Are “mononyms” in classical music racist and sexist?

October 25, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Although all liberal media sites are getting woke, sites like Salon and HuffPost have gone beyond the pale, while Slate always seemed to retain more sanity. After all, that was where Hitchens often wrote—though I’m not sure he’d be welcome there now were he still alive.  At any rate, there’s a new Slate piece that not only indicts classical music and its pedagogy as racist and sexist, but argues that this bigotry is instantiated in using “mononyms”—last names only—for famous classical white male composers (“Mozart,” “Beethoven,” etc.), but demeans female and nonwhite composers by using both first and last names.

The author, Chris White (an assistant professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst), suggests that to rectify this disparity, we “fullname” all composers, putting them on a level playing field of respect. What I’m trying to figure out is how much of what he says carries some truth.

You can read the article below by clicking on the screenshot.

 

The indictment is given without question, and perhaps there’s some truth to it. I don’t know enough about classical music to judge—it’s one of my glaring areas of cultural ignorance.

The past several decades have seen the world of American classical music reckoning with its racist and sexist history; as it has with many other areas of culture, that process has greatly accelerated over the past year. In my own corner of academia, the previous several months have seen an explosive focus on the inherent white supremacy and male-centrism within academic music research. This explosion was sparked by a lecture and an ensuing article by Philip Ewell, published in September, in which he calls out mainstream American music theory for its institutional racism. This flashpoint was preceded by work in similar veins by scholars like Ellie Hisama and Robin Attas, and subsequently brought into mainstream musical conservations by YouTuber Adam Neely and New Yorker writer Alex Ross.

White goes on to cite various attempts to rectify the overlooking of composers with “marginalized identities”, but is mostly concerned with how this “erasure” proceeds via mononyms.

The habitual, two-tiered way we talk about classical composers is ubiquitous. For instance, coverage of an early October livestream by the Louisville Orchestra praised the ensemble’s performance of a “Beethoven” symphony, and the debut of a composition memorializing Breonna Taylor by “Davóne Tines” and “Igee Dieudonné.” But ubiquity doesn’t make something right. It’s time we paid attention to the inequity inherent in how we talk about composers, and it’s time for the divided naming convention to change.

. . . For a lot of intersecting reasons, music critics, academics, consumers, and performers in the mid-19th through early 20th centuries thought about music history as the story of a few great men producing great works of art. (Of course, this tactic is very common in how we tell our histories in many domains.) Tied up in the respect and ubiquity afforded to these men is the mononym, or a single word sufficing for a person’s whole name. These canonized demigods became so ensconced in elite musical society’s collective consciousness that only one word was needed to evoke their awesome specter. Mouthfuls of full names became truncated to terse sets of universally recognized syllables: Mozart. Beethoven. Bach.

On the one hand, then, initiatives toward diversity and inclusion are placing new names on concert programs, syllabi, and research papers, names that might not have been there 10 or 20 years ago—or even last year. But these names are appearing next to those that have been drilled deep into our brains by the forces of the inherited canon. This collision between increasing diversity and the mononyms of music history has created a hierarchical system that, whether or not you find it useful, can now only be seen as outdated and harmful.

. . .As we usher wider arrays of composers into our concerts and classrooms, this dual approach only exacerbates the exclusionary practices that suppressed nonwhite and nonmale composers in the first place. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating the former as being on a different plane than the latter, a difference originally created by centuries of systematic prejudice, exclusion, sexism, and racism. (Dédé was a freeborn Creole composer whose music packed concert halls in Europe and America in the mid-19th century.)

Going forward, we need to “fullname” all composers when we write, talk, and teach about music. If mononyms linguistically place composers in a canonical pantheon, fullnaming never places them there to begin with. When we say, “Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Johannes Brahms and Edmond Dédé,” we’re linguistically treating both composers as being equally worthy of attention. And while fullnaming might seem like a small act in the face of centuries of harm and injustice, by adopting a stance of referential egalitarianism, fullnaming at least does no more harm.

The last sentence is a bit weird, as why change a practice if there’s no advantage to doing so? But what I’m concerned with is whether fullnaming is demeaning. Now I can’t speak to classical music, except that I know that “Mahler” is more famous than “Alma Mahler”, but perhaps using the single name for Gustav refers not to sexism, but to how often the music of the two is played—that is, familiarity. (Of course, the relative frequency of performance could itself reflect sexism rather than quality.)

So I thought about painting instead, trying to see if famous white male painters, like Picasso and Rembrandt, are referred to in mononyms more often than famous nonwhite painters or women painters. I failed in this endeavor because I couldn’t think of many famous female or nonwhite painters (their relative paucity, again, likely reflects historical oppression). The first woman I thought of was Mary Cassatt, whom I always call “Cassatt”, but then there’s also one of my favorites, Frida Kahlo, whom I call “Frida Kahlo.” So that didn’t settle it. Then there’s “Grandma Moses”, but I’m not sure if that counts as the sexist use of two names. And I can analyze only my own usage here, as I haven’t paid attention to how society uses names.

As for nonwhite painters, I was at a loss for blacks, but the first two Asian artists who came to mind—Hiroshige and Hokusai—came to me as mononyms.

What about authors? Here there might be some sexism, as I refer to “Hemingway”, “Fitzgerald” and “Joyce”, but also to “Flannery O’Conner,” “Carson McCullers,” “Emily Dickinson”, and “George Eliot” (not her real name, of course, but the double name avoids confusion with T. S. Eliot). It may well be the case that, in general, famous women writers are more often discussed using both names, and if that’s the case, then sexism is a possible cause. After all, “George Eliot” is at least as famous as “T. S. Eliot”.

What about my own field—genetics and evolutionary biology? Here, at least, I always use single names, like “Fisher, Wright, Kimura, Haldane, Mayr, and Dobzhansky” for the men, and “Ohta, Franklin, and McClintock” for the women. I also speak of “Hershey and Chase” (one male, one female), as well as the married couple “Lederberg and Lederberg” (to be sure, her nonmarried name was Zimmer). The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was given to Doudna and Charpentier, and might have gone to Franklin along with Watson, Crick, and Wilkins (they could have split the DNA-structure prize between Chemistry and Medicine and Physiology). I can’t speak of how others refer to scientists, as I haven’t paid attention to the issue. But now I will.

For all fields, though, an alternative hypothesis to racism and sexism is one of familiarity and fame.  It’s undeniable that women artists, writers, and composers were subject to discrimination— why else would George Eliot and George Sand be the pen names of women writers?—and that this surely explains at least some of the relative paucity of famous women artists. That is, there aren’t as many famous women composers because there weren’t as many women composers, period. And if you’re less famous, using two names is a better identifier.

I’m convinced that there may be some truth in White’s indictment, but the composers he mentions with two names are also less famous than Beethoven and Bach. To find out if discrimination is the reason for “duonyms” for women and nonwhite composers, we have to compare name usage for groups of people of equal fame but of different race or sex. Given the paucity of famous nonwhite or women composers and painters, that’s a hard experiment to do.

