Sunday, July 12, 2015

Racism, Sexism, and the art of being easily offended


I feel sorry for, and find it difficult to empathise with, people who are so small minded that they attack the physical and gender characteristics of others. I recently read this article about Serena Williams, and I was a little dissapointed.  I think articles like this do more harm than good.

The article is overly sensitive, and goes too far in applying the label of racist and sexist to people and actions that may very well not be sexist or racist. (This excludes, and certainly doesn't deny, the clear cases of actual sexism and racism, which do exist. I am very aware of the problems of real racism and unfair discrimination.).

In the article, comparing Serena to a gorilla is seen as being racist.  And yet if you look at a gorilla, the only trait she shares with it is incredible power, strength and agility.  Serena has incredible power and strength.  Comparing someone to an animal is only an insult when it is an insult.  Often times, comparing a person to an animal is a compliment.  Eldrick Woods doesn't seem to mind being called "Tiger", Jake LaMotta didn't mind "Bull", Usain Bolt is "The Beast", Gabby Douglas is "The Flying Squirrel", Michael Gro(ss) is "The Albatross".

Gorillas are STRONG, FAST and INTELLIGENT in what they do.  Doesn't that sound like Serena? SHouldn't gorilla be an OK nickname?  Or is it a no-no because it's too masculine for a woman?  Maybe we should get upset about Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala - which is probably not masculine enough.

As to being upset because of her savage (very great; severe) strokes - "Ferocious" Fernando Vargas didn't seem to mind his nickname.  Does savage sound insulting and wrong?  More insulting than Pac-Man (Manny Pacquaio)?  I guess if you're overly sensitive, sure.  Otherwise not.

Ultimately, we as a society need to combat racism and sexism.  But we do not do that by trying to be politically correct or overly sensitive.  Nicknames and comparisons are never 100% accurate, and some of them may have insulting alternate meanings.  So what?  Do "The Rock" or "The Mountain" complain about their nicknames because of all the possible negative meanings of "rock" and "mountain"?

Let's stop worrying about the small things.  recognising race, gender and other characteristics is not racist or sexist or discriminatory.  Calling a black guy a black guy is no more an insult than calling a white guy a white guy. Treating people unfairly because of their race, gender, etc... - that is racist and sexist, and so forth.

If we let the little things upset and offend us, the water becomes cloudy and murky, and it's difficult to separate the real problems from mistakes and innocent banter.  If we stop being offended by things that are not really offensive, it will make it that much easier to identify and address the real problem - unfair discrimination.  And when the problem is clear and highlighted, it is a while lot easier to get rid of.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rape and talking to men


"I don't think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there with prevention." - Zerlina Maxwell, 2013
What follows is my take on the above sentiment, an not a complete discussion on rape or sexual assault. Much of what I say here I've said before.

I don't know a single man who has or would rape anyone. I certainly wouldn't. And yet, according to the above quote, I should be told not to rape women. The problem with this mentality is that the guys listening are not the guys who need to hear it, and the guys who need to hear it are most likely not listening (or are listening but don't care).

Should we take this approach with other crimes? Tell pedestrians to walk however they want to because the law says they have right of way, and teach people not to hit pedestrians? It's OK to leave your house unlocked, we need to tell people not to break in to the homes of others. It's OK to write the PIN for your ATM card on your ATM card, we should be sternly telling people not to use other people's ATM cards. We really need to sternly talk to people about all the crimes they are committing...

So you, the person reading this, stop killing pedestrians, breaking into homes, stealing money from ATMs. You're a person, and it's people who do these things. (How effective was this?)

We need to take reasonable steps to protect ourselves from crimes. If we have been the victim of a crime, it's OK for people to give us suggestions for things we can do to make ourselves safer (whether the crime is home invasion, ATM fraud or rape). That's not victim blaming. It's helping people to cope in a world that has bad people in it. I mean, we tell our kids to look both ways before crossing the road, and not to take sweets from strangers. Of course, talking to victims has to be coupled with actually doing everything possible to catch the criminal. Both are important parts to the process.

The thing with the law is that it offers absolutely no protection against crime of any sort. All it provides is a vehicle for justice (and restitution if you're really lucky) when a crime has been committed against you. Claiming that you had your rights violated provides little comfort when someone empties your bank account. It provides even less comfort when you've been raped.

