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Entries in sexism (16)


I feel the Bern, but I would love to see Hillary as President

Bernie Sanders is my type of politician. A dishevelled cranky old man, not afraid to call himself a socialist and willing to remain an outsider his whole career? Yes please. I've followed his career for more than 10 years, as the only politician that struck a cord with me when I moved to America. I'd love to see more like him in the Senate, and hopefully on the Supreme Court too.

Hillary Clinton is a woman I admire immensely (and I'm not alone, she has been the most admired woman in the world for 20 times in a row). She has stayed strong and true to herself despite 25 years of the most vitriolic attacks in political history. In today's world it is often easy (especially for men, and younger women) to forget just how ground-breaking she was. Hillary broke through the glass ceiling again and again in her legal career, and when Bill's political career took off she got an enormous amount of criticism for not fading into the background, only to be heard of when giving out cookie recipes. I've wanted Hillary to be President since 2008, when the policy wonk in me preferred her 20-point plans to Obama's Americana rhetoric.

When there are two good candidates (a problem Republicans would love to have!), why do I prefer Hillary?

First, I admire Hillary's heart. Hillary and Bernie have very similar politics*. But Bernie's progressivism is driven by righteous anger (like mine), while Hillary's is driven by compassion and love (like Lydia's). Always has been, going back to her highschool days. Bernie has had the luxury of being himself in public, while Hillary has had to hide that behind a public persona**, thanks to her position and the double standards of sexism. But the heart shines through. 

Second, I think Hillary has a better shot at winning the general election, and this will be one of the most important elections in American history. I know, Bernie-bros, that right now Sanders has better general election polling than Clinton. But the difference is, no one has ever run an attack ad against Sanders. You are dreaming if you think that the Republicans will pull their punches, and Sanders (like everyone) has dirty laundry that will be aired. There is nothing new that can be raised against Hillary - the Republicans ran out of real attacks years ago, and even their manufactured pseudo-scandals have been pre-factored in with the polls. And let's not forget - Sanders is not even winning Democrats - at the moment he has 2.5 million fewer votes in the primaries, and (except online) more Democrats are enthusiastic about Hillary than Bernie.

Third, symbols matter. Progressive politics is not just about the White House, it is about transforming society. Probably the most important transformation is one of equal opportunity. This needs to happen not just from the top, but also from the ground-up, which means every child needs to really feel like they have opportunity. With Obama, a whole generation of black kids have grown up knowing that a black man can become a great President. With Hillary Clinton, girls will finally have a role model succeeding to the very top. Will it end sexism? Of course not, but it will provide strength and inspiration to some women to defy sexism.

Fourth, I just think Hillary Clinton would make a better President. The President is not a King. The President needs to assemble a team of the very best, and then negotiate with some of the worst (most importantly, the Senate). Hillary has the A-team already lined up, the very best of Bill and Obama's team, plus her own network from an entire lifetime in service to the Democratic party. Plus, Hillary knows how to negotiate in the Senate. As Senator for New York, she was well recognised by both parties as being the person to cross the aisle and get deals through. Hillary may not be the natural in public that Bill or Obama are, but in these small groups she shines. How about Bernie? One of the most progressive Senators, Barny Frank, is blunt: "Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out". I love the fact that the guy is pure, but being unwilling to negotiate often means you get nothing. Like the way he voted against the auto-bailout, which he liked, because it included the bank-bailout, which ended up making money. Ultimately, I want a Democrat President who can get progressives onto the Supreme Court, and I think that Hillary's negotiation skills will do more than Bernie's ultimatums***. 

So, Hillary Clinton / Cory Booker 2016!


*They voted the same 93% of the time in the Senate. And the 7% difference was not always with Bernie to the left. On financial regulation he was mostly to the left of Hillary, but on guns and science Bernie was to the right.

** Which is not to say that she is dishonest, just justifiably guarded. Objective fact-checking puts Hillary as the most honest candidate in the race. Bernie is not far behind, and both are miles better than the Republicans

*** Not to mention, Hillary's willingness to raise money to get more Democrats elected. Those expensive fundraisers that Bernie criticises Hillary for? Most of the money goes to down-ticket Democrats. Bernie's never raised money for other Democrats



Really? Pink-washing things for girls has even reached the globe?


Changing a baby in Porto airport

Finally! See, rest-of-the-world, it isn't that hard!


Pants for Parisian women, just don't dress gay in Antwerp

In a long-delayed advance for women's equality, women in Paris now have the right to wear pants. The law from 1800 had previously been updated in 1909 to allow women to wear pantaloons when riding a bike or horse, but now it has finally been repealed. 

