Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rebecca Watson on evolutionary psychology and... rape culture?

August 9th was the day that I finally regained (whatever that means) the sensation in various of my bodily parts (...whatever that means) after blocking it out (whatever... never mind).

What do I mean, here?

I mean that Rob Schryvers, master hypnotist (whatever *that* means) is really cool. Go bug him and be swept away in his hypnotic patter of doom. And by doom, I mean, see how cool this parrot is?

july 805

He's cooler than that. Really.

The next day, whilst carpooling to a Skeptic's meetup at Piecora's Pizza, Rob pointed out a freakishly-muscled man walking down Pine Street -- it was apparently UK champion bodybuilder Dorian Yates! He's an unusual sight here, although not exactly out of place on a sidewalk where half the people we saw looked very L, G, B or T.
` At this event would be the only Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Rogue that I hadn't met -- the very snarky Rebecca Watson. (Let's not forget Perry, the one I can't meet, who used to have the best bird vs. monkey debates with her!)

july 809
She's normally more brightly-colored and in-focus, but perhaps that was just the medication?

We were motioned to Piecora's front entrance by diners seated behind a set of sealed doors, and found the Skeptic's meetup in the back, by another sealed door. (Little did I know, we would be trapped, foreverrrr... or not.)
` Rebecca was standing by a table of Skepchick swag, greeting folks as they came in, so I introduced myself and told her that "Evan says 'Hi.'"

He did actually tell me to say that. And she actually seemed to think that was funny.

I didn't loiter too long, in fear of saying something stupid, so I went on into the sizeable, table-filled room that appeared to once have been an entire shop. Yes, we were meeting there specifically because she drew in such a large audience!
` In between stuffing my face with delishus salad and pizza, I got to brag about how last month's Skeptic Meetup cool hypnotist headliner helped me to control the level of sensation in my fingertips that I had been not-feeling for nine years. Can't let that stuff stay that way, you know?

This meeting was particularly interesting and quotable, but unfortunately, I had left my blogging notebook in a different bag o'stuff, and didn't find any other paper. Instead, I shall use both my memory and Case's description of what was on for that night from the Meetup website:

First, I'll open with some gems from the Michael Dennett's archives. I'll be presenting some things from the Golden Age of Skepticism- some 20+ years ago when skeptics didn't have the Internet, books, meetups, and conventions we enjoy today. It was a time when Bigfoot believers walked the Earth with impunity! (kidding!)  Among the show and tell, I'll be presenting short clips from 1992's "Bigfoot- Real Monster or Hairy Hoax?" A Town Hall event in Portland that pitted skeptics vs believers in a Crossfire-style format.
Although the science on Bigfoot is long settled- there are some real lessons from Michael's appearance on this show that still ring true today.

You can see this video for yourself on YouTube, featuring Dennett, as well as bigfooter Grover Krantz and some other folks. At 31:30, one guy in the gallery says that we don't have evidence other than photos and videos that our space program exists, but we believe it anyway, so why not bigfoot?
` That's interesting, because for most of my readers there's no solid evidence that I exist other than photos and videos, so I guess you'll just have to "believe" this writing comes from me.

Then, at 39:43, this guy says he saw the documentary Legend of Bigfoot, and in it, bigfoot kept getting up after being shot, so he thought that shooting wouldn't realistically bring a bigfoot down. Really?
` The next guy explains that the reason we don't have a body is because bigfoot appears from another dimension! As the other guests on the show tried to bite their tongues, there was just an explosion of laughter at Piecora's.
` Then, in the video, a student asks whether bigfoot would disappear if it died in this dimension, and the guy says it would. Well, naturally! Their bodies wouldn't be the same vibrational frequency to stay in synch with this dimension, don't you know?

