Is the BBC taking the piss, or were they serious?

So the BBC has announced its ‘100 Women‘ list. The aim of the list is to present 100 women who have made the news. Included on the list are scientists, politicians, women’s rights campaigners…

… and a man.

Named on the list is Conchita Wurst, the alter ego of Austrian Thomas Neuwirth, who won the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest while performing as a Colombian female star.

It’s a great act and Neuwirth/Wurst was the clear winner on style, talent and presentation. Conchita’s win kicked off international discussions about gender, sexuality and inclusion. Many commenters have seen Wurst’s win as a watershed moment in the international struggle for LGBT rights.

But Thomas Neuwirth self-identifies as a gay man.

Neuwirth is very, very clear that he is a gay man who has chosen to perform in drag for artistic reasons. He has been clear in interviews that he is not transgender. He is clear in his ‘100 Women’ interview that , when he goes home at night, he takes off the wig and lashes. His performance explores gender and sexual fluidity, but at no time does he declare himself an actual woman.

Or a citizen of Colombia. Which he could probably become, just for the asking.

What’s worse is that the BBC interview about the listing doesn’t even attempt to address questions about gender and sexuality. The interviewer just asks inane questions about fashion. She asks if Conchita finds her feminine clothes comfortable and when Conchita answers that she’s in constant pain from wearing them, the interviewer fails to follow up with what could have been an interesting discussion on just why very feminine clothing is so brutal. But she doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t ask anything that could have been illuminating at all.

If the artist himself is clear that Conchita Wurst is an act that finishes at the end of the day, then why is the BBC identifying her not just as a woman, but as one of the top 100 women making the news?

The 100 Women season is a chance for women to be represented, involved and inspired – and we want you to have your say.

OK, BBC, here’s my say: if you want a list of 100 Women, you need one more. Because, right now, you’ve got 99.

And that’s according to Conchita Wurst herself.

What would you write on OKCupid?

Mr Bodycrimes asked me what I was working on, and I said: “My OKCupid profile, in case you died.”

He went: “What? WTF? Why would you do that?”

It’s an unpleasant task, sure, but – as I explained – it’s got to be done. Like writing a will. Or taking out income protection insurance.

You hope you never need to use it, but everyone should have it, just in case.

Let’s face it, cougardom isn’t going to happen by itself.

Sure, you don’t post your ad as soon as the body is cold. You spend a bit of time recovering from your grief. But when a suitable amount of time has elapsed, you take a selfie, write a bit about yourself, and then hit ‘send’.

Anyway, Mr Bodycrimes asked me for my list of ‘must haves’ in a man – friendly smile, easygoing temperament and a few other things that aren’t worth mentioning – and he laughed.

Well, he guffawed.

He said: “Liar. What you want is a cook.”

That’s the problem with long term relationships. You let someone into your life, and the next thing you know, they find out all your secrets.

Biological determinism and gender on a mission to Mars

Men are, on average, physically stronger than most women.

This physiological reality is used as a key argument against having women in combat roles or in firefighting. And the people who are making those arguments aren’t always old-fashioned chauvinist pigs – they argue that, when lives are on the line, brute strength is important.

What’s interesting is this argument is almost never used in situations where women have the biological upper hand. Women are generally smaller and lighter than men, yet they had to fight to become professional jockeys.

And while corporations that produce silicon chips hire women for their production lines because of superior female fine motor skills, men are not discouraged from entering prestige occupations like neuro- or ophthalmic surgery, despite their poorer motor abilities.

Which it why was intriguing to see Kate Greene’s Slate article suggesting that any human mission to Mars should be manned (so to speak) solely by women.

In passing, she mentions previous research that suggests that women have stronger hearts and can better withstand vibrations and radiation exposure then men, and that women appear to cope better than men with isolation and sensory deprivation.

Space missions might therefore have less of an impact on women’s wellbeing than on men’s.

But the real reason that sending women into space would be a better deal for NASA is that sending women will cost less.

Greene, who has been living in a geodesic dome in Hawaii designed to simulate life during a Mars mission, did a sleep study of the participants, and quickly realized that women were consuming fewer calories than the men.

Which means that women, who are typically smaller and lighter than men anyway, will need to take far less food with them into space. Less weight on board means less payload means less fuel to launch the craft and power it. A weight reduction of this magnitude could reduce the cost of the mission by many billions of dollars.

Greene says that NASA already knew all this back in the 1960s, and almost considered an all-female astronaut corps. But culture took over:

Despite extensive training and excellent performance, the women in the program were dismissed. Some of the reasons included fears about public relations if female astronauts were killed, as well as NASA’s reliance on military pilots, who at the time were only male.

Now, just imagine if Greene’s article was taken seriously, and biology became the sole criteria for high-risk space missions. Men who wanted to participate would be asked to prove that their bodies worked as efficiently as females: “If you’re a small male who can metabolise calories as efficiently as your female colleagues, or if you can train yourself to live on a restricted diet, feel free to apply for the space program.”