Meanwhile, in Antwerp, the mayor has decided that civil servants are not allowed to dress in a manner that identified them as openly gay. The example used was a rainbow shirt, but the concept was explained such that a civil servant cannot dress in a way that "makes clear that he or she adheres to this obedience". By all means, Mr Mayor, please give us the official homosexual dress code so that styles that are too obviously gay can be banned. Also, to achieve your desired neutrality, please ban all dress styles that are too openly heterosexual. 


Women in Molecular Immunology

It is easy to discuss equality in science through anecodote. Just by spending most of my waking adult life on university campuses across three continents I am fairly confident in saying that sexual equality is better in biology and medicine than in chemistry or physics, is great at undergraduate level and lagging at professorial level, and is better in Australia than in Belgium. Much better than anecodote, though, is quantitative analysis, which is why I love this website. If you don't publish your research it is a hobby, not science, and a good publication record is the A to Z of career success for a scientist. This website collates data on authorship across time and across disciplines, at a global level, and assesses the participation of women. There are a few caveats: papers are only assessed if they are listed in the JSTOR database, and a gender is only assigned by first name analysis (using the US Social Security database as a reference, so it probably fails for first names not commonly used in the US). Still, it is an absolutely beautiful reference point.

There is an wealth of knowledge in this database, but my interest is in molecular immunology, so how are we performing? Well, the question kind of depends on "compared to what?" In 1991-2010, 29.7% of authors on molecular immunology papers were women. This is an improvement from 1971-1990 (23.9%), and a huge improvement from pre-history (being everything from 1970 and before, at 13.7%). It is also outstanding compared to fields such as mathematics, where women still only account for 10% authors (maths clearly has a problem with women; anyone who says the reverse is kidding themselves). But 29.7% is still a long way from 50%. Even among first authors (typically PhD students or post-docs), only 33.2% of molecular immunology authors were women, and among last authors (typically professors) only a dismal 15.4% were women. 

I've said before what I think the problem is (hint, it is men), but this database gives us a resource to see who is fixing the problem, and how fast, and who is content to live in the stone-age and try to do science with a 50% lobotomy. So many questions arise. Why has virology been more equal than immunology throughout the time period? I would love to see a break-down by country to know if this is a discipline-thing, or is a statistical quirk due to regional differences in sexism correlating by chance with regional differences in research focus.

Oh, and for the trivia-minded, within molecular biology the most equal area of research is heat shock proteins, while the most sexist is prostaglandins. In the entire database, the most female-dominated area of research is gender studies (57.8% female authors), while the most male-dominated area of research is a discipline of mathematics called Riemannian manifolds (99.3% male authors). Check it out.


Race and the American election

Have the 2008 and 2012 election wins ushered in a new era for American race relations? After all, this is a "post-racial America", where a black man was voted President twice by a clear majority of citizens. Right?

No. Barack Obama won both elections for one reason only - demographic change. If it wasn't for demographic change, both McCain and Romney would have won landslides equal to that of Ronald Regan. Consider this - Obama lost the white vote by 20 points (60% Romney, 40% Obama). In 1980 this was the margin of loss by which Carter lost the white vote to Regan. The difference is just that in 1980 the white vote was 88% of the electorate, now it is only 72%. Obama badly lost the white vote (39%), but he overwhelmingly won the black (93%), hispanic (71%) and Asian (73%) votes. If you give Romney his 2012 results by race, but use the 1980 demographics, Romney would have won the election 53% to 45% - almost the same spread as Regan beat Carter (8 points vs 9 points). This is not to say there hasn't been enormous improvements in race relations in America, but the election of Barack Obama does not mean that race doesn't matter.

The Republicans need to be really, really scared. The white vote is just going to decrease in every election from now on. In 2011 white babies were a slight minority in America - using the demographics of the 2011 birth cohort, Obama would have won 59% of the vote. This is going to be a slow process, but unless the Republicans stop their race hatred they are simply doomed. Actually, I'll go a little bit further: they need to stop their race hatred, their homophobia, their Christian supremacy ideas and their misogyny. Among people who identified as LGBT, 90% voted for Obama. Among the non-religious, Obama won 70% of the vote. Among women, Obama won 55% of the vote (although he lost white women). Every growing demographic is being alienated by the Republicans - whether they are Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBT or atheist. The only groups that the Republicans can really rely on are white men (62% voted Romney) and the highly religious (59% of weekly Church-goers voted Romney). That is a dying demographic, and the Republicans need to wake up and realise that from now on, America is a pluristic society.

