Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Sexism in the Atheist Movement

March 30, 2018

So, P.Z. Myers made a post talking about the Just Us Women podcast ending. He quotes the reason for its demise as follows:

I will no longer be interviewing women who have left religion, since I cannot in good conscience refer them to the atheist community, where they could find support. … All the resources are tainted with connections to the top tier of misogynist, sexist men.

People in the comments have noted the oddity that she’s not going to interview women who have left religion because somehow doing that would mean referring them to the atheist movement, even though she doesn’t have to do that and has no reason to unless she’s still going to stay in the atheist movement, or considers herself such a tainted resource. I don’t want to talk about that oddity. I want to talk about another oddity, which comes from considering that these women have left religion, and so in general have left religions that the atheist movement considers incredibly sexist, and as sexist as something can possibly be. So, by that, these women have likely experienced the worst sexism that they possibly could have experienced. Unless the atheist movement is worse than the average religion when it comes to sexism — and I’ve argued in the past that it seems like it clearly isn’t — then surely even referring them to the current atheist movement would mean an improvement in the sexism they face from the movement that is so critical to supporting them.

Unless the atheist movement really is more sexist than religions. But that can’t be the case, can it?

When it comes to sexual harassment … maybe it is. See, one of the main differences is that the atheist movement attached itself to progressivism, and progressivism embraced the idea of “sex positivity”. Indeed, one of the main criticism the atheist movement leveled against religion was how repressed and prudish they were about sex and sexuality, particularly in women. Sex was supposed to be fun, and something that everyone should participate in, and that attempting to limit that in any way was denying people not only great experiences, but a critical part of themselves. So free sexuality was important, and all of the traditional sexual mores were done away with, with people embracing things like polyamory and casual sex so that even the idea that sex was something that was supposed to happen between people who were in a committed relationship was lost. As long as the sex was consensual, anything went.

This, of course, ended up being controversial, as it clashed with feminism. The problem was that a lot of the “anything goes” were things that feminism traditionally considered objectifying. This included all forms of sex work, leading to the characterization of some of them as SWERFs. While some denied that sex positivity and feminism weren’t at all in conflict — because of the insistence that it was all consensual — the issue remained. And it’s clear what the underlying issue was: if women were going to be having sex and being sexual, unless they were all going to be lesbians and only have sexual relations with women, that sex and those sexual things were going to be done with and for men … and at least some forms of feminism insisted that doing that would be objectifying. Yes, sex with men and doing sex shows for men could definitely be consensual and could derive from the woman’s desires, but all of that would involve doing things that feminism said men expected women to do in order to please them. Which could lead to them thinking that they were entitled to that from women. The more women who were willing to do those things for men — even for their own pleasure — the more men could justify the idea that those things were what women should do for men. The counter to that is the standard “Restricting women from pursuing what they enjoy is just as bad as what patriarchy did”, which has generally not convinced anyone on the other side.

So what we have is sex positivity which chides anyone for restricting the sexual fun that people can have or seek out, and a sex positivity that is a critical differentiating factor between atheism and religion. At that point, all of the traditional sex norms are gone, and thus all ways of enforcing those sexual norms. In traditional or religious social circles, sex is supposed to be limited to couples in a serious relationship that could lead to marriage. Yes, that wasn’t always followed, but at least if someone “took advantage” of a woman to get sex without commitment the woman could easily be consoled by saying that the man was immoral and bad, and would get sympathy from the social group for that. And someone who called that man out as a cad would be appealing to the overarching social structure, and so would at least get some consideration for saying that the person was breaking the social rules.

But that didn’t exist in the sex positive atheist movement. Casual sex — and the pursuit thereof — wasn’t a bad thing anymore. I wonder how many atheists who noticed some of the more … aggressive approaches refused to intervene not because they were intimidated by the power of the person making the approach, but because they were afraid of being called prudish or its modern equivalent of “sex negative” for interfering with two consenting adults seeking sexual pleasure.

If they couldn’t use that they were essentially being tricked by promises of a long-term relationship into having casual sex — and that therefore that they were being “used” in that way — but still felt “used” in some way, what could they appeal to? Well, the only thing left was consent. If they could claim that it wasn’t really consensual, then they could still condemn the men who took those actions without having to reject sex positivity. For example, with the Michael Shermer allegations, Smith said that he “coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me”, which is incredibly vague and could range from convincing her to let him tie her up to, well, what she ended up claiming, which was that he encouraged her to drink more heavily than she should and had sex with her while she was intoxicated, and presumably too intoxicated to give consent, which tied into the long-standing feminist claim that a woman who was intoxicated could not give consent. Of course, people pointed out that it didn’t seem reasonable to claim that someone else offering someone alcohol, even if they weren’t drinking that heavily themselves, was a kind of coercion that we couldn’t expect people to resist, and the debate was on. But the key was that all of this was being used to insist that she didn’t really consent, and so the sex was wrong, as that’s the only line left that she could pursue.

This led to the reinstatement of some of the old mores, as people insisted that you shouldn’t have simple casual sex with a stranger, but should have sex with someone you knew well and respected so that you could read their cues and so get affirmative consent. This, and the harassment policies, clashed with the sex positivity of people who thought that it meant that they could pursue and get guilt-free sex, and that it was all okay as long as the other person agreed. In fact, most of the clash around harassment policies was indeed about having to put restrictions on who you could pursue and when, with some of the restrictions seeming inconsistent unless you looked at it from the perspective of trying to replace the old “taking advantage of” sexual mores.

Now, which side is right or wrong is beside the point (I think both are in some ways). But the key point here is that in the “sex positive” atheist movement, women were going to get more invitations for sex, those invitations would be more direct, and a sexual atmosphere was going to be more present and more open, and there would be more pressure to be sexually open. For women who found that uncomfortable, there was no real way to deal with that. And even those women who were more comfortable with that were going to have a problem when they ended up feeling taken advantage of. So it is possible that, when it comes to sexual harassment, the atheist movement was worse than religions because it would be more open and there were no social structures in place to deal with it, and attempts to add in those structures felt like ruining all of the fun for those — men and women — who had no problem with the way it was.

Personally, I still think that the impression of egregious sexism more reflects disappointment than reality. They expected the atheist movement to be better than everything else because they came to it from certain progressive and feminist worldviews, and so expected that everyone else did, too. When they found out that they couldn’t, they felt a disappointment akin to finding out that their hero had feet of clay, except that it was the entire movement that had that and not just one or two people. Myers’ entire argument against dictionary atheists is that atheism has to imply the liberal, progressive, feminist values that he supports, even if people disagree with them. When these atheists became convinced that the atheist movement wasn’t going to adopt their entire set of values, the atheist movement itself was seen as unethical, and that caused them to abandon it … even as they ignored that the religious alternative was supposed to be worse by their own arguments.

In their disappointment, they risk abandoning burgeoning atheists to an alternative that they should find even less acceptable. That can’t be what they wanted, but it’s what they’re going to end up with.

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If not for you …

March 28, 2018

In “Nine Princes in Amber”, the first book in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny, Eric of Amber says this to his brother Corwin: “I might have pardoned him, save for your present recommendation”. He goes on to say that because Corwin wanted their brother Random spared, it had to be for some ulterior motive, so Eric couldn’t trust that recommendation.

I now feel the same way about “Ready Player One”.

I heard about the book from numerous sources. Despite being in the age range to get the nostalgia hit, it didn’t seem to me like a book that I’d want to read. And after giving up on popular sci-fi — and pretty much any sci-fi — after the whole Hugo Awards thing and my assessment that the winners in 2016 were at best mediocre, I certainly wasn’t inclined to try out something else that some people liked and some people griped about.

But P.Z. Myers hates it.

Now, this is not the first time Myers has griped about it, and it’s not the case that I’d do anything or seek out something just because Myers hates it, because if you look up the word “curmudgeon” in the dictionary you’ll probably see his picture (or Jerry Coyne’s, which makes it all the more ironic that they even dislike each other). If I tried everything he hated I’d never get done. But in the latest post he linked to another post talking about other people disliking it:

Let’s not beat around the bush: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a circle jerk of male geek culture sustained over a grueling 400 pages.

Well, now I’m interested, just to see what it did to tick them off so much (despite her later commenting that there’s nothing wrong with a movie about that, despite the harsh response). So, I bought it, and I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it with the same attitude as I read all of those Hugo nominees from 2016, and attempt to give an objective assessment of how good or bad it is. I could think it terrible. I could think it great. I’m expecting to find it “Meh”. But we’ll see. And it’s filling up the Amazon free shipping for the Infinity War TPB, which I’m looking forward to reading after really enjoying Infinity Gauntlet. So, there’s that.

But let me talk about the rest of Jess Joho’s article above, because her main point is indeed less that “Ready Player One”‘s focus is bad, and more that it leaves out all of the girl pop culture from the same time periods, and goes on to suggest things that could be done to make up the gap:

That why everything from Transformers to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can get reimagined with CGI reverence — but the idea of a blockbuster live-action American Girl Dolls or The Powerpuff Girls franchise sounds laughable.

So, why did those two specific things get their movies? Well, let’s start with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. See, the reason it got reimagined might have something to do with the fact that in 1990 it actually had a live action movie, that was successful enough to spawn two sequels. If you were looking for something from that era to reboot as a live action movie, that one was a pretty good bet, especially after Transformers worked. And for Transformers, it was actually still running incarnations of the cartoons up until 2006 (the first movie was made in 2007). Oh, and it had a theatrical movie, too, which was poorly received at the time but has gone on to be a cult classic. So if you were going to try out a couple of old cartoons to turn them into modern movies, these were pretty good bets for having, you know, actually been movies at some point.

But it’s far more enlightening to look at what she left out. She left out the G.I. Joe movies, and since Transformers and G.I. Joe were both Hasbro products, it only makes sense that they’d try those two, and also explains what she finds inexplicable that the “Battleship” board game would get a movie before the “girl” movies she wants. And given that Hasbro is involved, we might want to ask about a Jem and the Holograms movie … except that it had one, which was poorly received, and so didn’t get a second movie even though they clearly planned for a sequel and even planned for a potential crossover with G.I. Joe and the Transformers, which was killed by how poorly the Jem movie did. Wonder why she left that one out. And she could have asked about “My Little Pony” … except that it got a theatrical release in 2017. Again, wonder why she left that one out. So far, her post is more noteworthy for what she ignores than for what she says.

So let’s look at her seven suggestions:

1. An HBO The Baby-Sitters Club mini-series

The original #girlbosses, Baby-Sitters Club is lowkey one of the most enduring feminist staples of girlhood. Long before Time’s Up made pay equity a central cultural conversation, these young entrepreneurs were making business plans and getting ****ing paid. Yes, there was a 1995 movie, but the time is ripe for a reboot (Hollywood loves those!). So we propose HBO takes this on to deliver a Big Little Lies for the younger generation.

I’ve heard of this series. I’m not sure how it would work on HBO, given that it’s not likely to be a deep or complicated story, and if they made it that way it would probably end up a lot like the Jem movie. And it also had a movie. Still, it’s hard to see this one working in the same way as Transformers or TMNT did, because Michael Bay took the source material and built a somewhat credible set of action movies out of it, which meant it had an audience beyond those who wanted to watch it out of nostalgia (and good thing, because Transformers, at least, for the most part ignored what made the original shows so interesting and so killed most people’s nostalgia anyway).

2. A live-action Sailor Moon franchise

Sailor Moon was the ’90s kid Saturday morning cartoon blast in the face of lady power. Aside from being a radical school girl who could turn into a magical goddamn moon princess, she also taught us about the enduring power of female friendship. We’re envisioning something that’s Sucker Punch levels of extra — only without all the gross male gaze-y bullshit.