Problems with law enforcement and persecuting authorities not wanting to pursue rape cases is another problem. And that too isn't as simple as it sounds. Unless there is a witness to a rape it often becomes a case of "he said she said", and that boils down to who looks like the more trustworthy person, which has very little to do with justice being served, or society protected.

Upworthy has an article with some comics,  My wife and I have done pretty much all of the things in those cartoons to each other at one point or other, and it wasn't unpleasant or a big deal. Being married, though, we know and respect each other, which does change things. I could see it being a big deal if it were a casual encounter (in terms of the cartoons as well as sex), but then, I am a firm believer in abstinence before marriage (and fidelity afterwards). Casual sexual encounters are always going to be fraught with mistakes and misunderstanding. Is it really fair on anyone to have a person permanently labelled as a sex offender because of a mistake during a casual encounter?  Are casual sexual encounters structured, planned and executed in a way that makes mistakes and misunderstandings trivial and infrequent?

The thing most people don't get is that rape is not always about sex itself.  This is one of the huge reasons why chemical and surgical castration is mostly ineffective in dealing with sex offenders. Sometimes, rape is about control. Sometimes it's about mental compulsions, and sometimes misunderstanding or miscommunication. And then sometimes it's about sex, but there again, sometimes it's predatory and sometimes it's opportunistic. You probably haven't heard of these distinctions before because they shoot this entire "tell men not to rape" thing in the head.

In fact, the only group that "talking to men" would help is the misunderstanding group (which, technically, isn't rape since the perpetrator presumably believed they had consent), but this is the least prevalent and least violent group in general. Well, that's not entirely true, since this group jumps to the top of the list for the middle to upper class in first world countries.  If, however, we are worried about ALL women in ALL circumstances, and not just a small, vocal group, then this ranks pretty low.

For everyone else living in a first world country, predatory and opportunistic rape is generally predominant, followed by mental compulsion.

Worldwide, especially in slums, war-zones, and areas that law enforcement cannot or will not police, it's control rape that is the most prevalent form of rape - men raping women (and men) to show dominance and to force submission and obedience. And sometimes just because they can (for a variety of reasons, including 'miracle cures'). No amount of talking to men in general, not even talking to the men specifically performing the rapes, is likely to be effective here. Although telling the women (and girls) to be careful how they dress, who they go out with, where they should and shouldn't be, what they should and shouldn't drink, what they should or should not be wearing (can someone use it as an excuse to rape because they can justify it by saying the women was asking for it?), and when to stay indoors, while placing an unfair burden on the women, is more likely to keep them safe. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the women are asking for it in the least if they don't 'take precautions', and I'm not absolving the rapist of even a smidgen of criminal responsibility in the slightest. In this instance I'm saying that sometimes it's about keeping yourself safe, and not about asserting your rights.

Of course, if you disagree with me, feel free to leave your door unlocked this evening, because people should damned well be told and understand that they are not allowed to just walk into your house and take your stuff.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Abuse - who are the real victims?


I'm the kind of guy who believes that men should protect women, regardless of anything else.  I am also opposed to all forms of abuse.  But I'm also the kind of guy who believes that bad facts lead to flawed actions, and that we can only really do good when we act with all the information.

I'm going start by focussing a lot on sexual assault for reasons that will become clearer later in this article. So, to start with, most of the stats people quote are from the US, and the US stats are so messed up they are closer to a work of fiction than anything else.  I'm not sure how much you, the reader, understands about stats, but stats are usually misunderstood even by people with otherwise very strong math skills. (See this article)

I often see a stat that claims that 1 in 6 women will be raped in the US.  The 1 in 6 rape stat is misleading for a number of reasons, including that it includes a lot of things that are not strictly speaking rape in the numbers, and because the stats themselves are incorrectly calculated for the way they are expressed (and cannot possibly be accurate for the way they are expressed.  Again, See this article).

But even other rape stats from other countries are more cloudy than clear.  Lets look at South Africa as an example. (Unless otherwise stated, all stats are between 1993 and 1998)

Two studies carried out in 1998 and 2000 showed that between 2.1% and 4% of women older than 16 across all population groups had been raped at least once.  A different south African report said that 1 in 3 women had been raped.  A UN report for the same period ranks South Africa first worldwide for rapes per capita.  How can we have two stats (3, really) that vary so widely?  1 in 3 is 33%, yet we also have the 2.1% and 4% stats.  Which one do we believe?

