The Case of the Missing Girls: Skewed Sex Ratios and Big Problems

Here is my TIME.com column on the recent rape-murder of an Indian medical student and Asia’s “missing girls”:

(And I’m happy to say that Andrew Sullivan picked me up again here.)

UnknownThe horrific gang rape and murder of a 23-year old medical student in New Delhi may seem unrelated to fundamental demographic forces, but it isn’t. The public outcry following the victim’s death from catastrophic internal injuries has rightly focused on calls to reform India’s criminal justice system. Yesterday, five men were formally charged and the case is being put on a fast track set up in the wake of the incident to handle crimes against women, in contrast to the years of delay rape victims often face.

But behind the angry protests is an even deeper story: the preference for male babies in India and much of the world may be at the root of this senseless violence.

Growing evidence suggests that in countries like India and China, where the ratio of men to women is unnaturally high due to the selective abortion of female fetuses and neglect of girl children, the rates of violence towards women increase. “The sex ratio imbalance directly leads to more sex trafficking and bride buying,” says Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. A scarce resource is generally considered precious, but the lack of women also leaves many young men without marriage partners. In 2011, the number of cases of women raped rose by 9.2 percent; kidnapping and abductions of women were up 19.4 percent. “At this point, we’re talking correlation, not causation. More studies need to be done….[But] it is clear from historical cases and from studies looking at testosterone levels that a large proportion of unmarried men in the population is not a good thing,” says Hvistendahl…

Continued at: http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/04/rape-in-india-a-result-of-sex-selection/#ixzz2H12WgIg6

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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6 Responses to The Case of the Missing Girls: Skewed Sex Ratios and Big Problems

  1. bugbrennan says:

    Reblogged this on Name The Problem and commented:
    “A scarce resource is generally considered precious, but the lack of women also leaves many young men without marriage partners.”
    Do we think marriage reduces male violence against women?

    • I can answer this question from three perspectives: for individual men, entry into marriage has been shown to reduce the man’s risk of being violent and engaging in criminal activity. From the perspective of women, it depends on whether we adopt an individual or population perspective. At the population level, which was the focus of my piece, studies show that a surfeit of unmarried men is associated with violence (both toward women, in the form of bride-napping, rape, sex trafficking etc., and also towards men). In aggregate, marriage is beneficial for both men AND women. This has been documented in many studies, though there is variation across countries and cultures. Your question is most difficult to answer from the perspective of individual women. However, it’s clearly not a solution to advocate that in order to reduce violence toward women, we should reduce the number of women available for marriage (by, e.g. sex selection or infanticide). If you are suggesting that entry into marriage is bad for women and thus we should want fewer marriages, the only way this is happening in a place like India is by killing or aborting baby female girls. This is obviously not a good thing!

      • bugbrennan says:

        The only perspective that matters is the women as a class perspective. Given that marriage is an institution of social control, and only recently just stopped being an institution for Man to assert dominion over his property, the answer has to be no. Indeed, marriage IS violence against women, in some ways, isn’t it?

  2. That’s a lot of assumptions. I prefer data. Marriage has certainly been toxic, historically, for many women. But we live in an evidence-based world where we can test our ideologies. My belief, based on the studies I have seen, is that a surplus of unmarried men is bad for men AND women.

  3. Cathi Carol says:

    Erika,

    I deleted that insulting tweet, sorry. I can’t and won’t take out my frustration at society on you. I applaud your efforts in writing about science.

    I was trained, scientifically, for my psychology degree to examine preconceptions in science (cf. Thomas Kuhn), to root out alternative theory (cf. Schuyler W. Huck), and most of all, to trust empiricism.

    Maybe my 40 years of reading science, as well as being born a critical thinker, not to mention a woman when it comes to scientists regarding evolutionary psychology and biology, has given me insight. I seldom buy whatever is being sold out there as “science”.

    I have noticed that much of it is discarded, over historical times periods to decades to a few years. Over time, it can’t be denied, much of “science” ultimately is disproved (cf. John P. A. Ioannidis as well as Goodman and Greenland).

    The very, very narrow thinking used in today’s bad science continually being reported in the news as plausible, and even “cutting edge”, influences public opinion, and that’s not good.

    Today, the “evolutionary” sciences are still based on the scientifically-accepted philosophy of materialism.

    Materialism was disproved 100 years ago, but it hasn’t died out yet. “Science” like you’ve reported here, which is believed, accepted, and disseminated to the public so uncritically by most reporters, is one of the reasons why.

    As with the government, the press and the public can help to steer the conversation and future policy and professional work by calling “bullshit” when something is bullshit (especially publically harmful bullshit like this), and discussing why. Many, many people do (cf. Mary Elizabeth Williams, Tracy Clark-Flory, Natalie Angier, Sharon Begley, David Brooks, just for starters); but most don’t.

    Materialism is a philosophy – a philosophy – that was never proved, just accepted by consensus, by belief, by faith, in science (the consensus term in scientific circles is “rationalism”) and never questioned afterwards (think Descartes’ wide influence) – until quantum mechanics disproved it.

    Most scientists, however, wish to hang onto their status quo (materialism / rationalism is a very ancient and deeply embedded paradigm); most universities still teach materialism / rationalism; most of the public still believes that it is “true”. Change is difficult, and scientific thought is actually more resistant to change than religious thought, especially at a personal level.

