The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'gender'
The world moves one step closer to gender equality, with the announcement of a washing detergent specially formulated for fragile-masculinity sufferers. Named Frey, and packed in a tactical-black bottle reminiscent of engine oils, it allows those afflicted to do their own washing without feeling emasculated by the pastel-blue packaging or the sheer unmanliness of the activity of putting clothes into a washing machine like a little lady. It's also musk-scented, so, upon putting on the freshly-washed clothes*, one can smell like an alpha-masculine sexbeast, and not some domesticated house-husband.
Still, assuming that they have done their market research and there are people who would buy this sort of thing, one shouldn't laugh at those people; after all, they are suffering from a very real, and very debilitating, condition. Also, they might punch you.
* Presumably the target market would only be washing their own clothes, either because they live alone in a state of primal, untamed masculinity, or because their partner is understanding enough to accommodate their needs.
The BBC has a new documentary series about the history of indie music, specifically in the UK; titled Music For Misfits, it follows the phenomenon, from the explosion of do-it-yourself creativity unleashed in the wake of punk, running throughout the 1980s like a subterranean river, largely out of sight of the high-gloss mainstream of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, Simply Red and Thatcherite wine-bar sophistipop, channelled through a shadow infrastructure of photocopied zines, mail-order labels selling small-run 7"s and reviews in NME and Melody Maker (which, it must be remembered, had countercultural credibility back then, and were run by people whose business cards didn't read "youth marketing professional"), surfacing in the 1990s into the new mainstream of Britpop (much in the way that its American counterpart, alternative music, had become a few years earlier with the grunge phenomenon), before finally coalescing into a low-energy state in the new millennium as the marketing phenomenon known as Indie, a hyper-stylised, conservatively retro-referential guitar rock sponsored by lager brands. Though by the third episode of this series (the 1990s one), the BBC seems to succumb to this very revisionism of the term "indie", and, as Emma Jackson of Kenickie points out, retroactively edits almost all women out of the story, presumably because otherwise it wouldn't jibe as neatly with what modern audiences understand "indie" to mean:
It wasn’t just the lack of voices but the choice of stories that were included. No mention was made of the Riot Grrrl movement. Including the story of Riot Grrrl would have easily linked up with the previous programme’s section on fanzines and C86. Riot Grrrl also complicates the idea that British indie was in a stand off with US music. Rather in this scene bodies, music and fanzines travelled across the Atlantic and influenced each other. Also, while in indie music ‘white is the norm’ as Sarah Sahim recently argued, the Riot Grrrl moment in the UK also included bands lead by people of colour such as The Voodoo Queens and Cornershop (who had a number one on the independent Wiija in 1997).
Some major players were also missing. You have to go some lengths to tell the story of Britpop and not mention Elastica, but that’s what happened in the programme. There was a very short clip of them that flashed by. Or Sleeper. They were huge. Or PJ Harvey. Or Lush. Or Echobelly. Or Shampoo.Perhaps this is all a clever meta-narrative device, highlighting the issue of the blokeification of the term "indie" that is concomitant with it having ceased to be a structural descriptor ("indie" as in independent, from the major labels, from commercially manufactured pop music, the materialistic cultural currents/right-wing politics of Reaganism/Thatcherism, or what have you), and having become a stylistic descriptor (you know, guitars/skinny jeans/Doc Martens/Fred Perry/Converse/reverent references to an agreed-upon canon of "cool" bands from the previous half-century), and soon after that, a signifier of Cool British Masculinity, in the way that, say, Michael Caine, James Bond movies and various East End gangsters of old used to be. Perhaps it's a monumental oversight, inexplicable in hindsight, an oh-shit moment as the programme goes out. Or perhaps the original outline for the programme had sections on Bratmobile and Lush and Dubstar, which ended up on the cutting room floor after some risk-averse executive ruled that putting them in would weaken the narrative, confuse the audience or induce the Daily Mail to scream about "political correctness".
The equation of indie with retro probably didn't help. The seeds were sown in the underground 1980s, along with the rejection of the glossy commercial pop of the decade (which was partly a practical matter, with the kinds of high-tech studios the Pete Watermans of this world used to craft their chart-toppers costing millions, while electric guitars and Boss pedals were cheap), though became codified in the Britpop era, when journalist after lazy journalist equated the bold new age of British Guitar Rock with that last imperial phase of UK pop culture, the Swinging Sixties. Soon this became a self-fulfilling prophecy; things which didn't fit the narrative were pushed to the side, vintage Lambretta scooters and Mod roundels started showing up everywhere, and the Gallagher brothers, gazing down red-eyed from the heights of Snow Mountain, announced themselves to be the second coming of John Lennon, returned to bring proper rock'n'roll back to the people. Somewhere along the way, this retro rockism absorbed some of the retro sexism of the post-ironic lad mags of the time, marinated in the reactionary miasma inherent in the idea of a lost "golden age" (one before all this modern nonsense, when music came on vinyl and dollybirds knew their place was hanging on a geezer's arm, and so on), and so was born the New Lad Rock, whose name, in time, was lazily shortened just to "indie"; in its moribund terminal state, the Yorkie bar of music, right down to the "Not For Girls" label on it.
