David Thompson
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July 09, 2008

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David

Jean,

Rather than make lazy and tendentious comparisons with race and references to plantations, wouldn’t it be more convincing to actually demonstrate the basis of your claim that “women still get the short end of the stick by a wide margin”? If indeed you can, and if indeed “women” do. Then you’d be in a much better position to tell other people what they may or may not find funny.

Jean K.

Not lazy, not tendentious. Actually, so obvious I'm amazed none of your very clever commenters thought of it themselves. White resentment does make people grumble about affirmative action. You may not like it, but your grumbling about "female privilege" is very similar. In fact, instead of making lazy and tendentious accusations that I'm being lazy and tendentious, why not tell me what's wrong with the analogy?

As to whether women get the short end of the stick. Oh come on. Lower wages, fewer positions of power, less representation in government, less respect...and that's not even getting into the massive problems women have in developing countries. If you're not aware of all that, then I'm not going to waste my time instructing you.

I did not tell anyone what to find funny. I told them their finding this funny is exactly like the redneck finding jokes about black privilege funny. Which it is.

David

Jean,

It’s true that many of the comments left here are glib and “doltish” – I briefly closed the thread because the discussion was getting buried by the monotony. But your own comment follows a pretty standard pattern – one that’s scarcely less glib. Instead of demonstrating exactly *why* claims of systemic “male privilege” should be taken seriously, if indeed they should, a loaded comparison is made with some other sensitised issue, presumably in the hope that people will stop laughing or testing the premise. For all its indignation, your earlier comment adds little to the debate and merely assumes a conclusion that hasn’t actually been earned.

“Why not tell me what's wrong with the analogy?”

It rather begs the question.

“White resentment does make people grumble about affirmative action. You may not like it, but your grumbling about ‘female privilege’ is very similar.”

Perhaps you’re confusing my comments with those made by others. And, again, you insist on a rather loaded comparison with race and act as if your premise had been established beyond question. It seems to me that there are different “privileges” earned by, and granted to, men *and* women, statistically, in various circumstances. Therefore, given the currency of the “male privilege” meme, at least in certain quarters, it seems perfectly reasonable to put forward examples – serious and otherwise - of what might likewise be deemed “female privilege”. That this should appear to some as provocative, exasperating or malicious in intent is, to me, bizarre. And a little suspicious. To argue, as some do, that “privilege” is an asset only of, or predominantly of, men, and supposedly all men, is absurd and, I think, insidious. And when appeals are made to “invisible” phenomena that are so selective and/or ill-defined, scepticism is hard to avoid. In recent years, the currency of complaint has become very cheap indeed, and accusations of misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc are thrown around a little too readily. That some people should grow tired of such careless, reflexive or opportunist use is hardly surprising. Hence much of the preceding thread.

The idiom of “male privilege” is ultimately too loaded and superficial to be of much real use. It seems to me primarily a cheap rhetorical device – one with two permissible outcomes: Either one agrees with the premise - and thus concedes one’s alleged “privilege” (along with that of all other men) - or one disagrees, in which case one is *still* guilty by virtue of not confessing to one’s alleged advantages. That so much of the debate should have come to this - and come to it so readily and so often – suggests enormously tendentious thinking. And perhaps a scarcity of genuine, demonstrable grievance, at least among those who eagerly deploy the term like some rhetorical Kryptonite.

“Oh come on. Lower wages, fewer positions of power, less representation in government, less respect…”

“Respect” is a little too nebulous to address in any meaningful way, and there may well be other factors to explain at least in part why the ratios of male and female politicians are currently as they are. There are, for instance, matters of statistical disposition and whether suitable candidates are available. See, for instance, the lengthy discussion that follows the post linked below. The comments on assuming “default” gender parity may be of particular interest:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/09/diversity.html

Regarding lower wages, we’re told at fairly regular intervals that women are being paid less than men for doing exactly the same work. But this is illegal in the UK and throughout much of the developed world, and we don’t seem to have a commensurate deluge of court cases involving actual *evidence* of this. In fact, the statistical disparity in earnings is overwhelmingly due to the choices women make during their working lifetimes, most obviously involving preferred jobs, pregnancy and child-rearing. This isn’t to say that unfair discrimination can’t possibly exist; merely that it is, very often, assumed rather than proved. See link below:

http://lattenomics.wordpress.com/2008/05/07/do-women-really-get-paid-less-than-men/

See also this:

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article4327438.ece

I apologise for the length of my comments and I hope they’re of some use.

Jean K.

