The Psychological Shortcoming That Can Help Explain Why We’re Arresting Innocent Moms
Generally speaking, when you're trying to understand a news event through a behavioral-science lens, it's not a good idea to bold up, loudly invoke some psychological buzzword, and then drop the mike as though your work is done. People are complicated, and their actions can rarely be boiled down to any one mechanism. But still, as I've read Jonathan Chait's and Radley Balko's recent articles about parents being arrested for letting their kids play outside without supervision, one such buzzword has repeatedly popped into my head: the fundamental attribution error.
To review the case Chait highlighted: Debra Harrell of North Augusta, South Carolina, had been bringing her daughter to her (the mom's) job at McDonald's every day, where she would sit with her laptop. After the family's house was robbed and the laptop stolen, the girl asked to be dropped off at a playground for the day. Another parent called police, and Harrell was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child.
So what is the fundamental attribution error, and how does it apply here?
Watch This Awesome Woman Kill It on American Ninja Warrior
Back in October 2012, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups,” using some combination of not enough testosterone and too much fat as an explanation. Unsurprisingly, this led to some heated reactions, but all we really needed was this video of Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja Warrior last night.
I’ve never seen the show before, and you don’t need to in order to appreciate the superhuman feats of the 5-foot former Division 1 gymnast. She’s the first woman to attempt the finals course, and around the 1:30 mark you can see just how strong a woman’s upper body can be.
Parents Are Now Getting Arrested for Letting Their Kids Go to the Park Alone
Debra Harrell, 46, let her 9-year-old daughter play outside alone at the park. The South Carolina child had a cell phone she could use to call her mother in case of emergency. On the girl’s third day alone at the park, someone asked her where her mother was. The girl said her mom was at work (Harrell works at McDonald’s, and didn’t want her daughter to have to sit inside the restaurant for hours on a beautiful summer day.) The result? Harrell was arrested for “unlawful conduct towards a child” and put in jail; her daughter is now in the custody of the department of social services.
Most commentators—save for a few busybodies interviewed by the local news who nattered on about the possibility of the child being abducted by a strange man, something that’s extremely rare—think that authorities went way too far in arresting Harrell. As a citizen, it angers me to see the police overreach this way. How is it benefitting this child to be put in the custody of social services? And as a parent, Harrell’s arrest scares me: How can I appropriately parent my child when doing something that seems relatively safe, if out of fashion, can get you arrested?
Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Have a Woman Problem?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a rousing, well-directed, soulful blockbuster with a lot on its mind, which makes it quite unlike most of the big and brain-dead movies we’ve gotten this summer. Still, there is one depressing characteristic that it unfortunately shares with some of those other recent sci-fi spectaculars: This Dawn is virtually devoid of female characters.
The movie takes place in the future after a simian superflu has wiped out most of mankind, and of the hundreds of human survivors we see left in San Francisco—plenty of whom have speaking roles—only one is a woman: Ellie, played by Keri Russell. She’s the one who tags along a few steps behind our male lead in all her scenes, and she’s off-screen for most of the movie, including the all-important final act. Ellie’s counterparts at the colony of apes don’t fare much better when it comes to representation: There, too, we meet countless male apes but only one female, Caesar’s love interest, Cornelia. This motion-capture character is played by the talented actress Judy Greer, who has a dancer’s background, studied simian movement for months, and yet has about 90 seconds of screentime in the final film. No one even calls Cornelia by name in the movie—if you wanted to know, you’d have to look it up later.
Do I think that the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes filmmakers made a conscious decision to minimize and exclude female characters? Quite the contrary: I think they didn’t even realize they were doing it.
Thor Is Now a Woman
Thor, the Norse god of thunder and Marvel comics superhero, is now a woman. News of the celestial upheaval came Tuesday morning via the ladies of The View, and Marvel now confirms that a woman will wield the hammer Mjölnir in a brand-new series starting in October. “This is not She-Thor,” says writer Jason Aaron in Marvel’s press release, published by the Mary Sue. “This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”
I’m not sure there is much thmor to be said here in the way of gender analysis, although perhaps the character’s makeover has something to do with sublimated love for superhero Ruth Bader Ginsburg? (Hammer equals gavel.) But it is fun to chant that evocatively solid syllable in the new Avenger’s honor. While a lot of superheroines—including Marvel’s own Storm, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel—rely on lithe acrobatics to fight evil, Thor favors the brute smashing of things. Thor is mighty and unsubtle and loud. She doesn’t shoot dinky little arrows, like Hawkeye, or bat-shaped boomerangs. As Walter White might say, she is the one who knocks.
