Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New fathers become sexist after birth of first child: Study shows their views on care and housework become 'significantly more conservative'

Realism strikes eventually

New fathers become significantly more sexist following the birth of their first child as their attitude to women's roles in care and housework become more conservative, a new study has found.

The study of 1,800 new parents in Australia found many new fathers quickly take on more stereotypical views regarding motherhood following the birth of their first child.

It also found new mothers are conflicted within themselves about their views on work and motherhood.

It found that when their first child is born, both men and women grow more traditional in their gender attitudes towards mothering - but these changes in gender beliefs are significantly different for each sex, creating a range of issues.

The new parents were asked their opinions on a series of statements about parenthood before and after the birth of their first child and rated them on a score of one to seven, where one signifies strong agreement and seven strong disagreement. 

Both sexes changed their previous views to support more strongly the ideas that a woman’s main role is being a mother, that mothers should work only if they need the money, and that young children should not stay in childcare for prolonged periods of time.

However, despite the apparent contradiction, women also believed more strongly than they did before the birth that working women can be just as good caregivers as stay-at-home mothers. 

Meanwhile new fathers became more consistently traditional in their views on gender roles and were less likely than before to agree that men and women in dual-earner couples should share housework and childcare equally.

They were more likely to agree that a working mother is less able than a stay-at-home mother to establish a bond with her child.

The study was carried out by Australian social scientist Janeen Baxter and her findings were published today on the Children and Family blog.

She found that new mothers appear to 'hold onto a broadened personal identity, albeit with some internal contradictions' because of the difficulties of combining paid work with their ideal of stay-at-home mothering.

In contrast, new fathers appear to shrink women’s identities as workers, shifting to a more traditional view of women as caring mothers and housekeepers.

Professor Baxter wrote: 'As a sociologist, I am disinclined to support a biological explanation, because such sexist shifts do not occur in some, particularly non-western, societies, where care of young children is more equally shared, not just between men and women but across communities.

'It seems more likely that the way we organise work, parental leave arrangements, public services for children, schools and social networks create structural barriers to involved fatherhood and also encourage the traditional social construction of women’s mothering role.

'Whether you are male or female, you have to be very confident and persistent against overwhelming odds not to conform amid such powerful messaging.' 

The report added that welfare benefits introduced by most western governments prioritise the mother’s role around the birth while simultaneously encouraging them back into the workforce.

Professor Baxter said that an explanation rooted in social pressure also fits the apparently contradictory attitudes that many women express about work and motherhood.

The report concluded that governments should help by providing greater support to parents and employers to provide leave arrangements, social services and financial assistance 'to allow parents to develop work-parenting arrangements that suit their specific needs at different stages of the parenting cycle'.


UK: A newspaper bans its own Nick Cave story – the Twittermob strikes again

The ease with which mobs can demolish content is terrifying

The power of the Twittermob has officially crossed the line from ‘worrying’ to ‘terrifying’. Yesterday, these ready offence-takers, these always primed chest-beaters over words and images that don’t gel with the moral outlook of the Twitterati, managed to get a newspaper article expunged from the internet, shoved down the memory hole, made into an un-article so that it would never again offend their sensibilities. And they destroyed the article with such swiftness that many people won’t even have noticed that it happened. But it did happen, and we need to talk about it.

The article appeared in the print edition of The Times yesterday. It was about the tragic death of Arthur Cave, son of singer Nick Cave. Arthur fell from a cliff in Brighton on Tuesday. Under the headline ‘Let your children feel fear, Cave urged before son’s death’, The Times news item pointed out that, in an interview with the magazine Kill Your Darlings published just last week, Nick Cave talked about the importance of allowing children to feel fear, where the adult ‘must stand back and let the child decide’. The Times piece wasn’t especially gratuitous or insulting to Cave; indeed, it said he had ‘spoke[n] poignantly about his anxiety at seeing his children face up to danger’. It was basically pointing to the horrible irony of the fact that, in the space of a fortnight, Cave had talked about allowing children to ‘face down… a terrifying situation’, which he described as ‘one of the most moving things an adult, particularly a parent, can witness’, and then had to bear the loss of his son in a terrifying situation. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism? No. Horribly offensive? No.