As I said, in science I don’t think I discriminate.

Well, those of you with musical knowledge can weigh in below, but really, this issue holds for almost every field of endeavor.

Yet another case of a woman asked to move so she wouldn’t give cooties to Orthodox Jews

August 29, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I figured that this kind of report was over and done with, as surely airlines know that it’s gender discrimination to ask a passenger to move to accommodate a religiously-based request not to sit next to someone of the opposite sex. Yet, despite lawsuits won by women who complain about being forced to move, the incidents persist. And the situations invariably involve male ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish men, who consider themselves polluted and violating the dictates of Yahweh should they touch a woman.

The most famous incident even has its own Wikipedia page: the case of Renee Rabinowitz, an American-Israeli psychologist. Flying to Tel Aviv in business class in 2015, she was forced by the El Al flight attendants to change seats at the request of a Haredi male. She sued for discrimination, and won a settlement of 6500 shekels (about $1800) plus a promise from El Al that it would change its policy so it was nondiscriminatory.

Curiously, the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), which helped Rabinowitz win her case, then tried to put ads in the Ben Gurion Airport informing women of their rights. The airport refused, which is really bad form, and a decision that makes little sense. I like the ads: here’s one that was proposed:

But I digress. Now there’s a new and similar case reported in the Guardian (click on screenshot below):

The details:

A British-Israeli woman is suing easyJet after the low-cost airline asked her to move seats on a flight from Tel Aviv to London following objections from ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refused to sit next to a female passenger.

Melanie Wolfson, 38, is claiming 66,438 shekels (almost £15,000) compensation in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which won a similar case in 2017 brought against El Al, the Israeli national carrier.

Wolfson, a professional fundraiser who moved to Israel 13 years ago and lives in Tel Aviv, is also asking that easyJet bans its cabin crew from asking women to switch seats because of their gender.

According to the lawsuit, Wolfson paid extra for an aisle seat on her flight last October. An ultra-Orthodox man and his son, who were sitting in the row when she arrived, asked Wolfson to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead.

Wolfson says she was “insulted and humiliated” by the request. “It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman,” she told Haaretz.

They offered her a free hot drink if she moved, but what the bloody hell is that? A free hot drink? What kind of pikers is this company?  But they shouldn’t have asked her at all. Instead, they should have made the men move. Other flight attendants told Wolfson that they often ask women to switch seats away from Haredi men. The sad thing is that some women, and Wolfson is one, are nice and agree to move, but that doesn’t obviate their right to sue.  Israeli law prohibits discrimination like this on the basis of sex and other issues.

This happened again two months later, but Wolfson, fed up, refused to move. Two other women did move to allow the Orthodox men to have their seats.

Yes, I’m a secular Jew, but I’m not going easy on this kind of religious misogyny no matter who practices it. I tweeted to easyJet (below), but I doubt I’ll get a response. You can also contact easyJet using a form found here, or use Messenger here to send them a quick message. Maybe if enough people object, they’ll stop this practice.

h/t; Ginger K.

Is “white empiricism” hindering physics?

December 10, 2019 • 9:30 am

UPDATE: James Lindsay has an analysis of this paper in a number of successive tweets, starting with the one below. Click on it if you want to see his take. He criticizes a number of points that I either missed or ignored, so I recommend your reading it.

_____________

My ears always perk up when I hear the claim that there are special ways of doing science (“ways of knowing” if you will), that are practiced by different groups, and that the nature of science would be different, and better, if these groups are included in science.  There is a modicum of truth in this. Nobody denies that, in the past, oppressed people—women, minorities, and so on—have not been given the same opportunities to enter science as, say, white men. And I can think of at least one case in which the interests of different groups, by being different, have enriched science. (I think that the presence of women in evolutionary biology, for example, could have prompted the increasing emphasis on female choice in “Darwinian” sexual selection, though of course males have also done pioneering work in that area and my contention is arguable.)

But in general, though social conditioning may affect which problems one attacks, I don’t think there are special ways of doing science, nor in general do different groups of people practice science in different ways.  I advocate for open access and equal opportunity for all people, but I do that because I see it as immoral to block access to careers for different groups, and also because the more minds that have access to science, the faster science will progress. When women were kept from doing science over the past few centuries, we effectively lost half of the pool of talent that could expand our understanding of the universe, not to mention denying the dreams and ambitions of half the population. And of course that holds for other groups, as well. I advocate equal opportunities for all to do science, but not necessarily equal outcomes, since outcomes could depend partly on preference. But until all groups have equal opportunities, which is a long way off, I think we have to practice some form of affirmative action in science and other professions.

I give this preface because I’m about to criticize a new paper that claims not only that different groups (in this case, black women) have different ways of doing science, but also that black women have been oppressed by an inherent characteristic of science (not of scientists): “white empiricism”, which denies the validity of black women as objective observers of reality. The paper’s author is Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy as well as a faculty member in Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire. as well as a writer of popular articles for New Scientist and other venues. She’s also prolific on Twitter, having tweeted (by my count at 5 a.m.) 132 times in the last 24 hours, thus averaging (with eight hours off) about 8 tweets per hour.

Prescod-Weinstein is the daughter of a white Jewish father and a mother from Barbados, so she considers herself both black and Jewish.  I’ve written about her once before, criticizing a Slate article in which she argued, based on James Damore’s Google document (for which he was fired), that sexism is inherent in the practice of science (not just in scientists), and that science cannot be equated with “truth.”

You see a related critique of science in Prescod-Weinstein’s new paper in the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, a publication from my own University of Chicago. You can get the paper for free by clicking on the screenshot below. A free pdf is here, and the full reference is at the bottom.

As I see it, the paper’s big problem is that it sees bigotry and racism as violations of the empirical methods of science—as aspects of science that are violated by “white empiricism”.  But first, what is “white empiricism”?  Here are a few definitions or characterizations of  from Prescod-Weinstein:

White empiricism comes to dominate empirical discourse in physics because whiteness powerfully shapes the predominant arbiters of who is a valid observer of physical and social phenomena. Based primarily on their own experiences, white men, who are the dominant demographic in physics, construct the figure of the observer to exclude anyone who does not share the attending social and intellectual identities and beliefs.

. . . Essentially, white empiricism involves a predominantly white, predominantly male professional community selectively failing to apply the scientific method to themselves while using “scientific” evaluation to strengthen the barriers to Black women’s entry into physics. White empiricism is therefore a form of antiempiricism masquerading as an empirical approach to the natural world.

. . . White empiricism is conceptually distinct from epistemic injustice because it describes a resistance not just to testimony but also to empirical fact. It is strongly linked to epistemic oppression and conceptual competence injustice because it involves a denial of a knower’s competence based on ascribed identity (Dotson 2014; McKinnon 2014, forthcoming; Anderson 2017). White empiricism is the specific practice of epistemic oppression paired with a willingness to ignore empirical data.

