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livredor
Snippet
Thursday, 06 November 2008 at 11:29 pm
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I know you shouldn't eavesdrop, but the group at the table next to me this lunchtime weren't speaking quietly or confidentially. They were having a loud, cheerful discussion of how difficult it is for a man to mention any of the fundamental biological differences between men and women. In fact, the way that is is hard for men to have a voice in feminist circles is just like the way that certain topics to do with race are taboo for white people. It's a big problem for feminism, this unwillingness to listen to men and to put the movement on a sound, objective scientific basis rather than just clinging to victim identity and unempirical but ideologically sound political theories.

These are Swedish men, a sociologist and a couple of ecologists I think, the sort of people who would be deeply offended if you implied they were anything other than staunch feminists. They knew all the right buzzwords, they talked about the difference between sex and gender, and decried essentialism. They rather deplore the fact that women are under-represented at the senior levels they belong to, though they expect it's probably mostly a matter of time lag and the fact that so many women choose family over career in spite of all the opportunities available to them.

I suppose I shouldn't complain, perhaps a generation ago a similar group of middle-ranking academics would have bonded by means of loud conversations about the fuckability of their secretarial staff. And they really do mean well, they really do seem to feel hurt about not having an equal voice in feminist discourse. It's extraordinarily unlikely that they were having this discussion with the deliberate intention of making female colleagues feel unwelcome. It's just sad that people who have lived most of their lives in a remarkably egalitarian society, people who strongly believe in principle that women and men are absolutely equal, people who by the sound of it are better versed in feminist literature and theory than I am, just so fundamentally don't get it.


Whereaboooots: SH, Flemingsberg, Sweden
Moooood: quixoticquixotic
Tuuuuune: Beborn Beton: Deeper than the usual feeling
Discussion: 30 contributions | Contribute something
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From:ex_robhu
Date:November 9th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
51 minutes after journal entry
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I read this post, and then got to the end where you said they don't get it.

Obviously I don't get it either.

What is it I don't get?

(this is not trolling - this is a serious honest question)
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nou: default
From:nou
Date:November 9th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:41 pm (nou's time)
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The people that livredor is talking about are offended because they're not being automatically listened to in the way that they're used to being in the other spheres of their lives. They're viewing their gender (and class) privilege as normal, and hence invisible.
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From:ex_robhu
Date:November 9th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Perhaps this is what I don't understand. I think that people's ideas should be judged on their merits - people ought to be listened to if what they're saying is (objectively?) useful and interesting, not on the basis of their gender.

I didn't read their comments to say "We should be listened to because we're male" (if that's what you mean), but rather "We should be listened to because we are intelligent well informed people with objectively useful things to add to the discussion".

ISTM that this is the ideal which feminist thought ought to approach - an equality - where people's ideas are judged to be worthwhile regardless of their gender.
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(no subject) - nou (11/9/08 11:56 pm)
(no subject) - ex_robhu (11/10/08 12:04 am)
(no subject) - nou (11/10/08 12:12 am)
(no subject) - ex_robhu (11/10/08 12:21 am)
(no subject) - nou (11/10/08 12:24 am)
(no subject) - ex_robhu (11/10/08 12:25 am)
(no subject) - coalescent (11/10/08 08:18 am)
(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 12:14 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 12:09 pm)
(no subject) - naath (11/10/08 12:22 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 12:37 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 11:40 am)
livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:November 11th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:59 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
This is entirely true, and thanks for backing me up. But I think you're expressing it in a slightly jargon-y way which might not make sense to someone who doesn't know a whole lot about feminism.

I do agree, though, part of the problem is that they're used to being taken seriously because they have significant social power. So they're really upset when they get into a situation where locally, the power is held by people who actually know something about feminism. The problem is not so much that they're unaware of their privilege, but the fact that instead of developing empathy and thinking, now I know what women feel like when people won't pay attention to their ideas just cos they're female, they conclude that there's something wrong with feminism for creating certain very limited situations where the hierarchy is different from the standard one.
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redbird: feminism
From:redbird
Date:November 10th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, November 9th, 2008 07:07 pm (redbird's time)
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They are assuming, and asserting, that if someone doesn't agree with them that the differences between genders are fundamental and important to feminism and to the ongoing problems of sexism [1], it's not because they the speakers might be mistaken, it's not because the person has considered the claim and rejected it on sound grounds, it must be because they-the-male-speakers are being ignored on the grounds of their gender, or because the person who disagrees with them is clinging to "victim identity." While loudly bemoaning that they aren't getting the respect and attention they are used to taking for granted.

