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LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance

58 [deleted] 25 November 2012 11:33PM

Standard Intro

The following section will be at the top of all posts in the LW Women series.

About two months ago, I put out a call for anonymous submissions by the women on LW, with the idea that I would compile them into some kind of post.  There is a LOT of material, so I am breaking them down into more manageable-sized themed posts. 

Seven women submitted, totaling about 18 pages. 

Crocker's Warning- Submitters were told to not hold back for politeness. You are allowed to disagree, but these are candid comments; if you consider candidness impolite, I suggest you not read this post

To the submittrs- If you would like to respond anonymously to a comment (for example if there is a comment questioning something in your post, and you want to clarify), you can PM your message and I will post it for you. If this happens a lot, I might create a LW_Women sockpuppet account for the submitters to share.

Standard Disclaimer- Women have many different viewpoints, and just because I am acting as an intermediary to allow for anonymous communication does NOT mean that I agree with everything that will be posted in this series. (It would be rather impossible to, since there are some posts arguing opposite sides!)

Please do NOT break anonymity, because it lowers the anonymity of the rest of the submitters.

Minimizing the Inferential Distance

One problem that I think exists in discussions about gender issues between men and women, is that the inferential distance is much greater than either group realizes. Women might assume that men know what experiences women might face, and so not explicitly mention specific examples. Men might assume they know what the women are talking about, but have never really heard specific examples. Or they might assume that these types of things only happened in the past, or not to the types of females in their in-group

So for the first post in this series, I thought it would be worthwhile to try to lower this inferential distance, by sharing specific examples of what it's like as a smart/geeky female. When submitters didn't know what to write, I directed them to this article, by Julia Wise (copied below), and told them to write their own stories. These are not related to LW culture specifically, but rather meant to explain where the women here are coming from. Warning: This article is a collection of anecdotes, NOT a logical argument. If you are not interested in anecdotes, don't read it.

 

Copied from the original article (by a woman on LW) on Radiant Things:

It's lunchtime in fourth grade. I am explaining to Leslie, who has no friends but me, why we should stick together. “We're both rejects,” I tell her. She draws back, affronted. “We're not rejects!” she says. I'm puzzled. It hadn't occurred to me that she wanted to be normal.

…................

It's the first week of eighth grade. In a lesson on prehistory, the teacher is trying and failing to pronounce “Australopithecus.” I blurt out the correct pronunciation (which my father taught me in early childhood because he thought it was fun to say). The boy next to me gives me a glare and begins looking for alliterative insults. “Fruity female” is the best he can manage. “Geek girl” seems more apt, but I don't suggest it.

…..................

It's lunchtime in seventh grade. I'm sitting next to my two best friends, Bridget and Christine, on one side of a cafeteria table. We have been obsessed with Star Wars for a year now, and the school's two male Star Wars fans are seated opposite us. Under Greyson's leadership, we are making up roleplaying characters. I begin describing my character, a space-traveling musician named Anya. “Why are your characters always girls?” Grayson complains. “Just because you're girls doesn't mean your characters have to be.”

“Your characters are always boys,” we retort. He's right, though – female characters are an anomaly in the Star Wars universe. George Lucas (a boy) populated his trilogy with 97% male characters.

…................

It's Bridget's thirteenth birthday, and four of us are spending the night at her house. While her parents sleep, we are roleplaying that we have been captured by Imperials and are escaping a detention cell. This is not papers-and-dice roleplaying, but advanced make-believe with lots of pretend blaster battles and dodging behind furniture. 

Christine and Cass, aspiring writers, use roleplaying as a way to test out plots in which they make daring raids and die nobly. Bridget, a future lawyer, and I, a future social worker, use it as a way to test out moral principles. Bridget has been trying to persuade us that the Empire is a legitimate government and we shouldn't be trying to overthrow it at all. I've been trying to persuade Amy that shooting stormtroopers is wrong. They are having none of it. 

We all like daring escapes, though, so we do plenty of that.

…...............

It's two weeks after the Columbine shootings, and the local paper has run an editorial denouncing parents who raise "geeks and goths." I write my first-ever letter to the editor, defending geeks as kids parents should be proud of. A girl sidles up to me at the lunch table. "I really liked your letter in the paper," she mutters, and skitters away.

................

It's tenth grade, and I can't bring myself to tell the president of the chess club how desperately I love him. One day I go to chess club just to be near him. There is only one other girl there, and she's really good at chess. I'm not, and I spend the meeting leaning silently on a wall because I can't stand to lose to a boy. Anyway, I despise the girls who join robotics club to be near boys they like, and I don't want to be one of them.

................

It's eleventh grade, and we are gathered after school to play Dungeons and Dragons. (My father, who originally forbid me to play D&D because he had heard it would lead us to hack each other to pieces with axes, has relented.) Christine is Dungeonmaster, and she has recruited two feckless boys to play with us. One of them is in love with her.

(Nugent points out that D&D is essentially combat reworked for physically awkward people, a way of reducing battle to dice rolls and calculations. Christine has been trained by her uncle in the typical swords-and-sorcery style of play, but when she and I play the culture is different. All our adventures feature pauses for our characters to make tea and omelets.)

On this afternoon, our characters are venturing into the countryside and come across two emaciated farmers who tell us their fields are unplowed because dark elves from the forest keep attacking them. “They're going to starve if they don't get a crop in the ground,” I declare. “We've got to plow at least one field.” The boys go along with this plan.

“The farmers tell you their plow has rusted and doesn't work,” the Dungeonmaster informs us from behind her screen. 

I persist. “There's got to be something we can use. I look around to see if there's anything else pointy I can use as a plow.” 

The Dungeonmaster considers. “There's a metal gate,” she decides.

“Okay, I rig up some kind of harness and hitch it to the pony.”

“It's rusty too,” intones the Dungeonmaster, “and pieces of it keep breaking off. Look, you're not supposed to be farming. You're supposed to go into the forest and find the dark elves. I don't have anything else about the farmers. The elves are the adventure.” Reluctantly, I give up my agricultural rescue plan and we go into the forest to hack at elves.

…............................

I'm 25 and Jeff's sister's boyfriend is complaining that he never gets to play Magic: the Gathering because he doesn't know anyone who plays. “You could play with Julia,” Jeff suggests. 

“Very funny,” says Danner, rolling his eyes.

Jeff and I look at each other. I realize geeks no longer read me as a geek. I still love ideas, love alternate imaginings of how life could be, love being right, but now I care about seeming normal.

“...I wasn't joking,” Jeff says. 

“It's okay,” I reassure Danner. “I used to play every day, but I've pretty much forgotten how.”

 

…............................

 

A's Submission

 

My creepy/danger alert was much higher at a meeting with a high-status (read: supposedly utility-generating, which includes attractive in the sense of pleasing or exciting to look at, but mostly the utility is supposed to be from actions, like work or play) man who was supposed to be my boss for an internship.

The way he talked about the previous intern, a female, the sleazy way he looked while reminiscing and then had to smoke a cigarette, while in a meeting with me, my father (an employer who was abusive), and the internship program director, plus the fact that when I was walking towards the meeting room, the employees of the company, all men, stared at me and remarked, “It’s a girl,” well, I became so creeped out that I didn’t want to go back. It was hard, as a less articulate 16 year-old, to explain to the internship director all that stuff without sounding irrational. But not being able to explain my brain’s priors (incl. abuses that it had previously been too naïve/ignorant to warn against and prevent) wasn’t going to change them or decrease the avoidance-inducing fear and anxiety.

So after some awkward attempts to answer the internship director’s question of why I didn’t want to work there, I asked for a placement with a different company, which she couldn’t do, unfortunately.

 

B's Submission

 

Words from my father’s mouth, growing up: “You *need* to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?”

…................

Sixth grade year, I had absolutely no friends whatsoever. A boy I had a bit of a crush on asked me out on a dare. I told him “no,” and he walked back to his laughing friends.

…................

In college I joined the local SCA (medieval) group, and took up heavy weapons combat. The local (almost all-male) “stick jocks” were very supportive and happy to help. Many had even read “The Armored Rose” and so knew about female-specific issues and how to adapt what they were teaching to deal with things like a lower center of gravity, less muscle mass, a different grip, and ingrained cultural hang-ups. The guys were great. But there was one problem: There was no female-sized loaner armor.

See, armor is an expensive investment for a new hobby, and so local groups provide loaner armor for newbies, which generally consist of hand-me-downs from the more experienced fighters. We had a decent amount of new female fighters in our college groups, but without a pre-existing generation of female fighters (women hadn’t even been allowed to fight until the 80s) there wasn’t anything to hand down. 