. . . White empiricism is the practice of allowing social discourse to insert itself into empirical reasoning about physics, and it actively harms the development of comprehensive understandings of the natural world by precluding putting provincial European ideas about science—which have become dominant through colonial force—into conversation with ideas that are more strongly associated with “indigeneity,” whether it is African indigeneity or another.

Now how is it that “white empiricism” turns out to be a form of hypocrisy, in which white male physicists (and also white female physicists) claim they’re objective when investigating physics but aren’t really objective?  It is because, alongside their “objectifity” in studying the laws of nature, they ignore or dismiss black women’s “lived experience” and claims about the pervasiveness of racism, which are taken to be objective scientific claims.

And here we see the conflation of physics with social justice. To wit:

In string theory, we find an example wherein extremely speculative ideas that require abandoning the empiricist core of the scientific method and which are endorsed by white scientists are taken more seriously than the idea that Black women are competent observers of their own experiences. In practice, invalidating Black women’s standpoint is an antiempirical disposal of data, in essence turning white supremacist social structures into an epistemic practice in science. Therefore, while traditionally defined empiricism is the stated practice of scientists, white empiricism—where speculative white, male testimony is more highly valued than reality-based testimony from Black women—is the actual practice of scientists.

. . . [Jarita] Holbrook holds that Black students are presumed to be epistemically unreliable on the subject of racism, which sends the message that they can never achieve an objective observer status akin to that of their white peers. As Holbrook describes this epistemic dismissal, “When confronted with a racist incident as a person of color, your objectivity is immediately questioned. Are you sure it happened? Are you sure that it was their intention? to flat out: So and So is not racist! I’ve known them for years. Thus, your objectivity is being questioned. … The internal dialogue is that if they do not believe me in this, what do they think about my science? Thus, it erodes the scientific identity that you are in the process of creating”

. . .  In effect, white physicists are considered competent to self-evaluate for bias against other epistemic agents and theories of physics where there is no empirical grounding to assist in decision making, while Black epistemic agents are considered incompetent to bring a lifetime of knowledge gathering about race and racism to bear on their everyday experiences. This empirical adjudication is the phenomenon of white empiricism.

These statements, particularly the last one, shows Prescod-Weinstein’s confusion between empirical studies of physics and evaluation of the “lived experience” of racism by black women. I’m not denying, of course, that some physicists have racist attitudes. But to say that one must accept a black women’s views about racism because science says you must is to equate subjectivity with objectivity, anecdote with scientific consensus. And, in fact, Prescod-Weinstein gives no examples of white male physicists rejecting black women’s views about racism. She goes on at length about the history of racism in America, and how scientists have participated in it, but I see no examples of any modern male physicists saying that black women aren’t competent to describe and evaluate their own experiences, much less to act as valid students of the laws of physics.

In pursuit of her thesis that racist attitudes violate the very objectivity inherent in science, Prescod-Weinstein adduces some ludicrous examples. One is the theory of relativity, which states that the fundamental laws of physics are invariant under the inertial frame of the observer. Prescod-Weinstein sees racism as violating this canon:

Yet white empiricism undermines a significant theory of twentieth-century physics: General Relativity (Johnson 1983). Albert Einstein’s monumental contribution to our empirical understanding of gravity is rooted in the principle of covariance, which is the simple idea that there is no single objective frame of reference that is more objective than any other (Sachs 1993). All frames of reference, all observers, are equally competent and capable of observing the universal laws that underlie the workings of our physical universe. Yet the number of women in physics remains low, especially those of African descent (Ong 2005; Hodari et al. 2011; Ong, Smith, and Ko 2018). . . . Given that Black women must, according to Einstein’s principle of covariance, have an equal claim to objectivity regardless of their simultaneously experiencing intersecting axes of oppression, we can dispense with any suggestion that the low number of Black women in science indicates any lack of validity on their part as observers. It is instead important to examine the way the social forces at work shape Black women’s standpoint as observers—scientists—with a specific interest in how scientific knowledge is dependent on this specific standpoint. As Jarita Holbrook notes, Black students have their capacity for objectivity questioned simply because their standpoint on racism is different from that of white students and scientists who don’t have to experience its consequences.

Statements like that make me wonder if Prescod-Weinstein knows that she’s distorting science in the service of social justice. Einstein’s principle simply states that the laws of physics are invariant under frames of reference, not that “all observers are equally competent and capable of observing the universal laws [of physics].” To say that the theory of relativity shows objectively that racism against black women is unscientific is to mistake the laws of physics with a moral dictum. In other words, Prescod-Weinstein is committing the naturalistic fallacy. Certainly all groups get the same opportunity, should they wish to become physicists, to study the laws of nature, but not everyone, least of all me, is “equally competent.” What Prescod-Weinstein should be arguing is not that Einstein’s theory explicitly makes all people morally equal, but that considerations of well-being and empathy make all people morally equal. Dr. King didn’t need Einstein to convince America that segregation was wrong.

Prescod-Weinstein is not by any means obtuse, and so I wonder if she sees the fallacy of what she’s doing here, or is so blinded by ideology that she really thinks that Einstein’s theory is explicitly anti-racist.

She also uses string theory as an example of how “objective” study of physics conflicts with racism. She considers why string theory, though in many ways appealing, has failed to gain widespread acceptance in the scientific community and yet is still considered a valid object of study. She gives three reasons why string theory remains viable (her quote):

Surveying what should happen next, there are at least three distinct possibilities:

  • 1. Patience is required, and evidence is coming.
  • 2. String theory has failed to succeed in expected ways because the community—which is almost entirely male and disproportionately white relative to other areas of physics—is too homogeneous.
  • 3. The scientific method overly constrains our models to meet certain requirements that no longer serve the needs of physics theory.

The trouble with the first option is that because of the theory’s structure, parameters could continuously and endlessly change to excuse the absence of evidence: “It is simply in a regime where we can’t currently take measurements” (Dawid 2013, 112; see also Ellis and Silk 2014). This never-ending passing of the buck to higher energy scales that require bigger experiments and more funding is suspect, although there is certainly no universal law that says that finding quantum gravity should be an affordable pursuit.

The second option is effectively unconsidered in the literature. Instead, the case for the third option has been made. This is a curious turn of events. Rather than considering whether structural and individual discrimination results in a homogeneous, epistemically limited community, physicists are willing to throw out their long-touted objectivity tool, the scientific method. In its place, they propose that their sense of aesthetics is sufficient, that the theory holds a kind of beauty (such as high levels of symmetry) similar to other, empirically successful theories such as the Standard Model of particle physics (Polchinski 1998).

