11-26-20 Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality
The coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality, new global data from UN Women suggests. Women are doing significantly more domestic chores and family care, because of the impact of the pandemic. "Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year," says UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia. Employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from poorer mental and physical health. The care burden poses a "real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes", Ms Bhatia says. Even before the pandemic, it was estimated women were doing about three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world. In other words, before coronavirus, for every one hour of unpaid work done by men, three hours was done by women. Now that figure is higher. "If it was more than three times as much as men before the pandemic, I assure you that number has at least doubled," says Ms Bhatia. Though the 38 surveys carried out by UN Women primarily focused on lower and middle-income countries, data from more industrialised countries show a similar picture. "More alarming is the fact that many women are actually not going back to work," says Ms Bhatia. "In the month of September alone, in the US, something like 865,000 women dropped out of the labour force compared to 200,000 men, and most of that can be explained by the fact that there was a care burden and there's nobody else around." UN Women warns that the ripple effect from having fewer working women will be dire on not only women's wellbeing but their economic progress and independence. BBC 100 Women has spoken to three women, looking at how the pandemic has impacted the amount of work they do. They were asked to keep a time diary, noting down how they used the hours in a typical day, covering a 24-hour-period.
11-14-20 Doug Emhoff: The first 'second dude' in the White House
The moment that Kamala Harris celebrated the news she would be the next vice-president - captured on camera for posterity - was history making three times over. Come January, she will become the first female, first black and first Indian American vice-president. But the person behind the camera will be making history too. Ms Harris's husband, Douglas Emhoff, will become the country's first second gentleman. He was already the first male spouse, at all, on a winning presidential ticket. The 56-year-old has so far seemed to relish his role as a political partner. He became a star surrogate during Ms Harris's own presidential bid, and often refers unironically to the #KHive - the name for Ms Harris's most dedicated supporters. His social media feeds resemble unofficial fan pages for his wife. In August, Mr Emhoff announced a leave of absence from his legal career to support the Biden-Harris ticket full-time. "He does seem to have really taken to it," said Aaron Jacoby, a longtime friend and former legal partner of Mr Emhoff. "You could expect him to be a fish out of water - he's not. He's just swimming and enjoying it." Now, as the Biden-Harris team prepares for their move to the White House, how Mr Emhoff takes on his role may signal a step forward for gender equality, as well as the distance left to go. In 2013, Mr Emhoff, then a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, was set up on a blind date with then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris. A nervous Mr Emhoff left Ms Harris a rambling and "really lame" voicemail trying to arrange their first meeting, he said. They met for dinner and the very next day, Mr Emhoff emailed her with all his available dates for the next few months to come, Ms Harris wrote in her 2013 memoir, The Truths We Hold. "I'm too old to play games or hide the ball", he said. "I really like you, and I want to see if we can make this work." Less than a year later, they were married at the Santa Barbara courthouse, in a ceremony that paid tribute to both her Indian heritage and his Jewish faith. Ms Harris saved that first voicemail and plays it every year on their anniversary.
10-21-20 How Kamala Harris highlights what women in politics face
With Senator Kamala Harris as a historic vice-presidential running mate, it's impossible to avoid the topic of gender this election cycle - but are the rules of the race really different for women? Here's how her nomination highlights the issues women in politics have faced for decades - and how things are changing - with analysis from Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Women in politics must walk a fine line between assertive and aggressive. Research shows that existing, unconscious gender biases can make women come across as condescending where their male counterparts might be lauded as confident. For minority women, these gender biases are compounded by racial ones too. And in the US, the trope of the "angry black woman" is an old, insidious stereotype. The trope, which emerged in the 19th Century, characterised black women as unfeminine, irrational and sassy. As Ms Walsh explains: "Women are accused of not being strong enough and tough enough to be president or vice-president, but at the same time, how do you portray strength without it being seen as anger?" She feels Ms Harris did a good job toeing the line during the VP debate, but adds that there were some instances were she seemed to hold herself back - although her polite response to the interruptions was "brilliant" and relatable to any woman who has experienced being talked over. Some analysts argue that women have to prove themselves on the campaign trail in ways men do not, even if gender isn't a primary concern for voters. Where people assume competency for men, women must demonstrate it. Economist/YouGov polls in August showed that the sitting vice-president held a narrow lead in favourability compared to Ms Harris. A quarter of Americans polled said they were uncertain how they felt about Ms Harris, and 14% said the same of Mr Pence. After the debate, most voters felt Harris won. But when asked who might be better to take over as president, some polls looked a bit different.