The only scar I ever got from heavy combat was armor bite from wearing much-too-large loaner armor. I eventually got my own kit, and (Happy Ending) the upcoming generation of our group always made sure to acquire loaner armor for BOTH genders.

…................

Because of a lack of options, and not really having anywhere else to go, I moved in with my boyfriend and got married at a rather young age (20 and 22, respectively). I had no clue how to be independent. One of the most empowering things I ever did was starting work as an exotic dancer. After years of thinking that I couldn't support myself, it gave me the confidence that I could leave an unhappy marriage without ending up on the street (or more likely, mooching off friends and relatives). Another Happy Ending- Now I'm completely independent.

…................

Walking into the library. A man holds open the door for me. I smile and thank him as I walk through. He makes a sexual comment. I do the Look-Straight-Ahead-and-Walk-Quickly thing. 

“Bitch,” he spits out.

It’s not the first of this kind of interaction in my life, and it most certainly won’t be the last (almost any time you are in an urban environment, without a male). But it hit harder than most because I had been expecting a polite interaction.

Relevant link: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/why-men-catcall/

…................

 


 

 

The next post will be on Group Attribution Error, and will come out when I get around to it. :P

Comments (1254)

Comment author: ewbrownv 30 November 2012 05:48:41PM *  8 points [-]

As a data point for the 'inferential distance' hypothesis, I'd like to note that I found nothing in the above quotes that was even slightly surprising or unfamiliar to me. This is exactly what I'd expect it to be like to grow up as a 'geeky' or 'intellectual' woman in the West, and it's also a good example of the sorts of incidents I'd expect women to come up with when asked to describe their experiences. So when I write things that the authors of these anecdotes disagree with, the difference of opinion is probably due to something else.

Comment author: asparisi 26 November 2012 07:28:38AM 17 points [-]

I had an interesting experience with this, and I am wondering if others on the male side had the same.

I tried to imagine myself in these situations. When a situation did not seem to have any personal impact from the first person or at best a very mild discomfort, I tried to rearrange the scenario with social penalties that I would find distressing. (Social penalties do differ based on gender roles)

I found this provoked a fear response. If I give it voice, it sounds like "This isn't relevant/I won't be in this scenario/You would just.../Why are you doing this?" Which is interesting: my brain doesn't want to process these stories as first-person accounts. Some sort of analysis would be easier and more comfortable, but I am pretty sure would miss the damn point.

I don't have any further thoughts, other than this was useful in understanding things that may inhibit me from understanding. (and trying to get past them)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 27 November 2012 12:24:22PM *  5 points [-]

Based on these anecdotes, I have significantly less geek-cred than female Less Wrongers. Are female Less Wrongers extra geeky or am I just a community outlier?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 November 2012 12:54:54PM 7 points [-]

The stories were selected for being about geekiness. It might be worth having (in other words, I'm not doing it) t a post in discussion about geek cred.

Comment author: lukeprog 24 November 2012 01:54:16AM 19 points [-]

Please do NOT break anonymity, because it lowers the anonymity of the rest of the submitters.

Recommend putting this sentence in bold.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 02:01:10AM 8 points [-]

Good idea. Done!

Comment author: MugaSofer 26 November 2012 12:13:38PM 18 points [-]

I have to say, I found most of these to be either standard geek fare (I play D&D and the DM railroads me towards combat) or pretty obvious sexism-is-bad (Dad says I need to cook or I wont get a man.) Is is possible that you're overestimating the inferential distance here?

Comment author: Konkvistador 24 November 2012 05:22:23PM *  17 points [-]

“It's rusty too,” intones the Dungeonmaster, “and pieces of it keep breaking off. Look, you're not supposed to be farming. You're supposed to go into the forest and find the dark elves. I don't have anything else about the farmers. The elves are the adventure.” Reluctantly, I give up my agricultural rescue plan and we go into the forest to hack at elves.

I got a very similar response when my Lawful Neutral Cleric wanted to set up a formal inquisition to root out the evil cultists in the city rather than go to the big bad's cave and whack them on the head. Also a barbarian of mine wanted to run a brothel after the party defeated the gang that controlled it before. It mysteriously burned down the following night.

In general some DMs have a hard time dealing with characters that want to weave baskets instead of going hack and slash.

Comment author: shokwave 25 November 2012 12:22:35AM 4 points [-]

In general some DMs have a hard time dealing with characters that want to weave baskets instead of going hack and slash.

A DM needs to improvise 95% of their session, I've found.

Comment author: Larks 24 November 2012 07:23:15PM 17 points [-]

My lawful neutral character attacked the rest of the party when they assaulted a group of innocent (until proven guilty) goblins in the first encounter.

Comment author: Konkvistador 24 November 2012 08:30:15PM 4 points [-]

Did he win?

Comment author: 4hodmt 25 November 2012 09:59:58AM 3 points [-]

D&D rules are mostly combat rules. If somebody says they want to play D&D, most people assume they want to play in such a way that the D&D rules are relevant. This isn't a safe assumption, because the name "Dungeons and Dragons" is famous enough that some people will claim they want to play it without knowing what it involves. DMs should clarify to new players that D&D is heavily combat focused, and point out more suitable systems if the player isn't interested in that.

Comment author: mfb 25 November 2012 04:22:29PM 6 points [-]

The DM could let the elves attack during plowing. Should be a strong incentive to get into a fight.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 09:29:34AM *  3 points [-]

It's not really about combat, but rather about the GM's narrative. In any game, the GM usually has some story designed, with pre-determined events, locations, characters, etc. When the players deviate too far from the plot, the GM is in trouble, because he's got nothing prepared. He can improvise up to a point, but the overall gaming experience will suffer.

A good GM will gracefully handle whatever crazy thing the players want to do, and channel them back toward the prepared plot tree in a way that feels seamless. A bad GM (such as, sadly, myself) will flail around for a while, employing increasingly desperate measures to get the players back on track. A truly terrible GM will flat out tell his players, "no, you can't do this, for no better reason other than that I told you so".

Comment author: cata 23 November 2012 11:18:35PM *  36 points [-]

Being male, I never had any visibility into experiences like these until I first began reading anecdotes like this online, and then started talking with women I knew about how things were for them. So thanks for taking the effort to put this together.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 09:33:29PM 8 points [-]

I've made a number of comments on this post that were addressing specific, somewhat-tangential issues, and though I think those are important too, I just want to echo cata here:

Thank you for this post, daenerys, and for collecting these anecdotes. I think it's quite valuable and look forward to subsequent posts in the series.

Comment author: thomblake 26 November 2012 07:14:05PM 23 points [-]

For me, this post is not doing any favors for the "women's experiences are fundamentally different" camp. Most of these sound like stories from my own life. Of course, "Why are your characters always girls?" is probably a harder question for a boy than a girl.

I'd guess these mostly work as stories of "growing up geeky".

The only ones that didn't resonate were the last one about not playing M:tG anymore (probably since I've never stopped appearing like a geek) and the "Star wars characters are mostly male", which does seem worth mentioning.

MLP:FiM is probably a good available example of the reverse phenomenon. The positions of power are occupied by females. There are very few male characters (though a significantly more even ratio than Star Wars), and they seem to be shoehorned in as male stereotypes. I suggest male readers ruminate on this aspect of the show until it seems a bit disturbing. And then notice that females can experience this when watching most things.

Comment author: woodside 26 November 2012 07:35:27PM 13 points [-]

For those that don't want to do a google search, MLP:FiM = My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (I had to look it up)

Is this one of those kid shows that adults watch these days? A show that a decent fraction of male LW readers know enough about to "ruminate on"?

I already have to navigate through my social world with the handicap of counting a work of Harry Potter fanfiction among my favorite books. If I end up owning seasons of My Little Pony because of this site I'm going to be very upset.

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 November 2012 05:05:21PM 4 points [-]

Is this one of those kid shows that adults watch these days?

Yup. Try watching a few episodes, it's pretty good.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 30 November 2012 07:59:19PM 3 points [-]

Start at the beginning. Don't throw the dice with the more recent stuff.

Comment author: thomblake 26 November 2012 08:24:30PM *  3 points [-]

Updating usefulness of the abbreviation. My initial consideration was whether I should just abbreviate it MLP, since of course people would know I was referring to Friendship is Magic. It gets enough references around here I figured it was in the popular consciousness.

In my opinion, it's not an exceptionally good show. Though from what I've read so far, Fallout:Equestria is awesome.

I already have to navigate through my social world with the handicap of counting a work of Harry Potter fanfiction among my favorite books. If I end up owning seasons of My Little Pony because of this site I'm going to be very upset.

Find better friends!

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 05:47:16PM 2 points [-]

Though from what I've read so far, Fallout:Equestria...

