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Toxic Masculinity is not about masculinity

It is not about anything to do with maleness. Bits will not fall off if men stop being toxic.

It’s about status. Being toxic is the mark of high status. Being vulnerable or kind or nobody or pleasing is “not being a man.” Fighting off fifty storm troopers singlehanded while having a bunch of faceless naked women in the background gets you the unattainable Super Man card.

It’s all about the man card. It’s all about the social definition of being a man because it’s all about status. Biology has nothing to do with status. Status is 100% social. Playing the man card is not about being a man.

That’s good news and bad news.

It’s good news because if we really had to change what men are born with, something like preventing the development of testes, it would be impossible.

It’s bad news because changing people’s desire for social status is much harder than changing biological reality. It is physically possible, unlike ordering up a different biology, but it’s like pulling teeth without anesthetic.

However, and this is the point (I do have a point), if we understand what we’re actually trying to do when curing “toxic masculinity,” our efforts can apply to the real problem instead of the wrong one.

The problem is not maleness. The problem is the social definition of masculinity.

So, sure, it’s useful for men to stop toxic behavior. But that’s never going to stop the crap from regenerating bigger and worser than ever.

To cure toxic masculinity we have to stop having a top caste of men. We have to stop admiring it. It has to stop being in ads. It has to stop being in movies and videos and music and news programs and clothes and the pushing of a million products to get men to spend money to bolster their man cards. (Yes, the economy would crash.)

It means men would get 50% of the money and assets for 50% of the work instead of, as now, 90% of the benefits for 30% of the work. It means women would be 50% of government at all levels, and 50% of police and of the military at all levels. And … well, you get the picture.

There’s a lot of work to do. A lot more than men stopping their current bad behavior. A lot less than ending maleness.

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One man gets it. One doesn’t.

Ben Rosenbaum outlined the price of patriarchy for men.

Lexi Alexander @Lexialex Oct 5:
Do men ever look at the week’s news and think “what the fuck is going on with men?”

Benjamin Rosenbaum @ben_rosenbaum
Replying to @Lexialex
sadly i think i know exactly what’s fucking going on with men 🙁

i am never surprised by the horrible shit men will do to stave off the terror of feeling dependent, inadequate, dominated, out of power …

… by the fever dream of entitlement, the desperate lies we tell ourselves, the starvation of human emotion that results when every …

…interaction is a struggle to dominate and failing to dominate feels like destruction….

…every oppressor class imagines themselves oppressed because the removal of privilege feels like death, but sexism is uniquely cruel…

…b/c it demands of men that, to be men, we poison our first & deepest love relationships w/ contempt, & conceal this from ourselves…

…if you wanted, from first principles, to design a broken & dangerous group of humans, you’d teach them love os weakness…

…dominance is safety, vulnerability is danger & that they are entitled to everything & losers if they cannot win it…

…& that losers are undeserving of love, of existence, that not winning is oblivion. and this is no accident. like other oppressions…

…sexism has a functional design & purpose in maintaining status-hierarchy societies. you cannot get a large # of humans to reliably…

…kill other humans w/o mangling their ability to feel, their self-knowledge, & their self-trust as emotional agents…

…but it’s not just the soldier class; the pattern developed there permeates the rest of patriarchy. My own conversational style, even…

…after 40+ years of struggle, is warped by the dictates of scholar-class patriarchal emotional starvation & warfare….

…tl:dr; men be fucked up; we are brutal to boys to make them brutal, much of it invisible to us; hug your sons & expect humanity of them.

i mean you probably knew all that @JustineLavaworm 🙂
but you asked!

i hope none of this sounds like “oh poor men, so coddle oppression”

denounce men’s behavior, destroy men’s privilege, have zero tolerance…

…for sexism. expect men to act like fucking humans. a command to heal, not an excuse to avoid healing. cutting it the fuck out is step 1

The joke-not-joke among women is that the comments on any post or piece or tweet about feminism proves the need for feminism. The same is obviously true for men trying to throw off the shackles. Within minutes, the following showed up.

Selor @SelorKiith
/14 Until such Men are deemed more desireable, nothing will change… We all have to work on this… on ourselves if we want a better world.

Benjamin Rosenbaum @ben_rosenbaum 1h1 hour ago
but being shitty to other people out of fear of loneliness is a shitty way to live, and not actually very sexy in the final analysis.

consider the possibility that standing up for what you believe in and being who you really are is a) more satisfying and b) probably sexier.

Selor @SelorKiith 1h1 hour ago
Forced to be alone with your thoughts. sitting there in your dimly lit room, a microwave meal-for-one the only thing giving you company.

Benjamin Rosenbaum @ben_rosenbaum 1h1 hour ago
I get the fear of loneliness; patriarchy does have a stick.
But fight back & you might actually find lots of comrades on the barricades.

Selor @SelorKiith 59m59 minutes ago
It’s not a fear, it’s bitter reality… also: I don’t want comrades, I want Love, I want Family, that is not achieved by casting myself out

The mind reels. At least mine does. There’s a caste system to limit women to cages (and men to being prison guards) and this guy thinks the problem is that some people escape? Because then they’re not there when he wants to use them? And he calls that “love.”

I wonder why no free agent wants anything to do with him.


Eastern Sierra. Beautiful, impassable, a walk in the park.

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The new hip! Flat Earth Society

Noted on the twitter machine:

Gender politics has officially jumped the shark when a penis doesn’t make you male, but eyeliner makes you female

And in The tangled politics of transgenderism:

…[T]rans activists have recently targeted the provision of tampons in all-female spaces as transphobic.

We could also not bother with a space program. Just sail to the edge of the world and drop the satellites into orbit. Facts are what you make ’em. Right?


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This dude. And his kidneys. Should run for US Congress.

Sometimes you just stand there, with a mouth full of teeth, gaping, dumbfounded.

The following thread happened on twitter:

The Motherhub: So furious everytime I hear reference to the ‘debate’ on abortion. How come the whole country gets to debate on my body? My rights?

