What follows is a brain dump of ideas relating to feminism. I accuse feminism of being sexist towards women by having a disproportionate response to things that may not be issues, while neglecting things that really are issues. I also pose a handful of better ways for feminism to progress. In many respects, I’m simply saying the classical way of approaching feminism is better than the regressive 3rd Wave Feminism that currently circulates, and that debate is better than shutting people down. (So, no new ideas, just a pining for the old ideas.)
There will be times where I use the terms men and women in general terms: “women are…”. I don’t mean this is absolute terms, I mean there is a characteristic that seem to hold as generally different on a population-level. It’s probably linguistic laziness.
A lot is made, in feminist circles, about the fact women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering. It’s true that women make up a lot less than 50%, but when discussing this underrepresentation, I can’t help but feel feminists are being implicitly sexist in two ways. The first is sexism of low expectations, this idea that women can’t cope with the competitive nature of science and the bravado of the current (predominantly male) scientists. I think that’s nonsense. Yes, men aren’t particularly nice. But they’re not nice to other men either, they exist in nearly every industry, and to suggest that women are particularly sensitive to men’s blanket unpleasantness (especially when in science and engineering jobs) is sexist; women should and do have much thicker skins than the feminist narrative give them credit for. The idea that an immature comment from Tim Hunt is enough to stop a woman pursuing a career she’s passionate about seems wildly patronising.
The other problem is sexist because it hopes to control what jobs women take. Whereas men will continue to be allowed to operate in a ‘free market’ sort of sense, taking the jobs they want with no meaningful restrictions, women will have communistic-style quotas enforced; women will be told they must become equally represented in engineering and sciences, regardless of the career they’re actually passionate about.
If your are a feminist arguing that women are particularly sensitive and should be treated differently, that’s a very different moral conversation. But I don’t think anyone mainstream is advocating that. What everyone claims to be advocating is “equality”. It may be a fruitful conversation, though, to discuss treating women differently to advantage them. See, I’m from the school of feminism that argues for equality, and understands equality to mean ‘equality of opportunity’ and not ‘equality of outcome’. I still believe in basic freedoms that mean if women generally prefer pastoral jobs like nursing and teaching, and tend to eschew the sciences, then that freedom is the right thing.
I was once being ushered towards doing my Postgraduate Certificate in Education to become a teacher. This was done, in part, by offering me a grant to do the course to offset a massive gender imbalance in teaching. Men are massively underrepresented in teaching (particularly early-years education). And yet, if I were to assert that some sort of structural barrier or institutional sexism were the cause of that gender imbalance, I would hear that it is simply the case that men don’t want to be teachers. It wouldn’t be credited to sexism at all. The grant for me to become a teacher is not addressing a disadvantage I have, it’s giving me an advantage the over-represented group doesn’t have. The other thing that is evident is that men had a much lower bar to jump to get onto the course, another advantage given to the minority. That is what equality of outcome looks like, and it’s an awful metric for fairness and equality. And when the advantages are afforded to men, no one seems to hesitate to notice this.
I taught for 3 years (without the PGCE) and I don’t like it. And the gender imbalance seems to hold true: I was outnumbered by women all the way through, in every discipline, in every country I taught in. There was no systemic barrier to me being a teacher, I just didn’t want to be a teacher. If the ushering to be a teacher had turned into pressure to pursue a career I didn’t want, I think I’d become very agitated.
There are real problems for women in science. For one, there is research to suggest that simply having a woman’s name on a CV devalues it: it results in lower starting salaries and a lower hiring rate. That is not okay, and violates the principle of equal opportunity (which I believe in). I think anonymised CVs should become a social norm as a result. That has been done in higher-level science and technology exams, as a similar study found that a female name on an exam paper resulted in a lower exam score relative to girl’s scores in anonymised marking; clearly anonymised marking and CVs are good things. That is a change that may result in equality of opportunity, which is what I believe in.
I don’t think we should aim at equality of outcome, because I think general trends about what it is males and females are passionate about hold true. To aim for 50% male nurses is simply to aim at getting men who don’t want to be nursing into nursing, pushing passionate female would-be nurses out; to aim for 50% female engineering may well simply be a case of ignoring what it actually is females are passionate about. We just need to make sure there is a level playing field so that a woman who wants to become an engineer doesn’t have more obstacles than a man who also wants the job.
Apparently the UK has the biggest discrepancy in confidence between boys and girls, in Europe. Although, that I am much less confident in how it was measured or where; I can’t find the paper. If true, however, this is also a problem. But it’s not a problem I would guess the cause of. Without evidence and explanation linking that fact to causes, it’s no more likely to be the result of men making passively sexist comments than of feminism legitimising a hyper-sensitivity and condescending to them about their passions. Honestly, you no more know that flippant men are actually adding extra pressures, over feminism conditioning a response that doesn’t map onto the pressures. It wouldn’t even be outlandish to suggest it’s a result of the fluoride in the water (so long as I was simply posing it as a hypothesis and not a fact). Research is actually needed on the cause of this problem, then we can look at solving it. You don’t get to guess the link and posit the bogeyman. Patriarchy of the gaps.
That said, I’d like to advocate a change in the focus of feminism that will both create an immediate social cost for sexist comments, while also diminish the legitimising of hyper-sensitivity many people feel feminism is playing a role in. As well as this change in focus―where we actually care what the causes of the problems are, instead of blaming some blanket concept―it’s also worth taking a deeper look at the discourse feminism uses.
The Witch Hunt that followed Tim Hunt’s stupid comment after he said women shouldn’t be allowed in the science labs because they’re too emotional was a character assassination. It was the wrong way to respond to the problem. One option which would have been better than bullying for his resignation would have been to shine a light on the stupid thing he said and just criticising and ridiculing it. Don’t push for him to be punished. Instead, force his idea onto the intellectual free market and watch it fall.
He suggested that men will inevitably fall in love if there’s a woman near by, and that men can’t handle women’s emotions, and used that as an excuse to suggest limiting the freedoms and rights of women. Do you not think there’s enough artillery there to scorn the idea, instead of attacking the person? By placing so much attention on the person, the idea didn’t get a sufficient airing. The opportunity was there to implement a social system whereby comments like that result in an immediate social price, even when they happen in private. And it was lost to the attention being placed on the person.
Well, I can imagine this brain dump of ideas is going to get a bad reception. But, if you’ve got a good point I’m still open to persuasion on this. Comment away.