I've since seen the rest of the video (although the last segment is missing) and think that the skeptics did an okay job at arguing their case, although the YouTube commenters think that they "use allot of insults" and are "almost childish", and demand that the skeptics prove that dermal ridges aren't real (like this?) and that the Patterson film is faked (you can look over the details here). Really?
` Ah, Michael Dennett, those were the days. Wish you were still around so you could keep being awesome, but I learned that you couldn't upon my very first meetup. Dammit!!!
` After the rest of Case's spiel, up came our guest, a panelist at the nearby Geek Girl Con:

Together with our friends at Seattle Atheists, we're putting on a special event this month- Rebecca Watson from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe will be joining us! She'll be giving a talk titled:
How Girls Evolved to Shop, and Other Ways to Insult Women with "Science"
As skeptics, we often turn to scientific research to inform our worldview. Unfortunately, a lot of research hits the mainstream media regardless of whether or not the science is solid. Evolutionary psychology is a field seemingly tailor-made for newspaper headlines and popular science books, but how much of it is true? Did differences between the brains of men and women really evolve during the Paleolithic? Did cave-gentlemen really prefer blondes? And why do women have sex? Let's look at what some great (and not-so-great) scientific minds have to say.
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical activists on the Skepchick Network, which includes, Teen Skepchick, Swedish Skepchick, Esceptica, Queereka, and Mad Art Lab. She also co-hosts the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe radio show and podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it.

I don't recall much that she said, but luckily I have some video of her talking about bigfoot penises, right after introducing herself and joking about just having had some much-needed beer and codeine:

Rebecca's talk was about how the media likes to sensationalize the very young and not well-sorted branch of science known as evolutionary psychology, while, for the atheist group, adding "and there is no God" to the end of every sentence. 'Cause she's funny.

The idea of evolutionary psychology is that those distinctly human psychological traits that are seen across all cultures are most likely our basic nature, since they cannot very well have been copied from one another: If this is so, these traits could have been adaptations to the Pleistocene environment of our ancestors.
` Testing whether or not a trait is a Pleistocene adaptation is very tricky since we can't directly observe this environment, nor the actions of ancient people -- modern people and ancient remains only tell part of the story. And, while I know that there has been some success, as Rebecca put it, "Most of it is bullshit."
` On top of this, weak arguments along these lines are sometimes used to fuel discrimination, such as claims that certain ethnicities have evolved to be less intelligent or attractive than others. Even more, the more fringe, controversial, and bigoted claims are often picked up by the sensationalistic news media, thereby misrepresenting what evolutionary psychology is about.
` These sensationalized and distorted articles are readily available for the public eye, thus offending a wide audience and making evolutionary psychology look as though it's much worse than it actually is.

For example, pissing off women by saying they evolved to gather, and that shopping is like gathering (rather than bargain-hunting), therefore women are supposed to shop a lot by their very nature.
` However, there are many cultures where men do the most shopping or gathering (and women do a lot of hunting, etc.), so how is that supposed to make sense? Besides, we don't find clothing or laptops in bushes, as we see in Rebecca's great work of MS Paint art....

july 810

Another example is when The Sun featured a not-really-serious "study" by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, which he did in order to illustrate that weak arguments for silly-sounding ideas can get published in this field, as long as they are based on some amount of data, even if it's weak:

july 813

Another study supposedly found that pink was a more appealing color to women than men, and the media jumped on it, proclaiming that pink really is a "girl's color". There are, of course different boys' versus girls' colors in other cultures -- I don't remember the examples that Rebecca gave, but I do recall that blue is a girl's color in China while black is a boy's color.
` Also, pink wasn't always a girl's color even in Western culture -- take for example this 1918 newspaper clipping declaring that pink is generally a boys' color because of its fiery redness, while blue was more pretty as a girls' color.

july 815

According to The Straight Dope, parents used to put white dresses on their babies until the twentieth century rolled in, when gender distinctions began to become more important to new parents. Even so, pink wasn't actually considered a "girl's color" in Western culture until World War II.

