Monday, November 17, 2014

I Guess Chicks Just Don't Have a Sense of Humor

Update: the friend I mentioned whose Tweets motivated this post was horribly offended at the way I characterized him in this post. I have modified the text to be more fair to him, and to attempt to make it clearer that my criticism is not of him, personally, but of the idea that "the feminist reaction to this incident was bullying or was out of proportion."

A few years ago, I used an expression in the office to indicate that I had been mildly cheated.

I said I was "gypped" out of something.

It's an expression I've heard used without comment my whole life. In some cases, when it was used, it was indicated that it was the polite and acceptable version of a similar expression used to malign Jewish people. Most of the people I have known my whole life would never say they were "jewed" out of something (though I have heard it, obviously), but they would say they were "gypped" without a second thought.

But when I used "gypped" I was promptly scolded by a co-worker. "My grandmother was Hungarian, and she would have slapped you for that!"

I was taken aback, because after all, I spent the first thirty-something years of my life thinking that was a safe thing to say. I felt a little outraged at being scolded, of course, and it seemed like such an insignificant thing to be complaining about.

But because I am a grown up, I had to own up.

It had never occurred to me that "gypped" had anything to do with "gypsies." Nor had I put together that people identified with the Roma and Eastern European folks in general had been mistreated and maligned with this expression for generations - though I am a linguist and a generally smart person, and I probably should have figured that out at some point.  In the end, my reaction to being called out for it was to apologize and I have avoided using that term ever since.

Of course, I COULD have thrown a fit about Political Correctness Run Amok and explained carefully and patiently to that co-worker just how she should feel about me, a privileged white male, using whatever damned words I like. Or I could have decried a culture in which, to borrow from Richard Dawkins:

"An unhealthy reactionism is being cultivated whereby every action by every human is hijacked as a commentary on [someone else]."

I could have pretended that I was the victim for being scolded. But there is a term for that kind of person, too, which is all too appropriate: "dick."

So why did I tell you this story?  Because last week, the "Shirtstorm" happened.  Go to that link, and read all about it if you aren't already familiar with that story.

I really didn't want to comment on this. I have other things I'd rather be doing. But I'm writing THIS because I have one dear friend keeps weighing in via Twitter, and he told me on said public platform that he is "sort of astonished that [I] don't think the collective punishment [by feminists] of the entire scientific community wasn't warranted." So this is my response to that - in much, much more than 140 characters.

From my friend's point of view, feminists "attacked" the ESA and the entire scientific community.  They "hijacked" what should have been an amazing scientific achievement (it was!) and they should have kept their outrage to themselves.

He referred me to this USA Today article in which Glenn Harlan Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) describes the shirt in question as being "made for him by a female 'close pal'" and decries "the online feminist lynch mob" which "forced...a tearful apology". All of this strikes me as hyperbolic muckraking, since a) no one was lynched, and b) the apology was in order. (And it doesn't matter that the "female 'close pal'" made the shirt any more than it matters that George Wallace had some friends who were black.)

(Update: my friend later pointed out that he agreed that the offending shirt was in poor taste and that the he agreed the apology was necessary. That was not obvious to me until after I wrote this post, and I'm adding this because it's not fair to him to imply that he is attacking that point. But I am leaving the rest of my remarks as they stand with minor edits because a) he claimed the USA Today article "doesn't go quite far enough," thus clearly claiming the stated opinions in it - including the use of the phrase "lynch mob" - as mirroring his own and b) my argument from the start has been that the reaction from women and men within the astronomical and STEM communities that prompted the apology was merited; it was the anti-feminist response (which my friend has clearly joined) which was out of proportion - a position also publicly stated by the American Astronomical Society.)

Here are the tweet cited in the USA Today article which constitute the "lynch mob" and their "collective punishment":

The Atlantic's Rose Eveleth tweeted, "No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt." 


Astrophysicist Katie Mack commented: "I don't care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn't appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM." 

