Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

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.

Board Game Culture Missing Link …

December 9, 2016

So, I recently came across a post at the Mary Sue about 3 ways to make gaming culture safer. Note that this is referring to board game culture, not video game culture, although in general it might be hard to tell. At any rate, she starts from an example from 2003 — so, 13 years ago — to show how things are bad now:

In 2003, I was hired as the second woman ever to work for Games Workshop Canada’s retail division. It was a short but very formative stint, a summer job that fostered my deep passion for the tabletop community—and colored my view of it.

I went through the training, learning about the company’s mission (total world domination), the unadvertised policy on shoplifting (prosecute to the fullest extent of the law) and every day lived the ten commandments of retail (ironically enough, modelled after the shopping experience of UK bodycare company The Body Shop.)

Despite all this training, I was unprepared to handle the stalking and harassment I sustained that summer from a particularly unrelentless customer. He would follow me and (without invitation) join me on my lunch break as I sat in the mall food court, follow me to my car when I was done my shift, and inquire when I was working next.

His obsession culminated into him coming into the store one day, and pulling out a camcorder with which he used to record me as I ran a pair of kids through an intro game of Warhammer 40K. The whole thing.

Discombobulated, I hid in the back room, explained to a coworker what was happening, and waited until he came back to tell me it was safe.

I take from that incident a recognition that there are blind spots in our community. If a multi-million dollar, publicly traded company doesn’t have a sexual harassment policy in their training handbook for staff, what’s the chance my Friendly Local Game Store does?

Okay, so even before getting into her actual solutions, there are a number of things to say here:

1) As described, this was a case of actual stalking, and so should have been referred to the police, not to the store’s harassment policy.

2) A small store in general doesn’t need a harassment policy beyond “Don’t tick each other off”, letting the store manager or owner to decide what’s reasonable and what isn’t. About the only other things that might need to be followed are legal requirements … but then the employees would be covered by the law. Sure, having to appeal to the law isn’t ideal, but it at least adds protection. If a store has 5 employees, what in the world is a harassment policy supposed to do that the manager simply resolving disputes won’t?

3) What would the store’s harassment policy, if it had one, have to do with anything here? The stalker was a customer, and harassment policies generally apply to employees. You certainly can’t apply the traditional penalties for harassment — up to and including termination of employment — to a customer. She’d be trying to apply the wrong solution here.

4) All you need when dealing with customers is essentially a policy that says that if you tick off our employees enough, you’ll be barred from the store. And that’s about all you can do here. And it looks like that’s what actually happened here, once she made the problem clear to her co-workers.

So somehow she took away from that incident a recognition that something was required that, well, wouldn’t have actually changed anything.

And we can see this carry on as she talks about her proposed solutions, which I’ll go through one by one. As I do so, keep in mind the problem that she’s trying to solve and think about whether doing that would have any impact or in any way solve that problem.

Normalize the presence of women, people of color, and other minorities in games and in gaming spaces.

Um, is she asserting that the stalking incident happened because she was a minority woman and somehow seen to be exotic? Okay, she talks a lot about “seeing women as prizes”, and board games contributing to that attitude, which arguably might be what happened with her stalker, but that wouldn’t include talking about other minorities, and wouldn’t include “normalizing” them, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It’s only if the stalking was perpetrated in some way by her being seen as different and exotic — particularly as a Latino — that trying to normalize representations — which she talks about — would help at all … but since in the United States that group is still in the minority, it’s not going to help. And even if you got — in terms of actual players — a 50-50 split male-female, that likely won’t help her getting hit on. It just might not happen as often. Which then leads into her last point about this solution:

And if you’re a gamer, engage with gamers who would be minorities in the gaming community as gamers, not as minorities. I’m always elated to talk about my favorite games or 40K army, and less so about my ethnic heritage. Sure, I’m happy to talk about some awesome depictions of women in gaming, not so much whether or not I’m single or if I have a female relative I could introduce you to. If you witness that kind of behavior, intervene and say, “Dude, how does that matter? Let’s play some games.” It helps remind everyone within earshot that we’re all gamers.

This will carry on into the next two solutions, but board gaming in particular is not just about playing games. It’s also a social activity. And as a social activity, people will do and will expect to do social things. Social things do, in fact, include asking questions about parts of a person’s personal life — sometimes asking if someone is single is, in fact, just curiosity and sometimes just comes up in discussion –, asking someone out, or trying to set them up or get them to set you up with friends. Romantic relationships are a big part of people’s lives, and in a social setting it’s one that will come up over and over again. Also, if someone is proud of and clearly reflects their ethnic heritage, people are going to be curious about it. I’ve had co-workers ask me about my last name, what origin it is, if I speak Polish, and so on and so forth … and I’m pretty much Canadian through and through. This will only come up more in social situations.

If we say that all that matters is playing games and remove the social aspect, board gaming will lose at least one of the big benefits it has … and the only big benefit it has if we exclude RPGs from the discussion. Given that she says this earlier:

Further, what’s the chance that other gamers have encountered gamers like me, and have an understanding of what my day-to-day life is like, and why gaming as an escape is so important to me?

She surely will want to understand and maintain the social aspects that are often an important part of what board gaming is to other people, too.

Create and enforce policies around bullying and harassment, and empower the community you serve to enforce them.

