Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sexism in the Extremes

Subtitle: From Just Preferring Men to Shooting All the Women

I've been a woman for 46 years. I had one epiphany about sexism when I was about 26 years old when a older woman working in the electronics factory overheard me complaining about something insulting said to me in a meeting. She said, "He would have never said that to you if you weren't a woman."

I just had my second epiphany about sexism this spring: Sexists only listen to men. I came to this realization partly as a result of starting to follow women on Twitter and reading about it more. It finally dawned on me that it doesn't matter what women say about this topic. Sexists only listen to men. And everybody is sexist, even feminists. We just don't even know it. My extremely liberal mother will take any advice a man offers, no matter how illogical, without doing any of her own research. She just implicitly believes a man knows what he's talking about. And she automatically distrusts me when it comes to things men usually do. She refuses to believe I can fix a septic tank problem no matter how much research and experience I have.

I was on IM the other day telling a friend of mine (a man) the story of the academic who had her job offer rescinded because she tried to negotiate the details, and about the attorney general in Texas who pays women less than men. My friend said "I don't believe women are paid less than men. If that were true women would have all the jobs."

This was kind of a sweet thing to say, in a way. He genuinely thinks women are just fine. He doesn't get how many companies simply do not want them. They would rather pay more for men than work with women. It reminds me of that Pete Seeger song written by his sister about being an engineer. She was only hired because they couldn't afford a man, but the implication was that they hated it and as soon as the budget increased she would be out so a man could have her job.

I recently figured out that when I was in undergraduate school things were better for women than they are now. Back in the '90s there was such a high demand for scientists and engineers nobody gave a damn if you were a woman or a man. But now that there are so few jobs businesses don't want women, they only want men. Just one example, the percentage of female computer scientists has plummeted from 50% when I graduated from college to less than 30% now.

I mused about this to my father the other day, a man heavily involved in the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, and he said, "Well of course businesses should preferably hire men. Women will just get pregnant and quit."

My introvert neurology prevented me from formulating a proper response. I just said, "Oh, like all those times I failed to finish a job because I had a baby." (I have been vehemently child free my entire life and have NEVER left a job without reaching the goal of the project.) Of course this exchange has been bothering me ever since. Thanks to reading lots of articles recently about sexism I realized there's nothing I can do about my father. All I could think of to do was write a letter to my brother and appeal to him as the father of three daughters, "Please reassure me you understand how reprehensible that attitude is." He didn't answer.

It requires men speaking out to change the attitudes of men. It's down to men to tell the other men not to rape women. It's down to men to tell other men that they must practice fair hiring and not presume women are mindless baby factories with magical moneybag husbands. (Who does that?! I don't have a lot of women friends from college but the ones I do have make more money at their important responsible jobs than their husbands. I don't think it ever occurred to them to stop working when they got pregnant.)

It's up to men to change the culture so both genders get equal parental leave like Scandinavians. If that was the case then fathers and mothers would have the same expectations. I'm horrified to live in a culture that says Mary Bara, the CEO of GM, is expected to act a certain way about cars that routinely kill people because she's a mother. Were none of the male CEOs fathers? I don't believe it for a second. Why is it up to a mother to not want to kill people with her product but it's ok for a father? I should think any engineer would be insulted as hell by the idea that they should knowingly produce a deadly product, regardless of their gender or reproductive status. Is this just a management major thing, killing your customers?

I think the low end of the sexism spectrum is covered really well in this article on Slate titled "Sexists Don't Hate Women. They Just Prefer Men." It's scientific.
In a review of five decades of psychological research, they found that while most researchers defined prejudice as an expression of hostility, the more pervasive form of bigotry in the United States comes from people who favor, admire, and trust people of their own race, gender, age, religion, or parenting status. Even people who share our birthdays can catch a break. That means that—to take just one example—sexist bias isn’t largely perpetuated by people who hate women. It’s furthered by men who just particularly like other men.
I don't know what to do about that. It seems like a problem that needs a solution, but I'm stumped.

On the other extreme of sexism we have a man in Santa Barbara who went on a killing spree because women didn't find him attractive. There is a part of society telling men that women owe them something. I read some good commentary on this news from rational women. I followed Xeni Jardin's advice on about the YouTube video that has already been taken down. (Seven dead, seven injured in Santa Barbara rampage shooting.) "There are copies floating around. Do yourself a favor and do not watch it, your life will be better for it."

