Interesting State Supreme Court Ruling

The news story is here, but in summary, Rosa Acuna asked for, and was given an abortion in 1996. She later tried to sue her obstetrician for not informing her that the seven week fetus she was carying was “a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being”, or that since it was an existing human being abortion would be murder. This has passed through courts since then, and the New Jersey State Supreme Court has just made the following ruling:-

“We do not find that the common law commands a physician to inform a pregnant patient that an embryo is an existing, living human being and that an abortion results in the killing of a family member”.

It’s beyond me why anyone would think to bring such a case, but at least there is some sense in the decision.

Advertising to Men

Following the earlier post and discussion on affirmative action for male feminists I thought I would post this piece of advertising aimed at men, since I think it raises something about the experience of being a man that is of interest to feminism.

Scruffs Advert

This product is directed at construction workers, the kind that stereo-typically wolf-whistle and leer at women. One of the things I think is interesting is that just as advertising aimed at women (of the kind mentioned here) seems to make women view themselves in terms of their appearance and attractiveness to men, this kind of advertising does something similarly unhelpful.

First, and obviously, it helps to impose a male only exclusivity on the construction industry. Second, it helps define maleness and male sexuality as tough, and aggresive (“banging”, “drilling”). And thirdly, I would say it suggests something to men about how to view who (or even what) they have sex with. Banging, Screwing, Drilling are activities that we go around doing to things. When we draw a connection between this and sex, then sex is just something men go around doing to things. You can see where I’m going with all this – maybe this is the way men are taught to objectify women, maybe just as women are subject to the male gaze and self-police, perhaps men are subject to a continued checking of their masculinity and self-police their activities towards women, and so on. Anyway, I just thought this kind of advertising towards men was an instance of why certain male experiences are relevant and interesting to feminism.

Please Sponsor My Surgery

Following Monkey’s post on websites for dating Rich Men , I thought this was kind of interesting. Should a women want breast implants (and why wouldn’t she?), all she needs to do is find a “benefactor” at Myfreeimplants, offer to send him photos, personal gifts(and something which is mysteriously refered to as “and more….”) and he’ll send her money towards helping correct what nature got wrong first time around. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (or BAAPS – honestly) doesn’t approve of this apparently. Erm… what more to say about this?

Police Campaign on Genital Mutilation

Here’s a report from the BBC about the Metropolitan Police’s new Campaign to counteract female genital mutilation. They are offering a £20,000 reward for information which leads to a convictions for female genital mutilation. Apparently, they’ve timed the campaign to coincide with the school summer holidays since this is the time when it happens most – they suggest as many as 7000 girls in the U.K. are at risk.

New Women Drs Out number Men

Here’s an interesting one. Women make up 58% of the 2006 graduate class of medical Drs in the U.K., according to UCAS. The BBC has a report here, and the British Medical Association’s press release is here. Superficially, this seems like a good thing, but the BMA have surveryed what they take to be a representative sample of this graduate class and found that one in five of the female Drs expect to work part-time for most of their career (only one in twenty five male Drs had this expectation). Also, 80% of these female Drs expect to take a career break at some point, this is compared to 50% of male Drs. In the NHS which has “all or nothing” training contracts and inflexible attitudes to working practice, this can pose a problem for women.

From the BMA press release, it is not made clear why female Drs expect to take career breaks or work part-time for most of their working lives, but, I suspect it has something to do with women still being primary care givers and taking most responsibility for domestic work in the home. Indeed, the BBC report has an interview with someone who suggests this is precisely the reason. If that’s the case, this is interesting in that it shows then even when women come to make up the majority of an important and well regarded profession, they still have to manage their careers in expectation of conforming to socialised gender roles.

The BMA’s response is interesting in that it recognises a potential problem and calls for greater flexibility in training times and NHS working hours. But, as many people know, working part-time can have a detremental effect on people’s careers, and is often seen as a lack of commitment to the job. (chapter one of Jennifer Saul’s Feminism: Issues and Arguments, and Joan Williams’ Unbending Gender have some good discussion on this). In fairness to the BMA, they do say that the need for flexibility is about more than catering for the increased number of women, but all the same, I think something other than a call for part-time hours is needed if we don’t want newly qualified female drs to suffer in the long run.