What she’s saying here is that it’s distinctly possible that the absence of diversity (e.g., black women) among physicists is a reasonable explanation for why no empirical evidence has arisen to support string theory. That contrasts with explanations 1) and 3), that say, respectively, that we might get evidence for or against the theory some day, or that we should simply accept string theory without empirical evidence because it’s a lovely theory and, by the way, evidence is overrated.

Prescod-Weinstein indicts white empiricism here because, she says, people have gravitated to explanation #3 instead of #2, and by so doing have rejected the empirical canons of science—the need for evidence—rather than accept the possibility that we need more black women physicists. And, she argues, there’s no empirical reason to support #3 over #2—except under white empricism.

I don’t think that’s correct. First of all, she adduces no reason why black physicists rather than white physicists can help provide the ultimate empirical test of string theory. That presupposes that there is a “black” way of doing string theory that white physicists don’t comprehend. Second, I haven’t seen physicists, at least the ones I know, arguing that string theory is correct and we don’t need empirical verification. My own take is that string theory is appealing in many ways but can’t be accepted as true because it can’t be tested in any way that we must know. In other words, possibility #1 is the consensus among physicists, and possibility #2 isn’t that viable because there’s been no demonstration that different ethnic groups or genders have investigatory tools that could solve the issue. (This is not to justify racism in physics, of course. It’s just that diversity is an inherent good, that equal opportunity is a moral imperative, and diversity may advance science not because different groups have different “ways of knowing”, but because the bigger the talent pool, the more likely we are to have breakthroughs.)

But Prescod-Weinstein does believe that what we know about physics would change if more black women participated. Yet she fails to be specific, arguing that “there are contexts in which Black women are epistemically privileged observers”, but not telling us which contexts. Instead, she says this:

Yet there is a way in which feminist standpoint theory can help us think about the gulf between epistemic theory and social practice in physics. Standpoint theory correctly identifies that there are contexts in which Black women are epistemically privileged observers, and I argue that a refusal to accept this fact translates into modified epistemic outcomes in physics, not because the laws of physics are different but because which parts of the universe we understand, and even the very nomenclature we develop to describe our understanding, are impacted by social forces.

It would be nice if she could adduce an example here. Which parts of the universe are susceptible to analysis by a black woman physicist but not a white male? Since there are almost no black women physicists, it would be hard to even think of an example.  As for terminology or nomenclature, well, that has little to do with our understanding; it is just words we use to describe our understanding. Would “the uncertainty principle” be called something else if discovered by a black woman physicist? If so, would it matter? Again, we have no examples—even hypothetical ones.

Prescod-Weinstein does adduce the fight over the 30-Meter Telescope in Hawaii (some scientists want it built, while many native Hawaiians oppose it on grounds of tradition and the claim that Mauna Kea site is sacred) as another example of “white empiricism”, but this is also misguided. The fight is not about the nature of science, but about whether a tool for doing science should be built if it conflicts with local beliefs and practices. I’m not that familiar with the battle, but what I do know tells me that it’s not a battle over the validity of Hawaiians as valid observers of physics. Prescod-Weinstein seems to disagree:

As we enter an era where physics and astronomy are both studied and practiced by increasingly larger teams with wide geographic footprints, these social dynamics will become important in new ways. For example, in the debate about the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the question of which epistemologies merit legitimate consideration is intimately tied to white empiricism (Swanner 2013; Salazar 2014; Kuwada 2015). White empiricism can help explain why the Thirty Meter Telescope was evaluated so differentially by Mauna Kea protectors and telescope-using scientists, resulting in a specious debate over who was for and who was against science. Protectors, who do not subscribe to white empiricism, have been forced to repeatedly challenge press coverage that tends to assign a higher knowledge prestige to the role of nonindigenous scientists than to cultural knowledge holders of indigenous communities (Fox and Prescod-Weinstein 2019). Future work should unpack this phenomenon further in dialogue with decolonization discourse.

But the native Hawaiian argument against the telescope is not an epistemological stand, unless you think that it’s based on superstition; and in that case it’s not relevant to Prescod-Weinstein’s argument. “Cultural knowledge” here does not refer to scientific knowledge, but to spiritual belief, and thus we are not seeing a conflict about the way to do physics. There may be some racism inherent in the battle, but that’s different from a battle over “valid ways of understanding nature.”

I am growing weary, for I have dissected papers like this before—papers on white glaciology, the racism of Pilates, lattes, and pumpkins, and so on. The difference here is that Prescod-Weinstein is a working physicist with respectable accomplishments in the field. It is a sad testimony to the power of ideology, though, that her interpretation of what science is has been so severely distorted by her anti-white feminism.  Instead of arguing, as I’ve said, on moral grounds, she argues that the objectivity of science itself is in conflict with the supposed dismissal of black women’s experiences of racism, and that such an attitude is not just racist but anti-science.

In view of the paucity of black women physicists with a Ph.D. (there have been only a few dozen in history), what should we do? I agree that there may be a problem here, and my solution is, as always, twofold. First, rectify any inequality of opportunity starting at the ground—the limited opportunities afforded to minorities by living conditions and poor schooling, themselves byproducts of racism. Second, for the time being practice a form of affirmative action, realizing that diversity in the physics community is an inherent good for several reasons (providing role models to eliminate roadblocks to opportunity, for one).

But these STEM initiatives are rejected by Prescod-Weinstein as a form of patronizing manipulation of black people for the good of America:

The National Science Foundation (2008) argues that the broader impact of diversity is a worthwhile consideration in granting criteria based on a national need for a strong STEM workforce as the United States undergoes a demographic transition where white-identified people will soon no longer account for over 50 percent of the population. Because white Americans still heavily dominate STEM degree earning and the STEM workforce, American STEM cannot keep up with the demographic changes. These arguments repurpose Black Americans (and other minorities) as tools to serve nationalist needs.

I doubt that the National Science Foundation’s strong STEM programs to increase minority participation in science are designed to “repurpose Black Americans (and other minorities) as tools to serve nationalist needs.” These programs are supported and implemented largely by women, and their avowed purpose is to diversify participation in science and technology. To say that they are designed to turn minorities into slaves of white nationalism is simply ridiculous. For one thing, I doubt that anyone who has been supported by these programs, many of them investigating pure science rather than advancing technology, sees themselves as “tools.” Let Chanda-Weinstein talk to those people rather than pronounce, as a privileged physicist, how they should feel. Does she understand their lived experience?

This paper is not a hoax, though if it had been written by someone else it could be seen as one of the “grievance study” hoax papers produced by Boghossian, Pluckrose, and Lindsay. It is a serious attempt at scholarship, and I say “attempt” because it fails on all levels. It is what happens when a “hard” discipline like physics is infected by a “soft” discipline with an ideological agenda, like gender and race studies. The result are specious and insupportable claims like that of Einstein’s theory of relativity explicitly stating that people from all ethnic and gender groups should be treated equally.  And while you’ll find many physicists, including white ones, who refuse to dismiss black women as valid observers of physical reality, I doubt that you’ll find many who cite Einstein in support of such egalitarianism.

