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Man mansplains that men also mansplain to men. Another man mansplains why

 

There is an entertaining piece on the Economist’s blog site this week, about how gender affects conversational styles. It was neatly summarised by the mag’s own Twitter-feed as “man mansplains that men also mansplain to men.”

The post raises a couple of really interesting points, I think. The first is alluded to but not spelled out by the author, and perhaps should have been. It is that “But men do this thing to other men too!” is a completely bloody pointless defence to any charge or complaint about sexist or patriarchal behaviour.

It’s amazing how often this comes up. Where women complain about harassing and intrusive behaviour on the streets or public transport, you can always bank on some arsehole piping up “But that’s not sexism, men shout random abuse at each other too!” It’s true, they do. So it is not always sexist. Sometimes it is racist or ableist or homophobic or just plain, simple bullying. So can we cut all that out too while we’re at it?

Where women complain about feeling the threat of violence when walking outside at night, Mr Bloke can be banked on to respond “What are you complaining about? Men are much more likely to be randomly assaulted by strangers than women are.” This is also true. So can we please join with those women who are quite keen to see an end to such behaviour? Sooner than later would be good. 

Or in the case in point, men use conversational exchanges not (just) to communicate, bond or exchange views and knowledge, but as a competitive sport, a test of dominance and status. It is quite true that this becomes an opportunity to establish social dominance over women (aka mansplaining) but also over other men. This is not an especially healthy trait. I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings (whether in work, politics, voluntary societies or whatever) which are dominated not by the person with the best ideas or the greatest knowledge, but the one with the most regard for the sound of (usually) his own voice. I’m dreadfully guilty of this myself, and am quite happy to acknowledge it and try to catch myself on.

The second point that occurred to me while reading the Economist blog is a bit of a leap of disciplines. (I’m thinking out loud here, so bear with me.In discussing the ideas of psycholinguist Deborah Tannen, the author says:

In Ms Tannen’s schema, men talk to determine and achieve status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. To use metaphors, for men life is a ladder and the better spots are up high. For women, life is a network, and the better spots have greater connections.

Reading this, a little lightbulb came on. For a few years I have followed with interest the work of Michael W Kraus, both as an applied social psychologist and an engaging blogger (and all-round good guy). Kraus researches the interaction between social status and empathy, so for example, among his more intriguing findings is that if you manipulate someone’s sense of social status upwards (ie making them feel more important) their capacity for empathy diminishes, or vice versa. The suspicion is that empathy is, at least in part, a trait with evolutionary survival advantages for those lower down the (literal and metaphorical) food chain. It kicks in more the more it is needed.

(When I’ve written about this before, a lot of people reply by arguing that it is the lack of empathy and consideration which helps people attain power and status in the first place. While undoubtedly true, it is important to note this is not the point. Increase someone’s status, and their ability to empathise diminishes even when they want to empathise and actively try to empathise.)

What occurred to me today was that when we discuss male and female communication styles, we tend to argue about whether they are innate or socialised. As a broad rule of thumb, feminists tend to argue that boys and girls are taught or trained to be dominant or submissive respectively, while anti-feminists are perhaps more likely to argue that these are natural and immutable differences between the sexes.

What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status? If it were true, we would expect to see that as individual women achieved greater power and status in the boardroom, politics or wherever, their capacity for empathy and the urge to co-operate and network would diminish. I can offer no objective evidence, but I have to say that this does pretty much tally with my experience.

The other implication would be that it wouldn’t be enough to teach men to listen and teach women to have confidence, as the Economist suggests. We would actually need to smash the surrounding social context of structural sexism and all vestiges of patriarchal hegemony before men’s and women’s communication styles equalise. That may be slightly beyond the editorial remit of the Economist.

Anyway, I repeat, the above is really just me thinking out loud. I’m not aware if there is any kind of body of research that proves or disproves what I say, so feel free to argue back from a position of considerable knowledge or, like me, enthusiastic ignorance.

Any thoughts?

 

 

Comments

  1. Thil says

    If I understand the term right it seems like mansplaing has more to do with arrogance than a lack of empathy Per se.

  2. Darren Ball says

    I go to a lot of meetings and I don’t recognise significantly different communication styles between men and women. However, if there is a difference, then so be it. I don’t see why men should adopt a communication style that’s alien to them just because women would prefer it. And maybe I’m Mr. Bloke, but if men use the same communication style with both men and women, then that is manifestly not sexist.

  3. redpesto says

    Fogg:

    What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status? If it were true, we would expect to see that as individual women achieved greater power and status in the boardroom, politics or wherever, their capacity for empathy and the urge to co-operate and network would diminish.

    Makes sense to me – the alternative is (some) women claiming that ‘female’ communication styles are ‘better’ than ‘male’ ones ‘because patriarchy’, even though the argument rests on a gender essentialism that in other cases they would reject out of hand. See also perhaps Alison Wolf’s The XX Factor, a review of which describes how the book ‘mainly suggests that though some women have become far more equal to men, women are becoming much less equal to one another.’ And if there is a relationship between status and empathy, ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (however valid as a political project) isn’t automatically going to solve the problem of how people behave when they have more status.

  4. Thil says

    with regard to that “well men get attacked too” stuff I think a lot of guys who come out with stuff like that are trying to say that it’s hurtful to made to feel like you are responsible for something you are in fact just as likely (if not more likely apparently) to be the victim of

  5. redpesto says

    Thil #4

    with regard to that “well men get attacked too” stuff I think a lot of guys who come out with stuff like that are trying to say that it’s hurtful to made to feel like you are responsible for something you are in fact just as likely (if not more likely apparently) to be the victim of

    The same could be said about ‘mansplaining': there’s a term for when men interrupt or patronise women, but either there isn’t a ‘specialist’ one for when men do it to other men, or there has to be some form of difference between them (e.g. race, sexuality, disability) to offer an explanation (racism, homophobia, ableism) which has nothing to do with gender.

    The same might apply if women behave in that fashion to men, or it might be a bit like ‘misandry’ in that it’s either not ‘a thing’ or the occurrances are so rare as not to matter or that we don’t have a term to describe it – so ‘we’ should really focus on mansplaining instead.

  6. 123454321 says

    Great article, Ally.

    “What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status? ”

    I think that one of the critical, key factors to making it high up the career ladder is learning, not necessarily how to behave, but learning to recognise how you are perceived by the people (individual or group) who are judging you. It’s more about being able to flex your behaviour to suit various audiences but then understanding how you are perceived as a result of your method of interaction. To get one particular person’s respect might require a more challenging approach, sometimes to the point of being a bastard. It can work. Others may demand a more gentle approach. That can work too. Some require pure logical reasoning and others require a more spacial, creative and innovative-thinking approach before you get their respect. It’s all about understanding perception and delivering in accordance with expectations. You either have it, or you don’t, as they say.

  7. Koken says

    Slightly nonplussed by your objection to the objections, Ally. If people are saying something is sexist, and there are good reasons to believe that it is not sexist, then that seems like a thing worth pointing out because a) it’s probably good to try to be correct rather than incorrect when describing the world and b) misdiagnosing the causes of something seems likely to reduce the efficacy of efforts to stop it.

    Your own writing on issues around domestic violence would appear to be an example of how, in a very serious case, approaching a problem through a particular flawed theoretical view led to misunderstanding the motives of perpetrators, skewing policy responses and biasing people against recognising the problem when it occurred where the theory predicted that it should not.

  8. gjenganger says

    What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status?

    Interesting point. We should watch this space.

    We would actually need to smash the surrounding social context of structural sexism and all vestiges of patriarchal hegemony before men’s and women’s communication styles equalise.

    Why do you think it is important that men’s and women’s communication styles equalize?

    It is that “But men do this thing to other men too!” is a completely bloody pointless defence to any charge or complaint about sexist or patriarchal behaviour.

    Not in this context, it isn’t. I am a great fan of Deborah Tannen, and one of her repeated points is that pretty much any communication style works just fine as long as everybody feels at home with it. Everybody interrupts, or everybody lets the others finish. Everybody speaks fast, or everybody speaks slow. Everybody is direct (rude) or everybody is indirect (mealy-mouthed and repressed). It is only when peoples natural styles do not match that things go awry.

    As she describes it, status (or respect, if you prefer) is all through men’s interactions. You know how it works, and you work with it. Men jostle for status, or as a way of showing that they consider the other person strong enough to handle it. You also know when not to rub it in, when to leave space, etc. It is a system and it works. Why is this necessarily and inherently bad? OK, so women have a different system, and feel upset when treated in ways that are aggressive and unreasonable, to them. Why should we say “women do not like this, so men should adopt a female style”, and not “men do not like this, so women should adopt a male style”? Or, even better, “we are different, so we both need to make allowances for each other?

  9. says

    And maybe I’m Mr. Bloke, but if men use the same communication style with both men and women, then that is manifestly not sexist.

    So if I call 99 women “stupid cunts,” it’s sexist; but if the 100th person I call a “stupid cunt” is a man, that magically makes the previous 99 times “not sexist?” Seriously? Do you really mean that, or is that a clever satire of mansplaining?

  10. says

    I am a great fan of Deborah Tannen, and one of her repeated points is that pretty much any communication style works just fine as long as everybody feels at home with it.

    Yeah, but Ally is most definitely NOT talking about a communication style that “everybody feels at home with;” so Tannen’s point is irrelevant here.

  11. David Marjanović says

    What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status?

    Interesting hypothesis; definitely should be tested.

  12. gjenganger says

    @Raging 10
    No. If I greet my only female colleague, “How ya’ doing, you piece of shit”! I am being sexist. If I greet all my colleagues the same way I am not being sexist, – even if my only female colleague is the only one who takes offense. Of course you should go the extra mile to accommodate the people around you, but sexism it is not.

  13. culuriel says

    All this mansplaining. I might need my Listening to Men Face.
    @2 Darrell- do other guys comment on your breasts/buttocks as you walk down the street? Do they mutter to you you want them, you know you do? Stop acting like it’s the same.

  14. says

    As she describes it, status (or respect, if you prefer) is all through men’s interactions. You know how it works, and you work with it. Men jostle for status, or as a way of showing that they consider the other person strong enough to handle it. You also know when not to rub it in, when to leave space, etc. It is a system and it works. Why is this necessarily and inherently bad? OK, so women have a different system, and feel upset when treated in ways that are aggressive and unreasonable, to them. Why should we say “women do not like this, so men should adopt a female style”, and not “men do not like this, so women should adopt a male style”? Or, even better, “we are different, so we both need to make allowances for each other?

    Yeah, let’s all agree to discuss this issue in a rarefied space of pure abstraction, so we can pretend we’re engaging in Learned Discourse while pretending that maybe blatant bullying (sexist or otherwise) is something other than those on the receiving end of it observe it to be. Abstract mansplaining is the most fun kind!

  15. gjenganger says

    @Raging 11
    No it is not. There is no language that ‘everybody feels at home with’ in the sense you mean, just like there is no language (English, Mandarin, Esperanto,…) that everybody in the world speaks. Each group has a language that it knows and feels comfortable with – one of Tannens main points is that men and women are culturally different groups for the purpose of this discussion. What I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with either the male approach or the female approach, as such, so there is no particular reason that men should defer to women, rather than vice versa. If you meet somebody from Italy or Japan, do you tell them that their norms for behaviour are inferior to yours, and they should switch over to being English? Or do you try to find some accommodation that lets you interact without too much trouble?

  16. says

    No. If I greet my only female colleague, “How ya’ doing, you piece of shit”! I am being sexist. If I greet all my colleagues the same way I am not being sexist, – even if my only female colleague is the only one who takes offense.

    If she’s the only one who takes offense, then yes, it is kinda sexist, especially if you knew in advance that only the woman would take offense at your behavior, and you’d get away with it for that reason.

    You can’t justify or excuse bad behavior by saying that not everyone is equally offended by it. All that excuse does is imply that the offended person’s feelings can be “outvoted,” and thus invalidated, by a non-offended majority.

  17. says

    There is no language that ‘everybody feels at home with’ in the sense you mean…

    That makes Tannen’s point even more irrelevant than I’d originally thought. Thanks for clearing that up.

  18. gjenganger says

    @Raging 15
    “I am experiencing a lot of intolerance, disdain for those who are different, and cultural imperialism from various feminists, such as you. Are you going to dismiss my lived experience?” :-) [Takes off MRA hat].

    If you want to discuss some specific kind of bullying, bring it up, and we can discuss it. If you do not want to participate in a more general discussion, by all means stay out of it. And if you want to stop other people from talking about things you do not like, well, work it out for yourself.

  19. says

    What I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with either the male approach or the female approach, as such…

    …where “as such” means what? “In the space of this abstract discussion?” Because there’s plenty wrong with the “male approach”* as it’s been applied in the real-world interactions Ally is talking about.

    ________________________
    * As if all males uniformly share the same “approach.” Which is bullshit.

  20. gjenganger says

    All that excuse does is imply that the offended person’s feelings can be “outvoted,” and thus invalidated, by a non-offended majority.

    Well, of course they can be outvoted. The alternative would be that each individual in the whole world had an absolute veto over everything everybody else could say, what they could write in their papers, their dress, behaviour, …
    It is not a straight majority rule – minorities have a right to rather more consideration than that – but when there is one shared norm for a group, that norm will unavoidably favour the majority more than the minority.

  21. says

    gjenganger: you’re the one taking the discussion into purely abstract space. Why is it my job to bring you back down to Earth?

    And if you want to stop other people from talking about things you do not like, well, work it out for yourself.

    If you can’t handle people disagreeing with you in a public conversation, maybe you’re the one who should “work it out for yourself.” It’s not my problem — I’m not the one who comes to such public forums and then mistakes disagreement for censorship or persecution.

  22. says

    Well, of course they can be outvoted. The alternative would be that each individual in the whole world had an absolute veto over everything everybody else could say…

    Yeah, if you have to respect other people’s feelings, that’s a sure path to TOTALITARIANISM!!!

    Grow the fuck up, boy — you sound like me when I was eight, calling my parents “slave-drivers” when they told me to take a bath or clean up my room. That seems to be the infantile phase most MRAs are stuck in.

  23. Darren Ball says

    Culuriel 14

    “@2 Darrell (sic) – do other guys comment on your breasts/buttocks as you walk down the street? Do they mutter to you you want them, you know you do? Stop acting like it’s the same.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with communication styles at work. What you’re talking about is sexual harassment, which is a completely different topic.

  24. Darren Ball says

    Raging Bee 17

    “If she’s the only one who takes offense, then yes, it is kinda sexist, especially if you knew in advance that only the woman would take offense at your behavior, and you’d get away with it for that reason.”

    How could you possibly know that the woman would be the only one who would take offence? Quite likely a man would take offence and a woman wouldn’t.

    For it to be sexist, as opposed to just bad manners, a man would have to be singling out women for a certain type of aggressive, or otherwise unpleasant, communication style. If a man has a rumbustious communication style with men and women, then it’s not sexist.

    Your arguments are the opposite of empowering women – they’re about treating women as delicate little flowers who can’t play on the same terms as men. Is that what feminism has become?

  25. says

    No. If I greet my only female colleague, “How ya’ doing, you piece of shit”! I am being sexist. If I greet all my colleagues the same way I am not being sexist, – even if my only female colleague is the only one who takes offense.

    Ha, funny how this hypothetical ignores the influence of the culture it is part of. Cos it does matter! For instance, if women in this theoretical world were being insulted 2:1 and hence having their confidence sapped then you’d be adding to an overall insult and hurt burden that the men in that culture don’t have to put up with. So despite your intent you’d be adding to the unequal treatment of women in that culture, adding to their disproportionate lack of confidence and probably representation in the workplace you are insulting them in. If you knew this inequality exists and continued to behave like that then fuck your hypothetical you ;-) … Although I’d also agree with Ally and say just stop being a dick to all genders to this hypo-you.

    Equal treatment in an unequal society doesn’t lead to equality. Sorry!

  26. Darren Ball says

    oolon 26.

    In this hypothesis, women are not being insulted 2:1. Everybody is being insulted equally. You seem to see female disadvantage everywhere.

  27. termcap says

    Where women complain about feeling the threat of violence when walking outside at night, Mr Bloke can be banked on to respond “What are you complaining about? Men are much more likely to be randomly assaulted by strangers than women are.” This is also true. So can we please join with those women who are quite keen to see an end to such behaviour? Sooner than later would be good.

    This is a little unclear. The claim under consideration is that women are at risk of violence because of their gender. If street violence is actualy indiscriminate, then this claim is false. This is important because the idea that women suffer violence due to misogyny is a powerful narrative which can inform our attitudes to victims (I have seen it suggested, for example, that violence against men is less bad), and can inform public policy – e.g. if male on female violence is seen as a hate crime, it may warrant harsher sentencing. I think, therefore that there are independent reasons for wanting to establish the truth or falsity of the claim. Agreeing that we should try to eradicate violence as a whole doesn’t dimish our interest in the causes of violence (if anything, it should prompt us to examine them more closely).

  28. Jebedee says

    A couple of things:

    I generally agree with Koken @8. Pointing out that something is not exclusively and/or disproportionately a problem for women can be both very relevant and not at all equivalent to claiming that it’s not a problem. Because presenting things as a particular problem for women specifically is often very much a point of articles that attract such disagreement. I think this motivates a lot of the much-derided “but what about men” complaints: not an objection to having any discussion that excludes men, but a valid counterexample to the claim that an issue is particularly bad for women. You don’t always have to include men’s experiences – nothing wrong with choosing a focus – but if you want to say that women’s experiences are worse, then you are implicitly making a rebuttable claim about the experience of men.

    With regard to “mansplaining”, I think it’s worth noting that analysis of in-person conversational norms is probably a lot less applicable to the internet, where many of the accusations of “mansplaining” fly. Jumping in to tell someone (correctly or otherwise) that you thought what they just said was wrong and here’s why may be unusual and ill-mannered in many contexts, but in the pseudonymous blogosphere of contentious (or even seemingly uncontentious) topics, I think it’s more or less the norm. Which is why “mansplain” (at least in the absence of an argument to why the “mansplaining” comment is wrong, which makes other criticisms mostly redundant anyway) generally seems a silly accusation online: an attempt to suggest that someone who disagrees with you and explains why is doing something unreasonable, at least if they’re male.

  29. gjenganger says

    @oolon 26
    The ‘piece of shit’ example was to make a specific point to Raging, insults and all. It is not a good example of the kind of thing Ally was on about. Here is where we came from:

    Or in the case in point, men use conversational exchanges not (just) to communicate, bond or exchange views and knowledge, but as a competitive sport, a test of dominance and status.

    That one is from Deborah Tannen, and anyway I recognise it from my own experience. The point is that the competitive sport is an integral part both of the bonding and of maintaining and sorting out social interactions, for male groups. Nobody is being a dick – it is unconscious, comfortable, and generally works just fine, and I object to Ally’s comment that this part of male culture deserves to be abolished. From my own experience I would say that in general you do not deal with women in the same way you deal with men. Which has various consequences, potentially including that women are not judged so harshly if they fail to shine in the competitive sport, nor given the same kind of respect if they do shine, and either way are not seen or treated as full members of the group.

    Of course you are quite right that if the culture in boardrooms / hospitals / universities / whatever is all suited to male groups, women will be at a disadvantage, and that needs to be addressed. We need to accommodate people with rather different interactions styles, and behaviour has to change. But it does not follow that the female way is right and the male way is wrong, and men are the only people who need to move – we need to take account of both. Any closer than that we would have to get off generalities and into specifics.

    Finally you might consider that a style that was attuned to managing explicit hierarchies and competition might be relatively well suited to competitive hierarchical structures that you find in powerful positions. You might need to make non-hierarchical governance structures to fully get rid of it.

  30. freja says

    Ally, I agree that the connection between power and egocentrism has too much empirical backing to be ignored, but I don’t think that’s the whole issue. I’ve found that men engage in these behaviours regardless of their social status, it’s just a matter of how. Men with high status are more likely to be casually dismissive of everyone else, while men with lower status are more hostile, aggressive/passive-aggressive, and quick to take offense (though of course, as usual, plenty of men also didn’t fit into the masculine stereotype at all).

    I also remember being told to to take other people’s perspective into consideration as a child, and being admonished for showing strong negative emotions, especially rage. Miri had a post up about this a while ago, which I think is relevant here. On being a bit of a stereotype:

    I have thought it all through and realized that gendered expectations played absolutely no role in my decision to study social work and that I, unlike the rest of these people, am going into it simply because this is Who I Really Am. And frankly, I’m offended that you’d even think that I’m going into this field for bullshit reasons like that. I chose it completely on my own.

    Just kidding! It never works like that. Of course gender plays a role.

    Ironically, the story starts with me being the exact opposite of who I supposedly needed to be. For most of my childhood, adults were always telling me that I was immature, selfish, insensitive, blunt, and socially inept. That I never put anyone’s needs before my own. That I never appreciated the people in my life enough.

    But here’s the thing. Although nobody ever sat me down and was like, “You need to become more sensitive and empathic and self-sacrificing because you are female,” I nevertheless got that message for a number of reasons. First of all, when boys did something insensitive or immature or socially inept to me, I was informed that “boys will be boys.” (This is a dangerous thing to tell children for all sorts of reasons.) Second, I knew plenty of boys, and none of them were ever being exhorted to be more sensitive and to consider others’ needs before their own. (If anything, they were being exhorted to be less sensitive, which is also a problem.)

  31. marduk says

    Yes but the other side that is consonant with what you’ve said but not commonly recognised though is that speaking up and being thought of as a horse’s ass for doing so is also a responsibility, it is not entirely prickish (in either sense) behaviour especially if the point of your job is bearing responsibility.

    A more passive conversational style is not a virtue if it is basically wussing out and avoiding the most stressful thing anyone can ever do (take responsibility not just for themselves but for others), its the same complaint as was levelled at our football players, they aren’t comfortable enough shouting for the ball, they are terrified of being caught in possession. The Messis of the world always want the ball and with the chance of glory (which is the easier thing to focus on) there is always the risk of humiliation.

    One could even see this as another aspect of the apex fallacy (one of the few MRA notions that does actually make good sense, although they probably don’t see it as I do as a problem for feminism largely because it annihilates class analysis).

    You say consensus-seeking, I say avoiding personal responsibility. Not always a virtue.

  32. Ally Fogg says

    Koken (and others making similar points)

    Slightly nonplussed by your objection to the objections, Ally. If people are saying something is sexist, and there are good reasons to believe that it is not sexist, then that seems like a thing worth pointing out because a) it’s probably good to try to be correct rather than incorrect when describing the world and b) misdiagnosing the causes of something seems likely to reduce the efficacy of efforts to stop it.

    My point is that most sexist behaviours are, to use a technical term, dickish behaviours that have non-sexist equivalents or, if you prefer, a dickish behaviour that is manifested as sexism is also often manifsted in other ways. I’m not picking an argument with those who say XYZ is not sexist. I’m arguing with those who say “XYZ is not sexist therefore we don’t need to worry about it.”

