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Women fear violence. Men? Ridicule.

In her new Netflix special, Amy Schumer gets real about fear.


Jemal Countess
/ Stringer (Getty Images)
  • In Growing, Amy Schumer says women fear violence most, while for men it's ridicule.
  • She points to grade school, when boys being violent to girls is supposed to represent courting.
  • About 91 percent of rape victims are women, creating a fear in women that men rarely have to endure.

A recent photo series on the Instagram feed, historycoolkids, features Mexican actress Maty Huitrón walking through Mexico City in 1953. First your eyes spot the stunning thespian, followed immediately by the framing: leering, gawking, even violent expressions by men of the streets.

One commenter noted this shoot was a sociological exposé for Siempre! magazine to shame catcallers. Scroll down to notice a recurring sentiment among dozens of women: been there, done that, it never feels good.

Fast forward 66 years. During her new Netflix special, Growing, Amy Schumer discusses the makeshift brass knuckle she makes with a car key when walking alone through a parking lot. The joke: it would never work. Yet, the sentiment is a humorless skit millions of women endure every day.

Ninety-one percent of rape and sexual assault victims are women. One in five women will be raped in their lives; for men, one in seventy-one. Eighty percent of the time the victim knows the perpetrator, though that does not make the fear of dark streets and late nights less pressing.

But, you know, "boys will be boys."

Precautionary measures often mean missing out. This list details a number of activities women purposefully skip in fear of sexual assault: running alone at night; getting drunk or leaving their drink at the bar so they're not drugged; meeting a stranger without informing friends of their whereabouts; wearing a ponytail (easier to grab) or high heels (slows them down if chased); smiling at someone, which in many men's minds, apparently, signals consent.

The comments below the list are split between agreement and disdain. We arrive at empathy: you might not have lived through such experiences, just don't discount this aggression. I too wrote off similar sentiments as irrational until I met my wife, who is catcalled on a daily basis in downtown Los Angeles, an experience shared by her co-workers.

Hint to dudes claiming that it's flattering: It's not.

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Rape is a tragic bug in the human operating system. Sexual assault creates distrust and traumatizes the victim. Even seemingly "innocent" gestures made by men is inappropriate, including my favorite: asking a woman out, then yelling at her when she denies you. The public focus is often on the woman instead of male psychology, which, in stories like this, is all too fragile.

Back to Schumer, who begins the skit by claiming ignorance of her pending baby's gender. She hopes it's a girl, "but really, just because it's such a scary time for men." (Laughter.) She reminds the crowd, "I don't know if men know how scared we are as women all of the time." (No laughter.) She informs everyone that many women run home, "not for the cardio." (Laughter, less comfortable.)

Schumer then mentions a study that claims what women fear most is violence while men most fear ridicule.

"Oh, yeah, God. I'm so sorry. I didn't know you guys were going through that. It must be so hard for you. Do you guys run home? Because someone's telling a little jokey about you?"

This sentiment is not new. In a 1982 lecture at the University of Waterloo, the author Margaret Atwood came to the same conclusion, worth quoting at length:

"'Why do men feel threatened by women?' I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, "a male friend of mine." It's often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don't want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren't one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. "A male friend of mine" also gives — let us admit it — a certain weight to the opinions expressed.)"

Activists participate in the 2018 #MeToo March on November 10, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)

Atwood states that men are generally bigger and stronger with access to more power and money. Yet this male friend says his peers most fear laughter, the audacity of a woman that would dare to undercut their world view. Her female students responded that they most fear being killed by a man. Not so subtle, this difference.

Speaking of students, Schumer points to grade school as a breeding ground for sexism. Six-year-old boys are told not to cry, to toughen up. They're rewarded for meanness, as it implies that they like girls. The girls are told that boys knocking them down is a sign of affection, one that persists throughout their lives — and might explain, partly, why some women remain in abusive relationships.

If you think we've grown out of such mindsets as adults, think again. A few months ago Gillette became a target for ridiculed men when daring to claim that toxic masculinity is problematic. Earlier this week, Tucker Carlson commented that every man would be like Chris Hayes if feminists had absolute power. Even minor criticisms are branded as ridicule. As Schumer and Atwood (and millions of women) know, men are too incompetent to handle the slightest slight.

The familiar pretense — "It's our biology!" — is a convenient avoidance technique. Our social and technological evolutions would be impossible without emotional maturity. Dunbar's number was the law of all lands for most of time. Then we figured out how to communicate on a global scale. Sort of. To say we can't be better men because of DNA is nonsense. It's simply an excuse for not having the will power to become a kinder and more thoughtful human being.

What women most fear — violence — is more than the result of bad habits. They face a perpetual existential dilemma. For men, the dilemma is "saving face," resulting in (surprise!) aggression and violence when questioned. Until men are mature enough to face that fact, this imbalance will remain. Imagination is destiny, but sometimes, so is laziness.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

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Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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  • J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
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An eight-metre-long Whale shark swims with other fish at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on February 26, 2010 in Motobu, Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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