Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New wave and old-fashioned sex segregation in everyday Australian life, and around the world

Many years ago in western democracies such as Australia, the UK and the United States of America the idea that a child's path in life should be determined by their gender was generally rejected, but in the last few years I have found many ways in which this idea has in practice, if not explicitly, returned to legitimacy in Australia and around the developed world, and has also become a popular fad embraced my many Australians. 

Much of this article was written in 2013 but it has been added to over the years and remains just as relevant in 2016.

In Australia we have gender segregation in........

Baby names

An obvious form of gender differentiation but not inevitable, as unisex first names such as Ashley or Jesse are not a new concept. Girl’s names are more likely to end in a vowel sound and surnames used as first names appear to be more common with boy’s names.

Baby clothes

We are all familiar with the blue and pink cliché.

Skirts and dresses for toddler and baby girls are easy to find in the shops, even though such garments can be a hazard that can trip-up or impede an active crawling, climbing or toddling infant. This must surely restrict the physical activity of toddler girls to some degree.


Many private schools have always been for boys or girls only, and some private schools have become co-ed, but the idea of singe-sex education has made some inroads into government school education in Australia. In November 2015 a Western Australian newspaper reported on a boys-only kindergarten class that appears to be in the state school system
The teacher of that class cited "research" to back up her apparent beliefs that boys are different in terms of activity levels, noise and "mathematical reasoning and spatial awareness". The "parenting expert" Maggie Dent endorsed these ideas.

Single-sex classes have also gained some popularity in Queensland government schools, even though research has apparently failed to find an educational advantage in single-sex classes and negative effects have been found:

Schoolyard play?

A recent study of Australian childrens' play in schoolyards by Kate Darian-Smith and Nikki Henningham has found that "No formal gender segregation was observed in the playground in Australian government and non-government coeducational schools", but what about informal gender segregation? It appears that the report did not directly address this question, even though a fair number of the photos in the report showed single-sex groups of kids playing together. A possible negative impact of girls' traditional school uniforms on their play was observed: "In all schools many schools (sic) girls preferred to wear shorts, including under dresses, so as to be more able to participate in physical play." Co-educational play possibly broadens the play options of all: "A teacher at the all-boys school noted with interest that when girls are involved with holiday programs, skipping and clapping rhymes become evident..."

Youth clubs

Many youth clubs and movements, including church and religion-based youth groups, started out long ago as single-sex organizations, and some remain so. The Boy Scout movement started as a male-only organization, and the Girl Guides developed as a parallel to cater for girls who wanted to participate in similar activities. As with some adult service clubs, gender segregation has remained in the female version of the organization but not in the male one. According to the Wikipedia “Even when most Scout organisations became coeducational, Guiding remained separate in many countries to provide a female-centred programme.”

Of possibly more concern is the trend for local government-funded programs for youths to be single-sex, with promotional material that makes heavy use of gender stereotyping. One example is a girls-only after-school drop-in program featuring cooking, health workshops, wellbeing workshops, life skill development and unspecified "outings". It all sounds very cheap to run and limiting for participants. The flyer promoting the program was decorated with pink, mauve and pale blue flowers and paisley swirls. Ick.

Recreational facilities 

Australian public skate parks tend to have a heavy male bias in the gender ratio of users, who tend to be children and youths. I have found that the higher the quality of the skate park, the more likely one is to find young children, parental supervision and girls at the skate park, but nevertheless the normal situation is that there are no females at all using a skate park at most times of the day, and there do not appear to be any initiatives by the municipal city councils who own these skate parks to promote their use to girls or the parents of girls, despite the fact that social research has established that as girls move into puberty their participation in sport often declines.

High school chaplain-delivered programmes for students

Single-sex programs offered by high school chaplains in Australian government schools include programs that go by the names Strength and Shine and Bloke and Chick, which makes me want to puke and chuck. Apparently the Strength and Shine programs are the products of the powerful fundamentalist Hillsong church.

Is this story on the WA version of the ABC's current affairs TV show 7.30 about a "Shine" program for disaffected female students running in a Geraldton private high school the same program as the Shine program of the Hillsong church? http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-09/the-shine-program-turning-heads-in-the-school/4742926

Religion-required sex segregation

There are too many examples to attempt to list. Some particularly striking examples include sex segregation in Islam and in some Islamic societies, and also in Orthodox Judaism. FaceGlat is an Israel-based and sex segregated version of Facebook.

Government-funded employment agencies

I know of at least one employment service provider which appears to have a blanket policy of directing job seekers who are the primary care-givers of young children into stereotypically feminine jobs, and the majority of primary care-givers of children just happen to be female. I believe the justification given for this practice is the incorrect idea that these are the only jobs that offer family-friendly hours.

In Australia jobs are sometimes advertised as requiring applicants of one gender, which I thought was illegal, at least in the past, and I know from first-hand observations that some government-funded job service providers will go along with this sexism while matching clients to such jobs.

Government-funded career choice counselling

One Australian state government-funded career counselling service offers a workshop in which participants do a questionnaire based on John Holland's theory about interests and career choice (RIASEC), and while I can't identify anything gender-biased about the tool itself, the illustration about people working in careers that was used in the presentation and in printed material did appear to be a depiction of gender stereotypes or gender biases. The two areas of interests that are the most about dealing with people, the "social" and the "enterprising" interest categories were illustrated with female models, while the other interest categories of "realistic", "investigative", "artistic" and "conventional" are illustrated by male models. Just by the numbers alone this illustration is gender-biased with more males shown than females. An image search on Google did not yield any links to this particular illustration that I could share here, but this search did retrieve many illustrations of the Holland Codes from American sources, and I could not identify any gender biased examples among the US-sourced career counselling material. I did find one American illustration that very much went against gender stereotypes from a university in Maryland in which was the gender-opposite to the Australian illustration except that the "investigative" as also male. So it appears that Australia has a particular problem with gender stereotyping in government-funded career services.