  33. Ally Fogg says

    gjenganger

    You know how it works, and you work with it. Men jostle for status, or as a way of showing that they consider the other person strong enough to handle it. You also know when not to rub it in, when to leave space, etc. It is a system and it works.

    I don’t think it does work, or at least not in the way I would want it to.

    What it does is to serve existing positions of status, power and privilege, so it will always unfairly advantage white people, men, the expensively educated etc etc etc. It’s actually a really unhelpful and corrosive style of communication.

    Why is this necessarily and inherently bad? OK, so women have a different system, and feel upset when treated in ways that are aggressive and unreasonable, to them. Why should we say “women do not like this, so men should adopt a female style”, and not “men do not like this, so women should adopt a male style”? Or, even better, “we are different, so we both need to make allowances for each other?

    I don’t necessarily think the stereotype “women’s style” is necessarily ideal either. It can be too submissive, too passive.

    One thing the Economist piece got right, I think, is in saying that both men and women have to be aware of the problems potentially caused by our ‘default settings’ in this regard and think about what we could do better. I think that’s about right.

  34. freja says

    I think some things are being ignored when making the argument “if men are fine with it, then the women who complain are the problem”:

    1: Plenty of men do have a problem with it, and even if they did, sometimes it’s just an objectively bad idea, as Ally outlined in his post. If people prioritise winning a debate over uncovering the truth, and scoring points over one another rather than working together, the end results often suffer as a consequence. Especially as sceptics (this is an atheist site after all), we should be wary of letting our emotions (such as our desire to gain status) get in the way of our ability to uncover the truth. None of us are perfect at this (most of us are not even good), but holding resource consuming power struggles and bullying up as ideal doesn’t make it easier.

    2: As has been mentioned before, it’s not done equally to men and women, and it’s not done in the same way or context. I’ve had heated debates with mutual interruptions with men who saw me as (mostly) equal, and I’ve had heated debates with men who didn’t, and the difference is significant, even if both involved loud voices, flailing hands, and people talking at the same time. I’ve also been subjected to friendly teasing similar to what I could see the guys subject each other to, and to the kind of ‘friendly’ teasing women are always told to put up with, and the while first tended to result in a deeper friendship, the latter would usually keep escalating, ending in open hostility if I stopped playing along, and sexual harassment and assault when I didn’t.

    3: Women are socialised to perceive this behaviour as hostile and wrong. Even if we accept the premise that it isn’t, the end result is still that women will have a harder time gaining ground in the higher echelons of power, because they are basically expected to communicate in a foreign language they have no training in. Maybe the solution is to raise girls differently, or teach them this allegedly masculine behaviour in school, but that doesn’t change that it is a real problem now.

    4: Men are rarely similarly expected to adjust to women’s communication style, even when men are not the majority. They push their communication style on women who are just looking for a relaxing and good time, and who don’t always realise or appreciate it when they’re dragged into a pissing contest against their will. Why should men be allowed to push that sort of thing on women, when men often get offended and aggressive when women try to push allegedly feminine norms on them (e.g. “Guys, don’t do that”)?

    5: Even if we concede that mansplaining is constructive and doesn’t bother anyone who’s used to it, and that the solution to the issue is to have women change their behaviour, women who assume masculine characteristics and become more assertive and outspoken are usually punished for it. Study after study find that women lose far more sympathy than men when they become aggressive and assertive, and that interruptions by women aren’t as well received. If the men who claim patriarchal behaviour isn’t sexist want to prove their point, they should start by showing a little more tolerance to the loud, aggressive, mannish, obnoxious, condescending, emotional, hysterical, etc. feminists they love to bash, or at least find a way of bashing them that doesn’t translate intro “Your behaviour is inappropriate for a woman”.

  35. freja says

    Argh! Error in the above post. “Even if they did” in point 1 should of course be “even if they didn’t”

  36. says

    How could you possibly know that the woman would be the only one who would take offence?

    Because that was explicitly stated in the hypothetical, dumbass.

    You seem to see female disadvantage everywhere.

    What a handy standard excuse to be blind to it everywhere.

    The claim under consideration is that women are at risk of violence because of their gender. If street violence is actualy indiscriminate, then this claim is false.

    Yeah, well, it’s not “indiscriminate;” people are victimized for a variety of reasons, and some are targeted because they’re female. So your conclusion is false, and there’s no need to waste any more time on it.

    (And what do you mean by “indiscriminate” anyway? Are you saying people are targeted and attacked purely at random, for no reason, by people who aren’t even bothering to notice the characteristics of their targets?)

  37. 123454321 says

    Raging Bee – “Grow the fuck up, boy — you sound like me when I was eight,”

    What? You mean you’re older than eight……!

  38. Darren Ball says

    Raging Bee 37,

    For it to be sexist, he would have known in advance that because she’s a woman she alone would be offended. There’s nothing in the original hypothesis to say that he would know this, that’s your invention.

    As for calling me a dumbass, do you not see the irony in that? This thread is comparing aggressive and dominate forms of communication style with more co-operative and inclusive ones. I’m defending people’s right to have an adversarial style if they want one: it’s one way of getting to an answer. You however are on the other side of the debate and yet you resort to offensive language with no provocation whatsoever.

    Although I can take quite an adversarial style in some of my business dealings, I would never stoop to insults or rudeness, which is much worse by any measure.

    Earlier you admonished gjenganger for apparently talking like an eight year-old, you then resort to playground language: this is what people do when they run out of constructive things to say (if they ever had any in the first place).

  39. Ally Fogg says

    Yep, can we ease off on the personal abuse peeps?

    Not looking at anyone in particular, but some people have been warned before.

  40. Holms says

    In this hypothesis, women are not being insulted 2:1. Everybody is being insulted equally. You seem to see female disadvantage everywhere.

    If the insult ratio is equal, but one of the groups objects to it, then it remains that you are making a conscious decision to insult / hurt / patronise / whatever that group should you continue that behavior. Hence, if it turns out that women dislike a particular greeting, form of address or somesuch, while men are fine with it, continuing to use it towards women because “hey, the men don’t mind it” then yes, you are continuing to be sexist. You are doing something in the knowledge that it offends women specifically.

  41. Bugmaster says

    Ok, so we know that men and women have different communication styles. Has anyone found out which style is more effective — as opposed to simply being more comfortable or the participants ?

    Comfort is extremely important, of course, but it’s not the entire picture. In the real world, people must often communicate in order to accomplish a specific external goal; and many such goals involve measurable achievements. Thus, I personally would want to adopt whichever communication style is best at allowing me to build software / schedule events / build cars / etc. in the most efficient way possible.

  42. Superficially Anonymous says

    It somewhat sounds like you’re saying that women are more concerned over how something makes them feel and how it helps them bond than how right or wrong it is. I think that’s kind of a big deal, human experience and feeling means fuck all next to the reality of the situation and it’s difficult to debate real policy or politics if we’re not.

  43. Erin Rasmussen says

    Look the really annoying thing about ‘mansplaining’ is that it’s sheer tedium of having something “explained” that everyone in the room already knows. It a flat out time waster, and should be interrupted by everyone regardless of gender.
    Generally a short question or affirmation that can get some kind of consensus that yes everyone knows that particular point already can help move a conversation along. Or simply saying, “Well no, I don’t actually need that information, I need …” followed by a specific example.
    Or – if everyone doesn’t actually know the info – doing the – “does anyone need clarification on this point?”
    thing helps.

  44. gjenganger says

    @Bugmaster 42
    That is actually a hard one. According to Tannen any style will tend to work to a first approximation, as long as everybody speaks it fluently and knows what to expect. As an obvious starting point men can, and do, express closeness and connection, just like women can and do express conflict and disagreement. They just do it differently. I think the styles are likely to fail in different ways. Where a ‘male’ style (as Ally claims) may lead to the loudest winning and losing the point in status struggles, a ‘female’ style may be more prone to ducking conflicts, and never saying clearly what the actual problem is.

    Personally I think my native (male) style would make for better coding. It is easier to focus on problems when they can be expressed bluntly, when you get points for being right you have an incentive for improving things. And when you do have power hierarchies and struggles – as both sexes do – I think it is healthier with a style that allows them to be dealt with openly instead of having to pretend that we all love each other and all agree. But then, I am biased.

  45. gjenganger says

    @Holms 41. Well, when you are dealing with individuals, you should obviously adapt to their known preferences. Anything else is both stupid and obnoxious. But when talking to strangers, or to a mixed group, people have different preferences but there can be only one common behaviour norm. If you can never say anything that could possibly offend anybody, there is little room for relaxed talking. Or jokes.

  46. freja says

    @43, Superficially Anonymous

    It somewhat sounds like you’re saying that women are more concerned over how something makes them feel and how it helps them bond than how right or wrong it is. I think that’s kind of a big deal, human experience and feeling means fuck all next to the reality of the situation and it’s difficult to debate real policy or politics if we’re not.

    I think it’s other way around. The problem with mansplaining isn’t just that it makes women feel bad (and that it’s boring as hell), it’s that it’s ultimately pointless exept as a means to establish dominance. The mansplainer usually either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or is talking about something everyone else already knows, so nobody gets any wiser. In the worst case scenario, the mansplainer doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but no one else knows enough about the subject to be absolutely sure he’s wrong, and the certainty and authority with which he makes his claims causes other people to take him at his word, causes ripples of misinformation.

    There’s a tendency to ascribe everything women say, do, or object to, as a matter of their feeeeelings, but when men engage in conversation for the primary purpose of establish dominance over each other, it needs to be acknowledged as an emotional motivation too. And if it’s just done for fun among people who’re comfortable with it, that’s absolutely fine. But bringing in into a professional context, or springing it unwilling or unaware participants, is rarely constructive.

  47. gjenganger says

    l@ Ally 34

    What it does is to serve existing positions of status, power and privilege, so it will always unfairly advantage white people, men, the expensively educated etc etc etc. It’s actually a really unhelpful and corrosive style of communication.

    Not sure you are right there. I doubt that , say, David Cameron would be unfairly advantaged if he ended up on someone else’s turf, like working on a building site, or living in a neighbourhood of Pakistani immigrants. Even if they all used the ‘male’ competitive talking style. I know I would not.

    both men and women have to be aware of the problems potentially caused by our ‘default settings’ in this regard and think about what we could do better.

    Absolutely.

  48. gjenganger says

    @Freja 35.
    Very, very good overview. I especially agree with your point 3. The situation you describe does mean that women are forced to communicate in a foreign language, as it were, does put them at a disadvantage, and does have to be dealt with, one way or the other. My preference would be to say that neither communication style is in itself wrong, and that both sides need to do some of the adapting. If you have not read her already, I really recommend Deborah Tannens books on male-female communication.

  49. gjenganger says

    @Freja 46. Ah, so that is what ‘mansplaining’ means? That even makes sense. I had thought that it just meant ‘arguing while male’ (in analogy with ‘driving while black’).

    Of course in a male group, some other man would fairly soon challenge the first one, or force a change of topic – even if he did not fully understand the topic either.

  50. Lucy says

    Ally Fogg

    “Where women complain about feeling the threat of violence when walking outside at night, Mr Bloke can be banked on to respond “What are you complaining about? ”

    That’s bloody rich, you’re the one that feeds them that stupid line.

    “Men are more likely to be randomly assaulted by strangers”

    No they’re not. Only 48% of assaults on men are by strangers and you’ve got no idea whether they were random or not. In all likelihood the greater proportion isn’t random at all.

    The people most likely to be assaulted are men aged 16-24 and that’s for the simple reason that young men aged 16-24 own the streets and perpetrate the organised and disorganised violence that the rest of the population is taking precautions against.

  51. freja says

    @46, gjenganger

    Where a ‘male’ style (as Ally claims) may lead to the loudest winning and losing the point in status struggles, a ‘female’ style may be more prone to ducking conflicts, and never saying clearly what the actual problem is. Personally I think my native (male) style would make for better coding. It is easier to focus on problems when they can be expressed bluntly, when you get points for being right you have an incentive for improving things. And when you do have power hierarchies and struggles – as both sexes do – I think it is healthier with a style that allows them to be dealt with openly instead of having to pretend that we all love each other and all agree. But then, I am biased.

    Where did get the idea that a male style was to be open about your feelings, while a female style was to pretend nothing was wrong and just go on with whatever they were supposed to be doing? I appreciate that you acknowledge your own bias (very unmasculine, if I may say so ;) ), but you seem to be ascribing everything good to this alleged male style, and nothing to the alleged female style. To paraphrase somewhat (OK, a lot, and using plenty of hyperbole):

    “Men are concerned with results and objective reality. They’re very competitive, which results in better performances, but it somehow doesn’t lead people to refuse to accept help, attempt to sabotage each other, or push potential competitors to the social periphery, no Sir! If men have a problem, they’ll discuss it openly without accusing anyone of being whiny, emotional, or creating drama. And even though they’re very concerned with being right, they’re somehow never obstructively defensive or resistant to being told they’re wrong.

    Women are concerned with feelings. But they don’t actually express those feelings to anyone, so all sorts of conflicts get buried and never dealt with. They’re not competitive, so they’re much less concerned about doing good work or improving themselves, but even though they’re less competitive and more indifferent to being good at what they do, they’re somehow hypersensitive about everything, so no one ever points out when there’s a problem.”

    I think this is one of the areas where women get the short end of the stick no matter what. Kind of like how they’re portrayed as childlike and incapable of making rational decisions whenever it comes to things like bodily autonomy, but are considered mature and in control when it comes to holding teen girls responsible for the behaviour of grown men.

    In this case, the stereotype of the nagging girlfriend who wants to endlessly discuss the relationship utterly clashes with the stereotype of the sullen girlfriend who insist there’s no problem but is secretly angry with her boyfriend for not guessing what the issue is (and yes, both these stereotypes are very much heterosexual girlfriend stereotypes). Either one sex is prone to talking about feelings and the other is prone to burying them and letting them fester, or both sexes have a tendency to be open about some issues, and keep others buried. I think it’s the latter.

    The recent kerfuffle about harassment in the atheist/sceptic community is an example where women tend to be the ones who believe there is an issue and who want to discuss it, while men tend to be the ones insisting that it isn’t an issue, and if it is, it’s solely because some women are hypersensitive and the issue will go away once they shut up.

  52. Lucy says

    Darren

    “But if men use the same communication style with both men and women, then that is manifestly not sexist.”

    It manifestly is sexist to live by men’s rules and preferences regardless of how women feel about it.

  53. Bugmaster says

    @Ally #34:
    What it does is to serve existing positions of status, power and privilege, so it will always unfairly advantage white people, men, the expensively educated etc etc etc. It’s actually a really unhelpful and corrosive style of communication.
    Building up on what I said above in #42:
    Ideally, I would like to choose a communication style that gives the advantage to those with something of value to contribute. If that happens to be a woman, ok. If the problem we are solving involves engineering, then it is likely that the more educated participants in the conversation (of whichever gender) would have the most to contribute. I’m ok with that too.

  54. S66 says

    As a primary school teacher, I’ve seen a decrease in empathy as teachers become deputies/head teachers, and in those cases they were all women. I’ve also worked alongside a woman who came back into being a class teacher after stepping down from being a head, and although the increase in her empathy levels weren’t drastic, I can see them now. Obviously none of this is measurable, but it feels true.

  55. freja says

    @51, gjenganger

    Ah, so that is what ‘mansplaining’ means? That even makes sense. I had thought that it just meant ‘arguing while male’ (in analogy with ‘driving while black’).

    Yeah, mansplaining is essentially the phenomenon of a man insisting on explaining something to a woman even though he has no more, and frequently less, experience and qualifications than she does. It started with an article called “Men explain things to me” (I think), in which the author recalls how a man at a party started to lecture her about this very important book that was just out on the subject that she was an expert in. He completely took over the conversation in order to explain this very important book to her and her friend, and when her friend finally figured out which book he was talking about, she had to go “It’s her book! It’s her book you’re talking about!” twice to finally get him to stop explaining. It then turned out he hadn’t even read the book, just seen an article about it in the New York Times.

    I think there are three aspects about what was described in the article (which would later be known as mansplaining):

    The tendency of (some) men to be extremely confident, take over every conversation, and express themselves with remarkable authority no matter the topic of discussion.

    The tendency of (some) women to always second guess themselves, doubt their own expertise even when they’ve earned it, and defer to others in conversation either out of politeness or self doubt.

    The tendency of (some) people to ascribe greater authority and competence to men than women, leading many women to struggle to get recognition in their field, and leading to both men and women being more comfortable and familiar with a man taking on the role of authority

    The author described how she had a feeling something was wrong with what the man was saying, but she kept doubting herself, wondering about this important book and questioning her own competence over not having been aware of it before. The roles they slipped into, the younger women deferring to this older authoritative man, were just to ingrained in her to speak up and question the premise of him being the expert lecturing her.

    I guess if were to translate it into a question of male and female communicative styles, she probably thought something akin to “We’re going to have a conversation focussed on exchanging knowledge and bonding socially” while he was thinking “I’m going to establish my position as the dominant party in this conversation, and impress the women with my superior intellect”.

    Of course in a male group, some other man would fairly soon challenge the first one, or force a change of topic – even if he did not fully understand the topic either.

    I think it depends. I’ve seen men avoid a confrontation if the speaker is more dominant than they are, or if they’re just not interested in a major conflict. Some men I’ve talked to have expressed regret over situations where they challenged or tried to play alpha to another man, and ended up making the whole interaction way less pleasant than if they’d just let him show off like he wanted to. You’re probably right that other men would be statistically more likely to call a man like this out, but I think the biggest difference is that fewer men would have risked getting into an area where they obviously had the less formal expertise if their opponent conversational partner was another man.

  56. Bugmaster says

    @freja #57:

    Yeah, mansplaining is essentially the phenomenon of a man insisting on explaining something to a woman even though he has no more, and frequently less, experience and qualifications than she does.

    As far as I know, this is absolutely the correct definition, but it can be tricky to apply in practice.

    If the man and the woman are talking about, say, nuclear physics; and the woman is a nuclear physicist while the man is a nutritionist; then it’s pretty easy to tell whether mansplaining is taking place.

    However, if the man and the woman are discussing matters of public policy, and neither one of them is a professional political scientist, then it is less clear whether the man is mansplaining or merely explaining his position. From what I’ve seen, in such cases at least some feminists prefer to treat anything said by the man as mansplaining, for a variety of reasons having to do with privilege, kyrarchy, etc.

    Naturally, I am aware of the irony involved in writing this very post while being male :-)

  57. Bugmaster says

    @gjenganger #46:

    Personally I think my native (male) style would make for better coding. It is easier to focus on problems when they can be expressed bluntly…

    I agree with you that this makes intuitive sense, but the statement “the Earth is flat” also makes intuitive sense, so it would be good to have some data.

    I’m not a sociologist, but it seems like it would be possible to construct a study on this topic, so I would be surprised if someone hadn’t done it already. For example, we could take 10 random men, put them in a room, then give them two hours to solve some complex puzzle with many constituent parts (designed in such a way that an average person could not solve it alone in two hours). We could then do the same with 10 women and a mixed audience of 5 men and 5 women; and then, of course, we’d repeat the test multiple times.

    If the male communication style is more effective, we’d expect the all-male groups to get the highest scores on the puzzle test, followed by the mixed group, followed by the women. If the female style is more effective, we’d expect the opposite. If the scores are evenly distributed, then perhaps both styles are equally good, or perhaps our very assumptions about styles are wrong.

  58. Pen says

    You can quite often hear women ‘mumsplaining’ to their children. Probably for similar reasons that men ‘mansplain’ to anyone – they consider the child in sore need of the benefit of their superior knowledge, wisdom and experience, though there’s often a rather forced joviality or patience to the whole thing. And of course, ‘dadsplaining’ happens as well. The best thing is when the innocent young child picks up their parents’ style and mimics it back to random adults – until they get slapped down for it. Now, I wonder what happens to women who adopt the patronising ‘-splaining’ tone with other adults?

  59. Holms says

    You can quite often hear women ‘mumsplaining’ to their children. Probably for similar reasons that men ‘mansplain’ to anyone – they consider the child in sore need of the benefit of their superior knowledge, wisdom and experience, though there’s often a rather forced joviality or patience to the whole thing. And of course, ‘dadsplaining’ happens as well.

    The major difference being, mum and dad actually have reason to believe they genuinely know more than a child on almost every topic, due to being an adult as opposed to being a child. Mansplaining on the other hand is the inclination to dismiss the knowledge of a woman on no real basis other than gender.

  60. Archy says

    I’ve noticed some guys will talk to each other about topics they know, not as an attempt to be patronizing but more like excitement over the topic, hell I’ve done it myself when talking to friends about something new I found out. It’s like a mutual sharing of information, not done out of the idea the other doesn’t know but a way to just share the info and usually get info back from the other person.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is for example, PC technicians tend to ‘splain stuff about computers just out of default behavior when talking to friends n family about PC’s. It’s not done to be condescending but in their experience most people tend to not know as much so they have to “dumb” it down a lil and explain things so often that they probably will do it even to people that know better, until that person displays they are cluey on the topic.

    Intentions matter a lot, I think many people do this stuff by default as they don’t know if the other knows as much but it’s probably just easier to default to them not knowing as much and be corrected on it should that person know as much. It requires the other person to speak up and interupt the ‘splaining.

    Then you get the arrogant people who assume they know better and purposely act condescending with it, which I believe is what people are referring to with the mansplaining when it’s done to people who actually do know as much/if not more such as a male engineer to a female engineer. Does mansplaining also refer to the stereotypical situation of a car salesmen treating women as if they don’t know much too? The intention there comes from sexist beliefs, however in the PC technician’s case the intentions are based off the fact that most people they talk to literally don’t know so habit kicks in. I myself dumb down the language a bit if they aren’t sure on a topic, but usually you can hear in their voice + how they ask the question on whether they know a lil or a lot on the topic. I do this because most people I know aren’t into the topic much or have limited experience and talking with full terminology (without explaining the meaning of each term) confuses the hell out of them. With that though I never assume women know less.

    I think it’s important to not be condescending if you ever do try explain things to people, listen and watch for cues, don’t rant n rave on about a topic to them and interrupt the person you’re explaining too. When you’re with colleagues you don’t dumb it down by default, you speak on the topic with the full terminology and if they don’t understand something they will probably ask and you can expand on it then.

    Based on what people are saying here, I do think we need to encourage women more with confidence however if they’re shying back. That shyness/lack of confidence could appear to another person like someone who doesn’t know, and may invoke more ‘splaining.

  61. Lucy says

    Is this related to the recent phenomenon of men crying when they win at the Olympics and lose at football and women not?

  62. Lucy says

    “Personally I think my native (male) style would make for better coding. ”

    Your native male style is better for doing something in the native male style? Who’da thought?

    Personally I think my native female style would make for better futurology all round. A vertical siloed perspective of the world can only get you so far, it’s horizontal, subtle interconnectivity and variability and the things inbetween where the really interesting stuff lives.

