Feminist Friday: When Science Gets Stupid

This week in Utter Grodiness
AlterNet delivered a bracing blood pressure spike and a catalogue of The 5 Most Offensive Sexist and Homophobic Moves by Conservatives This Month Alone. I can’t decide if that makes me want June to come slower or faster.

What’s the source of all this bleah? The always wonderful Dahlia Lithwick suggested this week that the GOP’s relentless quest to roll back rights belies a fundamental mistrust of women.

Conservative radio host Tammy Bruce complained on Twitter that she’ll never host on Fox News because she’s an out lesbian. Which is wrong and really sucks. I do hope the incident has inspired Ms. Bruce to think a little harder about how discrimination is wrong – all kinds of discrimination.

And, ugh, get ready to hate the kind of “science” news that fluff news outlets run a little more over the next few weeks. Grad students at The University of Texas-Austin are publishing a study in Evolution and Human Behavior on their – wait for it – “sexual exploitability hypothesis.” Do you need to take a break to throw some bread pans at a brick wall for a bit? Me too.

Anyway, this absofreakinglutely GROUNDBREAKING study supposedly showed that men prefer women who look drunk, dumb, and “sexually exploitable,” because blah blah one-night stands blah but they want to marry nice girls blah blah tight clothing blah blah women evolved for chastity men evolved for studly promiscuity blah blah 1950s virgin/whore women love shopping men won’t ask for directions blah blah complete and utter bullhockey blah.

Well, sure. Your study will show that sort of thing if you front-load it with some bad, sexist assumptions that are just as offensive to men as to women and if you do not freaking understand the freaking requirements of freaking evolutionary success.

Give me five minutes and I will make you immune to this particular kind of dumb-ass non-science gender-normative donkeywash forevermore. You’re welcome.

Purveyors of these stereotype-reinforcing, money vacuuming, TV-guest-spot-getting studies love, love, love to claim that men “evolved” to uncritically sleep with everything that moves because that’s supposed to be their “best” strategy for reproductive success.

Which sounds great, except for the part where that doesn’t work for humans. Have you ever noticed how your hindquarters don’t swell up like a baboon’s when you’re at your most fertile? That’s because human females have evolved a nifty thing called concealed ovulation. We don’t have a heat or an estrus to let men know when their sperm will actually get somewhere.

Which means a promiscuous male whose strategy is to hit it and quit it doesn’t actually have a very good chance of producing a pregnancy. Oh, right – a pregnancy! These studies tend to ignore those and work under the assumption that evolutionary success is equivalent to spreading the most sperm around. But it isn’t. It’s about producing the most fertile offspring.

Not the just most offspring – the most fertile offspring. As far as evolutionary success is concerned, grandkids or it didn’t happen. If a promiscuous male somehow manages to produce twelve offspring that all die because there’s only one parent to help them escape from saber-tooth tigers, the male who sticks with one mate and produces two offspring who each have just two more kids totally wins.

And again – that’s if the promiscuous male is lucky enough to find a woman who wants to have sex with him when she’s fertile. And if he has the opportunity. People who conduct lame-ass studies like this tend to act like the ancient savannah was filled with singles bars, apartment buildings with soundproof concrete walls, and unlimited privacy. Have you ever tried to keep your dating life your own business in a small town? Now try it in a clan of 150 adults in which leaving the fireside alone at night is dangerous and therefore immediately suspicious. You know which males would be successful in that ancestral scenario? The ones who engaged in sanctioned relationships, stuck around through enough cycles to guarantee a pregnancy, and then continued to stick around to provision the wee ones and at least make sure they got old enough to run away from tigers on their own.

Oh, and this grossballs study, like so many of them do, so please, newsdicks, stop treating this like it is a new thing, also suggests that date rape would be a viable, if extreme, evolutionary strategy. It’s funny how studies like that never mention induced miscarriages as a viable counterstrategy. Nor does it seem to occur to anyone that in an old-time, close-knit clan with many interrelated members, practitioners of rape as an “evolutionary strategy” could well have ended up dead, which tends to put a damper on one’s future childrearing potential.

Look, bad scientists, espouse sexist theories about how men and women are “meant” to be in their current rigidly defined gender roles all you want. It’s your right. Knock yourselves out. But please, please stop being such brickheaded dipwads when you do it.

This Week in Not Helping

I know you will be shocked to hear this, but Hustler is not helping. Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp supports defunding Planned Parenthood, which is a terrible idea. The charmers at Hustler also think that’s a bad idea. But instead of attacking that idea as an idea and explaining why the thinking behind it is flawed, they Photoshopped a picture of Cupp to make it look like she had a penis in her mouth.

Their trenchant political analysis included these lines: “Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood.”