The concepts of occupational gender segregation, vertical segregation (of genders in the workplace), pink ghettoes, glass ceilings and glass elevators are all well-researched and real phenomena. A journalistic photo that illustrates the striking gender segregation in one area of employment can be viewed here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/promise-on-nurse-numbers-in-doubt/story-fn7x8me2-1226278766999

A news story that reports an appalling and growing gender pay gap in Australia can be found here:

In 2013 child-care workers in Australia were paid $19 an hour. This workforce is overwhelmingly female and many of them have educational qualifications. This is a disgrace.

I have worked for one of Australia's largest corporations and I have been told by an apparently surprised or puzzled supervisor to stop working at a task among male employees and go work at a different task because "The girls are out the back". During training this same supervisor told me and other trainees that she believed that female employees had a natural advantage at a particular type of work. At another work-site I had a male employer who made jokes about supposed psychological differences between men and women often during tea-breaks. This work supervisor was completely open about assigning workers to specific tasks according to gender. At both work sites there was obvious sorting by gender in allocation of workers to various tasks.

A recent radio show about the persistent under-representation of women in careers in science and technology:
Technology: why is it still a man's world? Future Tense. ABC Radio National. 14 July 2013.

Exploitation in unpaid work

A recent report about the exploitation of workers doing unpaid work trials found that unpaid trials were especially common in hair and beauty, retail, hospitality and professional services, many of these areas of work being female-dominated:


Job Vacancy Advertisements

It is too easy to find examples of photographs accompanying job ads that could be interpreted as suggesting that the job advertised or some jobs are suitable for one particular gender, in fact it is not easy to find online job ads that don't feature gender-stereotyped photography of workers (men in hard hats and high-viz vests, girls wearing telephone headsets). Note that one of these examples linked to below is a government site:

Websites for Job-Seekers


University Study and Research

Although people are not formally allocated to study one or another course at Australian universities by gender there is hardly any need for this, because in some areas of scholarship and study Australians segregate themselves by gender spontaneously, as can be seen in these group photos of some Australian university departments:

Eating and drinking

According to the stereotypes, women and girls like to eat chocolate, thickly-iced cupcakes and similar sugary junk food as a form of psychological self-comforting (presumably needed because females are supposed to be emotionally fragile and vulnerable), and women are also thought to prefer sweet wines and syrupy pre-mixed alcoholic drinks when indulging in alcohol. After indulging in all this sickly-sweet stodge, stereotypical women overcompensate in a bout of regret, self-recrimination and borderline-anorexic dieting by eating nothing but dry salads, because they are also obsessed with their weight and physical appearance. Eating a sensible, balanced, healthy diet does not seem to be on the agenda for either gender, because a real man would not be seen dead eating a salad, or a quiche. Manly foods are barbecued meat (full of fat, salt and carcinogenic chemicals from high-temeperature cooking), cancer-causing processed meats such as sausages and bacon, and savoury fast foods, and men's preference in alcoholic drinks includes beer or dry wines, nothing sweet. Books about how to feed men and boys and cookbooks aimed exclusively to men have become new genres, and can often be found for sale at Australia Post shops:

Man food by Billy Law (with a book cover design of a photo of woven and cooked bacon)

Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn

Manly Food by Simon Cave "Because men order steak and women order salad!" 

Tea-rooms and restaurants

At a budget terminal at an Australian domestic airport I recently came across a licenced restaurant that had a name and decor with a clearly manly theme, with posters depicting muscle-bound male workers in various occupational groups. They offered a range of beers. Maybe this marketing was aimed at male FIFO workers? Let's hope this silly crap disappears now that the Aussie mining has gone bust.

Another even more gender segregated phenomenon in the Australian hospitality industry is the high tea trend, in which tea and decoratively-presented bite-sized cakes and sandwiches are served on tiered cake stands. The servings are sweet, intricate, miniscule and pretty, engaging multiple feminine gender stereotypes at once: sugar-preference, diet-obsession, daintiness and prettiness-preference (I defy you to say that out loud without lisping).

Photo from Pinterest to show what I mean: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/a0/62/d0/a062d00a89c0bc7ca1d9fd5e55efcc7d.jpg

High teas are often explicitly promoted as for females "get the girls together". Many hotels offer high tea sessions, but there are also entire tea-rooms that do nothing but high teas, and are typically decorated to saturation-point with old-fashioned, flowery and decorative low-brow ornaments, pictures and lighting. Women-only gatherings are the norm in such places. I recently attended a women-only birthday party at such a place. I thought it was quite sad that males had been excluded from this celebration, expecially in light of the fact that the "birthday girl" had a husband and only sons.

Community health centres, counselling and health advocacy services

Mensline (telephone counselling service)
MensTime (relationship counselling, group programs and seminars, run by Anglicare, funded by a state govt. dept.)
Women's Health Victoria (advocacy)
Logan Women's Health and Wellbeing Centre
Women's Healthworks

Menslink (a free counselling and mentoring the service for young men and their families in Canberra, promoted by Prime Minister Gillard's partner Tim Mathieson)

The idea of health service centres specifically for women is widespread and long-established. These places may offer support groups, counselling, gynaecological and/or educational services for women delivered by a women only staff.

Services promoted as “men’s health” appear to have more of an emphasis on counselling, psychology and recreational activities, and there appears to be more businesses advertised as men’s health services. Men’s and women’s health services may be government or charity funded.

