Archive for August, 2006

Sage got me. Here are my answers for the Book Meme.

1. One book that changed your life?

Changed my life? Hmmm. I’m gonna say, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. That book really touched me, very deeply. I loved it. Second, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. She is such a beautiful writer, beautiful woman.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Besides the above, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende is my most favourite book. I can’t say how many times I”ve read that one.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I’d probably take Will to Power by Freiderich Nietzsche. Or maybe, The Tao Te Ching (Lao-Tze). I do get great peace and solace from that book. Or maybe The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran? Or some poetry, perhaps a compiled works of Pablo Neruda, complete with English translations, and then I could learn some Spanish while I was deserted! You never know who might come to rescue you!

4. One book that made you laugh?

Immediately I knew tha answer to this one – The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van – a trilogy of books by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. His writing is SO funny! It makes me laugh out loud!

5. One book that made you cry?

Aw, easy peasy. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. What a story! A bit fantastical, but I loved the romance. Broke my heart.

6. One book you wish had been written?

How To Solve All the World’s Problems in a Single Day!

7. One book you wish had never been written?

The Bible. The Qu’ran. The Torah. The Rules.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Right now I”m knee deep in empowerment and development theory, but for pleasure I’m reading Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. It’s a bit broken, but I think it might tie together soon. We’ll see.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Well, they’re all piled up neatly on my coffee table, and in my bedroom on the window ledge, and on my microwave, and on my nightstand. Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond. The End of Faith, by Sam Harris. The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamont. More Marx. More Foucault. More Nietzsche. More Camus. More Butler.

10. Now tag five people.

OK, folks, your turn. I tag: Marc Andre, L>T, Mike, Karenology, and Mister P!

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new skin

Hey all,

I’ve been in the market for a new template (WordPress calls ’em “themes”) for a little while now, and I decided I’d take some time to find one I could customize. I’ll try it out for a while and see how I like it, and, how you like it. What do you think?

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This week’s post is in response to Mike‘s request for a discussion about women in math and science careers. Mike said, “women in math and science careers – or how young girls meet or exceed the achievement of young boys in this area – but at a certain point, the % of girls in advanced classes drop off.” 

He also asked what the reasons might be for “the lack of young men going to college… women outnumber men at most colleges… it is especially dramatic for minority groups.”

OK… well, I admittedly don’t know too much about this topic, so I had to do some research. I found a few great sites dedicated to women in math and science careers, some of which provided some stats that clearly show there are far more men than women in math and science – as well as far more whites than people of other races. This site shows stats for the top 50 schools in the US and the diversity in their math and science faculties. The highest % of women was to be found in the psychology department, at 60%. The lowest % of women were found in electrical engineering programs, at 6.5%, followed by physics at 6.6%, mechanical engineering at 6.7%, and math and statistics at 8.3%. These are teaching faculty. White people were most populous in these faculties, followed closely by those of Asian descent, then Black, then Hispanic. The measliest, saddest numbers showed the % of Native Americans teaching at universities.  Another site gave some interesting facts about women and  technology, for example that women tend toward classes on the low end of technology like data entry, that parents tend to buy computers for boy children rather than girl children, and that women’s participation in computer science programs at university is one of the few that have declined over time – despite the fact that women make up 56% of university students in total – scary when 75% of jobs require computer skills.

Does anyone remember a few months ago when Harvard University President Lawrence Summers made the wild claim that men perform better in high level math and science due to genetics? (Sexist jackass.) Well, Harvard psychology prof Elizabeth Spelke decided she would tackle his ridiculous claim with some actual research, and published a study in which she found there were NO differences between male and female babies, children, and adults in terms of cognitive capabilities and aptitude in mathematical and scientific reasoning. And, jumping on the band-wagon to rebut Dr. Spelke was Steven Pinker, noted cognitive scientist and fellow professor at Harvard in the field of language acquisition in children. (I’ve studied his work thrice in my philoosphy studies: in my cognitive science class, in my philosophy of mind class, and in my philosophy of language class. I did’nt find his work too bad to understand – unlike others I studied in those classes!) The two held a joint debate, outlined online at The Edge. It’s long, but the jist of it is that Pinker takes a “nature” line of argument and Spelke takes a “nurture” line of argument.

All of Pinker’s points about “biological” differences between men and women have, in my mind (and Spelke’s), a sociological explanation. For example, Pinker says that men have different motivations than do women: men are more motivated by status than by family. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will probably be able to predict my response to that point – this has nothing to do with biology. Come on! Women are taught from childhood to care for other people, and men are taught that they must be providers. Is this difference in priorities really surprising?

In any case, my analysis of why there are fewer women in high-level math and science careers is that women are not encouraged and directed towards these classes from a rather early age, and not necessarily by their teachers, but by the world around them. We are bombarded with images of women and what kind of value they have to society, which basically amounts to looking pretty and having babies. Even when we are encouraged by teachers, and by parents, the message is loud and clear that women have a place and it doesn’t include a whole lot of abstract thinking, number-crunching, or laboratory experiments. We don’t have great images of women making important scientific discoveries, or building amazing structures that are feats of engineering, or solving notoriously difficult mathematical problems. We have images of starving blonde dummies whose main function in life is shopping and applying lip gloss while living off the money earned by a man. Even if a woman perseveres through these crappy societal images, and takes the higher-level math and science classes, she is likely to be in a very substantial minority in those classes, she is less likely to be hired after her education is completed, she will be paid less, and she is still subjected to societal pressures like being the primary care-giver for her family and putting her career on hold – which won’t be that difficult a choice since she is the only woman in her workplace and she earns WAY less money than her husband/partner.