Now, her stalker was a customer of the store she was working at. He was not actually playing in any games she or anyone else was moderating when he was stalking her. How in the world would this do anything to address that problem? She might want to argue that if he was in a gaming group and if restrictions on behaviour were put in place, then he would have learned not to act that way but a) he might not have acted that way in a specific gaming group and b) just because gaming groups enforced standards inside the group doesn’t mean that people will act according to those standards outside of that gaming group. So this would do nothing, in general, to address the example she gives that all decent gamers want addressed and stopped.

Moreover, her view of this is problematic:

Addressing harassment isn’t remotely like a criminal trial. If you articulate clearly the expectations of behavior within your space and someone doesn’t adhere to them, you can remove them. If a business can terminate an individual for not being “the right fit,” so too can you. Consider it a preemptive measure that prevents something from escalating to the point where it may require the involvement of legal authorities. Nobody wants that on their conscience.

First, this contradicts her point above about things just being about the games, unless the behaviour is anything that distracts or detracts from the gaming and nothing more. Second, if one is playing with a group of friends, these formal rules aren’t required, and if one isn’t, then the rules need to be fair and fairly applied. This might indeed mean, then, that if someone says some of the things that she doesn’t like the GM or DM might decide that she’s the one causing the disruption if she complains about it. It’s clear that she assumes that the behavioural rules will just be what she wants, and that then given that people who violate the rules will be kicked out of the group. But different groups may see things differently, and if she advocates for this sort of idea she might find herself the “victim” of these policies.

Now, I agree that if someone doesn’t fit in with the expected behaviour of a gaming group, then that person ought to leave the group. But unless the person is disruptive in general, that choice should be theirs. So if, for example, someone finds themselves in a gaming group that’s generally pretty ribald and they don’t like that, the choice should be theirs as to whether they want to put that aside and keep playing the games, or instead for them to find another group that suits them better. I get the impression that she’d want the GM and DM to eliminate that and kick out anyone who doesn’t agree.

(Note: People will protest here that I’m not addressing explicitly sexist and racist groups. I counter that sometimes what is sexist and racist is subjective, and also that the same rules apply: all of those who are bothered enough by that should leave the group and find/form another one. If most people are bothered by it, the group will collapse and those people won’t be able to join others unless they tamp that down. And, of course, any deliberate sexism and racism aimed at bothering other players is out of bounds in any group, on the basis that no group can survive if members of the group keep trying to hurt other players, which would apply to accusations of sexism and racism, too, if done deliberately to tweak the noses of other players.)

Recognize that treating everyone equitably isn’t just treating everyone the same.

Again, what does this have to do with her stalker? They pretty much should have treated him like they treated any other case: he’s annoying an employee, and should be told to stop.

If you’re facilitating late-night gaming, do you have people who can safely escort gamers to their cars at the end of the night? Not all gamers need that support, but those that do, really do.

But is it the job of a GM/DM to explicitly arrange that for others? If people want or need that, shouldn’t they take responsibility for that? Sure, they can ask the GM/DM to help them arrange it, but what does she expect the GM/DM to do here, beyond asking others in the group that they trust to do it if someone asks?

Similarly, having a zero-tolerance policy for sexist, racist, homophobic or ableist slurs doesn’t affect or benefit everyone equally, but it certainly does make the table a lot more equal.

But should we have a “zero-tolerance policy” for this at all? If someone screws up, they’re out? And is she excluding slurs aimed at white, cis men here?

Again, board gaming is also a social activity, not some kind of formal academic conference. You ought not solve social problems with formal policies. If someone constantly uses terms that offend or hurt someone, the right answer is not “kick them out”, but is instead to talk to them, let them know that it’s a problem, and let them address that. This is especially the case when whether or not something is a slur is often subjective (see the discussion in this recent comment thread at Twenty Sided Tale for an example).

We ought not tailor groups so that only white, cis, straight men can feel comfortable, but we ought not tailor groups to people who are not that group either. We need to see ourselves more as individuals and handle things through normal social channels rather than try to impose policies. After all, if anyone doesn’t like a particular group dynamic, they can always leave and find a new one. And if you argue that I’m missing how important games are to her, let me point out that games might well be that important to the people she wants kicked out, too.

So, her suggestions wouldn’t do anything to address the problem she uses as the example of why there are problems to be addressed, and are bad ideas besides. This, then, is a prime example of a really pernicious form of argumentation: find a problem that people agree is bad and needs to be stopped, and then insist that all sorts of unrelated solutions need to be implemented to solve that problem. If one is not careful, one can be swept up in the zeal to solve the problem and then accept that these solutions — that are mostly just what the person who is complaining about the problem wants to be the case — are necessary to solve the problem. At the end of it all, you end up with a bunch of things that aren’t good and aren’t necessary, and the worst case is that you end up with all of those things and the original problem still existing.

Which is pretty much what we’d end up with if we followed these suggestions.

P.Z. Myers: Still Not Reading …

October 7, 2016

Okay, this is definitely more “schadenfreude” than an actual serious post, but I’ve talked before about how P.Z. Myers — and others — don’t read posts and articles before mocking and being outraged by then. Well, late yesterday, Myers made a post about the upcoming FIDE Women’s World Championships, which will be held in Iran, which has a law that says that women must wear a hijab. His post asks “what about the men?”:

Hey, I say, what about the men? Shouldn’t the male grandmasters also be announcing their solidarity with their colleagues?
Perhaps male chess players tend to be insensitive sexists who don’t care what happens to the women players. Or perhaps they are cowards who are relieved that the theocratic rule is going to eliminate much of their competition. Or perhaps journalists assume that only women can get outraged at discrimination against women.