The various points you make about wages and choices are all fine by me, but don't change the obvious fact that sexism continues to hold women back. Look, most of the statements of "female privilege" in your post are shallow. For example, it's not some silly unfair privilege that women, not men, make abortion decisions. The fact that women stay home with kids seems like pure privilege, but in fact husbands gain a great deal from having wives with the time to support their careers and raise their children. Both topics are discussible and interesting, but the quips seem to come from resentment, not insight. Which isn't funny. Some of the quips have more merit (yes, it's a privilege to able to be emotional and affectionate), but the underlying "energy" just strikes me as unwholesome. But you're right, the doltishness of some of the comments might be a lot of what created that impression.

David

Jean,

“The various points you make about wages and choices are all fine by me, but don't change the obvious fact that sexism continues to hold women back.”

How so? Given you concede the points regarding wages and choices, how exactly are women being “held back”? I’m not insisting that no woman is, but I think we need to be very clear on this rather broad assertion. It’s often stated as somehow self-evident, which it isn’t, at least not to me or most of the women I’ve asked. The notion of “male privilege” doesn’t impress them terribly.

“…it’s not some silly unfair privilege that women, not men, make abortion decisions.”

Well, I wasn’t advocating any particular position on abortion, but it seems to me that the points quoted in the post and later in the thread regarding a disparity of influence (in Western societies) are hardly trivial or ill-intended. (See Jeff’s comments, quoted July 14, 7:48.) But, yes, these are the kind of questions I’d hoped might be addressed. As I explained earlier in the thread, I didn’t have a predetermined agenda in posting the various lists; they were intended to spur discussion. I was curious and hoped readers might test the premise of “privilege” generally and see if it held up.

“But you're right, the doltishness of some of the comments might be a lot of what created that impression.”

It’s easily done, apparently, and I grew tired of it myself. But the “reactiveness,” as it were – the reflexive, sniffy dismissal - seems to affect both men and women. Or rather it affects *some* men and *some* women. :)

Anna

"If it was really true that you could hire a woman for three quarters of what you could hire a man with exactly the same qualifications, then employers would be crazy not to hire all women. It would be insane to hire men. Not only would it be insane, it would probably put them out of the business because the ones that were smart enough to hire women would have such a cost advantage that it would be really hard for the others to compete."

http://lattenomics.wordpress.com/2008/05/07/do-women-really-get-paid-less-than-men/

Spot on. And see the comments afterwards.

Anna

So... is Jean ever coming back to back up her claims? :)

David

Anna,

“So… is Jean ever coming back to back up her claims? :)”

I hope so, but perhaps not. I get that a lot.

“And see the comments afterwards.”

Yes, the comments over there are good and there are obvious parallels with what’s been happening here. Similar manoeuvres. Lots of hasty indignation and, on the whole, surprisingly little to back it up. I sometimes wonder how people can feel entitled to hold emphatic views, which, when challenged, they don’t seem prepared to explain or defend.

Jean K.

Anna, Your little smiley face suggests you think maybe I didn't come back because my claims were so outrageous and unsupportable, and I just felt defeated and not up to the task. But not at all. What I said in my last comment was--yes, women's place in the world is partly a matter of choices they make, but "sexism continues to hold them back." That's what David wants me to substantiate.

The thing is, it's just too obvious. A person who has to be convinced of this is like someone who needs to be convinced that racism holds back blacks. Duh! Yes, yes, you're going to say "lazy and tendentious" analogy, but they are things of a similar kind with a similar sort of obviousness.

Where would I even begin, if I wanted to make my case? Maybe with the number of men who said in recent polls they wouldn't vote for a woman for president (something like 20%, which cost Hillary Clinton dearly). Or I could talk about data that shows that when people read a text passage, they tend to rate it better if they're told it was written by a man. Or...blah, blah, blah.

I mean really, does anyone here actually want to affirm the sentence "sexism is a thing of the past in the western world"? It would amaze me.

David

Jean,

“The thing is, it's just too obvious… Where would I even begin, if I wanted to make my case?”

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It isn’t “obvious” to a great many people. And if you want to convince others – me, for instance – you’re going to have to actually make a case rather than grumbling about how “obvious” it is and how we really ought to just know without anyone bothering to explain or offering evidence. What puzzles me is the attitude that’s often expressed, as by you earlier, that: “If you’re not aware of all that, then I’m not going to waste my time instructing you.” You hear how it sounds?

“Maybe with the number of men who said in recent polls they wouldn't vote for a woman for president (something like 20%, which cost Hillary Clinton dearly). Or I could talk about data that shows that when people read a text passage, they tend to rate it better if they’re told it was written by a man. Or...blah, blah, blah.”