I watched this show. I liked it (Sailor Mercury was my favourite). I think it would make a crap live action movie. First, because it was an anime, and unlike cartoons anime tends to stretch their storylines out over an entire season and so it’s hard to isolate a storyline that can fit nicely into one movie (and a planned trilogy can fall apart if it isn’t done right, like Jem and the Holograms) and second because it’s a magical girl story and I think that would be hard to pull off credibly in live action. I suspect that such a movie would turn into some kind of action movie a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I don’t think would please any audience that might be inclined to see it.

3. Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy

This Victorian-era fantasy trilogy is not only beautifully written, but one of the starkest YA portrayals of how girls must navigate complicated relationships to power, patriarchy, and friendship. We got pretty close to seeing them made into movies when Icon Productions licensed it in 2006. Then nothing happened… until the company recently relinquished the rights — leaving it totally open for grabs (are you listening, Warner Bros.?!)

The what now? I’ve never heard of this, and if you’re looking to get comparisons to Transformers and the like you’d think I’d have heard of it, having heard of the first two and Powerpuff Girls …

4. A feminist reboot of Life-Size

Who could forget Trya Banks’ acting debut in 2000 as a Barbie brought to life. But while the original Disney movie played Eve’s inability to perform Barbie’s many jobs (doctor, astronaut, lawyer, etc) for laughs, there’s a real metaphor there. There are endless possibilities in a feminist reboot that actually critiques the cultural messages we send young girls through marketing and toys. And, yeah, we know: a sequel was actually announced. But we want less made-for-TV Life-Size 2, and more of a wide theatrical release for Life-Size: The Reckoning.

Well, at least it being from 2000 explains why I’ve never heard of it … but it also doesn’t make it fit the sort of nostalgia narrative that the other series hit.

5. The Song of the Lioness series, or anything from the Tortall Universe

Wouldn’t you know it — here’s another beloved, classic female-oriented YA series that almost got made into a movie, and then didn’t. But for the love of god, if we can get an Eragon movie and two Percy Jackson movies made, then I think we can spare one measly Hollywood adaptation to Tamora Pierce. This book follows the story of Alanna of Trebond, a noble girl that disguises herself as a boy so she can train to become a knight.

Seriously: everyone wants this adapted, for too many reasons to count. Just call Maisie Williams and tell her to clear her schedule already.

I guess I’m not everyone, because I could care less. Mostly because I have no idea what it is or was. Then again, the same could be said for Eragon or Percy Jackson … but then I didn’t watch those either and they clearly don’t have the same cultural cache as the things she originally talked about.

6. A Daria movie that isn’t a joke

Do we even need to defend this? The fake College Humor trailer for a live-action Daria starring Aubrey Plaza basically did the work for us. And it feels like a sin that no one’s taken up the task of turning that dream into a reality. I mean, we can all agree that Daria is an icon for apathetic millennials everywhere, regardless of gender — right?

I’ve heard of Daria, watched it, liked it. Am not convinced that you can turn it into a movie, although a live action series could work. Still, it might be worth someone taking a stab at it, but on the other hand it’s not like anyone tried to do a reboot movie of Beavis and Butthead yet, either.

7. Skip the Bright sequel, and make Tithe instead

Bright already felt pretty much like a really bad, racist knock-off of Tithe, a well-respected YA novel that brought fairies into cityscapes. Holly Black’s Tithe didn’t originate the gritty urban fairytale genre, but it grounded it in girlhood experiences through protagonist Kaye Fierch. You can find Kaye struggling to reconcile with her musician mother’s unconventional lifestyle, while also dealing with hangovers from a night out partying with the faery folk in their (literal) underground bars. Think Lord of the Rings if it was dropped into the Gossip Girl universe (and a lot less reductive.)

The what now? I haven’t heard of either … and I’ve heard of “Sweet Valley High”.

Okay, what’s clear is that Joho is really simply posting a list of things she wants to see made into movies or TV series or whatever, but that don’t really have any kind of logical link to the male geek culture nostalgia movies and shows that have been made. While I think it intentional, the main reason to gripe about male geek culture being made is that she thinks that making arguments like that are more likely to get attention than simple arguments about how good this series would be if it was made into a movie. It also lets her hide behind the excuse of sexism if they don’t get made or if they are made and fail, without her ever having to admit that it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. So we can see that people are using the excuse of sexism to argue for personal preferences as opposed to things that really highlight sexism, ignoring things that would cast doubt on the sexism interpretation and hyping up the parts that neatly fit that narrative. This clutters the landscape and makes it hard for us to know when things are really sexist and when it’s just a result of personal preferences that aren’t shared by most people and so don’t have an audience. There’s no real consideration of who the audience might be or if that sort of thing can work. This results in people demanding that customers who are not interested in those things buy it anyway in the name of fighting sexism even though the intended audience itself won’t buy enough of it to make it work. This, of course, is very, very bad for any media that actually listens to them.

And remember, I liked some of these things, and still am wary about trying to find a way to give her what she wants (because I think we can’t). If she can’t appeal on the basis of there being enough of an intended audience to make that work, we should not let her get away with appealing to how important it is to women to do it.

Hostility …

March 23, 2018

Recently, Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels wrote a post talking about Russell Blackford’s and Jerry Coyne’s defenses of James Damore. What’s important about it is that she says this:

But this wasn’t a disinterested discussion at a think tank. It was a non-supervisory male employee writing up his unsolicited opinions on why there are fewer women than men in jobs like the ones at Google – in other words a contribution to a hostile work environment. It’s not just a matter of “oh my god this man’s valuable academic opinion on a completely random abstract subject has been suppressed!!” – it’s also a matter of person from favored group explaining to disfavored group that it’s disfavored because of its own psychological quirks, in the workplace.

The problem, though, is that Benson is ignoring that Damore didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to talk about this, or decided to use this method to put out a personal screed. At the time he wrote this — and, obviously, still today — there were lots and lots of discussions over the lack of women in the workplace and what could or should be done to get more women into the workplace. If the methods being proposed were based on a false idea of what women want, they wouldn’t have the appropriate impact and could be harmful. Damore’s main point was that instead of pushing for this sort of loose diversity, what they should do is refine the work and work environment to what it should be — which would mean changing some things that the “male-dominated” workforce had put in that weren’t necessary or good — and then let the chips fall where they may. So Damore’s memo was commenting on things that the company was trying to implement and replying to things that people at all levels of the company were talking about, and that he thought were factually incorrect and/or would cause harm to the company.

You don’t get to declare someone correcting or challenging your facts to be a hostile working environment.

I didn’t want to talk about this for fear of it looking like whining, but after reading this post it’s actually relevant. On a guest post there, Maureen Brian based an entire conclusion about men on a narrative describing Elevatorgate. A narrative that was, in fact, factually incorrect, because it said that men blew a fuse over Watson’s purportedly innocuous comment of “Guys don’t do that!” and used that to conclude that that happened because men didn’t want to deal with that small point, when the truth of the matter is that that didn’t happen at all. I made a long comment there — which, sure, I recognize could be annoying — and the only two comments on it was one from Screechy Monkey linking me to Gamergate for some reason, and Benson commenting on the length and, most importantly, asking this:

Also, boy is there anything we need more than a verbose relitigation of “guys don’t do that” a mere SEVEN YEARS later.

Well, if you don’t want people relitigating Elevatorgate, you might not want to use that as the basis for your arguments, and you especially might not want to do so with an incredibly misleading narrative. This leads to the first rule that everyone in any sort of discussion and argument needs to accept: if you bring something up, you have to expect that your opponents are going to talk about it. So if you want to talk about Elevatorgate and use your interpretation of that event to drive your argument, you have to expect that people who have a different interpretation will call you out on that, verbose or no. And if you want to talk about why there’s a lack of women in a workplace or field and advocate for measures based on your interpretation, you have to expect that people might question your interpretations and talk about that. And if you want to advocate for a specific philosophical view, even at times heatedly, you have to expect that people who disagree might do the same thing.

To be honest, this is where the focus on “feels” really makes its mark. While some may conclude that attempting to shut down opposing viewpoints is the point of making those claims, I don’t think that’s true for most of those who advocate for this. I think it is all about “feels”. If something makes them feel good and aligns with their view of the world, then no matter how verbose or distorted it is it’s perfectly fine, and anyone who dares say that it isn’t is just ignoring their “experience”. But if the speech makes them feel bad, then it’s hostile and dangerous, even if it merely expresses different views in the same manner and in the same places and follows the same rules as the things that make them feel good.

I think this is behind the defenses of “no-platforming”. P.Z. Myers recently linked to a post talking about “Free Speech Grifters”, and endorsed it and used it to endorse the “no-platforming” protests despite the post saying that the “no-platforming” tactics were a bad idea (which he never mentioned nor responded to in the comments). If you read the comments, there are a number of people saying that universities shouldn’t be allowing those in the first place because some students oppose it, despite the fact that some students oppose the liberal views that Myers and his commenters support and so would have the same right to disrupt events that they put on. The “no-platformed” speakers go through the same procedures to get access to university facilities as everyone else, and would potentially have the same sorts of security issues as liberal speakers if those who opposed liberal speakers would try to disrupt their speeches in the same way. But those ideas make them feel bad, so it’s okay to do whatever it takes to shut them up, while speakers that make them feel good should not only be allowed to speak, but have the right to speak. And we can see this when we look past the “Nazis”, but to a group that Benson, at least, thinks are being invalidly “no-platformed”, so-called TERFs. Trans activists think that TERFs create hostile environments, too, but Benson doesn’t think that that’s enough to stop them from expressing their ideas. But that’s all she needs to try to stop Damore from expressing his ideas as a reaction to expressed ideas in a forum designed for that sort of expression.

So when Benson says this:

But the point isn’t that the ideas “offend”; the point is that they can contribute to an environment perceived as hostile.

We can see that, no, the point really is that they offend, and offend a specific group, because all of the other factors are identical except for the fact that what those other people say offends them personally for whatever reason, while similar ideas that don’t offend them are just fine. After all, it can’t possibly contribute to an environment perceived as hostile if they don’t find it hostile, even if others do, right? I’m sure no feminist or liberal activist has ever said something so crazy.

No, that you are offended is the point, whether you see it or not. And that’s a bad criteria to use when determining what speech should get a platform, and one that can just as easily be turned on you when you express something that the powers-that-be find offensive, as Benson herself found out with the whole TERF thing. That she misses that fact when she approves of the speech is sad, but entirely in keeping with the mindset.

19 and I like it …

December 1, 2017

I really should stop, but it unfortunately has become a habit — and I still like Blue — and so I still read Sinfest, despite it currently being pretty much a comic dedicated to making dubious at best arguments supporting feminism. I also occasionally dip into the forums — to read, not to post — and a comment was raised on the thread about a comic talking about the future being female — whatever that means — that I wanted to talk about, because one part of it highlights some common issues with a lot of feminist arguments:

And for reference that concept of ‘Based on Merit’ is still part of the problem, ‘I shouldn’t lose out on a job that “I” am more qualified for because of some special government mandated program. ALL jobs should be based on the ‘MERIT’ of the individual applying, not their ‘categories’.’ If someone has had ALL the opportunites, all the benefits, and went from a 15 to a 19, and someone else started at a 4 and made it to a 17, by ‘MERIT’ the 19 is still better, regardless of the fact that the 17 worked longer, harder and though more **** to get where they are. But NO, because 19’s grades didn’t suffer because he didn’t need a second part time job to pay for University, he got the better Number and that’s all that should matter.

The only reason this seems like an attack on you, is because you feel like someone is trying to TAKE something that you EARNED, but how much have you EARNED? Did you EARN a safe neighborhood to live in? Did you EARN the protection of a Police Force, and the Safety of a Fire Department? Did you EARN a school filled with teachers willing to educate you towards a self sustaining future? Or were those things GIVEN to you by society? And how much of that was given to you by who you lucked into being born to?