  63. Darren Ball says

    Holms 41

    I agree with you but you have elaborated on the hypothesis to create a whole new scenario. This thread starts at 13. In the hypothesis, one person is offended who happens to be female. If the character continues with this form of greeting then he’s an insensitive colleague but the sample size is too small to conclude that he’s targeting women. Further there is no particular reason to expect more women to be offended than men as there’s nothing gendered about the greeting.

  64. Darren Ball says

    Lucy 54

    You expect men to adapt to women’s rules and preferences – how is that different?

    We should all be free to choose our style of communication provided that it’s affective and not abusive.

  65. mildlymagnificent says

    Does mansplaining also refer to the stereotypical situation of a car salesmen treating women as if they don’t know much too?

    With the added bonus of ignoring the real questions about the topic that the woman in question wants answers to. There’s not much point to mansplaining endlessly about statistics on performance of the motor when the woman had specifically asked questions about the ease of installing and detaching child and baby safety seats in the back of the car and speed/ease of getting things into and out of the boot (trunk) when carting the grandchildren’s paraphernalia about. When this particular conversation ended, the salesman made the further mistake of joking in manly superior style to her husband about how women just won’t listen to information about (expensive, high quality) cars.

    Husband responded that “I don’t think it was her not listening.” No sale from that interaction. That couple, friends of ours, was a possible source of commission on an $80000+ car.

    As for mansplaining generally, I’ve always read it as men ignoring even the possibility that a woman could possibly have anything useful to say let alone be an, or maybe the, expert on the subject of the conversation. When a woman has written the book/paper/article/report in question, it’s even more galling.

    To me, it’s an extension of the eternal problem of men refusing to speak to a woman on the phone when they ring up with a technical question – or any other issue for that matter. Handing the phone over to a man only to have it handed back when the stroppy caller insists on talking to a more senior person used to be an occasional bonus. As I understand it, things have improved a bit in that respect in the years since I was working on legal/accounting matters, but I still see a lot of it in other areas.

  66. Lucy says

    Darren

    “You expect men to adapt to women’s rules and preferences”

    No, I expect men to treat women how women wish to be treated and to treat men how men wish to be treated.

    “How is that different?”

    It’s less colonialist.

    “We should all be free to choose our style of communication provided that it’s affective and not abusive.”

    You are free to. And I’m free to say you’re being sexist by imposing men’s rules of communication on me. It all depends whether you communicate for your own benefit or for other people’s.

  67. Lucy says

    Darren

    “Your arguments are the opposite of empowering women – they’re about treating women as delicate little flowers who can’t play on the same terms as men. ”

    Why should women play on the same terms as men? Who died and made men the rule makers and umpires?

    Maybe women don’t like men’s terms. Maybe they want to okay on their own terms. Maybe they want to play a different game. And maybe you should regard that as pertinent information.

  68. Lucy says

    “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.” Anatole France

  69. Lucy says

    Thil

    “with regard to that “well men get attacked too” stuff I think a lot of guys who come out with stuff like that are trying to say that it’s hurtful to made to feel like you are responsible for something you are in fact just as likely (if not more likely apparently) to be the victim of”

    Not as hurtful as hearing the perpetrators of the violence that strips away your liberties, thereby reducing your risk profile, being described as the greater victims.

  70. Pete says

    Where women complain about feeling the threat of violence when walking outside at night, Mr Bloke can be banked on to respond “What are you complaining about? Men are much more likely to be randomly assaulted by strangers than women are.

    It’s not when women complain about feeling the threat of violence. It’s when they, or indeed men, say things like “Men don’t understand what it’s like to constantly fear random street violence” or “violence against women is as a result of women being seen as lesser due to our patriarchal culture.” Men are more likely to be randomly assaulted is a good argument to both of those points and yet those points are made all the time when discussing the issue. If nothing else, if they don’t like men telling them what their experience is, they should try not to be hypocritical and do the reverse.

    Mansplaining is completely irritating however. I agree that it’s less to do with gender and more to do with individual personality; my Mum does it constantly. I’ve also never or rarely been mansplained to by a man, so I don’t even think it’s true that men do it to men as often as they do it to women. I know it has happened to many of my female friends who, as experts in their fields, regularly get (mainly) men explaining said fields to them. I get the impression that this is more the men trying to impress them with their knowledge, rather than in an “I’m right you’re wrong” sort of way but it’s very annoying none the less.

  71. Darren Ball says

    Lucy @68 and 69

    I will treat men and women equally. I will not treat women as they expect to be treated if their expectation is to be treated in preferably. Further, how am I to know how women expect to be treated – who died and made you the spokeswoman for all of womankind? Some women enjoy jousting and adversarial debate.

    If by “imposing men’s rules of communication on you” you mean that you are forced to listen to men speak in the way that men choose to speak, well yeah. If you want to know what somebody is saying, you have to listen to them speaking and they get to choose how they speak. You “impose” your communication style on everybody who wants to listen to what you have to say. We all do.

    “Why should women play on the same terms as men? Who died and made men the rule makers and umpires?

    Maybe women don’t like men’s terms. Maybe they want to okay on their own terms. Maybe they want to play a different game. And maybe you should regard that as pertinent information.”

    No one stopping you playing different games, or the same game in different ways. What’s happening here is that men are being told that they have to change the way they interact to suit (some) women’s preferences. It’s not men telling women how they should interact, it’s women telling men.

  72. freja says

    @73, Darren Ball

    No one stopping you playing different games, or the same game in different ways. What’s happening here is that men are being told that they have to change the way they interact to suit (some) women’s preferences. It’s not men telling women how they should interact, it’s women telling men.

    Nobody is trying to force men to adapt to women. The fact of the matter is simply that to people using a largely female communication style, several parts of the more typically male communication style comes across as hostile, rude, unproductive, and downright stupid.

    But for some reason, women who experience the downsides of using a more female communication style among men (being frequently interrupted, talked down to, dismissed, perceived as weaker and less competent, etc.) are constantly told that they need to change their behaviour if they want to make it stop. But men who experience the downsides of using a more male communication style among women (being perceived and treated as hostile, rude, unproductive, and downright stupid) keep complaining like you do that women are being unreasonable and need to change their behaviour into being more accepting of the male behaviour.

    If you don’t care about how women feel, but just treat them as you expect to be treated yourself, why shouldn’t women be free to not care about your feelings and just treat you as they expect to be treated themselves too? And in that case, you need to accept that they might react to your behaviour by treating you as someone who’s hostile, rude, unproductive, and/or downright stupid, because that’s how they expect to be (and frequently are) treated in response to similar behaviour.

    Or we could try to tone down the battle of the sexes rhetoric and accept that different people have different styles of communication and different ways of reacting to the same behaviours, and we should all, as rule, aim to give our conversational partners a constructive and/or enjoyable experience to the extent that it’s ethically and practically feasible.

  73. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 64
    You might well be right, though it is hard – for either of us – to be certain when you only know one style from the inside.

  74. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 68

    No, I expect men to treat women how women wish to be treated and to treat men how men wish to be treated.

    Noble ambition. But in all kinds of cases, from mixed working groups, through public gatherings to debate, you cannot speak to each individually, in custom style. There has to be a common style for all. The hard part is to settle on how it should be.

  75. gjenganger says

    @Freja 53. Your picture of my opinions does not reflect that well what I thought I had said, but it is great start for discussion. If you will indulge me?

    Being open about your feelings is indeed a female rather than male trait. What I was getting at was something else: raising problems or disagreements is threat to harmony. In a style that tolerates open dissent these can be easier to raise, and the boss can settle the matter (and take the responsibility) by saying “I hear you but we do it my way”. In style that favours harmony, dissent is more likely not to get voiced in the first place, and responsibility is spread to the whole group. Even if, as may well be the case, it is the boss who takes every single decision.

    I do think that men are relatively more concerned with things, and women more with people and feelings But he big difference here is between a style that sees interactions through status and respect, and one that sees them through closeness and intimacy. Which are arguably both feelings that detract form the technical problem at hand. I would say that both men and women compete, and sometimes sabotage their competitors or try to push them out. It goes with competing. Refusing to accept help and resisting being told you are wrong are more of a problem with a male style, I would say. Though women may be worse at handling these male complications, basically because they do not expect them, and so do not apply the face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority that might have smoothed the process.

    As for women, I would guess that they do express their feelings, and that they compete and care about what they do just like men do, though maybe in different ways. I would guess that in a female style people are more reluctant t cause disharmony, be it through raising conflicts, or by being too visibly different (including better) from the others in the group.

  76. freja says

    @77, gjenganger

    @Freja 53. Your picture of my opinions does not reflect that well what I thought I had said, but it is great start for discussion. If you will indulge me?

    I realise your perception of your opinion probably wasn’t the same as mine, hence the confession of hyperbole. Glad it can open a debate :-)

    Being open about your feelings is indeed a female rather than male trait. What I was getting at was something else: raising problems or disagreements is threat to harmony. In a style that tolerates open dissent these can be easier to raise, and the boss can settle the matter (and take the responsibility) by saying “I hear you but we do it my way”. In style that favours harmony, dissent is more likely not to get voiced in the first place, and responsibility is spread to the whole group. Even if, as may well be the case, it is the boss who takes every single decision.

    You keep saying this stuff about men being open to conflict and tolerant of dissent, but I’ve rarely experienced anything like that in all the years I’ve had male friends and acquaintances. This is going to sound hard, but in my experience the rule is: One or more women object to something that happens in the group or express a wish for things to change, several (mainly) men close ranks, tells her that she’s being oppressive, hysterical, censoring them, engaging in witch hunts, being a PC feminazi, being emotional, not respecting the emotions of the man/men she’s criticising, blowing things out proportion, making stuff up, creating drama, etc., and they’ll consider her an enemy until she shuts up.

    It’s happening in the atheist community right now, with several (disproportionately women) sceptics disputing the prevailing atheist dogma that religion is the sole source of prejudice and oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., and being told to shut up and present “a united front” against the religious people, and accused of censorship, witch hunts, political correctness, and creating “deep rifts”.

    It’s happening in many parts of the scientific (and atheist) community, where women tell about being subjected to sexual harassment and assault, and (primarily) men inform them that “innocent until proven guilty” is moral standard, not just a legal one, and that no one should therefore bring up (or believe anyone telling about) sexual harassment and assault unless they have incontestable proof (and multiple witness accounts don’t count).

    It’s even happening in the BDSM community. And recognisable in the (male dominated) geek community. When the advice blog Captain Awkward posted the article “My friend group has a case of the creepy dude” the post “went viral” and the author “watched her page hits jump from the thousands to over a million.”, which is a testament to how common the issue “I want to call this guy out on his behaviour but none of the guys in the group wants to address the issue and they’re mostly concerned with defending him and keeping the status quo” is for a lot of women.

    Frankly, I’ve never experienced any male-dominated group where a woman could raise an issue like that without (many of) the men in the group trying to shut her up by levelling a combination of the same 3 accusations against her (serious question, do they hand all of you identical scripts when you enter your teens?):

    1: Imply that she’s inferior and her judgement untrustworthy in a specifically female way, e.g.:
    “Hysterical”, “emotional”, “unreasonable”, “overreacting”, “that time of the month”, “hypersensitive”, “irrational”, “dramaqueen”, “stirring up trouble”, “victim mentality”, “not being able to handle it”, etc..

    2: Complain that she’s being too blunt and not sensitive enough in dealing with the apparently fragile male emotions, e.g.:
    “You have to tone it down and be reasonable”, “that kind of language is not acceptable”, “you’re chasing people away with that attitude”, “he’s just socially awkward, you should cut him some slack (i.e. put up with his behaviour)”, “maybe he has Asperger’s syndrome, you should cut him some slack (i.e. put up with his behaviour)”, “he’s had a very rough childhood, you should cut him some slack (i.e. put up with his behaviour)”, “he’s going through a rough patch right now, you should cut him some slack (i.e. put up with his behaviour)”, “you need to apply more face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority to smooth the process”, etc.

    3: Make comparisons to a kind of unacceptable political oppression that needs to be stamped out immediately without question, e.g.:
    “Witch hunt”, “censorship”, “politically correct tyranny”, “Marxist”, “feminazi” (bonus points for working in implied female inferiority), “preferential treatment”, etc..

    I’m dead serious here, this is such a consistent pattern that I have absolutely no idea where anyone could possibly get the idea that male-dominated groups have even the slightest tolerance for dissent, are in any way open to people bringing up potential issues with the group, and don’t expect people to obey authority and toe the party line. I think that men on average have many wonderful personality traits that many women could learn a lot from, but handling criticism well is not one of them. It might, in fact, be dead last on the list of traits I’d attribute as typically male.

    Perhaps it’s some sort of sexism issue, maybe men really do treat each other with the acceptance and openness to debate and dissent you claim they do, and they just use their interactions to women to let out steam. Perhaps many men are just so fed up with having to be constantly accepting of other men’s rudeness that a single woman in a youtube video offhandedly mentioning “Guys, don’t do that” in regards to a particularly insensitive come-on attempt can cause thousands of them to break down into a raging pile of “arglebarglecensorshipfeminazifalserapeaccusationwitchhunt”. I don’t know, but I do know that the pattern of tolerance to open dissent which you describe is completely at odds with the very masculine tendency to send death and rape threats to women they disagree with.

    Refusing to accept help and resisting being told you are wrong are more of a problem with a male style, I would say. Though women may be worse at handling these male complications, basically because they do not expect them, and so do not apply the face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority that might have smoothed the process.

    But isn’t the need to apply “face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority that might have smoothed the process” an implicit acknowledgement that men’s interactions are emotionally charged, and require sensitivity and special considerations? I don’t disagree btw, I’ve found myself having to learn to not come across as rude and to accommodate men’s feelings in order to successfully interact with them, but that’s exactly why it’s frustrating to constantly hear about emotional women demanding special treatment, as some male commenters on this thread have alluded to or downright stated. I think women accommodate men all the damn time, it’s just rarely completely by choice. Also, “resisting being told you are wrong” is usually completely at odds with “tolerates open dissent ”.

  77. freja says

    @77, gjenganger

    I have a reply in moderation, probably for including too many links. Hope it goes through soon :-)

  78. sw says

    Every time I’ve ever been accused of “mansplaining” it’s been because someone has disagreed with me, so I try to explain my position from first principles to ask them where their disagreement lies. I know that much of what I’m saying they already know and agree with, but I know that there’s *something* in there that they disagree with, and I want to know that it is.
    And then they accuse me of mansplaining rather than actually engage in whatever topic we were discussing.

  79. hoary puccoon says

    gjenganger @51–

    You listened and got it!

    Recent example– A stranger overheard two male relatives and me planning to take a sailboat across the Caribbean. He very patronizingly intruded to explain to me (not to the guys) what an idiot I was to consider the sail, because HE had been on a planned trip, not just across the Caribbean, but across the whole Atlantic!
    Only everybody on his boat got seasick, so they turned around and went home after three days!
    So, obviously I was a fool to think I could sail across the Caribbean!
    (As it happens, I’ve crewed on a sailboat once across the Atlantic and four times across the Caribbean, as well as sailing the Pacific Coast from California to the Panama Canal. And I didn’t go home after three days, either.)

    sw @80–

    Just a suggestion– You may be getting accused of mansplaining because the people you are talking to already understand the first principles, and don’t see any point in going over them. Have you tried saying back to them what you think their objection is? Even if that doesn’t get the issue settled, it will probably convince your adversary that you’re really trying to listen.

  80. sw says

    Yeah Hoary, I usually only resort to trying to explain from first principles when all other attempts to work out where the disagreement is have failed.
    In my experience it’s felt like a rhetorical trick. Tell someone they’re wrong, refuse to explain why, and when they break down their own argument to ask you which point you disagree with accuse them of mansplaining. I’m not saying that’s how it’s always used, but that is my experience (in the two times I’ve been accused of mansplaining).

  81. gjenganger says

    @Freja 78

    But isn’t the need to apply “face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority that might have smoothed the process” an implicit acknowledgement that men’s interactions are emotionally charged, and require sensitivity and special considerations?

    Absolutely. That is what I hint at by putting it as ‘male complications’ in my post.

    You keep saying this stuff about men being open to conflict and tolerant of dissent, but I’ve rarely experienced anything like that in all the years I’ve had male friends and acquaintances.

    I do think that a male style makes some disagreements easier to raise and easier to deal with. Especially those about in-group hierarchy and outside, technical things. How we make other people feel (outside special contexts that we are used to) may be a different question. Anyway, we are human and imperfect just like you are, with more or less the same set of needs and emotions.

    The problems you are listing are certainly real (I was not thinking in those terms in my previous posts). And yes, there is not much sign that men in general are that open to doing anything about them. But I would say that this is a matter of content, not of communication style. Whether you think that men are steeped in a shared sexist culture and do not want to give up their minor comforts for mere women, or that they are nice normal people being pressured to give up their accepted behaviour to fit to someone else’s taste, I think it would be unrealistic to expect that they should be eager to make the kind of changes that is being asked. I’ll expand on the why, but let me start by pointing out that looking at your links the problem is not whether men will listen to women who raise these concerns. They will – as long as it is not themselves that are accused of being crypto-rapists. The problem is that men are reluctant to cut out, immediately and finally, the friends and the ways of talking that women around them do no like. And I would say that the rather disproportionate reactions you can get to fairly measured requests come because they are seen not as a point for debate, but as demands for change – surely with some justification? Maybe the best illustration I can give is a question that I have sometimes asked myself about my wife (for much less serious problems than these, let me say). “How can I show that I am listening to her, except by agreeing with her and doing the things she wants? Is there a difference, to her?”That question somehow never arises in my (mostly male) workplace.

    So, why are these changes so hard to produce? At the lower levels we are talking about things that many men would likely not even notice as problems, and would not rate highly if they did. Mansplaining, say, or propositioning someone, in a harmless and well-intentioned manner, in an elevator. So, if normal, innocent behaviour can have these totally unpredicted effects, you would have to become very insecure, start distrusting your everyday reactions, and be horribly self-conscious all the time. Not a delightful idea, especially if it is to solve a problem that you do not understand as such in the first place. You might well say that this is ridiculous, you are only asking for a few, small changes, but for a group that does not understand or share your conception of the problem in the first place, it is hard to see what is and is not covered.

    It does not help, that across the debate there is no clear distinction between what is irritating but not too bad, and what is tantamount to rape. ‘Objectifying women’s bodies’ (looking at tits?), rapey jokes (any joke with a sexual content?), competitive conversation styles, … can all be presented as part of the patriarchal oppression of womanhood, and therefore as something that must be met with zero tolerance and resolutely stamped out whenever it is seen, if we are to make a world that women can bear to live in. I notice that Captain Awkward has a zero-tolerance policy towards jokes he does not kike, not just towards sexual assault., So, also for the problems that (even) men can see need tackling, accepting the need for change can easily look like signing a blank cheque.

    For the really serious things like sexual assault among our friends (conf. Captain Awkward), we are where we have to make a very painful choice between some of the people we care about. If faced squarely this would be unavoidable – and the choice hopefully clear. But life would be so much easier if this problem had not come up. The friend (who arguably caused it) was there first, and we have settled ways of dealing with him. Not surprising if people react by wishing the whole thing away, or even blaming the person trying to force a decision.

    As a final consideration, I think that social exclusion is a more common tactic among schoolgirls (who work off closeness). Schoolboys would be more into settling the hierarchy, playing football with them all whether you like them or not, and finding a way to manage by not crowding the others. This may carry over in adult problem-solving as well.

    So, to round off a very long post, if you want to change the way men talk to each other, the way they joke, the way they think, the way they see their needs and their role in life, … all in the name of making the world better for women, you cannot really expect men to cooperate. You will have to win that one by force. If you want more male cooperation, it would help to make clear what has to be changed and give some reassurance about what could remain. Which says nothing about what is reasonable and what is not. Maybe a just world does require that we ditch current male culture completely and build a new unisex identity starting from the way women do things. But in that case you will not find me fighting for a just world, I am afraid.

  82. gjenganger says

    @Gjenganger 83
    Ah, that should have been “Captain Awkward has a zero-tolerance policy towards jokes she does not like My stereotypes are showing, sorry.

  83. freja says

    @83, gjenganger

    You appear to be changing your initial claims somewhat. In the beginning, men were about competition and getting stuff done, and women were about connecting and making sure everybody was feeling well. But in your later posts you say that people need to show special considerations in order to spare the emotions and ensure the well-being of men in male-dominated groups, and that women are also likely to compete and try to overshadow each other.

    In regards to your reasons for why men are mostly unable to handle the kind of disagreement and conflict I outlined above, your explanation seems to me like the fundamental attribution error applied to the sex you identify the least with. When men try to sweep conflicts under the rug, it’s related to specific reasons for why these specific conflicts are too hard to tackle, but when women do the same, it’s all caused by their female inability to accept dissent. Have you considered that the kind of conflicts women don’t like to handle out in the open can seem similarly insurmountable to them?

    You say that men don’t see the problem with being propositioned to by men, but in my experience, they very much do, elevators or not. I remember discussing “Self-made man” with male acquaintances who agreed that a similar experiment with a man going undercover as a woman and going on dates with men simply wouldn’t be feasible, because the author would have been killed or beaten up by the men he’d gotten into bed with the moment he’d had to reveal that he had male physiology. I’ve heard many men talk about how gross or threatening they’d find being propositioned to by a man, and men even invented the gay panic defence.

    Imo, the fundamental difference between (average) men and (average) women is simply that many men have convinced themselves that women have to be OK with this kind of behaviour from men, and aren’t allowed to find it threatening. And if you think about it, this really make no sense, since the physical threat, in the form of differences in size and strength, is far smaller for men, and men who hit on other men tend to be more considerate of their behaviour.

    Of course people are more likely to estimate that a conflict isn’t worth it when they’re sheltered from the problem to begin with. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis: “I wont gain anything if things change because I’m not the one getting subjected to this behaviour in the first place, but I might lose something if the conflict creates discord in the group or if the resolution to it means I have restrain myself or put more effort into my behaviour.” But that’s not a special male consideration, it’s a very normal human one.

    I don’t know what women do specifically that makes you think they’re giving you an ultimatum, and what men do specifically that makes you think they’re not. In my experience, men are more likely than women to do things like stating personal opinions as indisputable facts, putting their foot down and basically go “This is how it’s going to be”, saying things like “cut it out”, and openly call people morons if their opinions differ. I think Darren Ball on this thread is an excellent example, basically stating that he has one way and one way only of treating other people, and he’s going to treat people according to that one way whether they like it or not.

    I think one of reasons these conflicts seem to have no room for compromise is that they’re a result of things having already gone too far. Because most male-dominated groups haven’t been open to these debates to begin with, and because most mixed sex groups are male-dominated for most practical purposes, these things have been simmering for years, sometimes decades. In the two Captain Awkward cases, the conflict stems from the guys in the group having decided a long time ago to treat the girls in the group as secondary. Do you think for a moment that a guy could get away with cuddling up against other guys (who had not indicated they wanted it) and stroking their legs while they were asleep, demanding sex in payment for giving a guy a ride, or sending Facebook messages to other guys about how he’s jerking off thinking about them?