Internet Porn Wrecks Aussie Marriages

Here’s an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the effect of online pornography on relationships. The Herald looked at academic articles, previous surveys on internet porn use, and conducted a survey of its own. The results are intriguing, and relevent to feminist discussions of pornography. I’ll mention just one though:

According to the survey, where men used lots of internet pornography, the depictions of sexual interaction very soon come to “inform” the couple’s sexual practices. To pull a quote from one interviewee: “It [sex] became more ‘porn’ style – pulling my hair, no kissing, slapping around a bit, all stuff I was initially OK with. And always he wanted to come in my face. There was no real intimacy, no thought about what I might like.”

Having taught Rae Langton and Jen Hornsby’s uses of Speech Act theory, students are often sceptical that the authority felicity condition for subordination can be met – that is, they doubt the claim that porn has authority in informing male notions of sex and sexuality. At best, they think it has only a moderate influence, and even then, only over teenage boys who very quickly drop ‘porn’ style ideas about sex.

It seems to me that this article says lots to undermine that scepticism – and it even refers to connections between the increase in the pornography’s depiction of anal sex and ordinary demand for it drawn in Haggstrom-Nordin, Hanson, and Tyden’s  (2005) paper “Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden” – The International Journal of STD and AIDS. Vol16, No 2. 102-107. (As a matter of fact, Elisabet Haggstrom-Nordin’s work on pornography and sexual practices are often good for empirical sources).

Glass Ceiling in the Ivory Tower?

Regarding Stoat’s earlier post On Women in Philosophy and Jender’s earlier post on Critical Mass, I thought this article drawing attention to some recent HESA statistics was interesting. It seems that the numbers of female academics in British Universities has risen slightly. However, the interesting bit:

1) 42% of F/T Lecturer level posts (Assistant Professorships) are held by females.

2) 30.8% of F/T Senior Lecturer level posts (Associate Professorships) are held by females.

3) 16.5% of F/T Professorial posts are held by females.

Assuming, from the Critical Mass article, that what holds for business environments holds for academic ones too, then, although female Senior Lectureships meet (just) the critical mass requirement, I’d expect the need to meet the 30% level is really at the Professorial level. In which case, the 16.5% stat is a bit concerning.

No means no

The NSPCC and Sugar magazine have conducted an online survey on teenage girls unwanted sexual experiences. I can’t find the survey details (they were printed in Sugar magazine last week) but the NSPCC press release with details is here. Highlights (if you could call them that) are:

45% of teenage girls have had their bottoms or breasts groped against their will.

56% of unwanted sexual experiences occurred for the first time when the recipient was under (yes under) 14. (30% aged 12 or under, 26% aged 13).

44% were made to feel guilty for saying ‘no’.

Check out the rest of the statistics, including 51% felt as though the incident was at least partly their fault, and 7% thought there were some reasons for forcing a girl.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting because I find that students often respond to articles about sexual harassment or the silencing effect of pornography etc, by saying “well, girls are more assertive and in control nowadays, this article was probably right in the seventies, but things are different now”. Indeed, I’ve heard students raise the age of the statistics used by Rae Langton in “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” as a reason for maybe rejecting Langton’s argument. If this survey is right, “no” isn’t any closer to meaning no now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

Discriminatory Beliefs and HIV/AIDs

An interesting report from Physicians for Human Rights(pdf here) draws connections between the discriminatory beliefs held against women in Swaziland and Botswana and the high vulnerability to HIV/AIDS that these women seem to have (e.g. 75% of all Sub-Saharan HIV victims in the 15-25 age range are female).

There are lots of factors involved but a lack of control over sexual decision making, and legal and social gender discrimination leading to sexual risk taking seem to factor large in PHR’s study. To quote:

“Interviews indicated that many HIV-positive women are forced to engage in risky sex with men in exchange for food for themselves and their children. As one interviewee put it, “Woman are having sex because they are hungry. If you give them food, they would not need to have sex to eat.” ”

The whole report makes very interesting reading, but what is especially interesting is that PHR take the solution to the HIV/AIDS problem in Swaziland and Botswana to hinge on greater rights and equality for women. If women have more say over sexual decisions they can assert a desire to use barrier contraception. And with legally protected property rights etc. there will be no begging for food and shelter with its accompanying vulnerability.

I think this is interesting because it gives a nice case for questions about cultural relativity, and especially for stretching any intuition we might have in favour of leaving other cultures unquestioned. Here is a case where regardless of how we, as westerners, mis-read other cultural traditions, introducing legal rights and increased social standing for women looks as though it would alleviate a huge health problem.