Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

a White woman, shot only from the upper torso, holds candles arranged in the colours of the LGBTQIA or pride flag

An evolutionary psychology study that gained much media attention in May 2017 claims to show women’s sexual attraction to other women is the outcome of evolution, specifically for the pleasure of heterosexual men. The study was reported widely as ‘homosexual women evolved for men’s pleasure.’ Journalists have not read the study nor linked to it. The study is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The study is led by Associate Professor Menelaos Apostolou. The team is based at the University of Nicosia, with apparently only one woman co-author.

Here, I show why the study is flawed and why the conclusions are premised on dangerous heterosexism. Heterosexism is the prejudiced belief that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ and ‘normal,’ and that heterosexuality uniformly structures all aspects of social life.  Heterosexism also presumes that gender is a binary (there are only two groups, men or women), and excludes the lived experiences of transgender people. Heterosexism brings to light the social construction of sexuality, and in this case, the values and social dynamics that impact on what is taken-for-granted about heterosexuality.

I focus my discussion on cisgender heterosexual and homosexual people as the authors of the study have presumed men and women can either be homosexual or heterosexual, to the exclusion of other gender and sexual identities. They have done this without explicitly saying so (it is a facet of heterosexism to reinforce binaries, because variations of sexuality disrupt the idea that heterosexuality is natural and normal). Experiences for transgender lesbians would vary, however, the authors presume a gender binary in thinking about lesbian desire.

With these cautions in mind, let’s dive into the study.

Continue reading Heterosexism in a Scientific Study of Lesbian Attraction

Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

Women in Tech

Flags from around the world hang high above an alleyway

Earlier this year, I spoke at Readify as part of their International Women’s Day events held around the country.  This is what I said.

I would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. It is upon their ancestral lands on which we meet. I pay my respects to any elders, past, present and emerging. As we celebrate the courage and resilience of women and gender minorities on this International Women’s Day, may we also pay respect to the traditional gender balance, leadership and innovation of Aboriginal people, embedded forever within their Custodianship of Country.

Today I’m going to start of by setting the scene with a quick snapshot of women in the tech sector, which I’m sure you’re all well aware of. I’m going to focus a little more on the solutions that come from the empirical evidence about what works in lifting up women in the workplace. I won’t talk too long, so we can have a bit more a discussion about what initiatives have worked well here or in other places where you’ve worked, or if there’s anything else you want to dive into. Continue reading Women in Tech

Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Two people walk along the foreshore. In the background, other groups gather at the pier taking photos and looking around, while others are near a giant vessel. The sun shines brightly as it sets over the water

My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!

What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.

Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).

Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).

Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).

Continue reading Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In February 2017, conservative Australian media began a sustained attack of a young feminist leader, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. That started a racist petition calling for her to be fired from ABC TV, Australia’s public broadcaster, simply for having participated in a TV panel show, Q&A, where she spoke articulately about her feminism as a Muslim-Australian woman (see the clip below). For weeks, the ABC refused to give into these racist demands.

At the same time, three One Nation candidates were running in the Western Australian election making openly racist, homophobic and sexist comments. These candidates had no political expertise, but somehow their bigotry is not offensive enough to warrant endless national debate. Yet the feminism of an educated and successful young feminist draws ire.

In late April, Abdel-Magied was subjected to further public condemnation over a brief social media post expressing her condemnation of war. One month later, a White male editor incited violence towards her employer, the ABC, and Abdel-Magied was caught in media turmoil once again. This is a case study on the deep-seated elements of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in Australia, and its real life consequences on young women of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Continue reading Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Sociology of Abortion Politics

Women protesting, with a sign that reads "My body. My choice."

This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”

Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.

In NSW, women can access abortions only with their doctor’s consent that there are “reasonable grounds” for the abortion, linked to physical and mental danger. Otherwise abortion is punishable by five years in jail.

This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.

Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.

 

Continue reading Sociology of Abortion Politics

International Day of Solidarity for Indigenous Australian Woman Ms Dhu

The tragic and preventable injustices suffered by Indigenous Australian woman Ms Dhu deserves urgent international attention.

