About Hywel

Particle physicist turned fetish photographer, producer and director. I run http://www.restrainedelegance.com and http://www.elegancestudios.com together with my wife, who is variously known as Ariel Anderssen or Amelia Jane Rutherford, depending on whether she's getting tied up or spanked at the time.

Lockdown shooting for RestrainedElegance.com

UPDATE: 2nd June 2020

Hello lovely models! It has been fantastic having so many of you send in “Lockdown selfie” photosets and videos!

The only thing that has been stressing me out is having to decide whether a set merits the “pro” level of payment or just the “selfie” one. As a result I’ve decided to just pay a flat rate of £125 per set or video rather than different rates for the two. I hope that’s OK. I’ve modified the post below accordingly. For the moment I’ve probably got enough of the selfie-style sets so am primarily looking for sets with full bondage.

Cheers, Hywel

Original Post:

Dear Models! This message is for you!

We have a year or more’s content for RestrainedElegance.com, so we’re doing OK: we can get by without shooting until mid-2021 if need be.

Nonetheless, it feels like a good thing to keep content coming in and so I’d love to commission some self-shot videos and photosets from you whilst we are all in lockdown if it sounds interesting and fun to you.

Ariel and I are locked down together as model and rigger/camera-operator team and a house full of bondage gear and pro cinema cameras. We know that few of you are fortunate enough to be in that situation. So we understand that what you can shoot for us will be limited by what (and who) you have around.

Self shot or “Pro”?

I’m looking to commission the following: (UPDATE 02/06/2020 – rates are the same for both)

1) Self-shot set: £125 UK pounds.

10-15 minute video clip or 75-100 still photos. I understand that this might have to be very bondage-light. See below for ideas, although I have quite a lot of these now so I am primarily looking for sets with full bondage.

2) “Pro” shot set with camera operator/rigger, full bondage and nice lighting: £125 UK pounds.

10-15 minute video clip or 75-100 still photos.

Shooting safely

You staying safe is the most important thing, especially if you are shooting on your own. Make sure your phone is to hand, turn on Siri (or whatever the Android equivalent is) so you call for help if you get stuck. It’s only a fun BDSM porn clip, don’t put yourself at any risk.

Solo ideas

If you are confident to self-rig a big old bondage set by all means go ahead. But for the self-shot sets it would be fine to…

  • Use handcuffs on wrists and ankles, with hands in front. Test the keys first!
  • Tie your ankles and knees with rope, then talk to camera about how much you want someone to come and tie your hands
  • Wrap silk scarves around ankles and wrists
  • Pose in as many bondage positions as you can think of while talking about how great it will be when you can get properly hogtied again
  • Play with and try out various different gags
  • Do a dom-sub video with you on your knees and saying how you will serve
  • A self-spanking or self-bastinado clip – don’t need bondage for that! A riding crop can work wonders
  • Dripping hot wax on yourself from a (cool-burning) candle. Be safe and do it on a non-flammable surface like in the bath, not on polyester bed sheets, please!
  • JOI about how the viewer would tie you and take you and all the things they could do to you
  • Talk about your bondage fantasies or a lie-back-and-dream bondage daydream or reminiscing about a hot bondage experience
  • A taunt-and-torment clip which starts off with you being a very unpleasant domme to the camera but switches half-way through as you’ve been captured and now are being forced to be a sex slave to the camera
  • Nude-in-metal bondage gear review trying on several different items (eg a few sets of handcuffs and a couple of gags
  • Masturbation scene imagining being tied up or being used as a sex slave or being whipped – I’m too shy to direct this normally but it would be fun to see what you can create!
  • A foot fetish soles of feet tease show whilst talking about how maybe if the viewer got their hands on you they’d tie you up and do wicked things to you

If you prefer to work from a script let me know what sort of bondage items you have around to play with (including “none”, if we have to we’ll get really inventive). I will write a script accordingly.

If you’re up for it I’d also LOVE to see what you can come up with taking the above as inspiration and knowing the RE shooting style.

Styling and Clothes

If you’ve shot for RE before, you’ll know that the aim is very elegant stuff, as pretty as you can make it. I’m not expecting Hollywood: the ring-light is your friend. Just make it as glam as you can.

Nude is always welcome, but silk and satin or cocktail dresses or maid outfits or secretaries or fantasy princess or anything you like to support a story as long as it is glam and elegant. Stripping off part way through is great.

You must be barefoot and show off soles of feet to camera for at least some of the clip. If you start wearing stockings or shoes they need to come off in the first minute or two. No opaques or ghastly socks (that means YOU, Sophia! 🙂 )

Closeups and Different Shots

I’d like to avoid long clips all shot at the same camera angle- however compelling the content it doesn’t look as interesting without something changing visually. So please change angle a few times during the video if at all possible.

Closeups are great – details of bondage, details of gags and some shots of soles of feet. A few 30 second closeups go a long way to breaking up selfie-shot stuff. You don’t even have to move the camera, just come close and show off the bondage or the gag (especially if your camera can focus really close).

4K formats and Techie Stuff

Please shoot in 4K if available. If you can send me the video files straight out of camera that would be best, but if the files are too big I can take them as eg 4K resolution 10 Mbps bitrate MP4 (which is what the final output for the site will be).

I’m happy to edit and grade the clips or you can edit before sending if you prefer.

If shooting stills, send me RAW files if available, otherwise the highest resolution JPGs you can produce.

“But my camera isn’t up to it!” – as long as it shoots at least 1080p HD or preferably 4K, it is. The photo at the top of this page was taken on my iPhone. I’m after your hot ideas, I know that it is not going to look like a regular RE clip.

Rights

For the payment you are granting me the exclusive rights to sell the sets/clips for RestrainedElegance.com. These clips are for my site, not for your Clips4Sale or OnlyFans, which is why I am paying for them.

