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Ke$ha’s Critique of Misogyny in Music

16 Apr

Let me begin by saying that I am really, really excited to be posting about Ke$ha.  But before I get to her, some preliminaries are in order.  I don’t think it is too controversial for me to say that rap music is, and has been, very misogynistic.  From “Bitches Ain’t Shit” on Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic album The Chronic to “Area Codes” by Ludacris and the late Nate Dogg (“I got hoes in different area codes”) to just about every Eminem song (e.g. “I’ll put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand”), rap music is a genre rife with objectification of women.

Two recent songs have stuck out in particular for me.  The first, again by Eminem, is “Love The Way You Lie.”  The song, which features Rihanna (herself a recent victim of domestic violence), maintains a mainly positive message, with Eminem acknowledging and apologizing for a past emotionally and physically abusive relationship.  All is well until the last couplet: “If she ever tries to —-ing leave again, I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.”

The other song is “Runaway” by Kanye West, a song which (although it’s admittedly quite early) will probably garner a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.  Again the song appears to have somewhat of a positive message, with Kanye acknowledging his flaws and past transgressions (“You’ve been putting up with my sh– for way too long…run away from me”).  However, the second verse of the song, by guest Pusha T, returns to misogyny and objectification.  To paraphrase (and clean up), the verse basically says: “I admit that I cheated on you, but I know you won’t leave because all the things I buy you will make you forget about it.  Women just want us to buy stuff for them, but they should know that every bag, blouse, and bracelet we buy for them comes with a price tag; namely, infidelity and general lack of respect.”

My first concern, which I hope to address in my upcoming interview with Diane Rosenfeld, is the effect these lyrics (along with TV and film portrayals) have on shaping social conceptions of gender roles and domestic violence.

My second concern, and more Ke$ha, after the jump!

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Income Inequality and SJT

29 Mar

Chrystia Freeland, the global editor-at-large at Thomson Reuters, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times seeking to explain a recent study that revealed that Americans would prefer to live in a society “more equal than even highly egalitarian Sweden.”  If this is true, asks Freeland, then why are Americans generally complicit in our vastly unequal capitalist system?  Freeland offers as an explanation two phenomena, which she refers to as national self-confidence and the lottery effect. Readers of this blog will notice that these phenomena are outgrowths of System Justification Theory (SJT).

Freeland argues that national self-confidence manifests itself in a “widespread conviction that the American way is probably right because all those other ways don’t seem to work out so well. (despite the fact that the American way surely is not the best way to achieve socioeconomic equality). Additionally, she identifies what she calls  “the lottery effect,” which she analogizes to the lottery – Americans buy lottery tickets, despite the infinitesimal odds of winning, because they see other people just like them winning the lottery every week.  Freeland posits that “the nation’s rowdy form of capitalism is a lottery that has similarly bestowed fabulous rewards on the Everyman. The current leading exemplar of self-made billions is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and he may soon be outstripped by the even more instant cyber-star Andrew Mason, the founder of Groupon.”

Blasi and Jost’s article on SJT explains the underlying psychological processes behind these phenomena: “system justification serves a palliative function, operating as a coping mechanism for members of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups, reducing anxiety, uncertainty, and distress.”  In other words, individuals rationalize the status quo in the ways identified by Freeland in order to minimize the negative effect of the dissonance between the world they wish to live in and the one they actually do live in.  Further, the very asking of a question that calls into doubt the American way can increase the motive to justify, as system justification motives become most evident when we perceive a threat to the legitimacy of a system to which we are attached.

Unfortunately (from the perspective of those Americans who desire of a more egalitarian society), individual acts of system justification result in continued inequality. Increased system justification alleviates people’s negative emotional states, and thereby undermines support for the redistribution of resources and the desire to help the disadvantaged.

