Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Women in Science...with a touch of rouge

[Lady scientist AKA a scientist]

I hope this is the only post I will ever do on the cosmetics industry. Mostly because to be honest, I really don’t care about make-up and really don’t think it’s the biggest feminist issue facing the world today. That’s not to say that I don’t think the Beauty Myth is alive and kicking but I do not think make-up is the fundamental issue, rather the restrictive and often exploitative female body images perpetuated by our consumer-based culture.

I don’t have a problem with women or men wearing make-up even if it is feeding into a $197 billion dollar industry. I would wear it more if I knew how to put it on but I think I missed that day at school.

That aside, I do find it fascinating that L’Oreal are so heavily involved in promoting women in science, to the extent that they have gone in with UNESCO on an annual global women in science prize.

Now there are much better analyses than I could do on the claims of cosmetic companies – (e.g L’Oreal having to pull an ad campaign on anti-wrinkle cream). However, it is also a highly regulated industry (by European Cosmetic Directive for example) and therefore the claims they make tend to be worded in such a specific way so as to make no claim whatsoever. Handbook of cosmetic science and technology is great on this.

So instead, rather than make actual specific scientific claims, some cosmetic companies seek to brand themselves as ‘sciencey’. Rather than make a choice of products on the basis of the scientific claims consumers will simply associate them with the noble cause of scientific endeavour. This is why adverts will be chocka with ‘sciencey’ sounding words.

To illustrate the dubious devotion to science from the cosmetics industry I’ve picked my top ten sciencey words and phrases. I think this might become my new hobby.
  1. Aqua-spheres
    Er, water.
  2. Dermapod
    This is the name they gave to the tub it comes in. And no its not pod shaped or from the future.
  3. Vitafibrine
    I think this is means ‘vital’ and ‘fibres’ which apparently “fight against the distension of the mesh of the skin by reconstructing the structure of elastin by consolidating the network of fibers (in vitro test)"*
    * Ah, the all important ‘In vitro test’ which (as of course you know) means testing cell cultures in a Petri dish rather than on human volunteers. This is probably the most widely used method for making scientific claims in the cosmetic industry.
  4. Fruit micro-waxes and active fruit concentrates
    These are in a styling gel and a shampoo apparently. I know what these words mean separately but not together. And I love how its not just fruit waxes its fruit ‘micro’-waxes. Just as meaningless but smaller.
  5. Collagen biospheres
    I presume they don’t mean an ecosystem or one of those greenhouses, bio-dome things. Probably just collagen drops.
  6. Formula
    This is used all the time. You don’t get ‘recipes’ or ‘concoctions’ or ‘mixtures’. You get formulas with numbers and letters and shit.
  7. Minerals
    Such as; ‘enriched with minerals’ (hair gel, foundation) ‘mineral water’ (mousse blush) ‘made with 95% natural, skin-loving minerals’ and ‘light-diffusing mineral powders’ (powder blush). Obviously no indication of what minerals or why.
  8. 3D magnifying lipgloss
    This is getting out of chemistry and into physics. I’d be far more impressed with something that you smear on our face which was 2D or even better 4D. Alternatively, I’d have to a Cyclops to be wowed by 3D.
  9. PureSkin TM complex
    Ah, putting two words together into one! The canny trade-mark! The subtle use of the word ‘complex’. That's pure distilled science right there.
  10. Royal Jelly
    Royal Jelly just always sounds rude to me, but then I have the sense of humour of a 13 year-old boy. But I’m also interested that bee secretion should be used in shampoo. ‘Not honey, oh no, we use bee secretion’. Weird.
So is it OK for private companies to be involved in promoting women in science when their aim is to build their brand as one associated with cutting edge science? Is it OK for them to be supportive of women when also beating them into consumer-based submission and all to sell blobs of coloured fat? Hell isn't science underfunded enough you've just got to get the cash where you can?