    Materialist philosophy in science tries to strip all of reality, which is far, far, far “bigger” than humans can perceive, just like our reality is far, far bigger than an ant’s, which is far bigger than a bacterium’s, down to one infinitesimally tiny, narrow little sliver of it, the so-called material (everything is really energy; let’s not forget Einstein’s contributions as the first tiny crack in the old Newtonian, mechanistic, materialist paradigm) and asserts confidently and positively that that is “all there is”.

    Well, no wonder people become materialists, especially in college, when most people are enjoying their first taste of intellectual freedom. Materialism is so very, very comforting. It wipes out most of the need to question. It eliminates existential angst. It reduces if not suppresses completely irrational fear. Whew!

    (It is not religion that is “comforting”, atheists; far from it; it is this very narrow view of reality which shuts most of what we still don’t know, and the questions that raises, from awareness, investigation, and belief – even acceptance when anomalous experience [definition: what can't be attributed to a materialist explanation] is personally perceived.)

    In reality, the material is nothing. We give it all meaning. We created the scientific laws. We think that symbols such as numbers really exist. We even anthropomorphize DNA as having attributes like “selfishness” (cf. Richard Dawkins) and even “meanness” (cf. Burnham and Phelan) – metaphors which the press and public take literally and act upon (think from Any Rand to Enron to even today’s broader Republican public agenda.)

    DNA, as biologists have written, has been shown scientifically to do little but to create the proteins that operate our cells (cf. Rupert Sheldrake). When an illness has been shown to be heritable, that is because a mutation is handed down which recreates the “wrong” proteins in the son/daughter cells as well.

    But in general, little to no heritability, and certainly no heritability of personality traits or belief systems, has been shown to come from genes, although some scientists (most particularly and wrongly, “evolutionary” psychologists and biologists) are still trying to prove that it does, or falsely think that their studies – misconceived, conducted, and interpreted along those lines – show that it does.

    Scientists were sure that the Human Genome Project would tell us which gene does what in the body (and the “mechanistic” mind) – from which gene formed a hand to which passed down a belief in God. None of that happened.

    Scientists are scratching their heads over that (it’s called “missing heritability”), but instead of turning to new paradigms, they still believe in and are still trying to prove the old ones.

    Materialistic thinking, while it has (or had) a place in science, is not strictly true, or even mostly true, and it is time that it is discarded as the only approach in science.

    It leads to public belief in false things such as “It’s OK to cheat on your partner because monogamy is unnatural in the natural world” to “Rape is the result of there not being enough females around”.

    No, this is decision-making, and as with all behavior, the result of thinking, belief, hope, fear, that is created and projected by the immaterial mind; it is the result of the assignment of meaning by mind, for good or bad, right or wrong.

    Behavior is not driven by genes, not by DNA, and not even by mechanistic materialistic concerns. It is driven by consciousness, by thinking, which is not material, no matter how much promissory materialists wish and hope and dream that mind and consciousness were not real.

    Mind can be changed. Minds do have free will, despite loud, long, detailed, complex but ultimately specious and false argument to the contrary (cf. Sam Harris).

    To believe that we don’t have free will holds back progress in scientific thinking and research (cf. Libet).

    I expect that it will cause problems in the Brain Activity Map project, if that gets off the ground. But, of course, the Brain Activity Map project would teach us much about how the brain works, and I, personally, as a student of physiological psychology, am very, very excited by the prospect. I hope it comes to fruition. Materialist scientists such as neurologists and neurological surgeons may, however, be disappointed, as the genome scientists were… unless it finally teaches them to discard the old paradigm and turn toward the new one, now only still one hundred years old.

    For reporters to buy bad science and to write as if we don’t have free will deceives and hurts the public.

    Grievously. It’s not hard to figure out why.

    As I wrote to you in my Twitter stream, Rape is still being interpreted as the woman’s fault, even in science; that is not recognized by reporters. In this (India and China) case, rape is being explained, “scientifically”, by the fact that there aren’t enough women! That still makes women, when you think about it, at fault – not men.

    Another article I read on the India incident (uncritically) blames India’s traditional cultural attitudes, which blames their spiritual beliefs, which still, however their religious beliefs may have become convoluted toward and tangled up with cultural bias (not examined in the article), still blames women. (cf. Gardiner Harris, January 22, 2013, The New York Times). Just like our Western religions have and still do. It’s a circular argument.

    (I’m not harping on that; I don’t hate men. I study science and psychology and I live in the world and notice what goes on around me.)

    The “science” you cite here is also a circular argument. Women are disrespected, so female babies are aborted or killed, so less are born or grow up, which leads to the rape of those who are born and grow up.

    No, this is a correlation. The correlating factors are disrespect of women, the belief that they are inferior to men and therefore may be treated as objects, and the self-entitlement of men in many cultures around the world, including our own, to condescend to, disrespect, and behave dismissively to disrespectfully to violently toward women. Any excuse. Any at all.

    These beliefs, these mental attitudes, this wrong thinking, is so pervasive, so sold, so bought, so believed, that even many women believe it. Even women victim-blame women.

    And science has taken up the ball from religion, which is beginning to teach more respect toward women, into trying to prove it.

    – Cathi Carol

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