It’s always a bad idea to draw moral conclusions from science, for that makes the moral conclusions susceptible to changes in our understanding of the physcal world. If we had only Newtonian mechanics and not relativistic mechanics, would racism be more justified?

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Prescod-Weinstein, C. 2020. Making Black women scientists under white empiricism: The racialization of epistemology in physics. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 45:421-447

Women-only STEM jobs advertised at a Dutch university

June 20, 2019 • 12:15 pm

There’s a well known disparity in numbers between men and women in STEM fields, a disparity that universities and graduate schools try to rectify with recruitment efforts, forms of sex-specific affirmative action, and so on.

The assumption behind most of these these actions is often that the disparity is due entirely to sexism and discrimination against women in grad-school programs or in the workplace. And indeed, such discrimination has been documented not only anecdotally, but in psychology studies showing that c.v.s with women’s names on them are regarded less favorably than those bearing men’s names. (But we must not forget that discrimination in these studies can’t automatically be equated to discrimination in hiring, as many schools, including mine, try to overcome such bias by deliberately looking for women candidates.) Also, there are some studies (see this one from Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. that a reader highlighted at this link, showing that there are STEM biases in favor of women.

However, the main issue is the implicit and seemingly unquestionable claim that all sex-based disparity in STEM is due to bias and sexism. That needn’t be true, for there may be sex-based preferences that feed into the imbalance as well. That is, women may be less inclined, all else equal, to want to go into STEM fields. Indeed, as I show below, there’s some evidence that this is the case for STEM, and this probably also explains the sex imbalance seen in various subfields of medicine despite no differential in salary.

But even that possibility is almost unmentionable given the pervasive assumption that men and women are absolutely equal in preferring what kind of work to do. Even mentioning differential preference is, as you’ll recall, what got James Damore fired from Google.

And if sex-based difference in preference be true, then, even given equal opportunity in the workplace, there may remain a dearth of women. We then have to ask ourselves, “Why are we trying to achieve complete gender balance in STEM? Shouldn’t we just provide equal opportunity rather than try for equality in outcome?”

This appears to be the reason behind a new initiative at a Dutch university to get more equity in STEM hiring at the faculty level, as reported two days ago in Science (click on screenshot below).

Despite years of what they call “soft measures” to rectify sex bias in jobs at Eindhoven University, they’re now taking “hard measures”: limiting job applicants to women only. As Science reports:

A Dutch engineering university is taking radical action to increase its share of female academics by opening job vacancies to women only.

Starting on 1 July, the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) in the Netherlands will not allow men to apply for permanent academic jobs for the first 6 months of the recruitment process under a new fellowship program. If no suitable applicant has been found within that time, men can then apply, but the selection committee will still have to nominate at least one candidate of each gender.

“We have been talking about [gender balance] for ages,” says TUE President Robert-Jan Smits. “All kinds of soft measures are taken and lip service is paid to it. But the stats still look awful.” Currently, 29% of TUE’s assistant professors are women; at the associate and full professor level, about 15% are women. With this program, TUE wants to reach 50% of women for assistant and associate professors, and 35% for full professors.

. . .Dutch and EU laws allow policies to recruit underrepresented groups, TUE says. But across science, a gender gap persists: In 2011, women accounted for just one-third of all EU researchers, and, at the highest level of the academic career ladder, just 21% were women in 2013, according to the European Commission’s She Figures 2015 report.

Biologist Isabelle Vernos, a group leader at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain, prefers that jobs be open to everyone whenever possible. “But depending on the discipline, I understand that sometimes you need high-impact action to change a pattern,” adds Vernos, who is a member of CRG’s gender balance committee and chairs the European Research Council’s working group on the same topic.

But as I reported early last year, a correlational study involving indices of gender equality among various nations with the percentage of women among STEM graduates shows a negative correlation. The more gender equality a country has (these are apparently objective and a priori measures of opportunity), the fewer women go into STEM. As I wrote (I include links),

A new paper in Psychological Science (free Unpaywall access; pdf here, reference at bottom) by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary points to the second explanation: consistent differences in preference, and dispels the third, finding no consistent sex differences in abilities. This doesn’t rule out sexism, as they didn’t test for that, but the important factor seems to be preference. That’s because the authors find a strong and counterintuitive correlation between the gender gap in stem degrees and the index of gender equality in countries. In those countries with more gender equality, the gap between men and women in getting STEM degrees is larger. The authors explain that as resulting from a combination of sex-based preferences and the standard of living in different countries.

Before I give the data bearing on equality, there were also two important results of the study:

  • In overall science literacy, women and men were pretty equal throughout the world.
  • . . . when the authors looked at intraindividual differences in ability, that is, relative ability, they found that women generally ranked higher in reading compared to their average ability, while men ranked higher in science and mathematics compared to their average ability. 

That means that, overall, that women are academically better than men, but within sexes women tend to excel more in reading abilities than in STEM, while the reverse is true in men. This may reflect a difference in preference about what you like to study.

Here are two salient results, again taken from my summary of the paper. The first refers to the second point above:

  • When the authors looked at this “gender gap” in relative performance, they found out that it was larger in countries that were more gender equal. That is, the more equal the country in gender treatment, the greater the relative performance of women in reading over science and math, and the greater the relative performance of men in science and math over reading. Here’s a figure showing that, which also shows you the countries that are more gender equal (higher on the y axis) and those at the bottom (countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria):

  • Not only was the intraindividual “gender gap” larger in more gender-equal countries, but the percentage of women getting STEM degrees was lower in more gender-equal countries. Places like Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland, which rank high on gender equality, had a much lower percentage of women among college STEM graduates than less gender-equal countries like the UAR, Tunisia, Turkey, and Algeria. Would you have expected that? The negative correlation is striking (same Y axis: higher Y scores mean more gender equality):

Now this is only one study and clearly needs further work, but the idea here is that when women are free to exercise their preferences, as they presumably are in more gender-equal countries, fewer of them choose to go into STEM than do women in less gender-equal countries, which are poorer and thus prompt women seeking economic well being to go into higher-paying STEM fields. The alternative explanation involving bias would involve making the unlikely assumption that there is more bias against women in STEM in more gender-equal countries.

The desperation move of opening up jobs for which men aren’t allowed to apply may reflect a failure to get equality of outcome despite years of trying to achieve it. Thus one can achieve such an outcome only by eliminating men from the job pool, a tactic that would be seen in the U.S. as not only unfair, but illegal.

It’s time, I think, to stop assuming that 100% of the gap between men and women in STEM is due to bias, and 0% to differences in preference. There is no justification for such an assumption, and some evidence against it. Nevertheless, to even mention differential preference is verboten, and can lead to one’s demonization for violating the ideological view that there is no behavioral difference between men and women—a view that rejects scientific findings if they conflict with a blank-slate view of the world.

