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The joke is on me


When I wrote a piece years ago called “Are women human?” that title was supposed to be funny. Or at least tongue-in-cheek.

I didn’t think the answer was “no.”

But it’s official. Corporations are human. Now even with religious beliefs! Woohoo!

And women? They’re just non-artificial ambulatory uterine incubators. What’s the point of rights for a mass of blood vessels that’s a waste of space unless it’s feeding babies?

Actually, strike that “ambulatory.” Incubators are easier to use when they’re not wandering around loose. That’ll be the next decision by the Five Guys:

It’ll be entirely consistent when they come to it. They’ve never cared that some rights are essential for the others to have any meaning at all. That’s because they’ve never cared about rights, except the kind might makes. Controlling your own body is up there at Right Number One. No other right means anything if other people can do whatever they want to you. The Five Guys just knocked the whole structure down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

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Gay gene: it’s not what you think –part 2

Since the mid-1990s I’ve been thinking about a pattern that seems significant. There are a whole range of what you could collectively call “brain organization traits” that are commoner in males than females. Left handedness, lower or later verbal development sometimes paired with higher math ability, slower social development through the whole spectrum to Asperger’s and autism, homosexuality, and no doubt I’m missing a few. The difference isn’t always large, for instance left handedness shows only a 1.23:1 male:female preponderance, but it is statistically significant. Asperger’s, on the other hand, is diagnosed at about 4:1 males:females. Homosexuality approximately 3:2, dyslexia, about 3:1.

That is odd. The ratios are unlike, say, color-blindness which is an X-linked trait and hence necessarily more prevalent in males. (Just some bio background for those who might want it: men have one X, women have two. Therefore women have two copies of any X-linked gene and a much higher chance that any given genetic information on one X can be masked by the other copy. That’s why X-linked conditions mostly show up in men.)

So it has to be some unstraightforward factor that affects males more than females. No post-natal environmental factor has ever been reliably identified for any of those traits. The traits all have to do with neurological pathways. It seemed logical that the prenatal environment which affects brain development was the place to look. Sex hormones like estradiol and testosterone play critical roles in brain development. And there’s one very obvious prenatal difference between males and females: all mothers are female, so female fetuses are likelier to have a hormonal environment aligned with their own than male ones.

In 2006 I wrote about this, including links to some of the research surfacing at the time. More and more evidence is accumulating showing the effect of fetal hormonal influences.

Elevated Fetal Steroidogenic Activity in Autism. 2014. Popular version:
Children with autism have elevated levels of steroid hormones in the womb From the popular article: “children who later develop autism are exposed to elevated levels of steroid hormones (for example testosterone, progesterone and cortisol) in the womb.” Also, from a BBC article: “Prof Baron-Cohen [one of the study authors] said: “This is one of the earliest non-genetic biomarkers that has been identified in children who go on to develop autism. We previously knew that elevated prenatal testosterone is associated with slower social and language development, better attention to detail, and more autistic traits. Now, for the first time, we have also shown that these steroid hormones are elevated in children clinically diagnosed with autism.”

Remember that there could be any number of sources for unusual hormones. The placenta-uterine interface could be unusually permeable, allowing more of the mother’s hormones through. The fetus could over- or under-produce hormones. Hormones from a non-identical twin can have an influence. Also, this is biology. Everything could work together in varying degrees. As they say, it’s complicated.

Mosaic Epigenetic Dysregulation of Ectodermal Cells in Autism Spectrum Disorder. 2014. Popular article: Study shows environmental influences may cause autism in some cases (“Environmental” in this case refers to the uterine environment of the fetus.) “The researchers detected two groups of genes that were epigenetically distinctive in children with ASD compared with TD [Typical Development] children. Moreover, these genes are known to be expressed in the brain and code for proteins involved in nerve transmission functions previously shown to be impaired in ASD. Interestingly, these two groups of epigenetically distinctive genes weren’t present in all the cells of children with ASD but only in a subset of them—a phenomenon called mosaicism.”

