gender

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The Doulas Who Help Navigate Gender Exploration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/06/2024 - 6:00pm in

This article originally appeared in Yes! Magazine.

Before Ash Woods got gender-affirming top surgery last January, they stapled together a zine-like booklet filled with all sorts of delicious smoothie recipes. On the front cover, Woods drew a T-Rex in a self-effacing nod to how the surgery was going to render their arms virtually useless for at least one week after they received a more masculine-looking chest. Before their surgery, they set the booklet down next to the blender in their kitchen so it was ready to go when they got home from the hospital.

Woods, who is trans and nonbinary, works as a birth doula in the Seattle area. As part of their job, Woods extensively plans for a client’s post-labor recovery, and they wanted a similar level of care after their surgery. Top surgery was going to be vulnerable and challenging, Woods knew, and rather than rely solely on a partner or friends, they decided to hire an expert: a gender doula.

Similar to birth doulas, gender doulas are non-clinical companions who provide advocacy, knowledge, and support. These days, you can count on two hands the number of people who have assumed the formal title of “gender doula,” but they have existed over the decades in other forms as “transgender transition coaches” or more informal word-of-mouth mentors. With exploration of gender-nonconforming identities becoming more common and gender-affirming surgeries on the rise, people are turning to gender doulas to navigate an often unwelcoming environment.

A person with a clipboard supportively puts a hand on another person's arm.A gender doula might offer guidance about how a patient can communicate with their doctor, though they will not offer medical advice. Credit: Media_Photos / Shutterstock

The gender doula could remind Woods to take their medication, supervise them on a walk in case they started feeling dizzy, or record how much fluid was draining into their post-surgical plastic bulbs to ensure they weren’t at risk of infection. The doula could also act as an advocate at doctors’ appointments and ensure Woods’ correct pronouns were being used, given that they are often misgendered at the hospitals where their clients are giving birth, though “they/them” pronouns are clearly written on their badge.

“When you’ve fought for so long, and have been silenced or not seen, and are finally stepping into your body, and then someone doesn’t see or acknowledge it … it’s just a dismissal of your existence,” Woods says. “And it’s crushing.”

According to a 2020 Center for American Progress survey, nearly half of the 1,500 transgender adults surveyed reported experiencing mistreatment or discrimination with a health provider. This includes misgendering, care refusal, and verbal or physical abuse. The rates are higher for transgender respondents of color, with 68 percent reporting a negative interaction. This in turn leads to health avoidance and delay, which can further exacerbate chronic health problems.

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stef shuster, author of the 2021 book Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Genders, says medical providers are often not trained as experts in gender, which means they bring in a lot of assumptions — sometimes bias — into their work about what they think a trans person should look or sound like.

“Anyone who doesn’t fit that mold, providers get really concerned about opening up access to care,” shuster says. “The structure of this system is flawed because it amplifies medical authority and minimizes trans people’s autonomy.”

Gender doulas help maintain autonomy, and sometimes, that looks like educating medical providers. Luigi Continenza, a gender doula in Tacoma, Washington, coaches health care providers to be trans-competent — like using the word “chest tissue” rather than “breast tissue,” or not asking patients about their top surgery scars when they’re seeking care for their ankle.

Ken McGee.Ken McGee. Credit: Danielle Barnum

Woods wanted a gender doula who could navigate the system, so they chose Ken McGee, a fellow birth doula who’d recently transitioned. He was also a physical therapist for a decade who’d seen how isolating gender-affirming surgeries can be and didn’t want people going through the process alone. McGee began pursuing gender doula work during the pandemic. He’s especially excited about educating clients and planning for rehabilitation post-surgery. “How are you going to be set up for sleeping? How do you think you’re going to wipe your bum? What’s showering going to be like?” he says. “I’ve never seen a surgeon’s office have a handout that covers all of that.”

For those who decide to medically transition — not a requirement for a transgender identity — a gender doula might offer guidance about how a patient can communicate with their doctor. But they won’t dish out medical advice. Gender exploration can be delicate, and many doulas are there to listen and help people process, though it’s important to note they are not trained therapists.

Eli Lawliet, one of the first and only full-time gender doulas, says people often seek him out when they’re exploring their gender and feeling scared or confused. Like McGee, he started during the pandemic and much of his practice is online. He hosts virtual workshops such as “Love Your Trans Self” and monthly breath work circles, but a bulk of his work is one-on-one consultations.

Eli Lawliet. Eli Lawliet. Credit: Abby Mahler

Lawliet holds a PhD on the history of transgender medicine — one of his clients dubbed him the “trans librarian” — but he also has lived experience. “It took me a long time to realize that actually, I’m a gay man,” he says. “If I had had somebody just talk it through with me, I feel like I could have saved eight years of consternation, you know?”

Lawliet says listening to Erica Livingston, a birth doula with Birdsong Brooklyn, on the Tarot for the Wild Soul podcast inspired him to pursue his current path. “She said this line: ‘We need a doula for every threshold.’ Of course, the threshold I was working with was transition,” Lawliet says. “I had a huge, thunderous, lightning moment.” Eventually, Livingston and her partner, Laura Interlandi, became his mentors, teaching him the skills to guide people through their most vulnerable and tender moments.

From his apartment in Los Angeles, surrounded by Dolly Parton art and tarot decks, Lawliet meets his clients over Zoom, which allows him to see people anywhere in the country — more than 115 of them so far with a growing waitlist. On a given day, it’s not uncommon for Lawliet to discuss everything from the spiritual aspects of transitioning and not feeling trans enough to the current political climate. Then there’s the logistics — insurance, clothing, name change — all the complex, moving parts of being trans, he says.

There’s currently no certification process. (Birth doulas have a certification process, though it isn’t a legal requirement.) However, Lawliet is continually receiving requests for mentorship, so he is planning to offer a structured mentorship program in the future. For now, he has only taken on one mentee, who is Filipinx and Yaqui, which gives clients of color an option for someone with more shared experience.


