Monthly Archives: November 2009

On Scientific Journalism; or, How to Make Any Study Sound Like a Sexist Pile of Crap

Against my better judgement, I still occasionally read Digg. And in doing so, I sometimes come across stuff like this: Studies Suggest Males Have More Personality. Apparently, according to research conducted at the University of Exeter, “males have more pronounced personalities than females across a range of species”.

On Digg, of course, this was met with almost unanimous agreement (or, more specifically, 300 or so posts saying “Women are all the same!!! Their only personality trait is that they are bitches!!! They have no interests except shopping!!! My ex wife took the kids!!!”) and very attention paid to the fact that this isn’t what the study was actually about.

What it actually showed is that apparently “in most species males show more consistent, predictable behaviours, particularly in relation to parental care, aggression and risk-taking. Females, on the other hand, are more likely to vary their behaviour.” I don’t know if I buy it, but at least it sounds like the product of an actual scientific inquiry. On the other hand, I fail to see how that could possibly mean that males have “more” personality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the two ideas are completely unrelated since, you know, personality isn’t exactly something that can be quantified anyway.

I guess my feeble lady mind is just unable to comprehend the complexity of this “less variation = more personality” equation. I guess I’d better go back to selecting my mate based on the consistency of their exploratory behavi-OH WAIT I FORGOT HUMANS ARE NOT ZEBRA FINCHES. Maybe we should start explaining our behaviour through a range of social and psychological factors instead of some essentialist misappropriation of Darwin?


Physics, History, and the Privilege of Geekdom

Instead of working on my grad school application (almost started) and/or grant application (which will probably have to consist of more than just “Dear Canadian government, please give me money”) here is a post about why I probably shouldn’t go to grad school at all!

This excellent article by Nicole Ackerman is about women in physics, which is pretty much the exact opposite of every field I’ve ever been remotely involved with, but a lot of it sounds disturbingly familiar. Mostly it confirms many of the things that I’ve suspected since I decided to pursue an academic career: that as a woman in a male-dominated field (and are there any disciplines that aren’t male-dominated? Other than gender studies, maybe, I can’t think of any) I’m going to have to work twice as hard to get half the credit, yet somehow if I don’t succeed, it will be because I’ve got the wrong priorities, or I’m not dedicated, or I’m just not smart enough, goddamnit.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009

As anyone who reads this blog probably knows, today is the 11th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Although I am by no means an expert on trans issues, what little I do know has made it clear that this is something that really, really matters. This year alone, more than 160 people, that we know of, and most likely many more, were murdered because they did not conform to the gender binary. Many of these murders were never solved, or never resulted in a conviction, and the cycle of violence shows no sign of stopping. The “trans panic” defense is still perceived by many as legitimate. Trans and gender-nonconforming people are often treated as subhuman, their very existence seen as a joke, and their gender identity ignored (usually through the use of incorrect pronouns, or, even more horrifically, the word “it”) in the media, even in the coverage of their murders. This is not acceptable. We, as human beings, should understand that this is not acceptable, yet transphobia continues to be ubiquitous. The internet is rife with casually transphobic comments. We are told not to take these things seriously, but the fact is that, by constantly dehumanizing trans people and treating them as objects of ridicule rather than human beings deserving of respect, we contribute to the idea that some lives are worth more than others; that people who conform to an arbitrary gender binary are somehow more human, more valuable.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m no expert, and everything that I’ve written so far is a purely emotional reaction to the things I’ve read today and over this past year. Feministing, Questioning Transphobia,, and a number of other blogs have more coherent postings and useful information than I can provide here. I would, however, like to highlight some of the Transgender Day of Remembrance events going on in Toronto today.

At the University of Toronto, anyone is welcome to help build an installation art piece outside Sidney Smith Hall, at 100 St. George, between noon and 2PM. A moment of silence will be held at 1PM. Work on the installation will continue at the Centre for Women and Trans people (at 563 Spadina Ave.) from 2-4.

George Brown College will also be hosting an event from noon to 1PM, at 200 King St. East, fifth floor.

The 519 Church Street Community Centre will be holding an event at 7PM that will feature performances, readings of names, and a moment of silence.

There are many other events being held, all over the world. Please take the time to attend one, if you can, and to spread awareness to others about this day and what it means.

An Introduction

Initially, when I decided to start this blog, I thought I might just jump right in with the Serious Issues. That seems to be taking a bit longer than I thought, so in lieu of actually posting about something I thought I might take the time to (briefly) introduce myself.

So, hello. My name is Brett, after Lady Brett Ashley from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (whom my mother, bizarrely, thought would be a good role model for some reason). I am, as the blog’s title suggests, a geek. Specifically, a history geek. And a queer feminist sex-positive social justice geek, if there is such a thing. I spent four years studying history at the University of Toronto, with a focus on gender and popular culture in late eighteenth-century France. Weirdly specific, I know. I also spent a significant portion of those four years either watching television or reading feminist blogs. And I don’t know if it was the blogs, or the eighteenth-century pamphlets, but at some point I realized that I hold Strong Feminist Views, and that I’d better do something about that.

I finished school in June, and have since been working a number of jobs usually with either the circus or the government, while trying to figure out whether I can afford to go to grad school next year. Since most of my writing over the past few years has been academic, this has left me with little to write about, and I’ve missed it. This blog is in part a cure for boredom, and in part an attempt to find a sort of middle ground between my two favourite preoccupations. It will, I hope, allow me to address feminism and other social justice issues with the historical perspective that I feel the blogosphere often lacks, as well as lending me a bit more flexibility in exploring my own ideas than I would get in academia.

Among the broader topics I hope to cover are gender in academia, eighteenth-century feminisms (and possibly feminism in other centuries, though I can’t promise that), the social construction of gender, race and sexuality in different historical periods, my own attempts to get into (and hopefully succeed in) grad school, and Battlestar Galactica. Because Battlestar Galactica is awesome.

Before I end this post, I also want to add a bit of a disclaimer: I understand that I am, in many ways, speaking from a position of privilege. I also understand that, having come from from sort of an odd background (more on that later) and having been part of a traditionally white, male-dominated and middle-class discipline, I will probably lack the perspective that many other writers and bloggers have, and I will often get things wrong. I hope that this blog will help me become aware of my own misconceptions, and I therefore welcome discussion and constructive criticism in the comments. I just ask that commenters be respectful of me (when I deserve it) and of each other, and I will try to do the same.