succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, February 27, 2005

So it's 3 in the afternoon and I'm still in my pajamas. We went out last night to celebrate Sanna and Travers's birthdays (again) and afterwards Travers and I watched King Arthur (too long; even with the hotness of Keira Knightly and Clive Owen, not really worth it) and Chris Rock on Comedy Central's new late night uncensored stuff and generally I just stayed up way too late and, like the sloth that I am, slept way too late this afternoon. Nevertheless, I sit here blogging because I currently have four of my six linear models homework problems solved, which is a new record. They're due every Tuesday, and I have never been this far along on the assignment on Monday morning, much less before the end of Sunday! It's very exciting. Also exciting - last night I was the girl that some (cute) guy at the bar thought was hot. That never happens to me. Very fun. Ok, on to catching up on all the (old) news that's been sitting in my inbox with little notes to self to blog about this or that topic.

Much as NYT op-ed writer Kristof makes me feel icky, I'm way more afraid of Wade Horn's letter in response to one of his columns:
Kristof is wrong to claim that there is "plenty of evidence" supporting sex education programs that teach teens about contraception in addition to abstinence, Wade Horn, assistant secretary for HHS' Administration for Children and Families, writes in a Times letter to the editor in response to Kristof's opinion piece. According to Horn, of 29 experimental studies examining the effectiveness of "contraceptive-based" sex education programs, "some found positive effects, some found no effects and some even have found negative effects" in terms of delaying sexual intercourse, promoting contraceptive use and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, "One thing is clear: Abstinence is the only 100% effective means of preventing both pregnancy and STDs," Horn says, concluding, "Why, then, is it such a 'scandal' that we tell our young people this simple truth?" (Horn, New York Times, 2/23).

First of all, this guy holds a fairly high ranking position within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. You know, the department in charge of public health, that thing that I do. And he a) reveals a clear bias toward Bush's preferred abstinence only education programs, which have been shown not to work (I'll get to that in a minute) and b) show's a clear lack of understanding of scientific studies. Of course there's a variety of effectiveness found in studies of contraceptive-based sex ed programs. There's a wide variety of these types of sex ed programs. Some are great, some are not so great, and some aren't very effective at all. We're not saying they're all wonderful. In fact, studies of the effectiveness of these programs are useful in picking out the ones that do work and modeling more programs that way. But you know what doesn't work? Abstinence only education. And you notice he doesn't claim that it does. He repeats the typical statement that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Well, yes, that's a true statement. And I'm sure every teenager who is told that waits until marriage. Oh, wait, some of them don't? oops. A recent study in the British Medical Journal conducted a "...systematic analysis of pregnancy prevention strategies for adolescents [and] found that, far from reducing unwanted pregnancies, abstinence programs actually 'may increase pregnancies in partners of male participants.'” (reference to the article here) Right. So some contraceptive-based sex ed programs are working, some aren't. But abstinence-only sex ed programs pretty much just aren't. So glad this guy works for the HHS.

Next I'll work up to my thoughts on sexism, or gender stratification, as Amelia calls it in her well thought out post on the subject. First, we have this article all about Condaleezza Rice's clothes. To get a few things out of the way - I hate the way this article is written. It's total crap. I also hate that we waste time and space discussing our Secretary of State's outfits. Nevertheless, I am willing to recognize the reality that clothing does make a big impression, moreso for women than men*. And I do sort of have to give Dr. Rice some kudos here for striding into such a boys club with such an obvious show of power. I just wish that instead of discussing how her outfit was "... striking because she walked out draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness," we could instead be discussing what a shame it is that a woman in a position of power has to play such games to get men to respect her.

Next we have "Why Can't a Man be More Like a Woman?"

Perhaps in the wake of the Larry Summers debacle at Harvard it's time for a study of the missing social gene in men. It's amazing how many executive disasters are caused by the way otherwise smart males crash around in the thicket of interpersonal relations.

This is the most insidious, offensive kind of sexism, as far as I'm concerned. It a) puts women on a pedestal of "better than thou-ness" just like the Victorian's did - oh, we want to you stay at home because you're so lovely and delicate and perfect and the world is so big and bad and we want to protect your perfection! And b) excuses any bad behavior on the part of men as merely a symptom of their maleness. Hey, sorry I'm a jackass and a neanderthal, but you know, I've got that Y chromosome thing. Nothing I can do about it. Both of which are just complete and total crap. The whole article is just one nauseating stereotype after another, so I'll spare you any further quotage. But any cognizant being should be able to recognize in the people they interact with on a daily basis that sometimes men are kind and sometimes they are brilliant and sometimes they are stupid and sometimes they are jerks. And hey! Surprise surprise, sometimes women are all those things too. This is far, far from some sort of unique insight into the nature of humans. So why does it still seem so necessary to say?

Ok, now getting to the actual issue of gender stratification that Amelia addresses, which is specifically in academia. I haven't fully ordered my thoughts on this subject yet, so I'll just sort of run through them bullet-point style and hopefully some sense will be made.