(Of course, the problem with looking backwards is often also the fact that those inclined to look backwards tend to fixate on forms rather than the processes that they emerged from (as the forms are the obvious thing to grasp, especially if one is not analytically inclined) and draw reactionary conclusions. For example, the fetishisation of the two-stroke motorscooter, a symbol of teenage freedom in the 1960s (it's probably no exaggeration to say that the Vespa was the
The equation of stylised "indie" rock with a retrograde "lad"/"geezer" masculinity seems to be firmly embedded in the culture of this day; only recently the radio station Xfm, which originated back in the day with an indie-music format, was rebranded, explicitly, as a blokey-guitar-rock station, without too much loss of cultural continuity. The next logical step would be would be to introduce a musical segment into the upcoming reboot of men-and-motors TV show Top Gear (which, of course, is already to be fronted by a Britpop-era radio DJ), where, between the high-octane stunts, a band of lads with guitars and Mod haircuts take to the screen and play something that sounds like a stodgily conservative take on the Beatles/Kinks/Clash/Pistols/Stone Roses.
In most European languages, personal pronouns (like she, him and such) are gendered; it can be somewhat awkward to talk about a person in English without disclosing whether they are (or are regarded as) male or female. (In some other languages, such as French and German, not disclosing the gender of a person is even harder, with words for “friend”, “coworker” and various occupations being gendered as well.) This means that speakers of those languages have to classify a person as male or female before discussing them, or otherwise go a lot of squirming. Interestingly, this is by no means a universal property of human language; in fact, 57% of the world's languages do not have gendered pronouns.
As the genders of people one deals with become less significant in most aspects of everyday life (discriminating between male and female coworkers could land one in legal trouble, and in the age of remote working, there's the possibility that you might not know whether your accountant or the freelance coder three timezones away you're working with is a man or a woman), this will eventually change, and gender-neutral personal pronouns will arise out of necessity. In English, what will probably happen is that “they” will lose its connotations of plurality, and become the natural way of referring to someone when their gender is irrelevant or unknown.
Not everybody is happy to wait for hypothetical linguistic evolution to take its course; in Sweden, unsurprisingly, they have taken things into their own hands, and introduced a gender-neutral personal pronoun into society, through the child-care system; a generation of Swedish toddlers is growing up used to referring to people as hen (he/she), rather than han (he) or hon (she). The pronoun hen was introduced in two Stockholm nurseries in 2012, and now has spread out of the nursery system to several newspapers; also, it has crossed the border, with reports of it being adopted into Norwegian. (There's a good chance that it'll make it into Danish as well, as it, Swedish and Norwegian are very closely related, and partly mutually intelligible.)
Not everybody is pleased with this, one can imagine the usual conservative talking heads, from Moscow to Wichita, fulminating darkly about “political correctness gone mad”, “Cultural Marxism” and/or “gender” (a term used pejoratively in reactionary circles to mean any deviation from traditional gender roles), in between making disparaging wisecracks involving meatballs and flat-packed furniture. And outside of that, there are some who think that teaching children to refer to people not as men or women but as persons is, for some reason, cruel:
But, argues Dr David Eberhard, a leading Swedish psychiatrist, a new pronoun won’t change the fact that the vast majority of people identify either as men or women. “Whatever you choose to call people, the biological differences between men and women remain,” he notes. “We should treat each other with respect, but ignoring biological gender differences is crazy. Making us identical won’t create more equality.” Boys should be allowed to play with dolls – and girls with cars – if they like to, says Eberhard, who coined the expression “safety addiction” in reference to Sweden’s health and safety system. “But”, he adds, “calling them hen instead of him or her? That’s child cruelty.”
I don't get why this is child cruelty; it's not that a user of a gender-neutral language would not learn to notice that some people are male and some female. The key difference is that this demotes gender from a defining attribute of a person—you are essentially a man or a woman—and turns it into a secondary attribute—you are a person, with a number of attributes (hair colour, height, maleness/femaleness). In a society which is (for the most part) no longer divided into hard-and-fast gender roles, should we still be using language which evolved when the two genders were organised hierarchically, with members of one all but owning members of the other as chattels? That's to say nothing of situations where one does not know the gender of a person (the aforementioned remote coworker), or indeed the rise of non-human personlike entities (with corporate personhood on the books in the US, it seems rude to refer to corporations as “it”, while they are obviously neither a “he” nor a “she”; add to that the prospect of artificial intelligences, which might not always be issued with gendered personae). Finally, one area where a non-gendered personal pronoun would reap immediate, if somewhat trivial, benefits is that of the naming of pets, especially ones hard to sex by superficial inspection (“Nice boa constrictor; what's his name?” “Her name's Ermintrude.”)
A new study has looked at why fewer women cycle in the United States than in the Netherlands, and found that it has less to do with an often stated Anglophone culture of cycling-as-macho-extreme-sport, and more to do with women in the US being too busy with domestic chores for the luxury of cycling:
In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores – housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation. It turns out that women may be more likely to bike in the Netherlands because Dutch culture is giving them more time to do so.Of course, the fact that in the Netherlands it is possible to carry anything from a toddler to a bag of groceries on a bakfiets is one factor, as is the fact that Dutch children are more likely to go to school by themselves (often on their own bicycles) than be dropped off in Mom's SUV; a lot of it, though, comes down to more traditional gender-based divisions of labour in the US and that hyperefficient Anglocapitalist labour market leaving those who get stuck doing the chores (i.e., usually the women) with less time for the luxury of cycling:
Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.Of course, this is a piece in the Grauniad; were it in, say, the Financial Times or the Economist, it may well say that large numbers of female cyclists is a symptom of an inefficient economy, one which fails to extract the maximum amount of productivity from its labour force; indeed, one can imagine a report from a neoliberal think tank claiming that women on bicycles are a drag on productivity.
