Barefoot and pregnant?

Well, in prehistoric times we weren’t wearing shoes and we – women at least – were getting pregnant a lot, one suspects.  So…

So what?  Well, a new version of the argument that we should be bearfoot and pregnant is in the forthcoming Scientific American Mind.  You can see a free preview, but here are, as they say, the key concepts:

  • Rates of depression have risen in recent decades, at the same time that people are enjoying time-saving conveniences such as microwave ovens, e-mail, prepared meals, and machines for washing clothes and mowing lawns.
  • People of earlier generations, whose lives were characterized by greater efforts just to survive, para­dox­ically, were mentally healthier. Human ancestors also evolved in conditions where hard physical work was nece­ssary to thrive.
  • By denying our brains the rewards that come from ­anticipating and executing complex tasks with our hands, the author argues, we undercut our mental well-being.
  • The  examples make it clear that the article is best read as about affluent Western countries, and the US particularly. 

    We nuke prepared dishes rather than growing our own food and machine-wash ready-made clothes rather than sewing and scrubbing.

    Machines for cutting the lawn also among the culprits.  So the idea is that we evolved to wash clothes by hand and hand-mow our lawns?  Hmmmmmm.  That doesn’t sound right.  The species closest to us evolutionarily wash their clothes in streams and hand-mow their lawns?  That’s not quite right either.  Chimps are out there slaving away?  Well, maybe but not in the pictures I’ve seen.

    The authors offer as evidence that you can get really zippy rats by making them forage for treats. 

    And they look at brain circuits which seem to link physical exertion with feelings of pleasure  and well beings.  OK, I’m actually quite a fan of that stuff, fMRI and all that, you know.  But they seem to have to recognize that for us at least the exertion should be significant and meaningful, as presumably for rats also, at least in their terms.  And that makes all the difference.  And that may be why quite early on the things that machines now do were not generally done by those in a society with the power to avoid them. 

    I think the bottom line is that meaningful exercise can add to your sense of well being.  And if you find mowing your lawn meaningful, go for it!  Why I remember how my father used to come in on Saturdays feeling  so happy from mowing…O, wait, that didn’t happen.  

    Well, I’m going to get my bowling partner organized.  We now have brain science on our side, in addition to just about every health guru on TV.  Or maybe find a good old-fashioned washing machine, so I can spend a day a week storing up good feelings.  I can remember how my mother felt so happy after using hers… O wait.  That didn’t happen either.

    No to Kaine

    Apparently Obama is seriously considering Tim Kaine as VP. He is the Democratic Governor of Virginia, a key swing state. His views on abortion were said in 2005 to “roughly in line” with those of George W. Bush. He’s really into anti-gay dogwhistles. He has expressed rather Bushie views on the Iraq war.

    We really shouldn’t have to point out to Obama why Kaine is a seriously bad idea. But if the rumours are right, we do have to do it. Here’s where to go.

    UN recognises rape as weapon of war

    The UN has finally acknowledged that rape is used as a weapon of war by voting unanimously in favour of a resolution to classify it as such. Rape has long been used as a means of terrorising and humiliating one’s enemies. It affects not just the people who are raped (most often women and girls), but also the communities to which they belong. Hurting someone is always a means of hurting their family and the wider community of which they are a member. But rape is particularly effective due at least partly to the way in which women and their sexuality are viewed. The norms governing women’s sexual behaviour are typically more stringent or more strictly enforced than those governing the sexual behaviour of heterosexual men. More significantly, deviance from these norms is often held to bring dishonour upon the entire community of which the woman is a part. This Amnesty article has more information about the use of rape as a war tactic. Here also is an article analysing the Rape of Berlin in 1945 and its connection with constructed gender identities. And here is the BBC news report on the UN resolution.

    It’s also worth remembering that women in war zones are not just at risk of rape from the warring factions, but also the peacekeepers sent to protect them. Here is an old Guardian report on the issue.

    “China’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge”

    Xiao Lu


    If you find the title above (from the NY Times) ominous, you’re right.  First of all, though, it is puzzling.   Why?  Because this is their first anecdote:

    On a February day in 1989, a young woman walked into a show at the National Gallery of Art here, whipped out a pellet gun and fired two shots into a mirrored sculpture in an exhibition called “China/Avant-Garde.” Police officers swarmed into the museum. The show, the country’s first government-sponsored exhibition of experimental art, was shut down for days.

    The woman, Xiao Lu, is an artist. The sculpture she fired on was her own, or rather a collaborative piece she had made with another artist, Tang Song, her boyfriend at the time.
    The international press saw a rebellion story. China’s political and cultural vanguard claimed a hero. The government reacted as if attacked. The renowned art critic Li Xianting has described the incident as a precursor to the Tiananmen Square crackdown four months later. Whatever the truth, Ms. Xiao made the history books. She was a star.

