Feminism and Pixar

I was originally going to write this post before I made it to Toy Story 3, but good thing I waited as I now channel even more anger into it.   One of my (misguided) facebook friends linked to this article with the explanation that she would not be wasting her money on Toy Story 3′s sexism.  Here’s a taste:

Out of seven new toy characters at the daycare where the majority of the narrative takes place, only one is female–the purple octopus whose scant dialogue is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. Although two of the toys in the framing scenes with Bonnie, the girl who ultimately becomes the toys’ new owner, are female, the ratio is still far worse than the average in children’s media of one-female-to-every-three-males…

While the girls in the audience are given the funny and adventurous Jessie, they are also taught women talk too much: Flirty Mrs. Potato-Head, according to new character Lotso, needs her mouth taken off. Another lesson is that when women do say something smart, it’s so rare as to be funny (laughter ensues when Barbie says “authority should derive from the consent of the governed”), and that even when they are smart and adventurous, what theyreally care about is nabbing themselves a macho toy to love (as when Jessie falls for the Latino version of Buzz–a storyline, that, yes, also plays on the “Latin machismo lover” stereotype).

Umm, give me a break!  As I’ve mentioned before, a major theme in my Gender & Politics class is the fact that although most everyone supports the ideals of gender equality, “feminism” has a really bad name.  I posit that it is ridiculous screeds like this that give feminism a bad name.  This is very much like those conservative groups who claim that any negative report about any conservative is a clear instance of media bias.  And, not to rebut the whole essay, but any toy saying that is funny, especially one is quite admittedly a “dumb blonde” stereotype.  One could easily argue that the movie was making a feminist statement by largely playing Barbie against type.

With all the real problems women face and the many very real negative portrayals of women in mass media, to pick on the utterly appropriate and not at all sexist portrayals of the female characters in Toy Story 3 is just absurd, especially based on the ratio of male/female character in a movie about a boy’s toys.   This is the kind of feminism we could do without.

Oh, and Toy Story 3 was absolutely brilliant.  I was continually amazed at the storytelling and visual inventiveness.   Go see it.

24 Types of Libertarian

Oh my, this is awesome:

On-line Education vs. Real education

I was particularly intrigued to come across this paper describing an experiment comparing student performance in distance education and regular education.  I teach PS 31o Public Policy and my lectures are recorded to be streamed on-line for distance education students.  To make up for the in-class aspect, I supplement the on-line version with a forum to discuss current events and major policy issues from the class.  My sense has been that the most motivated and disciplined students can have a nearly equal educational experience to those sitting in the classroom with me (though I would argue that an important part of the college experience is the relationships formed between faculty and student, which really doesn’t happen in an on-line course).  Anyway, the researchers randomly placed students in an on-line or “live” version of the class and compared performance.  Here’s the summary:

This paper presents the first experimental evidence on the effects of live versus internet media of instruction. Students in a large introductory microeconomics course at a major research university were randomly assigned to live lectures versus watching these same lectures in an internet setting, where all other factors (e.g., instruction, supplemental materials) were the same. Counter to the conclusions drawn by a recent U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of non-experimental analyses of internet instruction in higher education, we find modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students. We also provide suggestions for future experimentation in other settings.

Overall, the findings are not actually that robust, rather it is the interactions– i.e., certain sub-groups seem to suffer disproportionately in Distance Ed.  From the paper:

That said, our strongest findings in favor of live instruction are for the relatively low-achieving students, male students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students who are more likely to populate the less selective universities and community colleges. These students may well be disadvantaged by the movement to online education and, to the extent that it is the less selective institutions and community colleges that are most fully embracing online education, inadvertently they may be harming a significant portion of their student body.

That’s obviously a very real concern.  In my experience, strong students do just as well in the class, and students who are prone to struggle, struggle all the more without the regular structure of a “live” class.  Not sure if this means I should do anything different as an instructor, but I do think colleges, including NC State, really need to think hard about just how far they expand on-line education.

When Republicans oppose Republican proposals

That’s simple, when Democrats actually adopt them.  The idea of of using market-based principles for carbon reduction, i.e., cap and trade, is certainly more in keeping with Republican principles as opposed to a more purely regulatory Democratic approach.  So, why are Republicans now opposed to cap and trade?  Because the Democrats have embraced it.  Here’s Yglesias:

Mark Kleiman observes that once upon a time market-simulating pollution-control regulations like emissions fees or cap and trade were the official policy doctrine of the conservative movement, put forward as superior to centralized regulation. He says “was sympathetic to that critique, and frustrated about the environmental movement’s unwillingness to see reason.” But of course now that environmentalists want such pollution controls, conservatives hate them.