Drawing on this next slide, I must ask, don't psychologists generally know that pushing stereotypes on people influence people's test performance? After all, Jane Elliott's blue-eyed vs. brown-eyed research is a cornerstone of psychology! Evidently, though, some evolutionary psychologist researchers were not so careful...

july 817

Rebecca also talked about studies in which guys who were primed with a stereotype threat (i.e. guys are not as good at this) were indeed not as able as girls to tell what another person was feeling. And yet, the guys who were not primed to think they would have difficulty actually did just as well as the girls.
` The same priming effect has been found concerning math test scores, not only of women vs. men, but also asians vs. caucasians. The effects of stereotype threats are a good thing to keep in mind in times of doubting oneself -- and in times of conducting experiments!

Admittedly, I don't know for myself what is mainstream in the field of evolutionary psychology, because I haven't actually studied it enough to say much more about it than I already have. All's I know is that it needs some amount of help, although I thought that Rebecca's talk about it was a bit harsh.
` I probably would take the time right now to study it more if I weren't so compelled to write about what she talked about next, namely, "rape culture".

I know that Rebecca works hard to spread rich, skepticy goodness all around the world (without even the aid of an enormous butter knife), and so I've tried to keep myself out of all that "Watson is a feminist attention whore" stuff that I've been hearing about.
` Nevertheless, I got the impression that she was painting women generally as being victims of men, despite her assurances to the contrary. I would have asked her more questions about it, but was so shocked that I didn't really know what to think.

Sure, I get the point that women are blamed for being raped, as I've known a few girls who have told me that this has happened to them. One of my friends had been waiting in the doorway of a college dorm room, when the guy she was waiting for to retrieve a book of hers just locked the door and raped her. She screamed her lungs out, but no one responded.
` She didn't call the police because if her parents found out, her mom would have blamed her and her dad would have killed the guy. So instead, she felt so worthless and used-up that she actually prodded the guy into marrying her and becoming her insane, abusive, raping husband. Ironically, they lived in a house next to her parents' for many years, but she still never told them.
` She did, however, tell her doctor, who dismissed it by saying "well, you know, men have needs". For decades, she blamed herself for being raped to the point where she forgot the screaming bit and thought that she had actually wanted to have sex with him.
` Until, of course, she remembered that it wasn't her fault. A little later, whilst going through old homework papers from college, she found her own written description of what had really happened and showed it to her crazy husband.
` To her astonishment, he apologized -- and then tried to say that he still loved her. Did I mention he was crazy? Psychotic, in fact, and he always kept a loaded gun by the bed, which he would clean when he thought she was asleep.

Anyway, I'm used to horrible things happening, so it's not unusual to me. On a wider scale, women's rape accusations can be sometimes suppressed by her employer and even the media, and other similarly terrible outcomes. I also found that a journalist at The New York Times got a lot of flack for blaming an eleven year old girl for being gang-raped in an abandoned trailer.
` Well, at least this backlash against "rape culture" seems to be somewhat common -- one woman got a lot of support, and an apology, after a judge blamed her for being groped by a police officer. Backlash, of course, is helped along by spreading awareness of this problem, which I'm sure that Rebecca does a lot of.

I'm not so much criticizing Rebecca, but rather the term "rape culture", so let me start with the first part: Usually when we think of the word 'rape', we think of a woman being assaulted by a man, but this isn't always so. Women can be raped by other women, of course, and men can be raped by women, too.
` When this happens, someone may tell the male victim, "You're not a real man if you let a woman rape you!" or "You must have liked it or you would have stopped her!" Usually when a man is raped, however, it is by another man, so if he tells others, he may never hear the end of "Ha ha, you're a fag!"
` My housemate Brianade is the one who brought up to me the fact that cultural norms to trivialize rape are even moreso when it happens to a man. According to the websites of male rape resource centers (ones that I've looked at, anyway), most men that come to them do not even report this crime to the police!
` Therefore, using the term "rape culture" to apply to only cases where women are raped -- although they comprise about 90% of all cases -- does not include all rapees. (Don't forget, many of them are also children.)