Mustanski et al. 2005. Human Genetics (pdf) This paper discusses the nonrandom inactivation of a given X chromosome. That’s unusual, the mechanism isn’t known, and it would affect males, with their single X, more than females.

Minireview: Hormones and Human Sexual Orientation. J. Balthazart. 2011. (Supposed to be available from NCBI, but link not currently working for me.)

It is not all hormones: Alternative explanations for sexual differentiation of the brain. Davies and Wilkinson. 2006. From the abstract: “[W]hile gonadal hormones undoubtedly play an important role in sexual differentiation of the brain, they are not the only possible mechanism for this phenomenon. In the present review, we discuss the concept that genes residing upon the sex chromosomes (which are asymmetrically inherited between males and females) may influence sexually dimorphic neurobiology directly….”

Molecular studies of dyslexia : regulation and function of DYX1C1. Tammimies. 2011. The gene in question regulates fetal neuronal migration and is influenced by estradiol.

And I could continue on like that through hundreds of references.

One implication, if these traits can have common roots in hormone levels during critical periods of fetal development, is that similar mutations could result in seemingly unrelated traits. A lineage being studied for, say, the heritability of mathematical ability, should also be polled for other brain organization traits. Genetic studies might then more readily pinpoint common mutations which are likelier to underlie the neurological processes.

Switching gears now to talk about social rather than biological implications, fear often seems to surface when there’s any talk of departing from a “genetic” cause of homosexuality to factors that could be manipulated.

I think that fear is misplaced on several counts. One is that purely as a practical matter, genes are not immutable. Their expression, which is what we care about, is hugely influenced by the environment. Furthermore, it’s only a matter of time before all genes can be directly manipulated. Basing acceptance of a trait on its genetics is very shaky ground to stand on.

The bigger problem, though, is what the nothing-but-genetics attitude implies. The idea is that it forces people to accept homosexuality because it’s a not-my-fault-I-found-it-that-way situation.

That’s silly. It accepts the frame that difference from the majority is a “fault” that should be erased if one could. Instead the point is that difference is okay. Whether it’s genetic or congenital or learned or chosen does not matter. We need all the Einsteins and Marie Curies and Oscar Wildes we can get.

Last, and most important, as a matter of principle, rights have nothing to do with genetics. Everybody has the right to make their own choices, so long as they don’t actively harm others. As I said in the earlier post, “the most important point is that genetics says nothing about how people should live their lives. The most important point is that sexuality is nobody’s business but your own. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a choice or not. The whole debate is useless, because the whole debate is nobody’s business.”

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Gay gene: it’s not what you think –part 1

This article in the Beeb set me off: The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality. The idea being that gay people have fewer children which puts them at a selective disadvantage which means the gene ought to die out.

It’s a gender difference. Must be genetic.

This sort of thing drives me nuts. Who said there’s a gene? They’ve never managed to find one yet. Probably for the obvious reason that there have to be hundreds for any complex trait. That’s clear to some people. From the article, “Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe.” (He’s too polite.)

Who said the genetic traits have anything to do with desire? Genes code for biological traits; how those manifest in social interactions is not genetic.

Who said that in humans having flocks of kids is the ticket to success? It reminds me of how people agonized over the many children poor people had. The rich would be swamped! And yet, oddly enough, the rich survived just fine, thank you. The whole approach is so wrong it has no chance of ending up right. Garbage in, garbage out.

And it continues.

“The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too.” If those things confer an advantage on the reproducing members of the species, then the trait should survive. That makes perfect sense. So do they stop there? Nooo.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes [each sex more attractive to the other.] … “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men.

Who’s “we,” kemosabe? That’s bullshit, unless you define the non-gorilla look as “feminine.” And if you do, it exposes your assumptions but they have no actual explanatory power regarding mutual attraction between any gays or straights who aren’t you.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

You’d think if that was much of a factor there’d also be a selective advantage for men who wanted to be attractive to women. Instead we have whole societies geared to caging women instead. That, believe me, is the opposite of attractive.

Another one that makes no sense:

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on … [t]he idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters…. Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.