10-13-20 Tanishq: Jewellery ad on interfaith couple withdrawn after outrage
Popular Indian jewellery brand Tanishq has withdrawn an advertisement featuring an interfaith couple after a right-wing backlash on social media. It shows a baby shower organised for the Hindu bride by her Muslim in-laws. Opponents of the advert say it promotes "love jihad", a term radical Hindu groups use to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage. Rights groups say religious tolerance is under threat in India. Hindu-Muslim marriages have long attracted censure. However, the attachment of a deeper, sinister motive to them - of "love jihad" - is a recent phenomenon. A section of conservative social media users led calls to boycott the brand, taking it to the top of Twitter trends. Many joined in to condemn the abusive posts and comments which bolstered the boycott trend. The description for the advertisement posted to YouTube read: "She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don't. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions and cultures." The 43-second ad - promoting a jewellery line called "Ekatvam" (Hindi word for unity) - has been taken down from Tanishq's social media channels. The company has not yet responded to the BBC's request for a response. The brand first disabled comments and Likes/Dislikes on the advert, posted to Facebook and YouTube. It later removed the video. Opposition Congress party MP Shashi Tharoor, who posted the advert to his Twitter account, said that "Hindutva bigots have called for a boycott for highlighting Hindu-Muslim unity through this beautiful ad". "If Hindu-Muslim 'ekatvam' irks them so much, why don't they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity - India?" Mr Tharoor wrote.
10-10-20 The Gretchen Whitmer abduction plot is a window into American misogyny
On Thursday, 13 men were charged by the FBI for a plot to kidnap Michigan's Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer, allegedly in retaliation for "tyrannical" executive orders the governor made to close businesses and shut down travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes after a series of armed protests at the Michigan state capitol, as well as Whitmer's home, in the spring of this year. Whitmer is not the only Democratic swing-state governor who has implemented strict lockdown measures during the pandemic. But she is the only one of those governors who is a woman, and it is no coincidence that she has also been the target of the most violent reactionary right-wing extremism. The serious threats to Whitmer's physical safety are an indication of the growing danger today's political and cultural climate poses for women. The protests in May were in reaction to the pandemic control measures Whitmer introduced to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and were notable both for the extreme show of force and the violent, misogynistic language many of the protestors used. Though many governors across the country imposed similarly severe restrictions during the first major wave of coronavirus infections, and though armed protests sprung up in several states, the Michigan protests were perhaps the most disturbing. Hundreds of protestors, some of them armed, stormed the Michigan state capitol building in Lansing, brandishing racist paraphernalia including Confederate flags, and making explicit calls for violence against Whitmer. In one of the most reprehensible examples, a Republican state House candidate hung an unclothed brown-haired doll — Whitmer in effigy — by a noose. Female Michigan lawmakers wore bulletproof vests to work and reported feeling afraid for their lives. Meanwhile on Facebook, people in private groups posted calls for Whitmer to be lynched, beaten, or beheaded, referring to her as an evil witch or wicked queen. She's been likened to a menopausal teacher, an overbearing mother, and a "tyrant b*tch." One post called for "watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants." Many pointed to President Donald Trump's tweets urging supporters to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" as a catalyst for the protests. And indeed, rather than condemn the violence espoused by the violent protesters, the president urged Whitmer to "give a little," arguing, "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely!" The conspirators plotting to kidnap Whitmer met during a Second Amendment rally in June before reaching out to the Michigan militia group, Wolverine Watchmen, according to The Detroit News. In the FBI's affidavit, one of the group's leaders, Michigan resident Adam Fox, is quoted as saying, "Snatch and grab, man. Grab the f***in' Governor. Just grab the b*tch," and, "She f***ing goddamn loves the power she has right now."
