A Brain Dump RE: Feminism

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.

8 thoughts on “A Brain Dump RE: Feminism”

  1. The sensitivity and overreaction to comments is related to the movement of society towards the concept that “offending” a person is the worst thing you can do to them. If someone is “offended” (and whines about it), then that must be addressed at all costs. The offender must pay!

    Such a direction is doomed to failure, as the ability of the human animal to be offended is infinite. The more we react when someone is “offended”, the more people will decide to be offended. And the more damage we will do trying to accommodate them.

    If someone tells a female of any age she should not be an engineer (and she wants to be) then the sane, adult response is to prove that idiot wrong. The childish, insane response is to prove the idiot right, and whine about it to boot.

    1. This very much appears to be an American phenomenon. Quite frankly, I really couldn’t give a shit if someone (usually a religious apologist) is “offended” by anything I say. So what? I’m offended by many things, but that doesn’t win me any rights or privilege. I’m offended we haven’t set foot on Mars. I’m offended astronomers have to beg for money for space telescopes. I’m offended teachers aren’t paid more than CEO’s. No one has to treat me differently because of this.

      1. It might be an American thing; I don’t have the access to other medias to say. All I know is here, one parent says they (or their child) is “offended” by Christmas, and the school drops the Christmas pageant. A gay couple is told by a bakery that the baker’s religion claims that even if gay weddings are now legal, they are not valid in God’s eyes, so the couple should go elsewhere for a cake, and the bakers are put out of business and have to pay $160K to the couple for their “anguish”. Some dentist goes on a safari and shoots a lion, and gets his office trashed and death threats, American students can’t wear a flag T-Shirt to school because it might offend the Mexicans getting free education on our dime, and so on.

        Maybe other countries don’t have the exact same lunacies, but I do note that the Syrian immigrants are allowed to rape, intimidate, trash and steal from the people in the countries which are trying to help them.

  2. My college philosophy and ethics professor used a concept I sometimes repeat for such topics and controversy as this…

    “You do not cure a headache by cranial decapitation.”

    I agree Allallt, hyper-sensitivity is no more effective than hyper-offensiveness. And I do like your belief in “equality of opportunity” rather than for outcome. A good needed distinction. I’ve always thought that proper job-interviews should be done with computerized voices so that gender is indistinguishable, and no sight for interviewer or interviewee.

    To your point on teachers Allallt, many times I know I was discriminated against for my gender and age, despite my highly qualified experience and background. But then again, those positions are in education and Psych/A&D therapy-counseling — two fields here sadly with starting median wages of around $35k per year (public schools) and $41k per year respectively depending on which U.S. state one lives. Both those salaries are considered quite low given the cost of living expenses in Texas. Those salaries haven’t changed significantly except for inflation perhaps(?)… to just keep up? And being single makes it much much harder to make all ends meet.

    Whether we like it or not, or accept it or not, we all have degrees of discrimination due to our malleability in various environments, starting from birth with our own parents, then beyond until approximately mid-life(?) when habits and pathology are deeply engrained. It is however, very encouraging that discrimination is absolutely deprogrammable! In fluid, open, adaptable paradigms deprogramming is easier and faster than within rigid, closed, monistic or binary-only paradigms.

    1. I don’t imagine for one moment that deprogramming prejudice would be easy. A life time of experience has essentially taught my dad the lesson ‘all Eastern Europeans are dishonest, except the ones I know’. Clearly the man is not an empiricist.
      And there is something to be said for the social mix (and camaraderie) in a working office, so to completely remove the humanity from the hiring process might be a mistake. But removing opportunities for bias to work its way into the process certainly has its benefits. ‘Gender roles’ really are an idea many people hold to; I’ve been to an interview for a receptionist position where, although I don’t know whether I was the best applicant, I was asked perhaps a dozen times gender questions like ‘how do you feel about the fact this is generally a female job?’, ‘could you be the only man in the office?’ and ‘have you noticed your the only male applicant?’.
      I agree with what EC said, that humans have an infinite capacity to be offended, and it’s increasingly used the more we validate the idea we give a damn what offends someone. That’s a problem across all demographics, though.

      I looked up some details relating to wages in Texas (livingwage.mit.edu/states/48). I’m not sure I’d be upset with a salary of a comparable rate in the UK.

      I’m glad the distinction between equality of outcome and of opportunity was easy to follow, I think it’s an important distinction.

      1. “I looked up some details relating to wages in Texas (livingwage.mit.edu/states/48). I’m not sure I’d be upset with a salary of a comparable rate in the UK.”

        I understand. Many in other countries and other states in the U.S. have told me that those starting salaries were decent, a few times even “excellent”. Once you recalculate for many local Cost of Living standards of the area they live, the state they live, and the nation they live, the same for taxes, for insurances, et al… plus if you are married with dual-incomes that is (quite?) different than being single. Then factor in my monthly Child-Support garnishments from a nasty divorce they change their mind, then often ask me “How in the hell do you make it!?” 😛

        I just didn’t go into all these boring details relative to Texas and Texas Family Law — well-known for its highly favorable child-support/alimony laws to Mothers, harsh on Fathers — and I haven’t elaborated on all the factors either. Lol But those things are specific to me and to Texas.

        I’d have to agree with EC (equippedcat) as well.

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