Two extra surviving children for every gay relative would be quite a remarkable pattern. But nobody’s remarked on it at a population level. The occasional individual might have that effect, but that wouldn’t be enough for a population-level propagation of “gay genes” which is what the kin selection theory postulates.

Gay people do have children.

Finally, something that is indeed a way to pass on gay genes. However, I don’t remember seeing results showing a much higher incidence of homosexuality in the biological children of gay people. That would support the point that “gay genes” probably don’t code for gayness but for something else.

So there’s a whole string of obvious indications that there is no gay gene, singular, and that the primary functions of gay genes, plural, is something other than homosexuality. And yet the take-home message in popular media is “Gee whiz. This is so hard to fit into a story about men chasing after women for sex. How is that possible?”

Next post: some promising ideas that might actually bear some relation to reality.

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Pay No Attention

Attention even more than money marks who matters. Take one tweet like this from some random white female 14 year-old with no capacity to actually do anything;

“Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

She said it was just a joke. There was an instant response from the FBI. Her Twitter account was suspended. She was detained for some time by the Rotterdam police.

Which kind of tells you that airplane passengers matter. They were Not Amused. The girl was made to know it.

Now consider a situation which happens thousands of times a day. Men threaten and humiliate women. Just one example.

When three Chicago area teens were charged over the weekend with raping a 12-year-old girl — and then posting a video of the assault on their Facebook pages – it was a tale that was as revolting as it was entirely plausible. After all, you don’t have to look far at all on Facebook to find images of women being degraded, or for groups devoted to laughing off violence against women.

This is much worse than not-funny irony poked at US air travel security theater. So the FBI responded, the NSA tracked down the individuals involved, and they’re now in solitary confinement to protect them from the other prisoners, right?

Yeah, I know. Very funny. Not only is nothing done, Facebook doesn’t even take the garbage down. A group of people have to start a petition drive and the company still doesn’t take it down.

Which tells you that women do not matter. At all.

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What do you mean ‘wish’?

Every once in a while I stumble across a rash of posts demanding respect for prostitution. The latest was “Let’s call sex work what it is: work”. The article describes a life in an amazingly rational co-op.

[T]here was the college town escort agency “run” by R., who really was just the one who paid for the ad in the back of the paper each week and the mobile phone that customers would call after seeing the ad. The women who shared the ad and phone line paid R. a share of each half-hour or hour appointment they got through the ad, which meant they didn’t need to be around all the time to pick up the phone or give any information about themselves to the newspaper that ran the ad. They just showed up at the motel room or house where they’d meet their customers. Every once in a while a woman would call the phone number, wanting to work with them, and R. would meet with them in a coffee shop. If they decided to work together, she’d train them on all of this. Some of the women took turns answering the phone and booking appointments, and after they learned how to manage that, they’d end up going off on their own.

It’s interesting that the customers are such a negligible quantity. I’ll assume, in the words of 1066 And All That, they were Not Memorable. I’ll assume that her experience was just as she describes it: a well-paid business arrangement with no problems and consisting of answering the phone and stocking up on supplies.

But I’m left with a couple of unanswered questions. One is that aside from her personal experience, is it really humanly possible for her to be such an unfeeling soulless dogpile that she is unaware of the reality of life for the overwhelming majority of women and children who are bought to be used by men?

From the last link:

Kiki busies herself cleaning tables in the prison’s lunchroom for $1 a day and tries not to remember when she used to bring in $1,200 a day, even if the traffickers allowed her to keep only a little of it. Her eyes lit up with pride at the memory, and she pronounced the word “muh-nee” wistfully, as if her riches were candies that had dissolved too quickly on her tongue. She spends her free time coloring pictures of Disney characters and sending love letters to Enrique. “I be back to be good wife, okay baby,” she writes, trying to make amends. Enrique wishes she could get out and come live with him; Dottie wishes she would go to a restorative residential program. When I asked Kiki what she wished for herself, she struggled with the word: “What do you mean, ‘wish’?”