I certainly have a problem with brands as a concept, the idea of ‘having a relationship’ with a product is frankly weird (up to and including vibrators). It removes us a step from the functionality of the product and assumes that we make choices on the basis of font size, colour and packaging, which unfortunately is exactly what human beings seem to do. (This is particularly well illustrated with packaging for fags - really recommended study)

Indeed, most multinationals are involved in ‘philanthropic’ enterprises and have (up until the recession) had burgeoning corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments. With restricted science funding, we can't get too precious and increasingly private finance is the only option. There are many problems with transnational corporations' involvement with CSR which I won’t go into here, but I think its fair to say they are the handmaidens of evil. (And before anyone says it I know it’s a little more complicated than that, here).

Ultimately, its our fault for buying into brands, letting them get away with stupid sciencey talk, leaving science funding to private companies and the little matter of gender inequality.

As an aside, in researching this post, I came across these disclaimers in tiny type at the bottom of some Rimmel TV ads:
‘Enhanced in post-production’ – Ad with Kate Moss.
‘Filmed with lash inserts and enhanced in post production’ – Mascara ad with Sophie Ellis Baxtor.
‘Everything in this ad is a complete lie’ – TruFact Ad in my head

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Women and CAM

I was reminded of the women and complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) 'problem' by this blog about Professor Edzard Ernst's talk at the last Skeptics in the Pub (which I missed, slap wrists). He mentioned that he had been talking to a female homeopath and as an aside said that most homeopaths are women. When quizzed on this later on he said:
All surveys show that the typical user of complementary medicine (more specifically homeopathy) but complementary medicine is... I call it “The Four F's” - Around forty, female, fertile... and I was going to say “fucking mad”
Now I have blogged on this before and do concede that indeed women are the bigger consumer of CAM, and it seems many are practitioners. So as I asked last time - why?

Purely on anedoctal experience it tends to be either or both based on a) bad experience of 'orthodox' medicine and b) out of desperation. One woman I know was having trouble conceiving and so went for fertility treatment. This treatment was ultimately unnecessary because the cause of their infertility was, as it is for most 30-something professionals, a lack of sex (I'm not medically trained but I believe that is key). The treatment did however result in alapecia for her. Both of these events are pretty high on the scale of emotionally devastating and led her to go to a snake-oil salesman to treat the hair loss and later to a Chinese herbalist for fertility 'things'. A combination of these treatments not working and me suggesting that it might take less effort if she just set fire to her money in the comfort of her own home, she now accepts that they weren't the best course of action but that in both circumstances she was distraught and needed help from somewhere.

Postscript: she now has two children and her hair grew back albeit completely white, which I think is rather cool.

In a previous job I also attended a seminar on Do Not Resuscitate orders arranged by the then Disability Rights Commission. I was representing a certain medical professional body and was therefore treated with suspicion bordering on contempt. This was because the politicised disabled people involved in the seminar had had awful experiences of the NHS and at the hands of doctors hence their admirable drive to get involved in disability rights work. These people would have been badly treated, misdiagnosed, ignored, possibly abused and so were aggressively opposed to doctors deciding on their fate when they were incapacitated. They did not trust doctors to make decisions that they felt would be based on prejudiced views of a disabled patient's quality of life. The health professionals in the room discussed the nature of resuscitation and how rarely it even works but it was difficult to shrug of the, in many cases well-founded, suspicion of doctors.

So my point is, that although these anecdotes may illustrate experiences that may lead people towards CAM or at least away from the NHS, not all women have had terrible experiences of doctors, feel alienated from the experience of the NHS or are in an extreme health situation. This makes me wonder whether gender inequality in society as a whole has some bearing on this. Is CAM more empowering for women? Is it because CAM sells you the facade that you are taking your health into your own hands? Is the communication of CAM better i.e. the therapeutic relationship is more important to many women? These are genuine questions, because I really don't know.