And in a later comment, he adds:

That it’s the Women’s World Championship only makes it more of an outrage that FIDE decided it was fine to hold it in Iran.

But as was pointed out in the comments:

It’s the Women’s World Championships, so men can’t attend and so can’t boycott (that’s what the later comment was acknowledging.

Some male Grandmasters are protesting it. The discussion of Nigel Short was in the first link Myers gave.

Not reading his own links seems to be the key here, because the CNN link explains why Iran was chosen:

Iran was the only country which made a proposal to host the event, a World Chess Federation (FIDE) spokeswoman told CNN in a statement.

So, the choice was to either have it in Iran … or not have it at all. So it, in fact, wasn’t actually the choice of the organization anyway, and certainly not the choice of the men so that they wouldn’t have to face competition from women.

In fact, the CNN article implies that tournaments have been held in Iran before with the same rules:

“Iran has hosted chess tournaments before and women were always forced to wear a hijab,” Paikidze-Barnes told CNN. “We don’t see this event being any different, forced hijab is the country’s law.”
This, she said, is “religious and sexist discrimination.”

Paikidze-Barnes is the most prominent person objecting to the event being held there. And her demand is this:

She added: “If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating … “

So, they can’t even be in Iran, it seems, even if a compromise is made on what the women can wear while playing.

Let’s answer Myers’ stated and unstated questions, shall we?

Why was it in Iran? No one else wanted it, and while some country now might stand up, it’s probably still not the case that any other country wants it.

Why aren’t the male chess players protesting? They are.

Why is the media focusing on women and not mentioning the men? They are, but since this is the Women’s tournament and so only women can threaten to withdraw, they’re focusing on women and their reactions, both positive and negative (Susan Polgar, for example, has no problem with the restrictions). If they didn’t, Myers et al would almost certainly claim that the articles were ignoring the viewpoints of women to focus on those of men.

Thus, if Myers had actually read what he linked to, he’d have had the answers to his questions, and so could have moved on to more interesting ones, like:

Why was Iran the only country interested in hosting this? For example, why not Canada or some European nation where this isn’t a problem and where there is some interest in chess (more in Europe than in Canada, but there is still some)?

If Iran was indeed the better or only choice, to what degree can FIDE ask that they allow exceptions to their laws? Given the current situation, FIDE needed Iran more than Iran needed FIDE on this. Would it be better to have no tournament than host it in Iran?

Is this more about the women chess players being forced to conform to Muslim modesty standards, or the fact that they have those standards enshrined in law at all? There was a comment that tried to address that last one, but the response was irrelevant at best, with the serious replies ignoring that women going topless in public is still illegal in most of the Western world.

Is it right for Paikidze-Barnes to demand a venue change to a currently non-existent option, or would a compromise work?

How should we deal with major cultural differences, even ones that guide laws?

Does it matter that this is religiously motivated? Should FIDE care about whether the motivation is secular or religious?

If the problem is more that the country itself has laws that some of its members find problematic due to their values, and if that is seen as an issue for FIDE, how do we decide which values require FIDE to take action and which don’t? The argument here is that it violates FIDE’s non-discrimination policy, but wouldn’t that only apply to the members, and not to those in the country?

Look at all the interesting questions we get if Myers would just read the posts he links to!

A Parable on Privilege … and Perspective

September 16, 2016

So, I was reading some comments on Pharyngula, and this old “Privilege 101” post was referenced. It’s titled “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” and is essentially a thought experiment aimed at showing how the concept of “privilege” works and, presumably, why it’s a useful concept to bring to these discussions. But in reading it, it became clear that the parable worked better to demonstrate my idea of “perspective” than it did to demonstrate the idea of “privilege” … and, in fact, proved just how vacuous and harmful the idea of “privilege” really is in those sorts of circumstances.

Let’s start not with the meaty thought experiment, but instead the simple example that follows from the definition of “privilege” as per Google:

This is the basic heart of the idea. Privilege is an edge… a set of opportunities, benefits and advantages that some people get and others don’t. For example, if it’s raining in the morning, and you get up, get dressed, climb into the nice warm car in your garage, drive to the closed parking lot at work, and walk into the adjacent building, you don’t get wet. If you go outside and wait at the bus stop, then walk between busses for your transfer, then walk from the bus stop to work, you do get wet. Not getting wet, then, is a privilege afforded you by car and garage ownership. So far, so straightforward, right?

Well … no. Because we don’t particularly see that as any kind of edge, or anything at all to talk about. We might say that someone who had that sort of situation was “lucky”, but we wouldn’t look down on someone who didn’t have that — we’d just note that they happened to get wet, and maybe should think about, say, getting an umbrella — nor would we see that as any kind of big advantage that the “privileged” person was getting. And, more relevantly to this discussion, the “privileged” person would certainly see and understand the situation of the “less privileged” person. This is because the common case is the one where you don’t get that, and so we all clearly understand the differences here, which puts that case definitely in the realm of “perspective”, where the person who doesn’t have to get wet has a different perspective — read: different considerations — than the person who does, but everyone understands the perspective of the other (for the most part; there are issues with never actually going outside and those closed parking lots and garages that aren’t being considered here) and no one claims that the supposed benefits or advantages are unearned. In general, the concept of “privilege” is never used for cases like that.