You could say that since I’m not in the life, I haven’t got a clue. All the misery is just a misfire and not an inevitable consequence of buying a person (for a while). That brings me to my second question. If it’s just work like any other work, except that it usually pays more, then why aren’t there at least as many men out there, lining up to service women?

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Now can we be outraged over apartheid?

More than 30 universities have introduced new rules banning female students from almost 80 different degree courses.These include a bewildering variety of subjects from engineering, nuclear physics and computer science, to English literature, archaeology and business.

The BBC headline for that was Iranian university bans on women causes consternation.

Consternation? Consternation? Consternation? Are you farking kidding me?

This is de jure segregation. This is apartheid. This is shutting down the civil rights and lifetime potential of HALF THE GODDAMN POPULATION.

And what do we get? Consternation.

Then there’s the ongoing hate killings of health workers in Pakistan. The price of prevention. Three more polio workers shot in Pakistan; eight dead in 48 hours. Vaccination workers shot.

All women. All executed for being outside the house while female and doing “Western” stuff.

The only problem mentioned is that Pakistan’s war on polio is imperilled. That is a big problem. No question about that. But it hardly seems like the only one that needs mentioning.

Then there was the atrocity committed against the medical student in India. The headline: Death of India rape victim stirs anger, promises of action. There have since been several more publicized abominations and, I have zero doubt, hundreds not even considered worth mentioning.

So. Lynching. And what do we get? A “struggle to respond.”

Really?

Half the human race is deprived, starved, terrorized, and murdered and the problem is that it’s hard to figure out how to respond?



(Update 2014-01-29. I’ve had these links stacked up over a year. More of the same horrors keep piling on top. There will never be a time when somehow I’ll be able to say something intelligent about it. There is nothing intelligent about destroying female human beings.)

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The weirdness of the footwashing Pope


You know why it seems strange that the Pope would wash women’s feet?

Because traditionally the idea is to practice humility toward the “least” among us, the powerless, the poor people.

And this Pope was so focused on his message about poverty, he treated poor women like people.

Women can be seen as people.

And that’s what feels shocking.

Sad, isn’t it.

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Now is the time for your tears


Women have no voice. Their songs aren’t famous, so the only words I can think of adequate to Steubenville belong to Bob Dylan. And he, of course, is talking about murder, not that stuff which, when it happens to women, is something to joke about.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ringed finger …
And the cops were called in …
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who had twenty-four years …
[And] rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him …
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering …
And in a matter of minutes on bail was out walking

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll … Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane …
And she never done nothin’ to William Zanzinger

And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level …
And that even the nobles get properly handled …
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month one-year sentence.

Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

One year. One. For the premeditated, prolonged, published, endless soul-destroying torture of a human being.

One damn year.

(The complete lyrics are here.)

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From pet rocks to key


Now they figure this out? Now, when it’s too late? After years of putting women on a par with rocks — in a purely egalitarian sense, of course. Not like the Taliban.

Exiting U.S. general says Afghan women’s rights are key.


Women must run the world

And businesses. And everything else. That is the inescapable implication of the following findings from:

The Mere Anticipation of an Interaction with a Woman Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Performance, Nauts et al. 2012.

Recent research suggests that heterosexual men’s but not heterosexual women’s cognitive performance is impaired after an interaction with someone of the opposite sex Karremans et al., 2009. These findings have been interpreted in terms of the cognitive costs of trying to make a good impression during the interaction. In everyday life, people frequently engage in pseudo-interactions with women e.g., through the phone or the internet or anticipate interacting with a woman later on. The goal of the present research was to investigate if men’s cognitive performance decreased in these types of situations, in which men have little to no opportunity to impress her and, moreover, have little to no information about the mate value of their interaction partner. Two studies demonstrated that men’s but not women’s cognitive performance declined if they were led to believe that they interacted with a woman via a computer Study 1 or even if they merely anticipated an interaction with a woman Study 2. Together, these results suggest that an actual interaction is not a necessary prerequisite for the cognitive impairment effect to occur. Moreover, these effects occur even if men do not get information about the woman’s attractiveness. This latter finding is discussed in terms of error management theory.[Emphasis added.]