Stephen McKillop: In fairness there’s more to it than just that. There’s an unborn child whose life and future is also affeccted by this issue.

Victoria Smith: Do you worry this much about the lives and futures of those who might benefit from that extra kidney of yours?

And the dude’s gobsmacking response:

“But I’ve genuinely no idea what relevance the kidney point has to pregnancy.”

Jesus take the wheel.

Really? I mean, really?

What do you think pregnancy is? The woman as some kind of ceramic pot? She carries a homunculus around until it’s grown big enough, no doubt by absorbing quintessence straight from the aether, to be born?

There’s this thing called a placenta. It’s a stupendously complicated organ that interfaces with the fetus’s circulatory system and allows the mother’s lungs and digestion and kidneys to perform all the vital functions for the fetus.

The fetus is using her kidneys, as if she was a human dialysis machine. Her kidneys allow it to live.

Just as your spare kidney could be removed and given to someone who’s dying for lack of a transplant.

So, now that you know she’s not just a pot, and you apparently feel people must save others’ lives at the cost of their own bodies, you’re going to understand when a kidney is surgically removed from you, right?

After all, there’s an adult human whose life and future are affected by that issue.

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The Silence of the Brutes

I followed a link from somewhere to this article, Downloading a Nightmare, about the association between autism and viewing child pornography.

The events unfolding in Joseph’s home—the SWAT team, the stunned parents, the vast collection of child pornography on a hard drive—have become increasingly familiar to autism clinicians and advocates. They are part of a troubling and complex collision between the justice system and a developmental disability that, despite its prevalence, remains largely misunderstood in courts across the country. …

I hadn’t known there was an association. So I kept reading to learn more.

Over several months, The Marshall Project interviewed a dozen families whose adult autistic sons were caught up in child pornography investigations….

Still, they found it difficult to believe their vulnerable son could be a danger to others, and as they researched the issue of autism and child pornography, it became clear to them he did not understand the ramifications of what he had done. …

Compounding the issue is the fact that high-functioning autism is severely under-diagnosed, and so some autistic men are diagnosed as a result of evaluations following their arrest for child pornography possession. …

Anything strike you about that? If the association was between autism and child pornography, autistic girls would also appear with these problems.

But there doesn’t seem to be a single one. ?? Odd.

They’re all boys and men, but the article doesn’t even mention it. Not once.

What is this consistent and complete invisibility of maleness as a factor in so much of the world’s violence?


Obviously, male violence is the bedrock of the caste system and paying attention to it would expose and dissolve the whole thing.

What amazes me is that the mass hypnosis necessary to sustain the system is so pervasive that it requires no effort to maintain even when the situation would seem to be exceptional enough that facts could be recognized without immediate danger to the mythology.

Somehow, even with such a thin thread of connection, the defense against noticing it is automatic.

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Women are human or chattel. Not both.

We have a choice. We can do what it takes to live among equals, and benefit from all the fun and fascinating things some of those people will come up with. Or we can live in a Handmaid’s Tale, but without uniforms, of course, I mean, we wouldn’t want to be obvious about it, right?

There’s one very simple test of where you fall on the spectrum of believers in slavery.

Human beings have rights. They can’t be bought or sold or deployed as some master sees fit.

Slaves, on the other hand, don’t own themselves.

So, do you think women have control over their own bodies? Or don’t you?

If you do, you want to live in a world of equality. If you don’t, you think women are properly chattel, there to serve at someone else’s discretion.

It’s really that simple. You can’t be a “pro-life liberal.” (The crap about how Democrats should accommodate that drivel was the last straw and brought on this podium-thumping rant.) You can’t say the right to make your own decisions about your own body is some tertiary issue. If you think other people’s rights to their own bodies are unimportant, you’re pro-chattel.

We call the right to make your own decisions “pro-choice,” but that obscures the issue. The essence is that the choice has to rest with the woman who has the body that necessitates the choice. You might be against abortion in your own life. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what you can’t be is against abortion in someone else’s life.

You cannot make decisions about somebody else’s body without turning her into a slave. It’s the very definition of slavery. You have taken away her ownership of her own body.

We’re so used to thinking of women as some kind of not-really-humans that it’s easier to understand the point if it’s translated to general terms.

Taking that choice away from the woman involved is exactly equivalent to hauling people off the street and hooking them into a dialysis machine to act as a filter for someone else’s blood.

The mere thought is horrible.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s necessary to save someone’s life or not. That’s not the point. Not when it’s real humans dragooned into being dialysis machines.

It’s only when it’s women that suddenly somehow a fetus takes precedence.

And note that it’s only since the invention of the birth control pill that some people got into a lather about the personhood of the fetus. Before that, injunctions against sex, which did not apply to men, were enough to control women’s bodies. It’s never been about the “life” (read “personhood”) of the fetus. If it was, they’d care a lot more about what kind of life that fetus has once it’s born. It’s always been about trying to stop women from owning their own bodies.

Note also that all the measures pushing fetal personhood necessarily take that status away from the woman involved. The fetal personhood bills are really Women Are Non-Persons bills, but their authors try to avoid plain speech.

So, as I say, it’s a simple test whether you’re pro-equality or pro-slavery. Do you think abortion is a woman’s decision or not?

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Objet d’Art. Under Glass.

I find myself wanting to defend Melania, First Concubine. But why? She chose her path. She’s not suffering ordinary pain. I couldn’t put my finger on what makes her seem such a trapped figure.

Then along comes Laurie Penny, putting it all in words more clearly and beautifully than I could have done. As we say on the web, go read the whole thing.

When Melania speaks, more than any of Trump’s adoring female entourage, she looks like someone with a gun discreetly pointed at her back, with her necklines so high her clothes seem to be trying to strangle her and that rictus smile that never reaches her eyes.