    The same goes for similar conflicts. In many ways, it would have been so much easier if they could have been nipped in the bud. But men in male-dominated groups are rarely comfortable talking about it, so the problems escalate, and when the women who’ve been designated as sacrifices on the altar of delicate male feelings finally start fighting back, they’re not inclined to be nice about it, because nice never worked for them before and they’ve never been treated nicely in return. I guess you see this behaviour as the explanation for why the groups can’t handle this kind of dissent, but i think it’s a reaction to the inability of these groups to handle dissent in the first place.

    Ah, that should have been “Captain Awkward has a zero-tolerance policy towards jokes she does not like My stereotypes are showing, sorry.

    ?

  84. bugmaster says

    @freja, gjenganger:
    I have been following your debate with interest, and I’d like to man-point something out (*). Both of you say things like this:

    In my experience, men are more likely than women to do things like stating personal opinions as indisputable facts…

    or

    I think that social exclusion is a more common tactic among schoolgirls (who work off closeness)…

    Ok, but is any of that true in general ? I am not disputing your personal experiences, but you are debating policy choices that would affect everyone, not just you. In light of this, and in light of that fact that both of you are biased human beings, would it not make sense to distance yourselves from your subjective viewpoints and seek some objective facts ?

  85. bugmaster says

    @#86:

    I forgot to expand the asterisk in my previous comment:

    (*) It’s not as catchy as “mansplain”, but I suppose it’ll have to do.

  86. gjenganger says

    @bugmaster 86
    I think that both statements are true in general – mine and hers. That is not based just on personal experience (though it does fit) but on the works on gendered interaction strategies by the social linguist Deborah Tannen. Not that she is the ‘accepted, ultimate authority’, but I do find her pretty convincing.

  87. Lucy says

    Gjenganger

    “Noble ambition. But in all kinds of cases, from mixed working groups, through public gatherings to debate, you cannot speak to each individually, in custom style. There has to be a common style for all. The hard part is to settle on how it should be.”

    I don’t know about you, but I change my communication style a thousand times a day, sometimes within the same conversation according to the cues I get from the person or people I’m talking to.

    In group situations, unless you’re giving a presentation, you address individuals. And anyway most of those group situations are vanity projects and aren’t very effective, or I don’t know maybe men get something out of them. I don’t think women would have ever invented PowerPoint slides.

    I certainly change my communication between men and women because with women you can leave a lot more unsaid because there’s a shared understanding and you can cover more varied ground because women can think of lots of things simultaneously, very rapidly. When talking to men, certainly in professional situations you have stick to one main topic at a time and follow a very clear thread or they think you’re not making any sense. Basically you have to cross the autism divide.

    So anyway, we don’t in life decide on one way of dealing with various types of people and they all just have to like it or lump it. We don’t force people in wheelchairs to use the stairs or everyone to pray in a church or everyone to speak the same language or read the same newspaper. If we did it would certainly be discriminatory. And I don’t see why women should be content to have to deal solely with a systematised perspective or be sworn at or treated aggressively just because men say that’s how they treat one another and claim they don’t mind it. Anymore than men should be forced to operate via a holistic perspective, body language and collaborative tone of voice.

  88. gjenganger says

    @freja 85.
    The question mark at the end? I had referred to Captain Awkward as ‘he’, even though I know the actual person is female. I preferred to call it myself rather than having someone else do it.

  89. Lucy says

    “Men are more likely to be randomly assaulted”

    Men are not more likely to be randomly assaulted.

  90. gjenganger says

    @Freja 85. No time for a proper answer before I go t work – this takes thought. I’ll get there later.

  91. Lucy says

    Darren

    “I will treat men and women equally. I will not treat women as they expect to be treated if their expectation is to be treated in preferably.”

    It’s only preferably if you don’t do the same for men. Nobody is stopping you from extending the same courtesies to men.

    —-
    “Further, how am I to know how women expect to be treated”

    Well you could ask them. But as that might be a bit embarrassing and time-consuming, you could observe how women treat each other in professional situations and that will give you a lot of clues. Not how women treat each other in fictional professional sitations scripted by men, but in genuine ones. Observe women in debates, in the House of Commons, in meetings at work, on committees, when interviewing.

    “who died and made you the spokeswoman for all of womankind?”

    You don’t have to be a spokeswoman for all womankind to point out that it’s sexist to impose one sex’s manner of communication on the other.


    “Some women enjoy jousting and adversarial debate”

    Yes but very few enjoy being treated aggressively and patronisingly. Very few want to compete on terms that are important to men.


    “If by “imposing men’s rules of communication on you” you mean that you are forced to listen to men speak in the way that men choose to speak, well yeah.”

    Well to an extent, I mean that, yes. But worse is when you are forced to speak in a way men speak in order to operate in a man’s world and accrue any of its benefits. It doesn’t come naturally and therefore puts you at a disadvantage.


    “No one stopping you playing different games, or the same game in different ways. ”

    Actually yes they are. Women in the professional sphere are operating within an established male culture; in order to be considered professional, women have to operate within that culture.

    —-
    “What’s happening here is that men are being told that they have to change the way they interact to suit (some) women’s preferences. It’s not men telling women how they should interact, it’s women telling men.”

    That attitude is all well and good in the private sphere, but in the professional sphere it becomes an issue of discrimination.

  92. gjenganger says

    Not sure we are that far apart. Certainly we both agree that men and women have quite different styles that have to be accommodated.

    with women you can leave a lot more unsaid because there’s a shared understanding and you can cover more varied ground because women can think of lots of things simultaneously, very rapidly. When talking to men, certainly in professional situations you have stick to one main topic at a time and follow a very clear thread or they think you’re not making any sense. Basically you have to cross the autism divide.

    I’d summarise my point like this:
    – Is it acceptable to talk in your favourite way to everybody, and have the others do all the adapting? No.
    – Can and should you try to tailor what you say to the style of the person(s) you are talking to? Yes.
    – Will that solve the problem? No, and we should face up to that.

    Imagine a working group made up of mixed Swiss Germans and Sicilians who miraculously speak each other’s language, if not that well. If it cannot be helped they must, of course, adapt and get the best they can out of it. But no matter how much you adapt to each individual listener, that group is going to work very hard and get inferior results, compared to a monoglot group. And the people who happen to share a language will work together much more closely than those who do not. Any organisation would be tempted to impose a shared working language (quite possibly English) and insist that people adapt.

    On a more social level, imagine a free–flowing social gathering made from mixed white British and rural Pakistani youth. What topics would you joke about? Not alcohol, women, religion, dress, even music.

    In either case, how few would there have to be of the smallest group, before you could justify switching over to the majority style – to the great relief of the majority members present?

  93. Lucy says

    Bearing in mind that how women behave at work when there are men around is different to how they behave when there aren’t any. An all woman meeting is a different affair to a mixed one.

  94. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 96
    Tannen says the same – that mixed gatherings tend to follow male rules. One reason might be that a competitive style – like faster talking – tends to dominate in a mixture.

    Extending my metaphor, a company might find that it got better results, and happier workers, if each department chose either German or Italian as the working language. It might even be the case that you got the best products by choosing German for the production department and Italian for the design department.

  95. hoary puccoon says

    sw @82–

    If somebody is telling you you’re wrong and refusing to explain why, it *is* a rhetorical trick. Which explains why it feels that way. ;-)

    You might try saying, “I really, honestly, am not getting your point. Can you break it down?” Or, “this is what I hear you saying…. Is that right?” Of course, if you’re dealing with a deliberately dirty fighter (and no group, gender, etc ., has a monopoly on those) it won’t get you very far. But it might be worth a shot.

  96. gjenganger says

    @hoary_puccoon 81
    Even though ‘mansplaining has a perfectly clear and sensible meaning, I’d still say that using it as a debating argument always amounts to an underhand way of knocking out non-feminist men. Let me mansplain it for you:
    First, ‘mansplaining’ is feminist group-speak. Non-feminists will not know the word or feel comfortable with it.
    Second, it does not just mean ‘a (male) person that gives over-long and over-detailed arguments’, it carries a lot of baggage. For instance that this person is willfully insensitive at best, a patriarchical oppressor at worst, that he does not know what he is talking about, and that his arguments are not worth considering, based on style alone. You cannot accept to use the word without, in effect, conceding the argument.
    A more neutral way of making the same point would be to say ‘Look, we know all that. Can’t you stop patronizing us and get to the point?’ That would leave the way open for continuing the discussion (an apology, a clarification, a counter-attack, …). If that is what you want, of course.
    In your boating example, you might try “It is not without danger, but I think we can manage. I have done that trip four times already, you know.

  97. Copyleft says

    If we could move past this bizarre notion that male conversational behaviors, on average, are some strange and faulty deviation from the average-female “norm” and that therefore needs correcting, we’ll make much better progress. Men are not obligated to communicate in a female-friendly manner any more than women are obligated to do the reverse.

  98. Darren Ball says

    Freja 74 and Lucy 93.

    There’s a huge amount of generalisations in your posts about male and female communication style. I really don’t recognise the differences to the extent that you describe them. I think communication styles vary much more by sector than by gender. Perhaps gender differences are more pronounced in professions other than my own?

    Obviously we all have to adapt our communication styles to suit the people we’re talking to and to get the effect we want. I find that adversarial debate is sometimes needed to kill off a bad idea. Other times listening and co-operation are needed to flush out good ideas. Some men and women are good at both styles and can switch between them to good effect; others are stuck firmly in just one.

    Whilst it’s a good idea to review business practices – and that includes communication techniques, and it might behove some men to adopt a style that listens more and lectures less (or not), ultimately people should use the communication styles that they find work best for them in the environment that they’re in. Aggression, bullying and abuse is never acceptable, of course.

    A technique that is insensitive to the way that some people communicate will not be a successful communication style and will naturally be punished by poor results. All of this is common-sense, but is fundamentally not the same as insisting that men choose a communication style that’s sub-optimal for them because women (apparently) prefer it; both men and women should choose communication styles that they find most effective for them.

  99. gjenganger says

    @Darren 101.
    I am (pro-)male, and I still think their ‘generalisations about male and female communication styles’ make a lot of sense (see Deborah Tannen – again – for a overview). Everybody should be able to adapt their style to the people they are with, we all seem to agree on that. But I do think it is fair comment that the two sexes tend to come with different cultural styles. And that (mostly) single-sex groups agree on a style that works perfectly well and is comfortable for all, but that the other sex finds a bit weird an hard to fit in with. Which, again, puts them at a disadvantage, as having effectively to work in what amounts to a foreign language and culture. It is not as easy as you are saying to change styles about, or even to notice the need. And the only woman in a male group / male in a female group / gai-jin in a Japanese company / … is likely to be disadvantaged in ways that the others are not even aware of.

  100. Darren Ball says

    gjenganger @ 103

    You may be right in all that you’ve said. Let”s say that you are. In one scenario a male manager trying to get the best out of his team would be pretty stupid to only allow only the “male” communication style if that means that the female members are not engaging to their full potential. He would be a poor manager and get poor results. So on this I’m sure we all agree that the manager should choose a style, or mix of styles, that get’s everybody competing to their best potential.

    In another scenario, a male team member trying to get his idea adopted amid competition may find that a debating style is a very effective way for him to get his point across. Should he feel obliged to adopt a style he finds less successful because female members are more comfortable with that style, even if that risks failing, or should he feel free to use his preferred style? Since it’s a competitive situation, why should he not feel free to press any advantage that he has? Should the man only be adversarial with other men, but not with the women?

  101. gjenganger says

    @Darren 104.
    Very interesting way of looking at it. And it follows logically once you look at it individual by individual, rather than gender by gender. I have nothing to say against that. Let us see what Lucy and Freja make of it.

  102. freja says

    @86, bugmaster

    Ok, but is any of that true in general ? I am not disputing your personal experiences, but you are debating policy choices that would affect everyone, not just you. In light of this, and in light of that fact that both of you are biased human beings, would it not make sense to distance yourselves from your subjective viewpoints and seek some objective facts ?

    Some of what I say is from personal experiences, some are from scientific studies I’ve read about the subject, and some of it are just plain undocumented stereotypes. My point about all of this is not really about figuring out what the true, quintessential ‘male’ and ‘female’ communication is, it’s to point out that the generalisations applied by some people here, like gjenganger, are inherently contradictory.

    Most of us agree that there is a stereotype saying that men are rational and self-controlled, and women are controlled by their emotions, for instance, but most of us will also have been exposed to the stereotype of horndog men who’re in the thrall of their hormones. One of those stereotypes may or may not be true, but I’m less concerned with figuring out which one is true than I am with establishing that they can’t both be true at the same time.

    I can deal with a stereotype which says that men are less likely to let their hormones get in the way of rational behaviour, and that they’re therefore generally better suited to positions where they’re required to act rationally rather than just doing what their hormones tell them, but that in turn, they should be held to higher standards and not require special emotional coddling. And I can deal with a stereotype which says that men are hormonal and lack self-control, and therefore we should all show extra consideration for their feelings, but that in turn, we should all acknowledge that they’re less likely to be suited to positions where they’re required to act rationally rather than just doing what their hormones tell them.

    I’m deeply opposed to both stereotypes, but at least then we’d be discussing their validity and what to do about them. But the contradictory stereotypes we have now are just plain sexism, holding men to be helpless thralls whenever it comes to taking responsibility, but rational supermen whenever it comes to taking them seriously. And as I noted in my last post, the stereotype that men are simultaneously much more likely to find the sexual behaviour of other men to just be harmless fun, and more likely to react with extreme anger and disgust when they’re exposed to that same behaviour, doesn’t make any sense except as a double-standard

    In the same way, I don’t really buy the idea that men are simultaneously more hierarchical and more open to dissent, because those two concepts are fundamentally opposed. I also don’t buy the idea that women in female-dominated groups care more about other people’s feelings, and yet the standard for men in male-dominated groups is to coddle each other’s feelings all the time, such as, in gjenganger’s own words, “apply the face-saving, patience, or appeal to authority that might have smoothed the process”.

    I don’t know if men and women really are that different in the way they communicate, but I do know that the communication styles we ascribe to them are self-contradictory and fly in the face of dozens of other well-known stereotypes which the kind of people who subscribe to the idea of gendered communication styles also tend to believe in.

  103. Darren Ball says

    gjenganger 105.

    “Let us see what Lucy and Freja make of it.”

    I’m slightly nervous about that, to be honest.

    I will offer this though: in my second scenario, decision makers/the rest of the group should make an effort to see that everybody’s ideas are given a fair hearing.

  104. Lucy says

    Copyleft

    “Men are not obligated to communicate in a female-friendly manner any more than women are obligated to do the reverse.”

    Except that’s precisely what women are obligated to do as soon as they enter the workforce, academia, politics, the media.

  105. Lucy says

    The main difference I think there is between male and female communication style isn’t the adversarial vs soft aspect, you get timid men and aggressive women. It’s the systematising versus holistic/empathising aspect. Men like to break things apart to see how the parts work, women like to put them together to see what the whole thing produces. Men see things in vertical slices (and don’t always real is that leaves gaps in between), women see them in horizontal slices.

    The difference in communication is much more fundamental than tone of voice, it’s the what, when, why, where of communicating at all. Men have a place where you work, a place where you live, a place where you think, a place where you speak, a place where you exercise, a place where you socialise, a place where you learn; they have roles and job types. I don’t believe women would do that if they had the choice, they’d do a bit of everything at the same time. Women would never have created specialisations like parliament and a legislature, it wouldn’t have been necessary because they’d have those kinds of conversations on the fly as an integrated part of what they were doing. Left to their own devices, they would no more haul a wrong doer up in front of a judge for a cut and dry decision than fly to the moon, they’d use social pressure to mould her.

    Some put it down to men evolving to hunt: ie to pick one item and remove it from its surroundings; women having evolved to gather: ie. scan a wide visage and keep things in their surroundings. When men talk they have a goal, when women talk they have multiple overlapping goals and are banking things for later.

    So much of the world, particularly the working world, and particularly the sciences, but also the arts are systemised and specialised. So it’s no wonder women struggle to make much headway in it and find it demoralising. The places where it’s less the case are the worlds of domestic work, charity work, part-time work, consultancy, general practice, nursing, primary schools and women flock to them, but even those arenas are getting encroached upon and “professionalised”. I’m not sure where women will go soon to do things their way.

  106. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy #109:

    Women would never have created specialisations like parliament and a legislature, it wouldn’t have been necessary because they’d have those kinds of conversations on the fly as an integrated part of what they were doing.

    Do you have any actual evidence for this ? It sounds almost like you’re saying, “female-only communities of any size can function well without any centralized government”, which is an empirical claim that can be put to the test.

    So much of the world, particularly the working world, and particularly the sciences, but also the arts are systemised and specialised. So it’s no wonder women struggle to make much headway in it and find it demoralising.

    I don’t know much about the arts, but in software engineering specifically, most of the problems one faces are too big for any one human to solve all at once. It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, or something else; your brain simply isn’t powerful enough to (for example) write a modern operating system from scratch in a single pass. This is why a lot of software engineering techniques focus on breaking up large problems into smaller chunks, and why concepts such as object-oriented programming, layers of abstraction, design patterns, compilers, etc. etc. were invented.

    If what you say is true, and women are biologically incapable (or, perhaps, less capable) of this kind of thinking, then we can expect software engineering to remain the domain of men for the foreseeable future. It would also mean that all of the recent efforts by feminists to get more women into CS are futile. Personally, I don’t believe there is enough evidence to conclude that just yet, but I’m open to persuasion.

  107. Lucy says

    “Do you have any actual evidence for this ?”

    I have the evidence that they never did, ever, anywhere.

  108. Lucy says

    Bugmaster

    “This is why a lot of software engineering techniques focus on breaking up large problems into smaller chunks, and why concepts such as object-oriented programming, layers of abstraction, design patterns, compilers, etc. etc. were invented.”

    Mmm, I know, I’m a software engineer.

  109. Lucy says

    I was being trite.

    But object oriented programming is exactly the type of the thing I have in mind. It epitomises the male perspective of reality: encapsulated, hierarchical, designed to combat “arbitrary” and “unpredictable” (ie. complex) behaviour.

    I’m interested in the possibilities of subverting that, I’m with Alexander Stepanov who says it “attempts to decompose the world in terms of interfaces that vary on a single type. To deal with the real problems you need multisorted algebras – families of interfaces that span multiple types. I find OOP philosophically unsound. It claims that everything is an object.”

  110. Darren Ball says

    Lucy 111

    That is a weak argument because there has never been an all-female nation state. Your post @109 is pure speculation and lazy generalisations.

    Your argument that men have systematising brains and women have empathising brains puts you firmly in the Baron-Cohen school of thought which is used to justify why men are more successful at maths, engineering, physics, etc. and women are better at caring and teaching. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but if it’s right it has huge implications for much of feminist activism. Obviously there would be fewer women at the top of academia and in pioneering science and engineering if their skill sets are in taking care of people. It’s an argument that is potentially very damaging for the women’s movement. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but neither has it been proven right.

    Feminist scientist Cordellia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” set’s about debunking claims of this nature. She focuses so much on Baron-Cohen’s theory that she might as well have called her book “Simon Baron-Cohen is a Tosser”. Baron-Cohen’s rebuttal of her criticism was, in my opinion, rather lame.

  111. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy #111…114:

    I have the evidence that they never did, ever, anywhere.

    Isn’t that, like, the opposite of evidence ? Can you show me any female-exclusive community bigger than, say, 20 people, who never had any form of a centralized government ?

    But object oriented programming is exactly the type of the thing I have in mind. It epitomises the male perspective of reality: encapsulated, hierarchical, designed to combat “arbitrary” and “unpredictable” (ie. complex) behaviour.

    Ok, have you ever implemented a thick-client UI, such as something one might write using Swing, or WinForms, or QT ? Alternatively, have you compared this approach to the one you’d take when implementing the UI in a more holistic fashion, f.ex. by implementing your own wndproc on Windows 95, or by writing it from scratch in assembly ? Can you describe to me the process that a female programmer might take that might lead to a better UI experience for the (presumably, female) user ?

    If UI is not your cup of tea (I know that many people dislike it), how about math ? Let’s say you were writing a program that performed some linear algebra calculations on real as well as complex numbers. An oppressive male programmer (such as Dijkstra) would write some functions (or classes, though Dijkstra wouldn’t have used them) that deal with matrix multiplication, and some other functions that deal with complex number math, debug them separately, then put them together. How would a female programmer approach the same problem ? I’m not looking for some vague statement like “I would epitomize the female perspective”; instead, I’m looking for real examples.

    On a side note, as a user, I definitely want my software to behave “predictably”. For example, whenever I hit a character, I expect it to show up in this textbox like it always does. If the key press instead produced a musical tone, or caused my screen to blink, or crash my OS, then I’d be quite unpleasantly surprised. But perhaps women would not be put off by such unpredictability ?

  112. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy:

    Actually, if neither math nor UI are your style (again, I know plenty of programmers who do neither), how about some basics ? If you had to sort a list of 10,000 elements, how would you do it ? I know of one possible algorithm, but it involves breaking the list into small chunks, like a man might do, so I’m interested to hear the female perspective.

  113. gjenganger says

    @Freja 85,106

    We are not talking about ‘the nature of men and women’ here, but about culture. Tannens main point is that men and women effectively grow up in different cultures, and that at least for the western nations she has studied those cultures differ in similar ways.*) So I am saying that men and women are different much like I would say that English and Italians are different. It might make sense to say that the English, by comparison, are more reserved and repressed, better at queuing and respecting privacy, but less good at dealing with open emotions or being open to strangers. Sweeping statements like ‘the English more rational and self-controlled’ or ‘the Italians are controlled by their emotions’ are obviously wrong, and so are the consequences, contradictory or not, that you might draw from them. But it makes perfect sense (to me) to say that English (or men) and Italians (or women) each have different strengths or weaknesses, and that some activities might be easier to set up and make to work in either one group or the other.

    The difference would be that men see and live their social interactions in terms of status and respect, where women see and live theirs in terms or closeness and intimacy. Similarly, men tend to concentrate more on things and shared activities, where women concentrate more on people and social interactions. The effects of that can be seen in a lot of places. There is nothing contradictory about them, as long as you do not overgeneralise.

    Your link about dysfunctional geek communities could make a good example. The (male-dominated) geeks have set up a group that enjoys the shared activity of role-playing games, and that is remarkably tolerant and accommodating of deviant behaviour. ‘As long as you play the game, we can deal with the rest of you’. This is not (only) a question of men sacrificing women to the goal of playing games – body odour (unlike sexual harassment) is equally unpleasant to both sexes. Their (female) critics, on the other hand, want less emphasis on the games and more on pleasant social interactions, less tolerance and more social policing, and want to exclude people who can or will not live up to the stricter social rules. Which is better depends on your priorities. I do not deny that accumulated social tension is bad for the well-being of people and ultimately for the task those people need to do. But you could also see this as an example of men being more concentrated on the efficient execution of the task at hand, and more willing to tolerate disharmonic voices (within certain limits, of course). It is not a matter of ‘sweeping conflicts under the rug’ as you say, because that implies that the conflict ought to be resolved, it is a matter that you can get along perfectly fine and enjoy playing DandD together even if the other fellow is a bit weird and does not smell too nice.

