tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
From an online discussion about sexism in graduate programs:
"Alice": Dropout rates might be an interesting thing to study, but the simple lack of women in the field is also quite important, and is probably one of the strongest factors affecting the dropout rate. While that is merely conjecture, I would say that it fits well with my experience, and I believe it to be demonstrably true.

And a reply:
"Bob": This "they don't feel included" notion is harmful. The problem is not that someone doesn't feel included. The problem is that we're raising insecure people unnecessarily hung up on what other people will think of them. This should be fixed by raising children better. Not by changing the environments at our universities.

If someone raised their daughter (or son) in such a way that she (or he) discards a carrier simply because s/he feels unwelcome in that particular environment because of lack of other people sharing some physical feature, then they raised an insecure weakling who is overly concerned about what other people think of her/him.

Fuck that. We should not be baby-proofing our environment so that people with stupid irrational insecurities don't have their feelings hurt. We should focus on raising independent people, not on crippling university environments.

All I ever cared about is what I want to do. Other people? Well, why should they have a say in what I should do with my life. It seems ridiculous to me that someone would base their major decisions on what sports do people at the CS department play or what kind of dirty jokes they like

I find "Bob"'s comment (not his real name) to be a great example of a meme that people who want to deny the existence of oppressions and their role in them often employ. The basic template is: "[insert social problem here] wouldn't be a problem if those of you who it affects would just toughen up and learn to ignore it."

Of course, this statement is generally made by people who have never had to toughen up and learn to ignore the problem in question, because the problem isn't their problem.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that it's possible for a group -- for example, women -- to learn to ignore a problem that affects them -- for example, institutional sexism that denies them career opportunities. And let's suppose, again, for the sake of argument, that ignoring the problem would make it go away. This seems a bit absurd in the context of being a graduate student where if you ignore the people who are potentially treating you in sexist ways, you can't do your job; also because sexist behavior is often subtle and hard for an individual to perceive directly. It usually bypasses your conscious mind and goes straight to making you feel inferior, all with no chance for you to decide to "be tough" and ignore it.

But maybe the argument is that every woman ought to be supremely tough and completely impervious to anyone else's best efforts to make them feel like less of a person? (Men are exempt from this imperative of insensitivity, of course, as evinced by any "pro-men's-rights" rant about how men are oppressed because they don't get to dictate the contents of their partners' uteruses, have as much condomless sex with fertile individuals as they'd like without paying child support, or... okay, I'm drawing a blank here, but I'm sure there are lots of other ways in which men are oppressed.) I'm not sure how a person would go about doing that (perhaps installing a punching bag in one's basement with a carefully mounted image of Lawrence Summers on it and practicing for 30 minutes a day?), but let's suppose it's possible.

What is "Bob" really saying, then? I think he's saying that the burden of ameliorating an oppression is on the people being oppressed, not the people doing the oppressing. Explaining away a problem by telling people that it wouldn't be a problem if they learned to ignore it explains nothing and solves nothing. It just shifts the emotional labor onto everybody except the people who are causing the problem -- the people who are in a position of power and privilege. And why should we accept that?

As always, Samuel Delany says it better than I can:
There are no sexist decisions to be made.

There are antisexist decisions to be made. And they require tremendous energy and self-scrutiny, as well as moral stamina in the face of the basic embarrassment campaign which is the tactic of those assured of their politically superior position. ("Don't you think you're being rather silly offering your pain as evidence that something I do so automatically and easily is wrong? Why, I bet it doesn't hurt half as much as you say. Perhaps it only hurts because you're struggling...?" This sort of political mystification, turning the logical arrows around inside verbal structures to render them empirically empty, and therefore useless ["It hurts because you don't like it", rather than "You don't like it because it hurts."] is just another version of the "my slave/my master" game.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-06 05:47 pm (UTC)
talia_et_alia: Photo of my short blue hair. (Default)
From: [personal profile] talia_et_alia
s/he feels unwelcome in that particular environment because of lack of other people sharing some physical feature

Actually, Bob apparently thinks women parse the lack of women in a particular field as the problem, rather than a warning sign that there might be a problem. As if sexism has no effect in majority-women's occupations, or something.

Not to mention that nearly all career paths have features unrelated to the subject matter that turn people off to them. Simply "wanting to do" CS, or pastoral care, or child-rearing doesn't necessarily mean you want to take on the current institutional realities of those fields, or that you can magically find or create space to do it in a way that suits you. Sexism is often the last straw, not the only straw.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-06 05:55 pm (UTC)
kyriacarlisle: rygel holding a card reading WOE (didn't win the internet)
From: [personal profile] kyriacarlisle
Wow. Bob made me start swearing before coffee (and during coffee, and after coffee).

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-07 05:14 pm (UTC)
marcellinafuriosa: Vanity Fair is disappointed with her minions (sarcasm)
From: [personal profile] marcellinafuriosa
But...um...if you broadcast the message that you don't want people who are "overly concerned about what other people think of them", aren't you kind of self-selecting for assholes and sociopaths?

(Also, it's a pity "Bob"'s parents didn't teach him to spell.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-07 06:25 pm (UTC)
marcellinafuriosa: none of the pods and pads they wrecked the Earth to make work, but the book still works! (alien with book)
From: [personal profile] marcellinafuriosa
I *think* he meant "career" when he wrote "carrier"- or was I just mistaken?

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-07 08:34 pm (UTC)
marcellinafuriosa: (Beatrice Lillie)
From: [personal profile] marcellinafuriosa
"Using the word in some sense I didn't know" was my first thought, too, but the more I looked at it the more I was like, "Wait, this is a 'failed to read over before posting' situation."

I've never had much of a problem with homophones- my major vice (as far as electronic comments go) seems to be putting in too many nested sets of parentheses, losing track of them, and leaving one set open.

And saying stupid things, of course!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-08 05:24 am (UTC)
marcellinafuriosa: (Samuel Johnson)
From: [personal profile] marcellinafuriosa
I'm trying to cure myself of mentioning such things unless they're in cake inscriptions, cover letters, or Posts of How I Am Unassailably Right and Have Won By the Laws of Social Darwinism, such as the above.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-08 11:11 pm (UTC)
marcellinafuriosa: Holman Hunt's posthumous portrait of his first wife, Fanny. (Default)
From: [personal profile] marcellinafuriosa
As many a person on FB has said, "I know what I'm doing! I wanted it spelled that way!"


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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