Imagine being in her position. Imagine being married to that man, having to live with him, back him up, soothe his ego, deal with his tantrums. Her marriage will be under relentless scrutiny for the rest of her life, just as her body has been since she did her first catwalk at the age of five, but if anyone raises the alarm, we’ll be told it’s music and ordered to dance. Do we think that the ham-faced, race-baiting, woman-hating monster about to waltz into the White House respects his third wife as a person? This is a man who slut-shames and humiliates any woman who stands in his way

No, Mrs Trump is not the most unfortunate woman in America right now. She will be unaffected by many of the more venal policies of her husband’s cronies, and as the mother of an ex boyfriend once told me, if you must cry, it’s nice to be able to cry in the back of a Porsche. But there are all sorts of cages you can keep a woman in — ask the wife of any Saudi Prince — and this, now, is what American girls are being taught to aspire to. Costlier chains. Shinier bars.

It’s not that the third Mrs Trump never had any choices. Those who dismiss her as a trophy wife miss the point: of course she knew the deal she was making. She has worked harder than most men could ever understand to get to this position …. This is a woman who has played the Master’s game expertly, and who now has to live in the Master’s house, raising his child, doling out platitudes about abuse as her husband sets about gaslighting the entire world. You might see that as karma. I see it as tragedy. Treating Melania as a real human being, rather than an empty symbol, is one more way of opposing everything her husband stands for.

Melania Trump was kidnapped long ago. She is now the walking, very occasionally talking, embodiment of the Stockholm Syndrome suffered by a growing cadre of the American political class. It’s an ugly thing to watch.

It is galling to watch left-wing men, in particular, muster to fling mud at a woman who clearly has, in her own way, very few choices, and is very publicly starring in the reality-television adaptation of American Psycho.

Patriarchy is not a game any woman can win, and Melania is playing it on nightmare mode, in the version where you have to sleep with the end-level boss. The man she is married to has a thug’s understanding of consent and every intention of screwing the world, violently if necessary. How we treat his First Victim sets the tone for the fight to come.

small geisha doll on display

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Playing the man card is not about being a man

The need to prove manliness is now everywhere. It even has its own presidential campaign. Men have their own toothpaste which has “powerful” mint taste as opposed to — what? frilly? — mint taste. They have their own Bic pens to help them stay distinct from women. A proper “guy” car has “aggressive” tires. Just so you know, aggressive tires don’t actually reach out and bite people. They’re big, with big truck-type treads and designed to make a lot of road noise. I saw an ad a while back about how so long as you drank some kind of beer your man card was safe. (Miller Lite, I just looked it up. Irony is dead.)

So, what is all this? Are men honestly that confused about themselves that they fear the loss of important parts if they wear yoga pants? Are they worried they’ll get pregnant if their tires don’t make a lot of noise?

No. Not even the most ignorant politician on all the continents is worried about sprouting a womb.

The whole thing makes sense immediately, however, once you notice that none of it is about maleness.

It’s about status. It’s about a very specific kind of status, the kind you’re born into. I’m going to call that caste in this piece because we no longer really have a word in English for status-by-birth. It used to be class, but class is now something you can move out of. Status-by-birth is not supposed to exist. We’re all equal now. Theoretically. But, not theoretically, some are very much more equal than others.

A tangential point about status: it’s not just some superficial concern of shallow people. Everybody’s clear that status marks how accepted and important a person is in the group, but we tend to ignore what that means for social animals like human beings. We cannot survive without the support of our group. The rarity of exceptions just shows how universal the rule is. So feeling accepted by our group, even better, feeling important in it, hooks into a very deep part of our psyche going back to long before we were even human. The desire for status is so basic it overrides just about every other drive. Imminent death is almost the only thing that can make people no longer care about making themselves ridiculous or contemptible to their peers — which is what lower status feels like. The drive for status overrides sex by so much that sex is subsumed by it. Sexual relations become markers of status when, really, if they were about sex they’d be about attraction. They’d have nothing to do with the admiration of irrelevant third parties.

*Yes, I’m deliberately ignoring the whole non-binary argument. That body of work is so removed from the realities of sexual castes it is irrelevant. Show me one instance where a lower caste member, a biological female, is taken at her word when she says she’d really prefer to be believed and listened to and thought well of, and the response is, “Good heavens, yes. Of course. Our mistake.” followed by a complete change in attitude and actions. Then I’ll begin to believe we’ve started to reach a non-binary society. That isn’t to say theoretical work is not valuable, but theoretical work on gender is outside the scope of a discussion of the issues as they currently exist. Also, my point is about status, not sexuality.

So status is vitally important, and the two groups determined by sex are the only castes people still believe in. They’re the only ones where people really do assume that your birth says something about who you are, the only ones where one kind is automatically assumed to be better than the other. (If you’re thinking “binary!” please see side box*.) All the other castes have lost their legitimacy. The man card is about displaying the markers of your caste, the last one where you get to just be better without having to do anything for it, the last one where you get status for free.

And, of course, not displaying it means losing status, which is almost the worst thing that can happen to a social animal. Is it any wonder that men fall over themselves getting studly cars? Or that women cripple themselves to fit into the tiny spaces where they are admired?

It’s useful to remember some of the no longer recognized caste systems to see how similar they are to our last extant one.

Aristocrats were thought to be born better than peasants. That’s still reflected in the meaning of “noble” and “what a peasant!” The only difference is that we no longer believe in the existence of born “nobles.” It’s not accumulated evidence of centuries of goofy or sociopathic elites which accomplished that miracle. Those attitudes are impervious to evidence. It’s because those nobles, the hereditary titled aristocrats, lost power. The fact that they were certainly no better than anyone else became immediately obvious when they could no longer have “lesser” people tortured and jailed.

Our attitude to current wealthy elites is similar to what people used to feel toward aristocrats. If they do wrong, they usually aren’t punished. They’re above the law. If they say anything, even known drivel, it’s treated as newsworthy. If they push government to move money and power in their direction — “cut taxes” to use the modern terminology, with no discussion of who pays for the shortfall — that’s only to be expected. And so on, through the whole sorry and similar list of attitudes. We’re not free of class-based castes because we’re not free of the financial power underpinning them. So we think of them as “whatcha gonna do?” because such things are “inevitable.”

