Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

At the United Nations two weeks ago, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke out against child marriage. Great. But Canada officially doesn’t fund any international aid agency that provides access to abortion (even by simply providing referals). When asked to clarify about this, International Development Minister Christian Paradis confirmed that this ban extends to agencies helping victims of child marriage and war rape.

In case you are not disgusted by this policy, girls who become pregnant are not actually physically mature (their pelvises and birth canals aren’t physically developed enough for having a baby), resulting in higher mortality and greater risk of other health complications. This is all exacerbated by the socioeconomic conditions in which child marriage tends to be practiced, which tend to limit access to proper health care. And the right of a rape survivor to end a pregnancy seems like a no-brainer. (To say nothing of the right to bodily autonomy. That’s something the Harper Government doesn’t like to be reminded of.)

Below are the texts of three emails I wrote—to Baird, Paradis, and my local MP (who is not a Conservative). Feel free to adapt these letters if you’d like to send one of your own. I’ll be posting any responses I receive in a later post.

Letter 1:

Dear Minister Baird,

You recently spoke to the United Nations about the need for more action on child and forced marriages. Yet last week, International Development Minister Christian Paradis said that Canada will not fund projects that give such child brides, or survivors of rape in war zones, access to abortions.

I understand that this policy is consistent with the government’s decision not to fund abortion services under its global maternal health plan. However, the need for an exception to this policy in cases of child marriage and war rape is obvious and pressing. According to Human Rights Watch, girls under the age of 20, and especially those under the age of 15, who become pregnant are more likely to die of complications from pregnancy and face other serious health consequences, largely due to their physical immaturity. Further, the right of women who become pregnant as a result of rape to terminate their pregnancy should be beyond question.

While I applaud your efforts to curb the practice of child marriage worldwide and to promote maternal health, survivors of sexual violence need protection as well, and sometimes abortion is a necessary part of that process. I urge you to reconsider this policy and stop leaving rape survivors behind.



Letter 2:

Dear Minister Paradis,

You recently said that Canada’s government will not fund international aid projects that allow access to abortions for child brides and survivors of war rape.

I understand that this policy is consistent with the government’s decision not to fund abortion services under its global maternal health plan. However, the need for an exception to this policy in case of child marriage and war rape is obvious and pressing. According to Human Rights Watch, girls under the age of 20, and especially those under the age of 15, who become pregnant are more likely to die of complications from pregnancy and face other serious health consequences, largely due to their physical immaturity. Further, the right of women who become pregnant as a result of rape to terminate their pregnancy should be beyond question.

Abortion is sometimes a necessary part of health care for women and girls in these horrifying situations. It is hypocritical of the government to speak against sexual violence and child marriage yet deny survivors the care they need. I urge you to reconsider this policy and stop leaving rape survivors behind.



Letter 3:

Dear [MP],

Last week, shortly after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke at the United Nations denouncing sexual violence and child marriage, International Development Minister Christian Paradis confirmed that Canada would not fund any aid agency that provided these survivors of rape with access to abortions.

This policy prevents girls from accessing necessary health care. Girls who become pregnant are still not physically mature, and face higher mortality and other health consequences as a result. Furthermore, the right of rape survivors to be able to choose to end a pregnancy should go without saying.

As a resident of [riding], I urge you, when Parliament resumes, to work towards changing this policy. Preventing violence against women worldwide should be a bipartisan goal, and treating survivors of such violence is just as important.




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Bill C-279, “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)”, has been passed by the House of Commons. It now needs to go through the Senate, so I guess I should keep holding my breath, but I am encouraged by the fact that 18 Conservative MPs voted in favour of this bill. Read more here (for some reason this source only counted 16 Conservative MPs, but the official record shows 18).

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Wood Thrush nest, by Genevieve Jones. From "Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio" by the Nelson E. Jones family. Source: Smithsonian Libraries Online.

Wood Thrush nest, by Genevieve Jones. From “Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio” by the Nelson E. Jones family. Source: Smithsonian Libraries Online.

Genevieve (Gennie) Jones was a talented young woman whose family, like many in nineteenth century America, fostered a passion for natural history. From an early age, she helped collected bird nests, eggs, and other natural wonders for the family’s curiosity cabinet. But Gennie noted the lack of an authoritative guide to identifying nests and eggs without seeing the adult birds. Inspired by Audubon’s famous book The Birds of America, published forty years before, she decided to compile such a a guide.

She planned to illustrate the nests and eggs of all 130 species of birds then breeding in Ohio. She and her friend Eliza Schulze created the images from nests and eggs that her brother Howard collected; her father Nelson provided start-up funds and even build a special addition to their barn that got enough sunlight to work by. The plates were lithographs—the image was etched onto a smooth stone surface, then coated with ink and transfered to paper—and the women planned to hand-colour all 100 copies of their initial print run. Creating a single plate could take days. The book would published by subscription, with a set of three illustrations issued periodically. Ex-president Rutherford B. Hayes and then-undergraduate Teddy Roosevelt were among the subscribers.

