Archive for the ‘ feminism ’ Category

Responding to #metoo

Over the past week or more I have watched with a great depression but no great surprise as many of my friends have been posting abut their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

I have been unsure how to best engage with this – I am an ally, I recognise that there is a real problem here, and want to treat the discussion seriously. I also don’t want any contribution to make it look like I am making it about people like me – straight white men have plenty of opportunity to have conversations without needing to jump in on the conversations of other groups. I’m also not a knight in shining armour able to ride to the rescue, and I don’t want a cookie for being super-woke.

But I realised when I saw a friend asking why men weren’t engaging that we have to say something, even if just to offer another voice to the support for women and other vulnerable minorities. Silent support is not the most noticeable. I don’t have anything groundbreaking to say, but a message of support and a hopefully clear and patient explanation of why there is a problem and why people like me might not notice it, from someone like me, might be a Good Thing.

So, to all the people who I have seen posting their experiences, I want to say thanks for sharing and helping shed light on the situation, well done for being in a position where you can share, and I’m sorry that you have had the experiences you have. I understand that many of these stories have been difficult and painful to share, and I have disappointed by some of the reaction I have seen.

To all the people that have a story that they *haven’t* shared, that is fine too. People shouldn’t feel pressured to join in, but hopefully seeing the outpouring has been helpful, whether in finding mutual support or realising that you are not to blame.

From my position, I think I can most usefully talk to men to help them understand that there is an issue, and a couple of thoughts about what we should be doing about it. I see a number of my female friends not being listened to or taken seriously, and I don’t think we should accept that.


Good Men – this is a real problem. I understand that you are probably like me, and never really been exposed to harassment, but *look around you* and *listen to people*. It is clearly happening to at least the majority of our female friends, family and partners. I understand that using anecdotes can be problematic in terms of demonstrating robust evidence, but trying to say there is no problem based on this reasoning is self-protecting nonsense. I think some of the problem in accepting this is to do with our not being able or inclined to see it.

I’m sure you don’t see much that you would consider dangerous, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you likely *wouldn’t* if you are not involved. Most instances aren’t like Harvey Weinstein, with a network of people enabling predation, and a lot of the worst instances happen in private. There is also a strong observation bias called the Bystander Effect, where as outside observers we tend to assume situations are fine, if to the people involved they aren’t – we are likely missing things that are happening right in front of us. I think back to nights out with groups of women, the constant invasion of their physical space and the way men just hover around them.

There is an issue of perspective. I am a middle-class white man, about 6 feet, and physically capable. I’ve not often had to ‘fight or flight’, but I am pretty happy that there is a relatively minor proportion of people I couldn’t at least escape from. Most women have a different experience – the groups overlap for sure, but men are in general bigger, stronger and more physically aggressive than women, and as an overall group have a distinct tendency to rape them. So in terms of feeling endangered and reacting based on that, the equivalent for me would not be receiving unwanted advances from a medium build woman. It would be more like getting attention from a muscular 6’6″ suspected violent criminal. Sure – they may be happy with a clear rejection, but I would certainly feel very threatened in case they didn’t. What they think of as harassment might be very different from me.

We say anecdotes about cancer cures are not that reliable – this is in part because ‘having cancer’ is an objective outcome not accessible subjectively, with a really good evidence base built on RCTs, and the cancer cures proposed have low or no prior plausibility. ‘Being harassed’ is a subjective experience, with a really good evidence base built on collected and consistent accounts from victims, with a really high prior plausibility based on any understanding of how humans tend to behave to each other.

The fact that all we can base our judgement on is a huge number if anecdotes doesn’t mean that the evidence base is easily dismissed. And actually, in spite of the popular skeptics phrase, the plural of anecdote is data – you just have to evaluate the extent to which you think that data provides compelling evidence. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission recently published a report on sexual harassment and assault in Universities.