10-8-20 VP debate: Did gender play a role in the interruptions?
Wednesday night's vice-presidential debate was widely seen as civil, but with a few memorable moments. Yet one exchange that resonated strongly with many viewers - especially women - was when Kamala Harris responded to Mike Pence interrupting her by smiling and saying: "Mr Vice-President, I'm speaking… If you don't mind letting me finish, then we can have a conversation." In fact, Ms Harris responded to an interruption with the phrase "I'm speaking" on three occasions. Many considered these to be poignant moments that chimed with their own experiences of seeing women struggling for air time, or being interrupted by men in work situations. Mr Pence interrupted Ms Harris more than she interrupted him - a CBS tally found the vice-president interrupted the California senator 10 times, while she interrupted him five times. Meanwhile, NBC news tracked nine interruptions by Ms Harris, and 16 interruptions by Mr Pence. But these figures pale in comparison to the number of interruptions during the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last week. According to one Washington Post tally, Mr Trump made 71 interruptions compared with Mr Biden's 22. Given that the raucous Trump-Biden debate was almost universally criticised, it's not surprising that Mr Pence and Ms Harris appeared to make an effort to keep their exchanges civil. But a CBS tally still found that Mr Pence ended up with slightly more speaking time - 38 minutes, to Ms Harris' 35 minutes. The moderator, USA Today's Susan Page, was criticised for failing to stop both candidates, particularly Mr Pence, from interrupting, especially as Mr Pence often exceeded the time limits for speaking. At one point, Ms Harris fought to speak and said: "He interrupted me, and I'd like to just finish, please." Previous studies have suggested that gender can play a role - often subconsciously - in how much people interrupt. One 2014 study found that speakers tend to interrupt more when speaking with a woman rather than a man , while a 2017 study found this trend even existed at the top - with male Supreme Court justices interrupting female justices three times more than they interrupted each other.
9-24-20 Wells Fargo's Charles Scharf apologises over race comments
The head of US bank Wells Fargo has apologised for remarks that attributed the lack of diversity in the bank's top ranks to a shortage of qualified minority candidates. The comments, made in a June call with employees and reiterated in a memo, had drawn widespread criticism after being reported on Tuesday. Bank chief Charles Scharf said he had made an "insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias". "I apologise," he said. The apology, in a message to employees shared by the bank, followed an earlier statement, in which Mr Scharf said was "sorry" his comments had been misinterpreted. "There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise," Mr Scharf said in Wednesday's message. "Across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels." Mr Scharf's comments come as the corporate world faces scrutiny for its handling of diversity issues. Wells Fargo's own record on race has also been in the spotlight, as the firm has paid millions to settle investigations into discriminatory lending and hiring. In June, the bank announced diversity initiatives, following global protests over police brutality and racism. In the memo announcing the plans, which was reported by Reuters, Mr Scharf said: "While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from." The comment drew criticism from politicians such as liberal New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as business leaders. "Perhaps it's the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers," Ms Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.
9-18-20 Most space travellers are men despite slow rise in female astronauts
The average age of space travellers has been on the rise since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin first blasted off in 1961, while the overwhelming majority of the 566 people that have been to space are male, according to a new analysis. Svetlana Komarova at McGill University in Canada wanted to understand more about how space flight affects bones but found that data on spacefarers wasn’t compiled into any central scientific database— such lists have only been put together by space enthusiast websites. “Only fans care,” she says. Her team began to gather information from various global government space agencies and decided to analyse the demographics of space farers. The team found that the average age of a spacefarer has increased from 34 in the 1960s to 45 in the 2010s. Komarova said this may reflect that in the beginning of space travel, we sent younger, stronger types as we were mostly interested in how space might affect humans. Once we understood it was relatively safe, the cost of sending people out of the atmosphere meant an increased desire for experience and knowledge. “The demands of space travel now require very highly educated people,” she says. “The requirements for astronauts are driven by what they do in the station, and the requirements are going up and up.” Only 64 of all space travellers have been female — about 11 percent — though the proportion has increased since the 1960s. The average age of women in space hasn’t increased as much as men, which Komarova speculates could be due to older women experience the menopause. This can lead to bone loss, and since spending time in space also weakens bones, putting older women in space may present a higher risk than sending younger women or older men, she says.