We’re in the process of moving away from caste-based thinking about race. Again, it’s the race that holds the economic and lethal power that gets the assumed superiority. The attitudes are still there in many people. What’s changed is that it’s no longer acceptable to say them out loud. Whites have to find other excuses for why they should hang on to higher status than simply “Well, obviously. We’re so much better.” Once they no longer have power over others’ lives, the absence of any real goodness in being white will become obvious to everyone, even whites.

India is also in that same process. Officially, it’s no longer respectable to assume someone’s birth tells you anything about how worthwhile they are. On the ground, it’s a very different story.

The important point to take on board is that attitudes to castes are automatic, unconscious, assumed, “natural,” “just the way things are.” It’s not something anyone does because they’re a stupid, bigoted person. Or because it gives them status and the benefits that accrue. A caste system, when it’s working, is assumed to be real.

Which brings us to the sex-based caste system. We’re still in the dark ages on that one. It’s still assumed to be real.

But it works the same way. Men control most economic resources. Only recently has it become less than 100%.

There is a school of thought that of course men control the resources. They’re bigger, faster, smarter, stronger, better. They’re just born that way. Caste-based thinking is nothing if not circular. But there are two obvious inconsistencies even within the tautological framework. If being smarter and stronger is the point, then why don’t the smartest and strongest men control everything? Why do weedy male aristocrats wind up perched permanently on top? And the second issue is if they controlled everything because they’re born better, their genetics haven’t changed in the last two hundred years. One is left standing there, as puzzled as a men’s rights activist, as to why they’re no longer at 100%.

The only thing that changed is the laws. The laws taking away women’s rights to own property were struck down in many countries, as well as some of the laws that enforced payment to male relatives for women’s work. Women still do a huge amount of unpaid work. To get a sense of the scale of the wealth transfer, consider that some 70% of the world’s work is done by women, but they get 44% of the wages. (Approximate calculation based on 2015 data in the World Economic Forum link.) Globally, women’s ownership of resources is near 1% (WSJ summary, full World Bank Development Report on Gender Equality 2012, latest year available). Marilyn Waring has done groundbreaking work on the topic. The expropriation of women’s resources is no longer complete, but it is ongoing. People always try to live in a just world, and the only way to make such obvious theft feel okay is to assume castes are real and thus justify it. So, as it used to be with other castes, people try quite hard to convince themselves they are real.

The other big reason is also the same as with previous types of castes. Control of brute force.

Here again, the automatic reaction is that’s natural because men are stronger. But the ruling classes are not noticeably bigger than other men. Men don’t fight each other one-on-one for dominance. Only for women are the rules of the game that they must deal with men alone and unaided, and when that doesn’t work it’s because of their personal weakness.

Any group of humans that wants power has to work together. Any group is stronger than any individual. Even a bunch of ten year-olds, if there are enough of them, can take down a full-grown man.

I know I’ve said this a couple of times already. We’re social animals. We understand the power of groups on a visceral level. So we also understand — without having to articulate it — that the first priority to retain power is to prevent others from acting together.

Sometimes this is formal and explicit. The power of the state rests on a monopoly of force. That is supposed to be for the good purpose of ensuring enough order to enable everyone to have a life, so we’re not ashamed to say it out loud.

Other attempts to monopolize force are more furtive, but sometimes more effective. It doesn’t take an explicit conscious agenda, only a gut level distaste for “them” visibly doing almost anything.

Of course, the most effective prevention of collective action happens when there’s no collective to begin with. The tactic is hard to apply against most groups because people gravitate to their own kind and before you know it some of them have realized they have a common cause. But it’s very effective against women because biology tends to mix the sexes together so the opportunities for finding commonality are more easily controlled once one group takes over.

And controlled they are. The first and most effective tool is by defining women as uncool, not admirable, not heroic, not interesting, definitely not the type of people to rally around and follow. Who would want to associate with low status not-quite-people like that? Presto, no group formation. Mission accomplished.

The Clinton campaign has given us hours of recent evidence of this dynamic at work. During the primary, the headlines were all about how unlikable she was, how unenthusiastic her voters are, how it’s like pulling teeth to acknowledge enthusiasm for Hillary. how her voters are all dowdy old women with nary a cool hip person to be seen for miles, how her followers weren’t visible on social media, and on and on and on and on. Of course women would rather not support some boring old grandmother. They’d much rather support a cool hip grandfather.

The only women who are widely admired are the ones who excel at attractiveness to men. Beyoncé is a household name. Sally Ride, Marie Curie, Shirin Ebadi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Wangari Maathai, Zhou Qunfei, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosalind Franklin, Ada Byron are not. (Not to take away from Beyoncé’s talent, but let’s face it, if she looked like Angela Merkel she could be just as talented and she would not be an icon.) Women are not admired for their ideas or their leadership. Women are generally admired for being admired by men. The reference point is men. Not women. Never women. Women are not cool enough for their activities to be important.

In Steve Biko’s famous words, “The first weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Women are prevented from coordinating with each other at the most basic level. They’re told they don’t want to, and until they examine it, they believe it. We’re social animals. We believe our group above all.

There’s another recent phenomenon whose effect is to destroy collective action by women, although its stated intent is highminded. I’ve watched people take decades and still not understand that women are human enough to qualify for human rights (such as not being attacked by your relatives). So, to me, how fast the left, the progressives!, have accepted the validity of defining women out of existence has been mind boggling.

Gender identity studies have been bent from their roots in feminism, of all things, to suborn the very language the lower caste needs to understand what’s going on.

Studying gender identity should be about the value of diversity (because it is valuable! nature destroys monocultures). So it should be stressing the importance of respecting the right to self-definition of each and every person. That would be good.

But that’s not the big message coming out of gender identity studies now. Instead they’re trying to take away the very words, like “woman,” because men who identify as women feel excluded by the term. (If you haven’t heard about this before and are boggling, trust me, I am not making this up. Or even exaggerating.)