The takeaway elements of those reports were that 51% of students were sexually harassed in 2016, and 7% were sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016. Women were more than twice as likely to be harassed, and more than three times as likely to be assaulted. that’s in one year. I understand student days may be the highest risk, but extrapolating that result out to a lifetime risk suggests we’re looking at a figure approaching 100%. Frustratingly, but understandably,  I’m no expert, but that seems a) in keeping with the reports of friends b) a large enough effect size that quibbles about methodology will make it go away, and c) absolutely horrifying.

You are likely not a serial harasser, and don’t see much of it, and don’t believe your male friends are capable of it. But even if we say the problem is limited to a small number of active people, it doesn’t take many men harassing people before pretty much everyone will have had been on the receiving end.


Good Men – we are part of the problem, but we can be part of the solution. I am a good man – I am in a monogamous marriage where I see my partner as an equal, and support her in whatever she wants to do. I am trying to raise a good son, aware of gender politics and the structural inequalities in society. I am in a position of relative privilege, and should use that where I can to support others with less privilege. My feminism has tended to express itself in treating women with the appropriate respect, supporting those close to me, and tutting along at social inequality. This is a great start, but we all need to do a bit more.

I have been thinking a bit recently about whether I always have been such as good man. I am pretty confident that I have always respected women in principle – I was *incredibly* pleased when a high school friend I hadn’t seen for years said I had always been a good feminist. But I wonder if in my younger days a combination of enthusiasm, social and physical clumsiness, and sometimes a drink or two, I always was. I have likely been inappropriate, but hopefully nothing more. Further, I apologise for the many more instances where I have been inactive. I am sure I have stood by when I should have intervened. Either way, I apologise sincerely for both my actions and any consequences of them.

For a start, we should treat reports of harassment, assault and rape seriously. This doesn’t mean just believing reports, as there is a small phenomenon of false reporting, but it means not dismissing reports and trying to build a narrative to shift blame from men to women. If someone reports something to you, listen, sympathise and work with them to understand what they need to do to safeguard themselves and others.

Second, recognise that the rate at which this happens is a *massive* problem, and focus on that. Sure, there are some interesting discussions to be had about how we enumerate the issue, or how we draw definitions between different kinds of offence morally and in law. But we have easily sufficient evidence to think it’s a problem worth acting on, and when people are asking for recognition of that, someone coming from outside the conversation to drag it on to minor technical points looks like an attempt to avoid the issue. It isn’t necessarily misogyny or intentional obfuscation, but the two can be very difficult to differentiate. This is basically the problem with #notallmen.

As people in a position of strength and privilege we should challenge things we think people are not comfortable with. This means both structural pervasive problems, such as expected gender roles and imbalance in the home and workplace, and individual instances, where someone appears to be in distress. Men normally risk much less by challenging other men than women do, and are likely to have better outcomes. Of course, we need to be careful not to assume we know what others want and act on their behalf without confirming – assuming that as a man you can rescue the damsel in distress comes across badly, even with the best of intentions. But that doesn’t mean standing by inactively while female colleagues get talked over and ignored in the bar or office, or when they get catcalled and followed in public.

Proactively, we should intentionally design places, organisations and systems to improve the situation. There are some great programmes around social education, and I liked the old advert aimed at teens which shows a youngster getting carried away because I can imagine that being a really common problem that would happen much less with a little more understanding and perspective, and properly describing consent is vital. However, that’s just the obvious surface stuff – abuse comes in many more forms than just rape, and we need to be developing a culture in which none of it is acceptable. Setting up spaces and actively engaging can get to be complex, including in terms of concrete actions that benefit people without inadvertently causing other problems for groups elsewhere, such as people of colour, people of various sexualities or trans folx. But we have to embrace that complexity by actively engaging with these groups to ensure that what we are doing works for everyone – it is pretty clear that when straight white men built the world alone we made it work only for us.


I’m painfully aware that I don’t really have solutions beyond trying to support women and make men recognise the scale of the problem, which is why it took me so long to respond to #metoo. But hopefully that’s enough to be starting with.



