New and noteworthy – 30 August 2018

Patriarchy’s perpetuators; magical morphing gender; a physicist’s-eye view of the world; and what’s with all those buttons?

August 30, 2018
A stickman in yellow against a black background
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Why Does Patriarchy Persist?
Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider

A straight man distances himself from a best friend who happens to be gay – and suffers deeply from the loss. A woman decides not to report a former friend who has raped her and feels under terrible pressure to “get over it”. Such examples, argue Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider, reveal how patriarchy cramps all our lives. So why does it survive? While some obviously benefit from inequality, the real issue lies deeper: patriarchy provides a form of (false) protection against vulnerability and (false) defence against loss. Only when we acknowledge its psychological appeal can we hope to develop policies that will help create a truly fairer world.

Is Gender Fluid? A Primer for the 21st Century
Sally Hines
Thames and Hudson

We live in a world that is “far from gender neutral”, writes Sally Hines; “moves towards gender fluidity are to be welcomed” as “enabl[ing] greater possibilities for all”. This book surveys attempts to present gender as “an expression of biological sex” and to explain it as just a social construct before going on to consider different forms of gender diversity and the rise of gender activism. Dozens of illustrations reveal the sheer range of roles and stereotypes across continents and centuries. Is Gender Fluid? also forms part of the new Big Idea series, whose other initial volumes consider the shape of space, and the future of capitalism and democracy.

Third Thoughts
Steven Weinberg
Harvard University Press

Nobel prizewinning physicist Steven Weinberg has already published two acclaimed collections of essays for general readers, Facing Up and Lake Views. In Third Thoughts, he again brings a perspective he describes as “rationalist, realist, reductionist, and devoutly secular” to topics ranging from the Higgs boson and varieties of symmetry to the failings of Barack Obama, the case against manned space flight and the salutary experience of “being wrong”. Ranging widely across the history of science, Weinberg offers many sharp reflections on writing about science. He has also included a talk on “the craft of science, and the craft of art” precisely because “everyone who read it disagreed with it”.

Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words
Edited by Christine R. Yano and Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka, in collaboration with the Asian American Collective
Duke University Press

Images of Asian Americans often focus on “tiger mothers” and what Christine Yano calls “the model minority myth of overachievement”, which presents the group as “extraordinarily hardworking, diligent, obedient, conscientious, quiet, modest, and docile” (often in contrast to “problem minorities” such as African Americans). The reality of high-achieving Asian Americans is explored through extensive interviews with a group of Harvard University students, many of whom, Yano says, “recoil at the stereotype” or “deliberately structure their story against type”, while others “recognize parts of themselves in it”. The result offers fascinating insights into the nature of academic achievement and the American Dream.

Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing
Rachel Plotnick
MIT Press

By the late 19th century, as Rachel Plotnick reminds us, buttons were everywhere, used to “make doorbells ring, call servants and elevators, turn lights on and off, explode dynamite at a safe distance, and alert police to domestic burglaries”. Yet few people have stopped to consider either the technology involved or the social and political implications. This dazzling account looks, for example, at the phenomenon of “ringing for servants” and what it tells us about “the relationship between button pushers and those individuals made to heed their call”. It also shows how and why buttons, for more than a century, have “crystallize[d] enduring social hopes and fears about ‘easy’ technological solutions”.

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