Finally, the election result that may have the most profound, long-lasting impact on politics in America: Puerto Rico just voted for Statehood (61%). Now a petition for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of America will go before Congress, and once it is accepted (I assume the Republicans try to block it for awhile), Puerto Rico will become a proper State. This will be huge. For the first time, ~4 million American citizens will get to vote in Federal elections, having 2 Senators, 5 Representatives and 7 Presidential Electors. For the first time ever, a new state will be accepted into the Union that is non-white (all other states were not accepted until they were majority white, even if now a few have become minority-majority). For the first time ever, there will be an officially bilingual state in the US (Spanish/English). The new America is evolving, and it is going to look more diverse, more multicultural and more mutually respectful.



This. But also this.


It couldn't be easier for men to be equal parents (so why aren't they?)

Even if this generation is better than any previous generation, very few men actually perform 50% of the parenting. There are always so many excuses: "I earn more money, so it makes financial sense for the mother to be the main caregiver", "She is on maternity leave, so she can do most of the parenting",  "I just don't have her knack for getting baby to sleep", etc, etc, etc.

To them all, I say bollucks. If women can manage 99% parenting, like they have for generations, men can manage 50% parenting. You have a job? Boo hoo, so do many mothers*. You are tired when you get home? Wow, who would have thought having a baby would involve loss of sleep. You are not as good at getting the baby to sleep? Of course not, if you haven't put in the hours of frustrating practice**. It is not just men making these excuses. I often hear them from women: "Babies just need their mothers, it is biological". Pfft, now that we have formula milk, there is nothing the father couldn't do, if he just made the effort. "There is only a changing table in the women's bathroom, so Mummy should change him". Sorry Daddy, just go in there and change him, if women complain we'll get more co-sex changing tables. Perhaps women are giving men a free pass because undoubtably most of their partners are doing more parenting tasks than they saw their fathers do.

If anything, it is easier for men to be equal parents than for women to do so. Whenever I take Hayden for a nappy change or give him a public feed I get nods and smiles of approval from the women around me***. I take Hayden for a night and people tell me it is great that I am giving Mummy a night off. I bring Hayden to work for a day and I am a role-model for fathers. For every small action I take in parenting I get so many signs of social approval. For a woman, on the other hand, every step she takes towards equal parenting results in social disapproval. If Lydia goes out without Hayden she gets asked if I am "babysitting" (her wonderful reply, "no, he is parenting"). The insult I personally find most aggravating is when a woman retreats from 100% parenting and gets told "Oh, I could never do that!", with the unstated "because I am a better mother" hanging patronisingly on her lips. 

So men, lift your game. You don't get to bask in the glory of doing 25% of the parenting; if you are not doing 50% you are a moocher****. You've been coddled and congratulated for under-performing for too long - if you aren't going to equal parent you shouldn't be a parent at all. And women? I'd like to ask you to judge the mother and the father by the same standards.


* And let's face it, work is relaxing after parenting

** I mean really, would you do all the house-work if your husband said "I just don't have your knack for mopping the floor"?

*** I get frowns of disapproval when I then tuck him under my arm and drink beer, but that is another story

**** Even if you work full-time and she doesn't, tough luck you still need to do 50% of the parenting. Parenting is not a job like any other, it matters who is doing it, not just that it gets done. If you're not doing 50% of the parenting, you are not a father, you are a sperm-donor.


Saudi women gain right to vote in meaningless elections

From the headlines you would imagine a huge leap forward in women's rights in Saudi Arabia - from the New York Times "Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote" or from the Guardian "Getting the vote could herald real change for Saudi women". 

Really? Because as great as it is that Saudi Arabia has joined the rest of the world in allowing women to vote (except of course the Vatican City, as the last bastion of male exclucivity), those elections are not going to be worth a dime. In the last 50 years there has only been one election that anyone could vote in, and it was a local council election where the monarchy determined eligibility to stand for election and directly appointed half the members. So at some point in the future there will be another local council election with the result pre-ordained by the Monarch, but a few women will be allowed to vote for the remaining window dressing. Whoop-e-bloody-do.

It is hard to imagine this move as anything other than a (successfull) attempt to give the illusion of progress and democracy where none exist. The King of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarch, who bloody cares who can "vote"? What is a vote without democracy! Progress would be the women of Saudi Arabia getting rights that they can actually use, such as the right to marry who they want and travel where they want. Anything else is just PR.