Any male who was successful would then be told: “If you’re lucky enough to be accepted as the token male, don’t whine about the hazing rituals. And make sure you fit quietly into the prevailing female culture, including keeping the toilet seat down, so that you don’t interfere with morale. You must do this even if the difficult accommodations you’re making stop you from performing your job adequately.”

Except it will never happen, and for a good reason. Greene herself gives the real reason NASA wouldn’t want an all-female crew: as plenty of business and military case studies show, diversity improves overall outcomes:

My six crew members and I were chosen out of 700 applicants worldwide. We were a relatively diverse bunch: a Belgian man, a Canadian man, a Russian-American man, a Puerto Rican woman, a black woman who grew up in the Northeast, and me, a white woman from Kansas. We had a range of engineering, science, and creative backgrounds. For half of us, English wasn’t our first language.

Because of our differences, we were often learning and relearning each other’s problem solving approached, personalities, language quirks, and food preferences. But soon we realized that our diversity helped us solve various problems that came up, from designing new scientific experiments and analyzing data to building equipment to finding ingredient substitutions for recipes.

In any case, the question of whether men should be allowed or not is never going to come up. That men will be involved is a certainty so absolute, that to question it is unthinkable.

But kudos to Greene for questioning just why that is.




The love songs of Professor Barry Spurr

The Guardian is running a story about a kerfuffle that’s taking place in Australia.

Basically, a professor in the Department of English at Sydney University has had his emails leaked, and they’re jaw-dropping. They’re full of comments about whores and darkies who bring down property values and opera singers who don’t wear bras.

To be honest, they read just like the comments boxes of any manosphere site.

But Professor Spurr is not just any old professor. He is, apparently, consulting to the Australian government about the development of the national school curriculum.

After his emails were leaked, he was suspended from the university.

There are many other people who are writing reams about the situation, so I’ll just make two observations.

The first is – what an idiot! Who uses their work email to write inflammatory and highly inappropriate stuff? Doesn’t he know about hotmail?

Second, he deserves to be kicked out of the university, and not because of his views, or his astounding lack of judgement, or because of what he might do the curriculum.

But because he’s a professor of literature, yet he writes like a teenage boy with his hand down his pants – self absorbed and monosyllabically rude.

And he has the nerve to complain about standards.

On advice for wives

I came down to breakfast to find Mr Bodycrimes leafing through a book I’d bought: Don’ts for Wives by Blanche Ebbutt, originally published in 1913.

He looked up and waved the book at me.

“You bought this as a joke, didn’t you?” he said.

I nodded.

“Well it’s gold,” he said. “Use it.”

“Which bits?” I asked.

“All of it,” he said. “Every word. Memorise it cover to cover, including the preface and the copyright details.”

I picked it up and opened the book at random:

Don’t think it beneath you to put your husband’s slippers ready for him. On a cold evening, especially, it makes all the difference to his comfort if the soles are warmed through.

Don’t be satisfied to let your husband work overtime to earn money for frocks for you. Manage with fewer frocks.

Don’t refuse to see your husband’s jokes. They may be pretty poor ones, but it won’t hurt you to smile at them.

“I want to smear that book over you so that it all sinks in,” he said.

Then he ran out of time to discuss it, because he had to start making breakfast.

Who are you when you’re online?

“Whatever we become online is an extension of our usual behaviour…”

If this is true, there are a few people who should be worried right now.

EDIT: OK, I have to add something to this. Someone emailed me a Jezebel article that paints Katherine Hale (and her linked article) in a completely different light.

Was Nadella being sexist when he told women not to ask for a raise?

As I discussed recently, yes, there’s a gender pay gap, and no, it’s not always because women choose different professions or work fewer hours. It’s also because women are less comfortable talking about money and asking for raises; because they have lower salary expectations; and – here’s a biggie – because men get paid more.

As tech start-up Evan Thornley founder cheerfully told a conference, women are an undervalued resource. “And [they were] still often relatively cheap compared to what we would’ve had to pay someone less good of a different gender,” he concluded. To illustrate his point he showed a slide that said: “Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper.”

For which he got a backlash, although people should have thanked him for telling the truth so bluntly, especially when so many deny it.

Another tech leader who’s recently experienced a backlash is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who, when asked what women should do about the pay gap, replied:

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” he told the attendees, according to Selena Larson of ReadWriteWeb.

“That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women (who) don’t ask for a raise have,” he added. “It’s good karma. It will come back.”

Sounds incredibly sexist, right? No wonder Nadella got such blowback about it that he quickly apologised.

Except, do you know what? I bet you anything he wasn’t being sexist – I bet you thinks that all compensation is a matter of good and bad karma, and that people naturally end up where they deserve to be. I bet you Nadella thinks men shouldn’t  bother their employers with pesky requests for more money either.

Possibly his remarks were less motivated by sexism than by the just world essentialism often adopted by the very rich and successful. In one study:

Kraus and Keltner found that the higher people perceived their social class to be, the more strongly they endorsed just-world beliefs, and that this difference explained their increased social class essentialism: Apparently if you feel that you’re doing well, you want to believe success comes to those who deserve it, and therefore those of lower status must not deserve it.

Why wouldn’t he believe this? Nadella’s got a compensation package worth up to US$18 million – so karma worked for him!