    There is not necessarily any contradiction in being more hierarchical and more open to dissent. Hierarchy can provide a safe framework for competition and disruptive actions, much like pack status hierarchies and pecking orders allow social animals to settle status conflicts ultimately by fighting while minimising the damage and death from battle. Growing up male you have a constant semiconscious awareness of the relative status of people around you, and you judge peoples actions in the light of what they say about their status and yours. You get used to challenging and being challenged, claiming and losing the floor, topping each others’ stories. You also learn to avoid the conflicts getting out of hand, in part by being aware of your own status among the others and adjusting your delivery accordingly. You can challenge someone’s view on the second world war or the best way to implement function x while – even very explicitly – not claiming that you are of higher status than he is.

    Have you considered that the kind of conflicts women don’t like to handle out in the open can seem similarly insurmountable to them?

    I have not only considered it, I agree with it. In fact I see many of these differences as perfectly symmetrical, and the result of clashing styles. If a man states his opinions loudly as facts, it is in part because he expects to be challenged if anyone has anything to challenge with. He is laying a claim to space and generally prepared to meet a counterclaim. A woman who sees this behaviour as either incredibly authoritative or incredibly rude might be unable to make that challenge and end up simply listening, silently cursing him for an overbearing loudmouth. He, on the other hand, might well wonder why the woman is not saying anything when she is actually an international authority on this very topic, and how much her expertise can be worth if she gets too flustered and insecure to participate just because a random passer-by expresses his opinion. Is it that he is overbearing and thinks he is better than women, or is it that women treat him like he would treat someone very superior in status and he draws the wrong conclusion?

    I do not think I said that men ‘do not see the problem with being propositioned by men’, but the question is complex. First of all, a (het) women being propositioned by a man is not comparable to a (het) man being propositioned by a man. There probably is no direct comparison since the two sexes have so different starting points, women feeling more pestered (sought after) and more threatened by rape and violence (probably rightly), and men feeling more desperately in need of what they cannot get. A fairer comparison would be between a man propositioning another man and propositioning a known and declared lesbian. Anyway, I do actually see why following someone into a lift and inviting them into you bed is not the thing to do, but I had to think about it. It is harder because 1) you do not appreciate the woman’s worries, not having similar experiences yourself. 2) you know that you are harmless and would not hurt a fly and resent having to see yourself as a likely rapist, 3) you feel that making or refusing a proposition is normal. Why do you have to guess that she would say yes when she can just say no when asked?

    To round off, a big thing in the functioning of male groups is that you earn respect by being able to hold your own when challenged. I got a lot of respect for Julia Gillard, for instance, because of the easy and natural way she could hold her place in the notoriously rough and dysfunctional world of Australian politics. Without whining that it was all the patriarchy’s fault and that men really ought to make it easier for women like Harriet Harman might have done.

    *) It may be that there is some reason in physiology or the organisation of childcare why men and women end up with the cultures they do rather than the opposite ones. But if so that is a much smaller effect. We know how far people can be formed by the culture they grow up in.

  114. gjenganger says

    @Lucy
    Actually I think that there is a lot of truth in your division between male and female brains. But you are begging for a question here. If you say that ‘women would not invent parliament, or a judicial system, because historically they never did’, would you also say that women would never invent the steam engine, or the telephone, or artificial fertilizer? Historically, they never did. In a hypothetical woman-dominated society would we all be holistic and living from subsistence agriculture?

    Less facetiously, the way you see male and female thinking as different, would logically suggest that we should have male-dominated and female-dominated areas, each governed by male resp. female principles and interaction style, and each populated 8:1 or 9:1 by the appropriate sex. I think that might in some ways be a good idea – I, like you, wonder where my sex can go and do things their way in the future. But it would be a massive break with current thinking. Are you up for that?

  115. Matt B says

    “It is that “But men do this thing to other men too!” is a completely bloody pointless defence to any charge or complaint about sexist or patriarchal behaviour.”

    No, it is not. If the underlying cause is different then the solutions are different too. If the root cause is male violence, then it is pointless to ask men to stop devaluating women. We’d be better off asking ourselves how we can challenge violent masculinities.

    Also, when people are accused not only of actions, but of motivations (which are morally questionable and simply not true) then they understandably get defensive. So insisting that a man’s behaiviour is rooted in misogyny when it is not, is not only pointless, but an obstacle in the path of challenging hegemonic masculinity.

  116. mildlymagnificent says

    Anyway, I do actually see why following someone into a lift and inviting them into you bed is not the thing to do, but I had to think about it. It is harder because 1) you do not appreciate the woman’s worries, not having similar experiences yourself. 2) you know that you are harmless and would not hurt a fly and resent having to see yourself as a likely rapist, 3) you feel that making or refusing a proposition is normal. Why do you have to guess that she would say yes when she can just say no when asked?

    Just say no? What happens next?

    Put yourself in the position of the woman who’s been in this position dozens of times before. What happened when she “just said no” to all those dozens of men who aren’t you? She knows exactly as much about you as she did about them and she knows, but you don’t, what happened next in all those cases. You know what’s “normal” for you but you don’t know what’s “normal” or usual for her in such situations.

    Obviously, you know how you will respond. You also know that not everyone is like you. You don’t know precisely how unlike you some, many, most other men may have been when dealing with this woman. Nor do you have any way of knowing what proportions of men-like-you and men-unlike-you any given woman has dealt with before, or most recently.

    Why on earth do you expect all women, every single woman regardless of her personal history, not to be nervous, or even intimidated, by having to deal yet again with the possibility of being nagged, argued with, insulted or the worse possibilities of having obscenities muttered / hurled at her or being yelled at or being physically accosted by a man who’s suddenly become nasty or enraged?

  117. gjenganger says

    @mildlymagnificient 120
    You did notice that that paragraph started with “I do actually see why following someone into a lift and inviting them into you bed is not the thing to do,“? The rest was exemplifying why men might still find the elevatorgate brouhaha both perplexing and unreasonable at first glance. Maybe I should have added quotes around the phrases.

    It sounds to me like we agree on a lot of this. What remains would be a matter of where to draw the line. For instance the process of meeting a stranger, joining up, and eventually going aside to do joyful things together is inherently difficult and error-prone. There is a lot of potential for things to go in unpleasant ways. We may disagree on how much of the responsibility and unpleasantness we can push on to the other sex.

    We certainly disagree when you seem to say that I (men) should adjust my behaviour to what individual women might possiblyhave experienced recently. You fit your behaviour to likely situations, not to all possible situations. It is quite possible, for instance, that some women is absolute terrified of dogs, having been recently attacked by one. That does not mean that I (and everyone else) should refrain from walking dogs on the public street, just in case we meet someone like her.

  118. Adiabat says

    MM (120): I don’t think I’ve ever seen a satisfactory answer to why doing this to black people and Muslims is wrong, but it’s okay to do it to men.

    The thing is, I could back what you’re saying if you came with a statistical argument to justify it. If you provided evidence that, say, 1-in-10 typical exchanges between a man and a woman ended in some sort of abuse then sure, profile away. However I suspect that millions of social interaction occasions between men and women occur for every one that ends unpleasantly.

    You could limit the types of interaction to skew the ratio in your favour, but then your argument becomes something trivial like ‘women are justified to be wary of men in dark alleyways and skeevy bars’. Ground-breaking theory indeed.

  119. mildlymagnificent says

    We certainly disagree when you seem to say that I (men) should adjust my behaviour to what individual women might possiblyhave experienced recently. You fit your behaviour to likely situations, not to all possible situations.

    Likely situations? OK. Let’s work on the basis that the best known research and reports about the extent/ quantity/ incidence of harassment, violence and rape experienced by women are all wrong. Halve the lot of them.

    Now the statistical likelihood of any woman having experienced harassment – and here we’ll include insults like “Well, you should be grateful, you ugly slug/slut” when a man’s been turned down – is down to about 45% of women. Rape and other violence, let’s get that down to 1 in 10 rather than 1 in 3 or 4 or 6.

    You’re still facing a fairly high likelihood – near enough to 1 in 2 – that any woman you talk to has experienced at least one form of highly negative interaction with a man at some time. Now look back at the figures here. Move any one of them back to a point closer to what the research tells us, then think about what is and isn’t a “likely situation”.

  120. mildlymagnificent says

    adiabat

    MM (120): I don’t think I’ve ever seen a satisfactory answer to why doing this to black people and Muslims is wrong, but it’s okay to do it to men.

    Surely you’ve seen pieces written or shown on videos about how black people and Muslims/Sikhs/lotsofothers are very cautious and wary in their behaviour and interactions with white people and with people in positions of authority.

    You do know that fathers teach their black sons how to behave when a cop stops their car to avoid provoking violence against them. This extract really brings it home to some people, because it’s a white father talking about the problems faced by his African-American son.

    It’s equally important to recognize the more acute dangers posed by these encounters. When my son was walking home one night during his summer in New York City, two men jumped out of the shadows and grabbed him. Any reasonable person would instantly have been jolted into wondering, “Am I being robbed?” That question demands quick decision-making: “Do I defend myself? Do I break free and try to run away?”

    However, because cautious African-American men know that they are frequent targets of sudden and unexplained police stops, they must suppress their rational defensive reactions with self-imposed docility. What if these were plainclothes police officers? Any resistance could have led to my son’s being tasered or even shot. And if the police were to shoot him in this context—all alone in the shadows on an empty street late at night—that act would likely have been judged as a justifiable homicide. In my son’s case, it turned out that they were plainclothes police officers who failed to identify themselves until the encounter was well underway.

    Read the whole thing, I know it’s the same kind of thing that black men write about. But I can’t help thinking that many people would find it more compelling coming from a white father than from an African-American father. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/04/what-i-learned-about-stop-and-frisk-from-watching-my-black-son/359962/

    Those questions in the extract above “… quick decision-making: “Do I defend myself? Do I break free and try to run away?” are exactly the same kind of questions that arise in a woman’s mind when dealing with a man she’s unsure about. Can I talk myself out of this? Do I need to get away now while I still can? How will he react if I say the “wrong” thing?

    Women, black men and women, Muslims, other groups regarded as other are all in much the same boat here. Or am I misunderstanding what you were getting at.

  121. Lucy says

    “MM (120): I don’t think I’ve ever seen a satisfactory answer to why doing this to black people and Muslims is wrong, but it’s okay to do it to men.”

    Because the arguments against profiling other people are flawed.

    Discrimination is a very important human skill. We use past experience and pattern recognition to gauge likely future events. With the advent of computer modelling we can do that on a macro level. The argument for treating every individual and every event in a contextless vacuum leaves us in an overwhelming landscape of completely unpredictable behaviour. The reality is that behaviour, including criminal behaviour does have a profile, it isn’t random.

    The argument against this type of profiling are when it is too crude and uses too few characteristics – e.g. only the oerson’s sex, race, religion rather than those combined with associated factors; or inaccurate using faulty data. But that’s an argument against bad profiling, not profiling.

    There’s also the ethical and political considerations of personal discrimination becoming structural discrimination as with Stop and Search. But that’s an issue of public policy.

    A man in a confined, private space, making sexual overtures to a female he doesn’t know in a confined, private space fits a certain profile as far as that woman is concerned, she has a right to feel threatened by it and a right to take precautions against it. Whether we have the right to stop men doing it, or to preempt it by stopping men from getting into lifts with women because they might do it is another matter.

  122. Rowan vet-tech says

    @121 “We certainly disagree when you seem to say that I (men) should adjust my behaviour… It is quite possible, for instance, that some women is absolute terrified of dogs, having been recently attacked by one. That does not mean that I (and everyone else) should refrain from walking dogs on the public street, just in case we meet someone like her.”

    Or maybe you could do preemptive damage control. It is a well known fact that some people are afraid of dogs. Therefor the best thing to do is keep your dog on a relatively short lead (6ft, not a flexi), train it so it doesn’t run up to random strangers or jump on them, always be aware of your dogs cues, and if you see someone acting nervous as you walk towards them with your dog, move somewhat out of their way. It also means that you don’t get upset if someone crosses the street to avoid your dog, or asks to please keep it on a short leash near then.

    I was out with my last dog one evening and I was standing around talking with another pedestrian. I had my dog on a normal leash and he was standing next to me. I suddenly noticed that his behaviour was odd, and looked around to see what was causing him alarm. About 30 feet away, an elderly woman was trying to hide from my dog while also circling around us to continue her walk. Her behaviour was so strange (to him) that my dog lunged at her. I yanked him back, yelled “SORRY!” and took off with him in the other direction.

    Are you saying that I should have stayed where I was with my lunging dog, because I encountered a woman terrified of dogs? That is what as known as an ‘asshole move’.

  123. gjenganger says

    @Rowan, Lucy, Mildly.
    It is getting quite hard to see what we are disagreeing about, exactly. It sounds like both sides keep reacting “Ah but maybe he/she means this and I could never agree to this“. We may well differ on how much it is up to the man to do ‘preemptive damage control’ and how much it is up to the women to deal with non-violent situations as they arise. But seeing as we are arguing the general principle rather than any specific example, I think we are doomed to keep going round in circles.

    For your specific examples:
    – Yes, it would be reasonable to act on the assumption that your average woman likely has some bad past experience (seriousness unspecified) with someone who did not want to take no for an answer.
    – Walking with your dog on a flexi-line would fall inside normal acceptable behaviour. If I know that there is someone here who has a problem with it I would of course rein my dog in, but it would be up to them to let me know, not up to me to avoid it just in case.

  124. Adiabat says

    MM(123): Your stats don’t show what you need to show unfortunately. Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that half of all women have a bad experience at least once. In her lifetime a women would have literally millions of encounters with men. This figure depends on how you want to measure an ‘encounter’. Considering that a woman crossing the street to avoid men is a commonly defended example of profiling, then every time a man and a woman walked past each other without a negative result skews the ratio away from the argument from justified profiling. So for any given encounter there is a 1-in-millions chance that it will end unpleasantly.

    You can narrow the ratio down by limiting what you consider as an encounter, and subsequently giving up the right to defend the associated profiling, but eventually you’ll reach the theoretically trivial cases I mentioned before.

    MM(124):

    Or am I misunderstanding what you were getting at.

    Completely. WRT profiling and your argument, in this comparison men equate to black people and Muslims, while in #124 you are equating women (the people doing the profiling) to the profiled. In effect, you’ve just made my argument for me.

    You obviously see the harm in profiling, yet advocate for it wrt men. Why?

    Lucy (125): I think we agree for once. Profiling can be justified, yet rarely is in these discussions.

  125. freja says

    @117, gjenganger

    You’re not addressing most of my points. I’m not saying that the alleged different communication styles of men and women can’t be cultural like the difference between the English and the Italians, I’m saying that the way you interpret those differences and what they mean doesn’t make sense to me. It would like saying “The English are more reserved and disciplined, more likely to follow rules and less likely to display their emotions out in the open, while Italians are louder, and more exuberant and spontaneous in their behaviour” and then go on to “And that’s why British movie theatres are more noisy and chaotic, while the Italians tend to walk calmly to their seats and stay there quietly throughout the whole movie”.

    The article on geek social fallacies was actually written by a man, and he’s not the only man I’ve seen express frustration with this pattern (but rarely out in the open – it’s almost as if these men didn’t want to deal with the ensuing conflict ;-) ). I’ve experienced the kind of culture where you’re never allowed to say openly that someone is doing something wrong or detrimental to the group because you had to spare everyone’s feelings among women too. And no matter the sex, it almost inevitably lead to passive-aggressiveness as people get more and more frustrated, or it causes a steady stream of other group members to silently drop out as they get fed up with it. In some cases, the amount of people who have left the group because the conflict wasn’t addressed has been bigger than the amount of people currently in the group, as a few individuals continue to sour the experience for everyone else. It’s not functional, it’s not tolerant, and it’s as far from being prepared to handle conflicts out in the open as it could possibly be.

    And you still haven’t answered why my many examples of men telling women to shut up because the criticism they raise of the status quo is ‘censorship’ are all a result of individual considerations about how these particular conflicts are too destructive to have out in the open, while the conflicts women are uncomfortable with are all due to some female communication style. You don’t seem to dispute for a second that men shut down women who raise concerns or object to the status quo, but I still haven’t figured out what your rationale is for not counting it as a reluctance to take on conflicts.

    But the biggest difference I see between our opinions is that you take it for granted that men treat women as they treat men, and I don’t. For instance, I don’t recall ever seeing a man’s opinion being labelled censorship. Not even men who send threats to people they want to shut down, or the kind of men who openly celebrate and claim victory when a woman talks about her reluctance to continue openly expressing her opinion due to the barrage of death threats and people (aka men) posting her address online in the hopes of increasing the level of physical danger. I also don’t think men, or people in general, look favourably at women who interrupt others and loudly take over conversation. And the studies I’ve seen on the subject (e.g. the first one that showed up on google) back up the observation that, all things being equal, it takes less for a woman to be found unlikable than a man. It’s simply not true that all a woman has to do is take on the persona of a man and all the conflicts go away, because a lot of the conflicts are linked to double standards which are are ultimately nothing but sexism.

    For instance, you should think that the men who, say, are always rattling on about how the way men are hitting on women is just harmless fun would also be the ones to say that of course women could, and should, feel safe enough around men to not take any special precautions. But those men tend to be the most judgemental about women “asking for it” when they fail to take special precautions (e.g. MRAs who decry the ‘epidemic’ of false rape accusations but also think that fingering an unconscious girl is completely OK because she was drunk and a slut, and that = automatic consent). For those men, men’s pursuit of women is always harmless fun, right until the moment where someone gets hurt, after which the woman should have seen it coming and taken precautions if she didn’t want it.

    Women can’t win that one because the level of precautions they have to take for it to not be their own fault are considered unacceptable by the very same people who’ll blame them if they’re attacked. In contrast, plenty of men manage to hold the view that women taking precautions to feel and be safer is completely OK (even when it sometimes results in men not getting the reaction from women that they want), but if they don’t and end up getting assaulted or harassed, that’s not a reason to blame them. It’s almost like the question was never about whether you think men’s pursuit of women is dangerous or not, but rather how much of a burden you think it should be on women.

    And in the same way, the men who complain that women wont have sex with them are not the last to slut-shame, they’re usually the first, while the men who think a woman’s level of promiscuity should have to bearing on how much respect she’s afforded are also usually the first ones to be OK with women declining to have sex, even with them. Because ultimately, the question was never about the amount of sex women had, it was about the degree to which they get to choose it. The same for homophobia and finding women to be overreacting when they perceive a come-on as threatening, vs. being generally OK with having men hit on them but also understanding why women don’t always appreciate it. It’s a question of gender roles, not about general rules for come-ons.

    In that aspect, I disagree somewhat with Ally. I don’t think it’s just a question of some men being jerks, possibly as a result of their greater status. It’s about men mocking women for being chatterboxes whenever they start to dominate a conversation, and then wonder why women feel men are talking over them. Or reacting aggressively when women contradict and challenge them, and then decry women for not speaking up. Or excusing the behaviour of other men by making appeals to emotion, and then admonish women for being too sensitive. Or sweeping women’s concerns under the rock by labelling them censorship, and then pride themselves on their tolerance for dissent.

    It’s the men who can’t even show enough dedication to play a simple MMORPG with a woman and keep his focus on the game, and the men who react by excluding women from their guilds because they’re ‘disruptive’ to the game (yes, I’m a geek and my examples are thereafter), and the men who can’t seem to shut up about how much better men are at focussing on the task at hand instead of useless distractions. Or when your respect for women like Julia Gillard is dependent on her agreeing with you (e.g. that sexism is either non-existent or should be ignored), indicating that you’re fine with women speaking up as long as they toe the party line (religious fundamentalist Republicans who think women should submit to men tend to share the same sentiment about Michelle Bachman Sarah Palin btw).

    It’s a thousand little things that tell me that whichever culture and traits men ascribe to themselves, it’ll almost always completely fail to manifest in the actual behaviour they display right in front of me, and that no matter how often men claim that if only women would do this, then we wouldn’t have a problem, I can always easily find women who’re being criticised by the very same type of men (sometimes even the very same ones) for doing this when she of course she should have been doing that, only to experience personally what can happen when a woman do that. In the end, it’s extremely disempowering to think that so much hinges on what men think and do, but in many cases, avoiding sexist guys is a far better strategy for fitting into a male-dominated group than trying to adapt to some male communication style that you’re just as likely to be punished for assuming as you are to be rewarded. Sadly, it’s just not always a possibility.

  126. Rowan vet-tech says

    @127

    - Walking with your dog on a flexi-line would fall inside normal acceptable behaviour. If I know that there is someone here who has a problem with it I would of course rein my dog in, but it would be up to them to let me know, not up to me to avoid it just in case.

    Actually, allowing your dog to be at a distance on a flex lead is highly irresponsible and something most dog owners dislike intensely. You are not in good control of your dog at that point. It could run into the street. It could decide to jump on someone, or someone else’s dog-reactive dog. It could see a cat and chase it or even kill it.

    So, no. It is not up to the other person to tell YOU to rein in your OWN dog. You are to keep control of your dog, and you can’t do that when it is 20 feet away.

    Imagine what would have happened to that woman if my last dog had been on a flexi…

    The analogy continues to work in favor of being considerate of others BEFORE they tell you they don’t want your ‘dog’ jumping all over them…

  127. gjenganger says

    @Rowan 130
    I am no expert on dogs. But we clearly disagree on the trade-off between being able to act in the world, and the need to refrain in case somebody, somewhere, maybe, just might be hurt or offended.

  128. Rowan vet-tech says

    If you’re not an expert on dogs, maybe you should talk to, or listen to, people who are. It might make you less ignorant and less damaging. I’m a veterinary technician. Behavior is a large part of our schooling because we end up talking about that stuff with clients a lot.

    Also, if you are known to yourself to not be an expert on dogs… maybe you shouldn’t say what is, and is not, okay to be done with a dog with regards to its safety and the safety of those around it.

    I take it, that you consider common courtesy to be ‘hard’ to do in real life. You are free to act like an asshole. No one can actually stop you from acting like an asshole. But you are NOT free of being called an asshole, or treated like an asshole and that seems to be what you are wanting.

    “It’s not my fault I was being an asshole to you, you didn’t tell me ahead of time that you didn’t want me to be an asshole, so it’s your fault that I’m being an asshole.”

    And before you try to claim you are not asking for liberty to be an asshole without consequence, let me quote you back at you.

    …the need to refrain in case somebody, somewhere, maybe, just might be hurt or offended

    Women with bad experiences are not ‘somebody, somewhere, maybe’. They are all over the place. They are a huge percentage. Feeling too self-entitled to attempt to minimize harm before it occurs is asshole behaviour. Some harm will always happen, but attempting to prevent, and attempting to repair are what prevents you from being an asshole when harm does occur. And really, is it that oh-so-bloody-difficult to simply… not be an asshole? To not let your ‘dog’ jump all over people?

