Skepchick Quickies 5.19

  • Ben Stein: IMF head is really only guilty of being rich -Some of Stein’s explanation: “In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes?”
  • Protein flaws responsible for complex life – “A comparison of proteins across 36 modern species suggests that protein flaws called “dehydrons” may have made proteins less stable in water. This would have made them more adhesive and more likely to end up working together, building up complex function.” From Mike and Donnie.
  • Why there is so much stupid on the internet – From w_nightshade.
  • Micro-aggressions, cat-calling, and triggers – “It’s spring in New York, which means the warm air has ramped up the sexual tension on the streets, and it has become harassment season. I decided to take on this project when I heard a man on the train proudly proclaim, “It’s skirt season — time to finally see all the goods!” as he ogled a group of younger school girls.”


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Can anyone tell me any ex-actors turned game show host who have been convicted of being a douchbag?
    Just because someone hasn’t been convicted of something doesn’t mean it can’t be true.
    This is one of the most outrageous examples of ad hoc reasoning I have ever heard.

  2. Reading the article at Persephone, about the author’s day-to-day experiences dealing with the cat-calls, unwanted attention and, well, horribleness, reflects the stories I’ve heard from just about every woman I know. My wife has recounted days exactly like those described in the article. I saw my mother return from the store in tears once from an encounter (she wouldn’t tell me what happened, but I got the gist). Endless stories from friends. The saddest thing, to me, was this comment below that article:

    I don’t know what to say. It feels like reading a week in my own life. And I just feel so tired.

    And the notion that a woman who speaks up to defend herself in these situations can then be overtly threatened… My wife tends to do this, talking back cat-callers. And on the one hand I think “You are awesome” but on the other, it scares the living shit out of me…

    1. Blockquote fail in the above comment(not sure why). If it’s not apparent the quote part was:

      “I don’t know what to say. It feels like reading a week in my own life. And I just feel so tired.”

  3. As usual, Randal Monroe (XKCD) stepped up and answered this nicely:

    Paul Bernardo.

    For those not familiar with the case, Bernardo is one of the nastiest serial killers in history. He and his wife drugged, raped, and tortured to death a number of schoolgirls in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The story is the stuff of nightmares.

    He also directs to more at Urbaniak.

  4. “People who commit crimes tend to be criminals.” Yes, and people with yellow hair tend to be blondes. Insightful as always, Ben.

  5. “Protein flaws responsible for complex life” — what the creationist might say:

    How come a protein bar doesn’t just spring to life then, huh? huh?

  6. Regarding the Persephone article: what can we guys do to help?

    Obviously, avoid joining in that sort of behavior. If we’re with a friend or acquaintance who does it, call them out on it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    But what if we’re just in the vicinity? What if I’m just the random stranger on the street who sees or hears this happening? Especially if the woman involved doesn’t respond, should I?

    My immediate reaction was “Yes, I should talk back to the guy so the woman doesn’t have to, let him know what a jackass he’s being.” But is that the wrong instinct?

    Maybe she doesn’t want the extra attention that my reaction could bring. Maybe she knows that she’s perfectly capable of standing up for herself and just didn’t want to bother. Maybe she walks this way every single day and my one-time response could make things worse for her in the future.

    So really, what is the right thing to do? How can we help?

    1. That’s difficult to answer. It really might make me feel like crap if I felt that a man had had to step in and protect me. On the other hand, I can’t really be sure, because no-one’s done it.

      Passing building sites, what I’d *like* is if whatever dick decided that I was a good target for verbal abuse got a short verbal slap from his manager. “Get some goddamn self respect.”.

    2. I agree with Astro. I’m not sure how I’d feel if a random guy piped up. I’d say yeah, if you’re in a group and one of your friends pulls that, smack him upside the head and tell him that behavior is inappropriate. I think most people would shrug off a stranger intervening, but if it’s a friend or coworker, they may start to change their behavior.