The federal Justice Ministry in Germany has decreed that all state bodies should use gender-neutral language; something which is somewhat more complicated in a strongly gendered language such as German, in which it is generally impossible to mention a person without disclosing their gender:
The changing nature of German is particularly noticeable at university campuses. Addressing groups of students in German has been problematic ever since universities stopped being bastions of male privilege. Should they be sehr geehrte Studenten or sehr geehrte Studentinnen? In official documents, such as job advertisements, administrators used to get around the problem with typographical hybrid forms such as Student(inn)en or StudentInnen – an unfair compromise, some say, which still treats the archetype of any profession as masculine.Some speculate that these changes will ultimately lead to the same process that stripped other Germanic languages such as English and Swedish of their gendered nouns; the process could take centuries, though gender-neutral pronouns could be adopted from existing regional German dialects such as Niederdeutsch (Low German), where nouns of all genders get the definite article de:
In the long run, such solutions would prove too complicated, linguists such as Luise Pusch argue. She told the Guardian that men would eventually get so frustrated with the current compromises that they would clock on to the fundamental problem, and the German language would gradually simplify its gender articles, just as English has managed to do since the Middle Ages.This is neither the only recent proposal for modernising the German language nor the most radical: the writer Ingo Niermann suggested radically simplifying the language into what he termed "Rededeutsch", a language both comprehensible to speakers of old-fashioned German and easier to learn than English. Rededeutsch goes further than the modest proposals discussed recently, eliminating the definite article altogether, along with non-present tenses, irregular verb forms and the multitude of plural forms.
While Rededeutsch is more in the spirit of artistic bricolage, or perhaps a Swiftian modest proposal, than a realistic suggestion, the debate about gender-neutral forms does highlight the fact that the languages we speak were formed in far different social circumstances, and these assumptions are carried in them. And as living language does evolve, this does take a while, often being dragged into public debate and becoming a front in the rolling culture war between progressives and conservatives. (The same, of course, happened in English some decades ago, when suggestions that words like "chairman" were problematic were met with cries of "political correctness gone mad!")
Along similar lines, two years ago, the government of France deprecated the word "mademoiselle" from official use, allowing Frenchwomen to keep their marital status private when filling in forms.
As Russia annexes Crimea and makes threatening noises towards the rest of Ukraine, many people have opinions, not least among them the Pick-Up Artist community, where the consensus is that anything that prevents Ukraine from joining the EU is good for the supply of beautiful, submissive women, uncorrupted by Western notions of equality:
“If Ukraine joins the EU, the girls will vanish like cockroaches when the lights are turned on,” one wrote. “It saddens me deeply because Ukrainian girls were always much more accessible than Russian ones,” lamented another. “Joining the EU may reduce overt corruption in favour of systematised ones, but feminism will spread like wildfire and destroy all the traditionalism that lays in that land.”
As of mid-March, gendered pontificating continued apace both among prominent conservatives and on Roosh’s “Ukraine Conflict Lounge” subforum. One PUA shared his thoughts on why it would be better for Crimea and East Ukraine to go to Russia: “It seems to me this will insulate Crimea from the feminism . . . that will over take Ukraine as they move towards the EU. Fat feminists, slut walks, and mass muslim immigration could be in store for the parts of Ukraine that wish to join Europe instead of Russia.” Meanwhile, Sarah Palin told Sean Hannity that the perception of Obama’s “potency” is one of “weakness.”Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin is seen as somewhat of an idol among such traditionalists, mostly as an exemplar of that most manly of ideals, the Alpha-Male:
“Putin sees himself as a macho man who’s going to do pretty much what he wants,” said Fox News talking head Bill O’Reilly. “The president sees himself as a renaissance man who wants to accommodate.” K.T. McFarland, another Fox News analyst, tweeted, “Putin seizes countries, Obama threatens maybe to kick Russia out of the G-8 club. Bet Putin’s sorry now! Winners write history, not whiners.” Fox even published a “must-watch highlight reel of Putin doing macho things,” including karate and riding a horse shirtless.If the name Roosh sounds familiar, it's probably from his previous news appearance, failing to pick up in Denmark and bitterly blaming gender equality and “Jante Law”.
There seems to be a new reactionary axis forming on the fringes: on one hand, you have the PUAs going from fedoras and subliminal crotch-pointing in bars to an almost Talibanic hostility to the very idea of unsubjugated women, and from there, to a hostility to any relations not predicated on dominance and submission. And approaching from a slightly different angle, you have the “Dark Enlightenment”, that odd offshoot of Libertarianism which contends that the Enlightenment, and the notions of democracy and human rights, were bad ideas, and longs for a return to feudalism.
An article looking at the hypermasculine, testosterone-pumped vocabulary of Australian politics today, in the post-uppity-sheila age:
This past week, such figurative phalluses have been flying with particular prominence, with Tony Abbott suggesting that you don’t want a wimp running border protection (it is uncertain what that says about defence minister David Johnston), The Australian asking its readers to judge who is the “better man” between General Angus Campbell and Senator Stephen Conroy, and Conroy being accused of not being able to “man up” and apologise to Campbell for accusations of a cover up.
There is an element of conservative thinking that joins these dots. Professor of cognitive linguistics George Lakoff talks about the fundamental underpinnings of what he loosely defines as “conservative” and “progressive” mindsets. The conservative mindset is framed by the “strict father” model of thinking - that children learn through reward and punishment, and that the parent, particularly the father, is meant to mete out these. The idea of male, fatherly competence is central to this system of thought. It goes to the larger sense of the man as the strict, authoritative father figure, the competent provider. It goes to “adults” being “in charge”, being “fiscally responsible” and having “operations” rather than “policies”.