I read an article on Skepchick by Courtney Caldwell titled "'Alpha Male' Elliot Rogers' Retribution."
Of course, instead of talking about these issues, the media will likely default to the usual armchair diagnosis and hand-wringing fuckery about how Elliot Rodger was "crazy" and "mentally unstable." It has already begun with Sheriff Brown who told reporters, "It’s obviously the work of a madman." Spoiler Alert: Unless you were Elliot Rodger's therapist, you don't get to diagnose him. To do so is not only actively contributing to mental illness stigmatization, but it’s perfectly plausible that it's not even accurate. To quote Miri Mogilevsky of Brute Reason, "It is not actually 'crazy' to believe stuff that’s been shoved down your throat from birth." 
We simply can't ignore how dangerous this movement's rhetoric is, while hoping that they'll simply fade into the darkness. If you still think Men's Rights and Nice Guy rhetoric doesn’t actively condone violence against women, you need to start paying attention. If you think society as a whole doesn't tell men that they are entitled to women's time and sexuality, you need to start paying attention. You need to be angry.
BoingBoing referred to PUA and I didn't remember what that stood for at first. I figured out it's Pick-Up Artist. Later there was an article about it on Slate, "The Pick-Up Artist Community's, Predictable, Horrible Response To a Mass Murder."
Rodger was also allegedly a member of, a website for men who feel they’ve been tricked by the Pick-Up Artist pyramid scheme, which takes men’s money and promises to teach them how to have sex with women. (And not just any woman, but one who scores at least a 7 on the PUA decimal rating scale of female attractiveness.) PUA Hate is a community devoted to criticizing the Pick-Up Artist movement and “the scams, deception, and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to deceive men and profit from them." It is not, however, interested in putting an end to the PUA community’s objectification of women; it simply complains that the tips and tricks don’t work.
Here's a cross stitch design I made for my grandmother
when I was a little girl. This sort of thing taught me
 that I could decide to do something and then do it.
I did not need a self-help coach to teach
 me this about myself.
Despite not recognizing the acronym I do know a bit about pick-up artists. One of my best friends I talk to all the time went to high school with a guy who is part of this community. His name is Tynan. He has an eponymous blog about self-improvement including the story of how he became a Famous Pickup Artist. It seems he approached learning to pick up women as just one of his many projects like learning languages or to play the violin or to support himself playing competitive poker. I have a pretty hard time reading the stuff about pick-up, and actually all the self-helpy stuff grosses me out pretty bad as well. He's not a bad writer, but I've always preferred to figure out for myself how to run my life. To just have somebody else tell me how to do it seems like cheating. One of his recent blog posts about trusting yourself to follow through is a rather precise description of my own approach to life. Yet it makes me very uncomfortable to read it. I would never write that on my blog. I decided to restore an old aircraft trailer so I could sit down to work on my computer. And then I did it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't finish. I've been starting and finishing projects since I was just a little girl. It seems that if you are old enough to go reading blogs for life advice you are too old to learn to trust yourself to finish something.

I kind of feel the same about the pick-up stuff. I think figuring out what works for you is an essential part of the process. Just having somebody else teach you their extremely offensive method seems like a bad idea. As an empathetic person I can feel Ty's anxiety about women and I understand that he considered it a form of growth to overcome what he saw as a flaw in himself, but the terminology gives me the creeps. The idea of breaking down the act of meeting somebody into defined steps, I don't know, it just feels really wrong to me. I'm not opposed to a systematic approach to things, but in this case I am just not able to get behind it. From How I became a famous pick-up artist Part 1:
When I arrived at Spill, Hayden and others were already there. Immediately, Hayden asked, "Are you ready for your first set?" 
A set is a group of people, including at least one girl, that you approach and talk to.
I'm sorry, I hear "set" and I think of surfers. To me Pick-Up Artists are surfers and women are waves.  "Are you ready for your first set?" sounds like they are paddling out, diving through smaller waves, counting how many are in a set, deciding that the seventh and biggest wave is the only one worth riding. I am simply uncomfortable having this strategy applied to meeting people. Women. I expect they have a term for the woman they are trying to pick up and I don't even want to know what it is. I want this person to not be reprehensible, but I struggle with it. He sounds like a tool. But he's a friend of a friend of mine. They hang out on holidays. I doubt Ty approves of a man shooting up a sorority house. I'm interested to see if he responds to this shooting rampage with a blog post, but he seems to be out of the country.

My point about the pick-up artist is that while I am trying not to hate them all automatically, I'm afraid the people that are delivering advice like they know how to improve everything, well, maybe they actually aren't helping. It may be more important for people to learn to think for themselves

I think there is value in doing your own research so you can choose what to do based on your own capabilities, resources, and personality. People should practice thinking for themselves early and often. It's like the value of really learning to cook so you can read several recipes and then make up a slight variation with the ingredients you actually have instead of just going to the store to buy things you can't afford so you can follow a recipe exactly. You might end up with a great dish that way, but it isn't yours, it's just a copy.

