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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.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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