13 May 2010

Recommended Reading for 5/13

I turned in my last seminar paper today! Let the fun times begin! My brain is a little empty, so I just have some links for you today. I'll get back to writing soon.

Attention feminist geeks! The Sexist lets us know that Portal, dubbed "the most subversive game ever," is available for free until May 24th. So hurry and get it!

Also from The Sexist, the follow up post to the xkcd color survey, concerning the sex/gender question from the survey:
We debated for a long time to find a wording of the question that would be answerable unambiguously by everyone, regardless of gender identification or any other issues. In response to a friend who was suggesting we were overcomplicating things, she said, “I *refuse* to word the question in a way that doesn’t have a good, clear answer available for transsexuals, intersex people, and people who already know they have chromosomal anomalies.” I felt the same way, and at the same time I didn’t want to assume everyone remembers what the hell chromosomes are. After hours of debate, everyone was happy with this:
Do you have a Y chromosome?
Don’t Know

If unsure, select “Yes” if you are physically male and “No” if you are physically female. If you have had SRS, please respond for your sex at birth. This question is relevant to the genetics of colorblindness. 
We didn’t add a question about gender identification, in part because I wasn’t really planning to do anything with the survey data beyond basic calibration and didn’t want to hassle people with more questions, and in part because gender is really complicated. We recently programmed Bucket, the IRC chat bot in #xkcd, to allow people set their gender so he can use pronouns for them. This ended up taking hundreds of lines of code, three pages of documentation, and six different sets of pronouns and variables, just to cover all the basic ways people in the channel with different gender identifications wanted to be referred to (even without invented pronouns like “xe”, which we vetoed). And that’s just to cover the pronouns. The role of gender in society is the most complicated thing I’ve ever spent a lot of time learning about, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about quantum mechanics.
Okay, so I just realized that 3/4 of these links came from The Sexist. Anyway, Amanda outlines why Christopher Hitchens's defense of the French veil ban is, unsurprisingly, really fucking misogynistic:
In an essay condemning a cultural institution that prevents men from looking at the faces of women, Hitchens instead argues that men have an inalienable right to stare. Of course, Hitchens phrases this in gender-neutral terms—”My right to see your face is the beginning of it, as is your right to see mine”—that assumes social equivalence between the gazes of women and men. In fact, the gender-neutral approach fails to acknowledge the sexist cultural institutions that allow men to exert ownership over women’s bodies through their gaze—like street harassment and sexual objectification. When a guy passes a woman on the street and tells her to “smile, baby,” he’s asserting authority over her face, her feelings, and how she chooses to express them—or not. Those who would declare their “right” to look at women should first note the social context in which women’s faces are often examined.
Having just written an essay about the role of science and technology in our understandings about our bodies in the Victorian era, I found this article from The Guardian really interesting:
In a study at Barcelona University, men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes.

The "body-swapping" effect was so convincing that the men's sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman's body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.

The study, which appears in the online science journal PLoS One, suggests that our minds have a very fluid picture of our bodies. The research is expected to shed light on the thorny neuroscientific puzzle of how our brain tells the difference between a part of our own body, and something else in the wider world.
Enjoy! I'll be back soon!