It’s fine to shoot OnlyFans as a behind the scenes of you shooting it, of course, especially if you’d be kind enough to let your fans know that the final video will be up on RestrainedElegance.com.

I’ll send you a sale of rights agreement via DocuSign for you to sign and return with the exact wording. (I won’t put it all up here – it’s the same stuff as the RE model release).

Does This Sound Fun?

If this sounds fun and suggests an idea to you, I’d love to see you film it for us!

As I said we have plenty of content so only shoot if you have a cool idea and can fit it in.

Celebration in a sombre time

Hi Everyone

Today marks the 19th birthday of RestrainedElegance.com.

Given the global pandemic it feels a bit weird to be sending out a cheery message about what a wild ride it has been, celebrating our harmless little funny kinky fantasy photosets. I wasn’t even sure whether to post, let alone what to say.

I decided that I should because what is keeping me going is in large part light-escapist-fantasy books, films and TV shows. So we hope that our light-escapist-bondage and barefoot fetish fantasies will help keep you going, too. Art is important because it can keep us sane and raise our spirits, perhaps especially when it is looking a bit bleak outside.

I was going to do this anyway but it seems even more important while so many of us are on lockdown- we’re running a SAVE 50% OFFER on all purchases on our Classic Restrained Elegance and eStore shopping carts. I was going to run it for 24 hours, but instead I’ll leave it running for a full week.

Now is a great chance to catch up on sets of favourite models and themes you may have missed from the 1150 videos and 4500 photosets we have produced over the last 19 years. Go stock up and enjoy with 50% off and our immense gratitude. We hope things we make cheer you up and help you get through.

If you want to see all our latest updates on release day, memberships at RestrainedElegance.com and SilkSoles.com remain the most economical way to support us and see everything we produce. The three-month membership for RestrainedElegance.com in particular is fantastic value.

Thank you for being with us for the last 19 years, and we look forward to sharing our kinky escapist fantasies for a long time to come!

Lockdown

The UK is heading towards lockdown, and not the sexy sort.

Ariel has just cancelled her next modelling tour. RE shoots with anyone except Ariel (and at home) are on hold until further notice.

We’ve just finished a long run of shoots and have over 18 months of video and two years of stills on disk. We were planning on a working holiday in Ireland for a month which we’ve cancelled. We’re going to have the same thing, but at home. We’re going to catch up on editing. So updates on RestrainedElegance.com and SilkSoles.com will proceed as normal. I upload the updates a month or two in advance anyway so if one or both of us gets ill the site will update as normal, so long as we don’t get it really badly.

We hope to avoid getting coronavirus, or if we do get it that we’ll have a mild case and recover. Obviously we hope the same for all of our lovely friends, colleagues and customers too! Please stay safe, follow health/government advice especially to protect vulnerable people even if you yourself are not particularly at risk.

We will be filming customs starring Ariel (and me as on-camera dom/rigger if you need me) – contact her at askarielstudio.com if you have an idea you’d like us to shoot for you.

I hope we can avoid panic-cancelling of luxury things like website memberships. Obviously we’ll completely understand if you are ill or have lost your job! But for the rest of us, the closer we can keep things to normal during the pandemic, the less the economy will collapse and the quicker society and the economy can recover afterwards. I’m going to chip in a bit more to my favourite artists and creatives for as long as I can to support them and I urge you to do likewise.

Models are likely to be switching to platforms like OnlyFans and Clips4Sale and web-camming for the duration, since they won’t be able to go to many or any photoshoots. Please consider chipping in to help your favourites if you can afford to do so. Be kind as people find new ways to work. And be patient with these big platforms if a sudden influx of newbies makes their systems a bit unreliable for a while – remember that they will be operating with reduced staff on lockdown too, and data centres and internet service providers don’t run themselves. If stuff is a bit patchy and unreliable for a bit, be kind, you don’t know what sort of stress the operators might be working under.

And I guess that’s my message to everyone: be safe, be kind to each other, support the people you can support, obey the medical and government advice, and I hope everyone stays well. We’ll do our best to cheer you up with some glamour and sexiness in the meantime.

Lucy Lauren Cosplay Dungeon

Hi All,

I’m in pre-production for the next cosplay dungeon shoot, this time starring the lovely Lucy Lauren. I made a handout of notes/script for the start of the shoot which Lucy and I will go through on camera – putting it up here so Lucy can read it and thought I’d tag it in case anyone else is interested in what we have planned!

Lucy Lauren Cosplay Dungeon

Slave of the Sorcerer

We are going to improvise a script between us, using a table-top roleplaying game to narrate what happens.

We will film us doing that in 30 minute chunks. At the end of each 30 minute segment we will pause, scribble lots of notes on what just happened and some ideas for what we can film to illustrate the story. We will decide if there’s anything we don’t want to film, or if we have to step back and rewind any of the events – and either of us can always call cut to discuss as we go, too.

We’ll tell a story around the table shooting on day one, then on days two and three we will film a bunch of short movies to illustrate it. I’ll edit it together with the footage of us talking to spin a tall tale of fantasy and magic and kinky sex… hopefully!

The idea is to describe the adventures and experiences of a very sexy character in a fantasy world of elves and orcs and ogres and wicked sorcerers in towers keeping girls as sex slaves.

An unspoken rule of this world is that any intelligent creature can and will have sex with any other intelligent creature – so by all means seduce the ogres or chat up the elf archer!

We’re developing it interactively as we go so you can shape what happens to make sure you’re happy to film it. This makes it so much easier for shy Hywel to actually film some more explicit stuff with toys. I’d really like to have fantasy hand-jobs, foot-jobs, blow-jobs, fake sex on screen with orc-cock toys too if you are up for it. Having described the scene together beforehand in the game means I won’t die of embarrassment suggesting that we film it. Or do what I usually do and wimp out of shooting it on the day – I won’t be able to as we have to tell the story we wrote!