Manliness is no longer necessarily stoic and stolid, it must also be virile and athletic, preferably with explosions. Thus, when a naval error occurs near Indonesia, it’s a “missed tackle”, it’s why the process of dealing with desperate refugees becomes Operation Sovereign Borders, which couldn’t possibly be run by a wimp. It’s why the Abbott election pitch was all about “real action”, and the response to climate change is all about “direct action”. It is why, when a young kid gets whacked in front of a nightspot, it’s a “coward punch”, somehow implying that to punch someone square in the face is an ennobling act for all concerned.(Earlier: Australia, the steroid-soaked neighbourhood bully of the Pacific.)
Meanwhile, Australia's shift to conservatism in gender roles has extended even to the realm of ceremonial anachronisms, as Australia is the only Commonwealth country which has not yet passed amendments to royal succession laws favouring male heirs.
On occasion of a Women In Rock mini-festival on Melbourne radio station 3CR, Mess+Noise got Ninetynine's Laura Macfarlane and the members of the all-female rock trio Dead River to interview each other:
Laura: Overall I think things with gender equality in music have improved slightly but it still needs more work. There could be more female presence in the technical side of music. For instance there aren’t many female masterers still. It also varies a lot between countries. Ninetynine has played in countries and cities where being a female musician is still a novelty. Those shows always stick out in my memory because usually one female person in the audience will come up and tell you that they really appreciate seeing female musicians. Maybe they were thinking of starting their own band, but hadn’t seen a live band with women in it. It is always special to feel like maybe you have helped encourage other women in some small way.
Laura: Although Ninetynine does not exclusively reference Get Smart, we do like a lot of things people relate to the name, including agent 99. She’s great. We also wanted to use a number as a band name because it can work well in countries where people don’t speak a lot of English. I think the The Shaggs would be my favourite ’60s girl group.
Dead River: Despite plenty of evidence that women are capable and creative masters of their instruments and gear (PJ Harvey, Savages, Kim Gordon, to name a few), there are prevailing paternalistic attitudes that continue to undermine women in music. I’m sure many female musicians can relate to the experience of a male mixer walking on stage and adjusting her amp or telling her how to set her levels. Or being asked if you’re the ”merch girl” or “where’s your acoustic guitar?” after you’ve just lugged an entire drum kit or Orange stack through the door.Meanwhile, the members of Ninetynine have recorded a song to raise funds for protests against the East-West road tunnel, under the name “Tunnel Vision Song Contest”. It sounds like Ninetynine at their most Sonic Youth-influenced, though is a bit light on the Casiotone and chromatic percussion.
The conservative theocracy of Saudi Arabia is embracing modern technology on its own terms; it has just implemented a tracking system for women, whereby, whenever a woman travels abroad through a Saudi airport or border crossing, her male guardian (and all women in Saudi Arabia, being perpetual minors in law, have those) is informed by text message.
“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or borderSo far, the system is just tied into fixed borders, but once the principle that the men who have custody of a woman are entitled to know her whereabouts is accepted, the potential for expansion is huge. For example, the mobile phone network in Saudi Arabia could be configured to store each subscriber's sex and, if they're female, a link to her male guardian, and to allow him to get her phone's location at any moment. (I heard once that the Saudi mobile phone network is already configured to segregate subscribers by gender and disallow women from placing calls to men outside of a short list, though don't have confirmation of this factoid.) Think of it like Apple's “Find My iPhone” feature, only for your wives. But why stop there? Why not a daring programme of IT streamlining, giving male guardians real-time access to any data generated by about the women in their custody, from credit card purchases (with perhaps even an option for the custodian to approve or decline a transaction) to telephone and SMS logs of whom they're communicating with. When one is committed to using modern technology to mediaeval ends, the sky's the limit.
Technology is, however, helping to undermine traditional strictures in other places in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, here is an interview with a Saudi atheist, speaking under the pseudonym Jabir, who says that, with services like Facebook and Twitter, the few closeted atheists in the severely religious country are discovering that there are others who think like them:
“I was shocked to meet older people in their forties and fifties who been hiding their atheism for decades. They said that only recently with the young generation in their twenties had they found other people who think like them and were able to find social group that they can talk and debate about their ideas in.” Jabir politely demurs when asked about the backgrounds of these people; confidentiality and secrecy run deep in the Saudi Arabian atheism milieu.
Yet, it may also, as the political system reacts to these new conditions, be a time of tightening and ever greater social and religious restrictions. The nightmare situation for Jabir is that when the relatively reform-minded King Abdullah dies it will bring about a new monarch who will let the religious police and certain segments of the Saudi community start an aggressive witch-hunt for ‘non-believers’.Meanwhile, in nearby Qatar, censors are going through Winnie The Pooh picture books and blacking out Piglet, because pigs are unclean in Islam.
Wary of the possibility that a population of educated, frustrated women could result in pressure for political liberalisation, Iran's government has moved to preempt this by declared 70 university courses to be for men only:
It follows years in which Iranian women students have outperformed men, a trend at odds with the traditional male-dominated outlook of the country's religious leaders. Women outnumbered men by three to two in passing this year's university entrance exam.
Senior clerics in Iran's theocratic regime have become concerned about the social side-effects of rising educational standards among women, including declining birth and marriage rates.Of course, if women outperform men in academic fields, banning women may make the men feel better about their performance, but it will be less salutary for Iran's economy if half of all potential knowledge workers are prohibited by law from developing their potential.
This is at odds with the arguably more progressive Saudi approach (and "progressive" and "Saudi" aren't two words I expected to write adjacent to each other) of planning segregated women-only cities, where the nation's educated, otherwise frustrated women can work in industry on a “separate but equal” basis. (I wonder how long that will last; eventually, I imagine it'll lead to those invested in the status quo deciding that it's a threat and attacking it; starving it of resources, imposing crippling restrictions on it, and eventually shutting it down and sending the women back to the authority of their male family members, and the city will go the way the the USSR's Jewish Autonomous Oblast did once Stalin found it too threatening.)