9-10-20 Citi names Jane Fraser new chief in Wall Street first
Citigroup has named a woman to be its new chief executive in a first for a Wall Street bank. The firm said it had selected Jane Fraser, its current president and head of global consumer division, to become its new boss when current chief Michael Corbat retires in February. He is stepping down after 37 years at the bank, including eight as leader. Scotland-born Ms Fraser has worked at the bank for 16 years, serving in her current role since 2019. She oversees business in 19 countries and previously led its Latin America division. The chair of the bank's board of directors, John Dugan, said Ms Fraser would "take Citi to the next level". "She has deep experience across our lines of business and regions and we are highly confident in her. Jane's ability to think strategically and also operate a business are a unique combination that will serve our company well," he said. Born in Scotland, Ms Fraser has degrees from Harvard Business School and Cambridge University. She started her career at Goldman Sachs in London, joining Citi after rising to be a partner at consultancy McKinsey. Seen as a rising star in the banking world, she was considered during Wells Fargo's recent search for a new leader. Her appointment comes as the business world, and banking sector in particular, has come under pressure to diversify its ranks. Last year, Royal Bank of Scotland named Alison Rose as its first female chief executive, making her the first woman to run any of the big four banks in the UK. But at the end of 2019, just 31 women held the top spots at major American companies listed on the S&P 500 index. At a congressional hearing last year, the heads of seven of America's biggest banks, including Mr Corbat, were questioned about the lack of diversity and asked if they believed they would be succeeded by a woman or person of colour. None said yes.
9-9-20 How COVID-19 worsened gender inequality in the U.S. workforce
Working women took a bigger hit than men during the first few months of the pandemic. The pandemic has left millions of people across the United States unemployed. But survey data show that women have been particularly hard-hit, researchers report in the August Socius. Those gender disparities largely persisted even when the researchers zoomed in on households where men and women both held jobs that could be completed at home. “Life got harder for everybody, but it got a lot harder for women than it did for men,” says William Scarborough, a sociologist at the University of North Texas in Denton. Scarborough and colleagues compared U.S. Census Bureau surveys on labor market trends for married heterosexual couples from February and April, the months just before and after stay-at-home orders began. While unemployment increased for all groups, women with no kids were the hardest hit, with unemployment increasing from 2 percent in February to 13.6 percent in April. Comparatively, men with no kids saw unemployment rise from 2.2 percent to 9.5 percent. Among women with children ages 1 to 12, unemployment increased from about 2 to 3 percent in February to about 12 to 13 percent in April — an increase of 8.9 to 11 percentage points. For men with children in that age range, unemployment rose to between 9 and 10 percent in April, up 7.3 percentage points. And almost 250,000 more mothers than fathers with children in this age range left the workforce altogether and did not seek new jobs, the researchers estimate. Disparities persisted even when both parents of young children worked in jobs that allowed telecommuting, with mothers reducing their hours more than fathers. Women have been walloped for several reasons, Scarborough says. The U.S. workforce is heavily segregated by sex — women are concentrated in service and care jobs requiring face-to-face contact. And with daycare and school closures, mothers have shouldered more childcare and homeschooling responsibilities than fathers.
8-30-20 Begum Rokeya: The forgotten 19th Century feminist
Rokeya Sakhwat Hossain or Begum Rokeya was a 19th Century feminist writer, educationalist and social reformer. Born to a wealthy Muslim family in what is today Bangladesh, Begum Rokeya defied her traditional upbringing to fight for women's rights. Her writings - which spanned poetry, fiction and essays - espoused radical ideas for gender equality and envisioned a better and fairer world for women. Her story is part of a BBC series.