More importantly, such trivialization is common in the areas of bigotry and discrimination (including violence) against people for their ethnicity, age, religion, disability, or sexual preference. At least, this is what I learned from all my college diversity courses. So, what makes rape so special? Or my own experiences, come to think of it?

Let's take the incident that would eventually spur me to block out sensation in my fingertips, lips, and other bodily parts, for nine entire years. At that time in my life, I had just been recovering from eighteen years of trauma, so imagine my surprise when excruciating torture led to even more humiliation and then institutionalization!
` The best way I can describe it is feeling like I had been raped -- with sharp instruments and drugs -- except for not literally being raped. One top of that, I was also locked up and shamed for everything that happened to me, including my mouth bleeding for six days as well as my reactions to psychiatric drugs that never should have never been prescribed for me.
` For many years, most of the people in my life did very little to help me, while mental health "professionals" and lawyers did even less. It was as though ignoring my suffering and assuring me that I was overreacting, despite my lifelong PTSD having been increased a hundred times, was the best way to prevent bad habits from being triggered.
` There's a lot of detail I could go into, but for now I'll just say that I have an idea of what it feels to go through the gauntlet of something like "rape culture". The feelings of demoralization and violation used to keep me in the shower in order to scrub off the 'filth', yet I was also being ridiculed for feeling those emotions. Even today, I tend to dissociate when being intimate. Really.

Despite the fact that I now know my story is not that unusual, I don't go around telling everyone that this is "torture/medical incompetence culture" or something like that. I think there's a bigger cultural pattern involving people struggling for dominance by screwing over someone or other while trying to make the victim look bad, and that rape is just one important avenue.
` It still happens in my life, non-violently at least, on a regular basis; since I was a baby I have had very little in the way of breaks between one person trying to screw me over and another. I have many times even been tempted to join in, but luckily I've done a good job of programming myself not to be like "them".

I also think that while you can't control other people, you can still have more influence than you probably know, and you don't need to have a victim mentality. Thus, it should be understandable that I wanted to tell Rebecca, "I'm so sick and tired of being a victim that I unblocked the pathways of sensation in my brain, just to prove it!!"
` And this, after many years of crazy living situations with annoying and/or scary and manipulative people! Now that they're gone, I can finally recover more fully and feel secure enough to defend my boundaries with other people.

Okay, that was long-winded, so, to recap: 1) rape isn't strictly a woman's issue, and 2) various types of violent acts are also commonly fostered by cultural attitudes and then trivialized by friends, family, doctors, lawyers, etc. (as they were with me). Maybe it's just my bias, but this seems to be part of a larger pattern.
` I mean, really -- one day I saw police cars at this one shop in Everett, the owner standing out front with a bandage on his head. That was because some kids had tried to bash his skull in for being gay. What makes that happen? Some kind of "gay bashing culture"?
` Well, there is a lot of that going on, especially among fundamentalists blaming the world's problems on gays, from natural disasters to the supposed destruction of families. Sometimes, a gay-hating family will drive their homosexual offspring to behave self-destructively, then say "aren't gays self-destructive?" And so on.

So, why does this crap happen? What little I know about the sociology on this follows what I know about my life. Basically, where did I encounter the most domestic violence? Child abuse? Shootings? Break-ins? Selling one person's stuff to their neighbors? Baseball bat to my car? Excessive drug use (legal and illegal)? Teen pregnancy?
` Ah yes, that was the crackhouse I once lived in. After a while, I actually started to "think that way", especially when I shared a tiny apartment with five other people, four of them not to be trusted, walking all over my belongings and stealing stuff, etc.
` I couldn't afford to have much empathy, as I didn't have good enough "survival skills" to protect me from other people. I saw everything from a perspective that everyone was out to get everyone else, that stealing food from stores is okay when you have no money (even though I never did that), and OMG would Joe PLZ stop beating his nine-year-old daughter? Her agonized screaming is SO ANNOYING!! Really.