Plus, we have delicious logistical questions to consider, now that Asgard has decided to lean in. For instance, Marvel Studios has committed to at least two more Avengers movies, one in 2018 and one (we think) in 2021. Will the comic book Thor diverge from the film Thor until the mainstream catches up with Aaron and his team? Or will Chris Hemsworth hand off the flowing blond locks to a female actor? (If so, we’ll miss your arms, Chris!)
Either way, as Whoopi Goldberg said this morning, “It’s a huge day in the Marvel universe.” And on Twitter, Marvel executive editor had a thunderous response to skeptical fans:
The Democrats’ Brilliant Idea for How to Stop Unnecessary Abortion Clinic Regulations
Democrats in the Senate on Tuesday took a major step in pushing back against the growing trend of regulations that are designed to shut down safe abortion clinics. The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony on a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a bill that would do significant damage to anti-choice efforts to go around Roe v Wade by regulating abortion clinics out of existence. It's called the Women's Health Protection Act and it would end the attacks on abortion clinics through one simple measure: Requiring states to regulate abortion providers in exactly the same way they do other clinics and doctors who provide comparable services. No more singling out abortion providers.
You No Longer Need to Become a Fake Minister to Officiate a Wedding in Indiana
Of all the ways that marriage is changing in our culture—opening up to same-sex couples, becoming more egalitarian—one major shift has managed to happen without much mainstream media commentary: Marriage, or the wedding at least, is also becoming more secular. The iconic image of the bride marching down a church aisle is turning into a distant memory for many Americans, replaced with weddings on beaches, in parks, in backyards, and increasingly officiated not by one's minister or rabbi but by a dear friend who turned himself into a minister overnight by getting ordained online.
Becoming a fake-minister has been a necessary part of the officiating job because many states require it. But those requirements received a big blow Monday, when a federals appeal court overturned such a law in Indiana, saying that the state must now allow "secular celebrants" to officiate weddings. From the Christian Science Monitor:
New York Times Reports Another Campus Sexual Assault Horror Story. Now We Need the Data.
Can universities handle their role as independent investigators and adjudicators of sexual assault? You may conclude that the answer is no after you read Walt Bogdanich’s big story in the New York Times about the aftermath of an alleged assault at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York. It’s called “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t” because from the point of view of Anna, the student who says she was victimized, her school did almost everything wrong.
Anna, in her first weeks of college last September, reported being assaulted by two football players in a room at a frat party, where they’d all been drinking. A friend of hers (also a football player) said he later saw one of the men rape her while she was bent over a pool table in the back of a dance hall, while a handful of other students looked on and laughed. Anna’s blood alcohol level tested at twice what counts as legally drunk and a rape exam showed “blunt force trauma” from repeated intercourse.
William and Hobart Smith cleared the football players in just 12 days. Bogdanich got the transcript of the hearing held by a three-member panel, and it does not inspire confidence. No students were allowed to bring lawyers or family members, just “advisers” who weren’t allowed to talk. Panelists misrepresented evidence—for example, saying that a friend of Anna’s had said Anna wanted to go upstairs and have sex, when she’d actually said one of the football player’s wanted to have sex. Two of three panelists didn’t look at her medical records. One asked if her friend, the witness, “had seen the player’s penis in Anna’s vagina.” Both accused players changed their stories in significant ways before the hearing. Neither were asked to explain the discrepancies.
Fox News Just Loves These Rape Joke Cufflinks
In real life, there are a dwindling number of women who are willing to giggle indulgently at men saying appallingly sexist things. On TV, there's Outnumbered, where the women of Fox News are always there to flatter men who say terrible things about women.
Charles Payne took his turn as the single male guest among four female hosts on Friday, and the show ended with some really old school humor about violence against women when the hosts prodded Payne to show off his cufflinks.
"This is a caveman dragging a woman by the hair with one club in one hand and the woman in the other hand," Payne explained of the engravings on his cufflinks to the playful gasps of faux-horror and laughter from the female hosts.
Ronald Lee Haskell Has a History of Domestic Violence. How Did He Get a Gun?
On Wednesday, Ronald Lee Haskell allegedly broke into his former sister-in-law’s home in Spring, Texas and killed her, her husband, and four of her five children. (The fifth was also shot, execution-style, but survived, and reportedy saved her grandparents’ lives by calling 911 before Haskell could get to their house.) After a three-hour stand-off with police, Haskell surrendered and has been charged with the murders.
From the reporting of the past few days, the spree appears to have been Haskell’s attempt to get revenge on his ex-wife’s family. To no one’s great surprise, Haskell had been arrested for domestic violence in 2008, and his ex-wife filed a protective order against him in 2013. All of which leads to the question: Considering the laws put in place, both on federal and state levels, to prevent domestic abusers from getting guns, how did Haskell get one?