8-18-20 5 important suffragists you didn't learn about in school
100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed, these women's stories continue to inspire. At some point along the line, the women's suffrage movement in the United States became — well, boring. "It is so often described in a way that makes it seem kind of dowdy and dour — whereas in fact it is exciting and radical," historian Kate Clarke Lemay recently told The New York Times. "Women staged one of the longest social reform movements in the history of the United States. This is not a boring history of nagging spinsters; it is a badass history of revolution staged by political geniuses." But learning about the suffrage movement in school might mean the conversation is limited to Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and maybe Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Sojourner Truth if you were lucky. Yet the right to vote was fought for by thousands of lesser-known women who were just as important in securing the ratification of the 19th Amendment on this day, 100 years ago — and sadly, in many cases, had to keep fighting for long after 1920. The struggle for voting rights didn't end in the early 20th century; it very much lives on today. But to celebrate those who demanded that crucial leap, here are five inspiring suffragists who might have been left out of your classroom.
- Zitkála-Šá: When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Indigenous suffragist Gertrude Simmons Bonnin — whose Lakota name was Zitkála-Šá — was one of many who reminded her white counterparts that the battle was not yet entirely won. It wouldn't be until four years later, when Congress at last granted citizenship to Native Americans, that Indigenous women would be able to join white women in voting (although many states still enacted laws preventing Native American voters).
- Emma Ka'ilikapuolono Metcalf Beckley Nakuina: Like the Indigenous Americans back in the contiguous United States, Hawaii had a tradition of female leadership that predated white settlers — and their forms of government. Queen Lili'uokalani was elected in 1891 only to be overthrown in a coup d'état by American and European businessmen who then prevented women in the islands from voting. Emma Ka'ilikapuolono Metcalf Beckley Nakuina — who was born in Kaua'ala in 1847, highly educated, and specialized in resolving issues with water rights up until the overthrow, earning her the title of Hawaii's first female judge — was one such woman to lose her ability to vote.
- Mabel Ping-Hua Lee: Mabel Ping-Hua Lee got an early start as an activist, joining a suffrage parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1912 when she was only 16. Due to racist policies at the time, though, she was not actually a U.S. citizen, despite having immigrated to the United States from Canton (today, Guangzhou) when she was five. Her fight for the right to vote, then, was also a fight to be recognized by a country that at the time formally excluded Chinese immigrants.
- Nellie Cashman: Why isn't there a movie about Nellie Cashman yet? In addition to being known by the fantastic nickname, "the Angel of Tombstone," and described by her biographer as "pretty as a Victorian cameo and, when necessary, tougher than two-penny nails," Cashman was a no-nonsense miner and restaurateur who made her way from Ireland, where she was born, to Boston, where she settled, to the American west — at the urging of General Ulysses S. Grant.
- Carrie Langston: Kansas has an impressive legacy of "female political leadership and suffrage," Kansas City's KCUR notes, and counted among those notable women is Caroline "Carrie" Mercer Langston, the mother of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. While her son is better remembered by history, Carrie was an activist who fought for women's right to vote, picking up where her father, who was also a suffragist, left off.