This is why I emphasize societal concentration on equal opportunity rather than solely on equal outcomes. I hasten to add that we urgently need to figure out why there is disproportionate representation of the sexes in different jobs, and if some of that is due to bias, we need to eliminate that bias.  And we also need to ensure that equality not only for men versus women, but also for members of different ethnic groups, especially historically oppressed minorities. If part of the inequality of outcome reflects differential educational quality and opportunity, like teachers guiding women away from STEM or minorities having poorer schools, those need to be fixed, for these issues violate equality of opportunity as well.

That said, I am still in favor, for the time being, of a form of affirmative action in hiring for sexes and minorities, for that is a way to at least provide role models for members of different groups until we solve the problem of ensuring equal opportunity. But I continue to bridle at the untested and probably invalid assumptions that men and women are absolutely equal in their job preferences, and that the dearth of women in STEM solely reflects sexism.

________

Stoet, G. and D. C. Geary. 2018. The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychological Science online; 0:0956797617741719. doi 10.1177/0956797617741719

 

 

Two pieces on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the new allegations against him

June 4, 2019 • 10:45 am

It is curious that the accusations of sexual misconduct committed by Martin Luther King, Jr., recently published in Standpoint by his biographer, the distinguished civil rights historian David Garrow, have largely been ignored by the mainstream press. I think it’s because the press doesn’t know how to respond to accusations of rape-enabling and abuse of women by someone as distinguished as Dr. King—someone who did more than anyone else to bring civil rights to African Americans in the last century. Given the cognitive dissonance among the Authoritarian Left when two of their values collide (another example is feminism vs. Islamic misogyny), I wondered if King would be given more of a pass than others because of his accomplishments. Although the accusations against King are still under legal seal until 2027, many have been deemed guilty by allegations as unsubstantiated as those against Dr. King.

My own take so far is to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, hoping I’m around when the evidence is unsealed, and to recognize that earlier evidence already showed King to be a serial philanderer. He was imperfect—maybe criminally so—but his legacy, his actions, and his writings still mark him as one of the most accomplished figures in American history. But so was Thomas Jefferson, who held slaves. Even now, at my alma mater The College of William and Mary, Jefferson’s statue is regularly being defaced. Lately we’ve seen the demonization of people like Dr. Seuss as well as Gandhi, whose statues have been taken down in South Africa. Somehow people haven’t yet come to terms with how we regard historical figures who have done bad things by modern lights. But clearly such judgments must balance good versus bad, recognize the complex nature of humans, and should have nothing to do with someone’s race.

The New York Times has finally come to grips with the accusations about King, but only in an op-ed by one person, Barbara Ransby. [Note added in proof: they just published another piece on King that I haven’t yet read.] Ransby is a professor of history, gender and women’s studies and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement,” “Eslanda” and “Making All Black Lives Matter.” You can read her piece below:

The piece is not really a defense of King so much as an attack on those who accept, even tentatively, that King might have been a far worse sexual predator than we know. We can rule out many on the Right who seem to glorify in these revelations, as they really don’t like what King did. But Ransby, while properly pointing out that the evidence isn’t dispositive, attacks the FBI for its attempt to depose and terrorize King (true, but it’s still possible that the transcripts are right), and even Garrow for publishing unverified information. She gives more credibility to the testimony of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, as they were recounting their own stories rather than digging out someone else’s, as did Garrow.  And Garrow, who has impeccable credentials and no a priori animus against King, is criticized for wanting public attention,  for seeming to “want his own Me first spotlight by getting out in front of an unsubstantiated story” by telling the stories of women who can’t tell the stories themselves. That’s a bit unfair: many of the women are dead and even Garrow thinks that we need to wait before revising our judgment of King as a man (see below). Her subheading implies that Garrow is a “historical peeping Tom”.

Finally, Ransby brings in “resurgent white nationalism” to buttress King’s historical legacy, which stands untarnished to all rational people, and the racist way in which King’s “black sexuality” was described by the FBI. Probably true, but again irrelevant to the questions about his character. After all, it was King who talked about judging a man by “the content of his character.”

To be fair, Ransby does say, and I agree, that we need to wait until 2027 before we begin the painful process of evaluation:

If in 2027 when the full F.B.I. tapes are released there is credible and corroborated evidence that a sexual assault occurred and Dr. King was somehow involved, we will have to confront that relevant and reprehensible information head-on. But we are not there.

Indeed, but Ransby’s piece still looks a bit tendentious. King’s historical accomplishments are secure, though the man was imperfect and may have even been a malefactor, but neither she nor Garrow know the truth, and there’s no need to discredit Garrow and the FBI (which of course did do pretty awful things) in advance of the tapes’ release.

Politico has what I see as the most reasoned take about this whole issue, more so than Ransby’s piece (click on screenshot):

An excerpt of their piece (my emphasis):

The reports are full of erotic details and include revealing handwritten marginalia. But to the uninitiated, the written reports that Garrow cites are hard to interpret. They can’t be checked against the original surveillance tapes, which remain sealed, according to a judge’s order, until 2027. It’s hard to tell from a glance who precisely authored them, for what purpose they were drafted or what information they’re based on. It is Garrow’s decades of expertise in reviewing and analyzing FBI materials about King that gives these startling revelations their weight. Garrow has explained that while not all FBI claims are to be believed, these sorts of summaries of surveillance intercepts are unlikely to have been fabricated or manipulated.

And Garrow’s overall assessment is measured. Nowhere does he renounce the esteem for King that can be seen in his three important books on the minister’s life. Rather, he proposes that the possibility King tolerated or abetted a rape “poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive historical review possible.” Garrow concludes with a call to preserve the recordings on which the FBI reports are based, so that we can learn more when they’re scheduled to be opened eight years from now.

. . .the Washington Post’s “Retropolis” blog, which declares Garrow’s article to be “irresponsible.” The thrust of the article is to insinuate that the FBI reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and so Garrow shouldn’t have published them. But while the Post piece quotes some respected historians (including friends of mine) rightly noting that the FBI documents may not be entirely reliable—not least because of Hoover’s vendetta against King—it avoids the obvious, if painful, corollary that they may well be accurate to a significant degree. We should at least allow the possibility that the accusations are true.

That’s why it’s a mistake to discount Garrow’s article wholesale. Any historian who came across a new cache of documents related to a longstanding area of research would feel compelled to explore it—and, if those materials shed new light on the subject, to publish them.

. . .King’s greatness is such that he has weathered these disclosures. The rape charges are of course graver, but they don’t negate the historic achievements for which he has long been properly celebrated.