Social and informal social support organizations

Some examples:
Dads only playgroups 
Red Hat Society
Mens’ Sheds
– an organization that is rapidly growing and being allocated a lot of government funding in Australia, and enjoys the patronage of the Prime Minister’s partner (a man).
The Women’s Connection
Asperger Women Association

single-sex choirs - appear to be popular despite not sounding as good as mixed choirs

Popular Websites

An example:
Mamamia - a popular Australian website aimed at women, full of the kind of stuff that women stereotypically are thought to be interested in, such as celebrities, human interest stories, parenting stories, fashion, food and lots of adverts.

Contributing to the Wikipedia internet encyclopaedia

91% of Wikipedia editors are male according to a 2013 article in New Scientist magazine. The world's most famous online crowd-sourced encyclopedia is primarily a man's world.

Service clubs and business networking organizations

There are many regional and larger networking organizations specifically for businesswomen.

Many service clubs have a male-only membership past that has been modernized in past decades to allow women to become members of the organization as a whole or members of individual branches. Men’s and women’s only branches can be found in some service clubs and societies. The YWCA and YMCA are obvious examples of service organizations that have at least started with a single-sex focus.

General informal socializing (including private parties)

Parties for adults in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s have been described as strictly gender segregated by many social commentators, to the extent that the notion of parties where the men gather at one end of the room and the womenfolk cluster at the other end has become a cliche. It was noted that this was not limited to any particular strata of society - it has been observed among the privileged and the working class. Most definitely attitudes did improve in Australia during the latter parts of the 20th century, but I can report encountering some negativity from some older women during the 1990s in Australia as a result of me talking with their husbands as we all sat around a campfire during some off-road travelling. Their reaction seemed to echo an experience recounted in an interesting article about the controversial Australian movie Wake in Fright: "At one party, I remember my wife, who plays Janette Hynes, got tired of talking about hats and recipes and so decided to wander over towards the men’s circle. Later, she said to me, “I was greeted like I was a harlot, so I immediately scurried back to the women and the women were furious and thought I was trying to steal their men!” I recommend that movie as a striking depiction of gender segregation in socialising in Australia in the 1960s. Men who dared to stray to chat with the women at Australian parties in the past were apparently paradoxically regarded as a bit gay. I'm really not sure what the present situation is, as I don't go to a lot of parties. Sex segregation at parties is definitely one Australian tradition that is not worth resurrecting!

The kinds of social work/counselling organizations in Australia that provide single-gender health services and counselling services have also been known to host or sponsor "Dads' Only Days" or free family fun activity days specifically for children accompanied by their fathers or father-figures. I am not sure what these woman-free events are supposed to achieve in the community.

Consumer products marketed to one gender for no obvious or compelling reason

Some examples:
Cottee's Fruit Cup cordial in different versions for boys and for girls

Bioglan Kids Gummies Multivitamin for Girls for "your little princess" with Disney princesses on the packaging http://www.bioglan.com.au/common-needs/kids-health/multivitmin-for-girls/kids-multivitamin-for-girls.html

Bioglan Kids Gummies Multivitamin for Boys for "your little racer" with Disney animated cars on the packaging

Scrap books as required in primary school booklists purchased from a Coles store in January 2016, identical in every way but for the colourful covers that come in two gender-stereotyped designs, with bluish colours and mechanical stuff for some kids and pinky hues and nature for others:

Powerful Yoghurt. (for men)

Ian Chillag at NPR reviews yoghurt for men. Amusing.

Chocolate bar lines in Ikea stores, with Karlfazer brand in blue packaging right next to Geisha brand in cute pink packaging

Eggs by Ellah in artsy pink packaging http://eggsbyellah.com.au/

Coffee Chill iced coffee (special promotions with a blokey theme)

Extra For Dudes flavoured milks by Harvey Fresh http://www.facebook.com/ExtraForDudes

Man-New energy drink, seems to be marketed to blokes, possibly capitalizing on the current body-building fad among young men.

Bic Cristal For Her pens ballpoint pens in pretty colours marketed to the female consumer seen at Officeworks.

Disposable Shavers marketed in very highly gendered packaging with different names and colours, but how different could the shavers be? Guess which gender of cheap disposable shavers is the cheapest?

Red Balloon "his and hers" leisure activity gift voucher packages - the men's pack includes activities to do with beer, action, sport and the outdoors, and the women's pack includes wine, relaxation and classes for learning how to make food or drink (cookery and barista classes), because after all that work as a kitchen slave a woman needs a bit of relaxation and a glass of wine.

Dietary supplements, vitamins, pills and potions

These products can be associated with bodybuilding and gym cultures and also appear to be popular sellers in pharmacies and have retailers solely devoted to these types of products, which are often marketed by gender. Is there any scientific justification for gender specialization in these products? Do any of these products have a scientific basis?

Magazines and magazine racks

The magazine industry has been creating products aimed at specific genders forever, and it is not surprising that the retail displays created to sell these products are often similarly gender-segregated. Magazine displays in virtually all newsagents and also some supermarkets are or have been gender segregated according to gender stereotypes that apply to the subject area of magazines, with “women’s magazines”, fashion, slimming, cooking, parenting and celebrity gossip mags displayed on the female side, and business, science, computers, motor vehicle, fishing, fitness, smut and current affairs mags are often shelved on the male side of the rack.

Books and Book Retailing Displays

A similar situation exists with books as in magazines - as the products are often aimed at one gender or age group, so the retail displays often group the products in a similar categorization. Book shelves in the David Jones department store as seen in 2013 are just one example - sex stereotype segregation in much the same manner as the typical newsagent shop’s display of magazines, with sport books, humour and biographies of males on one side, cookery, slimming and biographies of women on the other side. Even Australia Post circa 2016 has been observed to practice gendered marketing of books and gifts, with clearly segregated men's and women's shelves in post office retail spaces.