And Iran is moving to further remind women of their place under an Islamic theocracy, by moving to legalise the marriage of girls under 10. The current age at which girls can be married in the Islamic Republic is 10, down from 16 before the revolution.
As gender relations in France come up for examination (previously), the French government has moved to deprecate the honorific “Mademoiselle” ("miss") from official forms. As French has no equivalent of “Ms.”, “Madame”, which until now referred exclusively to married women, will refer to women of any marital status, allowing women to avoid disclosing their marital status.
In rural China, women traditionally had little status; however, they did have their own secret language, which they used to maintain support networks:
After having their feet bound at around the age of seven, girls in Jiangyong County in Hunan province would live indoors – first in the "women's chamber" of their own homes, and later in the homes of their husband's family. To ease their isolation and offer support in their pain, girls from the same village were brought together as "sworn sisters" until their weddings. But a more serious relationship, almost akin to marriage and expected to last for life, could be arranged between two girls by a matchmaker, with a formal contract, if the pair shared enough of the same "characters" (being born on the same day, for example). In See's book she writes: "A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose — to have sons."
Women used Nushu – a script unique to the area – to write to their laotongs after they "married out" into different villages. Yet until the 1960s few outside the province knew about it, and no men could read it, says See. "In the mid-60s an old woman fainted in a station," she says. "The police went through her things to see who she was and found a piece of paper with what looked like a code, so she was arrested on suspicion of being a spy."
Apple's latest iPhone, the 4S, comes with a feature named Siri, an intelligent agent (based on technology from a US military AI research programme) which answers spoken questions in natural English, using web services, the current environment and a constantly evolving profile of the user and their preferences to make sense of ambiguous queries like "will I need an umbrella tomorrow?", and speaks the results back to the user—in a female voice in the US and Australia, but a male one in the UK. Apple haven't explained the reasons for the difference, but there are theories:
Jeremy Wagstaff, who runs technology consultancy Loose Wire Organisation, says: "Americans speak loudly and clearly and are usually in a hurry, so it makes sense for them to have a female voice because it has the pitch and range. British people mumble and obey authority, so they need someone authoritative." Which, apparently, still means male.There's more historical context here (which talks about disembodied machine voices having been female for a long time, since telephone operators* and WW2-era navigation systems, female voices being used in railway station announcement systems because their higher frequencies carry better against the train noise, evil computers in films being presented as male, and BMW having to recall a female-voiced navigation system in the 1990s because of complaints from German men who refused to take direction from a woman).
There's also a piece in the Atlantic about why many electronic devices designed to assist have female voices. It looks predominantly at systems in the US, and concludes that, in America at least, female voices are perceived to go better with the role of assistant—competent, level-headed, and unthreateningly loyal. Or, in other words, everybody wants to be Don Draper.
Which doesn't answer the question of why (according to Apple's in-house cultural anthropologists, anyway) British users feel more comfortable with male-voiced virtual assistants. Could it be the lack of the famous 100-watt smiles of the American service industry (as per the US psychologist who categorised British smiles as grimaces of acquiescence)? An ingrained sense of social hierarchy and/or traditional acceptance of class privilege which makes authoritative male voices more acceptable in Britain? (I wonder whether refined-sounding male British voices would be popular with American users; after all, I imagine that quite a few people wouldn't mind their virtual assistant to have a British butler persona.) Or perhaps the residual trauma of Thatcherism makes female voices with any hint of authority a hard sell in Britain? And why does Australia get the female voice option by default? Is Australia more "American" than "British" in this sense? Or is the preference for male voices some peculiarly British anomaly among the English-speaking nations?
* If I recall correctly, the very first telephone operators in the late 19th century were boys, of the same background who would have been employed in clerical tasks. They tended to horse around and play pranks too much, though, so they were replaced with female operators after a few years. Throughout living memory, the typical telephone operator (where those still existed) has been a woman.
The recent arrest of IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for allegedly attempting to rape a hotel maid (some wags have commented that he apparently mistook her for a small, impoverished country) has highlighted the state of sexual relations in France, where men are roguishly masculine, women are seductively feminine, politicians are expected to have mistresses and affairs (and even sometimes second families, as was the case with Mitterrand), and feminism and gender equality are seen as something for gauche Anglo-Saxons and other lesser cultures not privy to the sophisticated rapprochement between Frenchmen and Frenchwomen:
In the hours and days that followed the arrest, a string of friends and Socialist allies stepped forward to defend a man they insisted could not have done such a thing. Jean-François Kahn, a well-known journalist, said he was "practically certain" that what had taken place had not been an attempted rape, but "an imprudence… the skirt-lifting of a domestic". Jack Lang, a former Socialist culture minister, wondered why, when "no man had died", Strauss-Kahn had not been released on bail immediately. Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, meanwhile, raged against a legal system that had treated DSK like "any other person". "Everybody," declared the philosopher, "is not everybody!"
