulties.”

The certified health coach started Your Super, a Certified B Corporation which produces food supplements, with her German husband, Michael Kuech. They met while training to become professional tennis players at Valdosta State University in Georgia. But after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 24 and underwent chemotherapy, they focused on rebuilding his immunity through healthy food and supplements. “Because of our story, awareness of your body’s needs is kind of built into our company mission,” de Groot explains. 

When de Groot first introduced Moon Days, reactions were mixed. “There was some consternation. ‘Oh, we’re talking about this?’ It’s not just men who don’t want to talk about it. Many women don’t want to talk about it either.” But after a year, her employees have embraced Moon Days as routine, like sick or vacation days. On average, female employees take 21.5 hours of Moon Day time in a year. Several male employees argued they needed Moon Days, too. “No, you don’t!” de Groot told them. “Then I explained to them about hormone cycles and how they affect women, and they became very quiet very quickly.”

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Could this well-intentioned initiative backfire by perpetuating stereotypes about menstruation-related mood swings, the basis of so many outdated jokes about women and PMS? “I think it can be taken both ways,” de Groot answers. “Periods are actually the start of the creation of life. That is something to be celebrated, not something bad or dirty. We all wouldn’t be here if women didn’t have their periods.” Employees who need to take a Moon Day can simply (and discreetly, if they wish) inform their HR manager, no questions asked. “I sometimes talk about it openly, though, and [tell the office] that I am taking my Moon Day,” de Groot says. “It’s part of being a leader: Let me talk about it — how is this for you?”

De Groot, who is Dutch and originally started the company in Berlin in 2015 before moving its headquarters to Venice, California, has noticed cultural differences, too. “We had some press in Europe but in the U.S., there are certain publications who don’t want to mention menstruation.” Now that the Moon Day policy has been in place for a year, she notices that it opens up conversations around the topic. “Women started to share about their periods, about PMS — that was really encouraging to see. Women can support each other. Even if you don’t talk about it, at least women shouldn’t feel ashamed of it. Not talking about it sometimes comes with shame, and there is really no reason for that.”

Her initiative fits with the bigger picture of adapting workplaces to women’s needs. Several companies in Great Britain are pioneering menopause-friendly workplaces. And the pandemic has increased the need to address period poverty because many girls and women, especially among members of marginalized communities, have trouble accessing period products. De Groot acknowledges that her efforts happen “within my little bubble. On other continents — for instance, in Africa — once kids get their period, they stop going to school.” She donates to organizations that help women and children in Asia and Africa, but still sees a need to advance the conversation around menstruation in the West, too.

De Groot remembers her grandmother who had to stop working when she married because she was no longer allowed to work as a teacher. “Back then, this was normal,” de Groot says. “When we look at the opportunities we have now, it’s an example of how things change over time.” However, she is convinced that more progress is needed. “The workplace was actually built by men and hasn’t ever really changed,” she says. “The best companies do is offer free tampons. But this is not enough. So I thought, this has to change.”

The post “Menstruation Vacations” Are Adapting Work for Women’s Health appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Critical race theory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/06/2021 - 9:45am in

‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain

Christopher Rufo

I wonder if I can keep this post short and sweet. Only by reminding myself that I’d like to write about his after much more consideration and effort. So can I keep this to a steak in the ground (Here at Troppo we’re always looking for ways to get red meat to the base)?

Be that as it may, critical race theory has been identified — by its opponents — as sitting at the apex of the hornet’s nest (or is that a Gordian knot) of wokeness, though the basic structure of the ideas also applies elsewhere — think radical critiques of gender and colonisation to name just two.

And here’s the thing. I agree with most of the anti-woke agenda in various areas with some passion. But I’m hostile not to the radicalism of the ideas of critical theory. Far from it. They are, for the most part, powerful and very welcome additions to our understanding of the world. But that’s very different to the more ambitious political, social and managerial application of those ideas where my response is often strong objection. I’d say precisely the same about Marxism.