  • most of life I've been in a predominately male field (math/stat). I've never experienced any overt sexism as a result (you can't do math! you're a girl!) But somewhere along the lines I became very prepared for such a thing. One of the reasons I am pursuing my PhD is because I expect to be taken more seriously with those three letters after my name. (well, actually Mr. Stone, my PhD from Emory says that my analyses are correct. God I hope I'm never actually that obnoxious. If I ever turn into that person, someone please give me a good smackdown)
  • during a little pep talk a couple of weekends ago about the stress of a PhD program and how a lot of it feels like hazing Dad sort of hesitantly mentioned, well, Megan, I'm glad to see that so far this doesn't seem to have happened to you, but, well, most female PhDs my age are, well, how should I say, somewhat unbalanced shrews. Which got me thinking about the two female tenure-track profs in my stats department at case and the three female tenured profs in the biostats dept here, and yes, four out of the five are among the most difficult profs I know to work with or learn from or try to get help from. Obviously I can't know without having spoken to them about it, but it does seem that they turned into these mean, awkward little shells to survive their education in what was then an even more male dominated field
  • and speaking of male dominated, I've had a rather interesting experience with it, since the vast majority of my profs both at case and here are male and yet in both places the vast majority of my classmates have been female (at case that was a total anomaly, here it's the norm - schools of public health are incredibly heavily skewed along gender lines, we're like 70%-80% female here and that's pretty close to average). I'm not sure what that does to gender stratification in the classroom and in discussions. Maybe I should start asking more boys how they feel about it. I can't say that I've noticed much of a divide. There's one third year student who tends to talk more in class, but I've always ascribed that to his personality - he's just gregarious. And in my classes with him I've never felt that he was monopolizing the class or stepping on any of the rest of us. (and I'd like to think that I'm fairly sensitive to such things) In my cohort (four of us who work together on everything) we tend to defer to the one male in our group, but that's because he has proven himself to be the smartest out of all of us. And now that we have a recent addition of another girl, a math major, we often defer to her on more mathematical-proof-type problems. So again, I don't notice any divide. The smartest will naturally be recognized for their talents, which is the way it should work.
  • a classmate and I were discussing the whole girls in math thing the other day, and she put an interesting spin on it - one of the traditional explanations for why girls don't speak up as much in math classes is that they are more afraid of being wrong and less confident than boys. Anna mentioned that one of the things that drew her to math was it's concrete "rightness." She didn't have to have confidence in her natural abilities or subjective knowledge and understanding. In math there was a right procedure to follow and correct equations to use and then you would arrive at the right answer, and you could be confident in the "rightness" of that answer, even if you weren't confident in yourself.
  • I don't know. I'm sure there's some other stuff rattling around in there, but that's enough for now.

*on the one hand, I think clothing makes a bigger difference for women because we have a wider spectrum of clothing at our disposal. So in some ways this stratification works to our advantage, because we can manipulate our appearance to work for us, as Dr. Rice has done. On the other hand, needing an outfit to work for us implies that we are not enough on our own, which is crap. So what's to be done? Uniforms for everyone? A wider spectrum of clothing options for men? In general, I think we have bigger battles to fight.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh man, I think the whole Condi outfit thing is so overblown. It's only interesting because it's new, and as women (of color, no less) take higher and more prominent positions within government, I think it's only natural that we should all don our sociology/anthropology caps and reflect on the mannerisms, outfits, and other such things a female does in a certain position as compared to the long line of men that came before her. I think the essence of the article was well summed up at the end, "Rice brought her full self to the world stage -- and that included her sexuality. It was not overt or inappropriate. If it was distracting, it is only because it is so rare." And that's fine. I saw that outfit and I thought, goddamn, you go girl. I'd certainly snap-to and obey orders from a woman in that outfit, no shit. In fact, like you mentioned, I'm almost jealous at the plethora of outfits a woman CAN choose from to make a statement (CAN, not HAS TO). A Neo-esque Matrixy outfit might have made Draft Dodger Bill Clinton look like more of a badass to his sneering military minions. Or, no would have made him look like a retarded queer. SEE how much better Condi has it? Jeez. Calm, people.


4:02 PM  
Blogger Flash!topian said...

What is it about Kristof that's so gross? It's hard to put my finger on it, mostly because I agree with a lot of what he says . . . Maybe it's when he says things about how he has a Chinese-American bride, and snidely comments that "miscegenation" is the way to go. Maybe it's the constant visions he conjures of himself buying prostitutes, who plop onto his lap before he can say boo, while he says, "Listen, baby, I'm a white rich guy and I can bust you outta this joint -- but you gotta promise to be a very good girl from now on." (shudder)
Regarding inequalities in the academy, you find them in the humanities too, in that most of the older female professors in English are those who did have to sleep their way through the sixties and seventies to get where they are, or they're bitterly clinging to low-rung positions and greasing those rungs for any female grad student who wants to climb higher. I'm pretty optimistic about our generation though. I've never had to suck cock to get where I'm going. With the exceptions, oddly, of these bitter older (50+) female professors (with whom I've been dealing painfully for eight years now), I've been received for my ideas and my guts. Maybe the age of the bitter women is a little lower in the sciences, but still, the winds are a-blowin' and the times, they are a-changin'. I feel grad school has been, especially in the earlier years, way too much of a hair shirt, but now I feel it's getting easier. At some point, someone has to start treating you like a professional, if a professional is what they want you to become.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still fascinated by the question of work ethic and life priorities (spend x% of time on career, y% on family/friends, z% on hobbies/goofing off) and how they differ between the sexes, whether it's fair to say they differ at all.

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On preview:

Yes, more clothing choices for men! Dammit, why can't straight men wear velvet? Or at least *velvetine*!


2:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home