Somehow, none of the men who complain that feminism--by which they almost certainly mean specific feminist women they know or work with--won't listen to them, get around to writing up their "sounder" and "more empirical" feminist theories and sending them to a newspaper or book publisher.

I'm a white woman. I might well be talking to other white people about some aspects of race and racism as they exists in the U.S., which is where I live (and always have). If one of them started complaining about how fundamentally unfair it was that black people wouldn't listen to us, I would point out that the entire history of this culture involves white people getting to speak, and be listened to, far more than black people do. These men are in a similar situation: they are so used to be listened to, with at least the pretense of respect, that they assume it as a right. They take for granted that they are entitled to women's time and attention, whenever they speak up, and regardless of whether, by doing so, they are interrupting women who are already speaking, and presenting important information and ideas.

[1] This complaint never has to do with the visible and/or statistically significant differences between the genders, such as that men average taller than women and none of them can bear children, while some of us can. Because "men can't bear children, poor us" or "men can't bear children, and thus need not worry about contraception" aren't where they want to take this.
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friend_of_tofu: default
From:friend_of_tofu
Date:November 10th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I think this is very instructional, yes.
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(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 12:41 pm)
redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:November 10th, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, November 9th, 2008 07:10 pm (redbird's time)
(Link)
Another piece of this: they're ignoring that only women are expected to choose between family and career. A male academic who wants children isn't seen as "choosing family over career," and rarely delays his education or career in order to care for those children. Yes, women bear all the children: most childcare does not take place in the months between conception and weaning, and if the baby is bottle-fed (formula or pumped breast milk), fathers are as capable as mothers of taking care of the children from the very beginning.
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(no subject) - livredor (11/12/08 12:57 pm)
livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:November 10th, 2008 08:28 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 08:28 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
Thank you for asking honestly; I'll see if I can explain my reaction in more detail. They claim that not listening to men enough is a big problem for feminism; I'd suggest that it's a bigger problem that many women can't ever get their views listened to at all, because they're assumed to be emotional / hysterical, or lying to manipulate men into giving them more stuff, or if they manage to exactly duplicate expected male behaviour, they're not real women, they're ball-breakers and scary dykes who are destroying traditional families and generally perceived as highly threatening.

It's simply not true that feminists refuse to listen to men just because they are male; feminism is very heavily influenced by male theorists and writers, not to mention all the men doing the thankless, painstaking work of sociological research to establish systematic disadvantages to women in our society. A man who breezily declares that sexism is over, and the only disadvantages that women have are due to fundamental biological differences that can't be helped, might well genuinely believe that that's the case. But there's a fairly sound reason for suspecting that he is just trying to protect the advantages he has or at least make excuses for not doing anything about sexism.

Besides, there's a huge body of objective evidence that "innate" differences in ability between men and women are tiny, and certainly not enough to account for the vast gulf between outcomes in our society. People seem to have a strong tendency to falsely attribute differences to gender, like if they have two children, a boy and a girl, and the boy plays with trucks while the girl prefers dolls, they leap to the conclusion that it's absolutely natural and unchangeable that all men have an affinity for mechanical things and women for communication and relationships. In any other case, any half-way intelligent person would think, hm, sample of two, not really very strong evidence here. Also, the media tends to do things like report a study where dozens of characteristics are compared and the differences between the genders are smaller than the experimental error for all of them but one, with banner headlines declaring that that one characteristic proves that men and women are fundamentally different.

They assume that men shooting their mouths off about feminism and gender are objective and scientific, while women who have spent years studying feminist issues just want to be victims and put ideology ahead of empirical facts. Which might just possibly be a sexist assumption, dontcha think?

OK, this is just a start; I have to go to work now, but will try to expand on this later.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:November 10th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 03:57 pm (livredor's time)
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The other problem I have here is the fact that they were contributing to a women-unfriendly working environment by having that conversation in a public place. I have emphasised that I don't think they did it deliberately in order to be sexist, but it still has that effect. I also don't think they should be banned from having this kind of conversation, I just wish they didn't feel the desire to!