The giveaway is that there is no equivalent insistence on destroying the concept of “man.” Presumably that is just as painful to women who identify as men, but somehow that’s not even up for discussion. Meanwhile, everyone nods along about letting anyone and everyone, so long as they’re not members of the lower caste, define what it means to be a woman. The other giveaway is that any group containing men, such as blacks, American Indians, etc., is explicitly allowed to self-define. Anything less is considered bigoted. The only group to whom that doesn’t apply is our last remaining lower caste.

Preventing any consciousness of a collective is never enough. Enforcement is also necessary. In some parts of the world, women are stringently limited to staying at home which prevents meaningful exercise of the right to associate. In the countries trying to abide by rule of law, though, the laws and publicly accepted customs no longer support that.

Unfortunately for the project of keeping women always on the outside looking in, they have learned how to read. And write. It’s almost impossible to prevent even physically isolated people from understanding their common problems when they’re literate.

So another type of enforcement is applied. Women are belittled. “[A] woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” (Samuel Johnson, 1763) If you can convince the lower caste they’re worthless, they won’t fight for such tertiary creatures even if they can articulate the problem.

It works. Women are the only group always willing or required to put their less-important concerns at the back of the line. Racism needs attention first, or war in the Middle East, or poverty, or something, anything, completely disregarding the fact that more than half the suffering from any other problem is borne by women.

The project of belittling women is ongoing.. (Moss-Racusin 2012) However, it’s meeting with less and less success because truths, once seen, can’t be unseen. As more women describe the injustices they face, more and more people understand the actual problem. The effect is cumulative, unlike lies which have to be rebuilt every time they’re run over by reality.

So the enforcement against women getting out of “their place” becomes more and more obvious. But all of it has a hurdle to overcome. Officially, women are equal to men. Officially, they’re not supposed to be kept in any specific place. Enforcement these days in Western-style democracies takes place without much help from the law. Sometimes that behavior is even officially illegal.

But — and this is the hallmark of keeping women “in their place” — laws or customs against the required nastiness become curiously unenforced. All that’s needed is some people who are willing to do what it takes to shove women back down. Meanwhile, the finickier members of the higher caste and their hangers-on don’t notice or write it off as “fun” or an individual aberration or, at best, shrug regretfully and say, “Whatcha gonna do?” Meanwhile, the caste system remains and it’s nobody’s fault. Which is, of course, essential if it’s “real” and untouched by human hands.

Enforcement actions against women are widespread in private or there wouldn’t be a “domestic” abuse problem, but I wanted to go over the ones keeping women out of public life. Collective action is not possible from the confines of your living room, an understanding evident in, for instance, the old South African banning orders against activists.

The internet has become the modern public square and has some of the most widespread and vicious silencing seen since the far-off days of ducking stools for women who spoke loud enough to hear.

cartoon of two women being abused for expressing feminist ideas on social media

It’s particularly noticeable because publication on the internet can’t be prevented. When there are gatekeepers, women simply don’t get a hearing. Problem solved. But anybody can write anything on the internet, even women.

Now we have armies of trolls silencing women. The trolls are not simply disturbed lowlifes acting out their own neuroses, although they’re that, too. They are not silencing everyone equally. Women get hugely more harassment, and it’s much cruder and more violent. They’re told to ignore graphic threats of torture by men not self-evidently incapable of carrying them out, because it’s just a joke, it’s not for real (until it is). The cost in time, mental energy, and effort in trying to avoid attack is left entirely up to women. Nothing is done about the perpetrators.

Compare that shoulder shrugging to the reaction to an actual joke. A white female fourteen year-old fed up with US airport security sent out a sarcastic tweet about blowing up airline passengers. The FBI was called out.

Does the harassment work? Of course it does. Look at the current example of the so-called enthusiasm gap of Hillary voters. Supposedly, they don’t really like her (she’s not “likable,” y’know?) so they can’t be bothered to mention their support for her. In reality? They can’t express their political opinions without harassment, so they don’t. It’s a fundamental offense against the very freedom of speech that’s supposed to be so sacrosanct. Except when it silences women.

The decades-long dust-up about abortion is another tool to try to keep women in their place. It’s never been about life. The people most intent on denying women control over their own bodies are not generally anti-war or against the death penalty or for needle exchange programs to save drug addicts’ lives or for contraceptives to reduce the demand for abortions. They just want to deny women abortions so that their biology can be used to control their lives.

Furthermore, even if it was about human life, it’s a rule applied only to women. In other cases where someone will die without life support, they have no right to requisition a kidney or part of a liver from someone with a tissue match. The very concept is shocking, and yet taking over somebody else’s body is actually up for debate or, worse, taken for granted, when it comes to women.

Imagine if it was decided that people’s intestinal bacteria were such a finely tuned ecosystem that it would be irresponsible to kill it off just because you happened to need antibiotics for some disease. So first you’d be required to prove you’d been responsible in doing everything you could to avoid infection in the first place. The custom of handshaking would disappear overnight. People would wear face masks to the grocery store.

Withholding solutions to biological issues can be used to control anyone. But outside of torture, only female biology is turned into a problem since that can be targeted at women.

The real giveaway is that while other methods were working to keep women down, nobody was confused about the nature of the fetus. The irreplaceable Sady Doyle tweeted about this quote from a conservative evangelical seminary professor in 1968:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. …. Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

{Sady Doyle adds:]
This [life begins at conception] is a late-20th-century belief. Not only do sacred texts not support it, they CONTRADICT it. It’s politics, masquerading as faith.

It’s not unexpected or coincidental that “fetal personhood,” as ideology, arose at precisely the moment the Pill & second-wave feminism did.

This is not core belief. This is backlash to women’s autonomy. It arrived right on time. We only PRETEND it was always there.

Then there’s the last and technology-independent barrier: keeping women out of physical public space. It’s the ultimate line of defense to keep them boxed in, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately for the caste system, unless you have laws enforcing invisibility, like Saudi Arabia, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to get women to disappear. The only effective remaining tool is the worst: the threat of sexual torture, with enough actual torture to make it more than an empty threat.