"It feels like France is just beginning to wake up to the concept of sexual harassment," wrote the France-based British author Lucy Wadham on her blog last week, referring to the debate over the difference between seduction and the kind of "very heavy, very persistent" onslaught that Filipetti attributes to Strauss-Kahn. Criticising the rush to treat DSK as a victim, Wadham added: "Wilfully unreconstructed, France is a society in which women collude in a continued phallocracy."And while France may lead the world in areas from work-life balance to healthcare, in terms of the role of women, it seems to trail the Anglo-Saxon world (and let's not even mention Scandinavia here) by decades. One sometimes gets the impression that one is looking at Life On Mars with better wardrobe direction:
Simon Jackson, an English historian at Sciences Po, the elite political studies institute in Paris, shares the view that, in France, male attitudes to sex lag behind Britain in terms of equality. "I think that's in large part the product of serious and continuing deficits in the opportunities women enjoy professionally, educationally and socially in France, which is one of the least gender-equal countries in the EU." Figures for 2011 lay bare those deficits: women make up 18.5% of MPs and 85% of casual workers. In the gender pay gap survey released at Davos, France came 46th. Britain was 15th.Thankfully, this may soon be changing. Some observers (though not all) comment that the old chauvinistic attitudes are largely confined to the older generation, with more egalitarian models of relations having snuck in on the Eurostar some time over the past few decades. And while the extent of this is a matter of some debate, there are at least signs of demand for change:
Today, beside the Pompidou Centre, a "rally against sexism" will be held and a petition handed round that already has more than 1,500 signatories. Female representation in the public sphere; workplace harassment; increased recognition of women's sexual freedom – all are on the feminist agenda, and none of them will be easy to attain. But at least, it seems, there will be company along the way.I wonder what the attendance was like.
Planning a public transport system in Jerusalem, holy city of three major religions and bitterly contested territory, involves taking some controversial planning decisions:
Under pressure from the influential and growing ultra-orthodox community, some bus lines in Jerusalem have introduced segregation, with women confined to the rear of the vehicle.
The company earlier distributed a consumer survey asking Jerusalem residents if they were "bothered" that the light railway is to include stops in Arab neighbourhoods en route to connecting to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Another question asked: "All passengers, Jews and Arabs, can enter the train freely, without undergoing a security check. Does this bother you?"
Journalism researcher Nina Funnell recounts her encounter with Australian PM Kevin Rudd:
At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the "excuse" that "all" young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I've come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock.It would appear that, in post-Howard Australia, there is an increasing tendency to treat women who shirk their childbearing duties as demographic bludgers of sorts, freeloaders who are cheating society of what they owe it.
Similarly women who do not wish to have children should also not be punished or labelled non-maternal. As a young woman I find it frustrating to see women like Gillard constantly attacked and ascribed derogatory labels like ''empty fruit bowl'', as though her worth is a sole function of her ability and inclination to reproduce.This is not unprecedented across societies; other states have, in the past, rewarded fertile women and punished those who shirked their reproductive duty to society. Mind you, those other states have included Ceaucescu's Romania and Nazi Germany, and are probably not a club Australia should seek to join.
A new exhibition in Spain explores sexual relations under Franco's fascist régime, through official advice given to women by the Feminine Section of the Falange, the fascist party:
"If your husband asks you for unusual sexual practices, be obedient and don’t complain. If he suggests union, agree humbly? When the culminating moment arrives, a small whimper on your part is sufficient to indicate any pleasure that might have been experienced."
From 1937 to 1977, some three million women aged 17 to 35 joined an organisation that urged young girls "not to burden themselves with books ? there’s no need to be an intellectual". And although sport was encouraged – one of few positives of the mass mobilisation – enthusiasts were warned: "Don’t take sport as a pretext to wear scandalous costumes."
The head of the women’s section was Pilar Primo de Rivera, sister of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, who founded the fascist Falange, the ideological backbone of Franco’s rule. "The life of every woman ? is nothing more than the eternal desire to find someone to submit to," she wrote.
For 40 years, women were drafted into "social service", a form of military conscription that supplied free labour for hospitals, publicly run restaurants and other social institutions.
Music journalist Jon Savage, who has recently compiled a compilation of music from the gay underground of the 1960s and 70s, claims that today's popular music and pop culture is a lot less tolerant of difference and nontraditional sexual roles than it was in the bad old days:
A few years after Sylvester's triumph, explicitly gay music - Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bronski Beat, the muscle-bound thud of high-energy dance music - was accepted into the British charts in a way that Joe Meek or the shadowy figures behind the Brothers Butch and Camp Records could never have anticipated. Twenty years on, Radio 1's breakfast show presenter is using the word "gay" as an insult.
"Lad culture has been a disaster for pop music," says Savage. "That definition of a heterosexual man - beer and football, Nick Hornby - is so restrictive. It's important that pop musicians play around with gender and sexual divergence. The fact that it's gone back to Oasis from the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger being very camp, is just pathetic, it's a complete failure. People are scared of nonconformity in music, so this album is a less-than-fragrant reminder of a time when pop music was less sanitised than it is now.Perhaps he has a point and the role of the rock star as a pansexual shaman of kink seems to have largely been displaced by that of a laddish alpha-male, with rock'n'roll's rebellious energy being focussed not so much at overthrowing repressive social strictures as enforcing them and gay-bashing those who transgress. (Witness the reactionary "rebellion" of "alternative" bands like Limp Bizkit, which has more politically in common with right-wing talk radio than any sort of progressive movement.) Where it exists, it is either used as a retro cliché (think Of Montreal's glam sleaze) or in a sanitised, cartoonish form (i.e., Mormon boy band The Killers' faux-transgressivism).
Then again, one could argue that rock'n'roll was always a regressive force; Susan Sontag, for example, equated it with "aggressive normality", and in his blog, Momus (of "Tender Pervert" fame) has asserted that rock music is inherently fascist. Could the 1970s glam nexus of rock music and gender-bending be more like oil and water, less a natural symbiosis than a chance collision brought on by external pressures (in that case, opposition to the strictures of "straight" society). With mainstream conformity eroded, in favour of a marketing-driven arms race of sexualisation, the brute berzerker force of rock has no external targets to be directed against, so it lashed out against the usual targets, and the rebels become bullies?