The answer is none of them.  Stats are only ever meaningful if you give the criteria for the stats.  For example, if I told you that the 1 in 3 stat (which I have seen quoted as a South African stat for rape) was actually taken from a sample of 4000 women in Johannesburg, the disparity becomes clearer.  If I told you that the women interviewed were in an at-risk group, suddenly the stats make a lot more sense, and are even less meaningful in the general sense.  If I added that the stat looked at the number of rapes in total (including multiple rapes per person) and not just if they had been raped at least once in their lifetime, you will understand that the stat is meaningless in pretty much any other context (and you may wonder why it was ever brought up).

Now, if we accept that 4% (the higher of the stats) of South African women will be raped at least once in their lives, that statistic becomes 4 in 100, 2 in 50, or 1 in 25.  But even that stat includes all sorts of at-risk groups.  It's OK to include some at-risk groups in this stat (i.e. displaced & homeless families, immigrants, etc...), but it's NOT OK to include other at-risk groups (sex workers, drunk women who were not violently raped, etc...), and yet this 1 in 25 includes everyone.  So I will use the 1 in 25 stat, but understand that it is flawed.  For the record, there are no organisations (women's rights or otherwise) looking at producing proper stats for South Africa.

There is also a study that shows that 25% of South African men admitted (when questioned anonymously) to raping someone at least once.  Half of the men who admitted committing rape  admitted to raping more than one person.  Of the original 25%, 3 out of 4 said they had raped a women younger than 20, and 1 in 10 admitted raping a girl before the age of 10.  So 2.5% of South African men admit to raping a child.  Of course, as with all stats, if you look at this in context you will see that this was a survey of 1'738 men from KZN and the eastern cape.  And given the small pool, it stands to reason that they were from a relatively small catchment area in those provinces. With all this in mind, how trustworthy / useful is this stat when looking at anything other than men from the catchment area in KZN and the Eastern cape?

Back to the US claim that 1 in 6 women will be raped in their lifetimes.  That's a difficult stat to swallow if you remember that, according to the UN, South Africa is #1 for rapes, and our (flawed) stats are 1 in 25.  It quickly becomes apparent that the 1 in 6 stat is sensationalist and rubbish.  More so when you see that in war torn Colombia, during a long running civil war, internally displaced women face a 1 in 5 risk of being raped.  Is the US really as unsafe as war torn Colombia?

Why is this important, and how does it affect the fact that women are abused?  In many instances, from many sources, women are made to feel victimised / generally at risk when they are in fact safer than they think.  Bad stats are used to do that.  For example, would stats comparing women dating and socialising within their current cultural and social groups show that they were more or less at risk of rape and sexual assault than women outside of their social or cultural group?  Are women in Sandton, Randburg, Roodepoort, Krugersdorp, etc at higher or lower risk than women from Soweto, Khayelitsha and diepsloot?  Similarly, would women from all groups be more or less at risk if they were meeting with a man with strong stated moral principles, or a drunk man, or a drug addict?  What would the risk be if they were meeting with a white guy from Pretoria vs. a black guy from Alexandra. Or how about a black guy from Pretoria vs. a white guy from Alexandra?

The answers to these questions would vary depending on a number of factors, I guess, but we would get really interesting stats as to what groups were at higher risk, which is something to act on, even if only identifying where to run awareness campaigns.

But what we are doing is telling women all women equally that they are at risk, and that causes fear, and fear leads to it's own problems.  We are also telling them that all men are, equally, the problem.

In addition to this, when we say that certain behaviours are more risky than others it's often called victim blaming ("Women have the right to go to bars in sexy outfits and get drunk!  She isn't responsible for getting raped, the man who raped her is responsible!  Don't tell me what I can and cannot do with my life and my body!").  This means that it's difficult to identify what really is risky behaviour and what is not.

These things mean that women are led to feel that they are constantly at risk, with next to nothing they can do about it.  In addition, because men in general are seen as the problem, women star to fear or distrust men, which, ironically leads to more cases of rape (I base this off stats that show that more drunk women are being raped than previously, which may be a faulty assumption, but it makes the point in any case).

These things also mean that most of the efforts to fix things are aimed at educating men in general.  A good strategy if most men were rapists, but a really lousy one if most men are not rapists.  And most men are not rapists.  For example, the only time I've ever seen this problem being discussed is between men who would never dream of actually raping a woman.  This accomplishes exactly nothing (especially since the feminists that are most active in this also say that a woman doesn't need a man to protect her, making it almost impossible for us men who are not rapists to actually do anything).

