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A very quick musing on sexism, as bought on by this argument. It's… - Sally's Journal
March 4th, 2005
05:22 pm

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A very quick musing on sexism, as bought on by this argument.

It's very quick because I should be working.

I think I've managed to put my finger on what is sexist (with sexist being a Bad Thing) and what is just differences between people.

It's sexist to say "women are stupid and not worth schooling" or "black people are violent" because it's generally accepted these things arn't true. Or at least, while some women are stupid and some black people are violent, it's not a causal link in any way, so assuming it is is judging someone because of their sex / race.

It's not sexist (or at least not bad sexist) to say "only women are sexy to me" Because having a vagina / brests is a real property of being a woman which it's kind of hard to dispute*, that men don't have. It's probably not racist if you had a job that needed someone with dark skin** to only employ black people, because only they would have the property you wanted.

The fuzzy ground is things that we think are true, either from old wives tales, or random causal evidence, or just what we've seen in our lives but not investigated thoroughly. So after 4 years of Cambridge maths I am prone to saying "men are better at maths than women" because I think I've seen evidence, but maybe this is just as sexist as "women are stupid". Or at least to people who haven't seen the same things as me it's sexist. So the person saying "gypsies are theives", or "muslims are terrorists" treads a very dangerous path. Of course, not all gypsies are theives, and not all muslims are terrorists. So I can see that it's stupid and bad and wrong to say such things. Then again, (and I'm on very dangerous ground here myself) it must be true that certain groups of people do things more than other groups. Maybe more gypsies steal than the average Englishman. Maybe more muslims are terrorists. I'm not sure if these are true, but there must be some things that are. More Cambridge students folk dance than Oxford students. And you can't deal with the world without making some generalisations. Can you? Surely you have to be able to say "more gypsies steal" to notice the problem and be able to get them the help they need??? Is it not foo-ism if instead of saying "foos are bar" you say "more foos are bar than would be expected in this country"???

Of course, the one thing that I'm clear of is that you have to keep an open mind and be able to form opinions of individuals that don't fit their streotypes. Even if 90% of foos are bad at bar, if you meet a foo who is good at bar, well, run with it.

*Ok, I'm sure there are trans people and edge cases and stuff, but roughly, let me run with this...

** I'm still finding it very hard to think of a convincing one of these

(23 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:ewx
Date:March 4th, 2005 05:57 pm (UTC)

job that requires black skin

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Infiltrate an organization that only accepts black people. (For whatever value of "black".)
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:04 pm (UTC)

Re: job that requires black skin

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I was more thinking of acting, especially in films. For example: Actor required to play slave in film about the American Civil war.
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:02 pm (UTC)
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You missed out Cause and Effect, which is perhaps the real difference between bigotry and demographics.
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From:senji
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Is it (the equivilent of)-sexist to say "I only fancy redheads"?
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From:megamole
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
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Dunno, but I am more likely to fancy redheads...
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From:atreic
Date:March 4th, 2005 11:16 pm (UTC)
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Well, the comment that set me off in the original argument was but nobody ever seems to acknowledge that physical attacks on women are sexist This lead me to the conclusion that you could think of rape etc as a sexist attack, but that fed fairly watertightly into being straight being sexist*. Under which scheme it would be red-ist to say you only fancied red heads.

So basically my entire post was in the hope people would tell me the answer to that question...

*Maybe it is...
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:March 5th, 2005 09:21 am (UTC)
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Actually rape isn't necessarily to do with the rapist being attracted to the person being raped. That's why it's not rare for the perpetrators of male rape to be heterosexual. Rape is frequently more about power, voilence and humiliation than it is about sexual attraction.

But what actually counts as sexism is a really interesting debate. It's the kind of thing I'd like to organise discussion events about, with speakers with a real range of opinions, if I was elected CUSU Women's Officer (hopeful grin)
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From:atreic
Date:March 5th, 2005 09:42 am (UTC)
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BTW, can graduates vote in CUSU elections, or do we have to only worry about the GU?
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:March 5th, 2005 10:47 am (UTC)
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Graduate can vote in the CUSU election. All female students are members of the Women's Union which is why the Women's Council is made up of both representatives from both JCRs and MCRs.

Please encourage all your graduate friends to vote in the elections particularly the female ones, who should vote for me.
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From:plinthy
Date:March 7th, 2005 09:36 am (UTC)
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Rape is frequently more about power, violence and humiliation than it is about sexual attraction.