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Given the lack of official training, Lawliet strongly believes a deep interrogation of self needs to happen before someone assumes the title of gender doula. He’s always thinking about the ethical considerations of the role—confidentiality for one, or not trying to force people to grow or heal in a way that he thinks they need. He also created an online community with other gender doulas, including McGee, Luigi Continenza, Bowie Winnike and Ro Rose, where they share resources, troubleshoot and refer clients to one another.

In the end, McGee worked with Woods for a month. He taught them the signs of abnormal swelling and of course, made smoothies. When Woods wanted to step out into the world, McGee was right there alongside them, reminding them to take pauses when they felt winded, filling in the awkward silences, and stopping when they wanted to admire the exuberant branches of their favorite monkey puzzle tree.

Eventually, Woods healed. The first time they slipped their favorite black hoodie over their head and looked in the mirror, they cried and thought: “That’s how it’s supposed to look.” Woods and McGee are still in touch, and every now and then will go for a walk, together.

Yes! Magazine is a nonprofit, independent media organization. Learn more at Yes! Magazine.

The post The Doulas Who Help Navigate Gender Exploration appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Mexico’s First Woman President Is Not a Fluke

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 11:58pm in

Mexico has just elected its first woman president, the result of well-designed women-friendly policy. ...

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The Furies Reconsidered

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/06/2024 - 10:00pm in

Read as a book about how institutions disempower women, The Furies makes the kind of actions that the three characters take seem not only reasonable but necessary for their survival. ...

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Sex and Gender: A Contemporary Reader – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/05/2024 - 8:24pm in

In Sex and Gender, editors Alice Sullivan and Selina Todd marshal a range of academics in different fields – from neuroscience to sociology – to explore the relationship between sex, gender and gender identity. Encompassing a broad range of topics and lenses, the volume presents illuminating research in this contested area, writes Lucinda Platt.

Sex and Gender: A Contemporary Reader. Alice Sullivan and Selina Todd (eds.). Routledge. 2023.

Sex and Gender A contemporary reader alice sullivan and selena todd cover.Sex and gender have become highly contested terms, with substantial confusion about their meanings and relationship to each other. This edited volume provides valuable clarification on many of the issues and claims relating to sex and gender in contemporary society. Its fifteen chapters come from experts in their fields, covering topics and disciplines from biology and neuroscience to sports, history, law, philosophy, criminology and sociology, allowing wide-ranging consideration of discussions about sex and gender.

The authors all recognise that sex is a biological referent – ie, immutable and determined at conception – but they provide a range of ways for thinking about gender as a social category, with different emphases on patriarchy (eg, Jones), socialism (eg, Todd), and the role of the state. They share an emphasis on the importance of clarity around terms: the authors take care with their language, and their articulation of concepts, whether the conception of woman (Stock) or sex itself (Hilton and Wright), its measurement (Sullivan, Murray and Mackenzie), or how “inclusion” has been reformulated to encompass the exclusion of women’s concerns (Benjamin; Devine). Such clarity is especially important in a context where the commonly understood meaning of words relating to sex and gender has been undermined.

My first thought on reading this collection was the extent to which assumptions, which were only recently taken for granted as self-evident, now have to be spelled out.

My first thought on reading this collection was the extent to which assumptions, which were only recently taken for granted as self-evident, now have to be spelled out. For example, that woman has a singular meaning, even if there is great heterogeneity among women themselves (Stock; Jones; Todd; Auchmuty and Freedman; Devine); that sex is both binary and immutable – and that humans are not clownfish (Hilton and Wright); that the commonplace use of “gender” to designate men and women (ie, sex) that was unproblematically understood as such, whether in nineteenth century novels, legal discussions or contemporary economic analysis, is now easily, or wilfully, misunderstood and typically needs to be caveated (Stock; Auchmuty and Freedman; Sullivan, Murray and Mackenzie); that that those with disorders or differences of sex development (DSD)s do not represent a ””third sex”, since disorders in development or “limit cases” do not alter the fact that there are two sexes among humans, as all mammals (Hilton and Wright; Stock; Sullivan; Devine). The volume helpfully evidences such points.

The contemporary regular conflation of the term “gender” [… ] has also raised questions about how “gender identity” can be understood without reference to (regressive) gender stereotypes.

The contemporary regular conflation of the term “gender” (as the social organisation of society around particular understandings of men’s and women’s roles and positions) with “gender identity”, which implies an identification with a “gendered soul” that may or may not reflect one’s sex, has clearly generated much confusion. It has also raised questions about how “gender identity” can be understood without reference to (regressive) gender stereotypes. The frequent insistence that any discussion of or teaching on “gender” (as social organisation or the cultural basis of inequality) must necessarily involve discussion – or endorsement – of “gender identity”, has impacted many teachers and educationalists (myself among them). For them, this book offers a useful resource that can help to clarify the scope of discussion of gender around the particular topics being addressed, whether biology, education or criminal justice.

Beyond this, the book provides original insights in its different chapters and highlights some recurrent themes across the diverse discussions. Being introduced to accounts from different disciplines, I learnt a lot about what we do and do not know. The chapter by Scott, for example, on sex and the brain argues that while there are clear physical differences (male brains are larger and women’s have proportionately more grey matter), the implications for behaviour have been more elusive. There is little evidence for distinctively female or male brains in terms of (culturally formed) expectations about differences in men’s and women’s abilities or behaviour. Scott also highlights how some key areas of well-attested differences in male and female behaviour (eg, aggression) have been neglected by cognitive neuroscientists, and comments on the ways in which disciplines find some questions harder to ask than others.

There is little evidence for distinctively female or male brains in terms of (culturally formed) expectations about differences in men’s and women’s abilities or behaviour.