Next, we get a real world similar example:

Some examples of social privilege work exactly the same way, and they’re the easy ones to understand. For instance, a young black male driver is much, much more likely to get pulled over by the cops in America than an old white woman. Getting pulled over less, then – being given the benefit of the doubt by an authority figure – is in this case, a privilege of being white. (I’m not getting into the gender factor here, intersectionality is a whole different post.)

It’s a very good thing that the author didn’t get into the gender issue, because it would have revealed how this specific example, in fact, totally demolishes the idea of “privilege” as it is commonly used, and even as it is used here: to talk about the privilege of being white. Because that old white woman is also going to get pulled over less often by the cops in America than a young white male driver, and in fact than an old white male driver will. A young white female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. And, in fact, it might be the case that a young black female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. Sure, a young white male driver is less likely to be pulled over than a young black male driver, but at this point talking about that as “white privilege” is rather odd given the starting point. A more reasonable example would be to point out that across the board, whites get pulled over less often than blacks, as long as all other factors are held to be identical. That might be true, but is rather hard to demonstrate. And most will accept that if that happens, it’s actually unfair, and it’s not the case that whites are privileged but instead is the case that blacks are treated incredibly unfairly.

So casting this example as an example of privilege doesn’t help. At best, it hides injustice under a banner of “they get things I don’t”, and at worst it devolves into a convoluted mess where each group has some sort of privilege over the other in the exact same example, rendering the assessment meaningless.

Let’s skip past the example of street harassment — I’ll come back to it later — and jump straight to the meaty thought experiment, which I’ll quote mostly in full:

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

Most privilege is like this.

So, let’s look at this example, and see how the two of them should approach this situation to make it work out for each of them in the best possible way. Now, let’s presume that the dog really doesn’t know what the term “cold” means, so saying “I get cold when the temperature is that low” isn’t going to mean anything to the dog. What should the gecko do? Well, the gecko ought not use the line — from the street harassment example — of how the dog would feel if the gecko did that to him, nor should the gecko be looking for ways to make the dog feel her discomfort. What the gecko should simply do is, in fact, say that the temperature being that low makes them sick … with a description of the symptoms, if necessary. If the gecko did this, then they ought to very quickly be able to get to the root of the problem, as the dog would simply reply that if the temperature is set up any higher then the dog will feel sick. And they’d then realize that the issue is not with what they are doing but is instead with the fact that they have incompatible environmental needs, as the dog wants the temperature lower and the gecko wants it higher. And thus, since neither of them are jerks, they have to find a compromise solution, which could be them leaving the temperature at a compromise level where both are uncomfortable, segmenting themselves off with relatively equal amenities in their own rooms, and only having to enter the other areas when they wanted to interact, or even to them realizing that they can’t actually live in the same house with each other.

But this mindset does not, in fact, in any way claim that one of them is “privileged”. It just presumes that they have differing perspectives, and note that it is equally important that the gecko understand the dog’s perspective here, or else the gecko will end up making the dog uncomfortable with her solution … and perhaps end up making the dog as uncomfortable as the dog made the gecko if the gecko simply takes her perspective and ideal solution as the actual answer.

To get this closer to the typical idea of “privilege”, let’s assume that the dog has moved in and the house is set exactly at the dog’s comfort level, and then the gecko moves in. Again, the dog knows how to change the temperature, but sees no need to. What should the gecko do? Again, the gecko should merely point out how the temperature affects her. She might get an initial response of “It’s always been this way and has worked”, but once the gecko manages to get across how things look from her perspective the dog — if it is not a jerk — ought to be able to realize the problem … which then puts us back in the original problem: if the dog raises the temperature to the level the gecko wants, then the dog will be uncomfortable, and if it stays where it is, the gecko will be uncomfortable. Thus, we need a compromise.

Again, claiming that the dog is “privileged” does nothing here. The gecko still needs to understand the dog’s perspective, even if it is the “privileged” one, in order to come up with a workable compromise. The only work that “privilege” can do here is to guilt the dog into accepting an inferior compromise where the dog ends up being less comfortable than the gecko to make up for that “privilege”. However, it invites arguments over “privilege” and if the dog really has it, and if the gecko needs to compromise to satisfy the “privileged”. Meanwhile, “perspective” quickly gets to the heart of the matter: things look very different from the dog’s and gecko’s views, both have valid perspectives, and both perspectives need to be given equal consideration to come up with a reasonable solution.

So now let’s look at street harassment:

A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

A pretty common male response to this point is “that’s a privilege? I would love if a group of women did that to me.”

And that response, right there, is a perfect shining example of male privilege.

Let’s apply “perspective” to that example. And the first thing to consider is why men would say that. And the reason is that men don’t get such obvious indications that women are, in fact, sexually interested in them. They instead can only find out if they are attractive by, well, getting sex with women. So having feedback both on their general attractiveness and on that specific women find them attractive seems like it would be a pretty good deal, and the argument here is that women ought to like that, too … and might miss it when it’s gone. So that’s roughly the male perspective.

But, of course, we’re not done. We need to consider this from the perspective of the women who are bothered by it, and find out why it does. And I can think of three possible reasons. The first is that they feel threatened by this: they worry that it will turn into something other than simply leering and catcalling, but will instead lead to groping and even to sexual assault. The second is that they feel “objectified”, treated and turned into nothing more than objects for sex rather than as real human beings. The third is that they find it intrusive: while being flirted with can be a thrill for them, they’d rather that happen in more appropriate circumstances and not when they are just trying to get to work or to the store.