Steve Benen takes the ball and runs with it:

Ezra Klein noted that Republicans used to support industry bailouts, but now consider them creeping socialism. Jon Chait noted that the Republicans “fervently embraced the logic of Keynesian stimulus in 2001,” but now fundamentally reject the same idea.

In perhaps my favorite example, the concept of an individual mandate as part of health care reform was, in fact, a Republican idea. Now, the GOP considers it the single most offensive part of the Democratic policy.

The point isn’t to point out Republican inconsistencies; that’s fairly routine. The point is to demonstrate that Republicans are so fundamentally unserious about solving public policy challenges [emphasis mine], that they’ll shamelessly move the goalposts at a moment’s notice. The party supports cap-and-trade, EITC, industry bailouts, housing vouchers, and mandatory health insurance — right up until there’s a Democratic president. Then, Republicans are no longer willing to even consider Republican ideas.

Unfortunately, its proved to be a damn effective political strategy.  Republicans have figured out that simply by opposing something as a bloc, the media (and most definitely my students) take it to be an ideological and partisan policy, no matter how centrist and bipartisan it actually is.  Damn it.

Kagan and “lookism”

With the Kagan hearings going full blast, time for an overdue post on how the fact that she is clearly below average in physical attractiveness affects coverage of her.  Suffice it to say, I’m pretty confident it is worse to be an unattractive female in the public eye than an unattractive male.

First, an essay by Robin Blumner on right-wing pundits using her appearance as the basis of personal attacks:

It was inevitable that Elena Kagan’s physical appearance would become fodder for critics of her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The solicitor general, a woman of remarkable professional achievement, still is, after all, a woman. Even in 2010, 50 years after the stultifying “Mad Men” era, a woman’s looks are part of her résumé…

Yet, by harping on the fact that she fails to come across as classically feminine, the right hints that she must be a radical feminist or a lesbian, neither of which Kagan has given any indication of being.

The corollary to this is the Sarah Palin phenomenon – a woman whose great looks have earned her a place as an opinion-maker, despite demonstrable intellectual limits. During Palin’s vice presidential campaign, her makeup artist was the highest-paid person on her staff, and she famously spent a fortune on clothes. As it turns out, this was exactly the right investment, much more important than schooling Palin on domestic and foreign policy. Somehow her beauty magically transforms the mash of incoherence she spouts into pearls of wisdom for supporters.

Over at the Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer likewise picks up on the Kagan-Palin duality:

What do Elena Kagan and Sarah Palin have in common?  They each offer complementary cautionary tales about the continuing appeal of an ersatz, “Sex in the City” feminism that rewards beauty and punishes plainness with all the subtlety and compassion of a Playboy centerfold.  Kagan’s appearance and fashion sense are mocked or savaged, especially but not exclusively by pundits on the right, following a familiar script.  Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings.  Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not.

And lastly, this all reminded me of Emily Bazelon’s really interesting book review of The Beauty Bias.   The author is a Stanford University law professor who makes the case that we need to increasingly use the law to remedy cases of appearance discrimination:

The Constitution bars discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and ethnicity. By contrast, only the state of Michigan and six locales — the District of Columbia; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Urbana, Ill.; and Howard County, Md., along with San Francisco — have laws that protect against appearance discrimination…

But Rhode insists that she’s not conjuring up an overlawyered world in which aspiring models sue for losing work. She would allow businesses to select employees based on appearance in the same way they can legally select on the basis of sex: if it’s a “bona fide occupational qualification” for the job.

Rhode is also ready to concede that “on the reform agenda of women’s rights advocates, appearance does not deserve top billing.” She just wants to talk about the perils of high heels and weight requirements along with the wage gap. Ladies, think about it the next time your feet ache.

Certainly an interesting idea from a feminist perspective, as women are surely discriminated against on the basis of their looks more so than men, but this strikes me as an ultimately losing cause.  To a considerable degree, I think you are working against human nature here.  I seem to recall studies that show even newborn infants have a built-in preference for more attractive faces.  Not to suggest that this is any rational basis for discrimination, but it is the world we live in.

Why you should find out

As any formerly pregnant friend of mine (and many others as well) knows, I’m a huge advocate of finding out the gender of your child before it is born.  Especially for the sake of the father to be.  First, surprises are way over-rated.  And, its a surprise if you find out at a 20-week ultrasound just as much as it is a surprise if you find out at birth.  Second, there’s plenty of pragmatic, logistical reasons where it really helps to know before the baby is born.