I recently supported my wife through a pregnancy and birth with some, but by no means terrible, complications. My wife was largely immobile in the weeks beforehand, and my son took 36 hours and a caesarian section to be born. Since then he has mostly fed and slept quite well, after a testing few days when he wasn’t getting enough milk and we weren’t topping up with formula milk. I love them both very much, and am very proud and pleased to be a father.

I know Kung-Fu

Clearly the best baby


And it all made me think a little bit about abortion. My view hasn’t changed, but has been strengthened. I am even more strongly pro-choice than I was.

Having seen how difficult pregnancy, childbirth and very early parenthood are, it is strikingly clear that women should be allowed to abort unwanted or problematic pregnancies. Our baby was planned, we are secure in our relationship, housing and finances, my wife was lucky enough to have a healthy baby, and has been supported (hopefully well) by me and a wonderful set of family and friends. And still we struggle. Because it is *hard*.

Forcing this on someone against their wishes is awful, and a hugely disproportionate punishment for carelessness, changes to circumstance or worse.

I don’t think that early stage abortions should be restricted at all, by which I mean before the foetus is likely to have developed a nervous system. Until that point, it can’t even feel basic sensation, so can’t suffer, and so I don’t think has intrinsic value. It is literally no different from any other lump of cells, except it is parasitic and disruptive, with massive mid and long-term consequences if left unchecked.

However, that doesn’t mean that women should just be left to it. I suspect women who have an abortion without being significantly impacted are few and far between, and with abortions should come support. It is difficult to make sure this role doesn’t get taken over by organisations with an anti-choice agenda, but I think it’s important that support is offered.

I am not particularly well versed on baby development, and can’t say anything about how they experience sensation in the early stages of neural development or when they start to develop a sense of self, and I’m not particularly interested in viability as a criteria for parental responsibility. The main consideration for me in this sort of situation is suffering, of all parties, and for all decisions.

I think I would take a fair bit of convincing that a foetus suffers sufficiently at most points in development to make a case against abortion when there is a serious disability or health risk to either party.

I am still a little conflicted about elective late term abortions. Theoretically I think there should probably be a cut off in intentionally killing a foetus at the point where it could, by an equivalently traumatic or invasive procedure, live. So, for example, a woman carrying a 30 week old baby would likely have to give birth to the baby or have a C-section, and whether the baby is dead or alive would not affect that process much. At that point, I think the woman should still be allowed to terminate the pregnancy, but perhaps not by killing the child.

The complexities really come in the time between viability as in ‘could just about survive but with high risk of long term problems‘ and viability as in ‘could survive in the wild on its own‘. How reasonable is it to ask that a woman at 28 weeks pregnant, carrying a baby that may well be viable, but with a higher risk of health problems, carry to at least 34 weeks, making it very likely that the baby could survive just fine? I suspect that the additional few weeks would be a toll on the mother, but I am not sure how this weighs against the likelihood of long-term effects on the baby.


What the result of all this, and how that would be enacted legally I have no idea. Translating principles based on theoretical limits like the point of sentience into laws for society is basically impossible, and there are a million practical problems that I haven’t thought about. I don’t have a massive problem with elective abortions only being allowed up until a certain point in normal cases, although I think there should be room for exceptional circumstances such as diagnosis of complications and, perhaps most controversially, not knowing they were pregnant.

Of course this might then start a rash of babies being delivered early by mothers that don’t want them, but A) I very much doubt it would be in any real numbers and B) aren’t there loads of gay or infertile couples after small babies to adopt?

Equal parenting and feminist fatherhood

I’m a feminist and a soon-to-be father. I’m ridiculously angry by comments that Farage is making about his inability to change the gender discrimination in the City as if it were based solely on necessary biological differences. I am also angry about articles like the one in the Telegraph saying that fathers are worse at important parenting skills. I think it is true that women and men, or birthing and non birthing partners, face different challenges, and that women are often better equipped to parent. But this is in large part because of entrenched social norms, where women are expected to sacrifice personal fulfillment to manage the family, and men playing with children are something to be suspicious of. I am very much opposed to the unnecessary continuation of these traditions, and the damage that it does to families who are forced into roles that they don’t want.