First of all, from the perspective of a business, what they are interested is indeed the person who will be best at the job. If the 19 really is objectively better at the job than the 17 — presuming that this takes into account all relevant factors — then that’s who the company should hire. End of story. But what is missed here is that someone who has had to work harder to get where they are is almost certainly an objectively better employee, because they’ve both clearly had to develop a work ethic, and did so successfully. So instead of not hiring on the basis of “MERIT”, maybe we should include more things in our considerations of merit. And note that affirmative action programs, which seek to correct these purported imbalances, actually make things worse here, because the adjustments would mean that those people wouldn’t have to work as hard, and so would lose what should be an advantage.

Secondly, these distinctions don’t actually work for sex/gender like they might work for race. Girls grow up in the same neighbourhoods and with the same economic benefits as boys do, since girls and boys tend to be parts of the same family. So it’s rarely the case that women are disadvantaged economically with respect to boys, so they aren’t working a second part time job where a comparable boy isn’t. Where women are disadvantaged, especially today, is with respect to encouragement to enter into certain fields or to study certain subjects in school. They have the safe neighbourhoods, the police forces and fire departments, and generally teachers willing to educate them. At worst they have expectations that they need to overcome, both theirs and those of others, which is a completely different story.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly you can’t look at the race or gender of an applicant and determine that they had it harder than someone else did. I grew up in one of the poorest areas of my province. The school system, thus, used out-of-date materials and wasn’t incredibly well-equipped. It also was a rural area where, since the jobs were mostly manufacturing and labour, university schooling wasn’t encouraged for boys. I was the first to go to university or college on one side of my family and the first boy on the other side, and it took a specific guidance counselor at the school to convince my parents that this was a good idea. I was lucky enough to not have to work part-time jobs during the school year, but I did work every summer to earn my half of the costs (I paid for school related expenses, my parents paid for room and board). If you only looked at my race and gender, you could argue that I didn’t work as hard as a girl or black person who grew up in an upper class family where going to university was assumed and where all of their costs were paid by their parents, but that would be completely false. Thus, justifying any kind of affirmative action on the basis that the “minority” had to work harder or was disadvantaged with respect to the majority is basing that justification on utter falsehoods. You can argue that statistically it’s the case but all that means is that eventually, sooner or later, you will decide that someone who had all of the advantages in their life will be chosen over someone who had none and that person will be told that it was just or fair that you did so because they, despite having none of the advantages, actually had all of the advantages just because of their race or sex/gender.

This is where the objections to Bernie Sanders’ “Let’s fix poverty, which will help black people more than white people” derail, because if it is true that blacks are disproportionately poorer than whites then those programs will disproportionately help black people. Sure, there may be special issues around racism to deal with, but surely part of fixing poverty could then be seen to require addressing those issues. And even if it was a bad idea, it still wouldn’t apply to women, who do not disproportionately grow up in poverty with respect to men.

So, about Joss Whedon …

August 25, 2017

So, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, just recently wrote an article talking about how Joss Whedon is a hypocrite for claiming that he was a feminist while acting decidedly non-feminist in his marriage to her. Of course, something like this garners comment from pretty much all corners of the web, with both Vox Day and John Scalzi commenting on it, with Vox Day claiming that this is indicative of male feminists and Scalzi mostly claiming that he’s not like that. But the one that most inspired me to write this post is a video by Liana Kerzner, where she admittedly rants about the situation and then blames it all on Anita Sarkeesian. Since she’s been critical of Sarkeesian in the past, one’s first reaction might well be to tell her to lighten up a bit on Sarkeesian, because not everything is Sarkeesian’s fault. But she makes an interesting argument on the link that I think is worth exploring a bit.

Now, the issue here is that Whedon allegedly had a number of affairs while married to Cole, and hid them from her. And when she expressed concerns about how much time he was spending with attractive women, he allegedly insisted that he didn’t feel lust for them, but admired and respected them because his mother raised him as a feminist. This, of course, is what is triggering all of the complaints about Whedon’s hypocrisy about feminism, as it looks like he was using his purported feminism as a way to deflect criticism in this case and, perhaps, in many others.

Liana K’s argument is this, as best I understand it: the problem is that feminism like Anita Sarkeesian’s holds that any sort of sexual attraction on the part of men is in some sense wrong. And if all ways of thinking about sex with women are wrong, then all you have is, at best, a kind of continuum of wrong, with, say, looking at attractive women on one end and things like rape, sexual harassment and adultery on the other. But since this is a continuum, the lines get blurred. Instead of arguing whether the sexual action is right or wrong, you end up arguing over how bad the action is. But it’s wrong anyway. So being attracted to those young actresses and fans is only arguable a bit less wrong than sleeping with them. This makes it easier to rationalize away taking the arguably worse actions, by arguing that you’re already doing wrong, and this is just a bit more wrong.

I think that there’s a bit of a flaw in her argument, though, and I think it centres around, in fact, arguing strictly in terms of right and wrong, and particularly in not recognizing the idea of an action being understandable and yet still, in fact, wrong. What usually happens is that either people end up insisting that someone who succumbs to temptation is completely morally wrong, or they end up excusing them as not really having done anything wrong, because that’s a situation where most people would also succumb. And, to me, the real approach is to argue that you can understand why they failed and did the wrong thing — so they aren’t just an evil, immoral person — while insisting that, nevertheless, the action was still wrong and something that they definitely ought not have done, and ought not do in the future.

I see Whedon as being in that position. From the letter from him that Cole quoted from:

When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.

A lot of people are using this as a prime example of his attempts to shift the blame to the women instead of accepting it himself, including Liana K. The problem is … we should be able to see how this is, well, true. Once Whedon had wealth, power and influence in the entertainment business, he was going to attract a number of very attractive women who would want to sleep with him for various reasons, from being intoxicated by his fame and potentially his genius to hoping to influence him into helping their careers along. So suddenly he moved from being an average guy who those sorts of women wouldn’t look twice at to being a guy that they all in fact were aggressively pursuing, for whatever reason. It shouldn’t take any great feat of empathy or anything beyond simple reasoning to determine that this would be a very powerful temptation.

Let me relate to me personally here. I haven’t had a lot of success with women and women of that quality certainly wouldn’t have never have given me that sort of chance. And yet, years ago, a friend of mine who had just broken up with his girlfriend (because she cheated on him) that he had had trouble with the fact that at most events I attended with his girlfriend — we were on the same debating team in university — I spent a fair amount of time with his girlfriend — when he was busy doing other things — because I got along with her relatively well and she seemed to welcome the company. He pointed out that he figured that if I had wanted to sleep with her, I almost certainly could have. Which, I didn’t. And yet I have to concede that it would have been a temptation, not only because she was attractive, but because in terms of looks she pretty much hit my preferences, too.

I’d like to say that I made a heroic resistance to her charms, but truthfully if she was at all hinting at that I missed the signs, or at least it didn’t even cross my mind because she was dating my friend, and that tends to encourage me to, at least, not think of them that way (or at least, not seriously). And if she had been more direct, she would have certainly turned me off. But the point is that it would have been a strong temptation, and while I like to think that I could have resisted it, I’d have to concede that it wouldn’t have been easy.

So, by the same token, I’d like to think that if I was in Whedon’s position I would be able to resist inappropriate relationships, however that’s defined. But I have to concede that it wouldn’t be easy to resist that temptation. Thus, I can understand why Whedon found it overwhelming and in fact gave into that temptation, while still saying that what he did was wrong.

So I don’t buy that it’s this blurring of the rights and wrongs that’s the issue here. It’s not that he was confused about what was right or wrong here and was just shifting from the lesser wrong to the greater wrong, but instead was that he was giving in to a temptation that he seems to have known that he should resist and yet did it anyway.

Or, perhaps there was some of that. I think that feminist theory could indeed be adding something here, and that something is the idea of objectification. See, feminist theory drives its criticism of male sexuality on the notion of objectification, the idea that it reduces women to sexual objects and at that points stops treating them as people. And, thus, what makes a sexual action wrong is that objectification, and much of the feminist criticism focused on arguing that this is, in fact, what Whedon.

The problem is that the evidence doesn’t really support that idea. If Whedon was pulling the typical “casting couch” kind of relation, that might make sense, but it doesn’t really seem like that’s the case. Cole castigates him for both inappropriate sexual and emotional relationships, and the list includes friends and colleagues. It’s actually pretty reasonable to think that Whedon was in some sense seduced into thinking that his relationships didn’t really contradict his feminism because he didn’t objectify them, sticking to women that he respected and admired. As a potential example, imagine that one of his encounters was with a long-time collaborator, Felicia Day. Now I’m not saying that they did have an affair and not even insinuating it, just taking it as a good example that could have happened. Now, Felicia Day is attractive, but she’s also noted for having a unique personality that might attract some people, and Whedon has expressed how much he likes her personality in the past. It’d be pretty easy for him to justify his actions with her being willing and with him not just caring about her looks or her being needy, but instead liking her as a person, and then having sex with her out of that sort of connection. It would justify his claim that he didn’t lust after women, but instead “admired” them, because he admired and respected them for more than just their looks. So he wasn’t treating them as objects, and so was maintaining his feminism.

And, ironically, if he had been objectifying them the temptation might have been easier to resist. If the only thing he liked about them was their looks but found them annoying twits otherwise, all he would have had to do to avoid them was ignore them and never hang around with them, which if they were annoying enough would be easy. But if instead he found that he liked them and liked to be around them, that obvious move would be much, much harder, and he’d be more likely to try to rely on his own willpower which, then, failed.

So what I think we really need to recognize is that there is purely sexual attraction — which much feminist theory will consider objectification — and there is platonic respect and admiration and there is deeper love. No one should want to exchange the latter two for sexual attraction, but flashes of inappropriate sexual attraction are not a problem as long as they are not acted on. If you have those flashes, take them out and look at them for what they are, put them away, and find a way to ensure that they don’t make you act inappropriately. Too many people simply forgive them which risks them impacting future actions, and feminism demonizes them which stops people from looking at them and taking actions to limit the actions they can influence in the future, so instead they bury them deep down and repress them in the hopes that no one will find out how bad they are. Neither way is the right way to go.

Friendzoning Myths …

July 12, 2017

So, over at Everyday Feminism, there’s a post about 5 myths about Friendzones, or 5 reasons why we need to ditch the concept entirely, depending on what parts you believe. The problem is that it fundamentally misunderstands both the original concept and how it is used in its more recent and more combative form, and so all of the myths and recommendations are, well, at best wrong and at worst damaging.

Before getting into the purported myths/reasons, let me first talk a little bit about the friendzone concept itself. Originally, this concept was nothing more than describing someone — usually a man, since they have to in general do the approaching to start a relationship — who had wanted to be in a relationship with someone that they knew well and when they finally made that clear received the “Let’s just be friends” line. Thus, while it was always seen as a negative and as a rejection — which it was, at least for a romantic relationship — it wasn’t seen as something bad that women did to men. However, with the rise of MRA attitudes, the usage changed to focus on cases where a woman knew or ought to have known that a man was interested in her and yet “strung him along”, using that attraction to get him to treat her better than he would someone that he was just friends with and had no romantic interest in, while knowing that she was never going to actually date him. This often would have to rely on her just being flirty enough to make him think that he had a chance while never following through on any of it.

Now, the new connotation describes the vast minority of friendzone cases, and that this has become a prominent view of friendzoning reflects, I think, two things. The first is an overgeneralization of those cases; they exist, certainly, but most women aren’t really doing anything like that. The second is a bitter and angry reaction to what is perceived, in general, as women using sexual attraction to get things that they don’t really deserve, often by — it is claimed — misrepresenting themselves and the situations. This also applies to “Fake Geek Girls” — women who are not really interested in geeks or geek hobbies but who can get a lot of attention being an even moderately attractive woman in those areas — and “White Knights”. Now, in all of these cases there are indeed examples where that happens, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as the new concepts make it appear.

