May 10, 2009

Ethnocentrism on Meet the Press

Posted in ethnocentrism, mass media at 2:01 pm by LB

Today’s Meet the Press featured David Gregory’s interview with President Karzai of Afghanistan. The last question posed to Karzai was regarding the legality of marital rape under Afghani law.

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It is important to watch the clip rather than read the transcript, because Gregory’s tone was nothing less than ethnocentric. Gregory clearly is questioning the democratic-ness of Afghanistan because of this law’s passing. He might as well have called Afghanistan a “so-called” democracy for having passed an anti-human rights law. Clearly, making marital rape legal is an egregious human rights violation. However, as so many Americans have been shocked! outraged! at this Afghani law as was Gregory, perhaps a history lesson is in order:

Marital rape was legal in the United States in all 50 states until 1976. Marital rape has only been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. And only 17 states make no legal distinction between marital and non-marital rape in terms of legal charges, sentencing and defensibility. And Raquel Kennedy Bergen writes in her paper, “Marital Rape: New Research and Directions”:

However, in 30 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. In most of these 30 states, a husband is exempt when he does not have to use force because his wife is most vulnerable (e.g., she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is legally unable to consent (Bergen, 1996; Russell, 1990; NCMDR, 2005). Because of the marital contract, a wife’s consent is assumed.

This begs the question: Who are we to “primitivize” Afghanistan for legalizing a heinous act that in our own country was not fully illegal until 15 years ago? And if having no legal civil or human rights violations is the measure of whether or not one is a democracy, then for the majority of its history, the United States has not been a democracy, and perhaps still is not one.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

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September 13, 2008

Questionable conclusions

Posted in bunk science, ethnocentrism, gender, gender roles, gender stereotypes, New York Times at 11:50 pm by LB

The recent article from the New York Times, “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen
discusses a scientific study that I find highly questionable. Apparently, the same-old gendered personalities keep resurfacing in personality tests. Psychologists disagree on the origin of the differences: evolutionary vs. socialization. The article asserts that the latter believes that

personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.

So the effect of “traditional gender roles” will be eradicated when women are in the workforce more and do child care less? That seems overly optimistic at best, naieve and ignorant about the pervasiveness of gender socialization at worst. But that’s not my real critique.

Several research groups have been studying personality tests sorted by gender on a global basis, and have found that the gender gap in personality tests is smaller in countries that have “more traditional” cultures. What I think they mean by poorly-worded and undefined “traditional” is less industrialized and perhaps more institutionally religious. Because the U.S. sure has a kind of “traditional culture” too–of capitalism and consumerism. What their designation really refers to, in my view, is cultures that are more obviously and directly patriarchal, since the article says,

A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France.

But again, not my main point.

Since this seems counterintuitive to researchers–surely, our more “advanced” societies, full of legal equality and post-post-industrial economies and wealth coming out of our asses should have less gender disparity in individual personalities. So after another study, looking at 40,000 people, on researcher has concluded that

as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

(I think he meant to say “less external legal barriers.”)

The very next statement in the Times article completely contradicts the researcher’s own conclusion, if you actually think about it:

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

Gee, assertiveness, competitive, lack of concern….surely the presence of these qualities has nothing to do with, for one, western constructions of masculinity?! And what is the implication then, that non-western, less industrialized male populations are too “feminine”? I thought the anti-feminist work of Kathleen Parker already told us that feminism has emasculated American men?! The study itself says the following:

masculinity–femininity describes the extent of emphasis on work goals (earnings, advancement, and assertiveness) as opposed to interpersonal goals (friendly atmosphere, getting along with the boss) and nurturance (higher masculinity–femininity scores reflect masculinity)

Interestingly, but not unsurprisingly, a very Western definition of gender. No wonder “traditional” cultures, that may not make the gendered public/private divide the same way it has been made in industrial and post-industrial American culture, seem to have less gendered personalities. The researchers used a cultural definition of gender as a neutral “fact” of “sex” and then applied them to other nations and cultures whose notions of gender are likely different, and not because they are “less than.” (see p. 172 of the study for more equally problematic indicators of gender equality). I’ll come back to this ethnocentrism. Read the rest of this entry »