Such absence of evidence and claims-making without a solid evidence base, with important consequences, is a theme that recurs across a number of chapters. Sullivan, Murray and Mackenzie highlight how the corruption of data collection on sex and the failure to collect good data on gender identity acts in opposition to the substantiation (or otherwise) of claims about gender (identity), potentially negatively impacting the rights and care of trans people (for example, if screening programmes relating to prostate or cervical cancer do not have information on natal sex). Littman discusses the poor evidence base on the dramatic increases among adolescent girls identifying as trans or non-binary; and Devine charts the neglect of evidence on the physical advantage retained by trans women in women’s sport. An apparently cavalier attitude to evidence is perhaps also what has facilitated the extensive “policy capture” that is charted in chapters on the law in the UK (Auchmuty and Freedman), the US (Burt) and education (Benjamin). Auchmuty and Freedman, for example, note that it came to the attention of grassroots organisations that Stonewall had been providing advice on single-sex spaces that was “legally incorrect”. A willingness to misrepresent the law (and the nature of evidence) flouts of course the sorts of norms on which we typically depend for a functioning society.

Disregard for evidence is perhaps most chillingly described in Bigg’s chapter on puberty blockers. While Biggs notes that children prescribed puberty blockers are a small proportion of all those identifying out of their natal sex, they are clearly particularly vulnerable. Biggs charts how at the time the initial (Dutch) protocols on puberty blockers were adopted, the only evidence derived from one patient. Subsequent evidence on outcomes of those treated was misrepresented (eg, a follow up from an original Dutch cohort, based its positive evaluation on only a subsample of those originally treated, and failed to mention that one had died due to post-operative complications related to puberty suppression); or was subject to lack of follow up for longer rather than limited short term outcomes (a point also made by Littman), or was suppressed. Biggs’ own analysis, after a concerted campaign for access, of a group identified for experimental investigation of outcomes from the UK Gender Identity Development Service found no positive effects of puberty blockers, contrary to claims on which roll-out of the treatment was based, a finding recently endorsed in the Cass Report. The argument that puberty blockers are “reversible” was, according to Biggs, a “rhetorical device” without evidence; and despite the limits to follow-up discussed, there is now some evidence for negative irreversible impacts of such treatment.

Despite the extensive coverage of the volume, there are two things I missed. First, while there is a cogently written introduction from Sullivan and Todd setting the scene, I would have appreciated a concluding chapter reflecting on the different perspectives and issues covered in the volume. While some seemed to see an unravelling of ill-informed claims about gender, others seemed to see their consolidation. Can a view be taken on this point? In addition, the ways that the chapters speak to each other (even if in terms of qualifying each other) might have been further drawn out.

Second, while I appreciated the measured and sensitive treatment of issues of “balance” and support of different rights eg, in sport (Devine) or US equality law (Burt), I would have welcomed further reflection on the reach and limits of an “inclusive” agenda (Benjamin), and the importance or not of spaces for women/girls to enjoy separateness or privacy, beyond the obvious cases such as sports (Devine) and prisons (Phoenix).

For those struggling to understand the disputes around the meanings of sex and gender or how to balance fairness and maintenance of the rights of different parties [ … ] this book provides an invaluable and authoritative introduction to the issues.

For those struggling to understand the disputes around the meanings of sex and gender or how to balance fairness and maintenance of the rights of different parties, whether as someone involved in teaching or research, or as an interested lay reader, this book provides an invaluable and authoritative introduction to the issues.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: Darya Palchikova on Shutterstock.

 

The Movement to Elect More Women in the UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/05/2024 - 6:00pm in

Hetvi Parekh is the only woman from an ethnic minority — and one of just 14 women overall — of the 44 elected leaders of Rushcliffe Borough Council, a local government body near the UK city of Nottingham, representing nearly 200,000 residents.

Parekh, elected to the council in May 2023, and her female peers, who make up about 32 percent of the council, are reflective of a significant gender gap in the UK political system. Currently just 36 percent of the 19,212 elected councilors across the UK are women, while 35 percent of the national parliament, or 226 of the 650 members, are women.

Bridging that gap is exactly why Elect Her, an organization aiming to ensure at least 51 percent of UK government officials are women, was founded in 2016. It offers a program of events, workshops, online Q&As, guides and financial support to help women enter and navigate the political system.

Hetvi Parekh poses with a man while campaigning.A grant from Elect Her helped Hetvi Parekh campaign amid all her other responsibilities. Courtesy of Hetvi Parekh

Parekh is one of the 8,000 women who have become part of the Elect Her network, and one of 150 who have been elected to local councils as a result. She’s also one of 65 female candidates who have received a £500 grant via Elect Her to help with expenses like childcare, a lack of which could otherwise put participating in an election campaign out of reach for many women.

Parekh is a mom of seven-year-old twins, working a full-time job alongside a husband who often travels for work. That meant limited campaigning opportunities, as evenings and weekends are a prime time to knock on residents’ doors.

With her grant money, Parekh hired a sitter to watch her kids after she’d put them to bed, to then spend the evening campaigning.

“That grant was a godsend for me, because otherwise I would not have been able to get out in the evening, with two little kids and my husband working away. It would have become really difficult to juggle everything,” says Parekh.

On election day, Parekh emerged victorious, an achievement she credits to being able to maximize her campaigning time, thanks to the Elect Her grant.

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“[Without the extra childcare], the amount of ground I would have covered and the number of people I met wouldn’t have been the same,” she says.

“Because people met me, and they could put a face to my name, [that] is why many of them came out and voted for me. While campaigning one evening, someone actually said to me, ‘I don’t know you, but because you made the effort to come and talk to me, I will vote for you.’”

Thirteen of this year’s Elect Her grant recipients are about to stand in local elections, while 10 plan to be candidates in the UK’s next national election, currently scheduled for 2025. The 23 grantees are part of a wider group of 240 women running for election across the UK, with the organization’s support. 

 Elect Her CEO Hannah Stevens speaks into a microphone.“We’ve listened to women about the costs associated with campaigning — and childcare is a massive one,” says Elect Her CEO Hannah Stevens.

Anecdotally, Elect Her receives numerous comments from women that say they wouldn’t have had the confidence or resources to stand for an election without the organization’s support. In particular, grantees who are from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds have appreciated the financial support for the costs of running for election, to fund things beyond extra childcare, like transport to and from events, professional outfits for campaigning, and even living expenses that become harder to meet when trying to balance all priorities.

