RivkaT (rivkat) wrote,


Tara Westover, Educated: A MemoirWestover was born into a fundamentalist Mormon family that declined to give her formal schooling (or carry insurance; her father ripped the seatbelts out of their van rather than use them). Her father had her and her siblings do dangerous work in his scrapyard, work made more dangerous because of his contempt for safety equipment. Devastating accidents leave her older brother with head injuries that may well have worsened his abuse of her, even as her parents become more wrapped up in their own way of life (clearly aided by the lack of interest in Idaho in interfering with religiously motivated child harm). Westover eventually figures out that she wants an education and escapes to BYU, but her struggles are far from over. It’s beautifully written but heartwrenching.
Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of AmericaIntellectual history of the idea of the frontier and the collapse of American self-confidence in the infinite extensibility of American power. I didn’t learn much from it.
James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest StatesSurveys the current scholarship on the first states, which Scott suggests were mostly worse places to live than non-states because of the imposition of taxes and the lesser availability of food. Argues that the state developed centralized agriculture to control people rather than developing because of centralized agricutlure, and that this worked much more easily with grain than with other staple crops because grain needs to be harvested at a specific time and can’t just be left in the ground like tubers can, which allows the taxman to take a big share.
Shane Harris, [@]War: The Rise of the Military-Internet ComplexThings are going to get worse and the US government is going to increase its involvement with corporate contractors to try to fix it. That won’t be easy; for example, the Chinese can insert computer viruses through the electromagnetic spectrum to target recon planes. There are an unknown but large number of operating system exploits out there, and some rely on hardware issues, which can’t be patched with code. And even if the CIA’s own defenses are good, the VA Department’s aren’t, meaning many citizens’ information is vulnerable.
Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for MenThe world isn’t designed for women, and we don’t even know how bad it is because we haven’t collected information about it. For example, until very recently there was no crash testing of cars using dummies with a female weight/height profile, and it’s still very limited. “[W]hen a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seat-belt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die.” Because women are shorter, “[o]ur legs need to be closer to reach the pedals, and we need to sit more upright to see clearly over the dashboard,” but designers have defined this as the wrong position, making us “out of position” drivers. We “have less muscle on our necks and upper torso than men, which make us more vulnerable to whiplash (by up to three times), and car design has amplified this vulnerability. Swedish research has shown that modern seats are too firm to protect women against whiplash injuries: the seats throw women forward faster than men because the back of the seat doesn’t give way for women’s on average lighter bodies.”

Women’s work is ignored, which means that, for example, transportation planning doesn’t take into account the trips that women are more likely to make and anti-poverty programs move women into places where their networks are unavailable and childcare is suddenly both necessary and impossible to find. And male violence against women is ignored, so women’s safety concerns that limit use of public transportation and public space are dismissed as flaws in female behavior, even as we now know that women in India who have to use fields to urinate, instead of bathrooms, face a much greater risk of sexual assault and that women prefer security measures at bus stops (where we otherwise have to wait alone in the dark) to cameras on buses (which transportation designers are more willing to plan for). The disregard for women’s interests interacts—when we don’t count unpaid care work, we find that moderately long hours at paid work improves men’s health but threatens women’s health—because women are actually working a ton more. Everything could use some gender analysis: what counts as a deductible work expense generally conforms to “the kinds of things men will need to claim. Uniforms and tools are in; emergency day care is out.”

Among the rage-inducing stuff, I also learned that “countries with genderless languages (such as Hungarian and Finnish) are not the most equal. Instead, that honour belongs to a third group, countries with ‘natural gender languages’ …. because men go without saying, it matters when women literally can’t get said at all.” Relatedly, “gender neutral” tenure policies that give extra time on the tenure clock for having children advantage men, who use the extra time to write: one analysis of economics departments found that they resulted in a 22% decline in women’s chances of gaining tenure at their first job, and a 19% increase for men. Instead, Perez points to the example of giving father-specific paternity leave on a use it or lose it basis, which has apparently done some good in Sweden.

Then there’s bias against women: male biology students routinely underevaluate female peers while female students can tell who’s actually good; student evaluations are biased against female professors (and nonwhite professors)—that we know this very well and keep using evaluations as part of the standards for professors demonstrates that it’s not just lack of information that’s the problem, it’s that policymakers can’t stop thinking of women as problems to be solved, deviations from the norm. Women can’t get startup funding as easily as men; when professions gain importance (like computer programmers), decisionmakers kick women out of the field. In such circumstances, the myth of meritocracy can only perpetuate itself by collapsing the is/ought distinction—Perez cites an example of a finding that “frequenting a particular Japanese manga site is a ‘solid predictor of strong coding,’” which of course is much more about free time and culture than anything else.

And it’s not just money; women pay in illness and death for these failures to see. Construction jobs have safety limits on what can be lifted, but the research and regulation in nursing lags far behind. Miners’ diseases are heavily studied, but not the chemicals used in nail salons. The Army buys ‘different boot styles for hot and cold weather, mountain and desert warfare and the rain,’ but not for women. Medicine isn’t studied in women because women’s bodies are considered too complex and variable—but it sure as hell is prescribed to us, though our pain is undertreated. One result: “the second most common adverse drug reaction in women is that the drug simply doesn’t work, even though it clearly works in men.” And note what else that failure may mean: since women aren’t sufficiently studied in drug trials, we are likely losing out on drugs that would work for women but are ruled out because phase one trials are mostly done in men. And so on.

Poverty programs that fail to think about women fail. In Syria, for example, “while the introduction of mechanisation in farming did reduce demand for male labour, freeing men up to ‘pursue better-paying opportunities outside of agriculture’, it actually increased demand ‘for women’s labour-intensive tasks such as transplanting, weeding, harvesting and processing.’” Other interventions fail “in part because women are already overworked and don’t have time to spare for educational initiatives, no matter how beneficial they may end up being,” leading innovators to blame women for failing to be sensible. Other initiatives “exclude women by requiring a minimum land size, or that the person who attends the training is the head of a farming household, or the owner of the land that is farmed.” The story of improved stoves—which could help environmental impacts and women’s health—is particularly frustrating, because their designers for decades ignored the barriers to women’s uptake and blamed women for not changing, even though the new stoves disrupted multitasking and household relationships. 

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Tags: au: grandin, au: harris, au: perez, au: scott, au: westover, nonfiction, reviews
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