Because women who say things in public should always be judged on their relative hotness, and it’s OK to sexually humiliate them if you disagree with them, because what the hell, they’re just women. Ugh. Ms. Cupp, I’m sorry that happened to you, and I hope you find someone who actually respects women to give you a real and measured debate on the topic.

Sandra Fluke is not having it.

Also not helping? The Republican women of the House of Representatives.


They’re Working for You! Unless you were hoping for fair pay, marriage equality, reproductive rights, or protection under the Violence Against Women Act. My pal Jamil Smith over at the blog for Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a great piece on the cosmetic nature of the GOP’s sudden attempt to show how women-friendly they are

This Week in Things to Think About

This week the good people at the Contraceptive Choice Project released an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that has been rocketing around the sciencey and/or ladycentric bits of the Web. If you use contraception or have loved ones who do, get your ears open.

After following 7,468 women, the researchers determined that long-acting reversible contraception methods such as IUDs and dermal implants are 20 times more effective at preventing unintended pregnancy than the pill, patch, and ring. But most women who walk into a doctor’s office to talk about contraception will walk out with a prescription for the pill. As Dr. Jeffrey F. Peipert, one of the articles authors put it, “If we had a cancer drug that was 20 times more effective, we’d never write prescriptions for the other one.”

So why are we doing the opposite with contraception? Amanda Hess at Good took a look at why so few women in this country – fewer than ten percent – use IUDs.

A bigger part of the Contraceptive Choice Project involved taking away the three main barriers to getting contraception – awareness, affordability, and access. You’ll never guess what happens when you do.  (Full disclosure: I’ve recently started working with the good people at the Contraceptive Choice Project. But I did so because they are fantastic.)

King 5 News in Seattle ran a feature on the daring idea of women going without makeup for a day. Not a huge leap for the residents of LGBTLand, true, but for a lot of women in the general population it’s nearly unthinkable. When we talk about Western feminist freedoms, people often bring up burqas as a contrast. Should we really be doing that if it’s shocking for a Western woman to go outside without chemicals smeared on her face? At any rate, it’s worth clicking through the gallery to see such happy, lovely, makeup-free women.

Photo courtesy of King 5 Television

Alyssa Rosenberg ran a fascinating piece in ThinkProgress on how D’Angelo began to fall apart after he became a sex object and people began treating him the way women routinely get treated.

For another look at men dipping into the world of women’s routines and running away gibbering and screaming, Gaelick’s Jacqui Russell pointed the way to the hilarious product reviews for a hair removal creme aimed at men. (That link is mildly NSFW. The NSFW stuff is all text, but some is in bold caps. Also, I am truly sorry for the copious references to male genitalia this week. Sometimes Fate decrees a theme.)

This Week in Awesome
Have you seen Blade Runner as many times as I have? (No. No, you have not. I have seen it one million billion times. And I have every last cut packaged in a handy Voight-Kampf briefcase and an umbrella with a shaft that lights up and flipping down the hall like Pris is how I get my mail every single day. But I am willing to believe that you have seen it almost as many times as I have.)

Anyway, if you love that movie as much as I do, you have either been very excited about the rumored sequel or have been so nervous that they will somehow manage to ruin everything that every time someone mentions it you have to hide under your desk. And then release one perfect white dove to fly away over the rain-soaked rooftops, which leads to some awkward questions at the office.
Anyway, this piece in The Mary Sue has made me less fearful – and brings the interesting news that a woman will be the protagonist. The article points out that Blade Runner director Ridley Scott also directed Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, so he’s no slouch with female characters who kick butt.

Speaking of that, io9 ran a piece by Greg Rucka on why he writes such strong female characters. [Spoiler: Because they are awesome, that’s why.] If you have not yet read his writing for Batwoman, I believe our own Heather Hoagan might have some words for you.

You know who your new World Leader crush is? Joyce Banda, that’s who. Since taking over as the President of Malawi just in April she has decriminalized homosexuality,removed draconian police powers, and refused to allow Sudan’s President (and war criminal) Omar Bashir to attend an African Union summit in Malawi because he played such a key role in the genocide that he’s known as “The Butcher of Darfur.” She also intends to make women’s rights a central focus of her presidency. It’s early days yet, but so far I really like her style.

Smith college won a $1 million grant to support a plan to get more women and underrepresented minorities to major in the sciences! Ford is set to present a Mustang designed and built by women!

And just to launch you into your weekend with a heart full of untold delight, I bring you the fake Tilda Swinton Twitter account that will haunt your dreams and tickle your nightmares. I don’t know if I love the real Tilda Swinton or the fake Tilda Swinton more. Does it matter?

I hope your weekend is just the right amount of surreal. Go get ‘em.