“We’ve listened to women about the costs associated with campaigning, and what has been getting in the way for them — and childcare is a massive one. It’s not currently considered a campaigning cost so political parties don’t subsidize it. Likewise, if someone has events that finish late at night, if they’ve got an extra pot of money, that means they can get a cab home and feel safe,” says Elect Her CEO Hannah Stevens.

“And increasingly with the cost of living crisis, that financial support is even more fundamental, when, for example, there’s a heating bill that someone can’t afford to pay because they’ve taken a couple of days off work so they can be on the campaign trail. And it’s the same for those who are so busy being candidates, that they don’t have enough time to cook and they can’t afford healthy meals.”

Hannah Stevens speaks to an audience.Stevens feels the biggest way Elect Her helps women is by walking them through a political system that many of them are not familiar with. Courtesy of Elect Her

Purchasing new outfits to wear campaigning can make some women feel guilty, Stevens adds, but that too is a justifiable expense, considering studies show that 97 percent of women feel judged on how they look — and 61 percent have received negative comments about their appearance. Female politicians in particular have come under fire for dressing too provocatively or too plainly, and for repeating outfits. One Elect Her 2023 grant recipient bought a new pair of shoes that she wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford, while another bought a new coat, saying she couldn’t remember the last time she had bought herself anything new.

“If someone’s coat’s got holes in it, and they’re going to have their photo taken for the election, they’re going to worry that people are going to judge them. There’s that element of feeling good about yourself,” she says.

Beyond this financial support, Stevens feels the biggest way Elect Her helps make the difference between a woman running or not running for election — then staying the full course rather than dropping out — is by walking them through a political system that many of them are not familiar with. It can feel overwhelming, and intimidating, says Stevens.

“We’re having these conversations with women about the reality of participation because it’s very hard to navigate inside the political parties. Then when they want to stand for election in 12 months time, what are the things that they need to do now, as it’s often unclear how to put yourself forward,” she says.

Hetvi ParekhCourtesy of Hetvi Parekh

“We want to give women access to the information, so they can lead their campaigns and events and be as prepared as they need to be, without relying on the structures of political parties, which can sometimes be complicated.”

Parekh says she found Elect Her’s guidance on how to stand for an election, campaign coaching, and election resource packs useful, especially when it came to finding the voice to speak up for the issues she’s passionate about, like sustainable development and the environment. 

“What I’ve learned over this past year is, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If I’m not assertive about things, people are never going to notice me. It’s not about blowing your own trumpet, but it’s making sure that you are heard, and that people know the difference you have made in your role as a councilor,” says Parekh. 

“That message needs to get across, not just to my residents in my ward, but also to my fellow councilors, because, for example, whenever you want to apply for any positions in the group, say you want to be the chair of a committee, you always have to prove yourself. I’ve always felt like I need to work extra hard to be myself.”


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To further champion women in politics, Elect Her is growing its offerings to support women after they’ve been elected. Stevens and her team are also pushing for government bodies across the UK to publish the demographic data of their election candidates – which is currently not legally required — to gain a clearer understanding of where Elect Her needs to be more present geographically, and to build a bigger picture of how nuances like disability and race impact women in politics, too.

Parekh, who previously never felt politically motivated despite a strong track record of community service and volunteering, now feels she can legitimately call herself a politician.

“In this one year, I have learned so much — it’s been a huge change. I’ve learned about diplomacy and tact, and about making sure that you’re not making promises you can’t fulfill, by being very clear about your role, and about the framework you’re working in,” says Parekh. “I know how the system works now, so I may run for election again next time.”

The post The Movement to Elect More Women in the UK appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Understanding Privilege in Arguments: Principles vs Personal Opinions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 7:42pm in

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Discussions about social inequality often involve examining the concept of privilege—the unearned benefits and advantages people receive simply because of their identity, whether race, gender, class, sexuality, or disability status. However, privilege also manifests subtly in how we argue during conversations and debates, specifically when the focus shifts away from broader principles to personal experiences or opinions.

When we argue about fundamental principles like justice, equality, or freedom, we are typically discussing broad social constructs that impact entire communities or societies. These discussions require empathy and an understanding of diverse perspectives. However, when someone with privilege enters such a debate and steers it towards their individual experiences or views rather than the overarching principle at stake, that is a manifestation of privilege.

For instance, consider a debate about racism. If someone states they don’t believe racism exists because they have never personally experienced or witnessed it, they are exhibiting privilege. They are ignoring the societal principle of racial injustice and instead centering the argument on their reality.

Centering personal experience over collective principles can be problematic for several reasons:

  1. It derails the conversation from the core issue to validating or challenging an individual’s viewpoint.
  2. It minimizes and invalidates the lived experiences of those impacted by the broader principle under discussion.
  3. It perpetuates inequality by preventing meaningful dialogue about social change and reinforcing existing power structures.

To foster genuine engagement around principles of justice, equality, and freedom, we must recognize our inherent biases and privileges. It requires listening to others’ experiences without dismissing them for being divergent from our own. It also involves examining our personal beliefs through the lens of overarching societal principles.

Understanding privilege in arguments involves recognizing that our individual perspectives are shaped by our individual experiences and backgrounds, resulting in biases in how we perceive and engage with certain topics, especially those related to societal injustices.

It’s crucial to distinguish principles, which are fundamental truths or guidelines for behavior, from personal opinions and individual beliefs based on personal feelings or experiences. While privilege can influence both principles and opinions, basing arguments solely on personal experiences without considering the broader context breeds a lack of empathy and can contribute to perpetuating systems of inequity.

In contrast, arguments grounded in principles encourage individuals to consider different viewpoints and challenge their own biases, fostering more productive conversations.

Recognizing when our views may be influenced by privilege, distinguishing principles from personal opinions, and keeping an open mind to other perspectives are vital steps in fostering empathetic, equitable, and constructive discussions about social issues.

Ultimately, privilege can subtly permeate our conversations and arguments. By shifting the focus from principles to personal experiences or opinions, we risk undermining crucial social debates. Awareness of this dynamic is essential for nurturing more empathetic, equitable, and constructive dialogue.