Also, given Prof Ersnt's suggestion that users of CAM are "around forty, female, fertile and ... fucking mad" could there also be something in - now bear with me here - the tradition of the witch? The Witch has been a potent symbol for centuries and although it has been interpreted as a sexist stereotype of old, ugly women, the witch has also be reclaimed by feminists as the symbol of a strong, powerful if maleficent woman. (It important to point out the various cultural variations, e.g. in Central and Eastern European during the Middle Ages witches were believed to be male or female, witches being predominantly female is mostly a Western European conception, but that aside...)

Do female CAM practitioners fit in somewhere in the tradition of strong female 'healers'? Is there any connection to the reclaiming of the 'witch' by feminists in the 60s/70s and its reinvention into the emancipatory goddess rituals? Of course I'm not blaming feminism for CAM, but it does seem likely that there is some connection between people feeling marginalised from 'orthodox' medicine and therefore veering into what are perceived as empowering alternatives. My only hope is that with the vastly increased number of female doctors coming up through the system this may have an affect on women's perception of medicine.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Abortion is about public health not morality

I haven’t blogged about abortion for, oh, 3 or 4 posts so thought I’d revisit. Prompted by a great blog about the horrendous Nadine Dorries MP on Liberal Conspiracy from the Lay Scientist.

I written quite a lot about this in the past particularly at the time of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (now Act) and the activism I was involved in then (I’ll get around to posting some of that information here at some point).

This blog is going to focus on abortion as a public health issue, but I’m also working on a post about data on abortion in the UK and the oft repeated claim that ‘there are too many abortions’ which I believe is based on flawed logic. But that post requires some graph compiling so will take me a little longer. In the meantime…

I personally do not see abortion as a moral issue but primarily as a public health issue. As a medical procedure we treat it differently to any other, such as the continuing need for two doctors’ signatures which seriously undermines the concept of women’s consent to medical procedure. No other procedure puts the authority squarely with the medical profession rather than the female patient, and this is not an authority that health professionals are comfortable with and have repeatedly called for this to be changed.

Globally approximately 67,000 women every year due to unsafe illegal abortions. The deaths of women due to unsafe abortions are counted among the staggering statistics on maternal mortality where it is believed that a woman dies every minute due to reproductive related issues. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable easily and cheaply and primarily through empowering women through access to information, education and even the most basic healthcare that their predominantly developing world country can offer (99% of maternal deaths happen in the developing world).

Plus, all of these statistics are at best an educated guess because statistics on maternal mortality are notoriously terrible. The fact is that we don’t count dead women and we particularly don’t count those who have died after a botched abortion.

The best way to prevent deaths through unsafe abortion, is unsurprisingly, to offer access to safe and legal abortion. This has had a dramatic affect on the maternal mortality and morbidity stats for Bangladesh.

Not only does a restriction on access to abortion put women seeking an abortion at risk, it also regularly creates a chilling effect that prevents doctors performing therapeutic abortions for ectopic pregnancies and even from performing routine gynaecological examinations. This is most starkly apparent in Nicaragua where the complete ban on abortion has even lead the State being taken to the UN Committee against Torture on the basis of their abortion laws amounting to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The chilling effect can extent to women being criminalised when they suffer a miscarriage and are accused of abortion as has been documented in West Africa (currently unpublished).

All of these examples put the UK situation into context but we also need to be vigilant against unscientific attacks on women access to health services in the UK. The attempts to reduce time limits in this country during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill were based on bad science and instigated by those morally and religiously entirely opposed to abortion.

What is worse is that it would have put particularly vulnerable women at risk of being excluded from vital health services in this country. So what was the evidence?

UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008
Forty years on from the passing of the Abortion Act, the Westminster Science and Technology Committee examined whether advances in science require a change in the law. Many advocating reducing time limits did so on the basis of “advances in medical science”. This was not however, supported by the evidence or medical establishment. (This is where in fact the Nadine Dorries story started, see Ben Goldacre’s blog on this at the time)

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, neither known for their radical feminism, both submitted evidence in support of the 24 week time limit and a liberalisation of access to abortion in the first trimester (e.g. removing need for doctors signatures among other things).