    I was stalked when I was 17, the guy tried to break into my house and the only reason I wasn’t raped, and possible killed, was because of the 2 large dogs my family had.

    I was followed through downtown when I was 19, after escorting a disabled female friend to the trolley that was 1/4 mile from the college campus at midnight. That guy stopped following me when I ran into the middle of a brightly lit street and pulled out the stupid 12″ long dagger that I’d gotten at the local ren faire. I don’t know how to knife fight, but I know how to *look* like I know how to knife fight. He spent a good 3 minutes just staring at me.

    When I was 22, I befriended a guy who turned creepy emotionally manipulative stalker-ish who kissed me, with tongue, without my consent and who after lied about it in an attempt to break up my engagement.

    When I had hair down to my waist, at least a couple times a year a random man would start petting it.

    And this is very much average-looking me.

  129. gjenganger says

    @Rowan 132
    Your experiences are both much more relevant and much more unpleasant than mine. We still disagree, though, also on the meaning of ‘common courtesy’.

    I am ignorant of many things, including dogs – I never even had one – and I bow to your expertise. I just thought you were presenting a metaphor, not going off topic to discuss dog handling.

  130. Rowan vet-tech says

    It was a combination of both metaphor and real life.. and they equal each other well.

    For example, imagine everyone owned a dog. The bigger their level of ‘privilege’, the larger their dog. A straight, while, cis male for example would have something like a neopolitan mastiff. These are dogs that, while often quite gentle, can hurt someone without intent merely because they are positively enormous. Some men, most men, are aware of this and will train their mastiff to not jump on people, to stay politely by their side, to not sniff people in inappropriate ways, etc. But some men want their dog to ‘be a dog’ and don’t care so much if the dog is rude. And some men actively enjoy the fact that their dog is uncontrolled and laugh when other people are bothered or harmed by their mastiff.

    The men with the trained mastiff are practicing common courtesy. They recognise that not everyone is going to want to meet their dog, or pet it, or even interact with it in any way. So they keep it in check and out of the way. They don’t force their dog one people.

    The second set are those that get defensive when other people point out that their dog is doing things they don’t appreciate. “Some people like it when dogs do that!” or “How was I supposed to know you didn’t want him to pee on your leg?” or “Why do you treat my dog like he’s going to attack you? Not all dogs bite!” or “It’s a compliment when he sniffs there!” or “Okay, so sometimes they bite. Dogs will be dogs. It was only a flesh wound.” or “If you didn’t want him to chew on your shoes, you shouldn’t have left your feet where he could reach it. It’s not my fault he did that.” or “Well he does that to everyone so you shouldn’t be offended.”

    That owner? That owner is an asshole. They can’t be bothered with training, and then get upset when other people point out potential harm.

  131. gjenganger says

    @Freja 129
    It is getting hard to track so many different points across so many long posts. I tried to summarize my own views last time – I’ll give it another go answering some of yours.
    I think a male style is better at handling some conflicts and disruptions, but certainly not all kinds.
    Why I look for specific reasons when men avoid conflicts, versus gender-based ones when women avoid conflicts? Well, which ones are we looking at ?The ones you mentioned that men avoid I understand as cases where someone (a woman) is saying that some particular kind of behaviour, either tolerated or commonly accepted, is wrong and must be changed – or that the group norms should get a major change from male to female style, as it were. That kind of thing would likely be very difficult whatever the sex. Women might be likely to agree with the specific things you want, but do you think a group of women would find it easy to make a major change in response to this kind of challenge? For examples of things that women avoid we have: pulling rank on some blatherer (‘well I did just publish a book on that, …’, aggressive interruptions generally, and (from me) showcasing your ability relative to other group members. Those are things that women seem to find difficult, and men find easy, hence I put them down to style. We have not had many examples of what men tend to find hard and women find easy. From stereotypes I would guess being open about your feelings, going to the doctor in time, getting emotional support from a large and varied circle of friends… Maybe you can find some better ones.
    As for men shutting down women who want to change the status quo, some of it is surely a reluctance to take on conflicts, as you say. A bigger part might be that they simply did not like the change or feel the need, so that it was the change itself, not the conflict, they objected to. If I object to the introduction of Sharia law it is not because I shy from conflicts ;-)
    On the specific issue of censorship I guess the word springs naturally to mind when someone is pushing the line that things that were normal and permissible until now must suddenly be disallowed. I do not know how often a man comes into a women’s group and calls an official change in the group norms – if it happens maybe men just do things their way and expect the women to follow on. For men who try to scare women out of public debate I would not call it censorship. I would call it intimidation, which is worse. Mind you, I also call it intimidation when there are campaigns to get people fired if they come out against gay marriage on their Facebook pages or in their campaign contributions.
    For the rest, I do not think that men treat women as they treat men. My experience is the opposite. It is possible for a woman to fit into the hierarchy on more or less equal terms with the boys (except, maybe, for the terminally sex-crazed), but it is not easy, it is not complete, and she probably has to reach a higher position and work harder to get there than a male would. Many of the things you say are true (well, Tannen says them too, and I believe her): That mixed groups tend to follow male rather than female rules; That female leaders tend to be seen either as less competent or less feminine and likeable; that women are marked down more harshly if they interrupt and are loud (some of it might be that they do not know how to do it ‘right’, but some is inherent). Who talk too much is a whole separate ball-game. Some of it, I believe, is that men feel women talk too much at times and about things where they shouldn’t (women likely feel the same about men), but it is also true that men (and women??) feel that women dominate the talking already when they are talking a bit under 50% of the time.
    On the sex front there are clearly men who think that they can do whatever they want, and if something goes wrong it is never their fault. And there are the ‘good’ men, as you describe them. I would put myself in a third category. Women have the right to take precautions (of course) and the right to make their own choices (even more of course), and we all have a duty of care. On the other hand I would dearly love a set of courtship rules that was simple and clear enough that people could actually meet up, and where even a socially inept, not brilliantly empathic lad (as I have been) could follow the pursuit of sex without being branded as a crypto-rapist, or tying himself into anxious knots even more than he is already. And I think that women, too, should make a contribution to this end. I do not think this makes me an asshole, but I have to say that Rowan Vet-tech, at least, disagrees.
    As for Julia Gillard, I doubt she thinks sexism is non-existent. She certainly suffered plenty of it, and her most famous speech may have been when she tore a strip off the opposition for their sexism and hypocrisy. Not living in Oz I cannot vouch for her policies, but it is not Margaret Thatcher we are talking about. When you aim to be prime minister anywhere, your rivals will generally treat you very badly and use whatever they can get to pull you down. I could easily believe that women have an extra handicap, but I still admire more those who just deal with it (whatever their policies) than those who are quick to claim that “I am a woman, I deserve the top slot”.

  132. Rowan vet-tech says

    But the metaphor works so very, very well. Or is that you fall into the second category and therefore are upset with my apt metaphor.

  133. Lucy says

    Bugmaster

    “Isn’t that, like, the opposite of evidence ? Can you show me any female-exclusive community bigger than, say, 20 people, who never had any form of a centralized government ?”

    King Kasyapa of Sigiriya’s harem of 500 women.


    “How would a female programmer approach the same problem ? I’m not looking for some vague statement like “I would epitomize the female perspective”; instead, I’m looking for real examples.”

    No I can’t, because I learned how to programme according to the male paradigm having already gone through 16 years of education where I learned about reality from a male perspective and I’m not genius enough to either detach myself from that or to invent the alternatives to what: computer science, software engineering, the industrial revolution, the information revolution, mathematics? To really get a glimpse into the alternative approach you’d need to give women the space and resources over many many generations to develop their own style of thinking and inventing. The first step on that path would be not shoehorning them into educational institutions that are in themselves a reflection of the male preference for atomising the world.

    —-
    “On a side note, as a user, I definitely want my software to behave “predictably”. For example, whenever I hit a character, I expect it to show up in this textbox like it always does. If the key press instead produced a musical tone, or caused my screen to blink, or crash my OS, then I’d be quite unpleasantly surprised. But perhaps women would not be put off by such unpredictability ?”

    I think women would prefer their software to behave organically like people do, they’d prefer not to have to hit a character in the first place.

  134. gjenganger says

    @Rowan 137

    OK.

    It is fairly clear that you think people with opinions like mine are assholes. I refuse on principle to waste bandwidth discussing who is an asshole and who is not. For the record let me say that you are entitled to your opinion, but that I disagree with it.

    There are many things wrong with your metaphor, Most of them are about framing, so we may not come to the content, even.

    First, a potentially dangerous dog that needs restraining is a truly misleading way to illustrate ‘privilege’. The example simply shouts ‘power’, or ‘aggression’, which are completely different things. Privilege is about the fact that some people just automatically get things their way without having to do anything for it, just because of the way society is structured. And so they cannot comprehend the feelings or problems of the less fortunate. The typical example of privilege is someone who belongs to the majority, or the dominant group. An Japanese-speaker has privilege in Tokyo (but not in London) and a man has privilege in a male-dominated group (but not in a female-dominated one), because everybody just automatically speak your language, understand your actions, and generally make sense. In Europe straight white cis men are part of large majorities on three out of four criteria, but they are not individually more powerful than black or gay men.

    Second, the actions you use as examples (sniffing at crotches, chewing shoes, pissing on people’s legs) are all nuisances, with no justification. Of course they should be restrained. Propositions have a use – they are what allows people to meet up.

    Third, dogs are unnecessary, a private indulgence. We could easily do without them, and people do not get any benefits from the fact that someone else has a dog. Clearly the standard for not giving trouble to other people has to be rather high. Sex, on the other hand, is important and necessary (whatever the English may think about the matter ;-)). It is in the interest of both sexes that there is a functioning system for people registering their interest in each other and ultimately meeting someone who has a reciprocal interest. I do not mean that my individual interest has any value to you, but when the one person you would really like comes along, you want him to be able to tell you that he is there and he wants you. You even want young awkward people to be able to learn the ropes and practice their courtship. You might not want to stoop so low as these social misfits, but if too many men drop out of the pool of potential mates it would hurt your chances with the others.

    Heterosexual courtship is a coordination game with different rules for male and female participants. There is a large potential for embarrassment and worse, but we cannot ban the least skilled 30% from participating for safety reasons, the game is too important. We need to agree on a set of rules that minimises adverse events and allows the game to flow. With dogs, it is clearly up to the owner to do whatever needs doing for safety. With courtship, we can discuss how the rules should be, and which sex should shoulder how much of the risk and aggravation, but it does not make sense to make one sex absolutely responsible for avoiding all possible negative outcomes.

  135. D506 says

    @Lucy 138

    ““Isn’t that, like, the opposite of evidence ? Can you show me any female-exclusive community bigger than, say, 20 people, who never had any form of a centralized government ?”

    King Kasyapa of Sigiriya’s harem of 500 women.”

    That’s nonsense. Their ‘centralized government’ was King Kasyapa. His rules would have governed the harm. His threat of punishment or offer of reward would have structured their community.

    “No I can’t, because I learned how to programme according to the male paradigm”

    I could make an identical but, imo, more compelling argument that since the vast, vast majority of children in the world were raised by women we’ve all learned the world from a female paradigm. I can far more easily ‘unlearn’ the things I learned from male professors in my 20s than the foundations I learned from my mother in my childhood.

    Since those male professors who taught me were also raised by women, and those who are credited for “computer science, software engineering, the industrial revolution, the information revolution, mathematic” were raised by women (or by men who were raised by women), perhaps those are all ideas from a female paradigm. Perhaps the ‘male paradigm’ would be vastly different.

    Frankly, it’s nonsense to try and speculate on what a single sex society would be like. There has never been a woman free of male influence and there has never been a man free of female influence outside of the occasional ‘raised by wolves’ story. That you think men have shaped society and women have been merely bystanders is telling of your own devaluation of women’s contributions to the world we have, but it doesn’t make it true. *

    * I would follow this up by saying that I do think it’s clear that men have held a disproportionate amount of power and privilege in our society, but that power and privilege are the outcomes of society – not the creators or shapers of it.

  136. Lucy says

    “That’s nonsense. Their ‘centralized government’ was King Kasyapa. His rules would have governed the harm. His threat of punishment or offer of reward would have structured their community.”

    The centralised government of our male parliamentary system was a monarchy, that didn’t stop men forming alternative hierarchies. Whenever you put a group of men in a room, they organise themselves into a hierarchy.

  137. Lucy says

    “I could make an identical but, imo, more compelling argument that since the vast, vast majority of children in the world were raised by women we’ve all learned the world from a female paradigm. I can far more easily ‘unlearn’ the things I learned from male professors in my 20s than the foundations I learned from my mother in my childhood.”

    But those women are living in a society designed and built in the male paradigm. They had little say over whether you were born in one place for giving birth, lived in the domestic place, while most likely your father travelled some distance to another place for earning money, which was used to buy goods from the place that sells goods, produced in the places that produce goods, then that you were schooled in another place for schooling, read books produced by the place that produces children’s books, maintained in the place that lends them out, and watched TV made in the place that makes entertainment primarily made by your friends’ fathers. What part of your upbringing did your mother actively shape herself? The part where she was multitasking rather than segregating activities, the parts that haven’t been systematised, the parts that fit in between all the compulsory activities, 5 minutes here or there.

  138. Lucy says

    “There has never been a woman free of male influence and there has never been a man free of female influence”

    There are a number of single sex environments throughout history, including in the ancient and medieval world, ones where children were isolated from the opposite sex: celibate religious communities, academies, military units. The Christian aesthetic movement of the early church for example was designed to eliminate female influence, as were the philosophical schools of Ancient Greece, the training of Spartan boys, the Samurai tradition, the English public school system. The religious orders of women of Ancient Rome and medieval Christianity were designed to eliminate male influence, although in their case they were always subject to male organising principles, censorship and control.

  139. freja says

    @135, gjenganger

    It is getting hard to track so many different points across so many long posts.

    Agreed. I’ll try to go back to responding point-by-point, to see if it makes easier.

    Why I look for specific reasons when men avoid conflicts, versus gender-based ones when women avoid conflicts? Well, which ones are we looking at ?The ones you mentioned that men avoid I understand as cases where someone (a woman) is saying that some particular kind of behaviour, either tolerated or commonly accepted, is wrong and must be changed – or that the group norms should get a major change from male to female style, as it were. That kind of thing would likely be very difficult whatever the sex.

    Well, the problem is that you haven’t given any concrete examples of men handing conflicts out in the open or women trying to suppress them, so while you can describe exactly why you think men are reluctant to handle the conflicts described, I can’t similarly say why the women who may or may not tend to avoid potential conflicts may or may not choose avoid the conflicts mentioned (because no potential conflicts were mentioned). This leaves us with your argument that men who try to avoid conflicts have specific reasons for it, while women who avoid conflicts are just doing it because it’s in their nature/culture.

    Women might be likely to agree with the specific things you want, but do you think a group of women would find it easy to make a major change in response to this kind of challenge?

    I don’t know, but in the cases I can think of, I’d say yes, they’re more open to it than men. For instance, the American Girls Scouts have been very open about accommodating LGBT individuals, which is certainly a change since a lot of behaviours of LGBT individuals used to be not only socially unacceptable but outlawed as well. Currently, the standard for being accepted into the Girl Scouts is that a child must identify as female and be identified by her parents as female, and that’s it. The adults volunteers don’t even have to be female. The Boy Scouts of America on the other hand, have just now agreed to reluctantly accept gay boys (but will allow no gay adults), and aren’t even close to considering accepting transgender boys. The Girl Guides in Britain (the UK Girl Scout equivalent) have even allowed new girl guides to choose what to swear by when they get initiated, rather than demanding adherence to Christianity (one girl allegedly chose to swear by Cthulhu :-D ).

    In this case, the female lead scouts saw an increasing need to accommodate the increasingly outspoken secular and openly LGBT individuals who desired to be accepted into the institution, and they acted accordingly, changing or adjusting traditions to make room for it. The male lead scouts refused to change the least bit to adjust to the social developments around them or to the increased knowledge about LGBT issues (e.g. that gay men don’t molest children at a higher frequency than others, that gay boys know how to keep it in their pants around other boys, that gender identity have a large biological component and doesn’t always match the physical sex, etc.), and remain stubborn that everyone do things the way they’ve always been done.

    For examples of things that women avoid we have: pulling rank on some blatherer (‘well I did just publish a book on that, …’, aggressive interruptions generally, and (from me) showcasing your ability relative to other group members. Those are things that women seem to find difficult, and men find easy, hence I put them down to style.

    Partly perhaps. I admit I’m more likely to take people on their word if they sound secure of themselves because I don’t see the inherent value of sounding secure of yourself if you don’t have any basis for it. It’s just irrational. Most of the time, the more secure people are of something, the more likely they are to have a basis for it, and the more likely they are of being right. So if you’re trying to decide something on the fly and can’t/don’t have time to look up the right answer, it makes sense to ascribe more importance to the people who’re more secure (and take into account the number of people agreeing too). But if everybody starts sounding secure even when they’re not, and automatically try to impose their will on others even when they have no qualifications for it, the whole system crumbles. And who would want that? Not to mention that when there is an objective answer, you’re better off starting to look for it than trying to appear smart by insisting you already have the answer, even when you don’t.

    But I think part of it is simply that women are reluctant to disagree with men. They’re already at a disadvantage because they’re afforded less authority (i.e. tend to be considered less competent than a man with similar qualifications) and less time to make their case (i.e. are perceived to talk overly much when they get near an equal say), so they’re less likely to ‘win’ all else being equal. When you take into account that the type of men who try to mansplain the most to women are also usually the type to handle disagreement the worst, it often just becomes not worth it to object in the actual situation, and simply to put on their best #ListeningToMenFace to get it over with.

    As for men shutting down women who want to change the status quo, some of it is surely a reluctance to take on conflicts, as you say. A bigger part might be that they simply did not like the change or feel the need, so that it was the change itself, not the conflict, they objected to. If I object to the introduction of Sharia law it is not because I shy from conflicts ;-)

    But that again raises the question of why you don’t think the women you label as reluctant to take on conflicts have specific reasons for not wanting to tackle these conflicts, just as the men have.

    On the specific issue of censorship I guess the word springs naturally to mind when someone is pushing the line that things that were normal and permissible until now must suddenly be disallowed.

    I don’t think it’s just that. I recall at least one study surveying online behaviour which noted that it was specifically attributed to women, compared to men who made similar statements. And it also leads us back to the issue of what’s to be done if the status quo was unfair to begin with, such as the Captain Awkward cases.

    I do not know how often a man comes into a women’s group and calls an official change in the group norms – if it happens maybe men just do things their way and expect the women to follow on.

    Probably. At least that seems to be how the men I know who’ve found themselves in female-dominated groups tend to do it. A lot of time, they don’t even realise there was supposed to be a conflict.

    For men who try to scare women out of public debate I would not call it censorship. I would call it intimidation, which is worse. Mind you, I also call it intimidation when there are campaigns to get people fired if they come out against gay marriage on their Facebook pages or in their campaign contributions.

    I think there’s a difference between fearing for your safety and fearing for your job, unless your safety is dependent on your job. Besides, many employees will also fear for their job if they openly disagree with the boss on something s/he feels strongly about. The question then becomes whose freedom is the most important: The boss’ freedom to express his/her opposition to gay marriage without the fear of job loss, or the workers’ freedom to tell their boss to shove it without the fear of job loss. Because most of the time, you can’t have both.

    I would put myself in a third category. Women have the right to take precautions (of course) and the right to make their own choices (even more of course), and we all have a duty of care. On the other hand I would dearly love a set of courtship rules that was simple and clear enough that people could actually meet up, and where even a socially inept, not brilliantly empathic lad (as I have been) could follow the pursuit of sex without being branded as a crypto-rapist, or tying himself into anxious knots even more than he is already. And I think that women, too, should make a contribution to this end.

    Maybe it would be easier for women to engage in these kind of debates about simple and clear courtship rules if a simple “Guys, don’t do that” wouldn’t result in a barrage of rape threats. Just saying…

    As for Julia Gillard, I doubt she thinks sexism is non-existent. She certainly suffered plenty of it, and her most famous speech may have been when she tore a strip off the opposition for their sexism and hypocrisy. Not living in Oz I cannot vouch for her policies, but it is not Margaret Thatcher we are talking about.

    I don’t know much about Australian politics either (except that their current prime minister seems to be an idiot), so that’s good to know.

    I could easily believe that women have an extra handicap, but I still admire more those who just deal with it (whatever their policies) than those who are quick to claim that “I am a woman, I deserve the top slot”.

    I try to judge the courage of an action on the consequences it can lead to. Saying “I can tough it out because I’m not like those other women” tend to get you lauded as brave and competent, and rarely invite anything but (comparatively) mild criticism. Saying “There is a problem with sexism here” tend to get you labelled as a typical whiny and emotional woman who’s also a bitch and should die, or at least be raped, except that you’re too ugly to rape, and you’re politically correct which is the same as nazism, and also communism and atheism and fundamentalist Islam, and your opinion is the same as censorship because it is impossible for anyone to say anything anywhere as long as you speak (except of course to threaten you and compare you to a Nazi, which they, despite the alleged censorship, manage to do with a comfortable frequency), and it is also the same as getting people arrested for fictional crimes which it is physically impossible for them to commit and to have them tortured until they confess so you can burn them at the stake, and therefore it is important to free speech that you never talk about sexism. And did I mention that you should get raped to death?

    In my experience, the former attitude (“I can tough it out because I’m not like those other women”) has always been the easier way out, if you can make it work for you. I can agree or disagree about whether something is sexist, but I can’t deny the sheer amount of balls (pardon the sexist expression) it takes for a woman to publicly speak against it. It’s nowhere near as tough as to, say, publicly criticise the royal family of Saudi Arabia while in their country, but it seems to be one of the most controversial and (ironically) politically incorrect things you can do in the western world, particularly the Anglo-Saxon part of it.

  140. D506 says

    @Lucy

    “The centralised government of our male parliamentary system was a monarchy, that didn’t stop men forming alternative hierarchies. Whenever you put a group of men in a room, they organise themselves into a hierarchy.”

    Again, nonsense. I’ve been to chess clubs, programming clubs, etc. full of men who didn’t organize themselves into a hierarchy because there was no reason to. That women also don’t form hierarchies when there is no need to is hardly evidence that women don’t create hierarchies.

    “There are a number of single sex environments throughout history, including in the ancient and medieval world, ones where children were isolated from the opposite sex”

    This is true but meaningless. Those societies isolated from the opposite sex still lived in a world where the opposite sex existed and had influence. They were still founded by people who were raised by people of the opposite sex, or raised by people who were raised by people of the opposite sex (etc). Unless you can go back to

    Could we isolate a thousand ‘Lucys’ and have them come up with a ‘female paradigm’ after a period of time? Of course not. You say you can’t fathom programming from a ‘female paradigm’ because you were raised and taught under a ‘male paradigm'; your children and their children’s children would all grow and be raised on the foundation you’ve provided. They would never have a ‘pure, female paradigm’ of thought because men and women and existed and been an influence upon one another since the beginning of humanity.