That is, Marxism was an immensely powerful lens on the world, not just on economics, but on the whole structure of ideas around which public and social life is organised. Was it ‘right’. Yes, much of it was deeply insightful, but then it wasn’t the only way you could look at life or the phenomena it foregrounded. Marxism also came with its own stratospheric hubris in which it became the first ‘truly scientific’ study of humanity, rendering all else erroneous and obsolete. Not only that, but it turned out to predict the future as the working out of an iron law. The working class would be progressively immiserised and would then rise up in revolt.

One aspect of its overreach is the way in which Marxists were such passionate advocates and activists for the revolution. If it’s inevitable, why all the fuss? For its adherents, for all its masquerading as objective science, Marxism’s appeal was its inversion of the political ethics of the ruling class. Where revolution is the ultimate disaster for the governing ideology, it becomes the ultimate destiny and the ultimate good for the Marxist.1 And the good guys in history and in society as you look around are not those at the top a few of whom get statues erected to them — and torn down a century or so later. Like the New Testament, Marx’s testiment reassured its adherents that the meek would inherit the earth. 

With events having proven the prophecies wrong, the idea of nirvana following the revolution begins to look like a skyhook — a fictional ‘get out of jail’ card. As with a magician’s misdirection, while we’re all admiring the depth of the insights into the structure of things, and the working class have become the cool kids, we’re suddenly ushered into another room in which revolution is cool!

Critical race theory — and the Frankfurt School which was in many respects its intellectual vanguard — offers extremely powerful ways to theorise the ways in which power and oppression exist well beyond explicit legal and economic discrimination. Is it right? Yes, in the only way such things matter which is to say what I’ve just said — if offered a much needed lens on social reality of great power and insight which helped us understand how much more would need to be accomplished beyond formal legal equality — or even greater economic security and equality. And of course it’s not the only way to look at any of the things it focuses on. 

Moreover, the Frankfurt School was one of the offshoots of Marxism which was focusing on something that was obviously called for. With Marx asserting compellingly that “the executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” the Frankfurt school amongst others explored some of the contours of this insight. Foucault’s point in this context on “the relationship between power and knowledge, and how the former is used to control and define the latter” is similarly a point of immense and endless importance in our lives. 

But here’s the thing. Because some great minds have spun up some great analyses of power, power is still power. If I’m an activist organising demos and I work out that the spray that the police keep spraying on us is pepper spray, it might help me out — but not much. Because not only is it pretty hard to protect yourself against pepper spray and keep demonstrating (it being hard is kind of the point of pepper spray), if I do come up with pepper spray pills which make my fellow activists immune to its effects, the police are the ones with the power — remember! So they may just escalate the violence.

The armoury of weapons from wokestan attempt to bootstrap power for those they regard as powerless. Some of them might be helpful. I’m personally in favour of affirmative action in many contexts and even quotas in some contexts. But they’re a blunt instrument and can generate perverse outcomes. 

There’s now a blizzard of other techniques like ‘subconscious bias training’ of various kinds. Such things could be useful if done with genuine insight and humility. But at least from the cases one hears of, no-one could accuse them of being done in that spirit. I’d add here in parentheses that there’s a whole blizzard of wokedom breaking out in bureaucracies in the pubic, private and third sector, like this creepy attempt to purge and decolonialise language at Brandeis Uni. Likewise governments jump into the fray with codes of ethics and cultural this and that. They could help in some ways, they could be harmful in others, but we’re rolling them out without much idea of any of that.   

Meanwhile on social media where so much of the action is, woke sensibilities and programs they lend themselves quite obviously to weaponisation. And they take us into an area in which whose side you are on comes to eclipse whether you’re making any sense.

And all this will have been worse than useless if disadvantaged communities’ energies are diverted from ways they can advance their own interests through their own agency. Most of that work will be largely invisible to the dominant class and culture. So it won’t be tweeted and won’t get many ‘influencers’ worked up. But the evidence of communities who are prospering in the multi-cultural societies of the West — of which there are many — suggests that this is where most of the action is regarding how things turn out for their members.

  1. I’m generalising here, about what I’ll recklessly call ‘mainline’ Marxism but if you want to quibble with any of this thus far, please send your complaints together with a full psychological profile of why I’m really motivated by panic or malice to Troppo’s Chief Psychologist, Human Relations, ClubTroppo Collective together with a stamped self-addressed envelope to somewhere else. You will be vaccinated in due course #ItsNotARace.