And now … we still aren’t done. Because just because each side has a perspective doesn’t mean those perspectives are right, especially when it comes to the solution they propose. So we need to evaluate the perspectives to see if the claims and complaints and solutions are credible. I’m going to start with the female perspective here, for reasons that will become obvious later but relate to the name of the blog [grin]. So, with the first one, the link between catcalling and actual groping and sexual assault isn’t that clear. It seems likely that men who would grope or sexually assault will likely also be willing to catcall, but it isn’t clear that catcalling in and of itself leads to that. So the link between that and the actual threat of those things is not necessarily clear (anyone who has the evidence and disagrees, feel free to correct me. But it will’na matter in the end). So the first isn’t any kind of trumping argument. The second argument, however, is actually just a really bad one, because it seems clear that it isn’t just making sexual references that would be a problem here. After all, do you think those women would feel better about it if the men saw them reading a physics text and yelled “Hey, babe, work that relativity?”. I don’t find that likely, but if you think they would and have an argument for that, again, feel free. And from that, it does seem like the last argument is the better one: being thought of as sexually appealing isn’t bad, but catcalling is just too intrusive and is done in inappropriate contexts, which makes it, in general, really, really annoying.

Now, let’s turn to the male perspective. And … there isn’t really one here. There’s no real reason I can think of for men to want to catcall or be bothered if they can’t do it. “Leering” is a little more problematic — because looking at an attractive women walking by ought not really be a problem — but for the most part the more rude and egregious forms of street harassment are things that men ought to have no real problem stopping. The argument I presented above is one based on arguing for what women ought to want, but such arguments tend to fall by the wayside when those in that perspective say they don’t want that, unless you have a really strong objective argument for why they ought to. We don’t have that here. So there’s no real argument from the male perspective for keeping street harassment and an actual not unreasonable argument for stopping it. So, from the “perspective” approach, street harassment should be stopped.

Now, does anyone really think that the “privilege” argument, even as outlined in the post, gets to that point anywhere near as well? All of my points are even thing that can be challenged if someone has better arguments. Either the “privilege” argument will do the same thing as “perspective” and merely take the long way around, or it won’t be considering all the relevant viewpoints and so will be vacuous, and be more likely to lead to a long drawn out fight than any kind of reasonable discussion.

We can also see this when we consider the last set of examples:

So, quite simply: don’t be that dog. If you’re straight and a queer person says “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,” listen and believe him. If you’re white and a black person says “really, now, we’re all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie,” listen and believe her. If you’re male and a woman says “this maquette is a perfect example of why women don’t read comics,” listen and believe her. Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it’s oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege.

These examples are set as being absolute stipulations, where the right thing to do for the “privileged” is to accept not only the perspective of the “unprivileged”, but also the proposed solutions without the “unprivileged” having to care, at all, about the perspective of the “privileged”. But why can’t we ask the queer person what the problem they have with my naming the book that, if it really does work for my artistic vision better? Why can’t we ask what’s wrong with it if we don’t see what’s wrong with it? Maybe the “unprivileged” person is just plain wrong: they are misinterpreting how things are being used in those cases, they’re missing the point, they’ve read in an intent that isn’t there, the context of the work makes it clear, or maybe they are just being oversensitive. Or maybe they aren’t. But the only way to settle that is for both sides to give their perspectives and their facts and then we see who is right. Maybe they both are. Maybe they’re both wrong. But until we sit down and hash it out, we can’t know that. To return to the thought experiment, the dog believing the gecko does not and cannot mean that the dog is therefore forced to agree to turn the temperature up to the gecko’s preferred temperature, because that would really hurt the dog. By the same token, believing that someone feels a certain way does not in any way force me to think that they’re right nor that their preferred solution is the right one. Two well-meaning people of differing perspectives ought to be able to share those perspectives and come to a reasonable compromise, or be able to convince the other that their view is right. That the “perspective” model forces this is one of its greatest strengths. Plus, it has the benefit that no one will be fighting to avoid the “privileged” label, and so we won’t get into contortions like we saw in the “pulled over by the cops” example.

There is nothing that the “privilege” concept does better than the “perspective” concept, and it does a lot of things worse, as the thought experiment clearly demonstrates. In creating that thought experiment, the author has instead provided the best possible example of how the “privilege” concept fails.

If They Actually Understood Science Fiction …

June 3, 2016

So, there was much crowing over the fact that the Nebula awards were dominated by women. The Huffington Post’s crowing includes interviewing two of the winners, who immediately proceed to demonstrate that they, in fact, know astonishingly little about the field while purporting to write and comment on it. The first big gaffe is this, as they try to demonstrate that there is a prejudice against female authors:

Both women agree that prejudiced lines of thinking have been historically damaging to women and writers of color working in the genre, who have both been recognized in their time, but largely forgotten by history. Kate Wilhelm’s suspenseful speculative fiction has won multiple Nebulas and a Hugo; Vonda N. McIntyre, whose longstanding attachment to the “Star Trek” franchise rocketed her to acclaim, won both awards as well. Yet neither is discussed alongside Orson Scott Card or William Gibson.