Even if the ugliest charges against King are bolstered by additional evidence, that doesn’t mean we should talk about renaming Martin Luther King Day, tearing down statues of him, or stripping him of his Nobel Prize. In recent years, we’ve had altogether too much wrecking-ball history—history that takes public or private flaws or failings as reason to cast extraordinary men and women out of our political or artistic pantheons. Historians know that even the most admirable figures from our past were flawed, mortal beings—bad parents or bad spouses, capable of violence or cruelty, beholden to sexist or racist ideas, venal or megalomaniac, dishonest or predatory. Awareness of these qualities doesn’t mean despising figures once held up as heroes. Rather, it gives us a more complete and nuanced picture of the people who shaped our world.

Garrow acted responsibly, I think. He put the tentative evidence out there, alerting historians to what he found and what needs to be examined in eight years. He is a reporter, neither an accuser nor a jury.

Until we know the real evidence, we should neither discount nor accept wholesale Garrow’s claims. And we should balance King’s private behavior against his accomplishments as a leader. But that standard should go for everyone, including Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi.

h/t: cesar

Iranian women arrested and imprisoned for removing hijab, posting pictures of dancing

July 17, 2018 • 11:00 am

Can we hope that Iran, now in turmoil over many things, will try to stabilize itself by allowing its women simple human decency? In the last few weeks, two women have been arrested for removing their headscarves (20 years in jail!) or for posting pictures on social media of themselves dancing.  These are religious offenses, and are deemed such because they inspire the lust of men. (Women, of course bear full responsibility for whatever men do when engorged with uncontrollable lust.)

The first detainee, Shaparak Shajarizadeh (click on screenshot below) was apparently sentenced to two decades in stir for removing the hijab in protest of its compulsory wearing, and for “waving a white flag of peace in the street.” (White Wednesdays, in which women wear clothing of that color, are part of women’s protest against Iranian oppression.) Note that the story was not verified by Iranian authorities.

 

And here’s a story from the Guardian (click on screenshot, also see story in the July 9 New York Times) about a woman being arrested for posting an Instagram video (see below) of herself dancing.

This innocuous video was deemed dangerous enough to warrant the arrest of Maedeh Hojabri:

From the story about Hojabri New York Times, which described on July 9 the kind of public morality shaming that women like Hojabri are subjected to.

Like many teenage girls, Maedeh Hojabri liked to dance in her bedroom, record it and post clips to Instagram.

But Ms. Hojabri lives in Iran, where women are not allowed to dance, at least not in public. The 19-year-old was quietly arrested in May and her page was taken down, leaving her 600,000 followers wondering where she had gone.

The answer came last Tuesday on state television, when some of her fans recognized a blurred image of Ms. Hojabri on a show called “Wrong Path.”There she sobbingly admitted that dancing is a crime and that her family had been unaware she had videos of herself dancing in her bedroom to Western songs like “Bonbon,” by Era Istrefi.

Whatever the authorities’ intent, the public shaming of Ms. Hojabri and the arrest of others who have not been identified have created a backlash in a society already seething over a bad economy, corruption and a lack of personal freedoms.]

But there are signs that not just Iranian women are supporting the freedom to dress without veiling and to dance in public, but Iranians in general. As the Times notes,

Last week the judiciary warned that Instagram, which has 24 million users in Iran, might be closed because of its “unwanted content.” Ms. Hojabri, and other internet celebrities like her are called “antlers” by hard-liners for the way they stand out on Instagram.

But the public seems squarely on the side of Ms. Hojabri. “Really what is the result of broadcasting such confessions?” one Twitter user, Mohsen Bayatzanjani, wrote, using special software to gain access to Twitter, which is also banned in Iran. “What kind of audience would be satisfied? For whom would it serve as a lesson, seriously?”

Western feminists shy away from these kinds of violations, so that hijabis are often viewed as heroes though many of them are unwilling victims of Islamic morality. This represents the victory of skin pigmentation (Muslims are perceived as “oppressed brown people”, though many are lighter than I am and they’re hardly oppressed in places like Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) over feminism. The hierarchy of oppression is clear—skin color > sex—but why Muslim women in their own countries are seen as immune to oppression, or ignored by Western feminists, defies rational analysis. You won’t find a post like this one on most of the feminist websites.

In the meantime, however, Iranian women themselves know what’s going on, and are dancing in public in support of Hojabri. I am saddened but also heartened by this video of Iranian women dancing. If you want a running account of oppression, including both men and women, just go to #Iran.

A similar sentiment from the British gay activist Peter Tatchell:

El Al CEO promises that there will be no more seating discrimination against women on the airline

June 26, 2018 • 8:30 am

Two days ago I called your attention to yet another case of Haredi (extreme Orthodox) Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. Despite El Al’s promise, in a previously settled lawsuit, that it would “never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender”, it did, and two women moved to accommodate the delusional Haredis. The flight was delayed by an hour and a quarter.

There was a lot of negative publicity toward the airline, and, as reader ד”ר אורי פלביץ’ noted in a comment, the Times of Israel (and now Haaretz as well) have reported more serious repercussions from a big Israeli tech company.  As the Times of Israel reports:

The head of a major Israeli tech company announced Monday that his company would be boycotting El Al after a flight from New York to Israel this week was delayed for over an hour due to the refusal by a number of ultra-Orthodox men to sit next to women.

NICE System’s CEO Barak Eilam wrote on Facebook that “at NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion.”

The Ra’anana-based enterprise software provider is one of Israel’s largest tech companies with annual revenue over $1 billion.

“NICE will not fly with El Al until they change their practice and actions that are discriminating [against] women,” Eilam added.

They also report this:

El Al has been known to regularly ask passengers to move seats at the request — and sometimes the demand — of ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to sit next to women.

Last year, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that El Al cannot force women to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox men. The court agreed with Israel Religious Action Center, which brought the suit, in ruling the practice was illegal and discriminatory.

I suppose El Al could argue that the women weren’t forced, but asked; but given that the Haredi men were causing a disturbance (threatening to stand in the aisles if they didn’t get the right seats), and refused to even look at or talk to female flight attendants, those men should have been booted from the flight toute suite. Plus El Al promised before that it wouldn’t even ask women to change seats.

Still, according to both Haaretz and the Times, the CEO of El Al has said this won’t happen again. But instead of simply apologizing and affirming that policy, the El Al chairman waffled, weaseled and kvetched. From Haaretz (my emphasis):

Responding on Monday to the comments by Nice’s Eilam, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said: “The statement released by the Nice CEO was done without checking the facts [and] in a hasty manner, and I have made this clear to him in [a] conversation with him. The El Al people who dealt with the incident did so with proper sensitivity. Anyone flying the national carrier senses the values on which we have built the company. The company [observes] equality without distinction of race religion or gender.”

The El Al CEO added: “In the interest of resolving any doubt, I have today ordered a refinement of procedure on the matter and, from now on, a passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will be immediately removed from the flight.”

Okay, good. But given that they promised that there would be no more seat-changing, forgive me if I don’t quite believe Usishkin. El Al should also make clear, when passengers are buying tickets, that if they want to ensure that they don’t sit next to a woman, they should buy an empty seat next to theirs.