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The post Understanding Privilege in Arguments: Principles vs Personal Opinions first appeared on Dr. Ian O'Byrne.

Exploiting other people’s madness –On sanism and Baby Reindeer (This entry contains spoilers)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/05/2024 - 4:46am in

This text is not about Baby Reindeer, Netflix’s latest hit. It’s about one of the most perverse dimensions of sanism and anti-madness: the exploitation of madness as an edifying aesthetic resource. It is also about the obsolescence of narratives centered on the uncritical perspective of the traditional agent of the banality of evil, the mediocre white guy who destroys everything, including himself (even if temporarily), in the pursuit of a vague and elusive future for which he has neither the preparation nor the talent.

Donny is almost thirty and works in a London bar while waiting for his career as a comedian to magically take off. As a comedian, he’s bad, outdated, his humor is naive, he lacks charisma. He evokes neither laughter nor cringe, he generates indifference. Donny lives rent-free in his ex’s mother’s (a black woman who lost a child) big house. One day Martha, a forty-two-year-old woman, fat (there’s quite a bit of fatphobia in the series) and visibly crazy, walks into the bar. He feels sorry for her and offers her a cup of tea on the house, as she mentions she can’t afford it. Her demeanour changes completely with this minimal gesture of attention and that’s where the story begins. Martha has previous stories of harassment and stalking, and Donny becomes her “victim.” The series has seven episodes. In the fourth, we learn that Donny has been raped by an older and famous comedy writer who groomed him by pretending to help him with his career. Donny also falls in love with a beautiful, smart, elegant, and successful trans woman and he feels ashamed to be seen in public with her.

The relationship between Donny and Martha is not one of harasser-harassed. Donny encourages Martha’s attachment and knows perfectly well what he’s doing. He has nothing clear in his life, except that he’s promoting the relationship with Martha. At first, he feels sorry for her, but that pity almost instantly turns into a mixture of need and fascination by his part. Unlike Martha, Donny is not crazy, nor does he become crazy at any point in the series. He’s just a loser who has almost no awareness of his lack of talent or of his own sexuality, which causes him to suffer from different malaises and “symptoms”. Such is the fragility of his subjectivity that his own sexual desires make him feel guilty. Such is the inability of the scriptwriter to detect the unjustified repression of the character’s (his own!) pansexuality that not only does he conflates it with homosexuality, but he also attributes its “cause” to being a victim of rape by a cis man. Everyone can be confused about sexuality, but to the point of uncritically reproducing in a popular series the homophobic, psychologising, and pathologizing narrative that homosexuality and pansexuality are products of sexual trauma? (Seriously, didn’t anyone tell the author, ‘hey, I don’t think that’s right’?).

It is suggested in passing in the series that the Donny’s ex and current girlfriends (both of them beautiful, focused, and talented) have degrees in Psychology. However, neither recommends nor initiates concrete care actions towards Martha, although they do apply their knowledge and care towards Donny. There is no solidarity among women in the series. In this tale of a prince in distress, women are only there to rescue him. Even Martha, the “harasser”, plays a salvific role: it is she who catalyses his public recognition of the rape and how it affected his life. I insist on this point: two black women provide him with free accommodation in their own home. A trans woman gives him love and awareness of various aspects of himself, despite him lying to her, standing her up, and hiding her. Another woman, the crazy one, gives him the attention he desires most: her laughter. But he gives them nothing more than “a cup of tea.” He doesn’t give anything to the other women around him. Donny came into this world to receive.

***

I finished watching the series because I wanted it to refute my initial feeling. But I waited in vain to learn more about Martha, to understand why she’s so lonely and helpless. I waited in vain for a defocusing of the narrative, but the whole story is centripetal. The women in this story blur into a centripetal involution until they become smudges, blurry contour lines whose presence only matters to tell us a confusing story about the confusion of an ordinary man.

I don’t think we need to “cancel” stories about average middle-class white guys: the serious issue is that Western culture is already saturated with these characters. Is there anything minimally interesting left to say about them? Who cares about these lives other than themselves? Why do we tolerate their worldview and let them show us their melodramas without even a tiny critical anagnorisis?

Donny is like most cisgender white males who didn’t experience deprivation or violence rooted in structural injustices and oppressions growing up. He’s a guy whose life has no narrative interest until he’s raped. But the screenwriter (Donny, the character, the actor, and the author) doesn’t know what to do with that because he can’t see it in any other way other than as an only personal and intimate drama. The big twist in the series is Donny’s coming out of the closet, which happens alongside the public denouncement of the rape in the finals of a comedy contest that accompanies the progression of the episodes. Donny finally breaks, stops trying to make an impassive audience laugh, grabs the microphone, and tells his story. Someone in the audience films the scene and the video goes viral. When the spectacle of his vulnerability goes viral, Donny progresses in life, regains some control over it, achieves some success. But the rape doesn’t seem to matter much anymore: the rapist is not reported, nobody even asks his name. Donny will remain mediocre, and by making his story public, he capitalizes on it. It’s about winning in life like in the dialectics of emotional “harassment” that unfolds between Donny and Martha.

We have no hints in the series to think that Donny’s childhood and adolescence were tough. His mother and father instantly accept him when he comes out of the closet and tells them he was raped. His father hugs him for the first time. The homophobic one, in the end, was he, Donny. But we can know this from the outside. The screenwriter (the actor, the character, the author) doesn’t know it. He doesn’t perceive it, and we perceive how he doesn’t perceive it. We are constantly witnessing a story of wilful ignorance. Donny calls his denouncement and coming out of the closet a “confession.”

Finally, Donny manages to get Martha imprisoned, although he knows perfectly well that he is complicit in the acceleration of her “symptoms.” Martha is not his victimizer. The plot’s mirror game is that even though Donny isn’t guilty of being raped by Darren (as nobody is guilty of being raped), he still feels he is guilty, and when he finally articulates it out-loud, nobody does anything about it. At one point in the series, Donny’s voice-over thinks about the irony of denouncing her and not his rapist.