I’m also in a really rather traditional family set-up, with myself as the bigger earner and the original house purchaser, and my wife almost always doing the cooking and managing the housework. I drive the car, and she makes sure it has everything in it. This has come about largely as an accident of our circumstances, rather than any view either of us hold about the gender roles in a relationship.

So what should I do about fatherhood? What role can and should I play in the upbringing of my child? How does this fit with my feminist principles?

My guiding principle must be that the division of both labour and reward is fair, or at least as fair as it can be given that the whole process is wildly messy and unbalanced. What is ‘fair’ can be really tricky to evaluate, as different ‘work’ is evaluated differently, both by society at large, and by individuals. So, for example, while both my wife and I work hard in our jobs, I get paid more. My wife enjoys cooking, while I like to set up gadgets. Rewards are also impossible to measure when it is mostly about interaction with a hazy eyed food processing tube that will at times hate you.

I feel like there should be some theoretical way of evaluating and therefore calculating how to share the workload of a household, but the problem is that every single relevant factor in doing this calculation varies wildly. At this point I have to say I have no idea what all of these factors are and how they vary, but there are a few things that I can immediately identify as key areas to work out. These are:

  • Physical and mental fitness
  • Personal preference
  • Time at home
  • Financial security
  • Long term opportunities
  • A good example

Physical and mental fitness

There is massive variation in people’s ability to do things in everyday life, and this is exacerbated in the early stages of parenthood. Due to a happenstance of biology, women go through 9 months of parasitism, massive physical trauma, and then are often woken every hour to be parasitised again. My wife has had added complications of pelvic girdle pain, which has made everything painful, and walking any further than between bed and couch really difficult. New dads will be tired too, but I don’t think that can compare to what new and expectant mums go through.

So, obviously, doing anything at all will be harder for women in the time around birth. That doesn’t mean that the man has to do everything, but he should be getting pretty close to it.

I don’t really know what the changing paternity laws give people in terms of time off, as I am sadly not eligible for it due to changing job too recently. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this balance will change somewhat if one partner is returning to work while the other doesn’t. I think this can cut both ways – the person not at work is not not working, and the person working out of the house is presumably not trying to neglect their household responsibilities. Of course, it can be difficult to see this when you’re involved on side or the other.

Personal preference

People enjoy different things, and it seems mad to discount this when deciding who does what. For example, my wife enjoys cooking more than I do, and so it makes sense that she should therefore cook. But, that should only really be about prioritising who does which particular tasks, rather than how much they end up doing. So while my wife will do the majority cooking, I should ensure that I am doing the equivalent value of work in some other way. This matters all the more when there is more to do – and I think I have heard mention of an increase in required work when you have a child.

In deciding parenting roles, however, this needs to be put to one side a bit. I am sure that I would prefer not to be the one to tell off my child and stop it doing things – I’m more relaxed about Health and Safety than my wife, and would trust the child to learn, while she would want it not to injure or kill itself. But I think it’s important that a balance is found, and that messages are consistent at least until the child is able to start to distinguish and decide more independently. So for example we might agree that we say ‘don’t use prostitutes’ and ‘no smoking crack’ and even if I don’t hold an *in principle* stand against either of those activities, I will need to support and enforce those rules. Of course, in exchange for that, I might be able to convince my wife to allow him to try alcohol in a controlled environment and have consensual relations at a younger age than she would have liked, and she would have to support that too.

There is also a question of identity. Many of the women who are identified primarily as mothers are happy to be so, because they view the nurturing of a new person as the most important thing they could do. I think this is widely under-rated, and that people who choose to live like this should be proud of the job that they do. However, many woulds prefer to have more than one life, where they can be recognised in their own right. My wife will make an excellent and proud mother, but would also like to achieve things in the workplace, the community and perhaps in the political and public world.