I have never heard of Fallout:Equestria, but I started laughing out loud as soon as I read the title. Is this the authoritative source for the story ?

War. War never changes...

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 November 2012 06:23:37PM 4 points [-]

Not sure about definitive, but it seems to be complete.

F:E is surprisingly, serious, gritty, and well-written. It's also longer than War and Peace.

Comment author: TorqueDrifter 26 November 2012 08:12:58PM *  5 points [-]

The show is actually fairly popular amongst the male internet nerd demographic. The original creator, Lauren Faust, was a well-liked animator beforehand, and something about it just caught the popular imagination ('nerdy' references, characters and animation, well-timed slanderous editorials, etc.). There's a huge fandom that constantly produces ludicrous streams of stuff.

There's been some discussion of it on LW, and I expect there's a not-insignificant population of fans here. Or "bronies", as some style themselves.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 27 November 2012 04:50:16PM *  9 points [-]

MLP:FiM is probably a good available example of the reverse phenomenon. The positions of power are occupied by females. There are very few male characters (though a significantly more even ratio than Star Wars), and they seem to be shoehorned in as male stereotypes. I suggest male readers ruminate on this aspect of the show until it seems a bit disturbing.

I'm not entirely convinced by this argument.

To spell it out for those who don't know the shows, anime series that have a mostly female cast doing more or less random stuff and have a significant male audience are a thing. There's also the type of anime series that has a mostly male cast and is aimed at a female audience.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 05:02:11PM 2 points [-]

Not to mention Serial Experiments Lain (I am not providing a link due to spoilers).

All of these are examples of anime, though. An average person doesn't watch anime, so maybe it would disturb him more to encounter MLP (which, after all, is heavily influenced by anime).

Comment author: DaFranker 27 November 2012 04:57:12PM 2 points [-]

Never checked the numbers, but always felt that shoujo and josei manga and anime were way more widespread and likely to be successful than equivalent male-oriented counterparts (though the top ones in popularity are, of course, shounen stuff).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 November 2012 12:23:09PM 8 points [-]

I suggest male readers ruminate on this aspect of the show until it seems a bit disturbing.

Er... what if it still doesn't seem disturbing after rumination?

The positions of power are occupied by females.

Discord is male, more powerful than the Princesses, and evil.

Er, I don't seem to be finding this very disturbing either.

(Admittedly, I haven't actually watched the show, only read fanfiction based on it.)

Comment author: army1987 30 November 2012 03:54:46PM 7 points [-]

Er... what if it still doesn't seem disturbing after rumination?

Yes. There are certain very common tropes whose gender-reversed version offends me (thereby making me realize that the original version is fucked up too), but almost all characters in a work of fiction being the same gender isn't one of those.

Examples: 1) When a woman posts some mysandrist generalization about “all men” on her Facebook wall, I am deeply offended¹ -- so I can guess how women feel when a man posts some mysogynist generalization about “all women”, which happens more often IME. 2) The latest episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which na nggenpgvir znyr ynjlre gevrf gb jva n ynjfhvg ol syvegvat jvgu gur whebef, jub ner nyy srznyr, kind-of bothered me (though I'm not sure I endorse that feeling) because it reminded me of the gender-reversed version, which is a very common trope and offends me. But sometimes is the asymmetry itself that bothers me: when a woman posts pictures of sexy men in underwear on their Facebook wall, I'm not directly offended by that (I occasionally do the gender-reversed version of that myself), but I am bothered by the fact that no-one seems to flinch whereas when a man posts pictures of sexy women in underwear on their Facebook wall (which happens much more often IME) plenty of people boo that.²


  1. The one time I actually complained about that, though, the person who had written that status told me that I was obviously not the kind of guy she was talking about so I shouldn't be offended. Since that time, I just entirely ignore any mysandristic or mysogynistic generalization I read.
  2. When I post a picture of a sexy woman in underwear on my Facebook wall and a woman complains about that, I dig their Facebook wall until I find a picture of a sexy man in underwear and jokingly complain about that. She usually gives me an obviously jocular excuse for why she posted it.
Comment author: Bugmaster 30 November 2012 07:44:57PM 4 points [-]

2) The latest episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which na nggenpgvir znyr ynjlre gevrf gb jva n ynjfhvg ol syvegvat jvgu gur whebef, jub ner nyy srznyr...

To be fair, this scenario probably should bother you, because it amounts to hacking a critically important social system through the use of the Dark Arts. The gender of the participants is, IMO, less important than the realization of how easily our social infrastructure can be exploited.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 November 2012 07:04:52PM 4 points [-]

But sometimes is the asymmetry itself that bothers me: when a woman posts pictures of sexy men in underwear on their Facebook wall, I'm not directly offended by that (I occasionally do the gender-reversed version of that myself), but I am bothered by the fact that no-one seems to flinch whereas when a man posts pictures of sexy women in underwear on their Facebook wall (which happens much more often IME) plenty of people boo that.

Hypothesis: Body dysmorphia for men is only starting to become a serious problem. Wait a generation or so.

Comment author: army1987 01 December 2012 11:23:22AM *  3 points [-]

People get envious when they see a picture of someone much sexier that they ((possibly incorrectly) think they) are? I had thought of that... as a joke, but it hadn't occurred to me to take that seriously. (Wait, why does my brain think that what's funny cannot be plausible? It must be that, since if an idea is neither funny nor plausible I forget it shortly after hearing/thinking it, within the pool of ideas I do remember, being funny does negatively correlate with being plausible due to Berkson's paradox. Or something like that.) I'm thinking of how to test for this. (If this were right, women who think are ugly would object to such pictures more often than those who don't; also, objecting to such pictures wouldn't correlate much with religiosity, unless for some reason religious people are more likely to think they're ugly. Neither of these seems to be the case IME, but the sample size is small, I cannot always be sure whether someone thinks they're ugly, etc.) I do have a feeling that if I thought I was much uglier than I actually think I am, seeing pictures of half-naked sexy men would bother me much more, but I'm very bad at guessing what my feelings would be in counterfactual situations. (Hey, I do know a version of me with something like body dysmorphia -- that's myself from two years ago! Unfortunately, I can't remember any specific instance of seeing such a picture back then, and also I have changed in lots of other ways too so even if I could there would still be huge confounders.)

Another hypothesis is that one version is more offensive than the gender-reversed version because it's more common. Maybe I'm not bothered by pictures of sexy men because I don't see them that often, but I would get fed of them if I saw them several times a day; and maybe certain women are annoyed by pictures of sexy women because they see them all the time, but they wouldn't be if they only saw them a couple times a month.

Edit: OTOH, “just because you are right doesn't mean I am wrong”, i.e. it could still be that each of several causes plays a substantial role. What I've observed so far seems compatible with a model where that indignation is caused by:

  1. a cached thought that erotica is undignified, originating from earlier, pruder times, most prevalent among religious/traditionalist/low-Openness people because that's the kind of people who hold onto cached thoughts from long ago; ISTM that this affects pictures of females more often than pictures of males (but I might be wrong about that). Often played for laughs;
  2. people who think they are ugly getting envious when they see a picture of someone much sexier than they think they are. According to you it's more common among females, which seems plausible enough to me (though it's not like males talk to me that often about whether or not they think they're sexy, so I dunno); and
  3. annoyance of people seeing something they're not interested in (e.g. sexy pictures of females, in the case of straight females or gay males) popping onto their news feed over and over again. Also happens with other stuff, e.g. football or gossip about celebrities.
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 December 2012 01:22:57PM 3 points [-]

Speaking only for myself, I've had a bit of a fight to calm down about my appearance-- I'm 59 and apparently more or less look it. It's been work (pretty successful recently) to not feel like a failure because I don't look like I'm 30. From what I can gather, this isn't uncommon among women, and frequently in stronger form.

Your frequency argument is relevant, but needs a bit more causality added-- the reason the pictures are so common is presumably because they're what's preferred.

Comment author: Asymmetric 27 November 2012 02:03:43PM 4 points [-]

If male readers feel uncomfortable with the lack of characterization and stereotyping of male characters, and subsequently realize that female readers can feel similarly uncomfortable with all media that fails the Bechdel test (a significant amount), then they can conclude that it's disturbing to think of a world where a gender is reduced to those kinds of stereotypes.

Of course, it's possible to miss one of those elements of the chain -- not feeling uncomfortable in the first place, for example.

