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Cybersexism is still sexism
Cybersexism: Sex, gender and power on the Internet
Bloomsbury, 2013 (available from Amazon)
Sexism – whether existing in meat- or cyberspace – is the noise people make who dislike seeing characteristics of those they believe are “normal” (male, intelligent, passionate, articulate) coming out the minds and mouths of those who are not.
Those who make sexist claims – some worse than others, from rape jokes to rape threats – do, however, appear to be a minority. But minority percentage doesn’t mean minority impact on us as individuals.
We only need one person to break our leg, even if most people never do. Those dedicated to voicing their fear of women having opinions (and, basically, existing) might be tiny in number but they are great in their relentlessness, their unforgiving nature, their vitriol.
But it wasn’t the Internet that invented the fear of women abandoning the chains to kitchen, the fear of women who severed the predetermined umbilical cord that hung like a potential noose for their aspirations. The Internet became merely another tool to convey that hate, that fear, that vitriol.
As Laurie Penny reminds us:
Although the technology is new, the language of shame and sin around women’s use of the Internet is very, very old. The answer seems to be the same as it always has been whenever there’s a moral panic about women in public space: just stay away.
Of course, whatever one’s view of “progress”, there’s little doubt most civil, Western societies have rapidly improved their treatment of women in the last century. But just because women aren’t excluded from voting, can marry each other, become CEO’s of powerful companies doesn’t mean we’ve reached equality. What is the case isn’t what should be.
However, those who dismiss concerns of sexism usually backtrack and point to legal and policy equality – ignoring that law doesn’t lead to action. Ask any modern day murderer, rapist or thief. No one thinks that law alone will solve these problems.
Similarly, pointing out that society has legal precedents and so on, which is meant to be sex-blind doesn’t magically make instances of sexism vanish.
There are many problems
Often, when discussing the issue of sexism and misogyny online, many – of all sexes – are quick to draw and stab their swords of banality into every open thread. Dismissal, jeering, mockery, snark: as someone who doesn’t experience sexism directly, it is primarily these reactions to sexism I do experience.
My identity is not important and I’ve tried to always distance myself from it, in my writings. Who I am matters less than whether my arguments are sound.
Or at least it should.
As I’ve slowly and painfully learnt, what should be the case doesn’t align to what is. Laurie Penny, who is around my age and also grew up with the Internet becoming increasingly part of daily life, identifies this hallmark of anonymity and erosion of identity as a central feature of the Internet.
As she writes: “Why would it matter, in this brave new networked world, what sort of body you had? And if your body didn’t matter, why would it matter if you were a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, or something else entirely?”
Instead, as Penny and others discovered, it wasn’t the erosion of identity to a default that vaguely resembled a sexless, non-racial humanoid. The default wasn’t a chalk outline lying on roads well-trodden.
The default wasn’t mere “person”: it was male.
Deviations from this, “opened up” avenues for dismissal, hatred and threats: the hallmarks of fear.
Penny writes, “It turned out the Internet wasn’t for everyone. Not really. Not yet. It was for boys, and if you weren’t one you had to pretend to be, or you’d be dismissed.” She points out that media theorist, Clay Shirky, refers to this as “the gender closet”.
Witness and action
Those who are the targets of sexism don’t need to be told sexism exists; those who do the targeting don’t care it does.
For those of us who are not (direct) targets, what we can do is convey the problem sexism presents; that it exists, that it may affect women directly* but it, to greater and lesser degrees, affects us all.
At the very least, we all have women we love and care for. Whether sexism arises online, in her workplace or school is irrelevant: We don’t want her demeaned or ignored or treated as less of a person because of her sex.
When it comes to online sexism – or cybersexism – the horrific messages women receive are visible to us all, usually in the comment sections of articles women have written, YouTube comments demanding women who appear in clips reveal themselves, Twitter messages and threats. Again: the point isn’t that this sexism is unique or special, only that it’s more visible and it’s not just famous women receiving this abuse (as the links make clear).
Penny confirms this: “It’s not every woman who writes online or runs a blog or plays videogames, but it’s many of us, and it could be any of us.”
People who have faced such abuse are often told to “toughen up”. This is a mindset that has so poisoned the discourse of response to victims that victims themselves often adopt it: A close friend considered herself weak and feeble for not taking “better” action against a much larger, more powerful fellow tenant who essentially stalked her. Women so often wonder what they did to encourage a rape. Victim-blaming arises from the idea that women should be tougher, as if men are some mindless penis force that must be managed** (of course we often do ourselves little favours in overturning this perspective).