Some examples:
Womens’ Stuff by Kaz Cooke
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

Some fictional genres are thought to have a readership of predominantly one gender, for example “chick lit”.

Book authors

A quote from page 53 of the paperback edition of the 2011 book Spoilt Rotten! by Theodore Dalrymple:
"Yet I had never seen books classified in this way before, and the novelty of the arrangement surely tells us something about our present Zeitgeist, as does the classification of books by the race, sex or sexual practices of their authors."


The free-to-air TV channel 7Mate is marketed explicitly to men and the programming of the GEM TV channel is designed to appeal to a female audience.

Movie genres

Some genres seem to be created with only one gender in mind, such as romantic comedy and action movies. Every Hollywood action movie includes at least one stripper scene, by law.

Shelving in public libraries

I have seen magazines for loan arranged with a section for "Women's Interest" magazines.

Parenting advice

Relationships Australia, a counselling organization that is largely funded by government, advertised workshops about parenting girls for Dads and workshops about parenting boys for Mums, presumably based on the presumption that female parents need special help in understanding their male offspring, and vice versa.

Parenting Ideas parenting advice fact-sheets from Michael Grose Presentations Pty Ltd that are distributed free to parents through many Australian schools sometimes have a single-sex theme, one example being a sheet of advice about raising teenage daughters that had an emphasis on enforcing moral values and standards of behaviour that was reminiscent of thinking from the 1950s "It is important that we open up conversations around values and beliefs." " Encourage her to know who she is and keep to her values." "Is she living in a way that respects her core values?"

Books or advice about raising kids of one gender generally originate from a person of that same gender, for example:
Dannielle Miller is promoted as a parenting expert who specializes in the area of raising girls and her book The Butterfly Effect is about raising teen girls. The area of books of advice about parenting teens seems to be particularly affected by division by gender.

The popular but evidence-free book Raising Boys was written by Steve Biddulph, who was voted Australian Father of the Year in 2000 for his work encouraging the active role of fathers, a job surely only fit for a man.

A gender division can even be found in specialized areas of parenting advice:

Smart Girls, Gifted Women by Barbara A. Kerr

Smart Boys: Talent, Manhood, and the Search for Meaning by Barbara A. Kerr, Sanford J. Cohn and Audie Alcorn

Asperger’s in Pink by Julie Clark and Rudy Simone is just one of many recent books on the subject of Asperger syndrome and the autistic spectrum and girls, an area characterized by much speculation by people regarded as Asperger syndrome experts but supported by little scientific research

Raising Boys with ADHD: Secrets for Parenting Healthy, Happy Sons by James Forgan and Mary Anne Richey

Beliefs about Parenting

The idea that the genders have important psychological differences is an element supporting the popular belief that children need parental role models of both genders (or a good non-parental substitute), especially a parental role model of their own gender. This popular belief inevitably leads to beliefs that sole parent mothers are insufficient to parents sons and vice versa, that single parents are insufficient as parents, that same-sex parents are jointly insufficient as parents, and that children from such families are in some way psychologically impaired or damaged, especially ones who were raised without a parent of their gender. Such beliefs go against the actual scientific evidence gathered from research. A great many individuals and families are condemned by this inter-connected set of beliefs about psychology and gender. There is rarely any acknowledgement that single-parent families are often living in poverty, and this stressful economic situation is rarely cited as a possible cause of social problems that are thought to be common to this type of family.

This web page from the single-gender service charity Menslink appears to be based some of the above negative beliefs about sole-parent families:  http://menslink.org.au/news/

Events – organizational and informal

Reclaim the Night (men are reputedly banned from these marches)
Movember (Women are not encouraged to grow a moustache to help raise awareness of men’s health issues, although heaven knows, many of us could.)
Hen’s nights
Buck’s parties
International Women’s Day
International Men’s Day

Mental illness - professional diagnosis and also self-diagnosis

In Australia there is a popular belief that in men depression can manifest not as a sad or low mood, but as aggression or irritability, thus widening the criteria for this mental illness to include countless extra men and distorting the definition of depression to the point of absurdity. This belief also gives agressive or violent men a handy excuse for bad behaviour. It is unclear whether irritable or aggressive women are supposed fall into any diagnostic category. Borderline personality disorder perhaps? BPD is a mental illness/personality disorder in which most of those diagnosed are women. Uneven gender ratios are a common feature of psychiatric diagnostic categories, and this has been the cause of much debate, with some alleging an influence of gender stereotyping.

A fine example of the use of gender-stereotyped marketing of mental health/psychiatry services in Australia would be the Man Therapy website from the Beyond Blue Australian psychiatry public awareness charity: http://www.mantherapy.org.au/
Is it even proper or appropriate for psychiatry to be aggressively marketed to the general population, with or without the aid of gender stereotyping?

Crime and social deviance

Outlaw bikie clubs appear to have a male-only membership.

Research studies

Health in Men Air Quality Study by researchers from the University of WA, Edith Cowan University, CSIRO and WA Centre for Health and Ageing.

Female and child subjects have routinely been excluded from medical research studies, for various reasons, limiting the applicability of the research findings. There are good reasons why some research studies only have subjects of one sex, but for others the reasons are far from clear.