I'm not saying there isn't a problem, I'm saying that we are focussing on the wrong part of the problem, may be overstating the problem in certain instances and understating it in other instances, and may not actually even fully understand the problem.  Are women at higher risk for sexual assault?  Yes, I believe so.  But that's not all there is to the problem of abuse, and here is where it gets interesting.

Are women at higher risk of sexual abuse? Yes.  Are women at higher risk of non-sexual abuse?  No. Men are.

According to the data given by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide, 78.7% of homicide victims are male, and in 193 of the 202 listed countries or regions, males were more likely to be killed than females. In two countries, the ratio was 50:50 (Swaziland and British Virgin Islands), and in the remaining 7; Tonga, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Latvia and Hong Kong, females were more likely to be victims of homicides compared to males.

OK, so that was homicide, what about other abuse?  There are quite a few studies that show that rates of physical aggression within the context of dating and marriage tend to be similar for men and women, or even that women are more likely to commit domestic violence against a partner (this data has been contested, but it seems the only detractors are women's rights groups who do not have viable competing studies, and so I'll discount them since the data from these studies is fairly neutral).  According to one large study, women are between two to three times as likely to be the offender in non-reciprocal partner violence. The study suggests that while women are far more prone to be the sole offender, reciprocal violence where both partners use violence has higher frequency of serious injuries, and that these injuries more often have female victims than male (if the violence was reciprocal, and the women likely started it, then I don't think women should be called victims here, I think they should be called losers.  This may seem a bit harsh, but if you start a fight and lose, it's not the other guy's fault).  IMPORTANT NOTE: Domestic violence is wrong, no matter who started it. But blaming the wrong person isn't the way to fix the problem.

To put this into a bit of numbers perspective, in the US in 2012, ~1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse.  At the same time, ~800 thousand men were the victims of domestic abuse.  And men are significantly less likely to report being abused by their female partners than vice versa, meaning this figure is probably a lot higher.

If you take a look at things in general, including all forms of assault, men are, on average, ~2.3 times more likely to be the victim of aggravated assault than women in developed countries, and quite a bit more in developing countries.  In addition, male suicide rates are substantially higher than female suicide rates  - The stats say men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women.

OK, so I've rambled on for quite some time, what does all this mean?  My answer is this: very little. We have stats, but looking at stats out of context is an exercise in futility - it doesn't tell you anything useful.  And we don't have enough data to look at abuse stats in context.  We don't even have enough data to make sure that stats from different countries are for the same thing (for example, rape is defined differently in the US and South Africa for the purposes of rape stats).

About the only thing that these stats show is that women are not really subject to more abuse than men.  But they think they are, and that can lead to them acting and feeling like victims.  This leads to a problem where "ending abuse" is often seen as something we should be doing for women, when in reality, ending abuse is something we should be doing for all of us.

I'll leave you with a 1998 quote from Hillary Clinton:

The quote is:
Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today's warfare, victims. -- Hillary Clinton, the 1998 First Ladies' Conference on Domestic Violence 
That these words were taken seriously is a travesty and a tragedy.  Why did nobody ask these follow up questions: What gender are the husbands, fathers and sons who died in combat?  Where do men go when the women flee from their homes? Are the men better off wherever they are?  Where are the male refugees from conflict?  Who is more likely to be maimed or killed when a village is invaded, the women who become displaced or the men who may become soldiers?

Note: Do you have a problem with the stats in this article?  So do I .  Because of how stats are gathered, calculated and used, most stats relating to sexual assault are misleading or wrong.  What can we do abou tthis?  Read this article.

What should we be doing about sexual assault and abuse of women?


Sexual assault and abuse of women is a really big thing at the moment, and while I do not believe the majority of the stats out there, I do believe that something needs to be done.  And this is where I think we need to start: Gather proper stats.

You may be wandering what is wrong with current stats.  The answer is: lots.