***

Solidarity is reciprocal. Compassion is unilateral. Giving someone a cup of tea when they’re crying can either open up a world of support or a world of solipsism, depending on the hand that prepares and extends it. Circularity is clumsily implied in the series by the analogy between the first and the last scenes. But they are different scenes because those offering a drink on the house do so in different ways. Those receiving it do it differently, too.

People don’t act right or wrong because they have or haven’t lived through certain traumatic experiences. Human beings act well or poorly because we live in complex systems of interwoven dominations, oppressions, and exploitations that make us victims and, at the same time, victimizers, and in both cases, free agents. A mad person isn’t a good or a bad person for being mad. A sane person isn’t either. Identity doesn’t replace human agency and praxis. Agency isn’t spontaneous; it occurs in determined material conditions (which include symbolic conditions), but this doesn’t make it any less agency. There’s no human agency outside specific conditions; they’re the coordinates within which we act and which guide our actions. In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon proposed that to explain mental health issues, we had to resort to sociogenesis instead of Freudian ontogenesis. To dismantle some (many) malaises, we need to dismantle the systems of oppression that generate them. There’s no such thing as an individual “cure” for madness, inferiority complexes, or guilt. Looking at our psyche and our biography alone isn’t enough to stop feeling down. We have to look at other people. This is valid for the oppressed and for the oppressors because the oppressor also has their own complexes and sufferings.

Kant was wrong about many things, but he was very right about one thing. Radical evil, Kant believed, is moral solipsism, not being able to conceive other people as subjectivities, agents, moral persons, and ends in themselves. Benjamin has a wonderful text he wrote in his youth, “Erfahrung” (“Experience”). It’s a very brief text and ends by suggesting a fundamental difference between having experiences only of oneself (which he considers the attitude of the Nietzschean philistine) and experiencing other people as well. The first attitude lacks spirit (Geist), the second is the properly spiritual experience because it’s an experience of and with other subjectivities. The former is the experience of those who don’t come out of themselves; the latter is the experience of those whose subjectivities are constituted along with others. Of course, the second way of living generates more suffering. But as Adorno said, there’s no correct life in falsehood.

The series exploits the neuronormative and sane supremacist equating of madness with evil. This equating has, as its counterpart, or even as its purpose, the justification of sane evil as a simple excusable by-product of trauma. Sanism and anti-madness are ways of excusing neuro-normal people’s evil banality.

Those of us who know madness have heard that infamous phrase “it’s all in your head” many times. And indeed, what tortures us is the head, the fact that our heads in particular exist not in a vacuum but in this unbearable world. But there’s another sense of “it’s all in your head” that we can certainly use as a reproach. Injustices proliferate largely because we’re moral solipsists who get so into our own heads that we forget that other subjectivities exist. We think of madness as alienation not because we give particularly high value to rational autonomy. We do so because we are unwilling to recognize that rationality (sanity), the very definition of being human, is at the same time the true author of the most terrifying deeds and events (genocides, slavery, atomic bombs, rape, gender violence, racial violence, violence against childhoods and old ages, against non-human animals, exploitation).

We don’t really know what to do with other people’s madness. We find it hard to relate to people like Martha as equals. We find it hard to accompany and support someone who can’t change the subject of conversation for months, someone who fabulates about their life, who has suicidal ideation, who is euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated. We find it hard for many reasons, and I think the main one is that nobody taught us to deal with madness (our own or others’). Not only do we not know how to deal with it, we also can’t do it without disempowering people who are euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated, even when we too have been or are euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated. Trust me on this. Compassion, repulsion, and fear of madness are ways of denying other people their own condition as subjects. These emotions are the solipsistic and sane feelings of someone who can only perceive themselves.

 

(This is the English version of my article in Spanish “El consumo edificante de la locura ajena“).

Boys Next Door

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/05/2024 - 11:33pm in

Geoffrey Mak’s reckoning with boys, brands, and violence.

Australian male violence against women: what the statistics say (and media should report)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 1:25am in

Amid Australia’s justified concern over male violence against women, it seems worth  keeping in mind our achievements. Femicide, in particular, has more than halved in the past three decades.

Prologue: Violence against women is a bad thing, and it’s still bad even when, as the article below points out, it used to be far worse. We should be trying hard to lower rates of violence, by finding good solutions and implementing them with urgency. As part of this, we should understand just what we’re dealing with – which is what this summary tries to do.

The issue of violence against women is in the news right now. Here’s a short summary of what we know about the issue in Australia.

  • Before we say anything else, we need to acknowledge this: a really accurate picture of violent crime is hard to draw. Of the several factors clouding our vision, one stands out: most police-gathered crime figures are very unreliable. That goes double for violence against women. We can’t just hang that on the police, either: many crimes never get reported, or the police don’t find enough evidence to charge anyone, or judges and juries don’t convict. And all of these things change over time, as society changes.
    • It’s hard to exaggerate what a problem this data unreliability poses when we try to find out about crime. My strong impression is that most of the public and many commentators expect official crime statistics will tell us everything we need to know. They never do.
    • How bad is the problem? One typical analysis claims that “about 70% of domestic violence is never reported to the police.” You can probably come up with plenty of reasons why this figure is so high.
    • Rates of reporting, charging and convicting thus affect the figures far more than do underlying changes in the actual level of violence in Australia.
  • The result of all that is that most experts don’t trust all the official statistics to give them an accurate read on what’s happening. Instead they look for the most reliable figures – which are, necessarily, the figures that will suffer least from under-reporting. That leads them to the figures for homicides. These suffer less from under-reporting, simply because it’s hard to avoid people noticing when someone dies.
  • And so to women. The homicide indicators suggest Australian femicide – homicide of women – has fallen over the past three decades at a speed that might surprise many people. Among the most reliable indicators is intimate partner homicide; female victims are down 60+% in the 33 years to 2023-23. See the graph below. (Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, based on figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology’s National Homicide Monitoring Program)

    Intimate partner homicide, 1989-90 to 2022-23
    Rate per 100,000 population aged 18 years and over