Colours, toys and fashion

Baby boys are dressed in baby blue and baby girls in pink, but the colour-coding of humanity certainly doesn't stop there. In the last 10 years or so there has been a trend in which an overwhelming proportion of girls' clothing is coloured in the stereotypical girly colours of pink, magenta, salmon, mauve and purple, and this trend of gender segregation in clothing colours extends less obviously to boys, whose clothing range in department stores is predominantly in a range of colours that aren't those above, including black and dark colours. The Barbie-doll pink fad has now extended into women's wear, with hues in women's fashion that would have been unusual years ago becoming the mode, colours such as bright salmon and hot pink. Menswear has always been produced in a quite limited and sombre range of colours, and I don't think this has changed much in a long time.

Gendered colours are not limited to clothing, school bags, kids' lunch-boxes or fashion. Any toy section in a variety retail store in Australia will have it's pink aisles full of female and baby dolls, and other aisles full of action-fantasy play toys and moving vehicle toys in which colours such as black, blue, green and browns that are not pretty predominate. The concept of boys' and girls' toys is an established and pervasive part of our culture. For as long as I can remember the McDonalds fast-food chain has been categorizing the free toys given away with children's meals by gender, and your child will be allocated a toy by gender automatically by the staff, unless you object. While explicit labeling of toys as "GIRLS TOYS" and "BOYS TOYS" has been sighted at a Woolworths supermarket in May 2013, such explicit gendered signposting is usually not necessary in the toy departments of discount and department shops because the packaging of gender-specific products make the gender designation very clear, and such toys are usually grouped together by merchandising staff by gender. Explicit labeling of toys by gender appears to be a fairly common practice in the UK, one egregious example being the categorization of a chemistry set as a boy's toy by the Tesco supermarket chain: http://www.tesco.com/direct/action-science-chemistry-set/211-6172.prd
Fortunately, there are also forces acting against such sexism in the UK. In April 2013 a British pharmacy chain Boots was forced to change a policy of explicit gender labeling of toys after negative feedback from the public through social media:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/apr/30/boots-removes-gender-signs-toys The United Kingdom-based Let Toys be Toys campaign objects to the promotion of books and toys as suitable for boys or girls. Concerned Australian parents have formed the campaign Play Unlimited with the aim of ending  the segregation of toys along gender lines and promoting the idea that all children should be encouraged to enjoy the widest possible range of play experiences.


As a part of the desperate 2013 federal election campaign the Australian Labor Party launched the "Women for Gillard" campaign in Sydney on the 11th of June. The endorsement of the idea gender segregation in voting and politics by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her supporters couldn't be clearer. Playing the "gender card" like it was her only card left Gillard asserted that a Coalition government would marginalize women and use the issue of abortion for political ends. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/women-banished-under-a-coalition-government-julia-gillard-claims/story-fn59niix-1226661839065  The result of Gillard's June 2013 appeal to a specifically female constituency, which would be referred to by commentators as her "blue tie speech", was an unprecedented drop in support for the ALP from male voters (without any significant gain in female voter endorsement), evidence that Gillard's gendered strategy for political campaigning was truly divisive:  http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/party-games-prime-minister-julia-gillard-loses-500000-male-voters-in-a-month-with-her-blue-tie-speech/story-fnihsr9v-1226665229700  In June 2013 when Kevin Rudd "rolled" Gillard and once again became the Prime Minister of Australia, he regained much support for the ALP from voters of both genders.

Australian politics has for a number of years, especially during the dismal age of Gillard/Abbott leadership in Australian federal politics, displayed a preoccupation with gender segregation and gender roles. The male Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott taking every opportunity to be photographed participating in masculine sports, often wearing minimal clothing, or playing at working in male-stereotyped trade occupations while doing tours of workplaces. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was hailed as a role-model of a working, high-achieving woman from the moment that she stole Kevin Rudd's job, and she has often taken the opportunity to be photographed in the midst of groups of women.

Illustrative links:

The March 2013 edition of the Australian magazine for intellectual types The Monthly featured a photo of PM Julia Gillard with two female ministers of her government, and the caption "The XX Factor". Inside the magazine was a story about women ministers in Gillard's government: http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/march/1361848246/anna-goldsworthy/critical-mass

There is nothing new or uniquely Australian about gender segregation being embraced (and not condemned) by politicians and political campaigners. A news report in 2011 described Michelle Obama, the "First Lady" and wife of the President of the USA, being greeted very warmly by an audience of schoolgirls. On the right-wing/Republican side of US politics, Ann Romney was seen at a Republican Party convention in 2012 speaking in front of an audience in which many women waved identical placards with the message "Women Love Ann". Mrs Romney gave a speech about "love" and her marriage to male Mormon politician Mitt Romney which was all very touchy-feely, a stark demonstration of contrasting gender roles.


Disappointingly, sometimes the choice of the causes that Australians appear to care about appear to be heavily influenced by their sex or by their adherence to gender stereotypes. Animal welfare and environmental activism appears to be "women's work" while campaigners against immigration and far right political activist groups appear to be mostly male, while a great many other humanitarian or political causes attract a balanced gender ratio. In my personal opinion, I believe a balanced gender ratio goes along with a mentally balanced outlook in activism. Below are links to some Australian news stories showing implicitly or explicitly the influence of gender on activism:



Charity, health and celebrity patronage

I recently saw a media story about retirees volunteering in a workshop/factory to make wheelchairs for children that are exported to poor countries around the world, very worthwhile, interesting and satisfying work, but I was disappointed to see that the entire organization appears to be male:

The very wealthy and famous female African-American former TV chat show host Oprah Winfrey funded a school in South Africa for girls, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. This seems fitting because  Oprah's success in business and the world of entertainment has been based on appealing to a predominantly female audience with a daytime TV show that dealt with stereotypically feminine topics from a stereotypically feminine viewpoint.