Each scene starts with me telling you where you are and what you see – maybe that you are being held prisoner by a band of orcs. Then I ask you what you do (as your character). You could try to escape by stealth, by killing the orcs, by seducing them, talk to them to get information or maybe you want them to take you to whoever is in charge. There’s no right or wrong answer. Ask questions about what’s lying around – maybe there’s some oil in an oil lamp you can use to lubricate your skin and get out from the shackles you are in. I’ll always try to move to story along for you as I tell you what happens next… and ask you what you do about it. Maybe one of the orcs caught you in the act… now what?

Our job is to tell an interesting story and get your character into lots of scrapes – unlike regular D&D we’re going to have a lot of bondage, torture and sex going on as well.

The whole thing is a big experiment and a bit of a treat for me to shoot something different. If it just doesn’t work as a way to shoot for you we can just shoot regular RE instead, but I’m sure you’ll be great! We just need to find ways to get your character into trouble with a BDSM and sexual element and it’ll all work out!

The one thing we need is for you to throw your character into stuff. To be afraid or over-cautious. Whatever happens, your character will come out the other side safe and sound in the end. In the game world even if she’s killed she can be brought back to life. She is going to have a happy ending.

If I ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer… make something up, or say you have no idea and we’ll brainstorm something together. Don’t be afraid of doing it wrong- do something rather than nothing and the story will quickly move on.

I’ve been running games like this for almost 40 years and I’ve got lots of tricks and techniques to keep the story moving. I’ll keep throwing situations and characters at you and we’ll see what turns into an interesting event to film.

Because the back-story of the character is interesting and has lots of possibilities for sexy stuff, we’ll roleplaying through it together. That’ll also give you chance to get used to the idea.

Setting the Scene: Escape from the Sorcerer’s Tower

You don’t really remember much about your past, just that you had one.
You weren’t born here, didn’t gown up in this nightmare place.
Somehow, you came here, probably in the chains and shackles that still bind you.
You had a life before being made into a sex slave of the Sorcerer.

But such is the oppressive weight of magic in this place that you remember nothing about that life. Just that you had one.

You have been here for months, possibly years. Day follows day in a haze of forgetfulness and sorcery. Your life is an endless procession of serving the sordid whims of the wicked Sorcerer. Chained, naked, you tend to his bed-chamber. You particularly hate that one spell he favours casting upon you above all others- the one that drains your will.

Sometimes the spell forces you to remain agonisingly paralysed in position as he uses you for tasks that most men would have furniture to fulfil. A book-stand. A candle-holder. A place to hold his staff. An erotic statue.

Sometimes the spell compels you to actively participate in your own enslavement. He rarely deigns to fuck you, but he often forces you to suck his cock while he works his magic or reads from books of magical lore. When he does fuck you, it is to extract the power of your orgasms to empower his rituals. You come on his command and yet the pleasure of the orgasm is denied you, sucked out so that you do not really even experience your own climax. All satisfaction stolen, denied to you.

With your stolen sexual power he conjures cruel demons of lust from the vast starless skies, bartering with them for arcane knowledge and power, constraining them to the summoning circle on the floor of the chamber where you lie bereft of pleasure as the demons form in the air above you.

You know there are others within the tower. Human guards and magical statues. Other slave girls, some of whom meet their end screaming in the ritual circle as the sorcerer tires of them and gives them to the demons.Noblemen, elves, orcs, ogres, trolls and far stranger creatures visit the tower. Often you are given to them as a sexual toy so the sorcerer can curry favour.

You don’t even know the sorcerer’s name.

You don’t even know your own name, for sure. You think it might be… (ask for a character name. Lucy Lauren is fine!)

Your Vision

Through it all, there is one vision from your past that stays with you, makes you determined not to just give in and lose yourself to this life. It is a vision of… what? A few ideas – a person – maybe a sister? A place that was home. A vision of yourself crowned in fire, taking revenge upon the sorcerer. A mission, perhaps you were a spy send here to find out the sorcerer’s secrets? A fellow slave girl with whom you have shared stolen pleasure and whose life you vowed to save, but who was given as a prize to some noble of a far-off land? Or something less selfless… like a huge buried treasure to steal or a kingdom to conquer? Maybe you are a princess with a throne to re-take. Or a vengeful warrior queen with a realm to conquer.

We are looking to establish a motivation for you to escape, a motivation for you to have adventures outside and a motivation for you to one day return and take revenge on the wicked sorcerer. (The motivation to have lots of sex is below!)

Tonight, for once, things are different. The sorcerer is unexpected called from the tower whilst preparing a ritual. The spell upon you fades as the hours pass. What thought is it that makes you resist the magical fog that clouds your brain and decide to act?

You are kneeling on the floor in the wizard’s chamber. Forbidden books line the wall. You are at the edge of the summoning circle, the book and staff you have been holding for hours causing intolerable pain and cramps from enforced immobility as the spell wanes and you can finally move.

There on the desk is the vile sacrificial dagger intended for the heart of another innocent slave. Perhaps this is the night he was finally going to slay you?

What do you do?

We’ll explore a few options here – but in the end to move the story to the proper start point you decide to use the spell book yourself, casting the summoning ritual with your own orgasm, summoning a demon of lust.

You cannot believe how strong the climax was, after so long denied the ability to feel it.

What do you ask of the demon? Freedom? Power? Rescue? Recall of your past?

The demon offers you a bargain. It gains its power from carnal lust. It will lend you that power (and even bring you back to life if you die).