8-18-20 US election 2020: The 19th amendment and a 100-year milestone for women
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment in the United States, which guaranteed American women the right to vote. Although the amendment was ratified on 18 August 1920, it was preceded by decades of organising and protests - spearheaded by leading figures of US women's suffrage like Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The 19th amendment is considered to be a seminal piece of legislation, but for minority women - particularly African-American, Hispanic and Native-American women - there was a long road ahead to ensure complete access to the vote. To mark this year's centennial, the BBC spoke to a number of women running for office - both Republican and Democrat - to see what has been achieved and what is left to do. "It's poetic that we have such a consequential presidential election in the 100th year that women have been able to vote," Jennifer Carroll Foy said. A native of Petersburg, Virginia, she was raised by her grandmother - whose trademark adage was, "if you have it, you have to give it." It is a truth that Ms Carroll Foy seeks to employ in her politics. While she is excited about celebrating the centennial of the 19th amendment, she is acutely aware that the amendment wasn't wholly inclusive. Black and brown women faced an arduous journey to achieve equal voting access - that wasn't conferred until the Voting Rights Act in 1965. "As a black woman there is still work to be done," she said. "Until all women have full and unfettered rights to vote, the fight for women's right to vote continues." For Ms Caroll Foy, on the centennial of the 19th amendment, it's even more important to have a woman of colour on the ballot. "When you don't see women in power, it's hard to fathom that being a possibility," she said. "It's not lost on me that I would be the first black woman governor in our country." Similarly, on this anniversary, Senator Kamala Harris' spot on the Democratic ticket is particularly auspicious for Ms Carrol Foy, as it paves the way for black and brown girls everywhere to "see themselves in her".
8-10-20 Americans Regard Gender Equality as Unfinished Business
A century after women in the U.S. gained the right to vote with the adoption of the 19th Amendment in August 1920, most Americans think additional work remains before women achieve equality with men. Nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults (69%) say women have not yet achieved equality in the workplace, and 66% say the same about politics. Women are even less confident than Americans as a whole about gender equality. Roughly three-quarters say equality has not been realized in either sphere -- 79% for the workplace and 75% for politics. Men agree, but by smaller majorities.
- Roughly two-thirds doubt gender equality exists in workplace or politics
- Majorities predict achieving equality will take more than a decade
- Two in three consider 19th Amendment a key advancement for women
8-5-20 Ellen DeGeneres: Stars back TV host amid 'toxic workplace' claims
Comedian Kevin Hart, singer Katy Perry and other stars have come to Ellen DeGeneres' defence after allegations that her TV show is a toxic workplace. However, the show's one-time resident DJ has said he "did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment". It follows a Buzzfeed News story that claimed senior staff had bullied and intimidated others on set. DeGeneres later apologised to staff, saying steps would be taken to "correct the issues" that had come to light. One current and 10 former employees told Buzzfeed they had experienced racism and a workplace that was "dominated by fear". On Tuesday, Tony Okungbowa, who was the programme's DJ from 2003-2006 and 2007-2013, echoed those accounts, adding: "I stand with my former colleagues in their quest to create a healthier and more inclusive workplace." DeGeneres has distanced herself from the accusations, saying she had been "misrepresented" by "people who work with me and for me". Some of the host's celebrity friends have now closed ranks. Hart said he had known DeGeneres "for years" and called her "one of the dopest people on the... planet". e wrote on Instagram: "It's crazy to see my friend go thru what she's going thru publicly... The internet has become a crazy world of negativity... We are falling in love with peoples down fall [sic]." Perry said she had "only ever had positive takeaways" from appearing on DeGeneres' daytime talk show. Writing on Twitter, the pop star called her a "friend" and said she was sending her "love & a hug". She went on: "I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought to the world through her platform for decades." Other celebrities to have backed DeGeneres include actors Diane Keaton and Ashton Kutcher.