The Priceline Sisterhood appears to be one of those charity projects done by a retailer as positive PR. It also appears to be marketed to women and promoted as benefiting women through supporting health charities that address issues that have apparently been identified by Australian women as top concerns. Priceline is a cosmetics retailer and the website of this project is bright pink. Shopfronts and interiors of Priceline stores have been decorated in vivid Barbie-doll pink, just in case any consumers were unaware that these are shops for females. Unfortunately, many Priceline stores are also dispensing pharmacies, in some cases the only outlet for medical prescriptions in a shopping centre. This means that men who need to get a prescription filled would presumably be forced to walk into a shop aggressively decorated in a girly-woman theme in order to get their essential medical needs met, an experience that could make men feel that taking medications and looking after their own health needs is an unmanly thing to be doing. Relevant link:


Caputo, Raffaelle (2009) Wake in Fright: an interview with Ted Kotcheff.
Senses of Cinema. Issue number 51

Darian-Smith, Kate and Henningham, Nikki (2011) Childhood, tradition and change: a national study of the historical and contemporary practices and significance of of Australian childrens' playlore. June 2011.

Recommended Resources

Let Toys be Toys - For Girls and Boys http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/

Play Unlimited http://www.playunlimited.org.au/

Pointlessly Gendered Products by Sociologist Lisa Wade

Further Reading

Wade, Lisa (2015) Five Reasons Why Gendered Products are a Problem. Sociological Images. December 31st 2015.

Gender segregation in Australia

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A quote from Bjork

"You have 1,000 colors of emotion, and each album is one color exaggerated. It’s so exaggerated that it’s not me, but it’s one color, you know? And I feel like that color is in everyone."

Is she just being metaphorical or perhaps describing a cross-modal experience? Only she would know for sure.

by Mathias Augustyniak, Michaël Amzalag
June 2011?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Comments and replies

The comments are coming thick and fast to many of my posts, including my main articles about Jani Schofield and Daniel Tammet:

Daniel Tammet - The Boy with the Incredible Story

Jani Schofield - I’m sorry that I’ll have to add this sad and shameful tale to my list of famous synesthetes

Lili's astonished thought for the day

Gosh, I could have sworn that this old CNN article about synaesthesia used to have a collection of disapproving comments attached to it!


Lili's exasperated thought for the day

For crying out loud! Researchers are still writing papers that cite the case of Daniel Tammet as evidence of something to do with savantism, and respected journals are still publishing them:


Lili's thought for the day

MIRACLE CURE FOR ADHD! Boy's symptoms instantaneously disappear as he is moved by parents to a school that ain't a joke!

This is why I'm not buying any Christmas puddings or mince pies that contain palm or vebetable oil

Orang-utans killed for 'pest control'
Sydney Morning Herald.
November 24, 2011.

I guess it is at least a good thing that these Indonesian a***holes were arrested. I hope the authorities in Kalimantan stay on the job of properly enforcing the conservation laws of Indonesia, but for now I'm staying away from palm oil and all processed foods that do or might contain it as an ingredient.

This is a link to the recently-published research paper that was referred to in the SMH article. It appears to have roughly half of Indonesia's research scientists as co-authors:

Quantifying Killing of Orangutans and Human-Orangutan Conflict in Kalimantan, Indonesia.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

They should call this the Daniel Tammet package

I was up late the other night with the telly on and a friend and I were making jokes about the silly infomercials, and an infomercial came on which appears to be an educational package for teaching lightning maths calculating tricks and memory techniques to kids. It looked a lot like some of the skills which Daniel Tammet appears to have used in ways that have impressed some researchers so much that they have claimed that Tammet's ability could only be due to the mysterious gift of savant syndrome. If schoolkids can be taught this stuff, then how much of a savant did Tammet need to be to perform such tricks?

The name of this package is Brainetics, and I do not recommend it or advocate it. It's just interesting to see what kinds of skills they claim can be taught to children. Another interesting aspect of the advertisement is the predominance of girls, including some purportedly diagnosed with ADHD, among the kids shown performing the mental calculation tricks. I suspect that this is not an attempt to counter negative gender stereotypes about females and maths, I rather suspect that the message that the viewer is supposed to take away is that this learning program is so easy and effective that it can even be used to teach girls and ADHDers maths (!) It's a sad old world.

Shopping for story books for a young child?

Then you might find this of interest:

Lili Marlene's List of Delightful Children's Picture Books

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lili's politico-demographic thought for the day

Did you see all the old people celebrating the election win in Spain? A sea of chrome-domes!

Lili's exasperated thought for the day

Boycott all Christmas-themed decorations and foods that are on sale before Halloween! We must draw the line somewhere, or one day half the damned year will be devoured by the silly season.

Lili's thought for the day

Jeanette Winterson should get some kind of prize just for the title of her new autobiography - "Why be happy when you could be normal?"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lili's disapproving thought for the day

I don't want to eat any Christmas pudding made with palm oil or unspecified "vegetable oil" this Christmas!

Lili's enjoyable thought for the day

Is it just me, or is it impossible to watch that slim brown Obama, with his slightly badass swagger, and not be reminded of Cleavon Little in the movie Blazing Saddles?

Lili's political thought for the day

When the Australian government sends asylum-seekers back overseas to death and danger, the shame is upon all of us.

Lili's thought for the day

Was the Ding Palace the forerunner to the McMansion? Someone should study this.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tammet compared to a language savant

When some highly qualified researchers from universities compared Daniel Tammet with a man who appears to more closely conform to the established concept of the savant, a language savant named Christopher who has definite disability, Tammet's performance was quite different in at least two different ways. Who'd have thought? As far as I can tell from his own account of the testing that he did with two of the authors of the book below, Tammet might not have known that his performance in one of the tests would later be compared with that of a(nother) savant.