Thus, friendzoning as a concept ought to be considered in its original form: someone who wants a relationship with someone beyond friendship who is told that friendship is as far as the relationship will go.

I want to start with her fourth point here, to highlight why the concept is still valid and something that we need to address with more than platitudes:

When say people are ‘friendzoned’ it communicates the idea that they can’t escape being seen in a certain light. In other words, it implies that relationships don’t change – that once you are viewed as a platonic friend, you can’t be viewed as a potential partner.

But friendship doesn’t inherently prevent different relationships from developing further along the line. In fact, I’d argue that friendship is the best basis for romantic and sexual relationships.

This advice is precisely the reason why the friendzone exists and can be so devastating for both sides. The common relationship advice — generally from women — is that if you want to get into a relationship in general and into a relationship with someone in particular, the best way is to become “Friends first”, and then transition that into a romantic relationship. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that many women then call out as indicating that the man wasn’t actually interested in friendship, but was only interested in having sex with them, and so that makes him bad, somehow. Somehow, doing the commonly given advice for getting into a relationship makes them a bad person if it doesn’t succeed.

And the fact is that unless the person you have become friends with was either attracted to you originally and so was playing the “Friends to relationship” game, too, converting a friendship to a romantic relationship isn’t actually all that easy to do. Yes, it happens. Yes, sometimes people will be friends with someone and suddenly realize that they find them attractive or that they would make a good relationship partner. But in general if you start a friendship with someone that you aren’t interested in a relationship with you are far more likely to simply settle into that sort of relationship, and so if they ever make it clear that they are interested in you for more than that your initial reaction is going to be that, well, you aren’t interested in them that way. Because you, in fact, actually aren’t.

And here is where the PUA mindset actually works better. What they insist on is that you don’t do the “Friends first” approach, but that if you want a sexual relationship you start from the idea that that’s what you want. And this works out so much better because from the start he’s making his desires clear — so there’s no feeling that he was hiding that under just wanting to be friends — and she can make it clear from the start whether or not she thinks it possible. Now, since people are people nothing is set in stone and things can change — either way — but starting from what is desired makes everything a lot better. In fact, I propose that what we should be starting from is essentially “I find you attractive enough to actually date, so let’s start with casual dating to see if that still holds and if the personalities match”. And if that’s the attitude we have, then if it doesn’t work out the implication between two nice and reasonable people is “It didn’t work out because our personalities don’t align enough for a relationship”. And then that can move to friendship if that works out.

But pushing the “The best way to get a relationship is to start as friends!” line only fosters all of the things that made people bitter and angry over the friendzone in the first place. And this leads me to the second point I want to address, which is her fifth one:

Myth #5: If You’re In Love with Someone Who Doesn’t Return Your Affections, You Will Be Unhappy

Which also dovetails with her third point:

The idea of the friendzone implies that being friends with someone is inferior to dating or sleeping with someone. It implies that friendship is punishment, or at least, that it’s not as desirable as a romantic and/or sexual relationship.

The thing is, if you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends, that’s hard. First, it is a rejection. Second, one of the examples that is constantly given of how this is hard is the woman who complains that she can’t find any decent men to date … to the guy she friendzoned in order to date all of those men who are not “decent”. How should that guy feel there? While this also applies to women, too, at least in general she could console herself with the societal impression that most men are shallow and that it’s just that she isn’t attractive enough — which is cold comfort, I know, but at least she can blame him for that — while for a man in this situation since women traditionally aren’t supposed to be that shallow it has to be a judgement of him as a person. And we see this with the comments that someone who actually tries the “Friends first” approach isn’t really a “Nice Guy”, and so her dating jerks is really her dating the better people … which then would lead to the question of why she ever wanted to be friends with him in the first place.

The fact is that if you want a romantic relationship with someone, being friends with them is, in fact, an inferior relationship. The inverse is also true, but we don’t talk about that because, outside of arranged marriages and the like it never happens. Thus, a someone relegated to the friendzone might, for various reasons, find the friendship too difficult for them and decide to bow out of the friendship. And that’s perfectly acceptable. And if they do stay, we have to recognize that keeping the friendship up is hard for them, in a way that it isn’t hard for the friendzoner, unless that person keeps thinking of them as someone who is primarily interested in them for a relationship and so isn’t really a friend. Keeping the friendzone concept in its original form allows us to recognize this without insisting that the friendzonee just isn’t, in fact, a true friend merely because they are interested in more.

Which then leads to comments on what nice people should have:

Myth #1: Nice Men Deserve to Be with The Women They Desire

To return to the first point, if a man is nice and is following the accepted social rules, then he should have a better than average chance of getting the relationships he desires, just as a woman who does the same ought to. But the accepted social rule of “Friends first” actually gives him less of a chance at succeeding. Thus, those men who are less “nice” have more success, not because they are better or more deserving, but instead because they start from the context of a relationship and if that isn’t forthcoming move on to the next candidate. On the other hand, the “Nice Guys” who are trying to not come across as being primarily interested in sex and are trying to follow the social rules so that they make her more comfortable and don’t risk offending her spend a lot of time chasing people who aren’t and would never be interested in that sort of relationship with them.

So I want to keep the original friendzone concept to say “If you follow the ‘Friends first’ approach, you are likely to end up in the ‘friendzone’, where they see you only as a friend while you are interested in something more. If you are, in fact, interested in something more it is far better to just approach with that in mind.”

Let me wrap up with how the misunderstanding of the friendzone impacts her most Social Justice point, the second one which is the idea that is is heterosexist. She describes a friendship she has with a male friend of hers:

I have a really close male friend who I love and appreciate dearly. A few years ago, a couple of our friends teased us, saying that we were a textbook example of the ‘friendzone’ in action.

In reality, neither of us wanted a committed romantic relationship with one another. But because of the common idea of the friendzone, people simply assumed that my male friend wanted a sexual and romantic relationship with me.

Something our friends didn’t know at the time was that he’s asexual – he experiences very little, if any, sexual attraction to people. He did not have the capacity to be sexually attracted to me, even though our friends assumed he did.

The thing is … that’s not a case of the friendzone. Not because he’s asexual, but because neither of them are interested in a relationship with the other person. Yes, it’s a problem to simply assume it because one person is a woman and another is a man, but it might not have been an assumption and might have been based on how they acted towards each other. So example, did she act flirty towards him while making it relatively clear that they were just friends? That starts to fall into the deliberate friendzoning thing that I mentioned above which is what she claimed her friends teased her about. Maybe it’s not a heterosexist assumption, but instead an assumption based on how they interact.

Look, we do need to understand that people who might be of the appropriate genders or whatever for a relationship might not want one with each other. I myself have had cases where I got along well with someone, found her attractive, and yet figured that our personalities didn’t work for a relationship. Understanding that this happens is important, but the original concept of friendzone allows for that, as it only applies in the case where one person wants a relationship and the other person doesn’t. Thus if we follow that we can easily deal with these situations by pointing out that neither is interested in anything more, for whatever reason that actually is. Then, any “teasing” is either teasing in recognition that it doesn’t actually apply, or teasing on the basis that one of the parties might not be being honest about that. Which cycles back to “if you’re interested, be direct about that”.

Ultimately, the friendzone concept has to exist because it’s a thing that happens. Even the really negative and exploitative example happens in the real world. We need to avoid overgeneralizing the cases and need to stop assuming that any friendship between people who might be interested in each other is one of these, but it happens and we need to address it, and address the way the social rules actually create these situations. Because no matter what people assert, being in the friendzone is not fun. People might be able to take it, but it’s not going to be what they really want, and it works out badly for friendzoner and friendzonee, and so we need to find ways to minimize the instances and minimize the pain this causes. Abandoning the concept is not going to help with that one bit.

Pay Gap Myths

March 24, 2017

Stephanie Zvan is talking about what she calls the “Myth of the Pay Gap Myth”. Essentially, a number of people have commented that when we actually run the numbers, we reveal that the long-standing feminist talking point of the “Pay Gap” is revealed to be a myth. The purpose of Zvan’s post is to argue that the stance that the Pay Gap is a myth is, in fact, a myth itself, and thus the Pay Gap is real.

In order to assess this, I think we need to untangle the various positions wrt the Pay Gap. The classic Pay Gap is the idea that women are paid less for doing the same work as men. Which has thus led to the common slogan of “Equal pay for equal work”. This implies — and many of the personal anecdotes have specifically claimed — that if you have a man and a woman working the same job and the same hours with the same experience, the woman will be paid dramatically less. Thus, when we get claims like “Women only make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men!” the context implies that this is true for that case; a woman can be doing exactly what a man can be doing and be paid 23 cents on the dollar less, on average, than him.

This was always a suspect notion, as many pay equity claims, in order to make their case and attempt to bridge the Pay Gap, had to do so not through anti-discrimination measures, but through reclassification of fields into “equivalent” fields, where arguably the female-dominated field was the same as the male dominated field but was paid less only because it was female-dominated. This immediately raises suspicions that if you have a man and a woman working the exact same job the Pay Gap isn’t all that significant. And the latest charges — as seen in the quotes in Zvan’s article — are attacking this notion, pointing out that when you do compare men and women working the same job, same hours and with the same experience and performance the difference shrinks to almost nothing.

Zvan concedes this part, and this to me seems sufficient to make a claim that the Pay Gap, as outlined above, is indeed a myth. What Zvan is going after is a possible implication of that, which is that therefore the main reason for the gap in salaries is due to the choices of men and women, and that therefore there is no systemic discrimination to deal with. But at least here we can conclude that any solution that is based on assuming that companies pay men and women different amounts just because they are men and women is a non-starter, because that’s not the problem. As we shall see, the big difference here is going to be over social expectations, not over explicitly sexist policies.

While Zvan lists a number of things that impede the progress of women in the workplace at the end of the post, the two big things she will focus on are the impact of a lack of flexible schedules and of rewarding working overtime on the issue. Thus, to make her case, Zvan needs to both show that women have no real choice with regards to those aspects and that those aspects aren’t legitimately better for business, which she will somewhat attempt to do, in a bit of a haphazard manner, which makes it really difficult to organize my response. I’ll start with the idea that this isn’t a choice for women, and then work into if these things are a legitimate business requirement after that. This means I’ll likely jump around a bit in her post, which hopefully won’t be too confusing.

Zvan, as it turns out, won’t really make a case that allowing flexible work schedules is a huge boon to businesses, but she will focus on demonstrating that requiring a more flexible work schedule is a need and not a choice for women:

First, even though women work fewer paid hours than men, they work the same number of hours overall. The reason women more frequently require constrained work weeks and more flexibility in their schedules is that they do the bulk of the unpaid work that makes our society run, particularly caregiving, both for children and for other adults.

Zvan uses a study of the relationships talking about parental leave — mostly after childbirth — and the differences in the pay impacts of those countries, summarizing it this way:

At first glance, European results would seem to suggest a preference for childcare over other types of work in women. These subsidies sometimes worsen wage disparity by increasing the amount of time women spend outside the labor market (pdf). In Sweden, however, some of that subsidy can only be received as paternal leave. This helps men overcome the stigma of taking time off work, childcare labor is more evenly shared, and the contribution of childcare to pay inequities is eliminated.