So, for the first one, my response was “Who?!?”, which I suppose they’d say would prove their case. Well, it would except that I am aware of McIntyre, as well as Mercedes Lackey, Katherine Kurtz, Christie Golden, and a number of other female authors, who may never have won an award … as well as D.C. Fontana and Diane Duane, whom I like much better than McIntyre when it comes to Star Trek works. So it’s certainly not the case that I just ignore female authors, and I still haven’t heard of her. I have of course, heard of Card and Gibson despite maybe having read one of Gibson’s works at some point. This .. kinda gives the reason for them not being mentioned alongside Card and Gibson.

But you know who else isn’t mentioned alongside Card and Gibson? Roger Zelazny. David Eddings. George R.R. Martin. S.M. Stirling. Aaron Alston. Michael Stackpole. Timothy Zahn. Some of these have won awards and some haven’t, but these are people who have written some of the most acclaimed works in science fiction and fantasy. And if we’re talking about acclaim from tie-in works, the last four have done that, too … and potentially much better. The Star Trek EU was always noted for how uneven it was, even compared to the Star Wars EU that was poked fun at but was, at least in the says when McIntyre was starting out, as being far superior. Zahn is noted as being the definitive writer of the Star Wars EU, which McIntyre obviously cannot claim for the Star Trek EU. Alston is very well-regarded, while Stackpole is noted as well, although more unevenly in the fan base. We ought to be able to compare McIntyre to at best Alston and at worst Stackpole in terms of writing quality and popular appeal … and neither of them will be talked about alongside Card or Gibson any time soon. So whence comes the idea that they are being ignored only because they are female authors? There might be others that ought to be mentioned alongside them — Le Guin might be a candidate, although I’d see her as being more comparable to Zelazny than them — but these … are not it. And if whoever thinks they ought to be thinks that, then they know less about science fiction than I do.

But now we move on to what can be directly linked to one of the authors — and not the author of the article — themselves (Novik):

Novik saw Uprooted as an opportunity to offer an alternate narrative, one that was less involved with violent, vengeful heroism. In her book, protagonist Agnieszka prides herself in her heritage, and in belonging to a quiet, idyllic village that she finds worth preserving. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Batman, or, more recently, “Star Wars” star Rey, she’s not fighting to avenge a lost family or hometown; instead, her journey is fueled by broader ideals.

“I feel like Batman has become the only story that’s getting told, in a way. Everybody’s got to lose somebody they love to be motivated and to fight and risk himself or herself. That’s clearly not true,” Novik said. “I wanted a heroine who was willing to risk her life, not for revenge, not to gain power or even necessarily to tear someone down, but in order to protect her community. Revenge is a very cold, sad motive.”

What … but … I don’t even … WHAT?!?

Novik couldn’t, in fact, be more wrong about the motivations of those characters. Luke Skywalker is not, in fact, motivated by revenge for his family or the loss of his farm. He doesn’t hunt down Vader, at least mostly, just to take revenge for killing his father. The revenge aspect is secondary and a source of weakness for him, one that gets blunted in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Vader points out that he is, in fact, really Luke’s father. In “Star Wars”, Luke is motivated to leave Tatooine to seek adventure and to become a hero, but when offered the chance to oppose the Empire he suddenly seems himself as small, and unable to be a real hero. When his uncle and aunt are killed, Luke essentially decides to leave because his safe and happy small world is gone, and he has no reason to stay anymore. On the Death Star, he doesn’t go off and get involved because he sees that Vader is there and wants to kill him, but instead because he finds out that Leia is there and wants to pull off the great, heroic rescue. He has a moment of blind rage after Vader kill Obi-wan, but then returns and joins the Rebellion, and chides Han for abandoning the group that is, in fact, working for broader ideals, as if that is a motivation to side with them. In “The Empire Strikes Back”, Luke’s reason for leaving his training early is not to go out and get revenge, but to save his friends, who are suffering, and arguably all of the torture is done so that Luke will feel it and be drawn to help his friends. In “Return of the Jedi”, Luke only wins because he lets go of his anger and redeems Vader, through an appeal to, essentially, the power of love. Where is the revenge fantasy here? Any thoughts of revenge always lead to bad results for all involved.

As for Rey … seriously?!? Did you watch the movie? Her family is the biggest stumbling block to her accepting the call. Given the nature of the Force, it is unlikely that Rey was using Han’s death as a motivation when she kicked Ren’s butt, because that is of the Dark Side. There’s no revenge motive here at all for Rey.

But the worst is Batman. Batman did not become Batman, and does not continue his work, because he wants revenge for the death of his parents. No matter the version, Batman has either already settled that or had the opportunity to settle it and passed on it repeatedly. No, he does it because he wants to make a better world, a world where people don’t have to go through what he went through, and if the authorities can’t do it — and, in Gotham, they can’t — someone has to. This was expressed best in the Justice League cartoon in the episode “A Better World”, where the alternate universe Batman convinces his counterpart to abandon the fight and accept his side by pointing out that he’s made a world where no child has to lose their parents because of some punk with a gun. Despite disapproving of their methods, Batman is convinced that they really have achieved the “better world” that he has been striving for for so long, and so accepts the argument. And how does he turn this on the alternate universe Batman? By looking at how oppressive the system is and pointing out that it wouldn’t be the world his parents would have wanted to live in, even if it was safe and even if they wouldn’t have died in it. So Batman is not about revenge. He doesn’t go after criminals to pay them back for killing his parents. Instead, he goes after them to prevent others from suffering as he had. That’s why Dick Grayson resonates with him, and why in general he himself sees that the revenge fantasies of the Robins are, generally, really bad ideas.