Neil Smith, Ianthi Tsimpli, Gary Morgan, Bencie Woll
The Signs of a Savant: Language Against the Odds. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

See pages 167 and 221 in this book for Tammet's account of this research:

Daniel Tammet
Born on a blue day: inside the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant : a memoir. Simon and Schuster, 2007.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A bit of unsolicited advice about fruit mince pies as the festive season draws closer

I've got a bee in my bonnet over many different issues and causes, and I so much love to share my thoughts and opinions with my readers. I'm against buying processed foods that contain palm oils, even though this is a difficult thing to avoid, as for some reason palm oil is used in a great many processed foods and even in non-food consumer goods such as toiletries. I'm against palm oil for two reasons - the big one is the loss of habitats of endangered animals such as the orangutan due to the clearing of tropical forests in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia to make way for palm oil plantations. The other reason to shun palm oil is that it is apparently one of the worst fats and oils for health.

Avoiding buying foods and products that contain palm oil is not as simple a task as it should be. Because we have a mob of spineless fools in Canberra making our laws, there is no legal compulsion for food producers to specify exactly what type of oil is in processed food products, and as a consequence palm oil in foods is often described as "vegetable oil" or sometimes "palmolein", which isn't much help to the consumer, who is forced to act like a Sherlock Bloody Holmes just to find out what he or she is eating. So one must assume that all products that contain "vegetable oil" or "vegetable oils" contain palm oil, and I'm sad to report that this applies to every single brand of fruit mince pies that I have checked in a number of different supermarket chains. God only knows what "margarine" as an ingredient is made of, so I'm avoiding that mystery gloop as well. It looks like it's going to be a fruit mince pie-free Christmas for palm oil avoiding consumers like myself, unless I should make a happy discovery of a brand of pie that uses a luxury ingredient such as butter. What kind of f***ed-up world do we live in when you've got a supermarket shelf full of baked goods, but no pastry made of tasty, natural butter to buy?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Fraus meretur fraudem.

from More mottoes from 16th-century sources by Jeff Lee

New study challenges the standard scientific view of emotion perception

"Visual scenes, voices, bodies, other faces, cultural orientation, and even words shape how emotion is perceived in a face, calling into question the still-common assumption that the emotional state of a person is written on and can be read from the face like words on a page."

So does that mean that simple tests of reading facial expressions, such as Baron-Cohen and team's Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, have limited relevance to real-world emotion perception?

Lisa Feldman Barrett, Batja Mesquita and Maria Gendron
Context in Emotion Perception.
Current Directions in Psychological Science.
October 2011 vol. 20 no. 5 286-290.
doi: 10.1177/0963721411422522

Can you help ASAN in their investigation into improper use of personality testing in job hiring?

"The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is investigating employers' use of personality tests to screen job applicants as part of applications for employment and the broader hiring process. These tests may unfairly screen out qualified Autistic applicants and those with other hidden disabilities through the use of subjective questions unrelated to job performance"

I query the use of the word "tests" in this statement, as I doubt that personality features of job applicants are put to any test in most hiring processes. Much more likely job applicants will be given a multiple-choice questionnaire to fill in, which is not a test of any type, but a mere self-report battery of questions, of which the truth of the answers given by job applicants often cannot be checked or tested.

I you live in the US and have been turned down for a job in which personality testing was used, ASAN would like to hear from you:

I've been protesting about this kind of thing for many years now. Irrespective of whether autism or a perception of autism is a factor in the rejection of job applicants who are rejected because of percieved personality traits that are irrelevant to the job, this type of practice is unfair and unecessary and discriminatory. Formal personality testing is not the only method by which job applicants are discriminated against on the basis of personality. I was once told that I failed to win a job due to a lack of smiling in the job interview. How much a person naturally smiles is a feature of personality and I beleive is also associated with gender, and there are a number of ways in which this type of discrimination coould be interpreted. I could characterize it as me being discriminated against because I refuse to comply with feminine stereotypes of body language and behaviour. I could also characterise this as discrimination on the basis of autism or personality. Either way, if smiling is not an essential and important feature of the job, and the applicant is otherwise fully qualified, the applicant should be knocked-out of the competition based on a smile-count. It is my intuition that smiling in a male job applicant would not be judged as such an important selection criterion, and that is just fine, but not fine for us females who are often expected to jump through hoops in the workplace that males are not required to negotiate.

My best advice to any job applicant who is faced with a personality questionnaire with questions that appear to be irrelevant to the job - if you have the choice open to you, politely withdraw your application for the job and go look for another job opportunity, or else do your best to figure out what the "correct" answers are, and give them irrespective of whether this is a reflection of your true situation. A bunch of discriminatory dicks who foist such rubbish onto job applicants deserve to be lied to. As they say, you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Is Daniel Tammet to neuropsychological research what Helen Demidenko was to the Australian literary establishment?

Love me, I'm a celebrity autistic/ethnic fictional writer!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lili's list of top five pop songs that used to give me major goosebumps when I was a little girl

1. Song for Suzy by The Dudley Moore Trio. This tune was a big hit in Australia, and I remember seeing it on some old black and white TV. All modern jazz gives me goosebumps, because it doesn't sound quite right, alien and strange and alone, and because of that it evokes colours like you wouldn't believe, but the freakiest thing about this tune is the grown man wailing like a wolf or something. My blood runs cold. I love it.

2. Fool on the Hill written by The Beatles, sung by Sergio Mendez, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey and many others. I used to find the lyrics of this tune ambiguosly creepy and creepily ambiguous. One particular version of this tune was full of tension and drama, which really gave me chilling pause for thought as a young child. I wish I knew which version it was.