This seems to overstate the case a bit, as while pushing for quotas on parental leave that has to be taken by the father seems to have had an impact, it’s not equal enough or had been going on long enough to indicate that the childcare part of pay inequities has been eliminated (even in the study, there’s a lot of “may” language around there). But despite the rather underwhelming empirical evidence — again, even the study doesn’t want to say that this is really the case — the underlying argument is sound: if being on call all hours of the day and working more hours is seen as a benefit to an employer, women who face more pressure to take care of children and of the family as a whole are not going to be able to do that. Thus, they will be at least seen as less valuable to their employer and won’t get the raises assigned to those who show greater loyalty or even who can put in the hours to develop themselves or jump on big opportunities that require the extra time. And it is certainly reasonable to say that women feel far greater pressure to look after the personal family matters than men do. Some of this is due to societal pressure based on the old patriarchal expectations, and some of it is just a result of the fact that women tend to be the person in the relationship with the lower salary and so it is more reasonable for them to risk their job or salary advancement than it is for the man, which comes both from the “Pay Gap” and also from the social tendency that finds it more acceptable for a woman to marry a man who makes more than she does than the inverse.

But as we saw last week these social pressures also have an impact on men. While women will feel more pressure to pick up that unpaid labour, men will feel more pressure to maximize and maximize the worth of their paid labour. Thus, if a situation comes up where there is a choice between, say, putting one’s family responsibilities aside for something that will improve their perception — and thus future pay — at work, women will feel strong social pressure to focus on the family responsibilities and pass on the employment opportunities while men will feel strong social pressure to take up the employment opportunity at the expense of their family responsibilities. In short, we allow the excuse of “I had to work” more for men than we do for women, but it’s also seen as more acceptable if a woman says “I had to look after the children” than it is for men (although that is changing).

Thus, when it comes to choice, neither men and women really have choices here. Well, of course, in a sense they do, but they both face strong and diametrically opposed social pressures wrt them. Men, as the presumptive primary provider, will always face pressure to take a job that maximizes their earning potential, which means that they will always tend to put earning potential ahead of any other factor. Thus, as long as they are capable of doing it, men will make choices to maximize that potential no matter how many hours they have to work or how crappy the job is. Yes, there are differing levels of motivation and cost/benefit associations, but in general men are socially conditioned to lean to the side of making more money and getting a better and more stable job. Even with the feminist influence on society, the same is not true for women. The strongest feminist motivation for higher wages and higher paying jobs is essentially a “I’ll show them!” motivation, proving that she is as good or better than the men she works with. This isn’t a motivation that, I think, can motivate most people; most people just want a good life and don’t care that much about proving themselves to others except when it comes down to direct confrontation. The other motivation is for a fulfilling job, but for that the qualities of the job beyond simple pay are a more important factor. If the job is too demanding, then it isn’t fulfilling, and women have little reason to accept an unfulfilling job just because it happens to pay more.

Ironically, this distinction might mean that the insistence on the constant discussion of the points Zvan makes at the end actually makes things worse for the pay gap. Men are more likely to accept worse consequences — even to the point of having to fight discrimination — in order to get more pay, while women are less likely to do so. So men, arguably, are more willing to fight through discrimination as long as they believe that they can succeed in order to get a higher paying job than women are. So if one constantly says that there is a terrible amount of sexism and harassment in a field, this will discourage women from going into that field even if they, in actuality, could easily handle that level of sexism and harassment. They have less of an external motive for going into in anyway than men do. When it comes to racial discrimination, it seems to me that a big factor there is that many people who might face racial discrimination in certain fields think that it will be so strong that they simply won’t be able to succeed, and so they settle for the highest paying job they think they can get. But if those men thought they could achieve it, they would be willing to face more problems in order to do so.

Thus, the social pressures push men and women apart on the overall average pay scale, as men feel social pressure to maximize pay while women feel social pressure to, at least, minimize the impact their job has on their family responsibilities. Both need to be addressed, and while arguably forcing men to take parental leave can work to break that up, that can have other issues, including ones of practicality. But it is clear that if women are to be said to not really have choices in that regard, neither do men.

Okay, so finally let’s look at whether these companies are, in fact, really reasonable in asking for the main things Zvan focuses on and thus rewarding people who are willing to do it over those who aren’t, because if they are being reasonable then one of the big thrusts of her post is lost. Again, she doesn’t really argue that for flexible work schedules, but she does try to argue that overtime isn’t actually a benefit. She starts by characterizing why employers are pushing for overtime more lately:

Let’s look at the math. If you’re an employer who offers decent benefits, those benefits typically cost roughly the same as your direct payment for labor. In other words, a $20 hourly pay rate actually costs you $40 an hour. But benefit costs don’t grow much with additional time worked. Hours of time-and-a-half overtime at $30 look like a steal when you compare them to hiring another employee at $40 for each regular-time hour.

The first thing to note about this is that it has the implication that one of the best ways to eliminate this part of the gap is to look at how much benefits cost. If we could reduce the cost of benefits — or even offer less — then this wouldn’t be seen as being cost-effective anymore, and they’d just hire more people. So perhaps the real problem is that benefits are too generous for how much they cost, encouraging employers to find ways around that, including paying overtime which starts at time and a half.

The second thing to note is that this ignores the previously stated point that workers who work more overtime and are willing to work less flexible schedules get paid more in terms of base salary than those who won’t. Her own source insists that for salaried employees this can be in the range of twice as much. At that rate, Zvan’s argument that they are trying to save money by not hiring someone seems a little shaky. And this is the key to her argument, as she concludes:

If long hours happen often enough in your business to treat working them as critical, it’s time to hire more employees.

So we need to examine if the solution to most of the overtime seems to be, in fact, simply to hire more people.

So let’s start with manufacturing jobs. Most of them are shift work — and unionized — and so both flexible schedules and overtime pay gets complicated. Since much of the work is dependent on the operations of the entire factory, it’s not possible for someone to, say, show up at 5 and leave at 2. At 5, they’d either be joining the previous shift or, if it is the downtime between shifts, standing around doing very little. This also holds if they want to work a little overtime, as coming in at 5 and then trying to work until 7 to get 4 hours overtime in a day isn’t going to be, at least in general, very cost effective for the company. So the most cost effective way for a company to use overtime to replace hiring another employee would be to have them work two shifts in a day instead of just one. But to do that, you either need to have someone who can do that constantly over the long haul or you need to try to do that for an entire shift. Neither really works. So instead, manufacturing overtime, in my experience, has been either for jobs that are mostly independent — where you have two or so people who can work on their own without relying on anyone else and both are willing to work overtime — or as temporary replacements on later shifts — when people can’t come in or someone suddenly quits — or for things that need to be done but that can’t be done while things are running, like maintenance. None of these are things that you can easily hire someone else to do, since they won’t be full-time positions or will be only limited positions … or both.

But what about service jobs, like wait staff, fast food, or department stores? Well, the good news here is that these jobs tend to have more “shifts” available, and so tend to have more flexible hours. You can’t come in to work too long before the store or restaurant opens, but the stores don’t tend to have such long shifts and so someone can work as long as the place is open. The problem for Zvan’s argument here is that that flexibility lends itself greatly to part-time work, and as far as I know both in the United States and in Canada — as well as in a number of places around the world — the benefit requirements are lower for part-time workers than they are for full-time workers. Thus — and we’ve seen this in these sorts of jobs over and over again — the most cost effective way is to replace full-time workers with part-time workers, not demand overtime. Thus, the only time a company will push for overtime in these cases is for particularly important workers or particularly important times, such as having your experienced person in the department around longer so that they can answer the questions of customers and tell each employee as they come on shift what needs to be done, or to work a few extra hours because the busy time is constantly a couple of hours what would be a reasonable leaving time. Again, neither of these cases are ones where you can simply hire someone else to step in when the other person has to leave.

Also, it is interesting to note that in my experience, at least in Canada, companies don’t seem to be doing this. Instead, they tend to be simply not having people on staff in the off-hours. As someone who tends to try to arrive for opening almost everywhere I go, I tend to see departments or cashes having no one working at them, even when it would be useful for them to have someone there in order to make sales. “Just hire someone” doesn’t seem to be workable and they, at least, don’t seem to feel that they lose enough business to bother staffing those areas, with overtime employees or not.

So, what about salaried employees? That’s the focus of Zvan’s source here, but it doesn’t seem to work either. The problem is that salaried employees tend to be judged on productivity rather than on hours worked. In general, there are a number of things that need to get done by a certain time, and they don’t really care how many hours you work as long as those things get done. In software design, this is always a number of “features” that the company has either promised to customers or that they feel they need to make sales. If you can get them done without working overtime, great, but if you need overtime to get them done and working with few enough bugs then that’s what’s “expected”. In Canada, they aren’t actually allowed to ask you to work overtime — since you don’t get paid for it — but they are allowed to note that you didn’t get your work done on your performance review. And a lot of the time this overtime is pushed either by market pressures or by things just not working out the way you’d expect. But hiring someone else isn’t always an answer. You can’t claim that adding one person to a feature will reduce the time it takes to complete it by that person’s person hours because software design doesn’t work that way. And sometimes you don’t need another full-time person, but you just need a few more hours a week to catch up on it. Hiring a full-time person for that job doesn’t work. In addition, it may be the case that there is specific knowledge required to do those things effectively, knowledge that a new person won’t have.

It seems to me that most of the salaried positions are like that, but there are exceptions. The one I constantly hear about is nursing, where hospitals and the like are understaffed. But in these cases, the issue is not that they can’t handle adding a salary and benefits, but that there is no room in the budget to add another salary, making Zvan’s argument irrelevant to them.

While there are likely some cases where businesses say that they can save the benefits by getting someone to work overtime rather than hiring someone else, I can’t see that as being the major driving factor behind the increase in overtime, and Zvan provides no evidence that this is indeed the main factor beyond a shaky argument. But even if we accept all of Zvan’s comments that it is this cost analysis that is driving this and that it is wrong because it doesn’t include the loss of productivity of workers working overtime, we can still ask if an employee who is willing to do this when necessary is more valuable than an employee who isn’t and thus should be paid accordingly? After all, even if we accept Zvan’s reasoning there will always be situations where overtime would be necessary or beneficial to the company, and so should we reward employees whose schedules are more flexible to the company’s needs and who can work more hours when required more than those who can’t? Are these employees really more valuable to the company?

Well, given that, it seems obvious that they are. Even if they aren’t regularly working more hours, and even if they regularly take advantage of flexible work schedules, an employee who can shift their schedule when required or who can work more hours when required is a more valuable employee, all other things being equal. They can fill in when someone gets sick or can’t come in. They can get more things done. They have an easier time arranging things so that they can attend important meetings or meet with important customers or fix something to get a customer up and running at a critical time. Yes, flexible working hours are a benefit for employees but a flexible employee is a benefit for customers. So while we can argue over specific uses/demands for inflexible work schedules and overtime, in general an employee willing to work inflexible work schedules and overtime when required is the more valuable employee. So companies, it seems to me, are doing right to reward those employees who are willing to and able to do that; the only debate here is over whether companies ought to be encouraging/asking for it as often as they are, which is another discussion.

So, in summary, the idea that men and women working the same job with the same experience get paid significantly differently is indeed a myth. However, there are a host of social pressures working on men and women that encourage men to put in the time and effort to maximize their pay while encouraging women to minimize the impact their jobs have on their family life. These social pressures are, indeed, probably the biggest factor driving the overall difference in take-home pay between men and women, and neither men nor women have any greater choice due to those social factors. So it is indeed far too simplistic to ascribe this gap to simple “choice”, but also too simple to ascribe it to simple “sexism”, where that only looks at the responsibilities of women. In order to solve this, we need to solve the idea that the main contribution of men to the household is their salary and that the woman’s salary is secondary to her family responsibilities. Until we do that, the choices will still be made the same way and the gap will never close.

Female Privilege …

March 17, 2017

So, let me shift for a bit to discussions of feminism, specifically by looking at this post from Everyday Feminism about female privilege by Nikita Redkar. As you might have guessed, the author is going to try to argue against the idea of female privilege by listing 7 examples of what are claimed to be examples of female privilege and showing that they aren’t really. But let’s start with what she thinks is the key thing to consider when determining if something counts as privilege:

Yet unlike male privilege, “female privilege” corners women into benefiting from a much smaller, domestic sphere, rather than the system at large.