There’s a catch – to use that power on a creature, you must have sexual knowledge of its blood-line or source of power. If you make a creature orgasm, the demon gains carnal pleasure, power and insight into all who share its source of power, and in turn that lets you channel that power to overcome the creature and those similar to it.

So for example you cannot successfully cast one of your spells on an elf until you have gained carnal knowledge of elves by making an elf orgasm. You will have advantage using your powers on a creature you have personally made come, and normal use of your abilities against those who share the bloodline. But if the creature draws more power from another source – for example a wizard who draws primarily from the element of fire – they will be immune. At least until you manage to bring them to orgasm, or find a powerful fire genie to wank off and gain access to the power of fire that way.

Unfortunately, the reckoning of powers starts from the moment you enter into the pact with the demon… so you will not be able to affect the sorcerer until you find out his source of power – and he might have several. You’ll need to find them all. Or you could hang around and wait and bring him to climax tonight, but the chances of him not noticing the change in you and killing you out of hand seem pretty slim. You can have some life outside the tower. And your vision calls to you. Vengeance on the sorcerer will just have to wait.

You seal your pact with the demon in the only way a demon of lust ever seals a pact – with wicked hot sex!

The demon grants you some powers which you can use at will (see cantrips) and some of greater power; you can call on any two of those powers (or the same one twice) within a battle or within the space of a few minutes, but must then rest a short while before being able to channel them again.

You cannot kill the sorcerer as yet, but can you shatter the magical chains that bind you (dispel magic). You draw your power around you to clothe and armour you (mage armour) and steal the staff. After a moment’s reflection you take the spell book and sacrificial dagger, too. It might be useful… and it means the sorcerer can’t use them.

You light your way with another cantrip.

Escape The Tower

Now… how to escape from the tower? You know you are quite high up, but you can find a window and try to climb down the rough walls. Or you could work your way down to the front door, finding ways to tackle the human servants and magical guardians as you go. Or blast a hole straight through the wall and jump, relying on your borrowed demonic power to shield you.

Now what?

The tower lies beside a lake, surrounded by forested hills and mountains beyond. In the far distance at the end of the lake you can see twinkling lights – a village, perhaps? A track leads up to a raised road which looks well-travelled, although there is no-one in sight at the moment.

The sorcerer is sure to return soon – he will notice your absence and that you have stolen staff, spell-book and sacrificial dagger. He will want them, and possibly you, back.

Even if he isn’t back for hours, the guards in the tower will be after you soon.

What do you do? Where do you go? What is the priority? Does the vision pull you one way or the other, or does the need to make good your escape pull you most strongly?

Do you need to seek out nobles? Gold? Maybe you need to seek out lesser Wizards to drain their powers for yourself? Or just start bringing as many different sorts of creature to orgasm as you can for now? Remember that your powers are great, but they won’t work on any new sort of creature at first. You will probably get captured often in new situations. Turn it to your advantage and to matters sexual as soon as you can- they sooner the come, the sooner you have the power to escape or to get what you need from them!

The Infinite Multi-Dimensional Space of Human Beings (and thoughts on equality)

Hi All,

Fair warning: this is another politics-and-equality-related ramble. If you’re here for the BDSM, probably wise to skip it. I wrote and didn’t publish this ages ago. But as UK politics has descended further and further into the sewers of othering us-and-them, I thought there were a few ideas worth sharing.

I am no expert in biology, genetics, sociology, psychology, ethics or any of the other areas this touches upon. I’m happy to be corrected, debated, challenged and ridiculed – just kindly keep it civil and remember the golden rule.

The one concept I think is really important is the Infinite Dimensioned Multi-variate space of human beings. What the hell is that when it is at home?

The Infinite Multi-Dimensional Space Of Human Beings

There are an infinite possible number of ways of measuring, describing or classifying people. You could measure their height. You could ask how old they is, what colour their hair is. Some stuff would be trivial, like “People wearing blue socks”. Some will be different ways of measuring the same thing: like date and time of birth, which directly tells you how old someone is when you know the current date and time. But these seemingly redundant measurements are fine, because they are useful for different things. Age is constantly changing but date and time of birth are fixed for a particular person, for example. So sometimes we might find it easier to figure out information by asking about age, other time about date of birth.

We can represent people on a huge number of different axes representing different things about them. An infinite number of axes, in fact, because there’s an infinite number of possible things we could try to measure. I like to envisage this as a huge blobby glowy green cloud in some strange mathematical space somewhere, with individual people glowing like dots in the Cerebro in X-Men.

Axiom: Each of these human beings is completely individual. No two people are alike- even identical twins. You can see that to be true in a trivial sense by including the variable of “occupying the physical volume located at” to describe the person. Identical twins don’t occupy the same physical space, and even conjoined twins don’t occupy ALL the same physical space- if they did they wouldn’t be twins, they’d be one person.

It is also true in the non-trivial sense that not everything about identical twins and conjoined twins is the same. Very similar – even to the extent of sharing the same genome or part of the same physical body- but not actually the same. One can die while the other lives, and “alive or dead” is a pretty important variable in describing the status of any a human being.

All measurements are messy, so we have to combine for usefulness

Some things are relatively easy to define and measure, like height. Even though it changes for an individual throughout their life, at any given time a human being takes up a certain amount of physical space in the y-dimension.

Even here I’m thinking of possible exceptions even to this rule- there might be rare cases where for some reason it might be hard to measure, such as in the case of an extreme stoop, so you might have to be careful in your definition!

But that’s OK. We’re in the infinite multi-dimensional space of “possible ways of describing a human being”. It’s always OK to chuck another dimension in. It might tell us something new or it might not. Doesn’t matter, just chuck it in. Star sign, for example. Probably doesn’t mean much. Definitely doesn’t meaningfully split people into 12 groups in a useful way. But still might influence people – not least because people who believe in astrology might tend to act more in the way they think they are “supposed” to by their star sign. It’s all fine, chuck in the variable. We can see if it is actually useful when we start to ask questions.