Just so we're clear - I think those two comments were correct. I think Astrophysicist Katie Mack has all of the credibility and standing she needs to criticize the treatment of women in STEM. And I'm willing to take the bet that Rose Eveleth knows exactly how women are "welcomed" in the community. Any community dominated by men, that is.

Here's just a small sample of articles you can read about how welcoming the community is to women:

Why Women Leave Academia - The Guardian

Nature vs. Nurture; Girls and STEM - on Nature blogs

Gender Biases and the Science of Facing Reality - Scientific American blogs

Or maybe you prefer peer reviewed science on the topic:

I will reiterate: the apology was in order.

"I'm sorry, I didn't think about that before I did it.  I should have realized that in the current climate of 'GamerGate', where women are literally driven out of their homes by physical threats of death, rape, and violence, that this wouldn't be taken well. I should have realized that in the climate of 'ElevatorGate' where women who come forward to report abuse at conventions (including STEM events) are further harassed and blamed for the events, I should have known that this message would not be taken in the light hearted manner it was intended."

And Mr. Dawkins, should have learned his lesson already, having apologized for the "Dear Muslima" incident.  (Apparently, he did not.)

I will happily provide more links for anyone who doesn't know what GamerGate, or ElevatorGate is, or for anyone who doubts the assertions of abuse at conventions - well, not happily, because it is sickening that there ARE so many links to so many different incidents - but I am asserting that this is true: the scientific community DOES have a problem with women. They are NOT welcomed, and they are constantly reminded of their second class status.

And I would have been able to safely assert that before the Shirtstorm.

Yes, this shirt was a minor thing.  It was commented on, the error was admitted, and it should be over.

But it isn't.

Because Men have been offended, now.  They need to explain to these silly women why they don't need to be making such a big deal - after all, it's not like anyone got HURT, right?  It's important to maintain balance; the men shouldn't be criticized - that's practically lynching! Because if women were really being assaulted, harassed, attacked, threatened, "doxxed", DOS'ed, cheated (not gypped), and discriminated against, we would all line up and defend them... wouldn't we?

For the sarcasm challenged, let me "mansplain" this back to my fellow men:

We treat women like shit.  We ignore women the fact that we treat women like shit. And sometimes we act more offended when they speak up and tell us to knock it off than they do when they are actually, physically attacked.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I've been paying attention to the women around me. I'm listening to them at work, reading their blogs and tweets online; I'm asking them questions, and I'm finding out just how often they don't report assault, harassment, and outright rape simply because they don't want to add the additional ordeal of being accused of making it up, or of bringing it on themselves. Think about that. It's like saying you don't want to report having your car stolen because you're afraid the police will arrest you for not protecting it enough. Only... way worse.

I work in the federal government, where we've been getting sensitivity training for 20 years, and one of my female colleagues recently left the agency because a manager grabbed her breast in a stairwell when no one was around. Why would she leave her job rather than report him?

Because she saw what happened to the women who complained about the jokes, the pictures, the (admittedly quiet) cat-calls, and the email harassment.

My wife works in the federal government. She was propositioned by a superior her first year on the job. She has watched promotions handed out which, while "earned" in one sense, were not earned according to merit and job requirements. She reports what she feels safe reporting, which isn't a lot. After all, the agency spent more resources trying to track down an anonymous report of wrongdoing than they did punishing the wrong doers.

(And do I need to recount the stories about what happens to women in the military who are deployed on ships or remote bases? I hope not, because I'd rather not.)

Yes, sometimes women are awful, too. Sometimes, good men are cheated in a divorce. Sometimes it really, really isn't fair that because of feminism, a lousy mother gets custody of the kids sometimes.  And of course, #notallmen - you've always got that to console yourself with.

But the reality is that women get the short end of the stick, and what really kills me is that none of the actual attacks on them ever seem to be called outrageous by Richard Dawkins, or by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, or by any of the chortling bros spreading memes about models wearing shirts with "scientist pin-ups" on them.

Do you want to know why feminists get outraged so easily? That's why. Because two tweets is a "lynch mob" but actual assault is just fodder for mocking feminism.

Fuck that shit.

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