But then, it's also possible for them to recognize that some people feel uncomfortable while experiencing specific media and feeling enough empathy to relate to them, even if they don't feel uncomfortable themselves.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 04:58:41PM 3 points [-]

I agree with Eliezer, though. I'm a man, and I don't find the lack of fully realized male characters in MLP particularly disturbing (*). I think it would be unreasonable to demand every work of fiction to forgo the use of stock characters. MLP is a show about female ponies and their female pony overlords ("overladies" ?), and that's already about 7 characters right there, so it's reasonable that the rest would end up as stock archetypes. There's only so much attention to go around.

(*) Though I only watched the first season plus the s02 pilot, so I could be missing something.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 08:16:44PM 7 points [-]

For me, this post is not doing any favors for the "women's experiences are fundamentally different" camp. Most of these sound like stories from my own life.

Same here.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 November 2012 05:31:11PM 3 points [-]

There are very few male characters (though a significantly more even ratio than Star Wars), and they seem to be shoehorned in as male stereotypes.

Mmm. Part of the issue here is that the male characters tend to be aspirational stereotypes. When I'm thinking of leaving work early, or I'm bothered by something petty, I ask myself, "What would Big Mac do?" and I smile and keep working. Shining Armor and Fancy Pants are both less relevant for my life at present, but are still good examples.

Perhaps it's significant that I'm focusing only on the stallions and not on the colts- Snips, Snails, and Pip have gotten comparable airtime and lines, and the first two are stereotypical schoolboys (named after the famous rhyme)- but the primary female characters seem to be the adults, not the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and so it seems fair to do the same for the primary male characters.

For most fictional characters that are female stereotypes, it's not as clear that they're aspirational. I'm not sure what "What Would Princess Leia Do?" would look like, but from my first guess it doesn't appear to be a very useful guide to life.

Comment author: moridinamael 24 November 2012 04:01:38AM 26 points [-]

I'm a male LWer with an infant daughter. I'd like to request some specific advice on avoiding the common failure modes.

Comment author: David_Gerard 24 November 2012 12:58:48PM *  35 points [-]

Look for female role models and characters, wherever you can. My daughter is dinosaur-mad. The Usborne Big Book of Big Dinosaurs includes little cartoon palaeontologists - and she was delighted some were women. "I like the girl dinosaur scientist!" And then she came out with "When I was a three I wanted to be a princess, but now I am a five I want to be a dinosaur scientist." I CLAIM VICTORY. (so far.)

I suspect the problem there is that children are natural Platonic essentialists and categorise everything they can. (That big list of cognitive biases? Little kids show all of them, all of the time.) Particularly by gender. "Is that a boy toy or a girl toy?" It really helps that I have her mother (a monster truck pagan who knows everything and can do everything) to point at: "What would mummy think?" So having female examples on hand seems to have helped here. So I have this little girl who likes princesses and trains and My Little Pony and dinosaurs and Hello Kitty and space and is mad for anything pink and plays swordfighting with toy LARP swords. And her very favourite day out is the Natural History Museum.

(yeah, bragging about my kid again. You'll cope.)

Comment author: Athrelon 26 November 2012 02:07:18PM *  12 points [-]

I'm a male LWer with an infant daughter. I'd like to request some specific advice on avoiding the common failure modes.

Don't take your parenting approach from ideology, because it's not optimized for being a reflection of reality. (Extreme example here)

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 05:07:01AM 14 points [-]

This isn't a how-to, but I thought you might find these articles cute:

Linky- Story of how parents of toddler boys keep their kids from playing rought with the author's toddler girl, because "you have to be gentle with girls".

Linky- Dad tired all video game heroes are male. Reprograms Zelda to make Link a female for little daughter.

Linky- Video- A What Would You Do? episode, where you see how people in a costume store react when a little boy (actor) wants to dress as a princess, and a little girl (actress) wants to dress as Spiderman for Halloween

Comment author: woodside 26 November 2012 06:54:33AM 18 points [-]

I can see the point the author is trying to make in the story about having to be gentle with girls, but I think I'd be conflicted about it if I had a son. Later in life there are severe social and legal consequences for a man that is too rough with women and I'd hate to set my kid up for failure.

I realize there is a difference between "playing rough" and abuse but there can be grey areas at the border. There are many situations were I would physically subdue a man (both playful and serious) but not a woman, partly for fear of causing harm but mainly because of the social blowback and potential for getting arrested.

I might be overly sensitive to this line of thinking because I have a military background, but I think teaching a son that he should behave as if girls and boys are the same physically is sub-optimal (in terms of setting him up for success and long-term hapiness).

Comment author: sangbean31 28 November 2012 10:42:22AM 3 points [-]

I'm coming from the perspective of a daughter who was and is pretty gender non-conforming, so my advice may not be useful generally, but I hope it helps anyway.

I think other commenters have talked about not saying "Girls do this" and "Girls don't do that", and an important aspect of that is to not be inherently dismissive of feminine/masculine attributes as whole. If she ends up being the only geek-ish type girl she knows, it becomes easy to dismiss the "feminine" interests of her peers as lesser compared to her own. So, expose her to media with significant female characters, but not just those who resemble her or share her interests. Actually, come to think of it, expose her to real women with varied interests, to avoid the whole categorising thing as much as possible.

Regarding clothes,which is an area in which I have frustrated both my parents very much, follow her lead where possible from young. If you have an occasion where a dress is required because of formality but she's clearly upset/angry at wearing a dress, see if there's an appropriate alternative. Whatever the outcome, don't make it feel like it's her fault for being uncomfortable in dresses. Also, children can change rather quickly, so remember that both the little girl who loves MLP and the little girl who loves Star Wars may not stay that way when they grow up.

I'd just like to add that I sincerely respect you for choosing to ask for this advice at all, since most parents never bother.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 04:10:03AM 8 points [-]

We're into holiday season again, so here's a link to a post I made a year ago, that includes, among other things, NOT always commenting on "How cute" all your little nieces (and nephews) are.

How To Talk To Children- A Holiday Guide

Comment author: moridinamael 24 November 2012 04:23:26AM 4 points [-]

I remember this post well, thanks for reminding me. I've already been conditioning myself to focus on the right things by complimenting the hard work that goes into her lifting her head or briefly controlling her hands, even though she doesn't have any idea what I'm saying yet.

It's frustratingly difficult to buy any clothes for baby girls that aren't completely pink.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 November 2012 04:53:45AM 13 points [-]

It's frustratingly difficult to buy any clothes for baby girls that aren't completely pink.

Aren't babies kind of shaped alike? Surely there exist inoffensive onesies in pastel green or whatever, even if they are not officially intended for girls.

Comment author: moridinamael 24 November 2012 05:58:21AM *  24 points [-]

They exist, but it's like this: you walk into the store. To your left, there are forty pink dresses and onesies with Cutest Princess or somesuch printed on them. To your right, there are forty blue onesies and overall combos, often with anthropomorphic male animals printed on them. In the middle, there are three yellow or green onesies.

On top of that, well-meaning relatives send us boxes of the pink dresses.

When I dress her, I avoid the overtly feminine outfits. But then I worry that I'm committing an entirely new mistake. I imagine my daughter telling me how confused she felt that her father seemed reluctant to cast her as a girl. "Did you wish I was a boy, Daddy?" There don't seem to be many trivially obvious correct choices in parenting.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 November 2012 11:14:02PM 17 points [-]

Actually, this seems a lot less disturbing to me than if, say, there were many different colors for boy clothes, but only pink clothing for girls. If you wouldn't feel obliged to avoid dressing a baby boy in blue, why feel obliged to avoid dressing a baby girl in pink? None of this has the moral that gender differences in general should be downplayed; it's when you start saying that male-is-default or 'people can be nerds but girls have to be girls' that you have a problem. In general, I think the mode of thought to be fought is that males are colorless and women have color; or to put it another way, the deadly thought is that there are all sorts of different people in the world like doctors, soldiers, mathematicians, and women. I do sometimes refer in my writing to a subgroup of people called "females"; but I refer to another subgroup, "males", about equally often. (Actually, I usually call them "women" and "males" but that's because if you say "men", males assume you're talking about people.)

Comment author: MugaSofer 25 November 2012 02:28:58AM 5 points [-]

Actually, this seems a lot less disturbing to me than if, say, there were many different colours for boy clothes, but only pink clothing for girls. If you wouldn't feel obliged to avoid dressing a baby boy in blue, why feel obliged to avoid dressing a baby girl in pink?

I think clothing of both genders gets more varied with age, but faster for males, at least at first. I note that women actually come out ahead, with both pants and dresses, yet young boys wear noticeably more varied outfits. Clearly it clearly varies a lot with age.