Time at home

I’ve mentioned the importance of trying to balance the workload for all parties (except the baby, who can get away with minimal domestic input), but the main thing about being at home is spending time with the child. Traditionally, the mother looks after the child and does all of the housework during the day, and so does all the boring stuff like checking homework, making them tidy up. Because the dad is only around for a short period before bedtime, he wants to make an impact, and so doesn’t ‘waste’ his time by doing chores. This is a bad deal for the mother who never gets a break to relax and have fun with the child, as well as the father who only gets a small amount of time, even if that can often be more fun.

My wife will likely be working after maternity leave, and it looks like the easiest nursery to come to is by my work, so I will likely be doing quite a bit of that after the first year. It makes sense that I would do that as I will be responsible for him getting there on time, clean, fed and ready to play and learn. In the first year, my wife will be on maternity, so she will be doing a lot more of that.

Financial security

This is the boring bit, and the bit where it can get very cruel. Although money doesn’t make you happy, not having any money can make you very miserable indeed, and it is harder to bring up a child in a poor house than a well-off one. So financial stability really should come into how you allocate responsibilities. We are lucky enough that we could get by with very little, and that it would be feasible to survive on either one of our wages alone. But for many, this fundamental point of needing to make enough money to survive would make the decision for them without any real room for discussion about who does what – the family has to follow the money.

In realistic terms, me going part-time would have a bigger economic impact than my wife doing so would. It is this simple fact that makes it most difficult for me to realistically consider a major drop in working hours, but as I said before, we are in the lucky position of being able to cope with a reduction in one or both of our incomes. Of course, as my wife progresses career-wise this is likely to become easier to balance.

Long term opportunities

The problem with making decisions to make the present bearable, like only having the higher earner working, is the constrictions that puts on long term opportunities. So, if my wife significantly reduces or gives up work, she risks damaging her career and missing out on opportunities. Sadly, we live in a gendered world, so the response to me doing the same thing would be very different. I am not sure whether it is more likely that I would suffer negative consequences if I were to do that, as I would be seen as unusual and not committed to my work, or whether I would be treated as a hero for sacrificing myself to care for my child.

There is also the fact that, independently of this, women are seen as a greater risk by employers, as they are more prone to having to take time off for childbirth. Hopefully this will change in time, and I would like to think that if we decided to have another child, we would be in a position to share the leave entitlement. However, this is currently hypothetical, where the risk to a woman’s advancement is certain. This suggests that, given the pre-existing disadvantage to women, male partners should take the greater hit when there is optional long-term impacts, again in the name of fairness.

A good example

One of the things I am very keen to give my child is a good example, and to teach him how to be a good person. This includes making sure that any decisions we take in our family are to do with our circumstances, and not our genders. So *if* my wife and I end up in a relatively traditional set-up, and there is still a reasonable chance that we won’t, it should be clear that that is not a better set-up than any other. When he gets to start thinking about setting up a family of his own, however that looks, he should make sure that he is open to considering the things I talk about here, with the express aim of making the burden of responsibilities and the spread of opportunities as fair as it can be.

The worst outcome would be for us to end up in a traditional situation and carry on as if it is and should be normal. It is currently normal, although that has changed significantly over the past few decades, but it should change more. People who think that this is as it should be, beyond the relatively minor biological imperatives of childbirth etc, perpetuate an unjust society in which women don’t get to succeed as individuals in their own right, and men don’t get to succeed in their families.

Whatever happens, we are going to raise a man that recognises and respects women. We want him to be sensitive to the differences between people as well as aware of the extent to which these are needlessly and damagingly built by a variety of social pressures.

So it’s probably clear that I haven’t thought through every eventuality, and am as unprepared for fatherhood as anyone can be. I’m also starting from a position of power that may somewhat be a result of entrenched patriarchy, and I’m aware that my middle class white son stands to get a good start in life, better than most.