    The end result is that there’s never been a uni-sex society and no one can conceive of what one would even look like. An all male society would no more look like the world we live in than an all female one.

  141. says

    Freja,

    Most of the time, the more secure people are of something, the more likely they are to have a basis for it, and the more likely they are of being right.

    this seems to go contrary to most psychological research in human rationality. The Dunning and Kruger effect s probably the most famous example to the contrary but there are many more. I can recommend the book “thnkng: fast and slow” and the chapters about overconfidence therein for many more examples.

  142. Anton Mates says

    Ally,

    It was neatly summarised by the mag’s own Twitter-feed as “man mansplains that men also mansplain to men.”

    While there was a brief mention of this in the article, it’s worth emphasizing that this fact doesn’t mean that men don’t mansplain more to women, even controlling for conversational styles and such. There are multiple phenomena in play here, and straight-up sexism is definitely one of them.

    In academic settings, I’ve known a few people (mostly but not exclusively male) who would reflexively disagree when a woman made some point, and lecture her as to her error, but then reflexively agree when I made the same point in almost identical language. The women in question were at least as assertive and academically successful as I was; heck, they were usually taller to boot. I don’t see much reason to think these people were reacting to our conversational styles rather than our genders.

    (The interesting thing is that, in at least one of these cases, I think the mansplainer was trying not to be sexist. He was conscious that he’d normally be more indulgent and friendlier toward a woman, and he wanted to show these women that he was Taking Them Seriously, so he was extra-loud and extra-critical and advanced his own opinions extra-forcefully when talking to them. And when you called him out on it he’d be appropriately guilty and embarrassed. I don’t remember him ever managing to break the habit, though, which was a pity given his otherwise excellent teaching style. There were much more misogynist and sexually predatory faculty members who were better at sounding gender-blind in their public speech.)

    Adiabat,

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a satisfactory answer to why doing this to black people and Muslims is wrong, but it’s okay to do it to men.

    Well, a couple of answers seem obvious:

    1) Profiling is wrong when representatives of the state use it to do things like make arrest decisions, because it violates the presumption of equal rights. That doesn’t have much to do with whether individual women should judge that men (or black people, or Muslims, or people whose eyebrows meet in the middle) are especially threatening when encountered alone in an elevator at 3 AM. Like Lucy says, discrimination is an important skill; it may be performed correctly or incorrectly, but we have the right to do it.

    2) On the “correctly or incorrectly” front, it is probably more accurate to perceive a heightened threat from someone approaching you in an elevator at 3 AM because they’re male, than because they’re black or Muslim–especially if you’re a white female yourself. I mean, AFAIK, gender is a stronger statistical predictor of violent criminal behavior than race or religion, at least in the US and UK. Though anyone with data to the contrary is welcome to correct me.

    3) I don’t see that anything in mildlymagnificent’s post @120 constitutes profiling, even with reference to informal social norms. She (IIRC it’s a she) didn’t say that men are more obliged than women to avoid late-night elevator flirting; she said that it’s just a bad idea in general. Men may be less likely to agree that it’s a bad idea, but that doesn’t make the policy discriminatory towards men.

    Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that half of all women have a bad experience at least once. In her lifetime a women would have literally millions of encounters with men.

    Sure, but a woman trying to rationally assess risk is going to count up the costs and benefits of each encounter, not just the raw numbers of encounters. If the risk of rape by Elevator Guy is 1/10000 but rape really sucks, it’s still reasonable for her to feel threatened by Elevator Guy.

  143. gjenganger says

    @Freja 145
    I think I must concede that point. Men are not better in general at handling difficult conflicts, the kind you are giving examples of. That was never exactly what I meant either, but I was not making the distinction clear (even to myself). What do I think men are better at, then? At concentrating on one main activity and ignore unrelated disagreements and problems that would distract from it. At arguing, even very hard, about that activity, without experiencing it as a long-term threat to harmony. And at dealing with hierarchy and power in an open and non-destructive manner. Not that we are perfect, but better. I have seen it claimed that Japanese culture puts an extremely high value on harmony, which has been taken to mean both that they are more conformist and leave less room for individuals to stand out, and that Japanese companies have found it harder to make some necessary course changes. I think women have a higher preference for harmony than men, so that they are less willing to disrupt it and less good at managing the disruptions. A bit like the Japanese. As for the girls scout example? Maybe women are more tolerant and willing to change. Or maybe they are more on board with social justice issues generally, since these are things they use and benefit from, rather than things others people use against them.

    There is nothing irrational about pretending a greater security than you have. As you say, it causes people to listen to you more. Many people would like to impose their will on others, and why not? But the system does not crumble, in the male version, because people expect it, push back and challenge you. It is policed by the fact that if you claim a space and authority but are unable to back it up when challenged, you suffer embarrassment and a some loss of status. You still have the choice of being more humble and unchallenging while making the same points. Quoting Tannen (again) I think that in the female version is policed by the fact that trying to impose your will openly and showcasing your individual authority is both disliked and discouraged as a way of separating yourself from the group. As a result displays of authority would become rarer and more reliable guides to actual knowledge. Both systems work, but they do not combine well. I would not deny that

    women are reluctant to disagree with men. They’re already at a disadvantage because they’re afforded less authority (i.e. tend to be considered less competent than a man with similar qualifications) and less time to make their case (i.e. are perceived to talk overly much when they get near an equal say), so they’re less likely to ‘win’ all else being equal. When you take into account that the type of men who try to mansplain the most to women are also usually the type to handle disagreement the worst, it often just becomes not worth it to object in the actual situation.

    But this is both a consequence and a cause of the fact that women, following their norms, prefer not to challenge men. Many mansplainers are likely tiresome, overbearing individuals, but as long as they are never challenged but only met with (as they see it) either respectful listening or unmotivated personal attacks, they are not likely to get better.
    In short I do not think it makes sense to say that “women should just talk like men do”, or that “men should just shut up and listen like women do”. In the situation we are in, neither will work, and we need to get used to making allowances for incompatible communication styles.

    If the status quo is unfair to begin with, you have a conflict. Some people will not agree, and you must either convince them or force them. All you can really do is try to establish some ground rules for managing the conflict.

    There is a difference between fearing for your safety and fearing for your job, but it is a difference i degree, not in kind. It is still intimidation. But I really disagree with this:

    The question then becomes whose freedom is the most important: The boss’ freedom to express his/her opposition to gay marriage without the fear of job loss, or the workers’ freedom to tell their boss to shove it without the fear of job loss.

    The question is not whether the boss should dictate politics to the workers or vice versa. The question is why off-the-job politics should make any difference in the workplace. You would not allow workers to refuse to work for someone because she was feminist, socialist, gay, or Jewish, would you? Why do you allow people to refuse to work for people who are against gay marriage?

    Maybe it would be easier for women to engage in these kind of debates about simple and clear courtship rules if a simple “Guys, don’t do that” wouldn’t result in a barrage of rape threats. Just saying…

    Very true. And maybe it would be easier for men to engage in them, if any proposal for women to take responsibility for the signals they send, to shoulder some of the trouble of making the system work, or to consider the interests of men as well as women, was not met with cries of “victim blaming”, “rape apologist”, “thinks he is entitled to our bodies” etc. Just answering. So where do we go from here?

    Saying “there is a problem with sexism here” can cause you a lot of trouble. It can also have a number of advantages. It can serve to increase your personal power, committee membership, people asking you what you do not like and how it could be changed. It brings attention and all kinds of political allies to help you get promoted and better paid. And it gives you a very nice excuse: if anything goes wrong, if you are not a success at your job, it is not because of any personal shortcomings. Nothing is your fault, of course you are the best, you deserve much better but the bastards are discriminating against you. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, a discrimination claim is also the last refuge of failure.

  144. freja says

    @149, gjenganger

    What do I think men are better at, then? At concentrating on one main activity and ignore unrelated disagreements and problems that would distract from it. At arguing, even very hard, about that activity, without experiencing it as a long-term threat to harmony. And at dealing with hierarchy and power in an open and non-destructive manner. Not that we are perfect, but better.

    I agree with most of this. In general, male groups do better in situations where acting quickly and decisively is more important than making sure everyone has had their say. Men are often better at cutting through clutter and forcing a decision, and they’re usually more willing to acknowledge that just because you feel a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s supported by objective reality. Of course, just as with female-dominated groups, there are are also downsides to this. A more strict hierarchy and less focus on getting the quieter members of the group to participate means that the people who take charge of something are not always the most qualified for it but just the most successful at asserting themselves. A less egalitarian environment tends to exacerbate existing inequalities. More competition can result in people who’re more interested in personal status than getting the best result for the group.

    And (a very important point for me) a complete dismissal of anything ‘emotional’ means missing out on the times when feelings have a rational basis, or furiously trying to deny your own emotional involvement in order to appear as the rational neutral and avoid losing status. In my experience, this causes a lot of men to see their own emotional demands as indisputable facts of life for others to adjust to, instead of acknowledging them as a subjective need (as an example, check out this guy‘s advice on how to be a good wife. You should frequently tell your husband you’re proud of him, make no demands, forgive him everything, teach your children to worship him as a hero, avoid tearing him down in public, always give in to his sexual demands so that he can feel manly and appreciated, constantly affirm him, etc.. And right after that, he has the gall to say “Understand that your husband is very physical and visual while you’re emotional” as if all the emotional cuddling and ego-stroking a wife is required to do has nothing at all to do with the husband’s emotions).

    In my opinion, it’s usually hard to tell exactly when one approach is most productive. It’s heavily tied not just to the specific situation but also to the people involved. But one thing I notice repeatedly is that it’s hard for women to adjust to the male style because they’re not always given the opportunity to compete and acquire status on equal terms, and the status quo set up by the men is often set up to specifically disadvantage women (e.g. it’s OK for creepy guy to fondle girls in their sleep, but other guys can defend their bodily autonomy without being considered divisive or mean).

    I have seen it claimed that Japanese culture puts an extremely high value on harmony, which has been taken to mean both that they are more conformist and leave less room for individuals to stand out, and that Japanese companies have found it harder to make some necessary course changes. I think women have a higher preference for harmony than men, so that they are less willing to disrupt it and less good at managing the disruptions. A bit like the Japanese.

    That’s funny, because I see Japan as a very status oriented and hierarchical culture, similarly to a typical male group. It’s often slow to change because of the sheer amount of deference shown to the top dogs (who’re usually old men who like the status quo because it benefits them and who’re convinced they’ve earned it), and there is less room for individuality because everybody are expected to know their place and adhere to the rules enforced by those top dogs.

    As for the girls scout example? Maybe women are more tolerant and willing to change. Or maybe they are more on board with social justice issues generally, since these are things they use and benefit from, rather than things others people use against them.

    It can be both. But I think there’s an element of rank in it. Asking for special considerations, tolerance, or a change of the rules in a male-dominated group can get you labelled as weak and not able to cut it (see for example the extensive use of hazing in many male-dominated environments), unless you’re on top, in which case you stand a good chance of being able to enforce your own norms and have them be seen as the unbiased status quo. This also means that adhering to people’s requests or changing the rules to accommodate them can be seem to give in to them, and afford them a status they haven’t earned, or in other words, as a weakness. A woman (again, in my personal experience) is less likely to see it as a conflict and tend to just go “If it can make someone feel better, then why not?”. It becomes less about showing who’s in charge and more about trying to ensure that everybody are as comfortable as possible.

    There is nothing irrational about pretending a greater security than you have. As you say, it causes people to listen to you more. Many people would like to impose their will on others, and why not? But the system does not crumble, in the male version, because people expect it, push back and challenge you.

    But it’s not rational if you’re trying to achieve a result. If you know nothing about cooking, it’s not a good idea to lecture others about what to put in the food you have to eat later, it just gives you a less pleasant experience. It’s rational if you see yourself as an individual trying to assert power in a group even if it weakens the groups as a whole, but if you see the whole group as a unit trying to achieve a particular goal, focussing on that goal rather than your own personal glory is the most rational thing to do. This is why Vulcans are seen as more rational than Klingons :-D

    But this is both a consequence and a cause of the fact that women, following their norms, prefer not to challenge men.

    If they’re less likely to challenge men than women, then it’s not about communicative style anymore.

    Many mansplainers are likely tiresome, overbearing individuals, but as long as they are never challenged but only met with (as they see it) either respectful listening or unmotivated personal attacks, they are not likely to get better.

    But if you interrupt them and call them out you’re likely to be labelled a crazy harpy who can’t keep her mouth shut. Speaking from personal experience, the kind of men who’ll respect you for interrupting them and asserting yourself are also the type of men who’re less likely to mansplain in the first place.

    If the status quo is unfair to begin with, you have a conflict. Some people will not agree, and you must either convince them or force them. All you can really do is try to establish some ground rules for managing the conflict.

    Not necessarily. If no one objects to the unfair treatment, you can have long lasting peace and stability. And when someone does speak out against the status quo, they’re more likely to branded trouble-makers who started the conflict in the first place (see every civil rights issue ever).

    There is a difference between fearing for your safety and fearing for your job, but it is a difference i degree, not in kind. It is still intimidation.

    We all live with these risks every day. Saying something unpopular comes with the risk of making yourself unpopular. Doing something that upsets your friend comes with the risk of losing said friend. Introducing a new strategy of marketing means you risk losing your old customers and ultimately your job. We all take calculated risks based on our assessment of other people’s reaction to it, and it’s always a matter of degrees. The question should not be whether or not it’s acceptable that certain actions come with certain risks, but rather which risks and which actions we deem reasonable.

    The question is not whether the boss should dictate politics to the workers or vice versa. The question is why off-the-job politics should make any difference in the workplace. You would not allow workers to refuse to work for someone because she was feminist, socialist, gay, or Jewish, would you? Why do you allow people to refuse to work for people who are against gay marriage?

    Practical evidence shows that separating your professional and personal ethics is not all that easy. And if someone brings their personal opinion to work, isn’t it fair enough that they’ll be taken to task for that personal opinion at work too? And yes, you absolutely can choose not to work for someone because you abhor their policies. If a Burger King employee decided to quit tomorrow because Burger King had wrapped their whopper in rainbow coloured paper, or if someone turned down a job offer at Burger King because of this, I guarantee that they’d be allowed to, just as people are free to boycott Burger King over that rainbow coloured paper if that’s what they want (though why it matters to them is beyond me).

    Very true. And maybe it would be easier for men to engage in them, if any proposal for women to take responsibility for the signals they send, to shoulder some of the trouble of making the system work, or to consider the interests of men as well as women, was not met with cries of “victim blaming”, “rape apologist”, “thinks he is entitled to our bodies” etc.

    And then we’re back to the point I raised in “It’s time to stop defaming our boys”, that there needs to be consistency. If women are to take responsibility for the signals they send, it also means that men have to make an effort reading the signals of women they approach. Indirect communication is either legitimate or not, full stop. You can’t switch from “But how was I supposed to know?” to “Why wont she take responsibility for her signals?” on the basis of whether or not you like what’s being communicated.

  145. gjenganger says

    @Freja 150
    For the first half of your post I pretty much agree with, you, for good things and bad.

    For Japan my (third-hand) impression is that the society in both extremely hierarchical , quite repressed, and with a very high value on harmony. Maybe both the deference and the wish for harmony have their downsides.

    But I think there’s an element of rank in it. Asking for special considerations, tolerance, or a change of the rules in a male-dominated group can get you labelled as weak and not able to cut it (see for example the extensive use of hazing in many male-dominated environments), unless you’re on top, in which case you stand a good chance of being able to enforce your own norms and have them be seen as the unbiased status quo. This also means that adhering to people’s requests or changing the rules to accommodate them can be seem to give in to them, and afford them a status they haven’t earned, or in other words, as a weakness. A woman (again, in my personal experience) is less likely to see it as a conflict and tend to just go “If it can make someone feel better, then why not?”. It becomes less about showing who’s in charge and more about trying to ensure that everybody are as comfortable as possible.

    Exactly right. I had not thought of that. I think that it may be a bit easier to get a concession if you ask it as a favour and accept a place at the bottom of the hierarchy in return. And harder if you are seen as demanding concessions, or insist that you have a right to special treatment without losing any respect.

    But it’s not rational if you’re trying to achieve a result. If you know nothing about cooking, it’s not a good idea to lecture others about what to put in the food you have to eat later

    Yes, that is a cost of mixing a fight for status with everything else. Not wanting to ask for directions is another cost.

    If they’re less likely to challenge men than women, then it’s not about communicative style anymore.

    It is not only about communicative style. I would say the two reinforce each other.

    But if you interrupt them and call them out you’re likely to be labelled a crazy harpy who can’t keep her mouth shut. Speaking from personal experience, the kind of men who’ll respect you for interrupting them and asserting yourself are also the type of men who’re less likely to mansplain in the first place.

    Quite likely. Some people are hopeless to improve and best ignored. I just hope they are a minority of the male sex.

    If no one objects to the unfair treatment, you can have long lasting peace and stability. And when someone does speak out against the status quo, they’re more likely to branded trouble-makers who started the conflict in the first place (see every civil rights issue ever).

    Absolutely. You will not get the change without the struggle, but you might decide it is too hard.

    separating your professional and personal ethics is not all that easy. And if someone brings their personal opinion to work, isn’t it fair enough that they’ll be taken to task for that personal opinion at work too?

    Yes. If someone bring their political opinions to work, people at work have every right to react. If I give trouble to atheist co-workers, atheist co-workers have every right to give trouble to me (and vice versa). And of course people have the right to decide quietly that they do not want to work for Burger King, or read books by Orson Scott Card. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about organised boycotts and political campaigns, not spontaneous reactions. And about systematically targeting people who do not bring their politics anywhere near their work, but that we happen to know hold the wrong opinions privately. And here you have to choose: It is legitimate to blacklist and discriminate against people just because you do not like their views, or it is not. Ultimately what goes around comes around.

    On your last point (links included) I need to think. That could be very interesting and maybe less harmonious. Work permitting,…

  146. Bugmaster says

    @Lucy:

    So, according to you, a true female-only society has never existed; but if it had, it would totally work the way you are imagining it to work (i.e., better than any male society, at least for women).

    You cannot even imagine any kind of female-centric computer code, but if you could, you believe that it would be better than the male code, in some indefinable way. You do know that women wouldn’t use keyboards to type letters, but you don’t know what they’d do instead.

    If I gave you a list of 100,000 elements, you wouldn’t know how to sort it in a female way.

    This isn’t evidence. It’s not even an argument. It’s just one giant, passionate, unsubstantiated evasion. If you can’t back up anything you say, then why say it ?

  147. gjenganger says

    Trigger warning. Discussion of limits between coercion and rape. I make use of this quiet debate to present some dodgy arguments. FYI, you are more likely to change my mind if you tell me where i am wrong and why, than if you simply tell me off.

    @Freja 150

    If women are to take responsibility for the signals they send, it also means that men have to make an effort reading the signals of women they approach. Indirect communication is either legitimate or not, full stop.

    As that stands I agree. We may not agree further on. The fellow you link to has some good points, but one problem I have is his “we know that rape is only done by a minority of deliberate rapists“Do we know that, now? And if we do, should we maybe say so openly, as in “Do not worry, rapists are only those who deliberately want sex without consent. As long as you try to find out if she actually wants it, you have nothing to worry about“?

    The bigger problem is that I think we do need to make a difference between what is unpleasant, what is immoral, and what is actually a crime. Ally insists that ‘we should not teach people exactly what they can get away with’, but I disagree: Rape is a major crime with devastating effects and a punishment of many years in prison. We should not confuse it with other things just as a handy tool for making people nicer. If someone is an asshole, call him an asshole, not a rapist. You could put this in other ways: Consent means ‘Well, OK, I accept this’ – it is not the same as enthusiasm. Or you could note that people routinely apply considerable pressure to obtain their goals, for instance to convince their partner to clean up the bathroom, stop spending more than the family can afford, or hold the holiday with grandma. This is normally not considered criminal, or even particularly unusual. Do the same tactics become a major crime, because they are applied to having (more) sex?

    I am sure you will not agree with this, and even at best it is a very slippery slope where it is hard to set a limit. So I’ll go through it in some detail.

    Indirect communication is not something everybody knows from the cradle. I was well into high school when I finally realised that “Not right now, later” did not mean that when you came back twenty minutes later she was going to dance with you. The principles are clear and well known. An outright refusal is aggressive and face-threatening and unpleasant to both sides. So both sides work with hints to avoid one. I used it for parent-management myself, well up in my thirties. My dad was very attached to his personal property and extremely sensitive to any feeling of pressure. So if I needed the family car, I would plan assuming I did not get it, put my question so it was maximum easy to refuse, and go over to plan B at the first hint of a no. This was a good way to maintain peace in the family, but it was not a good way to make the point that they really ought to let me have it without fuss. And it was certainly not a good way to make sure I got the car, if for once I desperately needed it.

    Beggars are one group of people who do not follow these rules. It is quite hard (for me) to look a fellow human being in the eye and refuse his request for a couple of pounds, that I can well spare. If beggars made it easy for people to say no they would never get a penny. Instead they make it hard, and people pay. I somewhat resent beggars, for that reason, and I try to avoid catching their eyes. But that does not mean that begging is illegitimate, and it is certainly not any kind of theft.

    Ryanair demonstrates another point. Their misleading advertising and web sites full of traps are all set up to trick people into paying much more than they think the flight will cost. Ryanair is definitely not nice people. But I still keep flying with them, because all the alternatives would cost twice as much, or do not fly between the right airports. In doing so I consent to their business tactics, because I choose to submit to them again and again. You could call it a revealed preference.

    Coming back to sex, we do have to note that if no one ever pushes for sex, a lot less sex will happen. That is not good in every case. People can be quite ambivalent about sex. One commentator remarked that he had quite often had sex when he did not really feel like it, and 90% of the time it had been great (that was probably within a relationship, of course). I realise that this is a very dangerous way of reasoning and may not be the most common case, but I do not think we can discount it completely. The best argument I saw came from a novelist. He remarked that it was not just that people had sex because they were drunk. Quite as often they got drunk in order to have sex. Deliberately, because the sex would not happen otherwise, and because being drunk gave them a good excuse if they felt guilty or ashamed afterwards.

    Finally, I think that there should be some proportionality between the threats and force used and the high punishment we give for rape. If people are too drunk or flustered, or they are afraid of violence, they are being forced against their will. But if they have sex in preference for being dumped by their boyfriends, or to avoid the stress of saying an explicit no, is that rape? Or, since the ‘threats’ are both perfectly legal, could one see it as an ‘expressed preference’.

