Well I was going to ignore it but no one else is, so I’ll say a thing or two. About Harriet Hall’s latest Address to the Feminists, which announces that she’s not our enemy by way of prelude to telling us what shits we are.
I have been falsely identified as an enemy of feminism (not in so many words, but the intent is clear). My words have been misrepresented as sexist and misinterpreted beyond recognition. I find this particularly disturbing and hard to understand, because I’m convinced that my harshest critics and I are basically arguing for exactly the same things. I wish my critics could set aside their resentments and realize that I am not the enemy.
Two weeks ago I published an article on gender differences and the recent divisions in the skeptical community. Ophelia Benson showed up in the comments. Not unsurprisingly, she disagreed with me about the Shermer incident, but then she said “I like the rest of this article a lot. I particularly like the point about averages and individuals, which is one I make all the time.”
I took that as a hopeful sign that friendly communication might be achieved, but my bubble was quickly burst by a hostile takedown of my article on Skepchick by “Will.”
Really? Her bubble was burst by Will’s article? That’s odd. Mine was burst a lot more promptly and directly than that. It was burst on that same thread, within minutes, by hostile replies to me from David Gorski and others.
I was making an effort to achieve friendly communication. That’s why I said the thing that Hall quotes. It was an attempt to get a more friendly conversation going. It failed dismally because no one took me up on it. I thought Gorski had at first, but I misread him, as he later made clear. I gave it up and left.
This isn’t a one-way street you know. Hall has never made any such attempts in my direction. She’s done the opposite. She’s done it again in this post. She wants us to “ set aside their resentments and realize that I am not the enemy” – yet she proceeds to pick another fight. Well which is it?! And what about you setting aside your resentments, Dr Hall?!
Much later in the piece, she renews her quarrel with me, in a bizarrely off-topic, even Dadaist way.
And if you want a really surreal excursion into the thought processes of my critics, take a gander at this exchange [the names of two participants were redacted].
Ah yes, the names of two participants were indeed redacted – while mine was not. Why? No reason. Absolutely no reason on earth except that those two participants are Friends and I’m Enemy. Yet Hall is either dense enough or malicious enough to treat that as self-evidently fair and reasonable. At this rate she’ll soon be posting on the mildew pit – which is where that exchange was first posted as a screenshot of Hall’s Facebook page, and where the names of the two Good participants were “redacted” to protect their “privacy” while mine was not.
That Facebook conversation was another one where I tried to achieve friendly communication with Hall. That attempt too was disrupted by trollers (Travis Roy and Richard Murray).
Hall discusses that unedifying Facebook tangle for awhile, then moves on to another authoritative critic of my thinking.
Another blogger has deconstructed a list Ophelia made of antifeminist tropes. He claims she sets up a series of straw men and tries to create problems where none exist. You can judge for yourself.
That’s Al Stefanelli’s post, in which he fundamentally misunderstands what I was saying, in a way that makes me embarrassed for him. Hall seems to think it’s cogent stuff. You can judge for yourself.
What can I say? She’s angry and unpleasant and she’s pretending she’s not an enemy while acting exactly like one. I don’t want to talk about her, but she won’t shut up about me.
Now, finally, one substantive point. At the end she gives a list of items we all probably agree on.
- That there are still obstacles to women in our society. (We can congratulate ourselves that many of the “hard” obstacles such as legal restrictions have been eliminated. Unfortunately, the ones that remain are “softer”, harder to identify precisely and harder to deal with effectively),
- That we should endeavor to identify and remove the remaining obstacles
- That it is unreasonable to enforce a requirement that equal numbers of men and women be present in any sphere of human endeavor
- That society has much to gain from letting everyone, male and female, develop their individual talents in a field of endeavor that they have freely chosen.
The first two, yes. The third and fourth, wait wait, slow down. It’s not that simple.
No one is talking about enforcing a requirement that equal numbers of men and women be present in any sphere of human endeavor. But, that doesn’t mean we should just look at any particular sphere of human endeavor that has a huge gender imbalance and conclude that it reflects pure choice and that’s all there is to it. That’s especially true when the sphere in question is a highly rewarded one, whether with money or status or intellectual stimulation or other such goods. (And that cuts both ways. There are vocations whose rewards are emotional and relational, where men may be scarce.) That’s especially true at this point in the timeline, because it’s just way too early. Maybe after many decades of effort to level all the playing fields, a time will come when it actually is safe to say “ok, this is how things shake out when there are no obstacles hard or soft,” but that time is not yet.
So no, nobody wants the job police to collar women who want to be poets and force them to be computer scientists. But that’s not the issue.
I’m not the enemy either.