So, even her own examples don’t work. And if she’s look for stories that aren’t merely revenge fantasies, there are lots to choose from, especially if we include — as I think we must — ones that start with a revenge motive and portray that as being an inferior motive to deeper and broader ideals, like, say the first Amber series (the second one really is just about someone who wants his corner of the universe and himself to be happy). The only example I can think of of “revenge motive played straight” is the “The Punisher”, and he’s portrayed as being absolutely insane. There are probably others, but she talks as if this is the majority, and that she’s doing something different. It ain’t and she ain’t.

So I’m having the same problem here that I have with a lot of the Feminist Frequency analysis of video games: comments that they want to do things differently than is being done and ending up doing exactly what is being done because they have no idea what’s being done in the field that they are criticizing. This would be charming in a puppyoid, but ill befits those who claim to be quality writers in and critics of that field. When they’re so very, very wrong about the field, I just can’t take them or their criticisms seriously.

The New Ghostbusters’ Ditzy Secretary …

May 6, 2016

So, Dave Futrelle over at “We Hunted the Mammoth” is taking a look at the reaction to a recently released clip from the new “Ghostbusters” movie. I haven’t watched the clip myself, but from what Futrelle says the clip essentially shows the replacement for Janine Melnitz from the original movies. Since the powers-that-be decided to flip the gender roles and make all of the new ghostbusters women — purportedly in the name of equal representation for men and women, which is a very odd way to go about that — it seems that they also decided to gender flip Janine and make the character male, played by Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame and probably some other fame as well, but that’s the one I’ve seen). However, they also seem to have made the character essentially decorative; he’s portrayed as attractive but pretty much incompetent at his job. The implication from this is that he was hired for his looks and not his skills, and given that people on the Internet (Futrelle assumes that they are all or are at least mostly men) are protesting. Since Futrelle’s site is one dedicated to mocking MRAs and the like, Futrelle mocks this, with the overall impression that, well, this is no big deal and nothing to complain about.

There are, however, a number of problems with it that you don’t have to be opposing feminism to see (although, for one of them, it helps).

The first issue for me is this: I really liked the Janine character, especially with how she evolved in the “The Real Ghostbusters” animated series. Her cynical attitude really did work, and gave something to ground Ray’s and Egon’s fascination with ghosts while also providing a foil for Peter, and also potentially for someone for Winston to relate to. Was she used that way in the movies most of the time? No, but her cynical approach definitely did shine through (just read the quotes from her on IMDB for that). Most importantly, she was portrayed as someone who was very competent at her job, if snarky. She wasn’t hired for her looks, but for her skills, and she had them. This, then, is not a replacement for that character. This is replacing a superior stereotypical secretary with an inferior stereotypical secretary. Making the character male but equally snarky might have worked, but the character that I liked is now completely and totally gone. And I can’t see any good reason to go this route, especially considering how problematic this stereotype is. The only reason I can think of is for the writers to take a shot at the stereotype itself … but, as I’ve said before, when works sacrifice entertainment for message they end up, well, sucking. So, this is not promising.

The second issue is what this choice implies: that whomever was doing the hiring chose this person on the basis of their looks rather than their skills. This … is not a good way to hire someone. At the very least, the only reason the person still has a job is their looks. So … which of the Ghostbusters is the one who hires on the basis of looks rather than ability? Which of them is that shallow? Is it all of them? Are they all that sort of person?

See, in the original movie you could get away with that by simply having Venkeman hire the secretary, because as was established early that was totally in character for him. But the key thing here is that that part of his personality was the big flaw in his personality. If I recall correctly, he originally goes with Dana because she’s attractive and he wants to hit on her, but at the end they only at least somewhat get together because he overcomes that and starts to actually care about people and about the job. He moves from being seen, at least, as nothing more than a scam artist to someone who is willing to die to save the city. He gets redeemed.

Now, the original movie didn’t do this. But if it had, Ray and Egon would have protested at least as soon as the secretary screwed up something important, and either the secretary would have had to prove that she had a role, or Peter would have had to admit that it was a bad idea and then accept hiring someone more competent. In fact, I strongly suspect that there was an episode of “The Real Ghostbusters” where Janine quit due to not being appreciated, Peter hires or tries to hire someone who was just hot, and at the end they all realize that they really miss — and need — Janine after all. I could be wrong about that one, but it does sound like something that a cartoon would do.

So, does this happen in the movie? Or do all of the Ghostbusters decide that when women objectify its female empowerment and so not really bad at all? So, are all of them in favour of hiring on the basis of looks in a movie that pretty much is trying to subvert that notion?

Which leads to the third issue, which is exactly that, and something that some of the commenters that Futrelle mocks mention: this movie, as near as I can tell, is about at least trying to present more equality and less sexism than Hollywood movie typically do. Yes, Dave, it’s a movie about ghostbusters, but it’s also a movie going out of its way to be “inclusive”. Having a man who is objectified doesn’t, in fact, do that, and if feminists — like you, Dave — don’t stand up and say that objectifying a character and hiring on the basis of looks as opposed to on the basis of ability is bad no matter what the gender of the people doing it and the person it’s being done to then you only further the stereotype that feminism is about women, and not about equality at all.

Now, Futrelle tries to defend it:

Sometimes comedy plays with stereotypes and is funny. Sometimes it just reinforces stereotypes and while this is often not so great, comedically or otherwise, sometimes it can actually be funny too.