Height

Each measurement system you use is just another variable, another one of infinite directions in this space. Measured distance from flats of feet to top of head while standing, is one variable. Measured distance from tips of toes to furthest point from that whilst lying down with arms lowered is a second.

Whatever definition we choose, whichever variable, there is a distribution of the population of human beings along these axes. Each individual is a single glowing point in this space, but you can see the shape of the landscape around them – how are other human beings distributed through this space?

Some of variables will be so highly correlated as to be almost identical.

Most sensible ways you could think of to measure height, for most people most of the time, will put that person at about the same point in the distribution of human beings.

The height you measure for a whole bunch of people lying down and measuring from the tips of their toes to the furthest distance from that point is probably almost 100% correlated with what you measure doing flats of feet to top of head whilst standing for them.

The actual numbers for these two different ways of height might be different- gravity squashes us progressively through the day, so measuring “stand up straight” height in the evening might well give a smaller absolute number in metres and centimetres than that same person’s “lying down extent” measurement. And those differences might vary from person to person: an older, taller man might get squashed more during the day than a younger, shorter girl, say.

But someone who is “tall” by one measure is very likely “tall” by other measures too.

There will be exceptions, like people who are unable to stand upright. One measurement might give a misleading figure for some people, or might not even have a well-defined value for some individuals.

That’s fine- that’s why we look at a LOT of variables. We can look at as many we like, and see if any happen to be of use in understanding anything about humans.

This cluster of variables (ways of measuring vertical extent of human beings) is so tightly correlated, so clustered and so nicely in correspondence to the every-day experience of most of us that we’ve got a non-technical term for it which does fine for discussion most of the time. We call it “height”.

We only need delve back into the technical details of its definitions if we encounter an edge case. Like, say, Stephen Hawking. How tall was he, towards the end of his life, given that he couldn’t actually “stand up straight” for a regular height measurement?

Let’s not forget that those technicalities are there as we move on to other, messier, less-easy-to-define things. This may seem like nit-picking to you but for people with certain medical conditions it might be a frequent annoyance, dealing with inappropriate or contradictory measurement schemes for height.

I don’t know whether that’s actually the case for any individual human beings out there, but I can imagine that it could be in principle. And as we move on to other variables we’ll see that forgetting these measurement distinctions can lead to very serious consequences for individual human beings, when the generalisations don’t fit the specific circumstances of the person. (“What do you mean, can’t enter your standard height on the medical form because you can’t stand up to measure it, Professor Hawking?”)

Messier Variables

Other things have “everyday” terms but turn out to be more complex – like sex.

There are a significant number of human beings with external genitals which include both “male” and “female” aspects, internal genital differentials likewise. You can’t use chromosome makeup to define it either (there are people with X0 – only one X chromosome; XXY, Androgen insensitivity syndrome, and many more characteristics which are now broadly described as intersex, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex).

But for the sake of argument let’s accept that one can at least define a whole bunch of variables like genitalia and chromosome makeup, on which human beings fall along a multi-dimensional distribution, and which have strongly correlated clusters.

We should be VERY careful about making generalisations which exclude human beings in rare parts of the distributions of these variables- while rare, there are many many millions of human beings with these characteristics which we think of as “intersex”, or intermediate between “male” and “female”.
Remember that some people might not even appear on some axes in the space at all- like in the variable “XX or XY chromosome”, where someone with XXY or X0 doesn’t appear at all because it is not relevant to their situation.

However mindful we are not to ignore those millions of human beings, it remains the case that in making any headway at all about thinking about the distribution of traits and characteristics of human beings we inevitably end up speaking of “men” and “women” or “male” and “female” human beings, in every culture and every time.

A lot of problems come about for people who happen to lie at intermediate points on the variables when we forget that these are all distributions. There is no such thing as a “man” or a “woman”, even less so a “typical man” or “typical woman”!

There are only individual human beings with a spate of characteristics that happen to lie pretty close to the centre of a cluster in multi-variable space that for reasons of practicality, brevity and laziness, we often label as “male” or “man” or “female” or “woman”.

Sex and Gender

If you’re up on your terminology, you might have been bristling in that last section that I’ve mentioned “sex”, “male”, “female”, “man” and “woman” but not gender, trans or queer.

The use of these words has been adopted exactly because of what I was just talking about- the realisation that there are many more variables that should be examined, and a lot of them are at least as important to the human beings concerned as their physical body characteristics.

Gender is used to refer to socially constructed roles, behaviours and attributes, as distinct from the body characteristic ones.

This distinction is very useful in reminding us that there are many, many variables we could look at, and that correlations between them are very rarely perfect.

But it isn’t enough, and we should step back every so often to make sure we’re not doing the “what is your standard height, Professor Hawking” thing.

Some factors will correlate quite closely for large fractions of the population between sex and gender, some will correlate less strongly, some not at all, and for all variables there will very likely be some fraction of individual humans who buck the trend and lie in unusual parts of multi-dimensional space- and we should be careful to remember that, too.

Terms we use for groups of people have no inherent meaning

This is a vital realisation which comes from this picture. There is NO precise and reliable definition for “female” or “man”. Every human being occupies a unique place in the multi-variable space.

They might cluster quite closely together with other humans in bunches in some variables- like having XY chromosomes and a functioning penis. That might even go along with other variables, like liking Rugby football, a lot of the time in some places for some subset of human beings.

But that does NOT mean that “MEN LIKE RUGBY”. “Men” don’t do anything or like anything. “Man” is not a complete or precise or reliable definition of any individual human being, and it most certainly isn’t enough to specify where they sit on all these infinite number of axes!