Men need to start hoping that biology is not destiny at least as much as feminists have always insisted it isn’t.

Nonfunctional yet self-destructive constructs
(Rube Goldberg)

 

(The article by psychologists was critiqued by a computational scientist for its terminology. (No link due to complete paywall.) The authors’ response is here.)

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The Lysistrata option bothers me

Women either want sex or they don’t. They’re either equal partners in desire — and biology says they very much are — or they aren’t.

If they want sex, if it’s a desire and not a fungible commodity, then women would no more withhold sex to get something they want than men would.

If, for men, sex is something more than a compulsory sneeze, then withholding sex wouldn’t have much effect on them in any case.

Which says that the Lysistrata option is really rather crap. (You know the story. Ancient Greek woman who organized the ladies to withhold sex from their husbands until the guys agreed to whatever it was.) The story requires the whole patriarchal poison pot of sex as masturbation for men that women put up with for reasons of their own.

Could we all stop buying into that?

It is not some kind of empowerfulling for women (or men) to see how much they can get in the market for sex. It’s stupid.

Sex isn’t some kind of candy you buy or consume. It’s not something you use. It’s a conversation. It’s something you do.

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Criminal bystanders enable Sandusky

I don’t mean McQueary. I mean everybody who makes this necessary:

man who testified against Sandusky leaving courthouse with a black bag covering his head
Man who testified against Sandusky leaving courthouse with a black bag covering his head.
 

And also everybody who makes this necessary: Sandusky trial sketch artists offer a blurred view of accusers.

The people who can’t show their faces have withstood wrongs and are even fighting against them. That’s the definition of heroism. Why would they want to hide? They should have nothing to expect but admiration and praise, right?

(By the way, that image has been pulled from the web, as far as I can tell. Only the thumbnail is left. Everywhere, it’s been replaced with pictures of Sandusky’s smiling mug. What does it say when shame about the shame is so strong we’re ashamed even to see it?)

There is something wrong here, and it’s not Sandusky, vomit-worthy as he is.

The people who want to be invisible aren’t hiding from him. They’re hiding from everyone else. They’re hiding from the millions of “innocent” bystanders. From those who did nothing, which allowed him to do everything.

It’s bystanders who provide the air for predators.

It’s the millions of kids on playgrounds who don’t stop the bully, the guys at frat houses who don’t stop the rapists, the voters who re-elect leaders that sign off on torture.

In my world, those millions aren’t bigger criminals than the perp. But just being anonymous doesn’t make them that much smaller either.

There are many articles out and about just now, wondering how predators keep escaping notice when we ought to have learned by now. How many powerful pedophiles does it take? How many celebrity athlete rapists? How many executive sharks?

It’s pretty obvious, I think. As many as it takes for bystanders to leave their safe anonymity, to suffer the embarrassment of calling out the high or mighty, and to stop committing the crime of going along.


Rights are for real people

The two headlines below appeared in Memeorandum (May 23rd, 2012, at 10:23 AM).

Gallup poll shows pro-choice support down to 41%, support for gay marriage equality up at 54%

On one side is the most basic right of all, control over your own self, over what can be done to your body. Without it, there’s no freedom, no rights, nothing. Without it, you could, for instance, be compelled to donate a lobe of your liver because somebody else would die without it.

On the other side is giving more people the legal benefits associated with marriage. That is a good thing. But it amounts to nothing in a world where anyone could be violated whenever it served someone’s purposes. Marriage would be worth as much as it was for black slaves in the old South.

So which one do people see as more worthy? Why, marriage equality, of course.

This is what happens after thirty years of hearing politicians say women have no rights compared to a fetus.

This is what happens after a few years of leaders and voters saying that marriage rights are for all, not just for some.

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What do they mean, “trafficked”?