7-29-20 Sharon Moalem interview: Why women are genetically stronger than men
We know that women live longer and are less susceptible to certain diseases than men. That may be down to the benefits of having two X chromosomes. WOMEN generally outlive men and are less susceptible to certain illnesses – including covid-19, it now appears. Why health outcomes are so drastically different between the sexes is unclear. But Sharon Moalem, a doctor and genetic researcher based in New York, thinks he has the answer. It isn’t because women tend to go to the doctor more or have healthier habits, he says. Instead, it’s because they are typically better equipped, genetically speaking. In humans, sex is largely determined by chromosomes, the bundles of tightly coiled DNA that carry our genes. The cells of most women possess two X chromosomes while most men have one X and one Y. So that women’s cells don’t have to carry two versions of each gene on the X chromosome, one from each X, one of the Xs is mainly switched off. It appears that which one stays active in which cells is chosen seemingly at random some time during the first few weeks of pregnancy. The result is that half a women’s cells generally use the X chromosome she inherited from her mother, while the other half use the one from her father. It has long been known that if one X has a harmful mutation, cells that use the other X can compensate. That’s why, for instance, women are less likely to be colour-blind; a gene important for eye function resides on the X chromosome. Yet Moalem argues that the benefits are far more significant than this alone. He makes the case that even if there is no obviously harmful mutation, women tend to be at an advantage by having bodies made up of two populations of genetically different cells, and that this begins even before birth. He believes this is the reason why women are less vulnerable to certain congenital disorders and better at fighting off infections – including the coronavirus. As he sees it, women are simply genetically superior. Having two copies of an X chromosome has far more benefits than we realised, and serious implications for medicine. Clare Wilson: How can women be the stronger sex, when we are generally smaller and physically weaker? Sharon Moalem: All those things are true – on average, males have more muscle mass. But I am talking about genetic superiority, and the parameter is survival. We see the consequences in many areas of medicine. When you look at supercentenarians, those over the age of 110, they are 95 per cent female.But it isn’t just making it to old age – females have a survival advantage over the life course. When I was a physician at a neonatal intensive care unit, I saw that more girls make it to their first birthday than boys. And I was seeing lower rates of congenital malformations like tongue-tie and clubfoot. Anything that’s biologically difficult to form, females do better.
7-22-20 Afterland review: A thought-provoking tale of life without men
Lauren Beukes's new speculative novel imagines a world stripped overnight of men. Do women do a better job of running things? IF ALL the human cells in your body were to suddenly dematerialise, your outline would briefly persist, in all its exquisite detail, in the form of the billions of bacteria and viruses that colonise your every nook and cranny, still suspended in the shape of the frame your body provided. Something analogous happens in Lauren Beukes’s novel Afterland, available in July worldwide and in September in the UK. Over about two years, a pandemic kills nearly every man in the world, leaving its patriarchal systems staffed exclusively by women. Cole, the mother of one of the precious few surviving boys, needs to get him out of the US and back to their home in South Africa. Her sister, meanwhile, wants to sell him. This gives the novel its structure and speed: it is a deceptively simple heist caper, with Cole on the run across the US from both her sister and the Department for the Protection of Males. The organisation is charged with imprisoning the few males that remain, probing them to find whatever biological quirk has spared them from the plague and using that knowledge to find a vaccine for the virus. Its aim of jump-starting society “back to normal” will be uncomfortably familiar as we too languish in a pandemic limbo between the Before and the After, hoping for our own vaccine. The misguided waiting game in the novel results in a few temporary accommodations to reality: straight women negotiate awkward first dates with one another, while fake baby bumps become the hottest fashion accessory. So who gets to maintain civilisation now, and do women run a better society than men? This is where the book shines as one of the best thought experiments of its kind, in which Beukes has stitched together the surprise matriarchy of The Power, the millenarian despair of Children of Men and the deeply intelligent questions of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The Power – in which women develop the ability to give electric shocks, ending their status as the “weaker sex” once and for all – concludes that women are just as bad as men when in ultimate control. (Webmaster's comment: Women are driven by the same biological forces as men are: Survival and Breeding!)