So where are the medics and scientists marching in the streets asking for the law to be changed? Well, there were submissions to the Science and Technology Committee advocating time limit restrictions from medical professionals who have not declared their religious affiliations. Luckily the press can do this for us. The majority of them are activists from the Christian Medical Fellowship, an organisation which is opposed to abortion (unlike most Christians) and had made its own submission as an organisation

The scientific case hinges on the principle of the "viability" of the foetus outside the womb. It is claimed that foetuses that have been born prematurely at 24 or 22 weeks have be kept alive by ‘science’. As stated by the BMA, it is only a fraction of births at this gestation that survive, and most of those are severely disabled. A study in the British Medical Journal reiterated the point - the latest stats indicate that survival pre-24 weeks has not improved since 1995. It is also important to draw attention to the conflation between the theoretical viability of a foetus at 22 weeks and the viability of a foetus that a woman chooses to abort at this time – these are two distinct situations.

Women get a scan at 20 weeks which can show up problems with the pregnancy. Obviously we can't be certain, but it is very very likely that those being terminated at this late stage have serious problems. Let’s remember that 20 weeks is half way through a pregnancy, women would have a very good reason for going through what is a particularly invasive surgical procedure. Either the foetus is in fact not viable or these are particularly vulnerable women. Restricting their rights further is hardly the answer.

So if the evidence didn’t back up the claim that there had been ‘scientific and medical advancements”, why were we talking about time limits? Suspicions rise further when we start looking at how many abortions we are actually talking about – in England and Wales 1.5% of all abortions in 2008 were over 20 weeks (that percentage is even lower in Scotland and abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland). So we are talking about a fraction of the abortions that take place in the UK which became a lightening rod for the abortion debate.

Why? Because this is a tactic, part of a wider strategy to chip away at the right to abortion. Banning by increment. This isn't my wild paranoia; this is exactly the course of action taken by the Anti-Choice movement in the USA. Lowering time limits, reducing services, enforcing health professionals read out 'warnings' to women before a termination, 'cooling off' periods, parental consent, arguing against the licensing of drugs for chemical terminations with the regulators - all of these mount until it is effectively banned in some States and restricted to 13 weeks in others.

Abortion laws in the global North affect not only women in those countries, as Bush’s global gag rule demonstrates. Not only is this about public health and women’s access to safe and legal health services, it is also fundamental to the principle of female reproductive autonomy and about women’s rights over their own physical integrity. Women and girls are brought up in a global society where their bodies are open spaces for public debate. Where individuals believe their morality justifies a violent imposition on another female human being. I do not believe that I have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body and that is why I am a pro-choice campaigner.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Bad Feminist

[picture from the fab Jackie Fleming]

OK, this isn’t exactly about science, although it does have relevance, but I have to blog about this rather than just have drunken rows with feminists in the pub about it. The Observer today has an article representing an ongoing debate/discussion/all-out war within British and American feminism at the moment, one which is regularly crudely characterised as ‘old’ second-wave feminism against ‘young’ third wave/post feminism.

Firstly, to divide feminism up like this is crude, simplistic, adversarial and damaging. Feminisms have always existed, it is not a monolith, there are not keepers of the flame, if you don’t believe me ask any black feminist, Marxist feminist, Feminist Marxist, liberal feminist, Muslim feminist, postmodern feminist, eco-feminist, anarcho-feminist, etc etc yawn etc.

I agree that sexual liberation does not equal emancipation, this is as true for gay politics as for women. I agree that we have a pornification of Western culture (I use that word for US/UK as I can’t speak for Europe etc). I agree that sexual objectification has been packaged, branded and resold to women by a sophisticated Western Capitalism. And I agree that selfish individualism is damaging for feminism which is built on solidarity, activism and an analysis of power whether cultural, economic, religious, social etc.

However.