But the itchy fingers and intolerant minds of the Twittermob weren’t having it. They branded The Times’ article an intrusion into Cave’s grief and unleashed fury and expletives against it. One, a Guardian journalist, said The Times were ‘fucking creeps’, and the article was ‘baseless, pointless, insinuating shit’. The storm built and others were soon raging against this ‘appalling’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘cheap and tacky’, ‘vile’, ‘pointlessly cruel’, ‘shameful’ article. What the Twittermob lacks in level-headed reason it more than makes up for with angry adjectives. One member of the Twittermob even unsubscribed from The Times and wrote an open letter explaining why, because what’s the point in making a Big Moral Statement about your implacable decency if you don’t then advertise it to the whole internet? (What’s with all the open letters these days? Someone should write an open letter telling all the irritants writing open letters to please stop.)

‘Shameful’ was the most common word hurled at The Times. It should be ‘ashamed’ for having published that article. ‘Bloody ashamed’, in fact. Some contacted the individual journalists who wrote the article to inquire if they were feeling ashamed, which they bloody well should have been. The Twittermob, like a fuming priest, loves nothing better than to induce feelings of shame in any hack / troll / misspeaker who says something odd, outrĂ© or offensive. ‘SHAME!’ they scream, like pulpit-dwellers of old keen to make their dumb ignorant flock feel awful about something they said or did.

And here’s the terrifying thing: the Twittermob’s blanket of shame cast over The Times yesterday actually worked. The Times removed the article from its website. Which means people can no longer read it. Oh, let’s call a spade a spade - the article has been banned. And banned, it seems, at the behest of a noisy online mob. As the Guardian put it, ‘Times newspaper removes Nick Cave story after online complaints’. ‘Online complaints’ - nice. Makes it sounds like people politely filled in a form saying ‘This article was upsetting’, when in truth they fucked and cunted at The Times and invited these ‘scum suckers’ to feel great shame about their ‘vileness’. And The Times bowed to them. It said its story was ‘inappropriate’ and would no longer be available for the public to read. (But The Times has ‘yet to issue a public apology’, complains the Guardian. Because even self-censorship isn’t enough for the shame-spreaders of Twitter. They want contrition, regret, expressed as publicly as possible, as was done by misspeakers in the Soviet Union.)

Having won the obliteration of a piece of written material that offended them, the Twittermob then gloated. Fashion writer Eva Wiseman cheered The Times’ self-squishing of its offensive article ‘after everybody in the world just screwed up their faces like “ffs”’. The arrogance, not to mention self-delusion, is astounding. ‘Everybody in the world’? This Twittermob was a tiny collective of ageing rock critics, bored online offence-hunters, and Murdoch-loathers. I’d say it was closer to 70 people than seven billion.

The memory-holing of a newspaper article in the space of a few hours, following yelps of outrage from tens of touchy people, is a scary sign of the times. It points to the post-Leveson symbiotic relationship between the outraged content-policers of Twitter and an increasingly cagey press. The climate stoked in recent years by both informal Twittermobs and formal inquisitions into the culture and ethics of the press has had a chilling effect on media debate, making newspapers more cautious and self-censoring. Whether it’s the Observer pulling a Julie Burchill column after Twitter-based trans activists went mad about it, or The Economist officially unpublishing a book review on slavery after a Twittergang branded it offensive, or The Times wiping one of its own news reports on Nick Cave in response to ‘online complaints’, a clear message has been sent: big media publications will destroy their own material if you, small but vocal Twittermob, judge it to be offensive. Well done, media: you’ve empowered the intolerant Twittermob; you’ve green-lighted their unwieldy, free-floating censoriousness, which can strike anywhere, anytime.