But after only one month of work, with 15 plates completed, disaster struck: Gennie contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 32.

Field Sparrow nest, by Virginia Jones, from "Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio". Source: Smithsonian Libraries online.

Field Sparrow nest, by Virginia Jones, from “Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio”. Source: Smithsonian Libraries online.

Gennie’s family decided to memorialize their lost daughter by completing her book. Her mother Virginia, teaching herself about natural history and scientific illustration, took on the monumental task of drawing the other 120 or so species, hiring three local women to help colour the prints. Howard continued to collect nests and wrote much of the book’s text. It took them seven yearst to complete Gennie’s project, entitled Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio. This book is now extremely rare, but librarian Joy M. Kiser has brought it to light with the publication of America’s Other Audubon. It reprints all of the colour plates with excerpts from the original text, and is among the most beautiful natural history books I’ve ever seen.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve recently worked as a nest-searching technician for several avian research projects, so bird nests have a special place in my heart. Each life-sized image is painstakingly detailed and accurate but also manages, through some combination of the birds’ skill and the artists’, to be aesthetically wonderful. The text describes both the particulars of the location and structure of the depicted nest and the range of variation within the species. It also features some classic wry, Victorian anthropomorphization. Take, for instance, these words from the description of the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus):

The Great Crested Flycatchers are very quarrelsome and tyrannical among themselves, or at least they appear to be, as they are continually scolding and complaining to each other and engaging in fights. This, however, may all be in fun, and their notes, which are so harsh and grating to the human ear, that when once heard are never forgotten, may convey to each other very pleasant and peaceful ideas.

The story of the Jones family’s labour of love is inspiring, but no less so is the author’s quest to bring this story to light. The book’s self-effacing preface describes this quest, from the intrepid librarian’s first encounter with The Nests and Eggs to the present publication. While nest-hunting may not be as common a pastime as birding (indeed, collecting or otherwise disturbing nests is illegal in both the U. S. and Canada), nest and egg identification can be a useful tool for birders and an essential skill of students of natural history.

Further reading:

Joy M. Kiser’s homepage (also links to places where you can buy the book)

Smithsonian Libraries’ online exhibit about The Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio, including high-resolution scans of many of the plates and more of the text of the original book (America’s Other Audubon has only short excerpts)

A writeup about the book on the blog Brain Pickings, where I originally heard about it

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Are you a fan of criticizing evolutionary psychology? Grab some popcorn, folks, because there has been some criticizing and counter-criticizing going on that you may find entertaining! In most cases, it’s actually serious, well-reasoned debate, too (as long, I assume, as you don’t read the comments). Things began with Rebecca Watson‘s talk about pop evo psych at a skeptic conference, which was…I won’t say “debunked”, but countered, by evolutionary psychologist Edward Clint. This has sparked some dialogue, primarily on Freethought Blogs, about evolutionary psychology as a whole field and about the media coverage of the science (or, often, “science”) of gender differences. I present the (interesting parts of the) conversation so far in chronological order (perhaps I’m missing some contributions from blogs I don’t regularly read, so additions in the comments are welcome; also please note that I’m interested in collecting links that discuss the science or lack thereof involved, NOT those discussing What Rebecca Watson Really Meant):

Edward Clint’s response to Watson’s talk (the latter is embedded here and at the first Almost Diamonds link below)

Justin Griffith’s take on the above

Stephanie Zvan’s rebuttal of Edward Clint’s post

Tangential to the debate per se, Zvan also documents the gleeful response from the section of the internet that reflexively detests Watson

Zvan’s counterarguments, continued

PZ Myers begins a series critiquing evo psych

Clint’s response to criticism (this, and some other posts linked within, is more about tone and whether people are misinterpreting what other people said/wrote, which I consider not popcorn-worthy because I want to read about science)

Jerry Coyne discusses the field

Part II of Myers’s critique (and apparently more parts are planned)


Myers, part III

Greg Laden’s take

Shall I write up my own contribution here? Perhaps if I run out of popcorn.

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File under “I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit.”

About a week ago, a small tempest erupted in the science blogosphere over a remark made by Dr. Dario Maestripieri, a professor at the University of Chicago, on his Facebook page. The comment read, in full:

My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone.. [sic]

Screenshots of the offending status have been spread far and wide, and a few good commentaries on why this statement is problematic and offensive have been written by, among others, Dr. Isis, DrugMonkey, and Janet D. Stemwedel. I encourage you to read these posts, and at least some of the comments, because I don’t intend to explain in detail why this post is so unfortunate here. Suffice it to say, in DrugMonkey’s succinct words,

Don’t do this. It’s sexist, juvenile, offensive and stupid. For a senior scientist it is yet another contribution to the othering of women in science.