    3. If it’s people you know, feel free to give them a verbal smack-down. When I was in college I felt the need to tell guys I knew that were openly leering at co-eds to “please grow up, your drool is getting on my textbooks” pretty regularly. Ironic since we were all hanging out playing Magic The Gathering between classes, eh?
      In general, I think if you’re going to respond, do so with some wit. Assertive, not aggressive to avoid escalation.
      I’d be more likely to step up and say something if it seemed the target was clearly upset by the situation.
      Just like when I’d see someone else getting bullied in school – it’s nice to send a message that not everyone around them is an asshat.

    4. I was walking with my wife and some drunk asshole was shouting catcalling abuse at a woman nearby, saying how hot she was and how much he would like to do her. Without pause, I shouted back to him, “Thanks very much – I’m flattered!” (Picture me, a big, bald, bearded IT type.) The woman made a sharp exit as he turned his attention to me. He became enraged, and started shouting at me; clearly I had somehow impugned his masculinity. I laughed like a loon as I walked away and the gathering crowd mocked this jackass.

      I felt like a goddamn hero.

    5. It’s a really tough question, especially because you absolutely should not act like a knight in shining armor, here to rescue the helpless princess from the scary ogre.

      I think that what you can do is make the harasser aware that you, as another man, disapprove of his behavior, but in a subtle way. You can glare at him or use other non-verbal communication. In cases where the harasser seems to be following the woman, you can try to get the man away from her without calling attention to his behavior, by asking him for directions or for the time or something like that, allowing the woman time to escape.

      And most importantly, you can continue to call out your friends when they behave that way. Become more aware of it all the time, and make absolutely sure that you’re not condoning their behavior in any way, especially in private.

  7. From Ben Stein:

    Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category?

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Ben Stein has no understanding of how statistics works but still, wow.

    As for the Persephone article, as a male, this sort of behavior is something that I have zero cognizance of. Certainly I would observe less of it since it is not directed toward me. However, living in Eugene, OR, I also wonder whether there is geographic or population density variation of this behavior. Can men living in more populous eastern cities comment on whether this is something that they are observing or is it so directed that bystanders probably wouldn’t be aware? Just curious.

    1. Personally, I can’t say I’ve witnessed it. I’ve definitely seen the more ‘stealth’ variety of men muttering under their breath or staring when a woman looks away. Also the ‘after action reports’ that some ‘dudes’ will go into when a woman is out of earshot. However, I’ve heard some anecdotes from female friends and acquaintances, and these types of incidents has been reported frequently enough in the local press, that I don’t much doubt they happen. And of course, there is always the occasional report of the subway groper here and there…one even got caught because the woman actually took his picture with her cellphone camera: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Woman-Snaps-Cell-Phone-Photo-of-Subway-Groper.html

    2. It happens everywhere. I live in a small college town and it happens here, even in the summer when the population is almost zero. Even if there isn’t yelling, it’s often still noticeable which is half the point. Men are conditioned to not notice and any other women bystanders know they will become a target it they speak up. So there is no way to win for the woman stuck in this situation.

      The other thing from the article I’d like to point out is the amount of time and energy women devote to just anticipating this happening. I may only happen once every 10 days but I will spend the other 9 days stressed out and anxious because “today could be the day”

      As for MJ I would say speak up. Please speak up. It’s only when other men begin to make it known that this behavior is unacceptable that the tide will begin to shift. The point of these calls is to dehumanize women. So the woman speaking up, or another defending her won’t actually stop the behavior because “bitches be crazy amirite?” But men stepping up again and again removes the social support that catcallers rely upon. Men are human people and if they’re against it maybe it’s something I shouldn’t be doing.

      1. “The point of these calls is to dehumanize women”

        You give the idiots who act this way too much credit in their ability to “fink”.
        They do it because others do and they want to fit in, “Monkey see, Monkey do”.

        I agree with the comments that you should let any friends who act this way know you do not approve. In England we use the tut.