I am committed to doing my part to raise my child, and part of that is making sure that his mother is empowered. I do not want her to risk losing her identity into our son – being identified as a mother is a wonderful and vastly under-rated thing, and I’m sure many people are proud to be so, but I suspect my wife would like to do something else too. This requires me making sacrifices to support her – both as a mother, and as an individual. I don’t know what form this will take yet – it may be time off work, a reduction in hours, a different share of the housework or anything else – but I will be doing whatever I can to make sure the labour and rewards of our having a child will be shared.

And that not having a clue what will happen, but being committed to making it work for everyone involved is what I think any feminist good parent should be doing.

Suw poster – Lancaster Skeptics in the Pub

Here is the poster for Suw Charman-Anderson talking about Ada Lovelace Day and women in STEM at Lancaster Skeptics in the Pub.

This will be upstairs at The Park Hotel, Wednesday April 4 at 8:00pm.

Please feel free to print this and stick it up wherever you can, and pass the word on.

Ada Lovelace Day heroine nomination

Last Friday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and support women in STEM. One of the ways it does this is encourage people to write about a heroine in one of the related fields. This is my entry.

I don’t know a great many women at the cutting edge of STEM, but I think that even if I did it wouldn’t change my nomination. I want to write about Jenny Neuburger. Don’t worry that you haven’t heard about her.

She is a statistician, and has recently finished her doctorate. Her thesis was working on the data provided by longitudinal studies into the wage gap between men and women, controlling for confounding factors such as time away from work and educational achievement. Since this, she has been working on patient outcomes for surgical interventions. Before her doctorate she worked in policy development for Shelter.

You may have noticed that she tends to work in very socially positive areas. She has a great sense of social responsibility, and works in fields that rightly give a sense of satisfaction, knowing that in doing your job you are helping people. She is doing Good Things. However, this is not why I wanted to nominate her. Lots of people commit their working lives to positive goals – where would many of the greatest institutions be without that goodwill? The NHS would have been sunk long ago, as would the civil service and local government.

I have every confidence that Jenny is excellent at what she does. I can’t imagine she would have successfully completed a PhD without the requisite skills. However, I can’t nominate based on this, because I can’t assess it properly. Without a similar level of knowledge and understanding I am in no position to pass comment on hers.

The thing that I think makes her stand out is her passion. She really cares about her work in a way that I have rarely, if ever, seen. She not only recognises the importance of what she does, and this is the sort of analysis governments make spending decisions on, but enjoys the actuals of it. Almost every time I see her we have lengthy, involved and very interesting conversations about her work. Confounding factors, different analytic models and statistical significance will come up, and it won’t feel like a school lesson. No one else I know will happily and enthusiastically talk shop in the way she does, while being so clear and engaging.

This enthusiasm is hugely important. I don’t know what her future holds, and I don’t know how her career will progress. What I do know is that she will enjoy the journey, and will give everyone else great value along the way. That’s the sort of thing that makes a heroine.

Rationalism and Feminism, labels part 3

Ooops, I meant to keep writing some of the random things I think about down. Sorry for the delay, real life has been in the way a bit. I had a bit of a series going about the labels we do and should use, which I’d like to continue. In this instalment, I will talk a bit about how skepticism, the application of rigorous doubt and the desire for logic and evidence to support positions, fits with some forms of feminism. This is prompted in no small part by the fact that Ada Lovelace day is upon us.

Feminism is a very weighted term, one with a lot of history. Much of the history has been positive, with great steps, in the west particularly, toward the legal recognition that women should be treated as equals to men. Sadly, as with any movement I guess, there is also a set of negative connotations. Some feminists have made ludicrous claims and statements, and some have been openly hostile to men. Here I will explain why I think there is still a need for feminism, why I think that is the rational position, and what I hope a modern feminist to look like.
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