Third, and the real key for me, though, is that the pregnancy becomes so much funner and more real when your future child has a gender.   No matter how gender equal our society may become, suffice it to say there are enormous differences between boys and girls and the parenting challenges and experiences that come with raising each.  The fun of the pregnancy is the imagined possible futures for your child.  The truth is, imagining a gender-neutral future isn’t all that easy or that fun.  I’ve thought about Baby Girl Greene far more in the past day and a half than I did in the past month because I can much more readily envision her as a person now that she has a known gender.  For pregnant moms, you’ve always got that baby with you, but as a dad, in each case I’ve found that the pregnancy has become much more real and exciting when I’ve found out the gender of the baby.  Those of you with children in your future should take this under advisement.

Partisanship, reporting, and teaching

Interesting little “controversy” in the blogosphere yesterday where some Washington Post reporters felt the need to anonymously criticize Ezra Klein as an “absolute partisan.”  This just goes to show the reporters are A) really stupid; or B) don’t actually read Klein.  Ezra mounts a stirring (and quite sensible defense) that really resonated with me because it is actually similar to the way I think about my teaching.  First, Ezra:

Journalism has set up a dichotomy between “objectivity” and “partisanship.” And the thing to be, of course, is objective. Neutral. Without opinion or bias. My view — and people can argue over this — is that this was an economic decision that eventually attained the aura of an ethical judgment. Tim Lee lays out the case here, and the basic upshot is that hiding opinions and conclusions made newspapers more profitable, but that’s not the same as making for the best news coverage. And if you believe that, then you’re more willing, as I am, to try out different forms of news coverage. Which is why what I want to talk about isn’t objectivity. It’s objectivity’s supposed opposite: partisanship…

What I can do is explain why I think what I think about the policies Republicans offer, the policies the Democrats offer, and which will do more good for people out in the real world. People can disagree with these judgments, of course. But trying to figure out how legislation will affect people and then arguing in favor of the policies likely to have a positive impact is not, I imagine, a type of partisanship most people would find very alien. To say you’re a partisan of good things rather than bad things isn’t to say you’re much of a partisan at all. And to explain why you think some things are good and some things are bad, well, that’s just being transparent. And journalists are supposed to like transparency.

The Post’s Greg Sargent does an even better job defending Ezra, but this is the most relevant part for my take:

Is the problem that these blogs are “partisan”? Nope. While the authors of these blogs are open about preferring one outcome or another in politics, they aren’t simply driven by a desire for one party to succeed at all costs. Rather, they are rooting for particular policy outcomes or are, by their own lights, pushing to elevate the discourse. Ezra repeatedly criticized the Dem leadership throughout the health care fight. Weigel sometimes defended Sarah Palin and Tea Partiers when he thought they’d been wronged. This blog regularly whacks Dems when they cravenly sell out their own principles.

Now, my turn.  I have no interest in indoctrinating my students as Democrats.  Yet, I’m not going to pretend I don’t have a point of view when I do.  My interests are what I perceive to be good policy outcomes– based on actually understanding public policy.  And, I readily admit that my personal preferences are influenced by my first principles of equity, tolerance, efficiency, and a belief that we’re much less in control of our actions and fortune than most people think (i.e., empathy).  Do these values align more closely with what the Democratic party favors?  You bet.  And as Ezra points out, the Republican party has become an institution wholly uninterested in good policy outcomes from any objective policy analysis perspective.   My students know my perspective, rather than it subtly influencing what I say while pretending to be without a perspective.  That said, when it comes to plain old political analysis, e.g., who’s going to win an election, what’s going on with legislation, what’s a smart move for a Congressional leader, it is actually quite easy to do without any partisan bias.  The people who portray all these non-policy related matters in purely partisan terms are your genuine hacks.

What I want from my students is opinions based on knowledge and understanding, not just a parroting of talking points– whether they came from Sean Hannity or Keith Olberman.  I’m always going to disagree with a number of my students in that I believe in a higher-tax, more expansive government than they do; but it is actually quite easy to take that as a given and have reasonable debates and discussions from there.  I think it comes down to knowing when “agreeing to disagree” makes sense because it is simply based on subjective normative values versus the times when it doesn’t, as everybody is not entitled to their own facts.

Chart of the day (deficit edition)

Kevin Drum has a great post arguing that there really are no deficit hawks– just posers.  I think he’s 100% correct:

If there were genuinely a bloc of deficit hawks in Congress, they’d be willing to vote for both Medicare cuts and tax increases that phase in over a period of years. But almost none of the supposed deficit hawks are willing to do either of these things, let alone both. They’re posers.