This phrase set me off: “a UK initiative established to raise awareness of the plight of workers trafficked into the sex industry.” (1)

Why “trafficked”? What’s with this terminology? You see it all the time. “Tantamount to slavery.” “Conditions indistinguishable from slavery.” Why “tantamount”? Why “indistinguishable from”?

It IS slavery. It is slavery of the worst and most disgusting sort. Even hard labor does not involve body invasion. It is slavery with every possible revolting humiliation included. It is slavery with physical torture, disease, and early death, just like “real” slavery. It is human beings carrying a price tag, bought by men. That isn’t “tantamount” to slavery. It IS slavery.

Why do so many people work so hard to call it something else? Look at the terminology in that first sentence: “workers,” “trafficked,” “industry.” Workers is what we all are. Nothing special there. Traffic is just a term for buying and selling stuff, with connotations of a busy bazaar, borderline deals, and smuggling. Maybe bricks of cocaine are being moved around. And “industry,” well, that’s positively good. Hard work, salt of the earth. Admittedly, it’s qualified as being the “sex industry,” but still. It feels like they’re talking about regular economic transactions.

What they’re talking about without euphemisms is the plight of women and children sold to men.

Slaves aren’t “workers” unless workers are now locked up and beaten. The women aren’t bricks on a conveyor belt, shunted to new buildings. Lies and kidnapping keep the pipeline full of new slaves, just as they did in the bad old days. Unless you want to call selling organs an industry, that’s the wrong word for it. It’s a crime.

In our free and enlightened time, there are more people enslaved than ever before. The estimate is some twenty seven million living in slavery (1999). That includes only forced labor, not workers struggling with appalling conditions. Of those 27,000,000, over 70%, three quarters, the vast majority, most, are women or girls. Fifty percent of all slaves are children, most of them girls. Female slaves are generally violated, even when suffering sexual torture isn’t their primary function.

Slavery is no longer focused on a class or a race. Now it’s not whites who think blacks don’t feel pain the way real people do. Now it’s men who think buying women is okay because who cares what they think and anyway they like it.

Slavery is not okay. Everybody knows that. Maybe, if we called it by its right name, there’d be no way to continue pretending it is.

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On the Separation of Sex and State


Seriously. It’s time. The whole Republican birth control bullshit (and I do mean bull) has brought the issue to levels of absurdity that require action.

First, notice one thing about the sex issues of the last few decades. They’ve been about birth control (1950s), then abortion (1980s onward), now, God help us, birth control again. Supposedly, it’s all about life, but there are also plenty of outbursts that sex is irresponsible, thoughtless, and no longer “special” when there are no “consequences.”

But sex has always been that way. For men. They’re famous for it, or at least they try to be.

The problem isn’t thoughtless sex. Only thoughtless sex by women. That was the only thing that changed. Women could have sex without terror.

It’s also the only case where a reduction in terror is supposed to usher in the end of civilization as we know it. Antibiotics interfere with God’s will, but nobody complains. Superpower nuclear war is less likely these days, but we don’t get lectures on the lamentable loss of character-building fear.

There has to be a reason why women, specifically, are best terrified.

Terrorized people don’t talk. They do their best to be invisible. So women are silenced, out of the public square, out of public life. And should a few of them forget their place and make a public mark, the Great Forgetting disappears it. Their concerns are unheard, individual, unimportant, personal, private, something for them to deal with on their own, without help.

Which is especially ironic when it concerns something like birth control. If that’s a “women’s issue,” virgin birth must be more common than I realized.

(While I’ve been working on this post, off and on, I see Zunguzungu has made some of the same points. “He is defending his [privilege] for that to be a woman’s problem, one [with] which he … doesn’t need to be concerned.” “[By] making it about her, personally — [he] changes the subject from a generalizable woman’s public concern” to a personal one. “[P]olicing the boundaries … of whose concern gets to be publicly voiced and heard….)

Sara Robinson put it very clearly: control over reproduction brings “a louder and prouder female voice into the running of the world’s affairs at every level, creating new conversations and new priorities.”

But female voices and their new conversations and new priorities and the subsequent unavoidability of acknowledging sex and reproduction and children in public are exactly what people in the patriarchy have been desperate to silence.