Comment author: David_Gerard 25 November 2012 09:56:17AM *  9 points [-]

Other. (See, postmodernism being good for something.) "Despite originally being a philosophical concept, othering has political, economic, social and psychological connotations and implications." Othering on the Geek Feminism wiki. See also grunch.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 24 November 2012 12:24:50PM 4 points [-]

You don't need to eradicate pink. Just reducing it to a reasonable level won't spur any 'Did you wish I was a boy' ideas.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 November 2012 06:32:54AM 9 points [-]

I've seen complaints about how much harder it is to find non-gendered clothing than it used to be.

I think the solution on clothes is that when the child is old enough to have opinions about how they want to dress, follow their lead.

Comment author: shokwave 24 November 2012 06:25:47AM 4 points [-]

I have no experience in raising kids, but maybe the important part is having a wide range of outfits - have an overtly feminine outfit, but also a blue onesie with a tiger, and two or three green/yellow ones.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 08:49:34PM *  33 points [-]

I'm not going to spend much effort in the comment section here because my activity will only empower the ideological dynamic at work. I refuse to engage in a losing strategy. Read Mencius Moldbug on why Conservatism always fails (this isn't a good place to start reading him, seek other recommendations then return to the linked piece) to see which losing strategy I mean. While I hold some right wing positions I'm not talking about mainstream Conservatism here but conservatism towards the LessWrong culture and ethos as I knew them. Even this comment is likely a mistake but I just can't keep quiet on this because of internal anguish.

It is not the opening material that bother me so bitterly, since I found that it had interesting examples of experience to share. Gathering and posting it also seemed a good idea to me in my optimism some weeks ago. The comment section however... I disagreed about it being too nitpicky, but now I wonder if I was wrong. I think some are plain avoiding attacking the fundamental assumptions, in a way similar to how I'm about to briefly do, in order to avoid the gender drama LW is infamous for. If so the game is already over.

The personal experiences shared basically give examples of "privilege" and "microaggressions". That is, relatively small but pervasive uncomfortable or inconvenient defaults and related status moves which one notices from time to time. People with low social awareness don't see when they occur to them, so hearing them described explicitly they go "wow this is horrible, how X group suffers". The voting shows systematic appreciation for a male posture of "protecting women". This posture does little good for women, much like like signalling how much you hate child molesters does the opposite of helping child abuse victims.*

For nearly anyone not living hermit's life experiences like these are common, but we are incredibly selective about which ones get our public attention. I say how much attention they get is based not on actual subjective suffering, but on the most viable political coalitions. And I find it obvious that nearly any kind of social standard will produce nearly exactly the same dynamics, just for people with different sets of traits, since these are features -- not bugs -- of how social apes work. Ah, but this kind of observation violates sacred norms that prevail in our society. Indeed, my entire post is probably already practically glowing red in the minds of some people reading it, causing a deep emotional disturbance.

Comment author: paper-machine 27 November 2012 10:02:33PM 15 points [-]

Read Mencius Moldbug on why Conservatism always fails (this isn't a good place to start reading him, seek other recommendations then return to the linked piece) to see which losing strategy I mean.

Summary for people who don't have infinite amounts of time to waste (unlike me):

  1. The political struggle between conservative and progressive ideology is essentially of religious character, evolving from the ancient conflict between Catholics and Protestants respectively; that conflict, the Catholics mostly lost.
  2. Progressives in general are more or less unaware that they are upholding a religious doctrine.
  3. Conservatives either have been or are incapable of being successful in convincing progressives of this fact, or alternatively, are themselves unaware of its essentially religious content.
  4. Therefore, in engaging in political discourse, conservatives have already conceded the main point.
  5. The proper course of action is to switch venues (e.g., refuse to participate in elections) or to convince Progressives that "while they may think they're rebels, they're actually loyal servants of a theocratic one-party state."
Comment author: buybuydandavis 29 November 2012 07:22:47AM 5 points [-]
  1. or to convince Progressives that

For those seeking to undermine Progressives, shouldn't you be trying to convince most everyone that Progressives are theocrats, and not just Progressives?

And I thought Moldbug said Progressives win because their politics empower the media, academia, and government, creating a positive feedback loop for Progressive opinions in those arenas.

Not being recognized as theocrats is an advantage they have against conservatives, but that advantage is not as decisive as having a positive feedback loop.

Comment author: Konkvistador 30 November 2012 08:13:26PM 4 points [-]

I thought Moldbug said Progressives win because their politics empower the media, academia, and government, creating a positive feedback loop for Progressive opinions in those arenas.

This is what I consider among his most important insights.

Not being recognized as theocrats is an advantage they have against conservatives, but that advantage is not as decisive as having a positive feedback loop.

Probably yes, but I'm not that confident. Some strategies to weaken the loop if it is understood probably do exist and are probably similar to those of fighting the influence of a particular religion in society.

Think Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 01 December 2012 04:47:31AM 4 points [-]

Probably yes, but I'm not that confident. Some strategies to weaken the loop if it is understood probably do exist and are probably similar to those of fighting the influence of a particular religion in society.

Not that confident of what? Something I said?

I agree that the positive feedback loop can weaken. I think it already has. There's a lot more media outside the official channels, and higher education is in the midst of a huge bubble. Maybe government too, with the unsustainable government debt levels throughout the western world.

Will the debt holders basically take control of governments and force them to run their tax farming businesses more efficiently? The IMF has been doing that to countries for years. That seems a more likely future than a Moldbug restoration.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 November 2012 04:56:46PM 16 points [-]

I agree that what gets foregrounded matters, and that people can learn to foreground different things. Furthermore, I know by experience that the current feminist and anti-racist material I've read has cranked up my sensitivity, and not always in ways that I like.

One thing that concerns me about anti-racism/feminism is that people who support them don't seem to have a vision of what success would be like. (I've asked groups a couple of times, and no one did. One person even apologized for my getting the impression that she might have such a vision.)

However, it's not obvious to me that it's impossible to raise the level of comfort that people have with each other. The same dynamics isn't identical to the same total ill effect.

I'm hoping that the current high-friction approach will lead to the invention of better methods. I'm pretty sure that a major contributor to the current difficulties is that there is no reliable method of enabling people to become less prejudiced. I've wondered whether reshaping implicit association tests into video games would help.

I'm very grateful to LW for being a place where it seems safe to me to raise these concerns.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 05 December 2012 09:09:31AM *  6 points [-]

One thing that concerns me about anti-racism/feminism is that people who support them don't seem to have a vision of what success would be like.

I'm not sure whether this is particular to those groups. I would expect that most Democrats, Republicans, environmentalists, animal rights activists, human rights activists, transhumanists, LW-style rationalists, or for that matter anyone who wants to change society in a certain direction, don't have a clear vision of what success would be like, either.

Nor do I know whether I'd consider that an issue. To some extent, not having such a vision is perfectly reasonable, since there are lots of opposing forces shaping society in entirely different directions, and it can be more useful to just focus on what you can do now instead of dreaming up utopias. Of course, a concrete vision could help - but people could also be helped if they had a clear vision of where they want to be (with their personal lives) in ten years, and most people don't seem to have that, either. Humans just aren't automatically strategic.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 December 2012 03:14:08PM 9 points [-]

My reason for being concerned about the lack of a positive vision is related to my experience reading RaceFail-- it felt like being on the receiving end of "I can't explain what I want you to do, I just want to stop hurting, and I'm going to keep attacking until I feel better".

This does not mean they were totally in the wrong-- one of the things I realized fairly early is that there are two kinds of people who could plausibly say "you figure out how not to piss me off"-- abusers and people who are trying to deal with a clueless abuser.

Comment author: thomblake 05 December 2012 03:47:07PM 6 points [-]

there are two kinds of people who could plausibly say "you figure out how not to piss me off"-- abusers and people who are trying to deal with a clueless abuser.

I submit that the latter who react that way are still abusers - abuse in self-defense is still abuse.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 December 2012 04:19:35AM 4 points [-]

I'm hoping that the current high-friction approach will lead to the invention of better methods. I'm pretty sure that a major contributor to the current difficulties is that there is no reliable method of enabling people to become less prejudiced. I've wondered whether reshaping implicit association tests into video games would help.

I think people complaining about things like implicit association tests are missing the fundamental problem. The problem isn't that people's system I has 'racist' aliefs, it's that those aliefs do in fact correspond to reality.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 December 2012 05:34:17AM 4 points [-]

Why do you believe that people's prejudices are generally accurate?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 December 2012 02:11:56AM 4 points [-]

Look at the statistics for race and IQ (or any other measure of intelligence), or race and crime rate.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 November 2012 05:15:54PM 8 points [-]

One thing that concerns me about anti-racism/feminism is that people who support them don't seem to have a vision of what success would be like.