    3. “I don’t much doubt they happen” — let me rephrase that, since it seems weak. I don’t doubt these incidents happen. But to be sheepishly honest, I don’t know I’d react if it did happen right in front of me…we’re so trained to ignore things. Particularly in New York City. I guess I’ll just have to make a concentrated effort.

    4. Hello fellow Eugener (Eugenite?), unfortunately, it does happen here too. Around the campus you hear it, a long with other areas. It’s not as prevalent as on the East Coast, or maybe just not as loud most of the time.

      I actually have lived longer in Portland. It’s there too, but I am happy to say that I have noticed a decrease over the years.

    5. Like scribe999, I see it almost every day, but only the tacky ogling and the occasional, “Hey, baby!” However, I don’t know if I don’t see as much as the article mentions because I’m not looking for it and it’s not directed at me, (and I tend to have my nose buried in a book on the train).
      It did prompt me to email the article to a couple of close friends here in NYC to see if their experiences are comparable.

  8. What I have seen work is for the woman to turn to the cat-callers co-worker and ask “Is he always a asshole or is today a special occasion.?”
    The laughter of his fellow macho men is ussually enough to shut him up.
    I have used it to less effect since then (in defence of a woman) and I think if the threat of ridicule were introduced it would decrease the likelyhood of it happening again.

  9. I’m skeptical that a link to an article about Ben Stein ‘just happens’ to be in the same list as a link to an article about “Why there is so much stupid on the internet”.

    Coincidence? I think not.

  10. I have a real problem with the protein article. I think someone doesn’t understand the difference between variation and selection. I don’t know if it is bad science or bad science reporting. But I don’t see anything there that violates or overturns the modern evolutionary synthesis. It’s just an interesting wrinkle on how slight genetic or epigenetic or environmental changes can cause a significant change in phenotype that can be selected for or against.
    The article seems to imply that natural selection didn’t lead to complexity and thus calls it into doubt, but no one ever said it did. Selection doesn’t create anything. It destroys deleterious variations and preserves advantageous variations, but it doesn’t create the variations. The protein sticky points (dehydrons) are just another specific form of variation.

  11. Not surprisingly, this happens in L.A. pretty frequently too, though we walk a lot less and I don’t take the subway, though I imagine women who take the bus/subway get it a lot more than I do. I’m a pretty friendly person but I do not look into other people’s cars, I don’t make eye contact when on the street and I make sure to have a rude comeback to the “Smile. You’re so pretty!” comment that creeps me out every damn time. Eww. I’m not here to be pretty for you asshole…

  12. I’ve got a double-whammy for micro-agression: I’m “overly blessed” in the breast area, and I have the kind of resting facial expression that looks like I’m frowning, or not happy. I’m constantly having men (and women) talk to my boobs. After a while, I either talk back to crotches or say, “yoo hoo, I’m up here!” When people ask me to smile I give them a big fake grin. “What’s wrong?” really gets me. An ex used that as psychological torture for about a year, and finally there was a lot wrong. Now I smile and say, “Nothing.” But I’m thinking, “I’m not here to smile like a pretty little porcelain doll for your amusement!” I’ve gotten better at wearing a little bit of a smile when my face is “at rest” so I can avoid “what’s wrong?” all day.

  13. Re: Persephone article

    Ok, speaking as a guy, what do we do about it in ourselves? I mean, sure, I wouldn’t catcall a stranger, but how can we tell when a look that we interpret as harmless goes from “appreciative” to “creepy”? What’s the line, in casual conversation, between “compliment” and “micro-aggression”?

    One thing that did strike me, in the article, however, was a definite cultural difference. In Houston, I smile at strangers, look them in the eye, and give them a nod, even if that’s going to be my only interaction with them. This is part of normal and acceptable social interaction; refusing to do so seems damn weird after 20 years in the south.

    1. You won’t accidentally harass someone. It’s a myth that rape apologists use to pretend that they’re just innocent horny dudes who expressed their feelings politely and those silly wimmins just over-reacted, honest!