When people refer to “female privilege,” they’re likely referring to the positive counterpart of a male non-privilege. It’s definitely true that men experience social injustices – nobody’s lives are perfect. But a lot of these non-privileges – such as expecting men to stifle emotions or providing for families – aren’t indicative of female privilege because women are not inherently benefiting from what men are disadvantaged by.

The problem is that when you try to apply that definition to examples of “male privilege”, it doesn’t seem to hold water either … or, at least it will only work in a way that applies to her examples of female privilege, too. From my understanding, for something to be socially privilege, it has to be systemic, certainly. But being “systemic” doesn’t mean that the benefit applies in all parts of the system, but merely that it is created and enforced by the system itself. After all, benefits for things like presumption of being career-minded or focused on the provider actually do disadvantage men in the domestic sphere — as that is what the arguments for “female privilege” explicitly assert — which is surely part of a patriarchal system. Additionally, the presumption that a man is going to be the breadwinner which would give them advantages in getting a job doesn’t necessarily hurt women as a group; in fact, if that man is married then it will certainly benefit that woman if she would rather stay at home with the children and not be the breadwinner. Moreover, a privilege can easily be seen as something that men or women get because they are men or women that is not available to the other gender, simply based on gender, which then would remove the requirement that the privilege must disadvantage men specifically at all. A privilege can be a benefit that one gender gets that the other doesn’t or a disadvantage that one gender has to face that the other doesn’t. The symmetry proposed here doesn’t seem valid.

And the main issue is that I think that “privilege” causes issues and doesn’t make sense in a social context, because those who talk about privilege in reference to patriarchy are incorrect about what patriarchy actually is. Patriarchy was not a system where men subjugated women, but instead a system where men and women were pushed into strictly defined roles based on their gender. If your natural personality and talents lended themselves to being good at and happy in that role, then things were great. If they weren’t, then things were terrible. Most of the privileges — both “male” and “female” — tend to work out precisely that way: if that’s what you want, it’s great, but if it isn’t, then it is very hard to do anything else.

So let’s see how this plays out in the seven examples:

1. Women Receive Chivalry – And Therefore, Free Dinners, Open Doors, and More

The author concedes that these things are benefits, but doesn’t agree that this means that this is female privilege.

But are free drinks and open doors benefitting women in society, as real privileges? They’re not hurting, but they’re not helping either.

The pampering part of chivalry can verge on being unsolicited, which actually means the social constructs women supposedly enjoy are really just positive encouragement for men.

It views women as unequal – either as weaker or placed too high on a pedestal – and men who treat them as such might be expecting to be rewarded for their gentleman-like manners.

I’m not sure how a societal expectation that men are expected to provide these benefits unsolicited can mean that it’s not privilege. Presumably if a benefit is conferred upon you unasked as if it was simply your due right is more a privilege than one that you have to ask for. The best Redkar can do here is argue that if women don’t have to ask for it, then they may not want it, and so it wouldn’t be a benefit to that woman. But if a man has no interest in being ambitious but is offered a position in some school club on the basis that they presume that they’d use it to pad their resume, that would also not be a benefit to that man and yet would still be considered an example of male privilege.

As for the reward, this ties into the overall idea of dating as a whole. Men are expected to prove their worth to women with things like dinners, arranging an interesting date, and so on and so forth. Based on this, the woman selects the man who can provide her with the material goods she wants and also can give her an interesting life. This is crucial in patriarchy because women cannot get those things for themselves. So this sort of structure is required to allow men and women to fulfill their specific roles: men are encouraged to provide for themselves, but are then required to provide for women, while women are constrained from providing for themselves but then if a man wants to fulfill his requirement he has to demonstrate to a woman that he can, indeed, provide what she wants or needs. Sure, in practice things didn’t work out this smoothly, but it didn’t work out smoothly on both sides of the ledger, with women having little choice in provider and some men having little choice but to take positions that didn’t make them happy or get them what they wanted. But again this is a reflection of men and women being boxed into constraining gender roles.

Also, it is interesting that Redkar leaves out one of the more prevalent examples of chivalry: the idea that men should risk their lives to protect the lives of women. The earliest chivalric romances have men taking on evil knights that have killed or maimed many other men in order to free a woman from captivity and thus win her hand. Even today, if a man and a woman are walking and are attacked, the man is expected to at least stay and fight them off long enough for her to get away and — hopefully — get help. Being able to expect the members of the other gender to risk their lives for yours seems like a pretty strong benefit to me, and is clearly enforced through the underlying social mechanisms of patriarchy. They are, therefore, just as systemic as the expectation that women don’t care as much or need jobs as much as men do.

2. Women Are Under No Pressure to Provide for the Family – Unlike Men

So are women who aren’t under pressure to provide benefiting at the expense of men? Nope, still no dice.

It turns out the very “privilege” of being apathetic about a career is what hurts career-driven women. The patriarchal expectation of men providing for the family is reciprocated by women caring for the children and household.

I don’t see how her comment means that this doesn’t count as “privilege”. As pointed out above, this is just the dual nature of the patriarchal gender roles. Men are presumed to be the provider, and so are expected to provide, and because they are expected to do that they are given preference in the areas they need to fulfill that role. On the flip side, women are presumed to be caring for the children and the household, and so get preference in those areas. Redkar’s sixth point is about women getting preference in getting custody of their children in the case of a divorce, a preference that follows precisely from women being seen as caring for the children. If a man would rather raise the children than provide, he faces social pressure, and if a woman wants to be the provider rather than raise the children, she faces social pressure. So they definitely seem pretty complementary to me, so much so that I can’t see how to argue that this is not female privilege while maintaining the equivalent male privilege.

The influence of feminism, however, adds another wrinkle to this, in that a woman can choose to focus on her career without also taking on the expectation of being the main provider. Feminism has long advocated for women to care more about their careers because it is better for the women if they do — it will leave them better off financially in the case of a divorce and can provide fulfillment — but hasn’t advocated for women to take on or even share the burden of being the provider. Thus, if a woman’s career stagnates, or she decides she hates it and wants to take on something else, she doesn’t face any stigma of risking her family for those choices like a man would. If both are working and both lose their jobs, that will be seen as a failure for him and not for her. While it may be a struggle, women at least have the benefit of being able to aim for what they want to do without facing social stigma over it, while men are constantly challenged to take the jobs that best provide for their family, even if they don’t want those jobs.

3. On That Note, If Women Don’t Feel Like Working, They Can Just Marry Rich

Assuming a woman can throw in the towel at a moment’s notice and marry a rich partner is an incredibly sexist assumption.

Not only does it endorse an odd reality in which rich men are available in endless quantities and for marriage on-demand, but it also caters to politics of desire, something not all women can benefit from.

So no, the answer to workplace discrimination or unequal pay isn’t to marry a richer spouse.

But that’s not what the privilege is claimed to be. It is essentially the same as the one above: a woman who wants to aspire to being the wife of someone who can provide for them without providing any direct income to the relationship does not face as much social disapproval as a man in the same situation. That doesn’t require them to find a very rich man, but only someone who makes enough to support the family without her having to work. Since the expectation under patriarchy is that men will strive to be able to do that, there are far more choices out there than Redkar accepts.

Redkar’s response here strikes me as unresponsive. It’s too shallow to work as an argument that women don’t actually have that benefit, but doesn’t address the underlying argument for this being a benefit women get due to their gender.

4. Women Are Accepted as Emotional Beings

This instance is yet another example of how the patriarchy chastises men for showing signs of weakness – or, in other words, acting like a woman.

The very phrases of “man up” and “take it like a man” may as well just say, “Don’t be like a woman!”

Men are taught from an early age that women are weaker and emotional, and that so much as a teardrop will chip away at masculinity. It’s an unfair burden for men to cage emotions, but it’s also done at the expense of women.

By viewing an open acceptance of women’s emotions as a “privilege,” it only reinforces women as being a lesser gender and placing an inhuman hardship on a very fragile male ego.

This point would work if it wasn’t the case that women are also chastised for being too much like men under patriarchy. While comments like “the weaker sex” permeated patriarchy, underneath it all men were not supposed to act like women and women were not supposed to act like men. Sticking things like ambition into the male side restricts women who are ambitious, but sticking emotion into the female side restricts men who need to show emotion. And arguably the latter is worse because psychologically men are forced to address emotional issues in very unhealthy ways. That women are indeed allowed and even encouraged to show emotion benefits them in the situations where that is a good thing just as men being allowed and encouraged to be ambitious benefits them in those circumstances. Again, it is hard to see how to deny emotion as a female privilege without also denying ambition as a male privilege.

5. Women Have a Higher Chance of Getting Accepted into College

But are women getting accepted into colleges at the expense of men? Not necessarily.

In the past fifty years, women have begun to take over jobs traditionally held by men: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialized career paths that require the successful attainment of a college degree.

At the same time, women are also dominating the fields of jobs traditionally considered “female”: teachers, nurses, administrative assistants, and so on.

Elisa Olivieri, PhD, concluded this notion of why women outnumber men in colleges: Jobs seen as “manly” – namely, manual labor jobs – don’t require college degrees. “Feminine” jobs like nursing and teaching, on the other hand, do.

Olivieri calculated that the biggest obstacle keeping men out of college may just be society’s stigma against gendered jobs.

This is actually a privilege added directly by feminism. Feminism has pushed for and made it more acceptable for women to entire traditionally male fields. However, they have done little to make it acceptable for men to enter traditionally female fields, and has possibly even indirectly increased the stigma towards them by pushing women to enter the male jobs that were considered “superior”, maintaining the “superior/inferior” divide between male and female jobs. As such, women are free to select from all of the college offerings without excessive stigma, while men are not. As our economy shifts towards skilled and educated labour as opposed to manual labour, this hurts the economic ability of men … while they are still expected to be the main provider for a family. The ability to enter any career that strikes your fancy no matter whether it is seen as traditional or not is clearly a benefit, and follows from the old patriarchal divisions that feminism removed for women — or, at least, works hard to remove for women — but didn’t remove from men.

6. Women Are More Likely to Win Child Custody Battles

One of the biggest myths against marriage equality is the same underlying notion behind the myth of women being more likely to win child custody battles: that mothers are absolutely necessary in a child’s development.

Statistics show that women are far more likely to win custody of children in a divorce, yes. But they are also far more likely to ask for it.

One of the main reasons for this is that men don’t ask for it unless they have really strong reasons for it because they are told that they will not win. To use that in any way as an example of why this isn’t female privilege is like pointing out that fewer women apply for science programs in universities. No one would buy it in that case, and we shouldn’t buy it here either, because the underlying issue is the social pressure that says that they aren’t good at it, can’t do it, and shouldn’t do it.

7. Men Are More Likely to Die of Suicide

Although it’s still unclear as to why men use more deadlier methods to end their lives, it is drastically different to the traditional approaches of women who are suicidal. The culture of toxic masculinity and expectations to preserve characteristics of socially prescribed manliness could be partly to blame.

Asserting that this statistic is evidence of female privilege is false. Because women are not gaining advantage from the higher suicide rates of men – no one is.

When I’ve seen this used, it’s less an example of direct privilege, but instead as an argument based around a couple of points:

1) Women die less often because they use it as a cry for help, and in our society women who cry for help get it. Men die more often because they don’t try to use it as a cry for help, feeling, at least, that they wouldn’t get it.

2) More men die from suicide, but we aren’t doing more to relieve depression and suicidal in them and are instead focusing on women, when less women die from that.

If there’s a privilege here, it’s one of the oft-cited ones: society considers women’s lives more valuable than men. That’s why that higher death rate doesn’t trigger the expected response; we care less when men die than when women do. On its own, this isn’t a particularly good example of female privilege, as you need to unpack a lot to make this fit into the context. Redkar, of course, addresses this literally and does none of that, even though if she had she could have raised actual questions about even the points I raised above.