This is connected to a more general issue: Institutions and movements very rarely acknowledge when the issue they've dealt with is essentially solved. You see this in other examples as well organizations to prevent animal cruelty would be one example. When an organization goes completely away it is more often because they were on the losing side of political and social discourse (e.g. pro-prohibition groups, anti-miscegenation organizations). The only example I'm aware of where the organizations simply died out after essentially a success is organizations to help deal with polio, and even that still exists in limited forms.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 November 2012 07:23:45PM 6 points [-]

I've got some sympathy for people who don't want to shut down organizations merely because they've succeeded.

Stable organizations are hard to create, and people apt to have a lot of valuable social relationships in them.

Ideally, an organization which has achieved a definitive win would find a new goal.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 November 2012 07:30:58PM 8 points [-]

Ideally, an organization which has achieved a definitive win would find a new goal.

Yes, but this seems to happen extremely rarely. The only example I'm aware of is how some abolitionist groups helped transition into pro-black rights groups in the post Civil War era.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 09:32:44PM 12 points [-]

And I find it obvious that nearly any kind of social standard will produce nearly exactly the same dynamics, just for people with different sets of traits, since these are features -- not bugs -- of how social apes work.

The other things you say sound convincing, but this particular sentence sounds like the Naturalistic Fallacy. There are lots of "features" built into humans, such as old age and Alzheimers, myopia, inability to multiply large numbers very quickly, etc. But humans have been working steadily over the ages to mitigate these weaknesses with technology, and thus I find it difficult to believe that any specific weakness is unfixable a priori.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 09:37:38PM *  8 points [-]

I find it difficult to believe that any specific weakness is unfixable a priori.

Fixing human biology or conditioning is easy with the right technology, but the game theory that often pushed the biology or the conditioning there in the first place can be more tricky.

Comment author: ewbrownv 27 November 2012 11:16:45PM 6 points [-]

Very true. Also, the 'right technology' does not currently exist, and isn't likely to in the next decade.

Social reformers often don't seem to understand that pushing a society far away from 'default' human modes of conduct is a bit like pushing a boulder up an increasingly steep slope - you spend more and more energy fighting just to stay in place, while creating an increasingly dangerous pool of potential energy that acts to oppose your efforts. Push hard enough for long enough, and eventually you get crushed as the boulder rolls back downhill.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 11:24:16PM 6 points [-]

What is a "default" human mode, though ? As I said on a sibling thread, there do exist examples of apparently successful social engineering efforts. For example, in most of the developed world, outright slavery was not only eliminated but rendered morally repugnant, and this change does not show any signs of reversal. To use an older example, monogamy became the social norm sometime during the Middle Ages (IIRC), and it persists as such to this day -- despite the fact that humans are biologically capable of polygamy.

Comment author: Nornagest 27 November 2012 11:25:47PM 4 points [-]

Social reformers often don't seem to understand that pushing a society far away from 'default' human modes of conduct is a bit like pushing a boulder up an increasingly steep slope...

The more charitable (and less fully general) interpretation seems to be that they disagree about where the local maxima are. To say nothing of the difficulty of describing default human behavior given the differences between post-Neolithic environments and the EEA.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 09:33:41PM *  9 points [-]

I didn't mean to say they are how things should work, merely how I think they do work, they are the unfortunate compromises we end up nearly always making. A feature need not be desirable in itself to be necessary or the best out of a bad set of options.

Up voted for pointing this out though, since I suspect others may have read it that way as well.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 09:39:38PM 3 points [-]

Fixing human biology is easy, but the game theory that often pushed the biology there in the first place can be far more tricky.

Yes, you are probably right about that. Still, "tricky" is not the same as "impossible". Humans have made sweeping social changes before, after all; for example, outright slavery is considered to be immoral by a large proportion of humans currently living on Earth, which did not use to be the case in the past. Though, admittedly, such changes would probably be more difficult to effect than, say, the cure for Alzheimers...

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 November 2012 05:23:15PM 2 points [-]

I'm curious if you buy into Moldbug's narration about Catholic v. Protestant as being an overarching framework for liberal v. conservative issues.

Frankly, the idea of conservativism always failing seems to be more an issue of what ideas survive: If a change or proposal goes through, then we think of it as liberal/progressive. Changes to society which get rolled back become more or less forgotten and don't come up in how we think of it. Alcohol prohibition would be one example, where excepting a very tiny group the issue has simply fallen out of contemporary political discourse.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 29 November 2012 11:28:51PM 4 points [-]

I think you are mixing up different issues. Certainly conservatives manage to roll back some stuff, but that is not relevant to:

If a change or proposal goes through, then we think of it as liberal/progressive

MM claims that all net changes are originated on the progressive side, which is a well-defined side with centuries of coherence. Do you claim that there are net changes that originated on the conservative side and were written into the history of liberals? Prohibition is certainly not an example of this. Do you even claim that there are any net changes originated by conservatives? Or do you disagree that there are two clear sides, and it is anachronistic to identify the parties of successful changes in different eras? Prohibition certainly shows that there is not complete identify of proposed changes across time, but that is hardly evidence of discontinuity. If you dispute continuity, what are two such parties that you think do should not be identified?

Comment author: steven0461 23 November 2012 11:45:12PM 24 points [-]

this is your warning that Crocker's Rules apply to the following content

That's not how Crocker's Rules work; they're supposed to be declared by the listener, who thereby takes responsibility for any hurt feelings caused by the content. You can't declare Crocker's rules on behalf of others.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 November 2012 11:56:41PM 20 points [-]

That's why I called it Crocker's Warning and not Crocker's Rules. I am implying that by reading the content you are agreeing to Crocker's Rules. It's just a way of saying that the submitters were told not to hold back, and if you want it sugar-coated, you shouldn't read it.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 01:34:38AM 9 points [-]

Upon consideration, I think I have pinpointed what bothers me about the bit in the post about Crocker's Rules. It's the imposition on the reader, not just of potentially offensive content, but also of a waiver of the right to object to the content as being offensive.

That is, I don't object to this part:

Submitters were told to not hold back for politeness

Fine and well. A good warning.

, so this is your warning that Crocker's Rules apply to the following content

But this part seems to suggest that by reading this, I'm waiving my right to say, e.g., "Wait a bit, this isn't just impolite, this is offensive! This reads like an insult!" It seems like the warning is saying: "If you find this offensive, too bad. By reading this, you're agreeing to shut up and take it" — and I don't think that prefacing your post with that is conducive to good discussion, not at all.

Note: I don't actually think any of the anecdotes in this post are offensive.

Comment author: Swimmer963 25 November 2012 02:34:32AM 10 points [-]

Note: I don't actually think any of the anecdotes in this post are offensive.

Me neither. I think the post needs a more specific set of ground rules, something like "the anonymous submitters are putting themselves out on the line here, and in order to have the most honest and useful discussion, they were told not to hold back for politeness...but they'll probably be reading all your comments and replies, so in order to encourage future honest and useful discussions, please don't respond angrily or rudely, since that will discourage submitters in the future from being honest." Which isn't quite in the spirit of Crocker's Rules. (I don't know if 'Crocker's Warning' is a concept that has actually been elaborated...is it?)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 November 2012 11:08:16PM 8 points [-]

I think the concept is that content is included from trusting volunteers who were told to expect Crocker's Rules in the audience, and if you're not willing to abide by that trust, you shouldn't read.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 24 November 2012 04:46:22AM *  14 points [-]

It's nice to see that LW's epistemic root system is dense enough to support explorations like these -- much better than freaking out and marring its own reputation a la the atheism vs. Atheism Plus flap. It sends a good message.

EDIT: This is the first thing I've read on LW that makes me think of it as a culture.

Comment author: Dias 24 November 2012 07:29:19PM 13 points [-]

What is an epistemic root system, and how can they be dense?

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 24 November 2012 07:40:01PM *  18 points [-]

It's an imperfect metaphor for everybody trusting each other to think real good. Dense root systems help prevent erosion (in this case of epistemic standards).

Comment author: Morendil 24 November 2012 10:39:42AM 9 points [-]

Here's hoping LW can do better at this than my own professional community.

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 24 November 2012 10:51:48PM 9 points [-]

That's not a high bar. I love my IT job, but IT is shamefully bad at this.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 November 2012 10:55:10PM 5 points [-]

You know, I've noticed issues and heard about problems in math and the sciences before of this sort, but it seems like much more of a problem in IT. Any idea why?

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 24 November 2012 11:25:44PM *  7 points [-]

One relevant datum: when I started my studies in math, about 33% of the students was female. In the same year, about 1% (i.e. one) of the computer science students was female.

It's possible to come up with other reasons - IT is certainly well-suited to people who don't like human interaction all that much - but I think that's a significant part of the problem.