A young female scientist (eg me) who hears this kind of conversation gets the message that senior men in the department think women are innately less good at science than men, and even if they are equally good they choose to have babies instead of pursuing a high level career, and if they ever try to do anything about any unfair treatment they may encounter, they're just clinging to victim identity and obviously not being objective enough. Of course, no woman who has got this far is going to give up entirely just because she overhears one sexist conversation. But she knows that this kind of attitude, basically egalitarian but annoyed at feminism for not listening to men enough and not willing to do anything active to prevent discrimination, is about the best she can hope for among the men who will be making the decision whether to hire her, whether to promote her and so on. In my opinion, men who sincerely believe in the equality of all people should be doing better than this.
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From:feanelwa
Date:November 10th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Yeah, I had about this problem in a class way instead of a gender way recently. Eventually I just gave up trying to explain because the very nature of the problem meant they weren't even going to understand what I meant, never mind want to fix it, and I had better things to do.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:November 12th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 01:10 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Well, in this case I wasn't in a position to explain or argue, because I would have had to interrupt what was at least nominally a private conversation.

I can just imagine a similar problem around class, because it's sort of marginally socially acceptable to assert that upper middle class people are in fact superior to others. And people have really odd beliefs about "class war" and a huge dollop of defensiveness about any possible criticism of any middle class outlook. I'm glad that at least you knew when to give up, but that sounds a really, really annoying conversation.
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(no subject) - feanelwa (11/13/08 09:29 am)
syllopsium: default
From:syllopsium
Date:November 10th, 2008 12:27 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry
(Link)
The problem I have with this, is that there are so few well publicised resources[1] to show people exactly why their viewpoint is flawed. This I also believe is a fairly universal issue of one group who is possibly more privileged not wanting to see the situation of another group - it's not limited to feminism.

It is not the job of any single feminist to take onboard all viewpoints, educate and inform. However, it is a responsibility of the community as a whole, and the lack of rebuttal to viewpoints leads to assumptions. Assumptions hurt the feminist (or any other) cause.

I went round this route a while back and eventually someone brought up a feminist website - I must find the post and post the link, sometime. However, the fact that finding or being pointed at the information is not straightforward helps no-one.

Of course, even if such a resource did exist, change would still be slow. I know from direct experience that reasoned argument only works when the recipient(s) are ready to change; it's more than a little frustrating to get someone to admit that your argument is valid, but that they still won't change their mind because of their emotional response/background/baggage/whatever.

[1] This may well be an inflammatory comment.. However, note that a google on feminism is mostly extremely unhelpful. Feminism FAQ returns Feminism 101 on page 2 which appears to be quite good. Referring people to literature is a complete non starter. Any cause has to provide a basic rebuttal to myths, even if the initial answer is somewhat simplified i.e. If explaining bisexuality the Kinsey scale is used first, as introducing the Klein grid and gender into the mix tends to make the uninitiated's head explode..
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:November 12th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 01:30 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
As I mentioned to you last night, I think this an interesting point. Even though feminists may get a bit impatient with men who have failed to notice that the feminist movement has been around for a hundred and fifty years plus, and need to go back to square one all the time, it is extremely necessary to have basic, accessible resources available. I think many feminists, particularly early feminists, decided that persuading men one at at a time to support their cause was too slow and inefficient, and if they wanted change they were going to have to fight for it themselves. While this is still true, there is some value in convincing men who are well-intentioned but clueless, in addition to all the other activities of feminism.

With these particular guys, though, they weren't complaining of being frustrated because they couldn't find out anything about feminism. They were complaining that they already know everything about feminism and it's boring and intellectually sterile, but they're kind of sympathetic to the idea of women's rights anyway. They're also academics themselves and wouldn't go looking for a simplified overview or FAQ, they are quite capable of reading scholarly articles, especially the guy who's actually a sociologist himself! You can't really convert someone who thinks they're already feminist, I think. If you tried to present them with basic resources, they would probably be offended that you assumed they were ignorant "just because they're male".
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From:curious_reader
Date:November 10th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I think they live in the wrong century. Even during their time or whatever time they think about women did not choose to live as houswifes and look after children. It was what the society and especially men espected from them. Every woman is different. Even people men at my age think that it is natural for woman to want children themselves. They are those who actually never took any responsibilities for children. I work (volunteer) in a nursery which is in completely different environment then in a private house. I would not be able to deal with them myself and especially in non-children-save environment. People who talk like that have no idea what they are talking about.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:November 12th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 01:34 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
This is absolutely right; they see women "choosing" to leave their jobs in order to be full-time mothers, but they don't see the social pressures on these women to take that option. I don't know if their age can be blamed, though, they're in their 40s and 50s and have grown up in a world where at least in theory men and women have equal rights. And they probably did contribute to looking after their own kids, cos most Swedish men do. But even so, they have exactly the problem you say of assuming they can make generalizations about all women, without considering individual differences or the society context women are in.
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