The New York Times has a piece on the traditional Albanian institution of sworn virgins; where women could swear an oath of lifelong virginity and assume the role of men, dressing and behaving like men and wielding male authority. Some did this to escape undesired arranged marriages (or, presumably, the restricted world of female gender roles in general), while others did this out of obligation to provide a "male" head of their family or avenge the family honour:
“Back then, it was better to be a man because before a woman and an animal were considered the same thing,” said Ms. Keqi, who has a bellowing baritone voice, sits with her legs open wide like a man and relishes downing shots of raki. “Now, Albanian women have equal rights with men, and are even more powerful. I think today it would be fun to be a woman.”
The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region plagued by war and death. If the family patriarch died with no male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move freely.While Albanian culture formally codified a way for women to assume male gender roles, it would not surprise me if other traditional societies had their share of women who, disaffected with their prospects, secretly pursued lives in a male disguise.
A new book takes to task the accepted belief that men and women think and/or communicate differently, as expounded by popular psychology books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus:
The bones of Cameron’s argument, set out in The Myth of Mars and Venus, are that Gray et al have no scientific basis for their claims. Great sheaves of academic papers, says Cameron, show that the language skills of men and women are almost identical. Indeed, the central tenets of the Mars and Venus culture – that women talk more than men, that men are more direct, that women are more verbally skilled – can all be debunked by scientific research. A recent study in the American journal Science, for instance, found men and women speak almost exactly the same number of words a day: 16,000.
Where the book becomes interesting is when she asks why we have become interested in these myths. “The first point to make is that in the past 20 years we have become obsessed by communication,” she says. “And that’s not just in relationships; it’s in customer care, it’s in politics. All problems are seen to be communication problems.
Cameron is not simply irritated that the Mars and Venus books have filled too many Christmas stockings. Her fervour on this issue runs deeper. There is, she thinks, something regressive, deeply conservative, in this outlook because what it seems to be saying is that we can’t change.The author, Deborah Cameron, is a feminist philologist and Rupert Murdoch professor of Language at Oxford (really); other than the Mars-and-Venus brigade, she has in her sights Darwinists (which, I'm guessing, means the likes of Steven Pinker and/or Richard Dawkins), Tories, man-hating "pseudo-feminists" and punctuation/grammar pedants:
“You had people like Prince Charles and Norman Tebbit inferring that if people were making spelling mistakes it was only a short step to them coming in dirty to school and then there’d be no motivation for them to stay out of crime,” says Cameron. “There were these illogical slippery slope arguments: how, if children didn’t know how to use the colon properly, it was only a few steps from drug-taking and criminality. There was a deep moral and social dimension to it all.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And the latest invention is a voice changer for female video gamers, allowing them to contend in the macho culture of online games without fear of harrassment or inappropriate sexual attention from prehensile, undersocialised geeks.
According to research conducted by the company, "The number of female online game players is not small", would you believe. In fact, "Many of them have reached the highest level of some very difficult games such as World of Warcraft (60th level), which is considered the game for men only."
The software comes with presets which turn lady voices into big deep Blessed-esque ones. You can also create your own new voice by mucking about with pitch and timbre settings, and other features include advanced tune and noise reduction.Given that it is adjustable, I imagine it could also be useful in the other direction; from now on, a voice call is no longer a guarantee that your new online friend "HotBiBabe18F" is not a sweaty 41-year-old man.
(via Boing Boing)
Four women teaching in a remote village school in Saudi Arabia had a dilemma: they needed a way to get to the village, but women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. So they found a driver who lived in the village, and married him:
They were married in a short ceremony, and all the women have agreed to pay the driver a share of their monthly salaries, Al-Watan said.
Women are still not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, while men can marry up to four women according to Islamic law.
This just in: psychological studies find that differences between men and women are, for the most part, negligible. This includes in areas commonly considered to be gendered, such as communications, spatial reasoning and assertiveness.
Dr Hyde said gender differences accounted for either no or a very small effect for most of the psychological variables examined. She said only throwing distance and physical aggression showed marked gender differences.It turns out that there are stereotypical male and female behaviours -- but they disappear as soon as the actor is not identified by sex:
Dr Hyde highlighted one study where participants were told that they were not identified as male or female nor wore any identification, which led to neither sex conforming to a stereotyped image when given the opportunity to act aggressively.
They actually did the opposite to what was expected - they did not stick to the stereotype of aggressive males and passive females.
In fact, Iwatani acknowledges that, while a eureka moment for the annals, that event represents the official birth of Pac-Man: "The whole thing actually started with me walking around games arcades watching how many boys were playing and the fact that all the machines were about killing aliens, tanks or people. Girls were simply not interested, and I suddenly had a motivation for my work: I wanted game centres to shed this rather dark, sinister image, and it seemed to me that the way to raise the atmosphere of a place is to entice girls to come in. The whole purpose of Pac-Man was to target women and couples, and get a different type of player involved."
"So there I was, wondering what sort of things women would look for in a video game. I sat in cafés and listened to what they were talking about: mostly it was fashion and boyfriends. Neither of those was really the stuff of a good video game. Then they started talking about food -- about cakes and sweets and fruit -- and it hit me: that food and eating would be the thing to concentrate on to get the girls interested."
It may have been aimed at girls, but boys converted to it immediately: Pac-Man's most interesting revelation was gamers' affinity to living things. And that spark of inspiration has taken the industry from a 2-D yellow disc through Mario, and on to a 3-D Lara Croft.
Strangely, that is exactly how Namco saw his achievement: as just a game. Pac-Man, quite apart from the lucrative sequels Ms Pac-Man and Pac-Land, made the company more than $100 million. Iwatani was merely promoted to supervisor level, and still lives in a house too small to accommodate a Pac-Man arcade cabinet.