    Figure from AIC NHMP

    • This slow collapse is honestly amazing, because it came after four decades of rising homicide rates, including a big rise in the 1970s. If you had told me in 1990 that the future of intimate partner homicide would be the sort of decline pictured above, I would have been pretty sceptical, but also excited that things were going to get so much better.
  • Here’s where the statistical analysis gets more complicated. The Australian Institute of Criminology has released new figures recently (since this post went public, in fact – thanks to Jenna Price for alerting me to this). These figures bring our data up to June 2023.
    • These new figures show an uptick in 2022-23. You might take this as saying that intimate partner femicides have been rising. On the other hand,  a look at the graph above suggests that bigger jumps in the rate occurred in 90-91, 92-93, 94-95, 2001-02, 05-06, 07-08 and 11-12. This data is just jumpy from year to year, because we’re dealing with quite small numbers by statistical standards. In 2022-23, intimate partner femicide claimed 34 victims – few enough to complicate any year-to-year analysis.
    • To quote Ben Spivak at the Swinburne Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science : “We have to be careful in drawing conclusions about year-to-year changes in homicide. Given the small underlying numbers, small changes in the number of homicides can be made to look larger than they are when reported as percentage change.”
    • This caution obviously applies even more so to the four months at the start of 2024, where it is occasionally claimed that femicide has reached epidemic levels. News reports on the Anzac Day 2024 weekend featured a figure of “26 women allegedly killed by men in the first 115 days of the year”.That figure presumably includes both intimate partner femicide and other killings of women.
    • I don’t know how reliable that number is. But on my initial maths, if that rate of homicide continued right through 2024, it would mean 83 female victims of homicide for Australia this year – a rate of .59 female homicides per 100,000 women. Those 83 deaths – worse than one every five days – are way too high. They are not notably out of line with other recent years, such as 2020-21’s 69; indeed, they are consistent with a continued gradual fall. The .59 rate would have been a record low just a few years ago. And even if the figures jump again this year, it’s not clear what we should make of it: for instance, the figures leapt for a couple of years in a row in the early 2000s, and then just resumed their slide.
  • When we step back and look at other countries, Australia seems to have done well by global standards at reducing violence against women. The femicide rate is falling in many places around the world (as shown in the graph below). But not that many places have bettered Australia’s rate of change over the past 15 years. At the same time, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too hard – because we really just don’t know what causes violent crime numbers to move around over the decades in any country, ours included. (Note that this graph goes only to 2021 and does not include the updated figures described above.)

    Female homicide rate, 1990 to 2021, per 100,000 women, for Australia and comparator nations


    Figure from Our World In Data

  • This graph of the female homicide rate also underlines another point: it is possible to push the rate much lower than Australia’s currently is. Singapore has done it. One question is how much we would be willing to change the nation’s culture to replicate Singapore’s performance. (That country’s law enforcement regime is … tough. That said, my own view is that an obvious place to toughen Australia’s regime would be in enforcement of various court orders around men’s violence against women.)
  • We do have one more fairly reliable source of domestic violence data – the Personal Safety Survey done every five years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This tries to avoid the police crime figures issues by coming at the problem from the other end: it asks members of the general public what crimes they have experienced. As Swinburne’s Ben Spivak notes, the survey numbers suggest at worst that overall domestic violence rates are not rising, and at best that they are falling over time. For instance, the rate of cohabiting partner violence against women reported in the Personal Safety Survey fell from 1.7% in 2016 to 0.9% in 2021-22. (We don’t have more recent numbers; it’s a five-year survey.)
  • Some people cite police crime data to argue that the analysis above goes astray. This argument says that rises over the past decade in rates of male offending in categories like “sexual assault and related offences”, “abduction and harassment” and “acts intended to cause injury” suggest these types of male violence against women are moving up, even as homicide rates move down. That is, they argue that changes in reporting rates don’t explain these numbers. They also point to the past 16 months of intimate partner homicides, where the trend seems to have been up.
    • It’s possible that they’re right. But it does not seem all that likely to me that medium-term homicide has detached itself so thoroughly from other medium-term violence indicators.
    • The most likely explanation for rises in these categories seems to me likely to be that the official levels of these non-homicide offences are rising because our efforts to raise reporting, charging and conviction rates are actually bearing fruit – that is, less crimes are slipping through the cracks. Most analysts of crime statistics are wary of police-generated statistics for just this reason. But it is always possible that some of the figures reflect real trends in underlying crime. This is a point that I want to explore further and if necessary revise in this post.

To the extent that the homicide indicators a) indicate actual crime levels and b) are at odds with people’s perceptions, commentators and the media should work to make both the figures and people’s perceptions more accurate. The stories we tell about crime rates have a real impact on people’s lives. As crime academics Terry Goldsworthy and Gaell Brotto have noted, a person’s fear of current crime levels can be influenced by a number of things, including media exposure. Don Weatherburn, former head of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has complained: “The female homicide rate is much lower now than it was 20 years ago. The media never report this.”

All the above parsing of crime statistics may seem like nit-picking, or even like an apology for domestic violence. (I’ve been accused of both since writing the original version of this post.)

But such dismissals are foolishness. Crime statistics represent our best way to find out what’s going on in the world. The alternative is to try to discuss crime by having people talk only about what their friends down the pub reckon (“mate, this whole violent crime thing is a made-up problem/out of control”)  or what they saw on a TV show last week (“look, it’s obvious the real problem is immigrants/keeping the dole too low/30 years of letting crime run rampant”). Crime statistics matter every time some politician or commentator, left or right, makes a claim about the violent crime rate. They matter even more when policymakers start to talk of changing laws.

Yes, it’s possible that the male-on-female violence trend has turned for  the worse in the past 18 months. But on these numbers, that is not yet obvious. We still seem to me to be in a new era of lower crime. The debate should recognise that fact. And at the same time we should work towards the next era, when crime rates can be lower still.

*  The author studied criminal statistics at the University of Adelaide and has dealt with statistics and their presentation in various roles for more than 30 years.
This post has been update several times since its first posting, as new data has come to hand.
Thanks to Dr Ben Spivak for checking over some of my conclusions; any errors remain my own. Please let me know if you spot any.