The terms “Men” and “Women” are useful because in some projections of this multivariable space, looking at a few variables at a time, we observe that very many human beings fall into one of two broad clusters.

So in line with common terminology, like “height” as a short-cut for the cluster of vertical extent measurement techniques, we’re just agreeing to use them as a short-hand which works a lot of the time.

We really must not mistake the label for the person!

This is super, super important.

No two “men” are alike, any more than no two identical twins are actually alike. Two people will be close to each other in some variables, and at opposite ends of the spectrum in other variables. I am quite like a stereotypical man in having a functioning penis.

I am unlike the stereotypical man at least in my local culture by finding team sports in general and Rugby football in particular entirely tedious.

And in some other variables, like liking vs. hating the taste of coffee, it might be that my position on the functioning penis variable may have no bearing at all. (I have no idea whether people with penises are more or less likely to enjoy coffee that those without).

As an individual human being, I’ll be in my own place in this huge multi-dimensional space. Close to one end of some distributions (how introverted I am), entirely boringly typical in a lot of other distributions (my height is distinctly average).

Here’s a diagram to summarise all of that:

The big green blobby thing is the multivariate space of all human beings alive today.

The red dot is Hywel’s spot in the multiverse. That’s me.

If you want to know where I sit along one of the infinite number of variables, you have to “project out” along that axis. We confine our view from infinite dimensions, down to just one. We look along that axis, and for each human being alive today, we add a little “blip”.

That lets us plot a histogram, which are the black graphs. Each histogram shows the number of people with a certain value of the variable we’ve projected out along. The green curve shows the distribution of all human beings alive on that single axis.

Let’s look at the two bottom right graphs first. These are the “standing straight height” and “lying down extent” distributions. I’ve drawn in some wibbly wobbly line to represent what we’d find if we actually made this plot for all human beings alive.

If you look a certain way along the horizontal axis, you’d find a specific height in metres, say 1.75 m or about 5 foot 9 inches. The green curve tells you how many human beings alive today have that height.*

*(Two minor technical points- strictly speaking you have to specify the number of people in a RANGE of heights, say from 1.75 to 1.76 m, when making this sort of plot, and you can either choose to have the absolute number of human beings as the green curve, or you could divide by the total number of people and have the fraction of people with that height. But the basic idea is the higher the green curve, the larger the fraction of people with that height).

I’ve drawn myself, my own little +1 human blip, to the 1.75 m point. This puts me pretty much bang at the average height for adult men where I live, and is why I drew the wibbles in the green curve to have a peak around there. It’s only a sketch, we’d have to look at the real distribution to get proper information.

I also drew a second bump lower down, to represent the observation that women are on average shorter than men. There is a tail down to almost zero height, but I should have drawn it more carefully because there’s a minimum viable height for a living (and already born) human being, so there should really be more of a cut-off at the lower end. There’s a tail off to bigger heights to, and there is a maximum height- at the time of writing thought to be Sultan, who is 2.465 m tall (8ft 1in).

Underneath the “stand straight height” I drew the “lying down extent” measurement, which has almost an identical shape, with me in the corresponding place. These are almost but not quite the same distributions, and the correlation between them is extremely high- if someone is tall by one measure, they are very likely indeed to be tall by other measures, too.

Then I’ve drawn a few other projections for variables we’ve talked about. It’s not clear how we’d quantify something like “Having a fully-functioning penis” but that’s OK- think up some reasonable proxy measurement, or a group of them, and we’ll get the basic idea.

I’ve drawn this peculiar variable with a couple of peaks, one to represent “women” (no functioning penis), one to represent “men” (human beings with a functioning penis) and with some vague tails to represent erectile disfunction, accidents, prostate patients, intersex people and so on. There I am, someplace around the “fully functioning penis” peak of the distribution. Yay me.

Above it is the “XX – XY chromosome” variable, whatever measurement technique we use to put that into our multidimensional space. Two peaks, one for people with XX, one for people with XY, and importantly millions of people who don’t appear on this projection at all because they don’t possess either of those binary options and are therefore cannot be shown in this particular projection. This doesn’t make them non-people, and erasing them does them a massive disservice.

If we looked at the correlation between “functioning penis” and “XX-XY” we’d again see a pretty strong correlation, as we did with the two different height measurement techniques.

(As an aside here if you’re not familiar with the idea of correlation and the difference between correlation and cause, now might be a good time for a quick wikipedia break:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_and_dependence
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation
)

Perhaps surprisingly, we’d find the correlation was way weaker than between the two methods of measuring height. It’s actually quite hard to think up ways in which sensible ways of measuring height would come up with radically different answers for the same human being. But there are plenty of ways someone with an XY chromosome might end up without a functioning penis. Accident or infirmity or elective surgery or temporary impotence. (You might improve the correlation by choosing a slightly different variable, like “have at one time had a functioning penis”).

In the cloud around the diagram I’ve sketched a few other variables and plotted myself on them, like love vs. hate coffee and love vs. hate Rugby. I’ve totally made up the statistics- I have no idea either how one would measure these or what the distribution of the world population would be like if you did. Deceptively simple variables like these hide plenty of “What is your height, Professor Hawking”? traps too- some blessed fraction of the world’s population wouldn’t appear on the love vs. hate Rugby plot at all, by virtue of never having been exposed to the wretched game in the first place.

And One More Thing

Notice the innocuous little graph at the top right which I’ve called “skin tone”. Let’s say that we come up with some measurement for human skin tone. Something to do with amount of melatonin in the skin, or reflectivity tested with a colour reflectance meter, or position on a printed colour chart. As before what we really have to do is to use all of those variables, and many more besides, because none of the measurements are quite the same and there are always reasons why a few individuals might not appear or be in a surprising place even if the measurements are highly correlated.