I’m calling it torture not because that’s a colorful term, but because it’s the right one. The purpose of torture is to destroy the target’s ability to resist the torturer. It’s to make the target terrified to do anything that might run afoul of the torturer again. It channels the victim into behaving the way the torturer wants, or at the very least into hiding from him. Rape fits that pattern perfectly.

Unlike other crimes of severe violence, rape is met with all the usual caste-affirming excuses. Boys will be boys, so whatcha gonna do. The subtext is it’s somehow “natural,” an unfortunate side effect of basic nature, part of reality, something humans can do nothing about.

That attitude gets a big boost from the usual confusion about sex organs and sex. Just because sex organs are involved in torture doesn’t make it sex. Rape is torture that uses sex. Not unfortunate sex that felt bad. Also, imagine the excuse of “naturalness” being used against murder, a crime with a history older than humans.

Dependent on the naturalness of it all is the insistence that it’s all the victim’s fault. If she hadn’t done whatever it was that caused the predictable “natural” consequence, then it wouldn’t have happened. The crime is her fault. All she has to do to achieve that triggering effect is to exist while female. If being invisible were enough to prevent rape, the crime would be unknown in places like Saudi Arabia. But that’s not the case. Because its purpose is to box in women.

By the way, this is why whenever a rape is notable enough to make it into the news, there’s always an undercurrent, or even an explicit current, of questions about what the victim(s) ought to have done to avoid the situation. That drags the crime back into the frame of something natural, abhorrent but natural. Then nobody has to see it as an atrocious tool of caste enforcement that human beings could stop doing. There’s also the factor that potential victims are desperate to believe there’s something they can do to stay safe, but the two are not at all mutually exclusive.

When pretending it’s “normal” no longer works, then it’s an individual aberration, men with mental problems, definitely without wider implications for the structure of the whole society. If the pattern starts becoming too clear, then the crime is insignificant, something to joke about. (At least in the US, we’ve only recently reached this stage. Fifty years ago, there was no mainstream joking on the topic.)

Sylvia Walby’s research into the reality of violence against women in the UK demonstrates how the Crime Survey erases the experiences of people who experience domestic violence by capping the number of crimes that one person can report at 5. The Office for National Statistics insist the cap is necessary as “otherwise the sheer number of crimes committed by perpetrators against the same individual would skew the rest of the statistics.”

When it is acknowledged as a real crime, the laws against it are hardly enforced. As with lesser harassments so long as the targets are women, it’s always just too difficult. Imagine if we pursued every single case of street harassment, “domestic” violence, and rape! Why, the police would have no time to deal with any other crimes! That’s rarely explicitly said out loud, although sometimes (see side box) it is. But even unstated, it’s always there as a subtext in a backhanded acknowledgement of the fact that men make women live in a war zone.

I’ve been writing as if men don’t get raped because as a tool of social control — not on an individual level — they don’t. The main exception is prison rape, but that just proves my point. The contrast between men’s danger of rape inside and outside prison shows how much difference frequency of occurrence makes for social control. Outside of prison, it doesn’t even occur to men to worry about it. Women have to structure their entire schedules around avoiding attack, and even that doesn’t keep them from being victimized.

Now, there’s no reason except the caste system for why adult men aren’t raped often outside of prison. But the unspoken assumption is that it doesn’t happen because it’s not the natural order of things. Men lack the anatomy to be raped the same way as women. And anatomy is just the way things are.

But men can be raped. The point isn’t the method. The point is the sexual humiliation. Abu Ghraib showed everyone that sexual humiliation to break a man’s spirit worked very well. Sexual humiliation makes a person want to hide forever. It destroys many people, including men, as a force to be reckoned with.

So it’s interesting that it is the form of torture applied against women to keep them in their caste. Lower class men are kept in line with mere economic and police force, not torture. (Although that was used in medieval times.) But applying rape is making the victim “your bitch.”

Two asides about excellent articles posted recently. First, something the always outstanding Glosswitch said.

…I was convinced that this was because men just didn’t quite get it. They didn’t yet understand rape, what it was, what it did. Now I’m not so sure the opposite isn’t true. Men don’t rape because they don’t know the damage it does; perhaps they rape because they do. …

As a feminist blogger, I could have a template for all the posts about rape that I could have written, using contemporary examples, at any point in my lifetime: why women are not like laptops/mobile phones/unlocked houses; why the latest police safety campaign is victim-blaming nonsense; why that particular rapist’s sporting/acting/academic achievements do not make his crime less serious; why false accusations are far rarer than is widely assumed; why it is not “common sense” to constantly tell women to restrict their own freedom of movement, etc, etc. As a subject, it’s amazing that rape culture could be both so enraging and so mind-numbingly boring. If we’ve made these arguments once, we’ve made them a million times. It has become a purification ritual. Moreover, it has almost become part of rape culture itself. Just as masculinity reforms and consolidates itself via the repeat performance of being “in crisis,” rape culture has acquired its own cyclical narrative. Violation, exposure, outrage, repentance, repeat ad infinitum.

That is exactly the point I have been trying to make. It is a part of rape culture. It is a purification ritual. It’s all an attempt to keep it in the realm of “natural,” outside of human control, not, God forbid!, the brute force holding up the caste system. And yes, of course men know on some level. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t fear prison rape until it happened to them. But to keep the caste system going, it’s vital to pretend rape has something to do with sex and is “natural.” Otherwise, it’s obviously violence serving the caste system and the whole thing will become evident for the con job that it is. So there has to be a cycle of wash, rinse, and repeat. It’s all an elaborate shadow play to ignore the actual purpose of rape, to ignore the fact that it’s not pointless and crazy, to look away from its job of being the final blow to keep women down.