At any rate, overall I don’t see how Redkar’s arguments work to refute the idea of female privilege without also weakening the idea of male privilege. It seems that she starts with the presumption that the system oppresses women at the expense of men, and then if she can find any way to claim that this still is part of that oppressive system then it can’t be an example of female privilege, but this again is all about taking the two sides of patriarchy, defining one as superior to the other, and then using that to argue that that side is therefore superior. Which is exactly what even Redkar has to admit is what patriarchy does wrong.

So, sure, we can nitpick over what really counts as “privilege”, but that ends up as being nothing more than, well, nitpicking. Women get benefits simply for being women, and those benefits and detriments are the complete inverse of the benefits and detriments men get. That’s what patriarchy is. The sooner we realize this and stop trying to declare one side better than the other the sooner we can eliminate those incorrect presumptions that drove the system in the first place.

Identity Politics: Adam Lee

December 16, 2016

So, for the last post in “Identity Politics Week”, I return to the Left and a a post by Adam Lee, entitled “Why America Needs Identity Politics”. Obviously, then, this will be an attempt to demonstrate why identity politics is necessary and appropriate and the way to go, despite the Democrats likely making the most focused use of it that we’ve ever seen and losing the election anyway.

He is responding to by Mark Lilla in the NY Times, arguing that the time has come to end identity liberalism. Lee starts his own post by quoting Lilla saying this:

In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Lee responds thusly:

Notice how Lilla begins his argument: by framing activism on race and gender issues as a “distortion” from the true message of liberalism.

Notice how Lee immediately drops the focus on identity that Lilla was very clear about to instead focus on activism. As we say in Zvan’s post, this is a fairly standard liberal tactic: defend identity politics by focusing on specific issues that don’t necessarily require identity politics and seem reasonable, and then insist that the only right way to solve them is to use identity politics. The presumption seems to be that you can’t possibly appeal to anything other than identity to correct these grave injustices, as if, say, appealing to them as injustices couldn’t possibly work. This is at best a conflation of characteristics with identity, and at worst reflects the same sort of thinking that spawns racism and sexism in the first place.

He takes it for granted that he has the right to say what liberalism is “really” about and what’s a deviation from the right path.

But … why shouldn’t he take that for granted? Surely he has as much right to say what liberalism is really about as Lee does, or any other liberal does, or in fact as anyone else does. On what grounds does Lee suggest that he doesn’t? His race? His gender? That he disagrees with Lee?

Ironically, Lee then goes on to exercise the right to say what liberalism is really about:

In its best form, liberalism is about recognizing and guaranteeing the basic equality and dignity of all people. It strives to break down all artificial distinctions, whether of class, of race, of gender, or of any of the other excuses that are used to justify treating others as lesser-than.

And if Lee had remembered to consider identity above, he’d see the problem here: identity politics means appealing to these precise artificial distinctions that he feels liberalism, in its best form, tries to break down. It elevates specific different traits, circumstances or issues into an identity, and then both assumes and promotes the idea that if you have those traits, circumstances or issues that they critically define who you are and not only how you will vote, but how you ought to vote. No matter what other traits you have, what other “intersections”, it is assumed that your well-being is defined by that specific grouping, as if that completely defines who you are. But it is not unreasonable to think that, for example, a gay person might find themselves more concerned about their economic situation than about the legalization of same-sex marriage, even if the latter one can be seen as violating their rights.

Identity politics doesn’t break down artificial distinctions, it instead embraces them. That fact alone would seem to prove Lilla’s point.

Was the fight for women’s suffrage a distortion? Was the civil rights era a distortion? Was the fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality a distortion? Has liberalism been wrong all along, and only Mark Lilla can put it right? Or is this just another version of the march of progress where social causes that were wildly controversial and divisive in their day become obvious common sense as soon as they triumph?

What do these things have to do with identity politics? These are, indeed, all about breaking down artificial distinctions, by promoting the idea that being a woman doesn’t mean anything wrt the right to vote, that being black doesn’t mean anything wrt the ability to work and intelligence, and that being gay doesn’t mean anything wrt being married. In a sense, these all took away a trait that was considered to define that specific group’s identity and argued that it was instead a meaningless consideration. Identity politics, on the other hand, would say that, for example, at least wanting the right to get married is an important part of the identity of someone who is gay, and in fact that their sexuality is an important part of who they are, important enough that they should identify with the party that gave that to them and against the party that opposed giving that to them.

So far, Lee is trying to defend identity politics by appealing to injustices, not to identities. But we ought not need to have or recognize a specific “identity” in order to recognize and oppose actual injustices. Any time a liberal appeals to an identity instead of an injustice it’s pretty much a sign that they don’t have a good enough argument to establish the injustice.

Lee quotes Lilla again:

Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop.

Lee replies thusly:

This implies, astonishingly, that it’s wrong to recognize the diverse groups that make up an electoral coalition and speak to their specific wants and needs. In Lilla’s mind, the only right way to campaign is to treat all your supporters as a blended, amorphous mass with no distinct interests.

The problem is that he reaches for an “implication” without bothering to address why Lilla thought it an error:

This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

And this is not only absolutely true, but an issue with identity politics. Once you start dividing people up into identifiable groups and encouraging them to identify with that group, they will, of course, feel a bond with that group. If you then fail to mention that group, it will feel like you don’t care about that group, which means that then it will feel like you don’t care about them. Which is, in fact, exactly what happened: white people — and white men in particular — didn’t feel that the Democrats cared about them and their interests. No surprise, then, that they refused to vote for them.

It may have escaped him that the reason Republicans can do this is because they don’t have a diverse base to appeal to. They’ve tied their fortunes to a specific demographic group and a specific set of interests. Their one-voice, one-interest strategy simply wouldn’t work for the Democrats’ rainbow coalition, which draws together people from very different backgrounds and circumstances.

As I talked about wrt Zvan’s post, this is an issue for the Democrats if they insist on using identity politics. Sure, groups will react badly if they aren’t mentioned, but just mentioning them isn’t going to be enough. If the Democrats try to wrangle this multi-interest strategy on the basis of identity, since the interests of these groups clash there will be times when they have to choose one group over another. If you do that too often, at a minimum the outside groups will feel unappreciated and feel that while you talk like you have their interests at heart, you really don’t. And then they won’t be very enthusiastic about you winning the election.

And this seems to have happened in this election. There was a lot of grumbling in liberal circles about the Democrats choosing Clinton over Sanders and ignoring the wishes and desires of specific groups of traditional liberal or Democratic voters. The response from the liberals was always that Trump was so bad that they needed to vote for Clinton anyway, even if they didn’t like her and even if they liked someone else better. But you can only play the “boogeyman” card for so long before the groups whose interests you’re ignoring decide that, at best, they aren’t getting anything out of the deal and see no need to support you. And lots of liberal voters decided that the Democrats weren’t really interested in them after all, so felt no need to be interested in the Democrats.

Lee then goes on to repeat one of the most ridiculous things that he continually talks about:

And it needs to be emphasized – because Lilla entirely overlooks it – that despite the undemocratic outcome made possible by the electoral college, Clinton won the popular vote by a hefty margin – 2 million votes and climbing. This is hardly proof that “identity politics” is an electoral dead end.

There were almost 130 million votes cast just for Trump and Clinton. Two million out of that is somewhere between 1 – 2%. That is not “hefty”. That is, in fact, rather pathetic. For comparison, Lee often calls Trump’s electoral college win “slim”, even though the difference in college votes is 15%.

Clinton lost the electoral college, and had a lower percentage of the popular vote than Obama had for his first term (oddly, it looks now like she has about the same number of votes that Obama had for his second term). This all came in an election where identity politics played a huge role, and likely a larger role than it has in any other election previously. Clinton went all-in on identity politics and her advantage over her Republican opponent dropped two million votes over what Obama had over Romney … who was known to be milquetoast but not as the anti-Christ, and who was mostly supported by his own party. In what strange world is this not seen as evidence, and strong evidence, that identity politics didn’t work? They went all-in on identity politics, against an opponent who seemed to be even more vulnerable than usual to identity politics and had a number of clear flaws to appeal to, and they still lost ground in pretty much every measurable metric. In what way did playing identity politics help here?

Lee then tries to dismiss the economic interests argument:

If economic disadvantage was the force driving Trump voters, you have to explain why they supported a candidate who promised to take away the hard-won safety-net gains they’ve achieved under Democrats. In particular, as I wrote last week, many white people who are desperately dependent on Obamacare backed a party that’s made destroying Obamacare its overriding goal, with no plan for a replacement.

Paul Krugman’s back-of-the-envelope math suggests an astonishing 5.5 million people voted to cut off their own access to health care. Coal miners in particular have benefited from a provision of Obamacare that helps them win compensation for work-related lung disease, and many of them are now dismayed and worried because they didn’t think they might actually get what they voted for.

If economic insecurity was the force animating Trump voters, this is an unsolvable paradox. However, the “whitelash” hypothesis explains it neatly: racist rage blinded them to the ways they were voting against their own tangible interests.

Lee links to a few posts that talk about these issues — you can find them there — and it turns out that the conclusions are … less than accurate:

1) For Obamacare, one of them notes that Trump after the election walked back his rhetoric about completely doing away with it. The problem? During the campaign I heard one of his speeches, in full, on CBC, and he was already talking about replacing it with something better. So for people who actually heard that, there would be less fear that they were going to completely lose their health care coverage.

2) For the coal miners, that was one specific clause buried in the text. It is not likely that many of them made the association, and even if they did many of them might well have believed that he did indeed care about them and so would keep that or at least do something to help them … unlike Clinton’s infamous comment about putting a lot of them out of work.

So, Lee here seems to be accusing them of deliberately voting against their own well-being and interests based on information and beliefs that he has, but that they didn’t necessarily have. You can’t justify assigning deliberate motives on that sort of basis.

But let’s assume that it wasn’t really this that convinced them, that they were instead voting on identity. It makes more sense to assume that the reason they voted for Trump wasn’t because they were just racist, but instead because Trump promised to care about them and their interests, and the Democrats promised to ignore them. Why in the world would anyone vote for a party that explicitly said and acted like they didn’t care, and not only that, thought that they were inherently evil for caring about their own interests? Identity politics, then, caused the issue, by dividing the people up into groups and then ignoring one group to the point of calling the whole group evil.

And this is the natural result of identity politics. In order to identify as X, you need a ~X, a group that is outside of your identity that you can compare yourself to to say that you are not them. This is probably natural and so there isn’t much you can do about that. But identity politics means encouraging people to associate themselves with that group and to align their own interests with that group, and to consider the other groups as not sharing those interests. This, then, creates Us vs Them thinking, and the idea that your interests and their interests cannot both be promoted at the same time; one side has to give. And while the Democrats have been pushing the narrative that the Us vs Them is everyone else vs whites, identities don’t always follow the political will of the Democratic party. And so people may see that the Us vs Them are, for example, trans people vs feminists, or any number of other breakdowns.

And as this continues, coalitions become harder to form, as each individual grouping feels that promoting the interests of that group will, in the long run, hurt their own interests … even if, in the short-term, their interests are aligned. We saw this clearly in the atheist movement, with many atheists refusing to align with Catholics to oppose creationism in public schools, and then atheists refusing to align with conservative atheists, and then atheists that weren’t feminist enough, and then atheists that weren’t trans-aware enough, and so on and so forth. When you see anyone with differing interests as an enemy, it’s hard to build any kind of stable alliance.

Lee quotes Lilla again:

Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists.

Lee replies:

Lilla doesn’t notice how his argument contradicts itself within the same paragraph. Which is it? Are angry white voters reacting to the intrusion of identity politics into their lives? Or did they invent identity politics when they founded the KKK as a movement dedicated to upholding white supremacy in America? You can’t have it both ways.