For comedic actors, the best roles are often the ones in which they make themselves look like the biggest idiots. Who was the most idiotic character on I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is in the title.) Who was the star in I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is also in the title. Because it’s the same person.)

Anyway, dudes, relax just a teensy weensy bit. Men are so overrepresented in movies these days, as protagonists and as supporting characters, that it’s still kind of seen as a big deal if two women characters in a feature film have even a single scene in which they actually talk to one another about anything other than a man. And lots of movies fail that seemingly rudimentary test.

And so, if you can’t stand Chris Hemsworth taking a comedic turn as an inept administrative assistant, if the very thought of it makes you mad or sad, it’s possible that your head is so far up your own ass that, well, I mean, that can’t be very enjoyable, your head up in there. It’s sort of disgusting to think about, really.

Anyway, angry Ghostbusters-hating dudes, if you’re concerned about people thinking men are a bunch of ridiculous idiots, one excellent way to fight this perception is to STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF RIDICULOUS IDIOTS.

There’s probably an argument in there, if you turn it sideways and do the standard philosophical charity thing where you build in the arguments that you’re sure they were trying to make/would have made. Of course, even interpreting this charitably, the arguments are all really, really bad:

1) He can be arguing that, hey, Hemsworth looks like an idiot, but, hey, that’s comedy, right? Well, except that if we go back to the original Ghostbusters, the comedy did indeed come from them acting like idiots — or at least stupid and/or odd — and yet none of them were completely incompetent. Peter, for someone with a PhD, knew very little about the field that he supposedly was an expert in. Ray was seen, especially in the cartoon, as being overly enthusiastic about this. Egon was the typical “head for science, and not for anything else” scientist character. Looking like an idiot does not, in fact, require you to be an idiot. It especially doesn’t require you to be an idiot with the clear implication that the only reason you still have a job is because you’re hot. You’d think Futrelle would, you know, want to discourage that sort of presentation more.

2) He could be arguing that men are presented in so many different roles that having one idiot isn’t going to hurt them. Which is true, but also rather odd since, well, idiot male characters have existed for a long, long time now and will continue to exist. The protest is not about having an idiot male character. The protest is that the character is a male version of one of the stereotypes that feminists most hate. Just because it happens to be a man this time doesn’t mean that presenting someone hired for their looks is a good thing. And it also removes a stronger female character from the roster. Why would he think that good?

And the supreme irony is that he finishes thusly:

The only thing about the Ghostbusters clip that really bugs me is that Sony decided to release it on Administrative Professionals Day. And that’s really kind of patronizing as hell. If most film heroes were Administrative Professionals that would be one thing, but this, not so cool.

Now, we have lots and lots of representations of Administrative Professionals who are competent that their job, so there is indeed plenty of representation of competent APs, so that can’t be the objection here. No, the objection must be about presenting the worst possible stereotype, of the AP hired for their looks and who is utterly incompetent at the job. Which, yes, is something that might annoy APs on the day dedicated to them. But that’s the stereotype that Futrelle is asking people to lighten up about. Hmmmmm.

Ally vs Member

February 8, 2016

So, in trying to unpack why the latest Dawkins twitter comment was so terrible, Adam Lee said this:

The sexism comes in when a man presumes to instruct women what they should care about as feminists. That’s not my job, yours, or Richard Dawkins’. If we want to identify as feminist allies, it’s not up to us
to tell them where to spend their time or energy.

I never noticed it before, but this allowed me to finally put the pieces together on an issue with feminism, and most of the liberal and progressive movements built around a minority grouping. If any man can call himself a feminist, it’s Adam Lee, methinks. I don’t think he’d disagree with me on that. But if he’s a feminist, then shouldn’t he get a say, and an equal say, in what feminists should care about? Isn’t that, for example, what democracy is about? And even worse, if feminism is nothing more than the radical idea that women should be considered equal to men, then I’m a feminist, too. Which means I should get a say as well. So, then, why is he asking us to identify as feminist allies, and not as feminists. The only reason he’d have to be an ally and not a feminist himself is because he’s a man, and surely men can be feminists, right?

But it gets worse. If feminism is an equality movement, then men have to have an equal say in what it cares about and what solutions it promotes. While women might have special concerns that need addressing that men don’t typically see, any solutions have to take the interests of men into account just as much as the interests of women. We want a society that is equal for all, which means that we don’t want to leave men in a disadvantaged state wrt women when we fix the disadvantages of women. So men have to have a say there, too.

This, then, I think, is the insidious nature of the “ally” line when combined with the appeal to “it’s just about fairness and justice” type of mentality. My main beef with feminism is that it needs to decide what it is, whether a women’s advocacy movement or an equality movement. But it benefits from being both, by being able to try to guilt men into supporting it with “It’s all about equality!” but, at the end of the day, pushing those men into supporting roles because feminism, you know, is all about women and the concerns of women. If men can only be allies to feminism, then men need a movement where they look after their own concerns and where women are allies to them … a movement that feminists insist we don’t need, right up until men ask women in feminism to deal with their inequalities (where typically, you see women telling men to go fix their own problems themselves). Because of this, that movement is not the Men’s Rights Movement, as that is dominated by men who are more angry at feminism than really interested in fixing things for men (hence the insistence on returning to “traditional” maleness that works for those who it works for, but is terrible for everyone else).

Thus, feminism wants men to think that feminism is the movement for equality for all, while sidelining them as “allies” so that women can focus on their own issues. It’s a great scam if you can pull it off.