Hm. That’s it? It’s not exactly an overwhelming attempt, especially given your previous adamance. Please bear in mind I’m not saying there *isn’t* an argument to be made; I’m asking what the argument is, or what you think it is. Incidentally, regarding Hillary Clinton, this may be of interest:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/02/protected-speci.html

My basic point – well, one of them – is that there’s a tendency to repeat these sweeping claims of “privilege” as if they were self-evident and any dissent or criticism must therefore be malicious or beyond the pale. It seems to me these ideas are often absorbed and repeated uncritically, as if by osmosis, rather than established with compelling evidence. The issue of disparities in pay, for instance - which you advanced earlier - is a common meme and repeated all the time; yet when we look for evidence to support it, the claim begins to look doubtful and grandiose. Doesn’t that concern you?

In the developed world, the disparity in pay is overwhelmingly accounted for by the fact men and women often make different choices - they often work in different professions, some of which pay much more than others - especially physically hazardous or technically orientated positions. Women don’t usually wish to work in mining or construction, for instance. Is it “unfair” that women choose to work elsewhere? And if so, how so? As the pieces linked above make clear, women often have different work patterns during their lives and may favour different hours of work, before we even consider the impact of taking extended leave to rear children. Despite these fairly obvious factors, the argument is still frequently made as if men and women were interchangeable and had no differences in statistical inclination.

And in the UK we have an “Equalities Secretary,” Harriet Harman, who regurgitates the same loaded claim of a “gender pay gap” and then happily admits that her proposed “equality bill” would allow employers to discriminate against men of equal ability and experience, supposedly in the name of “progress” and to redress an “injustice” that isn’t actually what it seems.

http://news.scotsman.com/politics/Equality-supremo-Harman--admits.4229199.jp

In light of such moves - and the apparent indifference to moral objections - it’s hardly surprising that quite a few people - male and female - have taken a dislike to this kind of social engineering and many of the assumptions on which it’s based.

Jean K.

See, I think you're used to arguing with a different sort of person--the person who says it's all the fault of sexism, and every bit of wage disparity is due to prejudice, etc. etc. But see, I already admitted that wasn't so. I agree with you about the choice thing. Yes, some women get off the fast track voluntarily and that affects wages if they go back. Yes, some women prioritize children over career. Etc. etc. But there are lots of other factors affecting where women wind up in life. I'm adamant that there's still sexism, yes. You didn't like my two points that showed this, so I guess I'm supposed to come up with another two, or 10, or whatever will convince you. I shall just have to live with it that you are not convinced because this really does feel like a futile exercise.

David

Jean,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I was taking my nephew and niece to see monkeys close-up. (Don’t ask.)

“See, I think you’re used to arguing with a different sort of person - the person who says it’s all the fault of sexism, and every bit of wage disparity is due to prejudice, etc…”

Well, you’re right insofar as I’ve had exchanges with people who have done something close to that, and who simply take their worldview as somehow self-evident and see no need to prove what they assert. Naturally, this makes me a little suspicious of their motives. I don’t mean to suggest that’s how you see things, but you haven’t yet demonstrated any real basis for your assertion that “sexism continues to hold women back” in some egregious and systemic way, or in a way that can be practically addressed.

“You didn’t like my two points that showed this, so I guess I’m supposed to come up with another two, or 10, or whatever will convince you.”

It isn’t a matter of my *liking* them. Strictly speaking, you haven’t shown me anything I can respond to in a meaningful way. If you can provide me with some actual links and information regarding the polls and study you mention, that would at least be a start. Otherwise you’re just expecting me to take these things on... well, faith. And bear in mind you were the one who mentioned pay disparity as if it were proof of your position. It was the first item you mentioned. Yet the evidence isn’t there. You then concede this, rather casually, as if it had no bearing on your original position. I find that… interesting.

“I shall just have to live with it that you are not convinced because this really does feel like a futile exercise.”

I’m not immune to being convinced - really, I’m not. But you’ve yet to make a serious case for your position. That’s all I’m saying. It shouldn’t feel futile if you can in fact show me why you’re right. You say “sexism continues to hold women back”. Well, I suspect few people here would doubt that objectionable forms of sexism still exist – though probably not too often in their own immediate experience. (Curiously, the rampant and incorrigible sexism that “holds women back” is usually happening to someone else and the particulars aren’t always defined.) It’s easy to claim that “women” are being “held back” – but which women, and how exactly? Shouldn’t we be clear about this? Isn’t it important to know *how* we know whatever we claim to know? If only to be sure that we do in fact know it?

Jean K.

Here's what I suspect. If I do nothing more to convince you, the truth is, you will actually believe just what I believe--that sexism is one thing that holds women back.Because really, all reasonable people believe that.