  1. Different countries have different definitions of rape, both in describing the legal definition as well as the social definition, not to mention whatever definition was used when gathering stats.
  2. The stats are put together by people who do not understand statistics and think that something like "total number of women divided by total rapes in the country" gives a meaningful number.  This is bad math, bad science, and bad for everyone involved.
  3. All stats need to be given in context and we need to have a minimum way of presenting the stat.  For example:
    • When stats for a particular differentiator (risk groups, geographic regions, etc...) are substantially different from other differentiators, they should not be grouped.  If all the stats are substantially different, they should not be grouped.
      For example, if there is a variance of ~3% across all risk groups except one that has a variance of 10%, or 90%, then we need to exclude that exception from combined stats.
    • Stats need to be presented by differentiator and only ever grouped if the variance is small enough that the average describes each area closely.
      For example, if there is a 0% chance of rape in one half of the provinces in country, and a 100% chance of rape in the other half, it is irresponsible to say that the chances of rape in the country are 50% (the average), since you are quite safe in one part of the country and at dire risk in the other.
    • It is NEVER acceptable o use a stat that oversimplifies to the extent of giving a false impression.
      In the above 100% rape provinces example, analysis might show that 70% of the women raped were raped on public transport, and the remaining 30% were raped within 2 blocks of a bar / strip club / political convention / whatever.  In that case, it's irresponsible to claim that the entire province has a 100% rape stat.
    • If the stat will be presented in a way that is misleading, it should not be shown.  If a stat doesn't tell a proper story, it must be given in full context, or not at all.
    • When use comparatively, stats have to be inclusive, and have to be presented inclusively.
      For example, if you are doing a presentation of female prisons, presenting a stat that shows that 42% of women in correctional facilities have been raped  at least once is probably OK.  If you are talking about discrimination against women, and you present a stat that shows that 42% of women in correctional facilities have been raped at least once, you should probably include the stat that shows that 56% of men in correctional facilities have been raped at least once.  
  4. Where stats were gathered by asking questions (eg. from a survey), the survey questions need to be provided, and the results can only be compared against surveys that ask the same questions.
    This may seem a bit harsh, but if the question is "If you were forced to, would you murder someone or rape them repeatedly?" , then publishing your results as "in a recent anonymous survey, 80% of men admit they would rape a women repeatedly."
  5. Finally, people who are caught misrepresenting stats and facts should be ostracised. A stat misrepresented is a lie as much as any other lie.

On top of this, in the context of abuse of women, specifically sexual assault, most of the people putting the stats together do not look at the reason for the assault, which is HUGE when looking at ways of combating it.  Different causes for sexual assault result in different responses.  For example:

  1. Did the sexual assault happened because the offender was drunk or under the influence of drugs?
  2. Was it because the victim was drunk or under the influence of drugs?
  3. Were both parties drunk or under the influence of drugs, and if so, can it reasonably be classified as sexual assault?
  4. Was the perpetrator mentally unbalanced?
  5. Was the perpetrator looking for sexual gratification?
    • If yes to parent question, was it clearly understood by the perpetrator that there was no consent?
    • If yes to parent question, was consent given and then withdrawn?
    • If yes to parent question, was the perpetrator's intent to rape?
  6. Was the perpetrator using sexual assault as a form of control?
  7. Was the perpetrator committing the assault because of some sort of peer pressure?
  8. Was there another reason for the assault?
  9. Did the perpetrator understand that their actions were wrong, or harmful, or undesired?
  10. For all of the above, was the perpetrator working alone?

(It's possible to ask all of the above questions with "domestic abuse", "verbal assault", etc... as the act in question.  Yes, even the sexual gratification one.)

It's important to ask these questions, because sexual assault (all abuse, really) generally falls into 3 categories:

  1. For sexual or personal gratification.
  2. To assert control over another person.
  3. Because the perpetrator was, for whatever reason, operating outside the cognitive boundaries of a normal person.

You deal with each of these types of sexual assault differently, and stats from each of these points should not be combined in any instance.

Once proper stats are being collected we can start looking at how to fix the problem.  Without proper stats, I do not believe that form of corrective action can be considered useful.  And if it's not useful, why bother doing it?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stupidity - A place we've all visited once or twice...


I enjoy being right.  I get a rush when I present an argument that is incontrovertible, especially when it's in response to something that irks me.  I work really hard to always be right.  I double check facts I'm sure of, and confirm that my knowledge and understanding are still current and up-to-date.

And even then, I'm sometimes wrong.  Occasionally, in a big way.  Usually because of something stupid.  Actually, usually because I've been a little stupid.  We've all been there and done that.  Some of us even have the T-shirt.

And it's totally OK to do stupid things occasionally.  It's part of being human, and can sometimes be a little fun.  The trick is to move on as soon as you can, not to hang around and build a place to stay.  If you find you're spending a little too much time in stupidville, it's probably time to move on.

So the next time someone calls you stupid, consider whether they are right or wrong.  Evaluate your position.  And then either shrug it off, or start doing better.