The second aside is about a phrase often heard now. “Toxic masculinity” describes the whole suite of behaviors whose purpose is to damage people. There’s a problem with the term. Yes, those behaviors are toxic. They’re meant to be. They’re the brutal face of the enforcement system. But the phrase buys into the idea that they have something to do with masculinity. It actually confirms the caste-affirming notion that any of this is natural, rather than just an attempt to maintain the castes. Men are flashing their man cards not because they want to be men, but because they want to be upper caste. And the brutality is just the same as that which underpinned other castes we no longer believe in.

Even though it’s a colorful term, I think “toxic masculinity” isn’t actually useful. Because it’s not about masculinity. None of this has anything to do with male and female. It’s about power, control, benefits. Not sex. Accepting the frame that masculinity plays into it somewhere is at least partly buying in to the system causing the problem.

Getting back to the caste system itself, I was talking about the final force holding it up.

Sexual torture is the worst tool not only in the damage it does to human beings. It’s also the worst in a different sense. A caste system can only be maintained if people believe it’s real. Once the violence shows, the castes lose their legitimacy. Real differences, such as the color of your hair, don’t change depending on violence. Sooner or later, everybody notices that caste differences can’t be real if they have to be propped up with torture.

Now that rape culture is beginning to be recognized, it’s the beginning of the end. But rape culture isn’t really the right term for the whole picture. It’s just the harshest end of the spectrum. It continues through the lower grades of harassment, the unwillingness to stop or prevent all kinds of harm to women, the belittling, the definition of women as uncool unadmirable nonentities, and all the way to the desperation of men to hang on to their man cards at all costs.

The problem with applying the descriptor “rape” to the culture of belittling women or buying your perfume after-shave in square stocky bottles is it doesn’t help people see the connections right up to the mildest and most effective imprints of the caste system. The unthinking reaction is to reject the label because, obviously, that’s not “rape.” And one reaction is often all you can hope for. Thinking is rare. So we’d be better served by terminology that’s easier to recognize, including rape culture for the worst end.

All the manifestations, from mild to horrible, are tentacles of the caste system. But once the foundation of the castes in money and violence beomes visible, they never regain legitimacy. To close with another of Sady Doyle’s pithy summaries. May 28, 2016:

But if we admit the game is giving some women conditional value to distract from violence against us all, it’s ruined.

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Shut people up; act hurt if they speak

It’s the new definition of free speech! What’s not to like?

Sady Doyle says it best:

1) “The people don’t want Clinton!”
2) Systematically harass voters into silence
3) “See? No-one you know is voting for her! It’s rigged!”

It doesn’t matter who you are, some little private citizen in comments, or a Hollywood celebrity, or a well-known male political worker, or a professional journalist, or, hell, even a superdelegate. (Edited to add: and another compendium of the harassment. Eta again: also more Sady Doyle, What online misogynists really want is silence.)

So the Clinton campaign finally, finally, launches Correct the Record. It’s intended to help her supporters catch the endless lies about her and point out the facts.

The response in Dudebro-land? Hillary Clinton camp now paying online trolls to attack anyone who disparages her online.

What’s next? Defending wife-beating because she had the gall to raise her arms to try to protect her head?

You know what? Silencing people, even women!, is not free speech. It’s harassment. It’s hate speech. People are gradually understanding its toxicity, but most of our laws haven’t caught up yet.

There’s this notion about free speech that the “marketplace of ideas” will sort it all out so long as everybody can say whatever they want whenever they want. Well, you know what else? Marketplaces only work when people don’t kick each others’ stalls down and nobody brings weapons.

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If sexism happens and nobody mentions it, did it hurt?

There’s much moaning about how the uncool uninteresting unrevolutionary candidate Clinton has only stodgy middle-aged (or even old!) women behind her. All the Cool Kids and men and thoughtful discussers of other people’s discussions prefer somebody else, anybody else. That is, Sanders. Some examples out of dozens: NYTimes, Salon, The Atlantic, LATimes, LATimes, LATimes. (The LATimes apparently really wants to be sure that none of those girl cooties stick to them.)

My mind reels at this stuff. I’m with Jill Filipovic. “Do ppl really not think that the first female pres would be a BIG DEAL?” And don’t try to tell me that it’s no different from first black or first Jew or first socialist or first candidate with curly hair. If they are male such people have been made leaders of countries dozens of times over. Women, on the other hand, not so much, and in the US of A, never. Never. N.E.V.E.R. Never.

Are so many people really that incapable of drawing the obvious conclusions from the obvious evidence? Somehow, I doubt it. That level of ignorance requires lots of work.

There’s a name for this situation:

1) We have a candidate with a list of accomplishments longer than a basketball player’s arms (both of them).

2) People say “Oh, that doesn’t count,” “Oh, those aren’t accomplishments,” “Oh, those aren’t her accomplishments.” ” She looks like somebody’s mom.” She is somebody’s mom. How uncool is that? Not like being a disheveled grandpa with big ideas.

Natasha Chart said it clearly. “This is a pressure that goes one way only. Men are cool, women aren’t — both are pushed to conform to stereotypical masculine norms. You know, if they want to be cool.”

The fact is, there is nothing Clinton can do that will be seen as right. She has boatloads of experience, so she’s part of the Establishment. If she had less experience, she’d be an airhead bimbo. If she’s ready for the cameras, she’s fake. If she has a hair out of place, she’s a wrinkled old fright. If she shows any military toughness, she’s a warmonger. If she didn’t, she’d be unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. If she makes money, she’s a shill. If she had no money, she’d be a loser. And on and on and on.

There’s a name for this, but nobody can say it out loud. It’s like that episode in Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty goosesteps around a party of Germans shouting “We won’t discuss the War!” Only in this case it’s a different war, which is ongoing and not funny yet. So it comes off more like pathetic climate change deniers sleepwalking their stupidity into disaster.

I saw a comment recently saying “When Hillary finds yet another way to lose,” and it went on from there. No, buster. When you’ve torn Hillary down enough to destroy her, you’ll land us all with the toxic two bit rabblerousers frontrunning on the other side. In a country with as much power as the USA, that will be bad.

Peter Daou said it best in an article on Hillary and the rage of straight white males.