For the record, I love Nick Cave, the suavest, most talented man in popular music. And I think his comments about allowing children to experience fear, and decide for themselves on the best course of action to take, were searingly sensible in this era of cotton-wool kids, when we seek to protect children from everything. And the awful death of his son does nothing whatsoever to detract from the rightness and humanity of his comments. I also haven’t been a massive fan of some of the press coverage of his son’s death, especially the publication of photos of Nick and his wife visiting the spot where Arthur fell.

But you know what? I would far rather live in a country in which the press publishes daft articles and offensive photos than a country in which infinitesimally small groups of professional furies can demolish opinion columns, book reviews, news pieces and any other written thing that upsets them. A free press that sometimes does dumb things is so much better than a press that can overnight be induced to self-flagellation and self-censorship by the new moral guardians. Because if we have the latter, then we’re essentially okaying tyranny, allowing tiny groups of the self-righteous to sit in judgement on which media content is ‘appropriate’ and which is ‘inappropriate’. Oh, the irony: the Twittermob loves to heap shame on the offensive, yet it does something way more shameful - it reintroduces censorship by the backdoor, in the most slippery language imaginable, dressing up its censorious fury as ‘online complaints’.


Canada’s Twitter scandal: arrested for political comments

A Canadian feminist wants her Twitter critic convicted of harassment

I remember a popular saying from my childhood: ‘She can dish it out, but she can’t take it.’ A court case unfolding in Toronto has dishing as its main theme: Steph Guthrie, a 30-year-old feminist activist, has accused Greg Elliott, a 54-year-old father of four, of criminal harassment via Twitter.

Guthrie and Elliott met online when Elliott, a graphic designer, offered to make a free poster for Women in Toronto Politics, a group co-founded by Guthrie. An IRL (in real life) meeting followed, a meeting wherein Guthrie was put off by Elliott’s intensity, claiming she saw a ‘creepy glint’ in his eye. She remained cordial with him, however; a state of affairs she puts down to simple business etiquette.

Things changed when a face-punch game targeting Anita Sarkeesian appeared online. Guthrie took to Twitter and tried to ‘sic the internet’ on Ben Spurr, the Ontario man who’d created it. Elliott tweeted her urging caution, saying an internet campaign could lead the 24-year-old gamer to suicide. Elliott also suggested that Guthrie’s actions would only provide more publicity for Spurr, a valid point given Guthrie’s 8,000-odd Twitter followers and the gamer’s measly 11. (For those of you who don’t know, Sarkeesian is a prominent feminist critic of videogames and an opponent of #Gamergate, an online campaign to maintain freedom of expression in the gaming world.)

A falling out between Guthrie and Elliott followed, with Elliott continuing to monitor Guthrie’s account and the hashtags associated with it. This behaviour was visible to Guthrie and apparently bothered her, but it is also common on Twitter, given the way the social-media site is configured. In response, Guthrie convened an IRL meeting with activist friends to determine how best to deal with Elliott.

A meeting like this may sound reasonable, but it was, in fact, an overreaction: the scope of Elliott’s behaviour was manageable, made up of harmless words confined to cyberspace. At no time did he, in person or online, utter threats or make sexual comments directed at Guthrie or her two joint complainants. Elliott disagreed with Guthrie’s politics, warned her not to go after Spurr and, when the twittering took a harsh turn, uttered some insults. However, these were words, not actions, and did not pose any real threat to Guthrie or her friends.

What Guthrie’s sensitivity highlights is a problem in our harassment law: her fears alone were enough to adjudicate the issue in criminal court, a step that lost Elliott his job and had the kind of real-life impact she hoped to inflict on Spurr. So what alarms observers is the impact this broad interpretation of the law will have on free speech in Canada. After all, if just saying one is afraid becomes the only requirement for an arrest, the potential for abuse is significant.