    That’s not exactly quiet, is it?
    In fact, the women artists are “emerging quietly” in so far as they are just not heard or seen:

    She is the first and last Chinese female artist so far to achieve that status. Contemporary art in China is a man’s world. While the art market, all but nonexistent in 1989, has become a powerhouse industry and produced a pantheon of multimillionaire artist-celebrities, there are no women in that pantheon.

    The new museums created to display contemporary art rarely give women solo shows. Among the hundreds of commercial galleries competing for attention in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere, art by women is hard to find.

    Yet the art is there, and it is some of the most innovative work around, even as visibility remains a problem.

    Rather like a long advertisement for the Olympics, the NY Times is discovering China these days.  Or perhaps it has become a primer for all those parties.  Still, many of its pieces are usefully interesting, and the one about artists is too, even if too much about their exclusion is dismally familiar.  The women are also all, it seems, ambivalent about feminism and what they see as a very Western slant to it.

    And the print above, in a private collection in China, will cost you between $25,000-$35,000.

    Trans toilets

    Sign for toiletsThere have been high profile cases on the matter of which toilets trans people should be able to use – see here, for instance.

    A solution from Thailand: the ‘third sex’ toilets. This link is to a short video, explaining why a school in Thailand introduced a toilet for those pupils who considered themselves transsexual. The pupil interviewed seems quite content with the set up.

    A model to be replicated? Or a risk of further marginalisation?

    Sexual harassment: without which the species would die out

    Wow. H/T Hilde Lindemann on the FEAST mailing list.

    “He always demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word,” she earlier told the court. “I didn’t realise at first that he wasn’t speaking metaphorically.”
    The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.
    “If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children,” the judge ruled.

    Since Soviet times, sexual harassment in Russia has become an accepted part of life in the office, work place and university lecture room.
    According to a recent survey, 100 per cent of female professionals said they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their bosses, 32 per cent said they had had intercourse with them at least once and another seven per cent claimed to have been raped.
    Eighty per cent of those who participated in the survey said they did not believe it possible to win promotion without engaging in sexual relations with their male superiors.

    To hold the judge’s view, you’d have to think (among other things) that no woman would willingly have sex with a man. One can only surmise that, rather unsurprisingly, this has been his experience.

    LaVena Johnson

    It’s been shamefully long time since I mentioned LaVena Johnson, the soldier whose apparent rape and murder seems to have been the subject of quite a cover-up. I’m mentioning it again now because there’s a petition to sign. But it’s also worth noting, as Cara does, just how slow both civil rights and women’s organisations have been to join this fight.

    Obama, McCain and Ageism

    Despite being an Obama supporter, I criticised him for the sexist dogwhistles he used against Clinton, as he talked about her “periodically… feeling down”. Now he’s talking about McCain being “confused” and “angry”, which arguably are ageist dogwhistles. What do you think about these? I find myself wanting to say that when McCain gets facts wrong there’s nothing problematic in calling him “confused”, or that when he acts angry it’s fine to call him “angry”. But I worry that partisan loyalties may be muddying my thinking on this.

    UK Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health

    Stonewall’s report on this important topic is out. Here are their key recommendations to the NHS:

    1. Understand lesbian health needs:
    Only one in ten lesbian and bisexual women said that healthcare workers have given them information relevant to their health care needs.
    2. Train staff:
    Only three in ten lesbian and bisexual women said healthcare workers did not make inappropriate comments about their sexual orientation.
    3. Don’t make assumptions:
    Two in five lesbian and bisexual women said that in the last year healthcare workers had assumed they were heterosexual.
    4. Explicit policies:
    Only one in eleven say that their GP surgery displayed non-discriminatory policy.
    5. Tell lesbians what they need to know:
    Three quarters of lesbian and bisexual women think they are not at risk from sexually transmitted infections.
    6. Improve monitoring:
    One in ten lesbian and bisexual women stated that when they did come out to a healthcare worker they were either ignored, or the healthcare worker continued to assume they were heterosexual.
    7. Increase visibility:
    Half of young lesbian and bisexual women have self-harmed in the last year. Increased visibility of lesbian and bisexual women will help improve self-esteem and morale.
    8. Make confidentiality policies clear:
    One in eight lesbian and bisexual women are not sure what their GP’s policy is on confidentiality.
    9. Make complaints procedures clear:
    Half of lesbian and bisexual women have had a negative experience in the health sector in the last year.
    10. Develop tailored services:
    Only two per cent of lesbian and bisexual women have attended a service tailored towards their needs.

    Lots here that seems to me of interest to those interested in issues at the intersection of politics and epistemology: the importance of not making false assumptions based on prevailing norms, the importance of actively working to facilitate communication on sensitive matters, the importance of actively combatting dangerous false beliefs, the importance of knowing what information is relevant. And yes, put in these terms this stuff is not just about lesbians and bisexuals. These are good general practices, but the particular case of lesbians and bisexuals helps to make clear their importance. (Thanks, Heg!)