There is still sexism in science. I am most pleased and heartened to see established scientists, like the bloggers I linked to above and (allegedly) some of Dr. Maestripieri’s colleagues on Facebook, speak out against it. Behaviour like Dr. Maestripieri’s contributes to an uncomfortable work environment for female scientists, an environment that makes many of us question whether having a job in the field we love is worth putting up with such condescension and objectification.

Don’t believe this? (cf. these guys, and kudos to the commenters who have already thrashed them.) Let me tell you something.

I am a young female scientist.

And Dr. Maestripieri holds an appointment in one of the academic sections to which I’m applying to do my PhD.

His comment, while extremely distateful to me, is nowhere near brazen enough to make me withdraw my application, and isn’t likely to weigh very heavily among all the other factors I’ll have to consider when I decide which school to attend. But if all else turned out to be equal, this comment could damn well tip the balance. Do I want to have to potentially interact with a man who’s made it clear that he judges female scientists based on their looks first?

And you know what else? If I had been considering joining Dr. Maestripieri’s lab, I would be running the fuck away from that application right now. If I were working for him, I’d have to assume that he’s judging me based on my appearance, and that he’s perfectly comfortable talking about my appearance to me or to colleagues. That’s the sort of academic environment that I want to avoid, and one that I shouldn’t have to put up with.

To be clear, I don’t care whether professors, or anyone really, mentally rate people’s attractiveness; I think most of us do this at least some of the time. But when this thought process leads to unprofessional behaviour, be it overt harassment, subtle differences in treatment based on looks, or comments like this that both make their female colleagues uncomfortable and tacitly endorse this sort of behaviour in others, it is not acceptable.

Dr. Maestripieri’s comment is far from enough to drive me away from a science career. But it could well drive me, and other women, away from his lab, his department, and his university. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their loss.

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Back in the day, the day being the last semester of grade eight, I attended a school run by a Baptist church. I knew a lot of very conservative evangelical Christians. They were all really nice, caring people. I think they would all have literally given the shirt off their back to someone in need.

Around this time, I was becoming more politically aware and beginning to follow both Canadian and American politics. My opinions tended to be much more liberal than those of most of my peers and teachers. And this was fine. My grade eight history teacher, a conservative Christian like all the others at the school, encouraged my class to talk about the hot topics of the day, one of which was, of course, abortion. And while he made his own opinions quite clear, he definitely wanted us to form our own, not to parrot his. This is beside my point, though. The point is the opinion I consistently heard about abortion rights from the conservatives—adults and teens alike—that I interacted with. They always—always—stressed that abortions should be available for women who were raped or whose life was at risk from the pregnancy. Always.* (They may have venerated a rape survivor’s choice not to terminate a pregnancy as a Christian thing to do, but this was always a choice.)**

That was more than ten years ago. Now I hear on a regular basis about politicians speaking in support of and even trying to enact legislation that would ban abortion even in those cases. I’m pretty sure that, even a few U.S. election cycles ago, no mainstream politician could have gotten away with saying such a thing. I glanced through some Gallup data, and it seems that the proportion of the American population that believes abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances” hasn’t changed much over the past decade. If public opinion hasn’t changed dramatically, why has public discourse changed? Or is it just my perception that it has?

*Data from Gallup: As of last year, about 70% of self-identified pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal to protect the health or life of the mother, and about 60% support abortion rights for rape/incest victims.

**Then again, maybe all those people, had I asked, would have claimed that date rape wasn’t really rape, because, you know, that slut shouldn’t have been drinking/partying in the first place.

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Parliament just voted on, and passed, a motion that Bill C-279, which would extend protection against hate crimes and discrimination to trans people, be read a second time (bills in Parliament go through three reading before being made into law) and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This is good news!

The vote was 150 to 132, and all of those 132 nays were Conservatives. However, 15 Conservatives voted for this motion. This gives me some hope. I know it doesn’t mean they plan to support the final bill, but it’s not a bad sign.

Here is the full list of how MPs voted on the motion, broken down by party. If your MP is among the Conservatives who voted against it, I urge you to write to them to express your support for C-279. Tell them to vote for it in future. Perhaps more importantly, if your MP is one of those 15 Conservatives who supported the bill being moved to second reading, PLEASE write to them to find out how they stand on the bill and to encourage them to continue supporting it. Heck, you don’t even have to be in their riding to tell them this. I think I might go ahead and email them all.

We probably won’t hear much about C-279 for a while now, as the Omnibus Budget Implementation Bill of Doom and Also we Hate Science is going to take up a hell of a lot of Parliament’s time. (Oh yeah, while you’re writing to your MP about C-279, maybe you should tell them how you feel about the budget, too.)

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