There's a very thought-provoking chapter in a book called "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker (an evolutionary psychologist) discussing a statements like this one, particularly with reference to a book called "The "(or maybe "A")" Natural History Of Rape" that came out a few years ago to much hostility.
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)

Race Relations Act

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Exemptions listed must have a GOR (genuine occupational requirement) and include authenticity, ambience, and personal services. Which basically means you can stipulate that you want a black Othello, sub-continent-Indian* waiters in a restaurant, or someone of your own background/race/nationality (etc) assisting you with day-to-day living. There is still an exemption for private homes (you can hire only white cleaners, nannys and housekeepers, should you so desire, but since the 2003 amendments you can also now be charged with racial harassment should you discriminate against your non-white cleaner in any way - that used to be an exception).

* By which I mean including Bangladesh, Pakistan etc, not just India.
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From:aldabra
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Is it racist not to fancy Chinese men?

There are occasions when the rational sensible approach is illegally fooist. If you've got two local schools, one of which on average produces better results, and one of which is differentially populated by foos, and you've got 1,000 CVs for your recently-advertised vacancy which will take five minutes each to assess properly, the rational first pass is to bin the ones which will be on-average-worse by school attended.

If it's a maths-requiring job, the next pass might be to bin the female ones, since women tend to be less good at maths and what you're aiming to end up with is a good-enough applicant without wasting too much time assessing. (And it's quicker to do that by name than by location and grade of degree...)
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC)
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I worked for the Employment Service way back when. If an employer wants to put an ad in the Jobcentre, and makes any hint of a racist/sexist/fooist comment while doing so, the ES were not allowed to place the vacancy. Obviously we tried to use the common sense approach and warn people before we cut them off entirely (but we kept a very close eye on interviewees and feedback for those that set off alarm bells). I encounted a problem with a builder who was very nice, a very helpful chap from my vacancy-taking point of view, until he said 'and I'm afraid I can't take any Irish lads'. Uh-oh. I had my tactful word with him and he said 'well I see your point but I still can't do it'. So my manager had a word. Still no joy. Then we thought about it a bit more and asked him why. The contract he had was for four weeks work at RAF Brize Norton, starting within the week. Getting security clearance - and passes to go onto the relevant areas of the base - took three working days for British-born workers, and up to six weeks for everyone else. Irish-born workers - since this was the early 1990s (mainland bombings) - were impossible to clear in under five weeks, the RAF security clearance people were adamant on that (we spoke to them ourselves to check). It wasn't the builder's fault, or his choice, but he genuinely couldn't offer work to them. Well, he could offer but they wouldn't be able to do anything, and as sub-contractors they weren't going to get paid for sitting around waiting for the RAF to let them in, either. Common sense and the law don't always go hand in hand, unfortunately. :(
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From:angoel
Date:March 5th, 2005 08:47 am (UTC)
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In which case, the advert should say something like 'The applicant should have a security clearance, or be able to get a security clearance under a week. (The government will take five weeks if you are an irish-born worker)' That pushes the racism onto the government, and allows irish-born workers to apply for the job by, say, premetively getting a security clearence.

Or would this still be considered racist?
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:March 5th, 2005 10:00 am (UTC)
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Yup, we weren't be allowed to put 'Irish' in the ad at all because it would be discriminating right there in print (and it would then be the ES's 'fault', not the employers, and we could get sued). I think we did eventually fudge it by stating something along the lines of applicants with previous security clearance preferred, which was acceptable and, as you say, gave Irish-born workers with previous clearance a chance (although it pretty much gave away where the work was, which broke an informal rule). But it was still a sucky situation all round. :(
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From:smhwpf
Date:March 4th, 2005 07:02 pm (UTC)
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You call binning the CVs from the foo school the "rational sensible" approach. It may be from the firm's own interests, in that it saves them more in searching through CVs than it loses them in the fairly small probablity that they'll lose the best candidate that way; it is not obvious that it is "rational senible" in terms of what is good for society as a whole, in that it means that a) people from the disproportionately fooish school are denied a fair chance in the job market, even if they are good candidates and b) foos as a whole will become disadvantaged in the job market; probably they are already disadvantaged, which is why they end up at the bad school; so this will exacerbate divisions within society, it will increase foos sense of marginalisation, leading to all sorts of social problems both within the foo community and between foos and non-foos. It is a case of a 'collective action problem' - what may be rational for a particular actor, the employer, may not be rational for society as a whole, or even for employers as a whole if all follow the individually rational course.

IMO it is entirely proper - and rational - for this sort of 'statistical discrimination' to be illegal.
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:March 5th, 2005 09:41 am (UTC)
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There's an interesting social capital model about how even if there are no intrinsic differences between different groups, beliefs about groups will lead to actual differences.