Licia Ronzulli, Italian Member of the European Parliament, with her daughter on her lap, raising her hand to vote on an issue during a session of Parliament

Licia Ronzulli, Italian Member, during a session of the European Parliament.

The goal of the whole blob of sex-related issues, whether they’re called “pro-life” or “personhood” or “traditional values,” is to deny women their rights. It’s never explicit (at least not in the West), but that would be the effect if the legislative or cultural goals were achieved.

That back door approach is essential because equal rights in law have become dogma. Nobody could suggest women should be unable to speak by law. The repressives can only do their best to get women to disappear in fact. The tried and tested method of silencing women is terror, so they’re desperate to go back to the days when women had “consequences.”

Those of us on the other side need to address the real subject, the denial of rights. We need to stop being polite about taking the con job on its own terms. None of this is about “life” or “values.” It’s about denying women their rights.

We have to aim at the real subject every time. When girls are deprived of Plan B because ‘what about the children!?’ it’s tangential that the medical evidence supports its use. The real point is the fundamental right to control your body. When birth control for women is attacked because it enables female sluthood, the real defense is not the specifics of hormonal treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome. The point is that women’s sex is nobody’s business but their own. When abortion opponents are upset over the loss of “life,” it is irrelevant that there are no cellular markers indicative of personhood or soul. The point is that nobody’s body can be requisitioned against that person’s will. Forced pregnancy is a loss of rights exactly equal to forced kidney donation.

Separation of sex and state makes it simple to see when the state should be involved. Sex, like religion, is a private matter. Same as with religion, when nobody is hurt or coerced or exploited or bamboozled, it’s nobody’s business except the people involved. (The presence of embryos changes nothing, because their status is a matter of personal belief that can guide only personal actions.) On the other hand, if anyone is harmed, then whatever happened is a crime and is neither sex nor religion. It’s very much the state’s business to stop and punish crimes. And the state also has a legitimate function in ensuring children are cared for. But that’s where it ends if the need to separate sex and state is understood. The state does not actually need to tell people how or when to have sex. Really. It doesn’t. People can have sex without any input from the state. It is possible to separate sex and state. It is possible to mind one’s own business.

Separation of sex and state does not mean that people must change their attitudes any more than it does in the parallel case of religion. A Christian can go on being a Christian. They just can’t make anyone else be a Christian. If you’re against gay marriage, you can go on avoiding a same-sex partnership. If you’re anti-abortion, you can avoid having an abortion.

If we want to have actual democracies with equal rights, we have to start insisting on the broad principle that people’s private business is no business of government. There was a time when we’d figured that out for religion, although we seem to be losing the insight now. It was great while it lasted. The holy wars collapsed and boatloads of blood did not get spilled in many places for many years.

If we separated sex and state, we’d get the same massive release of energy for useful purposes as when the holy wars stopped. We’d get the same reduction in casualties, too, when women stopped dying from botched abortions, pregnancy-related suicides, unwanted childbirths, and caring for too many children, and when everybody’s lives improved as population pressures let up. Even children and men would not die as often before their time.

And the separation of sex and state means women can be citizens in fact as well as on paper. That is what is at stake here. If the two are separate, women are citizens. If not, they are for all practical purposes incubators. Never lose sight of that. Anyone who waffles on it, even if they make polite noises while doing it, even if they make polite noises while being President of the United States, is on the side of the Dark Ages and against human rights. No, that is not hyperbole. Not if you understand that women are, in fact, humans.

Sex and state must be separate.

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Are Women Human? Take Two

I wrote on that topic several times, but now it’s everywhere.

Chatblu makes the point that “this whole ‘person’ thing is becoming a wildly overpopulated ‘hood.’ … A person can be as tiny as a sperm or as large as Microsoft.”

However, the membership of women in the category remains unclear, although they are within the size range.

The most lucid explanation to date came just recently. Jessica Winter finally answers the question for us.

All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.

Read on for the thrilling conclusion!

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