The Front Room: Diaspora Migrant Aesthetics in the Home – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/04/2024 - 8:47pm in

In The Front Room, Michael McMillan examines the significance of domestic spaces in creating a sense of belonging for Caribbean migrants in the UK. Delving into themes of resistance and creolisation, these sensitively curated essays and images reveal how ordinary objects shape diasporic identities, writes Antara Chakrabarty.

The Front Room: Diaspora Migrant Aesthetics in the Home. Michael McMillan. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd. 2023. 

Migration, at its most basic level, means a physical relocation. However, this “mobility” entails a complex, polysemous reality whose consequences reverberate for those who leave one place for another. Michael McMillan’s The Front Room: Diaspora Migrant Aesthetics in the Home presents a poignant personal tale of materiality, memory and diasporic emotions. It connects with readers by presenting the past without falling prey to anachronism, narrating ordinary aspects of our day-to-day lives through pertinent sociological themes and recurring issues like racism, world politics, aspirations, diasporic memory and more. Michael McMillan, a playwright and artist, offers a text that unfolds as a choreopoem to the domestic spaces inhabited by migrants, infused with theatricality and a curatorial sensibility around the images and references shared. The book, originally published in 2009, has been re-released and is divided across several themes and including additional essays, including by eminent cultural anthropologist Stuart Hall.

Caribbean diaspora re-imagined the Victorian parlour, (the front room) through a sense of decolonial resistance, cultural survival and aspirational attempts to adapt to the new culture in which they found themselves.

The book takes us on a journey of discovery as to what spaces meant, looked, smelled and felt like for Caribbean diaspora settled in the UK from the mid-20th century. It describes how the tactile sensations and emotions held in a room amount to so much more than its aesthetics. The text begins with a section on how Caribbean diaspora re-imagined the Victorian parlour, (the front room) through a sense of decolonial resistance, cultural survival and aspirational attempts to adapt to the new culture in which they found themselves. The images used to showcase the different varieties of such front rooms were mostly taken from the response to the exhibition, A front room in 1976 , curated by McMillan at the Museum of the Home in London in 2005-06.

A primary thematic focus is the emergence of a significant cultural process of change often called as creolisation which gives rise to a third culture which is neither Caribbean, nor British, but a diasporic intermingling of the two. This creolisation also occurs as a result of intergenerational change in the wake of World War Two and apartheid. Moreover, it speaks to the changing imagination around what can be called a “home”, reflecting changes in identity in a foreign land. The lucidity of the essays and the various references to sociological and anthropological works on the perception of “self”, vis-à-vis place making like those by Erving Goffman, Emile Durkheim, Stuart Hall gears the book towards students beyond the disciplinary boundaries of Sociology, Anthropology, Arts and Aesthetics, History, Museology and more. Towards the latter part of the book, McMillan also brings in other diasporic communities beyond the Caribbean, such as Moroccan, Surinamese, Antillean and Indonesian migrant communities in the Netherlands.

Front rooms generally resisted change, carrying forward an aesthetic and sensibility as the badge or identifier of a community.

The book presents an important diasporic narrative underpinned by a critical struggle of the diasporic experience: underneath the subject of the ”front room” lies the process of subverted diasporic emotions and anti-assimilation cultural change. The emotional attachments are prioritised over fitting exactly within the typical British space. McMillan presents his readers with ten commodities that were normally seen in the Caribbean households which were also seen in the diasporic “front room” in the UK.  These objects wordlessly communicated the Caribbean way of life without. A homogenisation of the objects found in the across the British Caribbean front room happened gradually as people visited one another, trying to emulate the aesthetics of a diasporic migrant culture. As someone from South Asia, I can vouch fora very similar pattern post-colonisation. Some chose to keep religious symbolic items at the forefront whereas the others chose to fit into the moral definition of aesthetics according to the British. A front room could become a Durkheimian quasi-sacred space which had to be seen beyond its mundane nature. McMillan emphasises the changes across generations and how front rooms generally resisted change, carrying forward an aesthetic and sensibility as the badge or identifier of a community. The book makes its readers aware of the significance contained in the spaces not just through imagery, but also literary compositions like songs, poems, and other varieties of literature.

The gendered division of aesthetics was apparent in the crochets made by the women in contrast to the glass cabinets and drinks trolleys that showcased men’s tastes.

The book describes the affective power of objects through ten examples including the paraffin heater, which gave a sense of reassurance and reminded migrants of their homes through the scent of paraffin oil. The radiogram (a piece of furniture that combined a radio and record player) played the role of “home” in another new land, a sonic gateway into the past. Several other items also acted in service of what Goffman would call ‘impression management’ to a larger audience. The gendered division of aesthetics was apparent in the crochets made by the women in contrast to the glass cabinets and drinks trolleys that showcased men’s tastes. Notably, the carpets and wallpapers, though quintessentially British in theory, could be reclaimed and subverted through the choice of colourful options rather than plain base colours. The book also captures the effects of technological evolution through the inclusion of televisions, telephones and pictures of revered role models such as politicians and singers on display.

McMillan’s work takes account of the constant search for refuge in the perfectly arranged room as a way of way of asserting one’s identity and materialising an authentic diasporic identity in one’s home.

One may make the mistake of perceiving this text as an over-romanticisation of material objects that convey diasporic identity. However, McMillan avoids this, convincing his readers of the deeply felt significance of the ordinary in connecting diaspora to the places they left behind. He bolsters this through setting ordinary items, spaces and lives in the context of unique epistemological nuances such as apartheid, cultural hybridisation, symbolic capital, taste and more. His work takes account of the constant search for refuge in the perfectly arranged room as a way of way of asserting one’s identity and materialising an authentic diasporic identity in one’s home.

The book is successful in its theatrical and thoughtful presentation and the depth it achieves over only a limited number of essays. Its effect is to fill readers’ minds with questions and to pave the way for similar studies in other postcolonial diasporic communities.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: 12matamoros on Pixabay 

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