You can’t stop a wild mob that wants to “burn the witch,” a mob that wants to dehumanize and degrade a woman, that wants to strip her of her dignity. It’s an impulse as old as humanity.

And it’s a monstrous thing to behold.

We will see if the inexorable transformation of the American populace will endure a dangerous setback with a President Trump or Cruz. Democrats must do everything in their power to prevent that outcome.

In that grave context, demolishing the public image of a leading Democratic candidate is unimaginably reckless.

But what about all this we hear how she has no support among the young, among young women? Surely, young women haven’t absorbed any messages about who’s cool and who’s old school? If they don’t support her it can’t be the bigotry-which-must-not-be-named. At least the media seem to desperately hope so.

So, what does explain the absence of the young? There certainly is a problem, but it’s not coming from Hillary. It’s coming from having fifty, sixty, seventy years of your life yet to live, from just starting out, from being incapable of seeing what you’re in for without being crushed. It’s a survival instinct. At the age of twenty five you may not yet have been kicked all the way to hell and back.

You’ve felt the crushing weight of sexism and misogyny, that starts before you can talk. You’ve dealt with the boys bullying, and the fathers putting a premium on pretty, and the street harassment, and all the instructions about how not to get raped even though you’re not at all in any way actually the perp, and you know the world isn’t for you and you better be invisible and hope some guy gives you shelter from the storm.

All that is already more than any human being can stand. Very few can face it squarely at any age. Most people cringe away from it, try to tell themselves that what it obviously means is not what it means. It’s just an accident. It’s isolated. It’s nothing to do with you.

But if you’re going to get excited about a female candidate for President, you have to acknowledge that there really have not been very many. You have to notice that there have been 44 of these people and not a single woman. That’s kind of high for just an accidental concatenation of circumstances. You’ll have to notice that the deck is stacked against you. What you’ve dealt with so far, all the stuff that’s so bad you can’t even look at it, is just the beginning. You’ll have to see that it doesn’t get better. It gets worse.

And people wonder why young women can’t bring themselves to celebrate Hillary Clinton.

But none of this can be mentioned. Instead let’s try to pretend that the pain of sexism, the damage it does to women, the amputations of humanity it causes in men, the crushed children, never have to be faced. We’re talking about people’s loves and families here. This hits everybody right in the heart. Unlike racism or homophobia or antisemitism, you can’t get some relief by living among your own kind. Nobody wants to do open heart surgery on their souls. Especially since there’s no anesthetic for it.

If you can’t even speak the name of the real problem, you’re reduced to coming up with cockamamie explanations such as that Clinton has some wrinkles, or she’s too reasonable, or too practical, or not exciting, or has too many pantsuits.

The problem isn’t pantsuits. The problem is the unbearable unmentionable burden which must be carried with an effortless smile. Once you see it, there’s no way to un-see it. Which is why it’s really really really important to look the other way.

The strange thing isn’t that young women are in denial. The strange thing is the unimaginably reckless refusal to face their own prejudices among all the people and pundits and thinkers and journalists and writers who are old enough to know better.

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Congressmen should have at least room temperature IQ

Now I’ve heard everything. I know. This is an Idaho state rep. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not fit to empty bedpans, let alone make decisions that will wind up killing women.

This nincompoopery happened during hearings about an anti-abortion bill.

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

I mean, ‘s obvious, right? Unlike men, who are known to have stomachs and lungs and hearts somewhere in their bodies, women are just bags for incubating fetuses. No doubt he’s also convinced they can get pregnant from oral sex.

Could we please have qualification exams for Congressmen? You know, they have to be able to spell their own names, know which end is their ass, stuff like that.

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Just sayin

In an article about a scientific study of effective screen names for online dating sites, this minor point:

And would-be daters should take gender into consideration: men are more drawn to names that indicate physical attractiveness, such as ‘Blondie’ or ‘Cutie’ while women go for names that signal intelligence, such as ‘Cultured.’

Now, humans obviously think humans are very beautiful, but honestly in competition with something like this:

Spatule-tailed hummingbird

Dubi Shapiro

we’re nowhere.

On the other hand, the thing we’re most impressed with about ourselves is this:

brains of different primates from humans to squirrel monkeys and one rodent, a capybara



The inescapable conclusion is that the big decisions must be left to women if humans want to continue evolving intelligently. (That, or sexism hasn’t done men’s brains any good.)

Just sayin.

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Violence is amusing. Truth is awful.

Once upon a time, the internet was about the free and open exchange of information. Really. I was there at the beginning. (Oh, sure, there were flame wars, but, for some geeky value of humor, their point in the beginning was to be more clever than the next person. Not more vile.)

Now — many many years now — men desperate to dump on women and to justify dumping on women have invaded the internet.

One small corner of the avalanche of garbage has unfolded recently. A woman who has depression thought she’d write a game that lets the player live for a while in that world. The idea was that Depression Quest could both help nondepressives understand and help others think in terms of how to deal with it.

So far, so good. Nothing to object to there, you say.

Au contraire. A firestorm of hatred burst loose at Zoe Quinn for having the gall to write a video game. Or something. What clearly bothers these subhumans is her being a woman because the abuse is aimed at that fact in hate crime ways. This has been going on over a year. The authorities can’t be bothered to stop it because “it’s just a prank.” Because “ignore it.” Because they don’t care. It’s only women being hurt. Not real people like airplane passengers.

Okay, fast forward to now when I happen to see a New Yorker article on this topic. And there is something so jawdropping, so shocking, so unimaginable (to me) that I have to say something.

Some of the hatred directed at Quinn has come from video-game enthusiasts who think that the darker themes are not suitable for video games, which they believe should be playful and primarily focussed on entertaining.

These are the players of Doom, where there’s nothing to do but shoot to kill. They play Call of Duty, where there’s lots of killing. They play Grand Theft Auto, where women are cum dumps suitable for killing. Assassin’s Creed, Diablo #-whatever, Wolfenstein, the list goes on forever.

And these are the people calling Depression Quest, a game where the player has to decide whether to get out of bed or not, too serious?

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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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