Comment author: Nornagest 25 November 2012 12:19:53AM *  15 points [-]

I never consciously noticed that, but you're right. From what I remember the proportion of women in my CS classes wasn't quite that low, but it was still south of 10%. 33% also sounds about right for non-engineering STEM majors in my (publicly funded, moderately selective) university in the early-to-mid-Noughties, though that's skewed upward a bit by a student body that's 60% female.

It seems implausible, though, that a poor professional culture regarding gender would skew numbers that heavily in a freshman CS class -- most of these students are going to have had no substantial exposure to professional IT or related fields beforehand. I think we're looking at something with deeper roots. Specifically, CS is linked to geek subculture in a way that the rest of STEM isn't: you might naturally consider a math major if you were undecided and your best high-school grades were in mathematics, but there's no such path to IT. You generally only go into it if you already identify with the culture surrounding it and want to be part of it professionally.

With this in mind it seems likely to me that professional IT's attitudes are largely determined by the subculture's, not the other way around, and that gender ratios in CS aren't going to change much unless and until the culture changes.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 10:30:04PM 4 points [-]

IME maths is the most feminine STEM field excluding life sciences. The first few math students I know personally that spring to my mind are all female. (Of course, since I am a straight guy, "springs to my mind" will be a biased criterion, but if I do the same with (say) engineering students, most of the first few are male.)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 25 November 2012 04:39:46AM 8 points [-]

CS and IT have become less gender-balanced (more male) in the past 20-30 years — over the same time frame that the lab sciences have gotten more balanced.

Comment author: Morendil 25 November 2012 09:34:49AM *  3 points [-]

IT is certainly well-suited to people who don't like human interaction all that much

Uh, I'm pretty sure this assertion is the result of the particular culture that's developed in IT, rather than its truth being a cause of it.

Is this claim actually even close to true? To the extent that there are in fact professions "well-suited to people who don't like human interaction", by virtue of which problems the professionals are working to solve, I would think of farming or legal medicine first, not IT.

IT jobs require constant interaction with people, because they are mainly about turning vague desiderata into working solutions; on the "solution" end you are interacting a lot with machines, but you absolutely can't afford to ignore the "desiderata" side of things, and that is primarily a matter of human communication. Our current IT culture has managed to make it the norm that much of this communication can take place over cold channels, such as email or Word documents. I think of that as pathological; but more importantly, this still counts as human interaction!

Then there's the extra implication in your statement - that jobs "well-suited to people who don't like human interaction" will attract males more. That may well be true, but it'll take actual evidence to convince me.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 November 2012 09:02:48PM 3 points [-]

A lot of people in IT interact plenty with other people in IT, so they like and can sustain some types of human interaction.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 10:04:07AM 8 points [-]

It's just a shame that dense epistemic root systems tend to produce an equally dense foliage of jargon :-)

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 09:03:52AM 7 points [-]

“It's rusty too,” intones the Dungeonmaster, “and pieces of it keep breaking off. Look, you're not supposed to be farming. You're supposed to go into the forest and find the dark elves.

This is off-topic, but that anecdote should go right on top of the list of things every GM should avoid doing. Regardless of anyone's gender.

If your players want to plow the field, let them plow the field. If your players want to sit in the tavern getting drunk all day, let them sit there for a bit. When the inevitable dark elves attack and burn the fields for the tenth time (after stealing all the mead from the tavern), the combat you (the GM) crave will develop naturally.

The 3rd edition WFRP takes a more structured approach to the problem. The minions of Chaos (let's face it, it's always Chaos) get a track, with a pointer on it. Each time the players make a mistake, waste time, or bicker amongst themselves, the pointer moves up a notch. There are markers along the track; once the pointer passes the marker, certain events are set in motion, and the situation grows worse for our heroes; the exact details depend on the scenario. When the pointer reaches the end of the track, all hell breaks loose and the PCs get to make one desperate last stand against the forces of Chaos whom they failed to stop.

Comment author: Desrtopa 27 November 2012 01:17:53AM 7 points [-]

From the linked article

We have to do better than this. I have to do better than this. I can think of multiple examples of men harassing or catcalling women, but rarely have I intervened to say something.

I'd like to ask, would speaking up and intervening be an appreciated behavior? When I envision this scenario, I see this as likely to incite further discomfort, for "white knighting." I'd like to know what sort of responses people who've been subject to catcalling would like to see from other men who happen to be present.

Comment author: Manfred 27 November 2012 01:52:12AM 9 points [-]

I see this as likely to incite further discomfort

Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.

According to no authority, here is what I think is the standard protocol. If you know the offender, you pull their strings a bit - if they care how they appear to the people who they know, say it makes you want to avoid being seen with them, if they care about being high-class, say it's low-class, if they regularly care about strangers as people, use an ethical argument, if they care about being hard-working, say they're damaging the image of the company, etc.

If you don't know the offender you can't be so nuanced or even very friendly, but eggs, omelette, yadda yadda. If you or they are passing by with limited potential for escalation, feel free to insult their choice creatively. If it's a "sharing the elevator" kind of situation, you're going to have to put on your big boy britches (relative to the insults) and tell them politely that they're being incredibly uncool.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 November 2012 03:16:40PM 5 points [-]

Helping people is a complicated matter, and I don't think it's just a male-female issue.

If someone is extremely conflict-averse, then the offer of help might be unwelcome because it's likely to lead to more conflict in the short run.

Needing to be helped can be seen as having one's status lowered even further than it was lowered by the initial attack/insult.

And on the other hand, sometimes help works. Sometimes it's welcome. Sometimes the lack of offers of help is seen as a betrayal.

I don't have general principles for telling when help is welcome, though asking the person whether they want help isn't a bad idea if it's a slow-moving situation. I also suspect that there are subtleties of body language which affect whether help will be welcomed.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 November 2012 03:18:54PM 4 points [-]

I'd like to ask, would speaking up and intervening be an appreciated behavior? When I envision this scenario, I see this as likely to incite further discomfort, for "white knighting."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Knowing this, forget about the "appreciated behavior" and simply do what you believe is the right thing.

Comment author: DaFranker 27 November 2012 03:37:11PM *  2 points [-]

I'd like to ask, would speaking up and intervening be an appreciated behavior? When I envision this scenario, I see this as likely to incite further discomfort, for "white knighting."

If taking action expected to reduce future instances of catcalling is negatively received, doesn't that seem quite irrational and counter to feminist long-term goals? Is the social-expectation impact of "white-knighting" higher than the impact of letting catcalling go on? ("Ah, women need a man to defend them from catcalling, they're helpless on their own.", or maybe "It's alright to catcall as long as some other men aren't present - it's a social status thing of men")

I think this also sidesteps a ton of other considerations: Some women (edit: "people" would be more appropriate and representative, but within context we're talking about helping women who are being catcalled) have grown up all along as merely victims of various forms of various kinds of abuse and sexism, of which this is sometimes among the lesser ones. If no boys or men have ever stood up for them, and all girls they knew were also victims, what is the default model of the world these women will have, if the subconscious and instincts are left to their own devices? How are they going to feel, in this cruel, unchangeable, hopeless world in which they are helpless and everything they suffer is supposedly their own fault because they "tempt" the males?

I think the long term emotional impact of never having anyone help is far greater than the momentary impact she might feel from being white-knighted and the one the man might feel from the reaction. How true this is also depends on many other factors.

Society (social interactions) is needlessly horrible and complicated. By default.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 December 2012 05:47:55AM 3 points [-]

Ultimately, these [and other] stereotypes wind up being self-fulfilling prophecies. If one is chastized for being a nerd despite not being one, one figures "If I'm gonna be made fun of for being a nerd either way, I might as well actually be one". If one were to group gender differences into [unavoidable] biological differences and [avoidable] behavioral differences, I doubt either would be responsible for causing the other. The only conclusion I can see is that behavioral differences were only caused by expectations of behavioral differences. If we stop expecting to see differences, in time we actually won't. Even a RNG will seem to exhibit patterns to one who looks with the expectation of seeing patterns.

Comment author: PhilipL 03 December 2012 11:50:23PM 3 points [-]

I (male) am reminded of an incident as I was leaving from work one night. It was raining at least moderately, and I had an umbrella with me. There was a (female) coworker who was leaving right behind. (She works at a different office location, but we see and greet each other occasionally.) She did not appear to have an umbrella or other rain gear, and in any case was carrying a decent amount of stuff and had both hands full. I asked if she wanted to share my umbrella and she declined; we talked for a bit until we parted ways but I didn't push the issue further. I felt a little bit guilty afterwards, but brushed it off eventually because she made her choice.