I am deeply suspicious of feminists telling women that they are not feminists. Firstly, there are not enough of us and we are not winning, so let’s not become arrogant, superior and exclusionary. Secondly, sexual liberation is a very important part of emancipation and sex is a very important part of life for most people. And yet feminist sexual liberation has mutated into looking at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it rather than what you want and your freedom to choose.

Some feminists have become deeply chauvinistic towards, often younger, women who define themselves as feminists. I think this is really exposed by Julie Bindel referring to them as “lazy, bone-idle women” who “can't claim to be a feminist simply because you're a woman”. There is nothing lazy or bone-idle about calling yourself a feminist, it is still a difficult thing to do as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of women in this country do not want to associate themselves with that word. I have no time for the idea that women ‘can’t claim to be a feminist’ as though there is a governing body of feminism that you have to apply to be let into the old boy’s girl’s network. Aren’t we replicating male forms of power here? Are we continuing to tell women what to think, how to dress, how to have sex and what to say? That isn’t why I’m a feminist. I want women to be emancipated not simply live, dress and fuck in a way I want them to.

I am also particularly concerned by the false generation divide that is being created which is deeply patronising and alienating. I have personally encountered this – older feminists dismissing me as young and na├»ve and not respecting their god-given right to dictate the rules of feminism to me. This is particularly stinging for me given how much I have educated myself in the feminist canon. Given that at 16 years old I was reading Kate Millett while my friends were getting fingered. This is the ultimate adoption of patriarchal power-dynamics and will lead to young feminists rejecting feminism rather than critically engaging with it.

You cannot fossilise political discourse. Feminism is not an ideology it is an analysis of power. And attempting to stop women calling themselves feminists because they are revelling in their sexual promiscuity is as redundant as the Christian Right trying to enforce chastity. That genie is out of the bottle, so how are we going to engage in it. Call these women traitors? Or think how can sexual liberation can continue to be a force for further emancipation?

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that while we’re all having this little inter-feminist war the rest of the world is not listening. Girls are still acid attacked in Afghanistan for going to school. Women and girls are still being raped in shocking numbers in South Africa. As uncovered in the New Scientist, female foetuses are being sex-selectively aborted in Vietnam. Now is not the time to push feminists out of our ever-decreasing circle. If you don’t think sex-feminists are feminist enough, why don’t you tell them to get involved in women’s rights in the global South, raise money for their local rape crisis shelter or stand for election – that will be far more helpful than calling them tarts and traitors. There are enough men out there to do that for us.

Yet again, it is the bloggers at the F Word that make the best contribution to this debate. Do you think that’s because bloggers engage in debate and embrace the principles of open discussion, the free-flow of ideas and encourage arguments to be picked apart, dissected and put back together again? I think so.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Why I Hate Oliver James

[Oliver Reed in The Brood]

I could rant for hours about why I hate Oliver James but to spare you that I thought I’d just focus on a recent article of his in the Guardian as emblematic of his biased reporting of scientific research to primarily serve his anti-women analysis of mental illness.

In his ‘Family Under the Microscope’ series, James wrote ‘Do absent fathers trigger early puberty in girls?’ as a eulogy against family breakdown and claiming throughout that yes, indeed the absence of fathers is in fact the main reason for females entering puberty earlier (average age at which a British girl had her first period has gone from 13yrs 6ms in 50s/60s to 12 yrs 11ms now, average drop of 7 months in 50 years: not insignificant but lets have a little perspective).

He goes on to talk about the risk factors associated with early pubescence in girls as a signifier of anxiety, depression and teenage pregnancy etc. Now we’re in perfect epidemiology causation/association territory here; are we feeling a few confounding factors coming on?

Now as far as I can tell, these assertions being made by James are based on a longitudinal cohort study of 173 girls in Tennessee published back in 1999 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (As an aside, this was in the same volume where Dunning and Kruger first published their study, what a coincidence...) The Tennessee study made a link between negative-coercive family relationships and early puberty.