I’m with Spelke. I don’t think there are significant statistical differences in the cognitive abilities of women and men. I do think there are significant differences in the ways men and women are encouraged to think. This is backed up by a study at U of Michigan, which suggests that women tend to choose careers based on their values more than on their skills.

Now, the second part of Mike’s question: why are there fewer men attending university than women?

Well, there are more women earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but there are more men earning PhD’s. (Could this be because when women get to PhD-age, they start having babies and abandon their studies?) This report puts things in perspective a bit – there isn’t exactly a crisis in boys’ education going on. Christina Hoff Sommers, a feminist philosopher, has suggested that society is encouraging greater aggression and less academia in boys. Maybe less boys are going on to post-secondary educations because they are getting recruited into the military right in their own high schools.

My last point is that girls and boys of non-white racial descent and those of disadvantaged economic means are not making it to university to study any subject. University is increasingly expensive, and student loans are harder to get. Scholarship programs are extremely competitive. Kids who grow up in economically depressed areas have poorer educational opportunities. And poverty is extremely racialized and feminized in all societies; in ours, the worst off are our Native populations, whom we generally treat disgracefully. This is a major problem that needs serious attention.

Mike, I hope you enjoyed this post, and thanks for the inspiration – it was a really interesting subject to look into!

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OK, so I suppose most everyone (in North America, at least) has heard about Mel Gibson and his arrest over the weekend for driving while intoxicated, during which he apparently dislodged a litany of anti-Semitic slurs to the officers who arrested him. He has since apologized TWICE in three days, and he swears he is in alcohol-rehabilitation and that he is most definitely NOT an anti-Semite.

Hmmmm. Normally, people who aren’t anti-Semitic don’t hurl such slurs at police officers, even while drunk. Ever heard of in vino, veritas? I don’t think being drunk is a good excuse for being racist. You’re either drunk, or you’re a drunk racist.

This isn’t the first time ol’ Mel has been accused of being anti-Semitic – his blockbuster 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ was targetted as anti-Semitic for depicting Jews as the killers of Jesus. Well, I don’t know about y’all other christian-raised folks out there, but that sure as hell is exactly what I was taught in Sunday School! So, if it’s a *true* piece of history (which I’m not saying it is, agnostic as I am even about Jesus’ LIFE much less his death), is it anti-Semitic to point out something that is an unflattering truth? Bummer for Mel, who was gaining a bit of backup from the christians who supported his movie for their own reasons, his papa spoke out not long after the movie was released, saying that the Holocaust was a big fat piece of fiction. Sucky timing.
Now, I read that Mel wants to meet with leaders of the Jewish community to find a way to heal after his racist statements. !!! I mean, how much bigger can one man’s ego get? Why on earth would leaders of the Jewish community want to meet with Mel Gibson after he spewed all that hatred about Jews? Mel is clearly trying desperately to hang onto his career and his reputation for being a “good guy.” Why should leaders of a community he has expressed hatred for want to help him improve his public image?  Talk about white male privilege.
So, point #1: just because you were drunk, doesn’t let you off the hook for being an anti-Semite. Sorry, Mel.

Which brings me to the current war in Lebanon. I’ve been quiet about this so far, but I’ve been seething inside, believe me. I don’t think Israel has any right to be in Lebanon blowing shit up. Last I checked, it was the Palestinians who got the shitty end of the stick with the creation of Israel out of already-occupied land in the Middle East after WWII. I know it’s a lot more complicated than that, but for crying out loud, what the heck is Israel doing in Lebanon NOW?

So, does the fact that I am critical of Israel make me an anti-Semite? Ummmm, no. Criticising a country’s politics doesn’t mean you hate the people from that country – or their descendents – and it doesn’t mean that you’re a racist. I am pretty critical of the US most of the time. Does that mean I hate all americans? No. Of course not. THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS.

Point #2: it is possible to criticize Israel and NOT be an anti-Semite. For the record.

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new favourite thing

So, my new favourite thing is this cool feature that WordPress offers to show you how people are getting to your blog. It shows you the various links people clicked on to find your blog. Mostly, they come from websites where I’ve commented, or where people have posted a link to my site in their blogroll (some of whom I don’t know at all who are obviously reading but not commenting (don’t be shy, drop me a line!), which always surprises me, but I’m very grateful and offer my sincere thanks! Thanks everyone!) This feature also shows you which posts got the most traffic each day, and the overall traffic your blog received during the last month. I’m shocked – SHOCKED – to discover that several hundred people read my blog each day. Who knew? Amazing.

I’ve been really rather surprised to see what kinds of things people are plugging into Google in order to reach my site. Some of the search terms that bring up my blog are really interesting – like the other day, one search for “how to stop dreams of infidelity” led to my blog, to a post I wrote about dreams. Neat. Then there are all the porn-related searches that bring up my blog, because I write about a lot of feminist issues dealing with embodiment and sexuality. I’m not what they are expecting to find, no doubt!

The newfound obsession I have with checking my blog stats has led me to the discovery of a translation service offered by Google. I clicked on one of the links someone had used to get to my site, and I was blown away when it loaded as a complete French translation of a post I wrote last month or so about female genital mutilation! It’s the coolest thing! And what a great way for me to learn more French – seeing my own words translated, so I know the intention and context behind them! And by the way, it translated all your comments, too!
Anyway, I don’t know if Blogger has a similar service, I don’t remember one, but I thought I’d share a neat thing I learned and am finding very fun and addictive about switching to WordPress.

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