For example, a singular arrest might be warranted or simply strategic, but the greater consequence – that of silencing those engaged in public debate – is the real problem. Guthrie’s case against Elliott seems largely strategic: her claims that she feared for her safety are dubious given her history of pleasant exchanges with him and her spirited demeanour in court, a combination she explains with the self-serving apology: ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t the perfect victim.’

Victim or not, a small detail in the conflict is telling: one step in the accelerating conflict between Guthrie and Elliott was a disagreement over reporter Daniel Dale’s coverage of then Toronto mayor, Rob Ford. In one incident, Dale scouted municipally owned land adjacent to Ford’s home after Ford applied to purchase it. He turned up one evening and, according to Ford, climbed up a pile of cinder blocks to peer over his backyard fence. What followed were colourful characterisations made by the Ford camp, most of which painted Dale as a peeping tom and had resonances of mild locker-room humour. It’s safe to say that no one, apart from Dale, took the characterisations seriously.

So when Dale took legal action, a step that netted him a public apology, he looked like a poor sport. In this sense, Dale and Guthrie seem cut from the same cloth: both deployed legal strategies to counter annoying behaviour they’d provoked, a step pointing to highly curated versions of reality. That is, they may be intelligent and socially engaged, but they are also unwilling to see their part in conflicts or distinguish real threats from imagined ones. The simple fact that they are irritated is enough to get the law, the ultimate helicopter parent, involved. This would be amusing were it not so costly to Canadian taxpayers.

For example, Dale’s nighttime surveillance of the mayor’s property was provocative, given the steady vitriol he aimed at Ford. Had a subordinate of the mayor directed that same behaviour at a single mother, Dale’s supporters would undoubtedly define it as stalking and characterise it as sinister. Ditto Guthrie’s planned campaign against Elliott: she and her friends discussed battering his Twitter followers with repeated warnings, they created an insulting parody account, and implicated him in illegal sexual activity (they tweeted as a 13-year-old claiming to be his abuse victim). Had these real-life consequences been levelled at Guthrie and her gang, what kind of recourse would they have sought?

And this is when Guthrie’s own words about Spurr’s potential suicide are revealing. Asked if she wanted Spurr destroyed, she said, ‘I don’t cheer for someone to kill himself… but again, he made that [Sarkeesian] game, under his own name. He can deal with whatever the consequences are.’ This might sound fair, but the capacity reasonably to judge crimes and their appropriate consequences is a capacity Guthrie lacks. Even with her evenhanded reporting of events, the National Post’s Christie Blatchford had this to say about the young woman:

‘[Guthrie’s] also genuinely alarming, because she believes, as she testified Friday, in internet vigilante justice — “extrajudicial action”, as she called it once — even if it might put the target’s physical safety at risk.’

So the case against Elliott is really about the relative scale of transgressions and how they play out in cyberspace. This raises specific issues. How should we judge the slacktivist nature of Spurr’s and Elliott’s actions (Spurr’s creation of an imaginary game and Elliott’s observations, his comments and insults)? By contrast, how should we judge the IRL collusion involved in Guthrie’s attempts to shame Spurr and Elliott for their actions?

If I was Guthrie or Sarkeesian, and I had to choose enemies, I’d go with Spurr and Elliott. Spurr’s game may be unpleasant, but it’s imaginary. Elliott’s comments might be irritating, but Twitter does come with a blocking function.

In the end, there’s a big difference between monitoring a social-media account and standing on the edge of a person’s property, peering into their home. There’s also a big difference between pointing, clicking and typing and convening a meeting to determine what extrajudicial (and potentially illegal) punishments might effectively discredit an opponent.

This is what Judge Brent Knazan, and indeed all Canadians, must judge: of Guthrie and Elliott, whose actions were more fearsome?


Turning slavery into the West’s original sin

Today's obsession with slavery has more to do with misanthropy than history.