Found on Adrian Talkshow Boy's LiveJournal:
Mother's Day is 9 months after Fathers Day. This means that Father's Day is a celebration of getting laid whereas Mothers Day commemorates the physical pain of childbirth. ANALYSE THE SUBTEXT. What a skewed coincidence. Or is it!?
Weren't there two alternative dates for Father's Day a while ago; one in the first half of the year and the other in the second; I seem to recall that Australia went from celebrating it on one date to the other, with possibly one year in which both were, confusingly, celebrated. I'm guessing that the old date is the traditional colonial one, dating back to the greeting-card fads of Victorian England or somesuch, whereas the new one is the American date, set by Hallmark Corp. or someone, and harmonised on in the interest of globalisation, or something like that.
When men experience stress, they respond with a flight-or-fight reaction; when women experience stress, they respond by maintaining friendships with other women:
Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone---which men produce in high levels when they're under stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.
(I'm not so sure that stressed men don't experience the impulse to talk about it with friends; though maybe when they do, it's the result of a modern living and/or oestrogen-like chemicals in the water supply turning them into a bunch of big girls' blouses. Which ties into the whole nature-vs.-nurture debate.)
The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.
The article suggests that this difference between men's and women's responses to stress could be the reason why women outlive men on average.
The Gender Genie is a CGI implementation of the Koppel/Argamon algorithm for determining the sex of the author of a piece of text. The results are mixed; it accurately determined that Graham and Jim are male and that Beth, Beth and Shauna are female, though it also pegs Cos, Grant and Charlie Stross as female. It also thinks most of my blog entries are either female or sexually ambiguous (hmmm); however, my LiveJournal reads as unambiguously male. Odd...
The front page of today's Onion has the following observation on the differences between the sexes: Woman Masturbates To Concept Of Commitment:
PORTAGE, MI--Soaking in her bathtub Tuesday, area resident Linda Marston, 32, pleasured herself over the thought of a long-term committed relationship. "Mmmm... oh, yeah, baby... I want to settle down with you forever," moaned the never-married Marston, as she gently massaged her clitoris with two fingers. "Oh, God, yes... two kids, maybe three... and a house in the country. Big swingset in the backyard." Several hours later, Marston masturbated again to the idea of loving someone unconditionally through good times and bad.
In the UK, a Harley Street gynaecologist has revealed that he prescribed testosterone implants to five women MPs, to help them be more aggressive and assertive in parliament, and thus compete better with male colleagues. Which raises a number of questions; is the Westminster parliamentary system inherently macho and masculine? Is politics really just atavistic territorial posturing, with all the haughty rhetoric about "rational debate" being little more than a polite fiction? And will the increased number of women in parliament lead to a less confrontational, more conciliatory style of politics (as many have hoped), or will it, coupled with medical technology, just create a unisex gladiatorial arena?
Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology have written a program which identifies the sex of an author by their word usage frequency. Apparently women use relationship-related words like "with" and "for", whereas men use more specific and absolute words like "the", "this" and "as"; which brings us back to the old rock-logic/water-logic cliché.
The results showed that the words favoured most heavily by men were what grammarians call determinative words such as "the," "a," "as," "that" and "one." Female writers favoured "she" and relationship words such as "for," "with," "in," "and" and "not."
"This is surprising, since, unlike conversation, writing a book or an article does not involve direct social interaction"
Hmmm; if one wrote up such a program and applied it to, say, blogs on the web, I wonder what proportion it would sex accurately.
Update: the paper may be found here (though you have to subscribe to get the PDF). However, there is also a copy on the personal page of Prof. Moshe Koppel, one of the authors. And it appears that they're from Israel, not Illinois. (Perhaps the journalist confused the abbreviations?)
Scientists have found out that women need larger computer monitors for working in graphical environments than men do, because of their lower spatial processing ability. With a standard monitor giving a 35 degree viewing angle, women tend to be on average 20% slower than men at certain spatial tasks; given two screens with a 100 degree viewing angle, this difference disappears. If this is true, this could affect the big-arse monitor's significance as a macho status symbol.
Another amusingly apt Onion piece I missed earlier: One Look At My Music Collection Will Show You How Much I Respect Women.
Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I haven't really made as many connections as I'd have liked. If I could just get a woman to see my CD collection, I know she'd realize that I'm not like the other guys. I can really understand the female experience.
Why are many men avoiding marriage these days? Because it's a mug's game. (via one.point.zero)
An interesting article about the next generation of female hackers, and how they are challenging stereotypes (like the ones which say that they don't exist, or that they're all web designers or somesuch):
Gweeds, one of Marcelo's male hacker friends, confirms this. He wants to see more women hackers, and he tells me excitedly about an all-female-authored distribution of the operating system Linux called Cervix. "I like the idea of Cervix, because it says that girls can do this," he added. "It's like an all-girl band."
This week's Onion has some good pieces, such as God Finally Gives Shout-Out Back To All His Niggaz, and Plan To Get Laid At DragonCon 2001 Fails,
"I imagined some girl and I talking about the new Lord Of The Rings movie," Melcher said. "Then I could say, 'Oh, I have the trailer on my laptop back in my hotel room if you want to see it."
Though a distinct minority, some females were present at DragonCon. "There was this one girl dressed up like Black Canary. She had the boots and the fishnet stockings and everything," Melcher said. "I couldn't really talk to her, though, because there was a pretty dense crowd of guys around her at all times."
not to mention this gem: Oh, Girls Are No Good At Genocide.
The Khmer Rouge picked Pol Pot because they knew he'd be good at murder and torture and all that other boy stuff. A girl probably would have planted flowers in the killing fields.