I do think people's attitudes about electing a female president are not bad as a general indication that yes indeed, there are still prejudices out there. But I misspoke. It's 8% who wouldn't vote for a female as US president. And here's something interesting--"among men, gender is an issue. Just over two in five men (43%) say the idea of a woman serving as President makes them angry or upset" http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=864

Angry and upset! I do think that speaks volumes. In any event, "sexism still exists" is one of those things you know based on years and years worth of observations and experiences and reading things, not because you read a study or two. C'mon, we all know it's true.

David

Jean,

“If I do nothing more to convince you, the truth is, you will actually believe just what I believe… [b]ecause really, all reasonable people believe that.”

Thank you for telling me what I believe, apparently. I suggest you make a note of the assertion above and revisit it at some point. You might find it just a little presumptuous and evasive. You still haven’t given me a serious and coherent basis for your claims, which, you now say, “all reasonable people” share. Thus, by implication, anyone who disagrees – or asks for substantiation – is unreasonable. Or, presumably, perverse.

Which is odd when you think about it. Since asking someone to explain why they believe what they claim to believe seems fairly reasonable to me.

David

Jean,

Sorry, I forgot to include this in the above:

Regarding the link, the issue, I suppose, is whether one can extrapolate meaningfully from a single poll of 2,300 people concerning reactions to a potential female president (with one particular candidate in the public mind) to some broader, systemic inhibiting of women in general. You think “it speaks volumes”. I’m not sure it does, at least not in the broader sense you imply. Again, you haven’t made the case.

Update: To clarify the above:

“I do think people’s attitudes about electing a female president are not bad as a general indication that yes indeed, there are still prejudices out there.”

So far as I know, no-one here doubts the existence of judgments based on gender, good, bad or otherwise. The issue is whether one very small survey of attitudes about the prospect of a female president proves your broader point. Clearly, there’s a difference between one small poll that suggests *some* people are averse to a female president (again, with one particular female candidate foremost in the public mind) and establishing that *men in general* don’t want *any* females in *any* positions of authority, supposedly on principal. For instance, there may be feelings and issues about the role of president that don’t apply to other contexts. Perhaps the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president, with her politics and personality, is colouring the general issue. Maybe reactions would have been different if another female candidate was in the running. And what if some women have doubts about a female president too?

I do, of course, appreciate that some people may think of women generally in the way you suggest for any number of reasons, but the one link you gave doesn’t establish this broader point, nor does it establish that women in general are being “held back”. So far as it goes, the poll suggests that a female presidential candidate faces extra challenges in gaining acceptance among parts of the electorate, and I doubt anyone here would be shocked by that suggestion. But running for president – the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most formidable military power – is hardly a typical scenario and can’t be taken as automatically indicative of reactions to women generally. Are similar feelings aroused among some by female astronauts or neurosurgeons, or healthcare administrators or commissioning editors? Perhaps they are, but that can’t be deduced from the one, highly unusual, example you’ve provided.

Jean K.

OK, sexism has stopped being a factor. You convinced me. I will open a bottle of champagne.

David

Jean,

Hm. Either I haven’t made my intentions sufficiently clear, or the point I’m trying to make has been carefully avoided. As I said earlier, I’m not denying the existence of judgments based on gender – good, bad or otherwise; I must have said this at least five times. The question is whether the existence of such judgments among some is therefore, automatically, “holding women back” – by which I mean, women generally, systemically, and in contradiction of the law.

You’ve made this claim quite emphatically, as if it were self-evident and beyond questioning. It is, according to you, something “all reasonable people” believe. But I’m not particularly interested in what you believe, or what you believe everyone else believes. I’ve asked you to demonstrate the *basis* of your belief. I’d like some proof. I want to follow your line of thought. Given your earlier adamance, and your misplaced appeal to pay disparity, this doesn’t seem unreasonable. Again, I’m *not* saying proof can’t be found. I just want to know how you arrived at your convictions. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems to me you’re holding a position that’s both adamant and vague, and which you’re unwilling, or unable, to defend.

And that’s what I find interesting.

Henry

David,

may I say you conceded the point about the wage gap too quickly. There is much evidence to suggest that:

a) the "wage gap" between men and women is consistently over-estimated,
b) the reasons for what remains of the difference when you do the stats properly are very interesting. Unmarried women earn at least as much as unmarried men (more if I recall), women make career choices with different priorities from men, and with different pressures (men are expected to be the breadwinners in families, work longer hours, do more dangerous work etc)

Yet the misrepresented wage-gap partly underpins why many women see themselves as 'feminists'. A lot of men accept it because they are simply afraid to argue and get shouted down again...

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