Podcast on Gender Budgeting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 1:48am in

Research Associate Lekha Chakraborty, recently chosen to join the governing council of the International Institute for Public Finance, was interviewed for an Onmanorama podcast on the question of gender budgeting and the advantages of centering care work.

Chakraborty argues policymakers in India should prioritize integrating a comprehensive care economy policy package in macroeconomic management, and laments the separation (disciplinary and otherwise) between questions of gender and of macroeconomics. In the context of the ongoing pandemic, she advocates sending monthly cash transfers to women engaged in otherwise unpaid and undervalued household work.

Podcast on Gender Budgeting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 1:48am in

Research Associate Lekha Chakraborty, recently chosen to join the governing council of the International Institute for Public Finance, was interviewed for an Onmanorama podcast on the question of gender budgeting and the advantages of centering care work.

Chakraborty argues policymakers in India should prioritize integrating a comprehensive care economy policy package in macroeconomic management, and laments the separation (disciplinary and otherwise) between questions of gender and of macroeconomics. In the context of the ongoing pandemic, she advocates sending monthly cash transfers to women engaged in otherwise unpaid and undervalued household work.

Women’s Work in South Asia: trends and challenges

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/06/2021 - 11:01pm in

Although gender equality in employment is among the Sustainable Development Goals for South Asia, progress is hard to observe. Determined to explore why female employment levels remain low and stagnant, Varsha Gupta and Arun Balachandran of YSI’s South Asia Working Group organized a webinar series. Featuring eminent speakers such as Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Prof. Sonalde Desai, Prof. Jeemol Unni, Prof. Ashwini Deshpande, Dr. Dipa Sinha and Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka, the resulting conversations shed much-needed light on the topic.

Illustration by Aneesha Chitgupi, Coordinator of the South Asia Working Group

Employment is a subset of work

The series began on May Day, with an inaugural session by Professor Jayati Ghosh. Highlighting the low female employment figures in India, she explained the difference between employment and work, the former being a subset of the latter. A major proportion of women are involved in work, though it is not paid and hence does not get counted as employment. The 2019 Time Use Survey in India reaffirms that women in India spend 2.5 times more time than men in unpaid activities. The gender wage gap exists and is high in private casual work. The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse, furthering the case for gender-sensitive economic policies. View here

The impact of COVID-19

The second talk by Prof. Sonalde Desai focussed on employment trends during the Covid-19 pandemic. She presented the latest research with the use of Delhi Metropolitan Area survey (March 2019-20). The decline in employment occurred majorly in wage employment. With the use of econometric techniques, the research finds that in absolute terms, job loss for men was severe in the first wave of Covid-19, while the second surge hit women harder in the Delhi NCR region, India. The closure of schools and the consequent child rearing duties was one of the reasons that women’s wage work fell. Highly educated women were more affected than men. Rural areas absorbed the impact of the pandemic better than urban areas. The gender difference in impact was found to be highly dependent on the sector of employment and region. View here.

Informal workers bear the brunt

Jeemol Unni’s session concentrated on the impact of the Covid crisis on women and domestic violence among members of the informal workforce. Globally, pandemics harshly affect women more, due to the sectors and the kind of work women are involved in. The majority of the women form the bottom of the labor hierarchy. With the use of CMIE and NSS data, it is seen that the second wave of Covid-19 and lockdown affected women’s employment more vis-à-vis men. Discouraged worker effect is also visible among women.  View here.

Prof. Ashwini Deshpande’s talk focussed on the gendered patterns in employment in India during first wave of the pandemic. The world over, the subsequent economic recession led to more unemployment among women than men, a pattern different from previous recessions. This is visible in India as well, in the 2020 CMIE data. The already gendered labor market in India, with fewer women employed, worsened further for females. Though the absolute figures for job loss are higher for men, the impact has been higher on women due to the pre-existing gaps. There has been exacerbating of women’s position in the domestic division of labor during August-December 2020. View here.