Earlier this week, the West Australian Coroner found that the death in custody of 22-year old Indigenous woman Ms Dhu was preventable. She was imprisoned for petty fines that White Australians are not jailed for, let alone ultimately die over. The police abuse, which included denying Ms Dhu medical attention as she lay dying and dragging her body “like a dead kangaroo,” was found to be cruel and unprofessional.

Ms Dhu  died of respiratory complications due to infection. Ms Dhu was a victim of domestic violence, and like many Indigenous Australians, did not have adequate access to services and support for this trauma and her ongoing health issues.

Trigger warning on the footage: graphic violence. Footage contains images of a deceased Indigenous person. Continue reading International Day of Solidarity for Indigenous Australian Woman Ms Dhu

Sociology of Small Scale Farming

Woman farmer in Sapa, Vietnam

By 2013, Vietnam had halved malnutrition by investing in small scale (family) farming in just 12 years. Can the same happen in other nations? The United Nations believes so. What are some of the sociological considerations to boost the success of small scale farming? While this agricultural enterprise may be able to help families reduce hunger, it may not necessarily help households rise above the poverty line, unless social issues such as gender inequality are also addressed.

Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

An Aboriginal woman in a white lab coat, staring out the window of an office

Kim Webster, University of Melbourne and Zuleyka Zevallos, Swinburne University of Technology

Barely a week passes without a media report of the suffering or tragic death of a woman at the hands of a partner. Typically, these accounts focus on the individuals involved. While important, in isolation, such a focus can belie the fact intimate partner violence is a wider social problem, obscuring both the factors contributing to it and opportunities to prevent it.

A study being launched today by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety confirms the serious impacts of intimate partner violence. The analysis, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides estimates of the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health.

Data from the Personal Safety Survey, Australia’s most reliable violence prevalence survey, was used as a key input.

Since the age of 15, one in four women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by a partner. This includes violence perpetrated by a live-in partner as well as boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. This is based on a definition of violence, used by the Personal Safety Survey, which includes physical and sexual assault, as well as face-to-face threats the victim believed were likely and able to be carried out.

When emotional abuse by a live-in partner is included, (defined as controlling behaviours aimed at causing fear or emotional harm), it is estimated one in three women have experienced violence or abuse by an intimate partner. Continue reading Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in STEMM

Informed and Practical Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in Science
This is Part 2 on my participation in Kiwi Foo, an invitation-only “unconference” in Auckland, New Zealand, that brings together people from broad fields to work on social change (read about the rest of Kiwi Foo in Part 1). I spoke about Informed and Practical Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM).

Ruby Payne-Scott. Photo via Peter Gavin Hall, Wikipedia
Ruby Payne-Scott. Photo via Peter Gavin Hall, Wikipedia, CC 3.0

I started my talk at Kiwi Foo by telling the story of Ruby Payne-Scott, a pioneer in radio astronomy whose work led to major technological innovation and scientific knowledge. She supported top secret science on radar detection in the 1940s during the war, and she was a women’s rights activist. During the 1930s and 1940s, she worked for Australia’s premier government research agency, CSIRO, at a time where women were not allowed to be married and working in the public service. So she secretly married in 1944 and subsequently lost (but fought hard to keep) her permanent position at CSIRO. She was finally forced to resign in 1951, a few months before the birth of her son, Peter, as her pregnancy was no longer able to be hidden. Her career in science was effectively ended because her family status was deemed unlawful for the public service.

Ruby Payne-Scott, third from the right, at the 1952 International Union of Radio Science conference, University of Sydney
Ruby Payne-Scott, 5th from the right, at the 1952 International Union of Radio Science conference, University of Sydney. Photo: Wikipedia, CC 3.0

Women scientists and allies who care about gender equity in STEMM tell Dr Payne-Scott’s story often, though it is a shamefully unknown story by broader Australia. My point in beginning my talk with this lamentable tale is that Payne-Scott’s historic impact lives on for the wrong reasons. In Australia, the shameful employment discrimination she endured overshadows her scientific achievements in many ways. More sadly, while women in the present day are no longer discriminated in the same overt way, other structural inequalities make it difficult for women to remain in science, especially after they have children. So Payne-Scott’s legacy remains perennially relevant, 70 years later. Continue reading Ways to Enhance Gender Equity and Diversity in STEMM