Diane Rosenfeld

28 Mar

Diane Rosenfeld

Diane Rosenfeld is currently working with states to utilize GPS monitoring of batterers by offering assistance to state legislators on developing and implementing legislation.  The legislation that she proposes requires offenders to wear an electronic bracelet equipped with GPS, which enables law enforcement to monitor the movements of an offender.  Rosenfeld notes that this early warning system can be the difference between life and death for endangered women.  Protective orders, which commonly establish exclusionary zones from which the offender is prohibited, offer no protection unless enforced by police – Rosenfeld claims that about a quarter of protective orders are violated. GPS monitoring would likely have several beneficial effects for protecting women:

  • Ensures more effective police enforcement of protective orders by alerting police when a batterer is in the exclusionary zone.
  • Encourages women to seek protective orders, as they can be more confident that they will be effective tools.
  • Dissuades batterers who may otherwise feel that they can violate the protective order without consequence.
  • Provides courts with proof of a violation of a protective order.

Police in 15 states are beginning to use GPS technology for those who violate restraining orders against them.  Each state’s program differs, but in general, offenders wear an ankle bracelet that is tracked by GPS and monitored 24 hours a day. They are barred from certain “restriction zones,” such as such as the victim’s home, workplace, a child’s school, or anywhere their victims are known to be, and if they violate those zones, authorities know instantly. Rosenfeld highlights the success of the pilot program she helped create here in Massachusetts. The Greater Newburyport High-Risk Case Management Team reports no domestic homicides, 100 percent success using GPS monitoring (meaning neither re-assaults nor violations of protection orders) and a conviction rate of offenders of more than 90 percent.

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Three Scholars Worth Your Time: Part 1

2 Mar

Diane Rosenfeld is a professor at Harvard Law School, where she teaches the Gender Violence clinical workshop and a seminar on Gender Violence, Law, and Social Justice, among other courses and seminars.  Her main areas of expertise include Gender Violence, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Femicide, and Title IX.  Prior to teaching at Harvard, she served as the Senior Counsel to the Violence Against Women Office of the U.S. Department of Justice. She also served as an Executive Assistant Attorney General in Illinois where she provided legal policy advising on women’s rights, environmental enforcement, and the ethics of governmental attorneys.

Her current work focuses on campus sexual assault, including work with student groups, campus administrators and individuals on preventing and addressing campus sexual assault.  In addition, she is working to improve the criminal justice response to domestic violence by working with states on passing comprehensive legislation to assess dangerousness of every domestic violence case and use improved containment measures to ensure batterer compliance with the terms of an order of protection. This includes GPS monitoring of batterers, a topic on which she and her clinical students offer assistance to state legislators on developing and implementing legislation.

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Was Alexander Hamilton President?

23 Feb

In honor of President’s Day, AOL’s Holidash put together an “investigative” piece to answer the important question: Was Alexander Hamilton ever the President?  The piece is quite funny and also highlights Kennedy and Pronin’s concept of “Bias Perception“.

Note the narrator’s facetious accusation of bias against the “academic community.”   As the narrator sought to further his own (counterfactual) agenda by confirming that Hamilton was President, he discounted other accounts by implying that they were in some manner biased: “Isolated academics…had one opinion of how to interpret history.  But what do real Americans without an agenda think?”

Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict

21 Feb

Emily Pronin

In their chapter, Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict, Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin examine what they see as a major cause of breakdowns in negotiation, both small- and large-scale: a tendency of each side to view the other side’s position as biased and preference-driven (rather than based on objective facts).  Kennedy and Pronin explain that we tend to see signs of bias all around us – some even posit that United States Supreme Court justices fall short of impartiality in their decisions.  The only place, it seems, where the tendency to detect bias is weak is in ourselves: people have a tendency to perceive others as susceptible to the influence of biases while at the same time viewing themselves as relatively unaffected by those biases.  That asymmetry has been referred to as a bias blind spot.  One example of this bias blind spot with particular relevance to those of us in law school is the widespread disagreement over the validity of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the LSAT.  High performers are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of poor performers who claim that the test is invalid and should not be used; poor performers, by contrast, are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of high performers who champion the tests’ use.