Here’s a parody ad for El Al put together by Tablet Magazine, a Jewish publication.

Israeli airports won’t tell women that they don’t have to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox Jews

April 7, 2018 • 1:30 pm

People might be surprised to find that, although Israel is seen as a “Jewish state,” how secular it really is. As Phil Zuckerman notes in the article I mentioned the other day:

The only nation of secular significance in the Middle East is Israel; 37 percent of Israelis are atheist or agnostic (Kedem 1995) and 75 percent of Israelis define themselves as ‘‘not religious’’ or having a ‘‘non-religious orientation.’’ (Dashefsky et al. 2003).

That’s a lot more secular than the U.S., but not a surprise to many Jews. As the old joke goes, “What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?” Answer: “A Jew.”  But Israel still caters to its Orthodox minority, even when simple decency says that it shouldn’t.

A case in point, documented by both The Guardian and Newsweek, involves a subject I’ve written about before: ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) Jews refusing to sit by women, and airlines trying to accommodate these religionists by moving the women. (See my posts here, here, here, here, and here.)  In the most recent case, documented in the last two links, 82 year old Renee Rabinowitz—a Holocaust survivor—sued El Al for making her move, and won a $14,000 court judgment with the help of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli equivalent of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. That judgment also prohibited gender discrimination in seating.

But recently the IRAC wanted to put up ads at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, letting women know that they had the legal right to keep their seats despite the complaints of bigoted religionists. (The ruling against gender discrimination in seating applies to both buses and planes, by decree of the Israeli supreme court.) Sadly, the airport refused, which is tantamount to refuse to inform women of their legal rights.  The Israeli airport authority banned the ads as being “politically divisive.”

Here’s the ad that was banned:

Well, it’s not at all politically divisive. It may be religiously divisive, but I think most of us agree that where religious dictum conflicts with civil rights, the latter must win. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope the airports reconsider, as their refusal to tell women of their rights allows religious sentiments to trump civil liberties.

IRAC also had a campaign video, which I’ve embedded below. The narrator turns into Woody Allen at about 1:20:

h/t: József

Iranian woman who removed hijab sentenced to two years in jail

March 8, 2018 • 9:15 am

It’s International Woman’s Day, so here’s a report of a non-U.S. woman being the victim of draconian laws. The Foreign Desk and The Guardian both report that an unnamed Iranian woman has been sentenced to two years in prison for removing her hijab.  Hijabs, of course, have been mandatory since the theocracy began in 1979. At that time there were mass protests in the country by women opposing mandatory covering, but they didn’t work.

From the Guardian:

Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, who announced the sentence, did not give the woman’s identity but said she intended to appeal against the verdict, the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency reported.

Dolatabadi said the unidentified woman took off her headscarf in Tehran’s Enghelab Street to “encourage corruption through the removal of the hijab in public”.

The woman will be eligible for parole after three months, but Dolatabadi criticised what he said was a “light” sentence and said he would push for the full two-year penalty.

More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested since the end of December for publically removing their veils in defiance of the law.

. . . the zeal of the country’s morality police has declined in the past two decades, and a growing number of Iranian women in Tehran and other large cities often wear loose veils that reveal their hair.

In some areas of the capital, women are regularly seen driving cars with veils draped over their shoulders.

Dolatabadi said he would no longer accept such behaviour, and had ordered the impound of vehicles driven by socially rebellious women.

The prosecutor said some “tolerance” was possible when it came to women who wear the veil loosely, “but we must act with force against people who deliberately question the rules on the Islamic veil”, according to Mizan Online.

“Socially rebellious women,” indeed! That reminds me of the “nevertheless, she persisted” criticism of Elizabeth Warren made by Mitch McConnell in the Senate when Warren criticized the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. But wait, there’s more! From The Foreign Desk:

Separately, a woman arrested last month after being pushed off a concrete block by Iranian police while protesting the compulsory hijab has been released on bail after posting a bond of nearly 50 million tomans, equivalent to roughly $13,000.

Maryam Shariatmadari was pushed off a concrete block causing her to sustain reported injuries. She was held in Shahr-e Rey prison and denied medical attention, according to those familiar with her case.

But if that’s not enough, there’s still more!

In December, a campaign using a hashtag “White Wednesdays” and showing a video of a woman waving a white hijab with her hair loose, resulted in the arrest and subsequent disappearance of one woman, whose fate sparked interest from media and rights groups across the world.

Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old mother of a young child, was arrested December 27 by Iranian authorities after a video of her waving a white hijab on the streets of Tehran went viral ahead of larger protests in the country in the days that followed.

After international condemnation, Movahed was released in late January.

Here’s that video (click on screenshot):

At least the Guardian reported this flagrant violation of women’s rights. As for other left-wing and feminist sites like Jezebel, Feministing, HuffPo, The New York Times, or the Washington Post—nothing. The feminist sites extol the hijab and its wearers (as “heroes”) more often than they decry it. It’s International Women’s Day, and let’s remember that the world’s most oppressed women aren’t in America, the UK, or Western Europe (unless they’re Muslims).

Saudia Arabia hosts its first women’s marathon

March 5, 2018 • 11:00 am

Gulf News reports that Saudi Arabia just hosted its first women’s marathon, presumably as part of its professed liberalization of women’s rights. It wasn’t a full marathon, but 3 km—about 1.9 miles. It did excite a lot of interest among the women, though, as 2,000 signed up within hours, and 1,500 actually ran. That was a much higher registration than organizers assumed, so they had to close off entries. This shows that women in Saudi Arabia really are interested in sports, even though they’re often not allowed to participate in that sexist country.

But look how the women were forced to run! No wonder the winning time was 15 minutes (granted, a bit better than I could do in running shorts at my age). Click the screenshot to go to the article:

Yes, they are running in burqas or abayas, though, to facilitate breathing, I suppose the organizers let them dispense with veils.

All photos: Al Marsad

Here’s a video from Al Arabiya English:

You go, girls! This is an ineffably sad spectacle.

This photo of the winners epitomizes the inequity: look at the guy wearing a tee-shirt and shorts!

Is this progress? Well, of a sort. At least they can run, but if there were no dress code, do you seriously think the women would run in robes or sacks? Gulf News tries to make the best of this:

Women have made impressive strides in recent months in Saudi Arabia as the society is undergoing intensive changes that saw them organise tournaments and attend sporting events in major stadiums.

The kingdom has in recent months eased restrictions on women, including the lifting of a driving ban — set to go into effect in June.

In September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day.

If they really want to make progress, let them deep-six the sharia law that counts a woman’s court testimony as half of a man’s, gives her half the inheritance of her brothers, and requires her to be accompanied by a guardian (and clad in a sack) when she goes out. Compared to that, sports is a thin veneer to make the world believe the kingdom is committed to women’s equality.

My friend Orli Peter, a psychologist, had the appropriate take, which is not to laugh but to mourn: