Women walks across the surface of Mars.

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!

Pornography, sexuality and the empowerment of Belle Knox

Have you ever had someone rave about a film, promising you that if you see it, you’ll love it?

Then you watch the film, or you read the book, and you think… really? Did we read the same book? Are we talking about the same film?

And it’s not that you’re just having a polite disagreement over aesthetics or plot holes, it’s that you actually can’t believe you watched the same thing.

That’s how I feel about Samantha Allen‘s piece, which has run on Salon, xojane and other outlets.

Called ‘Debunking The 3 Biggest Myths About Porn’, Allen’s jumping off point is a 5-part Internet documentary called Becoming Belle Knox. The series follows Miriam Weekes, the Duke University student who decided to pay for her tuition by doing porn. According to Allen:

Traditional mass media has failed to depict sex work and the porn industry in a non-judgmental way… But if documentaries like Becoming Belle Knox become the new norm in a changed media landscape, the Internet might finally give us the fresh perspective on pornography that our culture so desperately needs.

Allen says the film deconstructs three myths:

1. Sex work isn’t work

2. Emotional connection and sex go hand in hand

3. Porn performers can’t be empowered if they have emotional trauma.

The issue of whether sex work is work or a form of exploitation has been debated hotly within the feminist community for years. Radical feminists have argued that pornography is exploitative, while sex positive feminists have argued that the criminalisation of sex work is just another way to control women’s sexuality. The arguments on both sides are complex and the topic is fraught.

Allen sidesteps the whole thing by boiling it down to a single idea: sex work is just a job. Like any job, it has good points and bad points.

It’s her third point, about porn and emotional trauma, that I thought was interesting. There is a theory that says that young people who have been sexually traumatised or abused are more likely to turn to sex work or promiscuity, as a way of re-enacting their trauma. This is the ‘damaged goods’ hypothesis and Allen points to a Slate article that says the rate of past sexual abuse among performers is not necessarily higher than among the general population, based on this research. Others have suggested it’s too soon to toss the (unfortunately named) theory out.

As it happens, Miriam Weekes is a rape victim, which she openly talks about in the film. At some point during her adolescence, she was also deeply troubled, as her thigh is criss-crossed with self-inflicted slash marks.

But for her, porn is empowering: “It makes me feel like a strong independent woman.”

“Everything is on my terms,” she says. “I’m in control.”

Except that, soon enough, the documentary starts to tell a different story. Weekes talks about how painful it is to have sex for hours on end, while she’s suffering from vaginal tears. We see Weekes in the persona of Belle Knox, standing selling hugs and autographs at some kind of sex expo. She visibly cringes when she’s touched.

Later, she empties out the bag of money she made that day – about $1500. Which seems like a lot.

Except that it isn’t. Weekes says she has a lot of “overheads”, from flights to make up. I assumed she was talking about her appearance at the sex expo, rather than her porn work, because surely film expenses are covered? What kind of employment makes workers cover the fundamental costs of the business? At the very least, the on-set make up artist must be covered – because if it’s not, then Weekes is subsidising the making of a film from which she doesn’t get shares or royalties.

But then Weekes says: “There are a lot of expenses involved in doing porn,” so it seems she is subsidising the film makers after all.

But perhaps that’s the price of doing business, and maybe it’s worth it, for the validation and empowerment it brings her. After all, she’s totally in control.

Except when she isn’t. Weekes says her agent refuses to tell her in advance who she’ll be having sex with, even when she pleads for information. When she turns up to one gig, she discovers she has to sleep with a 50-year-old man she clearly finds repellant. But rather than being in control of the situation and walking away from it, she submits to the scene, because if she doesn’t, there are penalties – a $300 kill fee, no more work, and a backlash from other porn workers.

“I felt like crying during the entire scene,” she says later.

Despite her newfound ability to detach emotionally from the sex, this all comes at a psychological cost: “The industry has a way of making you very cynical and bitter… it teaches you not to trust people. My experiences have aged me.”

This is the same person who wrote:

Because to be clear: My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling and empowering.

After I watched the documentary, I re-read Samantha Allen’s piece.

I can’t work out which was worse – watching an exhausted Miriam Weekes cry for her mother, or discovering that Samantha Allen is a ‘doctoral fellow in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University’.

In other words, someone who should know sexual exploitation when she sees it.

 

Red pill humour

So it’s early on Monday morning and I’ve just finished breakfast. In between reading the headlines, I flipped over to WeHuntedTheMammoth, the site that’s dedicated to mocking the New Misogynists – those strange and viciously anti-women groups that have sprung up online in spaces collectively known as the ‘manosphere’. WHTM’s author, David Futrelle, tirelessly wades through the far reaches of Reddit and the stranger corners of the internet to uncover the best (or worst) of ‘red pill thinking’ and present it to his mostly female, mostly feminist readers.

This morning’s post is a doozy. It’s a riff on a post by Christian Taliban writer Dalrock, who wrote a short piece called ‘She’s saving her farts for you’, which then gathered more than 150 comments from men outraged by the awfulness of modern women. The whole thing is ripe for satire, and David lets rip.

Now, the manosphere can’t abide David Futrelle. Which is probably not surprising, because very few people appreciate having their beliefs mocked. So the manosphere hate David Futrelle even more passionately than they hate women, which is really saying something, because they hate women with everything they’ve got.

But you know what’s really funny?

They don’t get that why he does it.

See, there are generally two sorts of red pill men: young ones who are angry they can’t find a 22-year-old virgin who’s interested in them, and middle-aged ones who are angry that their wives threw them out. Red pill men only see women in terms of utility e.g. sex, cooking, cleaning and baby making. They don’t believe that women have individual personalities, intellects or senses of humour. The only reason they personally would engage with a woman is either to eat her food, berate her for not cleaning behind the fridge, or to shag her.

So they assume that David Futrelle, being male, has much the same outlook. It doesn’t occur to them that he’s mocking them and their beliefs because he genuinely thinks manospherians are risible. They therefore believes that he’s built this website and filled it with content as a way of attracting women, just so he can pick them off at leisure and bang them. Good game! They might say, in other circumstances.

But David’s site attracts feminists. You know, those ugly, tattooed, hairy-legged she-beasts, that nobody ever wants to bang.

The cognitive dissonance comes close to making the misogynists’ heads explodes. I’ve now seen dozens of comments about Futrelle, slagging him off for having to fish in such polluted waters to satisfy his sexual urges.

To be honest, they’re so convinced that WHTM is some sort of reproductive strategy, that I’m surprised they haven’t gone and built their own online honey trap, designed to catch better quality women.

And meanwhile, David and his commenters get on with the business of mockery.

It’s pretty funny.