Lee again ignores the point: whites in today’s society have come to see themselves as an identity group that is under threat because liberals have defined them as a unified identity group and then claimed that their interests are not only not of interest, but are harmful. Lee’s argument that this is a contradiction relies precisely on the presumption that whites have always seen themselves as a unique and specific identity group, an argument that will see ludicrous to the Polish, Irish and Catholic groups that were predominantly or entirely white and yet were actively discriminated against in the United States for a long, long time. The KKK appealed to identity politics … and so do liberals and the Democrats. The problem Lilla is talking about is how the focus on identity politics created the very group that the KKK wanted to appeal to, and that they ultimately failed to create or at least maintain.

Until the liberals did it for them.

Especially in our society, being a white man is considered the neutral, default identity, while everyone else is implicitly treated as a special case. Like the confused and angry fellow who insisted that atheism needs to be kept pure of “ideology”, many people – even allegedly liberal columnists – believe that white men banding together to advance their own causes is just the natural state of affairs, unremarkable, unobjectionable. But when women, people of color, and other minority groups do the same, it merits scolding from concern trolls who warn of disaster if we don’t stop reminding the world that we have our own concerns.

The problem is that white people, in general, don’t band together to promote their specific interests as white people. White people only act in solidarity with each other when they feel that they are being attacked as white people. Guess what the liberal identity politics has succeeded in doing?

This is the crux of the argument. Even a brief glance over American history would show you that women, blacks, Latinos, and, yes, atheists have been subjected to discrimination in targeted and specific ways throughout the span of our country’s existence: Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, coverture laws, workplace harassment, English-only laws, immigration restrictions, religious tests, and on and on. In many cases, the harm done by those prejudicial laws and norms lingers into the present day. We can debate the best way to fix these injustices, but first we have to recognize that they exist.

What does this have to do with identity politics, though? Let’s take, for example, religious tests. These applied to many more groups than just atheists, and arguably were applied to any purportedly minority religion. Remember when people worried about JFK being Catholic and running for President? What identity are you going to assign all the people impacted by that? What Us vs Them are you going to create to oppose that? Instead of running things on the basis of identity, run on the basis of shared specific interests. Appeal to injustice, not that it hurts a specific group. After all, how can you expect people not in the affected group to care about the issues if you present it as an issue that impacts that affected group but not them? You’re either falling back on injustice or you’re failing.

As I said in one of my earliest posts, you can’t fix a problem that you can’t see. Lilla wants us to defeat racism without acknowledging its existence – an impossible feat. It’s like trying to treat a sick person without diagnosing what’s causing their illness. As long as you refuse to admit what’s causing the injustices that plague America, your solutions will always be aimed at the wrong targets.

But there’s nothing in Lilla’s post that says that you should refuse to acknowledge that racism exists. Instead, he’s arguing that you shouldn’t divide things up into identity groups that you then divide into the good and the bad, the ones you care about and the ones you don’t. Why does Lee think it impossible to define racism and then point out the specific cases without having to make it all be one big identity group?

And this response can be put to him: You can’t defeat racism, the idea that there are significant inherent differences that make the races different from each other, by accepting that there are significant enough inherent differences between the races that you can build identities based only on them. If there are no significant differences, then there is nothing to hang identity on … and if there are significant enough differences to hang identity on, then maybe those differences and treatment are, in fact, right.

The question of how to reach people who’ll vote away their own well-being to reinforce racial hierarchy is a hard problem indeed. I don’t have any simple answers to offer.

You start by removing the conflation between position in the racial hierarchy and one’s own personal well-being. Guess what identity politics explicitly doesn’t do, and in fact promotes?

Identity Politics: Stephanie Zvan

December 12, 2016

Welcome to Identity Politics week! This week, I plan to have posts every day about identity politics, featuring both sides of the divide. At the end of it all, hopefully everyone will be clear why I think identity politics is a really, really bad idea, for both sides, and why we really, really, have to get past it.

I’ll start with a post by Stephanie Zvan arguing against the left abandoning identity politics. She starts by trying to set up to argue against the “strawman” definition of identity politics:

So, strawman identity politics. This is the Bernie Sanders et al version, in which representation is happening for its own sake regardless of positions on issues. Since no one in the Democratic Party is saying Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina should be in office, and since many people stop being impressed with Tulsi Gabbard when they know her positions, we know this is a strawman, but let’s pretend it’s not.

Which really is indeed a strawman … of her opponents’ position. No one is arguing that identity politics means that any candidate will be chosen regardless of their views. There certainly will be positions and views that they could hold that would disqualify them from consideration. But the idea is that in general their “identity” will at a minimum be considered more important than the opponents feel is proper in determining who gets what positions. If we look at the specific Sanders case, the idea would be that the Democrats found Clinton’s gender and the possibility of electing the first woman president and appealing to diversity more important that their actual positions, as Clinton was far too conservative and had far too many skeletons in her closet to be the best candidate, and Sanders might have been promoting better ideas and getting castigated for it. For example, Sanders’ view that we should address poverty itself and by doing that improve the lot of black people is the anti-thesis of identity politics … but seems like something that might work, and certainly sounds like a better argument. There is no reason to white people to oppose trying to alleviate poverty in general, but trying to alleviate poverty specifically for black people might raise some eyebrows. The counter is that racism itself is a major factor, and Sanders’ identity-neutral approach might end up ignoring that and so not really work. But there’s certainly a debate to be had here over whether one should appeal to specific identities — ie blacks and women specifically should be appealed to — or to generalities when one plays politics.

Zvan, after completely ignoring her opponents’ case, now tries to say what it would really mean:

That leaves us with a choice to apply more rigid standards to candidates from marginalized groups than we do to white men. Really, it does. The standard test for a white male Democratic candidate is “the guy who can get elected in that district”. You don’t have to believe me on that. Ask Collin Peterson. Ask the progressives in his district. There’s a reason we have the term “Blue Dog Democrat”.

As long as we continue to have white male Blue Dog Democrats, the only thing we accomplish by insisting that candidates from marginalized groups meet different tests for ideological purity is to keep diversity artificially low. This is discrimination in action, which makes it unacceptable for its own sake.

Well, first, the standard test ought to be — even if it isn’t right now — “Out of the available candidates, which of them has the best chance of getting elected in that district?”. The only reason to merely ask if they can get elected is if there are no other candidates. Which means, then, that for marginalized groups the question should be if they are the candidate that is most likely to win. If people vote in terms of identity, then in a number of cases it might indeed be the case that they aren’t the best candidate because most people won’t vote for that candidate based on the fact that they don’t match their identity and so they worry that they won’t be able to represent them. But it seems to me that people who are concerned with not discriminating would then want to argue against that sort of identification, not pander and advance it. Yet liberals stand very much on identity, arguing that marginalized groups are marginalized because white, male, cis people can’t very well represent groups that don’t share that identity. But if you argue that, then you have to expect that people who don’t share the identity of your candidate will feel that that candidate is incapable of representing them. If in a district or a country those who do not share that identity are in the majority, and if you’re voting democratically, that is a recipe for a loss.

This also demonstrates that the liberal “rainbow coalition” becomes self-defeating when joined with identity politics. If the liberals try to argue that people ought not feel represented by someone who isn’t part of their identity group, it is in fact impossible for them to put forward a candidate that everyone feels represents them … or, at least, not without making their competence suspect. It is possible but not likely that a female, black, trans, lesbian would just happen to be the best qualified candidate; that really looks like selection on the basis of diversity. But without that, some key members of the groups the liberals are trying to appeal to will feel unrepresented. You’d have to hope that the other side comes across worse, and while the conservatives have often been doing just that, it’s not a strategy you can rely on. So, again, liberals should want to appeal to justice for all groups and equality in general, not for groups to vote on the basis of their identity.

So, on to “real” identity politics:

Now, real identity politics. This is the banding together of a group of people based on one or more shared characteristics that bring shared political challenges. Class solidarity is identity politics. Atheist activism is identity politics. White Christian nationalism is identity politics. Gamergate is identity politics. So are feminism, BLM, LGBTQ activism, etc. So is a bunch of white men in power, even if they never call it anything other than “What? This is how it’s always been.”

Except that real identity politics has to include “identity” in there somewhere, and there is no reason to assume that any of those things are or have to be something that people associate importantly with their identity. People can get together to discuss issues that relate to a specific characteristic they have without consider that specific characteristic important to their identity. In fact, this is just what white and cis people have been doing; they happen to be white or cis, but they are generally dismissive of it unless they are challenged on that specific trait. White people generally don’t get together and think about or vote based on the interests of white people … until this election, when they felt they had to because the other side was, in fact, arguing that people should vote on the basis of their racial identity and were crowing about how the shifting demographics — including people coming in through immigration — would make it so that the white people were a minority and so the interests of the current minority groups would always win. Given that they were facing a threat specifically based on identity, white people rallied around their identity, but that’s not really a general consideration. Recall that in the U.K. a lot of the rumbling was about Polish people, who are, in fact, white. Thus, identity politics rallies around the artificial divisions that the issue and those talking about it create, not about any real or inherent identity that we can appeal to.

Liberals have been creating these artificial divisions for a long time now, and so left themselves vulnerable to the other side(s) of that division rallying against them, and also leave themselves vulnerable to shifting artificial divisions that might follow from other or new issues.

As an aside, many liberals place a lot of weight on Clinton winning the popular vote, and they might argue that my analysis ignores that. It doesn’t. While Trump won the majority of white voters, he didn’t win them in anywhere near the overwhelming percentage that Clinton won the other racial groups. If he had, Clinton would have definitively lost the popular vote. Liberals, then, want to ensure that white voters don’t vote on the basis of their purportedly shared interests as white people. You can’t do that by arguing that there are different interests for minority racial groups vs white racial groups, and that minorities should vote for their own interests, and that means voting Democrat because they will work for their interests and not for the interests of — and even at the expense of the interests of — white voters. Eventually, white voters will decide that voting Democrat is not in their best interests.

One of the lessons of this election may well be that white men will not vote for anyone who doesn’t put them front and center. (Not our first opportunity to learn this, but it’s harder to avoid the conclusion this time around.)

But “not putting them front and centre” does not mean playing identity politics. There is pretty much no voting group that, over time, will vote en mass for a group that insists that they aren’t considering or going to work for their own best interests. If the Democrats keep losing the white male vote, it pretty much means that white men think that the Democratic Party is not going to work for their interests. While Zvan talks about how their “Rainbow Coalition” (which she doesn’t actually name) wins them elections, it is essentially doing so because they are trying to swamp that vote by rallying all of the other groups and appealing to them. Essentially, in response to white men — and now, perhaps, white voters — not seeing them as a party they can support, they are doubling down and trying to rally all of the other groups so that they have no need of that group. But this can only work as long as they can keep all of those groups together, and the strategy of insisting that people can’t vote for the other guy because those white men can’t represent people not of their identity works to create rifts in these groups. See, for example, the rifts in the atheist movement over feminism, between those who identify with feminism and those who don’t. Or the rifts in the feminist movement over trans issues. It is relatively easy for the Republicans to find issues that they can rally whites around, even though they have diverse interests … and especially so if the Democrats keep giving them the issue of “We, as Democrats, don’t care about the interests of white people”. It’s a lot harder to find one critically important issue that can appeal to all of the other groups, whom quite often have conflicting interests. As an example, Latinos, as far as I can tell, tend to be more religious than whites, so appealing to secular or atheistic interests might alienate them. The only way to make this work is to find a big enough issue or threat that you can use to rally all of those diverse groups and cause them to ignore the conflicts. Over time, though, those issues will fester, and groups will start to feel that the party doesn’t really care about them, and are in fact just using them.

Kinda like a lot of groups grumbled about in this election, actually.