Once upon a time, the historical past was an object of veneration and glorification. A nation’s past was often represented as a heroic age, and public figures used to invoke the Good Old Days. But today, the past, national or otherwise, has come to serve a very different purpose. It is invariably presented as a story shaped by malevolence, oppression, exploitation and abuse. It forms a past that demands condemnation, a past of which we are meant to be ashamed. Such sentiments are not confined to a small number of sensation-seeking historians. Popular culture is now dominated by a sense of the past as the Bad Old Days.

Though history is occasionally still used as a PR tool, an instrument of national glorification, it is far more likely to function as a cautionary tale about the moral failings of humanity in general, and British society in particular. The past has become a means for the moral condemnation of people living in the present. Even the horrors of slavery are summoned up to indict and implicate the contemporary world.

Historic slavery as popular entertainment

The transformation of the tragic era of the Atlantic slave trade into a current-affairs item serves as an example of the way in which history is being converted into a moral indictment of the present. There is now a veritable industry in highlighting people’s family connections to their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slave-owning ancestors. The implication of all this is clear: your appalling ancestors and their inhuman behaviour defines who you really are.

Earlier this year, Hollywood star Ben Affleck fully played the part of the guilt-ridden progeny of slave owners. When he agreed to participate in US reality-TV show Finding Your Roots, he did not expect to discover that he was related to slave-owning ancestors. That he then lobbied the show to ditch references to his embarrassing relatives shows that Affleck had fully internalised the conviction that he, as an individual, would be judged by the standards of behaviour of his long-deceased ancestors.

It is not only in the US that the media revel in exposing the connection between prominent individuals and nineteenth-century slave owners. A new online archive of slave owners – part of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project – has become a resource used by tabloids to embarrass celebs and other public figures. Take the ‘scoop’ from Brighton’s Argus newspaper in April 2013: it informed readers that the ancestors of Samantha Cameron, Lord Gage of Firle Place, Brighton Rock author Graham Greene and Lord Hailsham were all slave owners. It triumphantly announced that ‘while it has already been revealed that an ancestor of David Cameron was a slave owner’, it was ‘not widely known that a distant ancestor of Samantha Cameron, was also a slave owner’.

The language used by the Argus is self-consciously in the mould of yellow journalism. The past is ‘revealed’, and, in true tabloid fashion, the article signs off with ‘Mrs Cameron declined to comment’. The implication of this ‘declined to comment’ is that Samantha Cameron was either rightly humiliated or else has something sordid to hide.

In January, a Daily Mail headline ran: ‘Pictured: brutal Barbados slave plantation where Benedict Cumberbatch’s ancestors built their multimillion-pound fortune on backs of “250 negroes”.’ Just to make its readers aware of actor Cumberbatch’s moral failings, the Mail helpfully informed them that it ‘can show pictures of inside the plantations where hundreds of men and women toiled as slaves while [Cumberbatch’s] ancestors reaped the rewards’. Readers are also told that Cumberbatch had already performed the necessary act of contrition – he had ‘revealed his shame at his family history’.

You don’t need a PhD in media studies to know that when you read a Telegraph headline that says ‘Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate’, the subsequent account will not be very sympathetic. ‘The ancestors of Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner against superstition, intolerance and suffering, built their fortune using slaves, it has been revealed’, noted the Telegraph. The purpose of this statement is to highlight the contrast between the lofty values upheld by Dawkins and the sordid details of his ancestral origins. His beliefs are not contested through argument; they are morally devalued through Dawkins’ origins.

The Telegraph contemptuously draws attention to a man who has ‘rallied against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism’. But now, we are told, Dawkins ‘the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering” must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune created by forced labour’. The only conclusion to be drawn from the Mail story is that Dawkins’ protests against suffering are the hypocritical musings of a self-serving beneficiary of an ill-gained fortune.

