Gender Fender Bender

Would you know it? International Women’s Day comes around and as always, the sexism crawls out of the woodwork. I got into a debate on my brother’s facebook wall and decided to share the more constructive part of it here:

Working in tech support, I hear a lot of callers talk about the abilities of people. I often hear women (of all ages, but especially ones under 40) say “Um, ok, I’m a woman; I don’t know what that means.” or “I can’t do this; I’m a woman.”, and female tech support representatives often get asked by other women if they could speak to a real/male tech support representative; the number of men who make the same request of them is significantly lower.

If this has taught me anything, it’s that efforts in promoting gender equality need to focus a lot more on empowering other women, rather than guilting and persuading men to change pay and hiring policies.

That being said, the vast majority of tech support representatives are male, and the vast majority of billing and sales representatives are female. The people in sales and billing positions do get a somewhat lower pay. It’s not due to their gender; it’s due to the fact that they get commission for every sale that often pushes their average hourly income well past that of tech support representatives. The hiring is done simply through an analysis of personality and who applies. The simple matter is that there are less females applying for tech support positions, and less males applying for billing and sales positions. The same happens in many other places, depending on what industry it is. Few women are the CEOs of extremely successful engineering companies because there are less female engineers because there are less females in engineering programmes in universities, and their admission to the programme has nothing to do with gender.

In summary, I find that a huge amount of the “evidence” showing differences in pay between sexes is a gross distortion of statistics, entirely ignoring any information that is a non-sexist explanation for the difference. I’m not saying that there isn’t a difference in pay between men and women for their positions; I’m saying that people need to take a better look at the data to see where the difference comes from, and why it’s totally reasonable and not sexist at all.

Also, I must add that I AM AWARE that there are SOME businesses (especially smaller and private ones) that DO explicitly pay women less for the exact same job, but these are far from a majority, and they’re not even the kinds of jobs that are mentioned in this propaganda.

I get what you’re saying. But the general idea that those who are trying to tackle these issues are simply “guilting and persuading men” is in itself an oversimplification and misunderstanding. Certain men will be called out for certain words and behaviour, but from everything I’ve seen the overall ideology in feminism is much broader and more nuanced than that. In fact I dare say most of the vitriol against men is not that the focus is to target men as sole culprits, but because we men (and some women) are so violent in their dismissal whenever the topic is brought up. We as men feel we’re being attacked and try to disarm and shut down the entire issue with “it’s not just my fault” defensive rhetoric. It comes complete with misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the issue(s), ad hominem attack, strawperson and anecdotal argument, and straight up bullying. We may feel we are simply defending ourselves, but in fact we are perpetuating the very oppression that is being called out by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This doesn’t mean we should roll over and do everything we’re told and accept every assertion fired our way. I want to address this, but I need to lay some groundwork first…

It is no surprise to any serious or well versed feminist that women can be and are often complicit with gender norms and even inequality, nor that empowerment of women is a necessary goal. People follow norms. There is little more basic or fundamental about people (in this kind of society model at least). As a feminist and generally socially aware person I get that to pick out one person or group as a culprit for some pervasive social problem is the height of ignorance whether it’s feminists, men, MRAs, minorities, “the 1%”, you name it. Society in any sense is a massively complicated web of thoughts, words, and actions where everyone plays a part. One of the greatest misconceptions of our time is that we are the masters of our own minds. There is a belief that if we act in accordance to some societal norm, that we are ideologically complicit with it (women choose subjugation). The flip side is that by having a certain ideology (I support equality) that our actions and especially the effects of our actions necessarily follow our intentions. These are both largely false to varying degrees. The less we are aware of our cognitive biases, our emotional reactivity etc, etc, the less congruent our ideas and actions can and will be.

So the first thing is to realize that just by listening and postponing our reaction to what we hear isn’t weakness, but merely the process of bypassing our cognitive biases and presumptions in order to process the actual information. It’s also perfectly reasonable to listen to the whole thing and be undecided. This is infinitely better than dismissing it. You may be listening to someone who is very passionate, or even angry. They may even be well justified in that anger. Hell, they may even be upset that you are not coming around immediately. It doesn’t mean that they are any more “hysterical” (look up the origin of that word if you want to learn something of our gendered history) than you are. Nor does it mean that such expectation on their part is above reproach or that they are beyond criticism. And, it certainly does not mean that their understanding of the reality of gender in our culture is flawed. It means that they’re human.

But the fact is that if you want to be intellectually honest with yourself, you need to suspend disbelief and try harder for the sake of truth and greater good, if not for the specific individuals you are hearing. Most forms of oppression in history are not simply perpetuated by evil people twisting their mustaches and thinking about how they want to screw over those people they hate. It’s mainly perpetuated by generally good people born into a culture that supports not just harmful, oppressive ideas, but general misconception, and ignorance. Consider the plight of black people in America. Polls taken in the 60s at arguably the height of racial violence showed that the average American had no idea why blacks were so damn upset. You saw the same rhetoric about measures for equality “going too far”. I’m not trying to equate the present state of gender inequality in North America (though it does relate more closely in other parts of the world) with present or historical oppression of blacks in America (which is not over BTW), but merely the similar societal mechanics that support them. We are all cogs in the wheel of this mechanism.

If you allow your focus to be limited to evasion of blame, and your scope limited to policies and rules, then there are enormous swaths of issues and people being swept under the rug. As an example slightly exaggerated to make a point: if you had an entire racial group that for reasons of systemic historical abuse, currently has a failure of imagination to perceive themselves as being able to do anything more than janitor work, do we say “that’s fine” because we are no longer “forcing” people into submission with policies and rules and because we’re not racist so it’s not our fault? This is essentially what is happening with a lot of gender issues.


Posted on March 9, 2012, in Feminism, Social. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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