      You really should not be afraid of accidentally harassing someone, unless your intentions aren’t as innocent as you think they are. If you truly are worried, then always err on the side of not-harassing. If you think your “compliment” might seem harassing, then keep it to yourself. You really shouldn’t be complimenting complete strangers on their sexual appeal anyway unless in you’re in a bar or something.

      1. I resent being likened to a “rape apologist” because I’m asking for clarification so I don’t make people uncomfortable. “Err on the side of not-harassing” means not interacting with people, which isn’t practical. I am looking for guidelines because the ones I’ve acculturated to date are largely wrong.

        One specific note in the article caught my attention… she had a negative reaction to someone checking out her butt. They were in close quarters, but my reading is not that it’s a function of him being in her comfort zone because he’s insensitive, but because the train was crowded. Is checking out a butt wrong? At what point does noticing that a woman has a nice posterior become aggressive?

        Where’s the line on a compliment? I don’t think there’s any doubt that “Damn, you’re fine!” or “You have great boobs” is a bit much… but what about “You have beautiful eyes” or “I like your blouse”?

        I understand that the rules of behavior that society has encouraged for a while are wrong. But I don’t like being called a rape apologist for asking what the rules should be… or being told that the best solution is to, essentially, fuck off and die if I don’t already know them.

        1. I think you’re asking some perfectly legitimate questions. But I suspect there is no answer; certainly no all-encompassing single answer. For example, at some workplaces it’s considered sexual harrassment for a male to ask a female co-worker out on a date; at other workplaces it’s considered sexual harrassment for a male to tell a female co-worker a so-called dirty joke. So, where do you go with that? I don’t know.

          Sometimes wrong behaviour is obvious, so to speak. At other times and places, and fully dependant on the individual, it is nowhere near so clear.

          Perhaps we should just stop talking, looking at, interacting with each other altogether.

  14. I remember a friend of mine in college used to plan ahead for “mini-skirt week,” the first week of nice weather in the Spring. We went to school in Michigan, so this usually happened in April.

    He used to say things like “all the sorority girls will want to wear the new mini-skirt they bought…” and other darling gems. It really gave me the creeps, especially since he’s a hipster who openly despised greek life.

    It’s hard to tell people not to ever visually enjoy other people – however, a woman walking around minding her own business is pretty much never the time to do it.

  15. Incidental looking is just that – incidental.

    This is very different than scheduling your day so that you’ll see a buffet of sexy ladies in mini skirts and plan to take in as much of the view is possible.

    See how that seems borderline predatory? I realize a lot of the distinction is intent.

    1. “See how that seems borderline predatory?”
      Well, no, I don’t actually. I find it rather difficult to perceive of girl/guy watching as predatory, borderline or not. Potentially inappropriate, maybe. But predatory? No. That brings to mind the kind of mindset that youth gangs have where if one gang member simply looks straight at another gang’s gang member it’s a license to a beating.

      1. (Life continues: Last night on the subway, heading home from a concert, a young, well-dressed man sat staring at me from the other side of the carriage until I locked eyes with him and made it clear I wasn’t going to look away first. On Friday night, a homeless man shouted in my face to tell me that I am unattractive.)

        If I’m heading somewhere on public transport “dressed attractively”, I almost certainly did not dress up for the people with whom I’m sharing a compartment. I might be headed to a picnic, to go swimming in a lake, to dinner at a nice restaurant for a birthday party. I dress up for my friends, not for strangers.

        “Inappropriate” is a word that brings to my mind nice, safe situations. A Philips screwdriver is inappropriate for flathead screws. A beanie with a whirling fan on the top is inappropriate for the Oscars. A strange man staring straight at me like my body is public property because I’ve stepped outside my front door…

        I’m not sure I’d describe what I’ve seen as “predatory”. (As the Faceless Man said: “You are not a sex object, have never been a sex object, cannot be a sex object.”) I’d certainly agree that the *strength* of the sentiment seems appropriate.

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