At the time I had very little empathy for anyone due to all the noise and stress and constant illnesses and malnutrition and sleep deprivation, and never being able to finish my homework, and constantly trying to be polite to everyone's face even though they were trying to make me look as though I was out to get them, all sorts of outrageous personal attacks, self-loathing, etc.
` If I had been unable to escape this mindset, I might have wound up convincing myself that becoming a young, hot and talented version of Sylvia Browne is okay. Over about six rocky years, I gradually was able to leave this trashy environment behind, along with the coping mechanisms that I had developed.

So, I've lived in a lot of rough environments, with sixteen different crazy and/or scary people, and I have some understanding as to how they got that way and why they tried to make me and my cats sick, set booby traps, poured urine all over the house, refused to pay rent, call the cops on someone as a way to manipulate them, etc.
` Based on what I know about these people, a lot of it is systemic -- such as dysfunctional families with parents sharing the meth pipe with the kids and all that -- so these are bad habits that are spread. When people learn to get what they want by treating others as a means to an end -- for example, in order to get meth -- that of course leads them to be more manipulative and less compassionate.
` I mean, you can't very well rape someone or try to kill them with a bat if you see them as more than just a pawn in your game -- especially if you need to make up some reason why your victim deserved it, right?

Therefore, I'll bet that misogyny and rape and suchlike are all part of some larger trend. After all, rape is more common in countries with higher rates of other violent crime (and apparently, lower rates of enlightenment). This last point Rebecca does know, as I remember her mentioning it before.

And that is my treatise on the reason why the term "rape culture" doesn't make any real sense. Despite taking me at least a week to write, it's both poorly-researched and poorly-argued, and so is bound to earn me some amount of criticism/hate mail. (And I'm not going to start on the accuracy of the term "objectification", since as a three-dimensional object, that would take another few days at least.)
` As far as what Rebecca said about "rape culture", I don't really remember, other than the fact that she talked about how our culture seems to teach guys to rape girls and then blame the girls for being raped. This of course, gets me thinking about cross-cultural studies, but I'm not even going to bother with that.

But, I can see how online trolls would want to threaten to rape her and otherwise act like ass-hats (asses-hat?) because they feel threatened:

(Depends on what type of female genital mutilation before you can say it's way worse than what is done to males), but in any case, I think it is best to not respond to trolls threatening to rape you, unless there's some realistic threat to yourself or your reputation.
` After all, people who make comments like this are just making themselves look like idiots, and there's no point in raising awareness of their stupidity because that's how trolls take control of others. (Not that I'm blaming her -- that's just how it works, right?)

Of course, it's more than just this -- Rebecca sees the real issue as being other people in the atheist and skeptical movements as being assholes who need to be controlled because they don't represent her, or the group as a whole:

That's ironic, because this type of thing seems to be the only reason for the (rather troll-ish) wiki known as Conservapedia to include her among their articles -- especially since she has attacked criticisms from both "misogynist" Richard Dawkins and thunderf00t. (Not that anyone should care -- I just like to check out Conservapedia for the lulz on how low they can go to discredit whoever they don't like.)

So, what's the real solution to this problem of ingroup trolling and other fighting that I think is childish? I actually think that I have an idea, but dare not tell because it might get me some attention, and then I win! >:^D Mua ha ha ha ha haaa!

Okay, I'll give you a clue: It won't be solved with the kinesiotape and other items that Case presented as lovely parting gifts to Rebecca. And not just because kinesiotape is not good for much of anything, other than as regular tape.
` But that's the only clue you get. I frankly don't need something else to be yelled at for. At least I can take solace from the fact that one guy who agrees with me once had a girlfriend who was gang-raped and killed by a bunch of stupid drunk guys, for whatever that's worth.

On that note, I'm going to hit the 'Publish' button, from behind my shieldz.

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