I’ve drawn a wibbly green line with me at a random position on it.

Race isn’t a real thing. It’s impossible to define in any meaningful way that stands up to the slightest scrutiny. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brief-History-Everyone-Ever-Lived/dp/0297609378.

Differences and Similarities between people

Right, now we have our infinite dimensioned space of all human beings. How can we assess differences and similarities between people? And can that tell us anything about equality?

Well, it’s tricky. We can see that people could be clustered together in lots and lots of ways. People with fully-functioning penises are very likely to have XY chromosomes… and people without functioning penises are very likely to have XX chromosomes. But people without functioning penises who once did have functioning penises are very likely to have XY chromosomes. It gets complicated really quickly when you start zooming in, because individual humans can pop in unexpected pockets in the distributions which don’t show up until you start to look at things in detail.

We do notice definite clustering effects. The vast majority of human beings fall into either the XY or XX chromosome peaks (even though there are millions of people who do not). And a LOT of other things genuinely do tend to be correlated with that.

This is where the “sex is a real thing” folks come in, and in one sense they do have a point. Observably, looking at the whole population, there are clear trends which cluster strongly together.

For example, the average height of people found in the XY peak in that dimension is greater than the average height of people found in the XX peak. “Men tend to be taller than women”, we generalise. Oh, you probably huff in annoyance at this point. “We bloody knew that! 3000+ words to get that far!”

But here’s the thing. “Men tend to be taller than women” hides an awful lot of edge case stuff going on. Like the exact definition of height (a bit trivial, I’ll admit) or the exact definition of a man (not at all trivial, as the existence of many millions of non XX/XY human beings and people with only partially functioning penises and all the rest of it attest).

Furthermore, it leads to dangerous generalisations because it ignores other factors which may be very relevant- like what country that person is from. The average height of women from the Netherlands is around 1.70 m, whereas the average height of men from Nepal is 1.63m. So the average Dutch woman is actually taller than the average Nepali man! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_average_human_height_worldwide.

This swiftly leads into even more dangerous thinking if we get lazy and say “men are taller than women”. “Men” aren’t anything, but even taking “the cluster of humans around XY” as a proxy, it tells you nothing at all about the height of any specific, individual human being in the world. I am a very prosaic 1.75 m or so tall; my wife is a fine and upstanding 1.89 m or thereabouts.

So an individual tall woman can be taller than an individual short man or she can be taller than the average for XY humans or whatever. Her possession of XX chromosomes and lack of penis might lead us to venture a statistical guess that she is LIKELY, statistically, to be shorter than the average XY. But in the case of any individual human being, that might well be totally wrong.

We may know that intellectually, but we drift into magical thinking and stereotyping so easily that this rapidly drifts into “men SHOULD be taller than women”, which is one of the reasons that Ariel and I get stares when we go out on dates together. And this sort of “ought to be” authoritarian thinking seeps into culture and makes tall women think that they “ought” to go out with a man who is taller than them, so they don’t feel like “the man”. (I’ve put it that way around rather than the converse because Ariel has expressed feeling that pressure, whereas I haven’t really experienced the “you’re too short to be with that woman” pressure that I’m conscious of. I just sometimes get taken to be her elderly relative rather than her husband, despite us only differing in age by about 15%).

And there are a LOT of variables. No human being will be “typical” of any cluster they happen to fall into in all of the variables. Very likely, because there are so many possible variables, there will be at least some where they are notably different from other humans who fall into a cluster with them in other variables. (Like me and Rugby).

In fact there is no unique single way to decide how alike two people are (technically, you’d have to define a “metric” – a co-ordinate system which tells you how to add up a difference in variables which are entirely dissimilar. Like XX-vs-XY (which is basically binary and excludes a bunch of people) – how do you “add” a difference in that to a difference in height or in loving coffee?

There’s no unique way to define how different people are, as a corollary. How far apart, and on which variables, do you need to be as an intersex person before you fall outside the “male” cluster? There is no universal answer, only an arbitrary choice of distance metric trying to squeeze an individual human being into an artificially defined category which might simply not be any sort of fit at all.

Sex is real? There are some broad features showing clusters of individual human beings in some axes, yes. But that tells you NOTHING about any particular individual person you might meet and thinking that it will is lazy thinking – so much so as to be extremely dangerous.

Equality

As an illustrative example I’d like to talk about equality in the workplace, starting with sexual equality.

Women currently make up just 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. http://fortune.com/2018/05/21/women-fortune-500-2018/

This is surely an egregious example of sexual inequality and discrimination.

It very likely is. But my question is – how do we know? If we are to take remedial action- which we probably should- should we not have some sort of metric by which we judge our success? It would be nice to be able to say we’ve made progress.

One’s first instinct is to say “well, women are 50% of the population, so it should be 50%”.

Indeed, as a starting place I’ll probably agree with you. But probably not for the reasons you think.

The reason I’ll agree with you is that until very recently, by authoritarian dictat the fraction of women in these jobs was artificially forced to be 0. The operational definition of “women” here is anyone who the people in charge say are women, correlated very strongly with most of “conventional” definitions like XX/have a vagina/present socially as female within that culture.

In an ideal world, the variable “is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company” would be very strongly related to the variable “competence and skill at running a Fortune 500 company”.

We have no actual idea what fraction of human beings have the competence and skill to run a Fortune 500 company. We have no idea how that correlates with XY/XX, penis/vagina, or any other variables which we’ll shortcut to “man/woman” at this point.

All we know is that regardless of competence and skill, until very recently the chance of a woman being CEO of a Fortune 500 company was artificially forced to be zero.

