The taboo of “You can’t talk about that”

And speaking of don’t do that, Bruce Gorton did a column about geek sexism yesterday.

When it comes to sexism geeks have a serious problem just talking about it.

We have such a huge problem talking about it that the fact that women gamers are talking about it is seen as censorship. Think about how twisted the logic has to be, that so many arguments amount to some guy telling women to shut up – for the sake of free speech.

And gaming isn’t the only place where this happens. The atheist community was rocked by women in atheism calling for an end to sexual harassment at conventions not that long ago.

Atheist activism currently focuses heavily around breaking the taboo of “You can’t talk about that.”

This was the point to the out campaign, to people wearing t-shirts inviting debate etc…

Yet when it came to addressing real feminist concerns – talking about it was treated as some great taboo.

It was, and is. Really. I’m still getting people solemnly telling me I had no business saying Michael Shermer said something sexist when Michael Shermer said something sexist. Really? Why would that be, exactly? I didn’t say he should be flayed alive, after all, I simply said he said something sexist, which he assuredly did. (Don’t believe me? Try changing it to “it’s more of a white thing.” Not racist? Ha. And “more of a guy thing” is sexist.)

It’s pathetic that we still have to fight this battle. But there it is.


  1. says

    Don’t forget the geek racists who have conniptions whenever a black actor is cast in a role that ws previously portrayed as, or they imagined as, white. They aren’t as common, but they can get pretty vocal.

  2. says

    And now that I read it, he does talk about that somewhat. I think the difference is that racism in modern society is generally covert. When someone talks about racism, it’s about hidden behavior that it’s easy to imagine that it’s other people, bad people, doing. Overt sexist behavior is far more common, so a lot of the audience will know that you are talking about them and get really defensive.

  3. great1american1satan says

    Still not quite sure how Shermer faithful can spin that in their heads into not being sexist. I understand why they don’t want it to be sexist, but not how they get there. It was, simply, a sexist thing to say. And yet, immediately after it happened, everyone was saying in the strongest possible terms (and always without quoting it) that it was certainly, certainly not sexist.

  4. smhll says

    Maybe a lot of male dominated spaces are populated by people who aren’t socialized to care as much about making the space pleasant for everyone? Their iconic childhood playground game is King of the Hill rather than Tea Party (the kind with tea, not politics).

    Is “hospitality” more inculcated in women in our culture? (I’m in the US.)

  5. says

    great1 @ 3 – I have the outlines of a hypothesis about one way people can do that – which is that the whole “guys do this, women do that” thing is so normalized and commonplace that it doesn’t seem sexist to most people, even when it’s something as obviously [to those who are paying attention] and blatantly sexist as what Shermer said. It’s a sort of ratchet. You hear enough “guys don’t ask for directions” and “women love gossip” and you end up hearing even “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing” as not sexist.

    But I still have a hard time understanding how they can go on hearing it that way once you point it out.

  6. A. Noyd says

    If you want to find out just how little women can care about making spaces pleasant for everyone and just how common and non-covert racism is, call out a woman for doing something racist. A tantrum worthy of a disgruntled MRA will usually follow.

    We’re no different than men in this respect. And, sadly, we even seem to be reaching parity in former male-dominated racist behavior like sexually fetishizing people of color.

  7. great1american1satan says

    A Noyd – or sexually discriminating against people of color. I don’t have a problem with people having obscure sexual foibles, but verbalizing race-based ones feeds into the othering and dehumanizing of people. Terrible.

    Ophelia – That sounds right. 🙁

  8. thesandiseattle says

    sometimes of course “you can’t talk about that” really boils down to “we don’t like your opinion and deny you the priveledge of expressing it. ” not always, but sometimes.

  9. Sili says

    Mark Liberman on LanguageLog occasionally deals with bad science in education politics – there’s a bunch of people who think boys and girls should be taught separately and they love to point to studies proving them right. I think it was for those people Liberman coined the word “referenciness”, since their references rarely says what they claim.

    Anyway, what he shows is that our puny monkey brains love to work in Platonic ideals. If a difference between the sexes is found in a study it immediately gets spun into WomenAreAllLikeThis and MenAreAllLikeThat, while what is in actually shown, is that women (or men) have a small propensity to This (That) compared to men (women).

    Slightly related:

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