7-22-20 Brave New World review: Dystopian TV without lessons for today
A TV adaptation of Brave New World covers many of the same ideas as the book, but is stripped of relevance for the present day. THE 20th century produced two great British dystopias. The more famous one is 1984, George Orwell’s tale of a world unified into a handful of warring blocs run by dictators. The other, Brave New World, was written in the space between world wars by the young satirist Aldous Huxley. It had started out as a send-up of H. G. Wells’s utopian works – novels such as Men Like Gods (1923), for instance. Then Huxley visited the US, and what he made of society there – brash, colourful, shallow and self-obsessed – set the engines of his imagination speeding. The book is Huxley’s idea of what would happen if the 1930s were to run on forever. Embracing peace and order after the bloody chaos of the first world war, people have used technology to radically simplify their society. Humans are born in factories, designed to fit one of five predestined roles. Epsilons, plied with chemical treatments and deprived of oxygen before birth, perform menial functions. Alphas, meanwhile, run the world. In 1984, everyone is expected to obey the system; in Brave New World, everyone has too much at stake in the system to want to break it. Consumption is pleasurable, addictive and a duty. Want is a thing of the past and abstinence isn’t an option. The family – that eternal thorn in the side of totalitarian states – has been discarded, and with it all intimacy and affection. In fact, no distinct human emotion has escaped this world’s smiley-faced onslaught of “soma” (a recreational drug), consumerism and pornography. There is no jealousy here, no rage, no sadness. The cracks only show if you aspire to better things. Yearn to be more than you already are, and you won’t get very far. In creating a society without want, the Alphas have made a world without hope. Huxley’s dystopia has now made it to the small screen. Or the broad strokes have, at least. In the series, Alden Ehrenreich – best known for taking up the mantle of Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars story – plays John. Labelled a “savage” for living outside the walls of the World State, he encounters the Alpha Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay), his Beta pal.
7-17-20 College biology textbooks still portray a world of white scientists
Recent shifts to include more women and people of color still lag behind students’ diversity. Charles Darwin. Carolus Linneaus. Gregor Mendel. They’re all men. They’re all white. And their names appear in every biology book included in a new analysis of college textbooks. According to the survey, mentions of white men still dominate biology textbooks despite growing recognition in other media of the scientific contributions of women and people of color. The good news, the researchers say: Scientists in textbooks are getting more diverse. The bad news: If diversification continues at its current pace, it will take another 500 years for mentions of Black/African American scientists to accurately reflect the number of Black college biology students. “Biology is still a very white discipline, so the results were not incredibly surprising,” says Cissy Ballen, an education researcher at Auburn University in Alabama. By identifying scientist names and determining when their research was published, Ballen and her colleagues looked at trends in seven of the most commonly used college biology textbooks. They published their results June 24 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The team found that for research published between 1900 and 1999, only about 9 percent (or 55 out of 627) of scientists mentioned were women, and 3 percent (19) were people of color. But for research published between 2000 and 2018, women got 25 percent (87 out of 349) of the mentions, and people of color 8 percent (27). Some of this was representative; the number of women mentioned was proportional to the number of tenured women in the academic biology workforce over time, based on the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators. Information about the number of tenured people of color was not available.
7-1-20 How academic institutions make it harder to be a female scientist
Picture a Scientist shines a light on gender discrimination in science – and also finds reasons to be hopeful, says Simon Ings. WHAT is it about the institutions of science that encourages bullying and sexism? That pushes a young geologist down an Antarctic hillside? That tells a Black chemist to straighten her hair before applying for a job? That takes vital equipment from the tiny, ill-appointed lab of a promising researcher? Picture a Scientist follows the careers of three women and pinpoints where the field has let them down. Women disproportionately drop out of academia. In 2018, women were awarded 50 per cent of the bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering in the US, but only 36 per cent of postdocs that year were female. Small wonder, considering the experiences of the three women at the heart of this film. As a PhD student at Boston University on her first research trip to Antarctica, geologist Jane Willenbring was insulted, bullied and physically abused by her supervisor. In the film, she deplores a culture that benefits those who put up and shut up. PhD students are all too aware that an ill-disposed supervisor can foreclose all avenues of professional advancement. It pays them, therefore, to be tolerant of their supervisor’s “quirks” – to see no evil in them, and speak no evil of them. In this dynamic of patron and client, the opportunities for abuse are rife. The film also features Raychelle Burks, a chemist at American University in Washington DC, and Nancy Hopkins, a geneticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The trio are very successful, despite their struggles. Willenbring, now at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, studies how Earth’s crust responds to climate change. Burks develops cheap, easy forensic tests for war zones and disaster relief. Hopkins studies cancer.