What is the “ideal” number? Well, it depends on the far tails of a distribution of skill at running a large company, I guess. Not very many human beings have that skill, and we have no idea whether of those people at the far upper end of that distribution all the human beings are men, or all women, or a mix of both, or what the ratio is. The force of history means we’ve never allowed that experiment to even be tried.

It might be that the traits which make one a good CEO correlate so strongly with being an XY that all the people at that end of the distribution are men, in the way that all the really, really, really tallest of the tall people in the world are men.

Or it might be that it correlates so strongly with being a woman that this is an injustice and inefficiency of truly mind-blowing proportions and 99% of the CEOs ought to be women. Or maybe people who have some combination of both might be masterful CEOs if only given the chance. It could be that a small group of people who are intersex should be running the show. Or people who display some of the suite of characteristics we label as “Asperger’s”.

It might well be a lot more complicated than that, because it could depend on situational factors… a fairly compelling example being the possibility that women might perform better if there are a certain fraction of other women around in the company, and worse if a different fraction of women. Margaret Thatcher and the male cabinet ministers, or a more collegiate style working which is reputed to come about in some female-led workplaces. Some people who fit broadly in the “women” cluster might do very well if surrounded by other people in the “women” cluster; others might do really badly but might shine if totally surrounded by yes-“men”. We just don’t know.

So the answer is very complex. Getting a 50% ratio in a few decades time doesn’t mean it is right or we are done; we still may not know what the “ideal meritocracy” solution number is. So it is very difficult indeed to know whether or not we’re granting equality.

It’s an absolute bastard of a problem!

Worse, it allows Snorting John the male chauvinist arse to make unwarranted claims about “It’s a man’s job love get back in the kitchen” and all the rest of the endless fuckwittery poured down on women’s heads day by day, minute by minute.

But we do no-one any favours by pretending we know the answer is that everything is right with Fortune 500 company CEOs if we have equal numbers of men and women in the jobs. Not only do we have limited ideas how to tackle the problem, we don’t even really know how to measure our progress. For a real meritocracy we might be aiming for 90%… or 9%. Or 0% because the people who would really be doing the best jobs fall outside the typical “man” and “woman” clusters. We simply don’t know. It’s a real bugger.

So do we just throw up our hands and give up?

Equality of Opportunity and Equality of Reward for Measurable Things

No. We start off by saying that we don’t know what the “optimal” faction of people with label X doing job Y might be. So we’ve got no reason to discourage anyone from having a go. We should provide them equal opportunity, and do our best to police the process so that if they’re actually really good at it, they can succeed. We should stop looking at the labels and care much more about the thing they’re actually doing.

Representation helps a lot. Showing that there are people who share labels with you who can do a thing certainly seems to empower people to go for it and succeed. (“A woman can be prime minister”. “A gay dude can be an action hero”).

We must tackle broader structural inequalities, especially those that have glaringly-obvious historical basis.

Like saying “no female CEOs”. Fuck that, obviously.

Police things like promotion and salary tracked by observable, measurable performance indicators. In my own field, particle physics, in the UK, it was clear that amongst people with the same exam results or measured achievements, the fraction of people who went further towards a career in the field was radically different between men and women at every step along the way. To the extent that there was just one female particle physics professor in the country at the time. Faced with that sort of evidence it seems pretty clear that your field is getting something wrong and needs to change. (It did, although I’m sure there’s still a hell of a way to go).

Like the fact that the richest families in Florence today are the same rich families from 600 years ago (https://anarchimedia.com/2019/01/15/rich-families-in-florence-today-are-the-same-rich-families-from-600-years-ago/). The chances of that being due to those people having some magical family clustering on the “great at running a business” axis are slim compared with the chance of it being a historical tendency of capitalism and a failure to redistribute and give someone else’s family a go. Britain is not a richer country than Mozambique because people born in Britain are clustered in some mythical white-supremacist-wet-dream-master-race cluster of supernatural wealth-generators. Chances are very high indeed that it’s physical, geographical and most of all historical factors, not anything to do with the inherent properties of the individuals born there.

Rampant racism is fucking nonsense, as is classism, which clearly runs deep through British society. There’s just NO WAY that the factors which make a good UK cabinet minister are so tightly correlated with attendance at one of a very small number of private schools because of merit, rather than social exclusion.

Take-away Message: People Are Not Labels

This has been a ramble, I was putting some of my own thoughts down and it doesn’t have quite the through-line I usually try to provide in my posts. I got distracted.

Important points:

  1. We are all in a minority of one.
  2. We sit at different points in all of the axes of infinite multi-dimensional space of human beings.
  3. Labels are gross generalisations which I would contend are much more often harmful than useful. They are not real. Being a man is not a real thing. Being a woman is not a real thing. There are just human beings in infinite multi-dimensional person space, sharing more or less of certain characteristics with other human beings.
  4. Physical reality always presents edge cases. How high was Stephen Hawking? Is an intersex XXY person a man or a woman? (The answer is “no, and nor is anyone else”).
  5. Mistaking the label for the people is pernicious evil and we should stop doing it. We should all start saying “People” instead. “The Welsh” don’t think or do or possess characteristics, it’s not even a well-defined term. People born in Wales? People who live here? People who moved here when they were a kid but moved to England in 1999?
  6. You can speak about people in aggregate only by being clear about what axes in multi-dimensional space you are considering. Then you can start to make meaningful statements. Like that “people who were educated in schools in Wales” are much more likely to speak Welsh than people educated in schools elsewhere”. Which might sound stupid but has some actual meaning, unlike something like “The Welsh have a sweet tooth” or “Whites are superior” or “Women shouldn’t be CEOs” or “The Welsh are sheep shaggers” or “The Chinaman is mean and not to be trusted”. Which are pernicious lies, not even wrong but hugely corrosive and damaging and an awful way to think.

END RANT.