We’re not all Samuel L. Jackson or Mahlala Yousafzai: We each have different levels of tolerance and pain. Telling people to toughen up when they’re the victims of wrong is not only unhelpful, it’s also aiding unjustified assumptions about how these actions arise: It’s not because women are weak, it’s because sexists are wrong.
That’s just how it is
The Internet is not some god who makes demands of us, as we cower beneath its sexist, manly might. It’s us. It’s our words, our thoughts, our cat gifs, our idiot jpegs and memes. We create the games, the content, the environment in which we participate. So when people claim “Welcome to the Internet, honey!”, that’s not something we should accept.
Just as I don’t want to live in a country or world where homosexuals deserve execution, I don’t want to use one of our most powerful tools knowing that women will have it tougher. We don’t keep quiet about immorality; we do something to right it.
To give a fairly innocuous example of this mindset, consider how four great comic book creators performed mental gymnastics when talking about sexism in their industry. They spoke about how there simply wasn’t any readership interest in seeing female-focused stories; how superheroes have always been men; how it’s difficult and so on. These are excuses not justifications. As the wonderful Alyssa Rosenberg points out: “The decision to stay within the narrow lanes of your own fantasies is a choice, not biological determinism.”
Penny, in her essay, is exactly encouraging this choice. We should change the Internet. “The idea that this sort of [sexist] hate speech is at all normal needs to end now.”
It’s important this happens because “The Internet is a public space, real space; it’s increasingly where we interact socially, do our work, organise our lives and engage in politics, and violence online is real violence.”
The Internet shouldn’t be the domain of one kind of people.
Considering how the Internet just is a part of life, we should never accept that marginalised groups feel threatened for their mere existence on it - just as most of us wouldn’t accept people of a different race be forced to use different bathrooms.
No real distinction between online and offline
The important thing to note is that there isn’t anything that significant, morally, between online and offline spaces. Indeed, I’m persuaded by the idea of getting rid of prefixes like “cyber” altogether, when there is really is no difference. Cybersexism is just sexism with a digital flourish, but it’s sexism nonetheless. Combatting cybersexism, then, is combatting sexism.
Censorship is frequently yelled when sexism is raised. Penny correctly views censorship as almost essentially conservative. “Censorship of the Internet is surely not the answer, because the Internet is not the reason for the supposed tide of filth and commercial sexuality we’re drowning in.” And she says this as someone who proudly does “fly the flag for sex” and “for love online.”
Penny then is not calling for censorship, but intolerance. An intolerance directed at non-thinking; at ideas that view women as things that shouldn’t be occupying spaces men want. She also later deals with this bizarre thing known as “fake geeks”, which is a slur often thrown mostly at women who partake of traditionally geeky things, like games or comics. Again, we should not tolerate or allow such attitudes to pass by as if it’s part of a culture – or rather as if it should be.
It should not. And those of us who care about the Internet, about various industries that we love – like comics, TV, or film – should continue to speak out where we can against this acceptance, this blind toleration, this dismissal and snark. We should speak out to clear spaces for women to enter and feel safe. Yes, you may never have experienced it – whether you’re a man or woman – but that’s irrelevant: there are others who use the Internet, who want to be part of this culture.
But of course there’s great reluctance since it could mean reflecting on the way you think, on the sites or magazines you read, on the films you tout, on the things you’ve written. No one likes to poke the open wound of their fallibility. Knee-jerk reactions claim the feminists want to control everything, that the feminists are trying to silence or stifle men or things or stories. And thereby they miss the point entirely.
Penny beautifully says of those who have been the targets of feminists and claim to be censored: “They speak of censorship but say nothing of silencing.” Women become silenced through the unchallenged belief that, in whatever sphere, women should just expect mistreatment, harassment, dismissal. That their concerns won’t be treat seriously.
With books like Laurie Penny’s, hopefully we will increasingly become aware and more able to respond; better equipped and more thoughtful in our reactions to one of the last remaining – but one of the oldest – prejudices.
* In this review, I’m focused primarily on women-targeted sexism, without demeaning other kinds of sexism or denying other kinds of sexism exists.
**It’s a bizarre conversation: men are supposed to control everything, yet when they do something horrific to a woman, she is somehow in control because of her dress and "slutty" (assuming this is used pejoratively) actions. But again: this isn’t about reason, logic or consistency.
Image Credit: Studio Araminta / Shutterstock
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word Gets Around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.