Disorienting the present

The opportunistic manipulation of historical memory is not confined to the score-settling impulse of sections of the media. A recently aired BBC programme, Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, made a genuine effort to deal with the historical past in a serious manner. Nevertheless, it couldn’t help but implicate contemporary Britain in the ancestral legacy of the slave trade. It stressed the all-pervasive nature of slave ownership, how it was normal, and pointed the finger at ordinary middle-class citizens who exploited slave labour. The focus on the normal and everyday aspect of slave ownership was about drawing attention to its all-pervasive character. This point was underlined by Nick Draper, co-director of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project: ‘What has struck us [is the] accumulation of hundreds and eventually thousands of specific imprints left by slave owners across the whole country.’ He added that ‘very few towns or even villages in Britain have no historical connections at all with slave ownership’.

The claim that virtually all of Britain has a ‘historical connection’ with slave ownership is, in one sense, irrefutable. But historical connections are just that: historical. The attempt to mobilise historical connections to make a statement about the contemporary world requires more than a helpful reminder that many British people’s ancestors exploited slaves. The project of transforming the slave trade into Britain’s original sin is not about learning from the past; rather, it is about taking an epic human catastrophe out of context, and eroding the distinction between the present and the past.

The obsession with using an old injustice like slavery as an indictment of the present actually undermines our ability to grasp the historical specificity of the Atlantic slave trade. Modern-day slavery-hunters are remarkably uninterested in the past; their focus is on using historical connections to devalue individuals and communities in the present. A Freudian would call it a displacement activity – an activity that distracts attention from distinctly contemporary injustices.

Our estrangement from the past

Contemporary Western culture has become deeply estranged from its past traditions and history. The past, as we have seen, is often presented as a very dark place where human degradation, abuse, victimisation and genocide were normal features of daily life. One aim of this type of sanctimonious history is to create a moral distance between the present and the legacy of the past. The other objective is to convert the injustices of the past into a moral resource that can be used to claim attention, respect and authority.

If one judges the past in accordance with the norms, values and sensibilities of the present, then what people did in previous centuries will be almost entirely and automatically condemned. Many aspects of the codes of behaviour that guided the past conduct and behaviour of people would be unacceptable to people living in the 21st century. Attitudes and behaviour constantly change. Today, most people regard the physical chastisement of children as a form of abuse. Yet, not so long ago, the failure physically to punish a son was condemned by many as a symptom of parental irresponsibility.

Those who read history backwards in order to demonstrate their moral superiority over the behaviour of people in the past actually evade the question of how to gain moral clarity in relation to the challenges facing society today. Setting right the injustices of our time will not be done through confusing them with the misdeeds of the past.

In principle, one can condemn Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs for mistreating their slaves, or the numerous warlords and kings for massacring their prisoners. Anyone can give an hour-long sermon denouncing Christian pogroms against medieval Jewish communities, the Atlantic slave trade, the Armenian genocide, or the Holocaust.

For some, even remembrance is too provocative. They claim that the very act of commemorating a war is an act of militarism. Last year, for instance, a group of celebrities spearheaded something called the No Glory in War campaign. Fronted by actors Jude Law and Alan Rickman and pop-music boffin Brian Eno, No Glory in War was planning on holding a concert at the Barbican late last year protesting the commemoration of the Great War. ‘It was a total disaster that was unnecessary and destroyed a generation’, said Eno of the war. Who would disagree with such a banal statement? Who would stand up and say, ‘Actually, the Great War was fantastic’? Maybe No Glory in War should rebrand itself as a campaign to state the bleeding obvious.

What we need is an approach to history that respects the distinction between the present and the past; an approach that does not read history backwards or roll the past forward into a contemporary drama. Unfortunately, in a world fascinated by historical crimes, the Biblical sins of the father are interwoven with our own moral failings today. The result is confusion as to what constitutes our responsibility as human beings, and what does not.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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