    I was really hoping someone else could propose a set of courting rules. But to show what I am on about, here is a proposal. Improve it.
    For the active party:
    – Try to find out what she actually wants, and go with that.
    – Wait for some positive signal before you go ahead; immobility is not enough.
    People can be too drunk, flustered, or simply frozen to be able to say no. It is up to you to notice if that happens.
    – Listen for hints and take them, it makes the process easier on everybody.
    – Do take no for an answer. By the third no you are not going to win, and pushing on just makes it harder for yourself or anyone else next time.
    – Be prepared to take that no with good grace, if you try on distant chances you will most often get no.
    – She is allowed to change her mind in mid-stream. If she does, notice and comply.
    – As long as you are trying to do it right, do not worry too much. She will let you know if you get it wrong.

    For the propositioned party.
    – You do not have to if you do not want to.
    – Do not let yourself be rushed. Think ahead of time what you want.
    – Once people get their hands on your body they will want to go all the way. Be clear about your desires and your limits, to yourself. If you do not know, how can they know? Then make it easy for the other person to understand them.
    – People trying for sex are often desperate, and can be remarkably thick-skinned and clueless. Be ready to say a clear, strong NO if they will not take a hint.
    – If you have to reject someone it might be easier if you do it early.
    – If you do not want it, do not let them. Or use the word ‘rape’ in conversation.

  148. freja says

    @151, gjenganger

    Exactly right. I had not thought of that. I think that it may be a bit easier to get a concession if you ask it as a favour and accept a place at the bottom of the hierarchy in return. And harder if you are seen as demanding concessions, or insist that you have a right to special treatment without losing any respect.

    There you go again, ‘special treatment’. It’s not special if similar considerations are given to other members of the group, or if you’re merely asking not to be singled out for a particular treatment. The problem with hierarchies (or one of many) is that concepts like fairness, justice, and reason tend to go out the window, and it becomes all about who has the right to assert themselves at the cost of others.

    It is not only about communicative style. I would say the two reinforce each other.

    Probably. But it still means that simply talking back or dialling up your aggression in the face of mansplaining isn’t enough. I believe the term itself was coined as a way of helping women assert themselves, making men who talked over women more self-conscious about what they were doing, and telling women that they aren’t necessarily imagining things when they feel aggravated about it. And just look at how that turned out. For every woman it’s resonated with and convinced to speak out more, there’s an angry man crying misandry.

    Yes. If someone bring their political opinions to work, people at work have every right to react. If I give trouble to atheist co-workers, atheist co-workers have every right to give trouble to me (and vice versa).

    But the trouble people can give each other is hugely asymmetric. The difference between an employer and employee, or a teacher and student, is usually so vast that legal protection is required for it to be even remotely equal in consequences.

    We are talking about organised boycotts and political campaigns, not spontaneous reactions.

    Is there anything inherently wrong with organised boycotts? I remember being urged to boycott certain businesses because they didn’t pay their taxes or were exploiting their workers. I was usually grateful for the information, because it helped me avoid inadvertently supporting companies who were making my town or country a worse place to live.

  149. gjenganger says

    @Freja 154

    There you go again, ‘special treatment’. It’s not special if similar considerations are given to other members of the group, or if you’re merely asking not to be singled out for a particular treatment. The problem with hierarchies (or one of many) is that concepts like fairness, justice, and reason tend to go out the window, and it becomes all about who has the right to assert themselves at the cost of others.

    I really think we agree on this point. From the point of view of the group majority these are people that want to be treated differently from the rest, and ‘special treatment’ is the word the group will use. Whether it is the right word, given that these are people with different needs as well, and whether you and I want to agree with that description, is a different story altogether.

    For every woman it’s resonated with and convinced to speak out more, there’s an angry man crying misandry.

    Well, I do think that is because it is misused, intentionally or not, to exclude people from discussions. As in “You are male, you have no right to talk when the women speak”. I had never come across the official definition till this debate, and it actually surprised me.

    The kinds of boycott we are talking about are not directed at company policy, but at individual employees. You do not want to deal with Hooters, say, because company policy is demeaning women? No problem there. You do not want to deal with a company until they agree to fire employees who are privately against gay marriage? I would call that McCarthyism. As for the imbalance of power it does make a difference that you are effectively fighting against individuals. Even a top manager is only one person, and very cheap to fire if his company thinks there is a profit to be made. If you are talking about Salman Rushdie against the world’s Muslims, or some individual MRA against Stonewall and the Guardian, it is not the boycotters who are the powerless party.

  150. freja says

    @153, gjenganger

    As that stands I agree. We may not agree further on. The fellow you link to has some good points, but one problem I have is his “we know that rape is only done by a minority of deliberate rapists“Do we know that, now? And if we do, should we maybe say so openly, as in “Do not worry, rapists are only those who deliberately want sex without consent. As long as you try to find out if she actually wants it, you have nothing to worry about“?

    We know because they said so. The type of man who rapes women is usually, 1: a repeat offender, 2: completely aware that his victims did not want to have sex with him, 3: more likely to have attacked intimate partners and children both sexually and otherwise, 4: uses intoxication rather than overt force, and 5: mainly targets acquaintances.

    As for your second question, engaging in behaviours close to that of rapists, even if you’re not actually committing rape, means that 1: you’re a douche and should stop for that reason alone, 2: women feel less safe around you, and 3: the rapists around you become harder to detect, more likely to feel justified in their assaults, and more likely to be defended by their surroundings because their behaviour up to the rape is seen as normal rather than abusive.

    The bigger problem is that I think we do need to make a difference between what is unpleasant, what is immoral, and what is actually a crime.

    Agreed. However, I think the largest problem is that a lot of people, especially men in this regard, somehow think that just because something is technically legal it’s also justified. And then the line of acceptable behaviour gets moved closer and closer to rape, and people find it harder and harder to tell when someone crosses the line. Think of the Steubenville case as an example. Exploitation of drunk girls, sexual humiliation and slut-shaming as a weapon, and hostile sexual interactions, had all become so normal and accepted that when the line was crossed into rape lots of people treated it as if the rapists just had bad manners, at worst, because their behaviour was too close to something very normal.

    Indirect communication is not something everybody knows from the cradle. I was well into high school when I finally realised that “Not right now, later” did not mean that when you came back twenty minutes later she was going to dance with you. The principles are clear and well known. An outright refusal is aggressive and face-threatening and unpleasant to both sides. So both sides work with hints to avoid one.

    That pretty much sums it up. But indirect communication goes both ways, and lots of guys use indirect communication to make those very same offers they want direct rejections to (e.g. “Do you want to come up for coffee?”). In my personal experience, there are generally higher expectations of girls ands women to get the indirect communication right, and more severe consequences if they don’t. This is then made worse because the gender roles in initiation means the people who have the least control over when/where/how an interaction is going to happen (people being approached by others/women) are also the ones held the most responsible for the interaction they didn’t choose, while the people who should be the most aware of the pitfalls in communication (people who approach others/men) often don’t feel they have to take responsibility for it when something goes wrong.

    Beggars are one group of people who do not follow these rules. It is quite hard (for me) to look a fellow human being in the eye and refuse his request for a couple of pounds, that I can well spare. If beggars made it easy for people to say no they would never get a penny. Instead they make it hard, and people pay.

    It’s a little funny how often the two of us see the exact same thing and come to wildly different conclusions (the femininity/masculinity of Japanese society, this) :-) I observed a homeless guy trying to sell something in the street not long ago, and it struck me how polite he was, and how well aware he was that he was the one making a request of others. He’d ask people if they wanted to buy, but he didn’t get in their face about it, follow them, or forced them to step out of the way. When people ignored him and moved on, he accepted it without a single “Hey, I’m TALKING to you!”, “Aw come on, why are you being so cold?”, or “Your fucking BITCH!”. He was even more restrained than the non-homeless people trying to sell you something or get you to sign up for something in the street, and way less intrusive than guys approaching women for sex. Probably because he knew that, unlike those guys, he wouldn’t be able to get away with it. I kept thinking about why people who’re only trying to engage others for fun are given more leeway than people who depend on it for a living.

    I somewhat resent beggars, for that reason, and I try to avoid catching their eyes. But that does not mean that begging is illegitimate, and it is certainly not any kind of theft.

    Begging is done out of necessity, and as I mentioned above, I don’t find it half as intrusive or threatening as that one guy who always “just want to talk”. And when it comes to begging, we’re talking about a fundamentally uneven exchange (one person does something for another without receiving anything in return except the knowledge that they made someone else happy). Are you suggesting we label men who approach women on the street ‘sex beggars’? Because I’m all for it, if it means making it clear that they’re essentially asking strangers for unearned favours for no reason except that they want it. But I think that, as a rule, sex and romance should be a two-way street where each participant is engaging because they like it, not just putting up with it for another person’s sake.

    Coming back to sex, we do have to note that if no one ever pushes for sex, a lot less sex will happen. That is not good in every case.

    I think that overall, if there was less slut-shaming, if men did more to treat sex as a two-way street where they were supposed to pleasure their partner in return, and if girls didn’t learn from an early age that sex was a minefield of dangers and obligations, a lot more sex would happen. I think that advocating for increased acceptance of the view that sex is what happens to an unwilling woman after a man has put enough pressure on her to get her to give in, is a bit like encouraging people to eat all the seeds they can find and not worry about sowing. It might be convenient now, but it doesn’t make for a very good harvest.

    Finally, I think that there should be some proportionality between the threats and force used and the high punishment we give for rape. If people are too drunk or flustered, or they are afraid of violence, they are being forced against their will. But if they have sex in preference for being dumped by their boyfriends, or to avoid the stress of saying an explicit no, is that rape? Or, since the ‘threats’ are both perfectly legal, could one see it as an ‘expressed preference’.

    I agree that having sex because you hope it’ll make your boyfriend/girlfriend stay with you isn’t rape, but I don’t see the law saying anything different.

    I was really hoping someone else could propose a set of courting rules. But to show what I am on about, here is a proposal. Improve it.

    I largely agree with your rules for the active party. As for the propositioned party, there are a few complications.

    Once people get their hands on your body they will want to go all the way. Be clear about your desires and your limits, to yourself. If you do not know, how can they know? Then make it easy for the other person to understand them.

    You seem to be assuming that the propositioned party is not really willing but just giving in, and that the the active party would never be interested in touch without sex. I don’t think that assumption holds water.

    - People trying for sex are often desperate, and can be remarkably thick-skinned and clueless. Be ready to say a clear, strong NO if they will not take a hint.

    I think it’s the other way around. People trying for sex are sometimes desperate, and much more often remarkably thin-skinned. Learn not to automatically blame yourself every time someone complains that you didn’t turn them down the right way, because usually, what they’re really offended over is that you turned them down at all.

    - If you have to reject someone it might be easier if you do it early.

    If you don’t know where they’re going with their actions or don’t know how you feel about them yet, rejecting them early is not as easy as it sounds.

  151. gjenganger says

    I have seen the point about the ‘minority of deliberate rapists’ a fair bit, but it does not seem to have become consensus yet. Certainly is has made little difference to the debate. You are actually a case in point: Even those of us who do not rape apparently “engag[e] in behaviours close to that of rapists”, cause women to feel unsafe, are responsible for providing cover for rapists (and therefore share the guilt for the rapes), and should very much be on guard against an ambush by our evil natures. Your Steubenville paragraph just hammers it in. As you say, the law is reasonably clear about what is and is not rape. ‘Give me sex or I will dump you’ is not rape in law. But are you not saying precisely that it is morally the same? Would it be unfair to conclude that to you lots of people who do not rape are not really much better than those who do? Or do you just think that spreading the taint of rape to all kinds of actions you disapprove of is the only way of getting those pesky men to behave? If you want people to be clear about what rape is, is it not better to give a clear and sharp definition of the limits, rather than saying it is all ‘sort of rapish’ across a very wide band? Personally I think I am capable of staying off the margins – I do have a higher standard than just not getting arrested, and it is both nasty and stupid to sail right up to the edge of a crime that is worth a five-years in prison. People might listen to you more if you stopped blurring the definition of rape, and accepted that we are generally capable of trying to behave like decent people without the implied threat of a prison sentence.
    Begging is indeed fairly polite – around here. In the third world it gets more aggressive. But those who sell ‘The Big Issue’ are a special case. That is very deliberately set up so that there is a face-saving excuse both to ask and to say no (they are selling, not begging, after all, and you might not like the magazine) and so that the request is limited (buy one magazine and you can say no with a good conscience for a week). The psychological pressures should get less intense, on both sides. Some begging can be a matter of ‘pay me, and I will stop pestering you’. But the one I was talking about works off the fact that a direct refusal of a request is quite unpleasant both to give and to take. So, look someone in the eye, and ask nicely for help. He might genuinely want to help, but equally he might pay with bad grace, simply because paying is less unpleasant than refusing. Of course the refusals are hard to take, but it is a price you cannot avoid if you want to get the money. The mechanisms of asking and refusal are the same whatever you are asking for, including sex. I do doubt, though, if anyone can think they will get shagged by a stranger for pure charity. More likely you have to ask or you will never get a yes, and you have to convince yourself you have a chance, or you cannot get yourself to ask. If you were quick to conclude that it was all hopeless just because it was obvious from the facts, you would not have asked in the first place – just jumped in the river.

    I think that overall, if there was less slut-shaming, if men did more to treat sex as a two-way street where they were supposed to pleasure their partner in return, and if girls didn’t learn from an early age that sex was a minefield of dangers and obligations, a lot more sex would happen.

    That may well be, and some of those things we can work for. And I did put in a gentle suggestion to not try so hard that you ruin the chances for everyone else. But if the advice is to stop trying to have sex, it is likely to be ignored, unless you can give some indication what the fellow should try instead and why it might work. If we work hard at it, it may well be that in our grandchildrens time everybody will think and feel and behave in totally different ways and people will all be much happier. But our sex-starved man will think mainly of the fact that by then he will be dead. And if he follows your advice he will not get any grandchildren anyway.
    We do have a real disagreement on the ‘rules for the propositioned party’. You could say that people who try it on are thick-skinned – because they will manage to not get even the most obvious hint – or thin-skinned – because they will take their refusals badly. However nicely they are put, as you point out. The thing is that making a deeply personal and desperately important request, and then getting it turned down, is unavoidably an unpleasant situation. Like the street beggars, men could avoid the unpleasantness by not trying, but, again like the beggars, you cannot really expect that they give up their chances to avoid social embarrassment for others. It is simply impossible for either side to avoid unpleasantness.

    You seem to be assuming that the propositioned party is not really willing but just giving in, and that the the active party would never be interested in touch without sex. I don’t think that assumption holds water.

    If you don’t know where they’re going with their actions or don’t know how you feel about them yet, rejecting them early is not as easy as it sounds.

    I do not actually assume that (sorry for the phrasing) I just wanted to say that that you should assume that it would not stop at touching, so you could be prepared to deal with other things. And I am aware that it neither simple nor easy. But we are now looking at a very important case where it is not just one person totally uninterested, and another pestering anyway. People are indeed often undecided, ambivalent, considering what they want to do. And the first consequence seems to be that this rather does justify the idea of trying to give the situation a push. After all if it is 50:50 whether she would actually want to do what you want, what is wrong with trying to tip the decision your way? And as long as she might still decide for yes, do you really have to fade away at the first hint to the contrary? Secondly imagine how this might work out. A knows what he wants and is trying, politely but persistently. B is sort of interested, but sort of reluctant. Likely her signals will be a bit mixed-up, with neither the ‘no’s not the ‘yes’es ringing quite true. Meanwhile A keeps trying, and gets more encouraged at every ‘yes’, and B keeps going along with the flow, half undecided. If she still has not made and announced a decision when her panties are down her ankles and a hand is moving in, it will be very hard to take a clear decision in all the confusion, and harder than it could have been to communicate her ‘no’ to someone who by now is thinking about how, not whether, to have sex. Of course you have the right to say not at any time. And of course your partner has a duty to understand and respect that ‘no’. But it would be much easier on both parties if that kind of situation could be avoided as much as possible. So yes, the hypothetical me (my dancin’ days are long over) will do his reasonable best to be aware and empathic, and alert for problems and refusals. In return, could my hypothetical partner try as far as possible to make up her mind on the issues ahead of time, and decide that when it comes to ‘no’ she is going to tell me in unmistakable terms, if that is what it takes? If both sides try to make the situation clear, maybe both sides can benefit from having fewer encounters go wrong.

    This might be the last of this discussion – I shall shortly be going on holiday without internet. Can I say that I am impressed with your thinking (not just in your posts to me) and appreciate your taking the time?

  152. freja says

    @157, gjenganger

    Let me first say that I’ve appreciated your replies too, and wish you a good holiday. I’m going to stick to replying to the most important part of your post, since I’m short on time too. Maybe I’ll come back later a reply to the rest.

    I have seen the point about the ‘minority of deliberate rapists’ a fair bit, but it does not seem to have become consensus yet. Certainly is has made little difference to the debate.

    Just because most people ignore actual studies in favour of myths about short skirts, armed strangers, innocent misunderstandings, and men getting carried away, it doesn’t change what those studies say.

    You are actually a case in point: Even those of us who do not rape apparently “engag[e] in behaviours close to that of rapists”, cause women to feel unsafe, are responsible for providing cover for rapists (and therefore share the guilt for the rapes), and should very much be on guard against an ambush by our evil natures.

    You sound less like you’re replying to me and more like you’re reading from an MRA manual about which evil implications you’re supposed to be reading into all talk about rape which includes references to the wider culture. I cannot see the logic in acting is if everyday behaviours and overall morality are a completely separate issue from crime. There’s nothing wrong with calling people aggressive and to note that there’s a strong correlation between aggression and support for violence, even if aggression isn’t illegal in itself.

    For instance, it used to be legal in most of the western world to beat your children. But that didn’t change that a: beating children is morally wrong, b: allowing corporeal punishment of children makes it harder to discern when parents are truly out of line, and c: being beaten as a child increases the risk of a child growing up violent as it mimics the behaviour of adults. That doesn’t mean every parent who gave their child a slap on the bottom is a monster, or even a bad parent, it just means that avoiding corporal punishment is usually a pretty good idea if we want a less violent society.

    Now, outlawing corporal punishment is easy enough because the line is clearer, but there are other examples where the lines become blurred. Holding racist views isn’t illegal, only racial legal discrimination and hatecrimes is. However, I think we can all agree that there tend to be less of the latter when there is less of the former. If we want to work to eliminate rape, it makes sense to also focus on the behaviours and attitudes connected to rape, such as misogyny, rape-myth acceptance, and sexual aggression, just as it makes sense to focus on racism and anti-LGBT attitudes if we want to reduce bullying and hatecrimes.

    Your Steubenville paragraph just hammers it in. As you say, the law is reasonably clear about what is and is not rape. ‘Give me sex or I will dump you’ is not rape in law. But are you not saying precisely that it is morally the same? Would it be unfair to conclude that to you lots of people who do not rape are not really much better than those who do? Or do you just think that spreading the taint of rape to all kinds of actions you disapprove of is the only way of getting those pesky men to behave?

    If people in society hold the view that sex is shameful for women, that using the shame of sex as a weapon against women (e.g. revenge porn) is acceptable and something it’s up to individual women to prevent, that the normal romantic and sexual interaction between men and women is antagonistic and predatory (she tries to avoid it, he tries to bring her down), that sexual boundary violations are unproblematic, that men are clueless about what women like and want but don’t have to act like it (i.e. err on the side of caution as most socially awkward people do), that men can’t control themselves and it’s up to women to do it for them, that being sexually violated or humiliated is a fitting punishment for women being sluts, etc. we can’t be surprised when rape of women follows, anymore than we should we surprised when a narrative of brutish black thugs combined with the attitude that gun access is a human right and shooting people as soon as you feel threatened is a good idea will result in a lot of dead young black men.

    It doesn’t mean that most people who’re racist and/or arguing for free gun access and stand-your-ground laws are murderers in waiting, but neither does it mean their behaviour and attitudes are unconnected to the racially motivated murders of (primarily) young black men.

    If you want people to be clear about what rape is, is it not better to give a clear and sharp definition of the limits, rather than saying it is all ‘sort of rapish’ across a very wide band?

    All anti-racist activists I’ve seen working against racially motivated violence have focussed a lot on everyday ethics and attitudes (e.g. racism, vigilante fantasies) as well as the behaviour of law-enforcement (e.g. racial profiling). They don’t just say “killing blacks who aren’t a threat to you is bad, mmmkay?” and leave it at that, so why should anti-sexist activists who’re working to reduce sexual violence against women settle for the equivalent?

  153. gjenganger says

    @Freja 158

    Time for a final one

    I never read the MRA manual (I have found MRA sites quite unappealing when I came across them) so it must be a case of “great minds think alike” ;-). My three first actual points are direct quotes, and it seems pretty inescapable that if someone is behaving like rapists do and providing cover for rapists then he shares the moral responsibility for rapes that happen.

    On the main point we simply disagree.

    There’s nothing wrong with calling people aggressive and to note that there’s a strong correlation between aggression and support for violence, even if aggression isn’t illegal in itself.

    True, but it depends what you do with it. Your stance on rape culture (etc.) corresponds to saying (IMO) that since aggression causes violence, and violence must be stopped, any person who is aggressive or who defends aggressive sport, aggressive discussion styles, aggressive people, is morally guilty of assault, even if he unfortunately cannot be prosecuted. I find that offensive. It also comes across as a convenient trick to transfer the moral condemnation from rape to other things that you dislike where other people unfortunately are not willing to back you up spontaneously. I would not deny that general cultural attitudes ultimately have influence on what happens, but the argument ‘we must do this to stop rape’ is only determining for things that have a fairly direct causal relationship.
    Hitting your children actually shows well where we disagree. Stretching a point, I would say that hitting your children is not morally wrong, in itself. Torture or rape are morally wrong, and cannot be justified on any possible account. Hitting your children (within limits)is simply one particular technique for maintaining discipline, no worse in its effect from a lot of non-violent things that some parents do – quite legally. If hitting actually worked, i.e. produced well-adjusted and healthy adults, it would be an acceptable technique, and we would have to find other ways of dealing with the cultural effects. Of course hitting does NOT work. It has harmful effects for the children, it does not produce healthy adults, and it does indeed increase the violence in society. If hitting was a drug it would be banned from pharmacies because of doubtful advantages and unacceptable side effects. Hitting should indeed be strongly discouraged, I never do it myself, and I disapprove of those who do. But it is not justified to actually criminalise the odd spanking on the grounds that this helps us to combat other, vaguely related behaviour by totally different people.

    For the rest, as an activist you are of course free to work for whatever attitudes in the population you think would be better, be it for combating rape or simply for advancing you views. There are people who work for introducing sharia law, or for promoting creationism in schools, and you certainly have no less right than they. All I can say is that if you think the nobility of your goals mean that other people have a moral duty to support all your various policies, then you are wrong. I would go further. A 19th-century politician got some minor notoriety by saying (in parliament) “If those are the facts, then I deny the facts!”. In the current situation I would say, that if catcalls, insistent propositions, sexual objectification, arguing that sex is a legitimate expectation in a relationship (…) are rape culture, then I will defend rape culture. Not because those things are necessarily all that good, but because I hope that my exaggerations can counterbalance yours so that we can reach a sensible result in the end.

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