What I really loved about the post, though was this chart:

It really tells you pretty much everything you need to know about our long-term deficit.  If you are serious about the deficit, you are serious about taking bold action to control health care costs. If you are not willing to take on health care costs in a significant way, you are simply not serious about the deficit, no matter how much you talk about it.

No, I don’t hate old people

Which you might think, after a recent post.  What I hate is our political system kowtowing to any particular group.  And we bend way over backwards to avoid upsetting older voters.  The reason is obvious, as this graph of voting turnout by age clearly shows:

That said, I think Matt Yglesias makes a really important point here.

Whenever you see plans to trim entitlement spending, the norm is to assume that everyone over the age of 55 should be exempted from any cuts. The point I raised with her is that this serves to totally undermine any arguments from generational equity that one might want to make. She then pointed out to me that we don’t apply this standard in any other budgetary context. When cash-strapped states cut Medicaid for the poor they do it immediately and without warning in just the way that it’s allegedly impossible to do for Medicare.

Is that a kind way to treat people? Of course not. But insofar as a time will come when the budgetary situation does in fact require immediate cuts in something, I don’t think there’s any reason to think old people should be categorically exempt from the pain.

Yglesias makes the point that it is just a given to assume that older Americans should never feel any pain in entitlement reform.  On its face, that’s ridiculous, but somehow its become completely ingrained bipartisan political doctrine.  Of course, as long as that graph above looks that way (which it always will), we’ll have to live with this.  When I’m a grandfather (and with 4 kids, I damn well better be), I plan on voting in my grandkids’ long-term interest and not my short-term interest.

Kagan Confirmation hearings

Presumably I should say something interesting about the Kagan confirmation hearings.  Alas, generally speaking, these things bore me.  Basically, you get a lot of grandstanding by Senators of both parties that is invariably a great deal of sound and fury amounting to nothing.  We’re a long way from the good old days from Robert Bork, who was actually willing to stand up for his radically conservative positions (and is not a Justice because of it).  These things have degenerated to pure political theater.  That said, I still remember distinctly the Roberts confirmation hearings because he was so successful at being so fundamentally dishonest.  What a great disservice he did to Americans understanding of judging with his baseball metaphor of “I’m just an umpire calling balls and strikes.”  The problem is, of course, that like umpires, Justices make their own strike zone.  Thus, its really important to know where a potential Justice really stands, not just all the pretending.

The customer is not always right

My good friend and former Duke roommate Jamie Smarr recently had an awesome guest column in the New York Times (yes, I am damn impressed) about customer’s who abuse the “customer is always right” notion.  Here’s the great concluding anecdote:

There is but one automatic carwash in East Harlem. Yes, it’s true that what they charge is highway robbery, as my grandmother used to say. It’s hardly worth $18 to splash water, soap and wax on a car for two minutes and then wipe it off, but this does not give the guy in front of me license to make up outrageous claims. You didn’t see any wax being splashed on your car while it went through the tunnel, and so you shouldn’t pay? Surely you jest! Dummy, the wax isn’t discrete from all the other goopy stuff raining down on your vehicle. Why don’t you just go ahead and throw in a specious damage claim while you’re at it?

Much to my enjoyment, the manager does not back down. He does not give in to threats and bullying. He demands the guy pay or he’ll call the cops. Yes! This manager is my new friend. We high-five it out. I’m now his customer for life.

As the husband of the sole proprietor of a small business, I can definitely relate to obnoxious customers who think they are entitled to anything.  I think it is safe to say that such customers cause Kim more angst than anything else about her business.  Kim gives into them far too much for my tastes (though far from always), but that’s easy for me to say when I’m not worried about running a business.  I don’t know whoever is responsible for the ridiculous “the customer is always right” mantra, but they sure are responsible for a lot of evil in the world.  It’s amazing the number of people who just truly believe that because they are the customer they are right.  Period.  Anyway, I loved Jamie’s pushback, give it a read.

Yet another gender post

This one, however, is personal:

I must admit, both Kim and I are a little freaked out by this.  Obviously, it’s very exciting, but we feel like we’ve got this boy thing down.  Now it all changes.  Furthermore, when you’ve got 3 boys, you just start assuming any kid you have will be a boy, even though you still know the chances are 50-50.  I will say, that I’ve always said I’d be a great father for a daughter as I plan on raising an empowered young woman who’s not going to take any crap from the patriarchy.

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