It's important for people to think for themselves, and it's important for the men who really do see women as equals to point out when other men are being unfair.

From BoingBoing, quoting Elliot Roger in the video:
“I will be a god compared to you. You will all be animals. You are animals, and I will slaughter you like animals. I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species," the man in the video says.
Well, way to prove yourself right, Elliot Roger. I disagree with his idea that he is somehow above humanity just because he recognizes that they are disgusting, wretched, and depraved. I'm as misanthropic as the next atheist old maid in the south, sure humanity is disgusting, wretched, and depraved. But I don't think shooting up my neighbors who only like people the exact opposite of me is going to make me better than them. Quite the opposite, it would reflect poorly on all atheist old maids and I don't think we need that kind of press. Yet somehow rich white guys can keep doing this shit and it never diminishes the status of their demographic.

** Update May 25 **
From wikipedia rampage killer entry supporting my assertion
about rampage killings by white men.
(Chart doesn't say men, but there are no women's names in the lists.)
Laurie Penny, a writer I follow on Twitter, posted an article on this topic today, "Let's call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism." She writes about feminism all the time; she gets rape threats. She's bona fide. I am surprised that all by myself I came to the same notion about the importance of thinking for yourself. I mean, I guess it makes my point for me, but I'm still patting myself on the back for it. (You can tell she's worked up because of the typos.)
Violent extremism always attracts the lost, the broken, young men full of rage at the hand they’ve been dealt. Violent extremism entices those who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack they courage to think for themselves, beyond the easy answers they are offered by pedlars of hate. Misogynist extremism is no different. For some time now misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. The pattern is repeatedly denied: these are the words and actions of the disturbed.
The whole article is very good. She is speaking in terms of how to move forward, what to do about it, which is what I want. Not just blaming the NRA or the Pick-Up Artists, but talking about how the men that AREN'T the problem MUST be part of the solution. If there is to be one at all. I want solutions. It's part of my engineer mentality. But reading the comments under a Laurie Penny article quickly reminds me that most people want to either cast blame or claim it's not a statistically relevant event and disallow using it as a conversation starter to move towards an improvement.
As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world - not all men, but enough men - began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear. Not all men are violent misogynists. 
Well, there have always been good men. Actually, I firmly believe that today there are more tolerant, humane men who recognise and celebrate the equality of the sexes than there have ever been before. Today, what I hear from many men and boys who talk to me about gender justice - decent, humane men and boys of the kind the twenty-teens are also, blessedly, producing in great numbers - is fear and bewilderment. Who are these people? Where do they live? And the unspoken fear: do I know them? Might I have met some of them, drunk with them? If the wind had changed when I was growing, if I had read different books and had different friends, might it have been me? If any man is capable of this, is every man capable of it? 
Well, those are the correct questions to ask. What I hear more often, however, is “not all men”. I hear that age-old horror of women’s anger drowning out everything else. Not all men are like this. Don’t look at us. Don’t shout at us. Please, don’t ask us to stand up and be counted. 
One thing I’ve found, when talking to people involved in the savage end of the "Men’s Rights" community, the Pickup Artist scene, or both, is that to a chap they are keen that I understand the difference between their grouplet and the next - those guys over there hate women, those guys over there have a broken worldview, we’re the reasonable ones. And before the charges of book-burning and censorship begin: interpretation does change everything. There are certainly men out there who engage with the ideas of "Pickup Artistry" without absorbing the contemptuous misogyny at its core, much less pursuing it to its conclusion. One of my best relationships, in fact, was with a young man who swore by The Game as a handbook for shy boys who wanted to be able to talk to girls at parties, whilst mocking the sexism at its core. 
So no, it’s not all men. But then it never was. 
But if you think for one second, for one solitary second, that demanding tolerance for men as a group, that dismissing the reality of violence against women because not all men kill, not all men rape, if you think that’s more important than demanding justice for those who have been brutalised and murdered by those not all men, then you are part of the problem. You may not have pulled the trigger. You may not have raised your hand to a woman in your life. But you are part of the problem.
I very grateful that I've only gotten positive feedback on this blog post through Twitter and IM. Both my friends I mentioned in it responded briefly. I'm grateful that so few people read my blog. I don't want to be like Laurie Penny, haunted by violent threats. I like to write, but I sure don't like when mean people read it.

No comments:

Post a Comment