3. Horse With No Name by America. Riding through a featureless desert on a horse that doesn't even have a name? That is lost, existentially lost.

4. Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell. I can hear a wide, open landscape in this music, and home seems so far away.

5. Venus by Shocking Blue. It's a siren's song. That is by definition creepy and disturbing, but all great rock songs give me the goosebumps anyway. That loud wailing will surely attract men. I think that is the desired effect.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A brief speculative thought about the Tammet controversy and prosopagnosia

To date I've not been able to find any writing by the popular writer on neuropsychological topics Dr Oliver Sacks on the subject of Daniel Tammet. I invite my readers to let me know about any pieces of writing, or material in other media, by Sacks about Tammet that I am unaware of. Tammet is the type of person that one would naturally expect Sacks to write about - Sacks writes about neurological case studies that are curiosities and interesting, and Tammet could be seen as belonging to that category. Tammet has presented himself to the world as an unusual and extreme case of synaesthesia, and Sacks has written some worthwhile stuff about synaesthesia, despite that fact that Sacks lacks a first-hand insight into the condition as a non-synaesthete. The apparent absence of interest in Tammet as a writing subject on the part of Sacks seems odd.

I've got to wonder why Sacks apparently hasn't written about Tammet. I'm tempted to speculate. Could the fact that Sacks is a quite severe case of developmental prosopagnosia be relevant to this matter? Sacks wrote a full and interesting account of what it is like to have a major dose of face-blindness in his last book The Mind's Eye along with a related severe problem with recognizing buildings and landscapes, and this chapter was I believe based on an article that he wrote for New Yorker magazine. Clearly severe prosopagnosia, a face recognition disability, is not a minor issue. It can be a major spanner-in-the-works of one's social life, if Sacks' description of the disability can be taken as a typical experience of prosopagnosics at the more severe end of the scale. Daniel Tammet has also claimed to have a serious disability in recognizing faces, in his second autobiography published in 2009 Embracing the Wide Sky, and also in a 2009 interview with the US version of the 60 Minutes TV show. In Tammet's first 2006 autobiography Born on a Blue Day he claimed to have a poor sense of direction. It is an interesting exercise to contrast Tammet's books with Sacks' written account of life with prosopagnosia. Sacks recounted in detail many episodes of social embarassment and difficulty resulting from his face recognition problems, while Tammet described in his first autobiography Born on a Blue Day finding an old friend who was waiting for him at an airport; "a familiar face", just the type of scenario which I would imagine might be a social nightmare for Sacks. How did Tammet positively identify his old friend? He didn't explain in the book, nor mention any difficulty in doing so. The reader would no doubt assume that Tammet recognized his friends and school acquaintances by their "familiar faces", but this is in stark logical contradiction with Tammet's claim in his second autobiography to have "great difficulty remembering faces, even those of people I have known for many years". Tammet seems to be a most unusual case of prosopagnosia, with an onset in adulthood, for no apparent reason, in between autobiograpies. The author Joshua Foer and myself have both been able to find a variety of pieces of evidence that throw into doubt Tammet's claims about being face-blind, and I have written about this in a post that I published in early October. I can't help wondering whether Sacks has felt skeptical about Tammet as a supposed case of savantism, synaesthesia, Asperger syndrome and prosopagnosia all in one person, one might expect that the best person to detect a pretend prosopagnosic might be a genuine case, and perhaps it might be particularly galling to behold a person who appears to be pretending to have a disability which one genuinely suffers from? I can only speculate.

Oh, and one more point worth mentioning. Did you notice that Oliver Sacks has claimed to have severe face-blindness, but I recall that he has also claimed that he does not experience synaesthesia somewhere in one of his books. Despite the common misconception, prosopagnosia and synaesthesia do not necessarily go together. I believe there are some people who do have both unusual conditions, but I don't think there is any hard evidence that synaesthetes are any more likely to have face memory issues than non-synaesthetes. Some of the earlier, more speculative and less evidence-based writing about synaesthesia from the modern era of synaesthesia research has included speculation that synaesthesia might be linked with issues such as a poor sense of direction, poor left-right discrimination and prosopagnosia, but I don't know of any research that has supported these claims, which appear to have been based on anecodes. In contrast, Tammet claims to have a laundry list of unusual neurological conditions and disorders, as well as a range of disorders of the mind in his family history. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a reading of the earlier, more speculative literature about synaesthesia, such as Dr Richard Cytowic's popular and influential book The Man Who Tasted Shapes was an influence on Tammet when he wrote his first autobiography.

Lili's irritated thought of the day

We've been sent a note from the school of one of our children warning us that there has been an outbreak of whooping cough in our community. Thanks so much to our local idiot immunization-fearing Mums and Dads! I hope no babies die because of your personal decisions. I bet none of you people will be stepping forward to apologise if such a thing does happen.

Lili's not very nice thought for the day

What is the real problem with politics today? - that the people are being treated like fools, or that complete fools are being treated like people?

Lili's thought for the day

It appears that there has been a rumour doing the rounds that Julian Assange has or had "six fingers", presumably on each hand. So what if he did?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Lili's speculative thought for the day

According to a recent story on The Health Report on Radio National, weight-bearing exercise during childhood is important for building up one's bone mass, and fending off the hazards of osteoporosis later in life. Jumping, hopping and skipping can be particularly osteogenic types of exercise. So could it be true that youthful autistic hyperactivity of the type that involves habitual jumping and bouncing is an osteogenic evolutionary adaptation that aids in the optimal development of bone strength? Bone strength was a matter of crucial importance to our distant ancestors. I believe that some Neanderthal skeletons had evidence of bone healing after fractures.

Exercise and bones.
The Health Report.
ABC Radio National
October 31st 2011