A more recent review study was published in Clinical Psychology Review in Feb this year which reviewed the empirical evidence of an association between puberty and anxiety. They found that:
There is some evidence that among girls, but not boys, a more advanced pubertal status (controlling for age) is associated with higher reported anxiety symptoms. Also among girls, earlier pubertal timing is linked to higher anxiety scores. It is unclear whether early puberty may lead to increased anxiety or if high anxiety influences pubertal timing.
(I’m afraid I can only get the abstract because my login isn’t working, I’ll try again at work and will update when I do)

So yes there is evidence that anxiety is associated with early puberty in girls but it is not necessarily causal and certainly not directly linked to father-daughter relationships. There are a huge amount of confounding factors and if James is correct and depression and teenage pregnancies are associated with early female puberty than I would suggest that there are a number of socio-economic factors at play here as with any association between parental split and health outcomes.

James pretty much dismisses the association between earlier puberty in girls and increased weight, despite the huge amount of evidence linking weight gain/loss to affects on menstruation. As James asserts “But by far the most important factor seems to be a girl's relationship with her dad.”

Now, this article is in the Guardian so James is aware that readers probably also read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and so would be looking out for trifling things like ‘evidence’ and reports in academic journals. So at the end of the column, he helpfully references a journal article from Pediatrics billing it as “Evidence relating to decreased puberty age” - and the link to absentee fathers you'd assume. He doesn’t however, give you the title of the article safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of people won’t actually look it up. Here’s the title: Weight Status in Young Girls and the Onset of Puberty

So evidence of weight status affecting early puberty then. And I think we can safely say that the average weight of children has increased in Britain since the 1950s. Yet, James is hanging on to absentee fathers being the “main cause”. Why? Because that’s how he makes his money. As you may know he wrote the book ‘They F*** You Up (Your Mum and Dad)’ and so generally sees parenting as THE primary cause of mental health issues. I will return to slagging this book off in the future, but for now I’ll stick to this article.

So herein lies the problem with so much science reporting, the way it is used to push a particular, usually socially conservative agenda. James bemoans the impact on increased divorce rates at every opportunity. Linking divorce and working women to everything from early periods to schizophrenia.

The implications of his agenda impact mostly on women as his message is ‘ending an unhappy relationship and mothers working will fuck up your kids’. He tries to imply that 'blind feminism' (whatever that means) has degraded the role of stay-at-home mothers and he is battling alone to defend the role of women. For 'blind feminism' read 'straw man' as feminists have always campaigned for the recognition of women's contribution to society as care-givers.

The key is equality and choice rather than advocating stifling traditional roles through fear and scaremongering. And he dresses this up with sciencey sounding stuff, transforming associations into causes and making incredible death-defying leaps of logic.

I despair of this man.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Attracting Women: U iz doin it rong



Great article from Allyson Kapin entitled: Is the Tech World Really Sexist? Not only does it point out that yes it is along with most other industries, but she gives practical advice to women who work in tech and want to break through the digital ceiling.

It is important for women to challenge social norms in this way and indeed we wouldn’t have the vote without the women who protested and were forced to eat tar or Emily Wilding Davison throwing herself in front of a horse. However, men can do their bit too. And not being utter fuckwits would be a start.

