Sayeth the Girl

by Alicorn2 min read19th Jul 2009503 comments


Sex & Gender

Disclaimer: If you are prone to dismissing women's complaints of gender-related problems as the women being whiny, emotionally unstable girls who see sexism where there is none, this post is unlikely to interest you.

For your convenience, links to followup posts: Roko says; orthonormal says; Eliezer says; Yvain says; Wei_Dai says

As far as I can tell, I am the most active female poster on Less Wrong.  (AnnaSalamon has higher karma than I, but she hasn't commented on anything for two months now.)  There are not many of us.  This is usually immaterial.  Heck, sometimes people don't even notice in spite of my girly username, my self-introduction, and the fact that I'm now apparently the feminism police of Less Wrong.

My life is not about being a girl.  In fact, I'm less preoccupied with feminism and women's special interest issues than most of the women I know, and some of the men.  It's not my pet topic.  I do not focus on feminist philosophy in school.  I took an "Early Modern Women Philosophers" course because I needed the history credit, had room for a suitable class in a semester when one was offered, and heard the teacher was nice, and I was pretty bored.  I wound up doing my midterm paper on Malebranche in that class because we'd covered him to give context to Mary Astell, and he was more interesting than she was.  I didn't vote for Hilary Clinton in the primary.  Given the choice, I have lots of things I'd rather be doing than ferreting out hidden or less-than-hidden sexism on one of my favorite websites.

Unfortunately, nobody else seems to want to do it either, and I'm not content to leave it undone.  I suppose I could abandon the site and leave it even more masculine so the guys could all talk in their own language, unimpeded by stupid chicks being stupidly offended by completely unproblematic things like objectification and just plain jerkitude.  I would almost certainly have vacated the site already if feminism were my pet issue, or if I were more easily offended.  (In general, I'm very hard to offend.  The fact that people here have succeeded in doing so anyway without even, apparently, going out of their way to do it should be a great big red flag that something's up.)  If you're wondering why half of the potential audience of the site seems to be conspicuously not here, this may have something to do with it.

So can I get some help?  Some lovely people have thrown in their support, but usually after I or, more rarely, someone else sounds the alarm, and usually without much persistence or apparent investment.  There is still conspicuous karmic support for some comments that perpetuate the problems, which does nothing to disincentivize being piggish around here - some people seem to earnestly care about the problem, but this isn't enforced by the community at large, it's just a preexisting disposition (near as I can tell).

I would like help reducing the incidence of:

  • Comments and posts that casually objectify women or encourage the objectification of women.  "Objectification" is what happens when a person is treated or discussed as an object, not as an autonomous being.  (Non-women can also be objectified, and that too should be stopped.)
  • Casual use of masculine and/or heteronormative examples in posts and comments that aren't explicitly about gender.  It's just not that hard to come up with an unsexed example.  Be especially careful when using the second person.  If you need to use an example with a gender, there's no reason to consider male the default - consider choosing randomly, or you could use a real person as an example (who isn't presumed to archetypically represent anyone in the audience) instead of a hypothetical one (who might be).
  • Sweeping generalizations about women, if they are not backed up by overwhelming hard data (responsibly gathered and interpreted).  The cost of being wrong about this sort of thing is high, even if the culprits don't bear it themselves, and extreme care should be taken.
  • Fawning admiration of pickup artists who attain their fame by the systematic manipulation of women.  If it is necessary to refer admiringly to a pickup artist or pickup strategy (I'm not sure why it would be, but if), care should be taken to choose one whose methods are explicitly non-depersonalizing, and disclaim that specifically in the comment.

We could use more of the following:

  • Thoughtful use of qualifiers and disclaimers in talk about sex and gender.  Robin is not right.
  • Attention to the privileges of masculinity and attempts to reduce that disparity.  (Note that of course there are also female privileges, but until Less Wrong hosts custody battles or we start suspecting that some of us might be violent criminals, they are unlikely to come into play nearly so much in this location.)

Thank you for your attention and, hopefully, your assistance.

Sex & Gender2