Kathleen Kennedy

The first component of Kennedy and Pronin’s bias-perception conflict spiral is that disagreement leads to an even stronger perception that the other side is biased.   That is, when people disagree, they view those with whom they disagree as biased or, more specifically, as unable or unwilling to view things as they are in “objective reality.”  The reason is clear: “people generally have complete faith in the veridicality of their perceptions, and thus are suspicious of those who fail to share their perceptions.”   Kennedy and Pronin offer support for this component with a review of several experimental and real-world cases of the tendency to perceive bias in action, including an experiment conducted among partisans involved in the struggle between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, in the wake of the “Good Friday Agreement” that established the conditions for peace in that region.  Consistent with their hypothesis, partisans in the conflict tended to feel that those who led the opposing side were more prone to these biases than were those who led their own side.

Read about the second component and some applications of the model after the jump.

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Experience: Poverty

20 Feb

How long can you last?

“14 million Americans are unemployed.  Now imagine you’re one of them.”  These words greet users who accept the challenge and “play” Spent, an interactive month-in-the-life as an unemployed parent with mounting bills and dwindling savings.  Launched by the Urban Ministries of Durham, a non-profit organization providing care for Durham’s homeless and indigent population, Spent aims to illuminate the difficulties of poverty by exposing users to the unforeseen difficulties that ensnare even hard-working, well-meaning Americans.  (And, of course, to seek donations).

I started the month with $1,000 and took a job as a waiter.  Unfortunately, rent is pretty expensive near the restaurant, so I had to pick an apartment about 40 miles away, increasing my commute and gas bills.  As I proceeded through the month, I had to deal with local hoodlums, car troubles, student loan repayments, medical bills, and more.

Decisions, decisions

My bank account continued to decrease, to the point where I tragically had to refuse to my son’s request for ice cream. Despite cutting back, I ran out of money 19 days into the month, even though I had already decided to forego hot water.  As I made each difficult decision, pop-up messages offered statistics about the people who make these same difficult decisions every day – with much more at stake.

The game offers a view of poverty that is decidedly situationist – even users who “work hard” by finding employment and doing additional work for neighbors still run into the myriad difficulties created by the situation of poverty.  Hard work, it turns out, is not always enough to overcome rising costs of health care, gas, food, electricity, and child care.

Take the challenge and see if you can make it through the month!  And if you do, don’t celebrate yet – there’s another month ahead, surely with even more bills to pay.

Canons of Confabulation

19 Feb

Knowles and Ditto’s article on Preference, Principle, and Causistry – detailed elsewhere on this blog – bears a striking resemblance to Karl Llewellyn’s famous critique of the use of canons of construction in judicial opinions.  Given the title of this blog, how can we not explore such a clear intersection of the mind sciences and the law?

Karl Llewellyn

Canons of construction are interpretive tools invoked by judges to discern the meaning of statutes.  To couch this in Knowles and Ditto’s terms, the universe of canons exists as a menu of principles upon which judges can draw in seeking guidance in matters of statutory interpretation.  For example, imagine a statute that allows tenants to withhold rent upon the discovery of “rats, mice, termites, or other pests.”  The ejusdem generis (“of the same kind”) canon teaches that “other pests” refers to pests of the same kind as those listed before it; thus, a tenant could not withhold rent due to an annoying next-door neighbor who could also be described as a “pest” in the dictionary sense of the word.

This formulation seems to imply a rational, objective process of decision-making: judges confronted with an ambiguous statute resolve that ambiguity by selecting the applicable principle (i.e. canon), applying it to the statute, and, voila, a resolution emerges (ambiguity -> principle -> answer).  Llewellyn, however, like Knowles and Ditto, is not quite so optimistic about the decision-making process.  Llewellyn argues that there are two opposing canons on almost every point, and as such, the canons serve as (in the words of Knowles and Ditto) post hoc intellectual justifications of one’s initial intuitions. Choosing which canon to apply is not the objective, detached process that the above description would suggest.  Instead, judges determine the answer first, guided by their internal preferences, and then select the canon capable of justifying the conclusion they find most emotionally satisfying (ambiguity -> answer -> principle).

More analysis and implications of this theory, right after the jump.

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