Basically if employers believe that foos are less productive they will only employ them at a lower wage than they employ non-foos. However, when foos make decisions about how much education to get or how hard to work at school, they know that they will still be paid less even if they have a degree, so getting a degree isn't worth the bother, in terms of increase in future earnings. However, if foos don't work hard at school or never have degrees, employers are quite correct in their belief that foo are less well educated and so less productive.
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From:smhwpf
Date:March 6th, 2005 10:52 pm (UTC)
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That would usually be called human capital rather than social capital, but yeah. Since, ok, let's stop being coy, black people get less well rewarded for their human capital (education, experience, etc.), they have less incentive to invest time, money and effort in acquiring such capital. Though one recent paper I read on the subject said there was no empirical support for the hypothesis that blacks are less ambitious, less inclined to get education, etc. - certainly if you're comparing blacks and whites from the same income groups. But pretty much every study around shows that, even when you account for human capital differences, blacks do worse in the UK labour market than whites. (Specifically, they are a lot more likely to be unemployed).
From:nlj21
Date:March 4th, 2005 06:44 pm (UTC)
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I think you can draw correlations between various groups and between various different attributes, doing so I don't thing is foo-ist. What I think is foo-ist, at least from the institutional point of view, is when you make policy based on these correlations.

eg. police forces stopping and searching blacks in some areas, because they are more likely to have commit burgularies. Or searching people in muslim clothing at airports, because they are more likely to have a reason to want to blow planes up. Or, theoretically, not allowing women to study maths at Cambridge, as at the top end men do better at maths.

I don't think it is obvious, if there are correlations, why these sort of policies are a bad thing, but I think the reason they are a bad idea is not because there is not a correlation, but because the correlation is quite weak, and I would hope the institutions have better ways of discriminating between people. eg. I'm hoping the Cambridge interview process gives a better indication of how good someone is likely to be at maths than their demographics. And I really hope our intelligence services have a better idea of who are terrorists than just thinking certain people groups don't like us! And I would like to think our police services during their investigations have better reasons to investigate people than because they are black.

I think the reason institutions do sometimes have these foo-ist policies is because they are easy to implement. It is much easier to discriminate based on some easily observable demographic, than to gather the information necessary to make a more informed discrimination.

On the airport security check front I think Cryptogram had some good discussion about how these sort of things relate to it recently, will see if I can dig it up.
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From:claroscuro
Date:March 4th, 2005 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Is it not foo-ism if instead of saying "foos are bar" you say "more foos are bar than would be expected in this country"???

Actually, that seems close to me.

I get very cross when people say 'men are better at maths'. 'More men than women are in the top N mathematicians', however, as long as it is true, doesn't raise my hackles.

It is to do with the fact that when you say 'foos are bar' there is a silent all in there - even if you don't mean there to be. As long as you make the silent all an explicit some, you aren't doing that.

God knows if that makes sense...
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From:ixwin
Date:March 7th, 2005 06:10 pm (UTC)
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*nods* I agree.

I've several times complained about people doing the 'foos are bar' type of statement, and they've generally responded that of course they only meant this as a statement of tendency/averages implying I shouldn't be so picky. But really, does it take that much longer to add a 'generally' or 'typically' somewhere in the sentence?
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From:naath
Date:March 5th, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
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It is probably true that more men are more good at maths and possible that teh bestest mathme eva is a man. However that does not mean that there are no good women mathmos *and* it does not mean that when faced with a man and a woman infront of you that the man is better at maths. The woman could be you (with part III from Cambridge) and the man my brother (who failed AS maths, as in, got a U). This can be compared to athletics - yes, the mens world records are faster/higher/longer etc. however if you had my Dad and Paula Radcliffe she'd run a better marathon.

So whilst you can make generalisations, even *valid* generalistations, based on statistics that *does not help* when deciding which of the N people infront of you is going to do a better job - because whatever the averages tell you about men/women/blacks/whites/whatever that doesn't mean that the people infront of you are average.

Also, I might want to hire a black man to play Martin Luther King in a movie - because MLK was black and it would be more accurate.
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From:feanelwa
Date:March 8th, 2005 05:34 pm (UTC)
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Which bit of maths? Surely if there is a difference in thinking between men and women, then some bits of maths will be easier for one and some easier for the other. I mean, I'm naff at plotting graphs on sight and deriving things that need a general result putting in somewhere, but I can figure out how to make graphs a bit more thin/round/have holes and what's supposed to happen because of it really easily. I know this is because my word-matching and getting things the right way round skills are much worse than my spatial imagining skills. If there's a sex difference in those, there should be differences in ability balance between the different skills within maths.
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