Kaplin made reference to Matt Aimonetti's presentation at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference. Here’s a few stats from the slideshow:
  • There are 32 slides with images on them (including photos, logos and graphics)
  • 17 of the slides have images of women, 7 have images of men and 2 have images of Viagra which I would argue evokes a certain image of men
  • Of the images of women; 10 were overtly sexualised (women in micro skirts, naked arses, pr0n scene with 1 man 4 women etc), 2 were primarily demeaning (i.e. ‘funny’ pictures of an old woman and a fat woman), 2 included Jen, the female character from the IT Crowd, and the remaining three although not overtly sexualised (I’m being generous here) would have been chosen to be titillating (woman being massaged, woman’s mouth and women boxing).
  • Of the images of men: 2 were of Dr Manhattan (drawing attention to his godlike power and penis), 2 were of men surrounded by sexually available women, 2 were the other members of the IT Crowd and one was of Sting (fully clothed and to my mind deeply unsexual, although he is there to reference tantric sex – something to do with ‘performance’, geddit?)
  • Eight of the slides contain the logo for CouchDB which I presume is linked to whatever Aimonetti is peddling. This logo is a graphic representation of a ‘slacker’ bloke on a couch.
Now I can understand that this was probably an incredibly boring talk and Aimonetti thought the only way to engage what would have been a predominantly male audience would be to come across as blokey and use demeaning and objectifying images of women to ‘spice it up’. I also acknowledge that the demographic of the audience for this presentation (whether physically or online) would be one that consumes online pornography and so would identify with the imagery of naked women’s arses, women writhing around in simulated orgies, pole-dancers, thigh-high boots etc.

And therein lies the problem. This is what alienates women, this is what has led to the mainstreaming of images once the preserve of girlie mags now proudly boasted as pr0n. Not only does it stereotype Techy men as sexually-repressive, social misfits who can only conduct a ‘relationship’ with an animated Japanese teenager, it also makes the women who work in Tech, use it, and consume it (increasingly the majority) hate you.

You might think of yourselves as terribly intellectual but there is no difference between this kind of presentation and having a titty calendar up in a garage.

So yes, women can start promoting themselves within Tech and speaking out more. But the men in Tech are going to have to stop being such sad wankers and stop with the lame lame lame Tech porn.

Disclaimer: I know the title of this post and some comments are terribly heteronormative - but then so is most porn. I'll post some other time about sexuality and science reporting. Although have done some here.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A Sow's Ear

Do NOT share cups with pigs

OK, I can’t have a science blog without mentioning swine flu. Is there a gendered analysis? Well probably in the access to healthcare for women, particularly poor women but there’s no data at this time. Generally, women do worst in natural disasters – most shocking stat I’ve come across is that between 70%-80% of the people who died in Southeast Asia after the tsunami of 2004 were female.

But also on searching for swine flu and women, I can across this hilarious conspiracy theory from Wendy Wright of Concerned Women of America (Unconcerned Women of America never really got off the ground). The ironically named Wright opined that Obama’s declaration of a state of emergency was a ruse for appointing Kathleen Sebelius as health secretary by stealth. Will this man stop at nothing?

Of course, the interesting thing is not Wright’s lunacy but the fact that she opposes the appointment of Sebelius because she is pro-choice. Sebelius has a great record of vetoing anti-abortion legislation in Kansas where she was Governor and she has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood which has fund-raised for her. All this and she is a Catholic too! Maybe she’s a fan of Catholics for Choice.

Wendy Wright on the other hand is staunchly anti-abortion which has included challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s licensing of emergency contraception, trying to stop the appointment of anyone who has had anything to do with any organisation that has advocated for women’s access to safe abortions, and she also went to Kosovo to lobby against specific articles in the constitution of the emerging state which provided:
  • the right to make decisions in relation to reproduction in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth by law.
  • the right to have control over his/her body in accordance with law
Apparently these are 'bad things'. Shockingly arrogant but at least unsuccessful.

(She’s also opposed hate crime legislation and marriage equality so obviously sidelines in homophobia)

What is most concerning for feminists and the rational, is the language Wright uses to oppose reproductive rights and other politically motivated positions on science such as all forms of human cloning; saying that this is about women’s safety and protections against exploitation and the harvesting of eggs. The Right are very adroit at using feminist language when it suits them (see arguments made for the invasion of Afghanistan), but this is particularly dangerous when sisterly language is used to undermine women’s access to safe and legal healthcare and drugs:

“When a drug is easily available, it is a public health hazard to women.”
Wendy Wright talking about FDA licensed emergency contraception

OK, so it wasn’t about swine flu. But you’ve gotta love that quote.