The potential of public employment

The penultimate session was featured Dr. Dipa Sinha highlighting the relevance of public employment in generating opportunities for female labor force in India. Nations with higher female LFPR are the ones which also have higher proportion of women in the public sector. In India, the NSS data shows that government is a significant employer for women. There is also sectoral concentration of women in health and education, where they are engaged as contractual or honorary workers (ASHA’s, Anganwadi Workers). Creating regular permanent positions in these sectors could encourage female employment. View here.

Education is not enough

Various facets of female employment in Sri Lanka were brought in by Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka from International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo. While Srilankan women are better educated than their counterparts in other South Asian countries, they still remain disadvantaged in the labour market. As seen from a study led by Dr. Ramani on women’s activity preferences and time use, unpaid care and household work in Srilanka are mediated by social norms, and unequal division of unpaid work makes it difficult for women to take up paid work. View here.

Altogether, the webinars now form a virtual knowledge base on YSI’s YouTube Channel, making the insights available to young scholars all over the world.

About the organizers:

Arun Balachandran has a PhD in Economics from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, in collaboration with the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. He is currently a Post-doctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, and serves as Coordinator of the YSI South Asia Working Group.

Varsha Gupta is a PhD student in Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She using NSS data to assess issues of labor and gender, and serves as organizer for the YSI South Asia Working Group.

The YSI South Asia Working Group provides a platform for young scholars from South Asia -or those interested in the region- to select an issue they wish to work on, collaborate and discuss for better conceptualization of the problem and, debate, critique and improve upon solutions. We also invite scholars to suggest the most pressing problems and challenges to better guide the path for this working group. Join us!

Surveillance capitalism is helping the disadvantaged: who knew?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 31/05/2021 - 4:51pm in

Tags 

gender, philosophy

Here’s some claims about recent research on fintech and AI.

Berg, Burg, Gombovic, and Puri (2018) suggest that digital footprints can help boost financial inclusion, allowing unbanked consumers to have better access to finance. Similarly, Frost et al. (2019) show that fintech firms often start as payment platforms and later use consumer data to expand into some provisions of credit, insurance, and savings and investment products.

Yet public policy and (shall we call it?) ‘concerned advocacy’ approach such innovations in a highly asymmetric way. They don’t ask ‘what level of regulation would maximise overall good (Bentham) — or overall good to the most disadvantaged (Rawls). They ask “can this new technology produce invidious discrimination?” Almost inevitably it will. But the focus of policy and advocacy is then turned to minimising the downsides, not maximising the upsides or optimising the net outcome.

I’ve wrote about this in a slightly different context in 2017:

The big story in the excitement about DeepMind and Britain’s National Health Service is the way in which the interests and technical capabilities of private operators are dominating public interests and capabilities. But as right as it is to call that out, it’s only the first step towards better outcomes. We need to articulate what those public interests are, and then understand how best to build a world that optimises them. And while the Googles of the world have been building their preferred world for over a decade and show no signs of slowing down, the representation of the public interest has been far more tentative — politically, but also intellectually.

In fact, while there are no doubt exceptions to this, the same pattern is emerging in the application of AI much more generally. The case for restriction on AI emerges from left of centre activists. Their concern tends to be centred around identitarian categories — particularly in this case gender and colour — and much less around class and education. I’m seeking to place these issues in what I think of as their correct context, not play down their significance. (And yes, I got ethics approval to write this article and have counsellors waiting by in case trauma ensues).

How could we do better? I doubt we can do better by just articulating this as the issues are highly emotive and existing interest groups are in a difficult to shift equilibrium which is based around dumbing the message down to make it entertaining for the proles on mass and social media. I think we need to develop mechanisms of ‘meso-governance’ and ‘meso-politics’ as it were. Thus I’d like to see users’ councils being formed using sortition like mechanisms with people who are representative of users (but not self-selected by activism) being paid to spend a reasonable amount of time learning about issues and then reflecting the interests of their communities in the development of technology and governance.

I’ll be interested in your comments below.

Queerphobia in Vietnam

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/04/2021 - 10:00pm in

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Is queerphobia in Vietnam a mere product of colonialism, and does it matter?

If you cannot fly a flag that represents your gender, sexuality, and humanity, in a revolution, is that revolution worth fighting for?

Mèo Mun

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