Did I make the correct choice by asking? I cannot picture myself asking if the coworker had been a man. I can only speculate reasons she might have declined... She was suspicious of me? She likes the rain? Would you do anything different if you were in her situation, or mine?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 December 2012 01:51:51AM *  9 points [-]

Speaking only for myself, I think asking whether help is welcome and taking rejection politely is a good combination.

Any thoughts about whether the world would be a better place if men were comfortable offering each other that sort of help and accepting it some of the time?

Comment author: army1987 08 December 2012 12:03:22AM 3 points [-]

the world would be a better place if

Now I'm starting to wonder whether there might be cultural differences. ISTM that where I am (Italy), offering to share an umbrella with someone you know is just politeness, and people do it pretty often regardless of gender. (Likewise, people of either gender hold doors open for people (including strangers) of either gender all the time, and it would have never occurred to me that this might have anything to do with sexuality if I hadn't read that on the internet.)

Comment author: PhilipL 05 December 2012 01:23:34AM 2 points [-]

I can't imagine it would be a /worse/ world, in any case. If it were raining harder, I would theoretically be more willing to offer help, regardless of gender (and despite at least one personal anecdotal experience agreeing with Alicorn's comment). It just seems "wrong" (cold, unfriendly) if I hadn't offered, in my situation, regardless of whether aid was accepted or not.

Comment author: shminux 07 December 2012 07:03:32PM 3 points [-]

I asked if she wanted to share my umbrella and she declined

If you ask and she agrees, it appears to create an implicit favor she was probably uncomfortable with. The term "share" also conveys an uncomfortable connotation of closeness. I bet that if you simply held an umbrella over her head matter-of-factly, she would not have objected and possibly even thanked you later.

Comment author: PhilipL 07 December 2012 07:40:55PM 2 points [-]

(I don't remember my exact phrasing of the question.) Your view is interesting, because to me that action would fall into borderline-creep behavior - intruding on personal space without asking.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2012 07:59:20PM 7 points [-]

Indeed, and yet it may also work.

The "creepyness" rules are not formulated to make one effective at social interaction, they are formulated to prevent creepy behaviour. Those goals may conflict.

More cynically (not necessarily my opinion), the stated rules are damaging to people who follow them, because when people think them up, they think of someone they wouldn't like, and then think of rules that they would like such a person to follow. No incentive to think of the misliked person's best interests.

Comment author: christina 07 February 2013 08:46:31AM 2 points [-]

Why wouldn't you offer to assist a male who had no umbrella? That seems rather uncharitable of you.

Comment author: William_Quixote 26 November 2012 07:50:59PM 3 points [-]

My mother, who is retirement age has been writing short memoirs and recollections. Having read some of those, a lot of these seem disappointingly familiar. Things have obviously changed a lot in the last 60 years, but less than one might have hoped.

Comment author: FAWS 24 November 2012 04:13:40AM *  10 points [-]

I don't understand how Christine the female dungeon master who has apparently consistently been playing with approximately gender-balanced groups not accommodating plowing fits in here. Plowing doesn't even seem like a particularly feminine activity (compared to e. g. trying for peaceful relations with the elves).

Comment author: juliawise 24 November 2012 08:25:56PM *  6 points [-]

Christine understood the game to be about combat, so she had planned an adventure that led us toward combat with the elves. But when she gave us details about starving farmers, my wanting to feed them was considered off-mission.

I don't have much data on what D&D is like with groups of different gender mixtures. At the time, we considered agricultural forays and many stops for "okay, now we make tea" to be things that probably didn't happen when boys played.

Addendum: approximately 900 people have now told me that this kind of thing happened in their groups too and is not a girl thing. Point taken.

Comment author: Vaniver 25 November 2012 01:25:22AM 5 points [-]

I don't have much data on what D&D is like with groups of different gender mixtures. At the time, we considered agricultural forays and many stops for "okay, now we make tea" to be things that probably didn't happen when boys played.

My (normally all-male) groups have had a few forays into "make don't break," and many forays into "the DM wants us to do X? Y is the most important thing in the world right now."

In general, something I talk about with players is asking them how much of their ideal session is spent on combat, and how much is spent on role-playing. You get people who prefer 100% combat, and people who prefer 100% roleplaying, and seating those people at the same table is a bad idea. (I tend to go for >80% roleplaying myself, these days.) I would surprised if there weren't a male skew towards combat and a female skew towards roleplaying, but I also expect both distributions to be positive everywhere.

There's also a wealth of tabletop roleplaying systems out there these days, such that if you find your group prefers to mostly roleplay, you should play a game designed for mostly roleplay, rather than D&D, which is basically designed for >95% combat.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 28 November 2012 07:09:49AM *  7 points [-]

Addendum: approximately 900 people have now told me that this kind of thing happened in their groups too and is not a girl thing. Point taken.

Sounds like we've successfully reduced the inferential distance a bit, eh? ;)

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 24 November 2012 05:55:33PM 27 points [-]

Words from my father’s mouth, growing up: “You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?”

I assume most people find this statement offensive and objectionable. If you are such a person, can you provide a rational justification for your response? It seems to me that the father is simply making a set of empirical claims about reality, and so at worst the statement is just inaccurate.

Also, imagine a father telling his son "You need to get a good job and learn how to dress well, or else no woman will want to marry you." Is this statement similarly objectionable? If so, why?

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 04:26:08PM *  16 points [-]

Words from my father’s mouth, growing up: “You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?”

I assume most people find this statement offensive and objectionable. If you are such a person, can you provide a rational justification for your response?

I think the sexism isn't telling that to your daughter -- it's not also telling that to your son.

ISTM that, until a few generations ago, people traditionally lived with their parents until they got married (in their early twenties, sometimes even in their late teens), and lived with their spouses thereafter. The husband traditionally had a full-time job, and the wife stayed home and was in charge of the housework (incl. cooking). Therefore, a man never actually needed to know how to do housework, because he would always live with a woman (his mother until he married, then his wife) who would do that for him. (Conversely, a woman never actually needed to work, because she would always live with a man (her father until she married, then her husband) who would bring home the bacon for her.) So, within the traditional gender roles, a male would never need to be told those words Julia Wise heard from her father.

Nowadays, instead, people (of either gender) who complete high school typically rent an apartment with roommates (often all of the same gender) in order to attend university, may (or may not) get married in their late twenties (sometimes even in their early thirties or later), and when they do, often both spouses have a job, so neither has the time/stamina/willingness to do all of the housework and they share it. So people of either gender will have to know how to do housework starting from college age. There is still a cliché that men can't cook, but it's mostly repeated tongue-in-cheek and hardly anybody seems to actually really believe it. (I'm talking about Italy -- YMMV.)

Also, imagine a father telling his son "You need to get a good job and learn how to dress well, or else no woman will want to marry you." Is this statement similarly objectionable? If so, why?

When my dad told me “I've heard that $bank is hiring -- why don't you apply there?”, I said “I'm not interested -- I'm going to start a PhD next year; if my ambition had been to work in a bank I wouldn't be studying physics” and he said “but it would be one of the best [i.e., highest-paying] jobs one could get!”, I kind-of freaked out -- and he hadn't even mentioned marriage!

(OTOH, when my mother told me the one about keeping a clean house (with “what woman” instead of “what man”), I just thought ‘Well, I hope not all women are as obsessed with cleanliness as you’ and IIRC said nothing in particular and smiled (i.e., pretended to think she was joking). So, in my case, it's the one about jobs that felt more objectionable. YMMV.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 26 November 2012 02:48:00PM 9 points [-]

Her father had the goal of her learning how to cook. Cooking is a valuable skill and it makes sense for parents to want their children to learn valuable skills.

He could have simply said: "You need to learn how to cook".

If you want to persuade someone it's better to say "You need to learn how to cook, because it helps you to achieve important goal X" than to just say "You need to learn how to cook". A dad that thinks that getting married is one of the goals of his daughter will use the example.

If you tell a guy to learn cooking it sense to frame the reason differently.

Take Tim Ferriss in his new book "The 4-Hour Chef" with targets geeks:

Cooking is the mating advantage. If you're looking to dramatically improve your sex life, or to catch and keep "the one," cooking is the force multiplier. Food has a crucial role in well-planned seduction for both sexes, whether in longterm relationships or on first dates.

There no sexism inherent in giving a girl different reasons than a boy.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 27 November 2012 08:19:27PM 4 points [-]

There no sexism inherent in giving a girl different reasons than a boy.

There most definitely is. The sexism is not generated by giving a girl different reasons than a boy, but it is absolutely inherent in the entire process that causes one to give a girl different reasons than a boy.

True: There is no sexism inherent in giving child A different reasons from child B.

Possibly true: There is no sexism inherent in giving particular-girl-Alice different reasons from particular-boy-Bob.

False: There is no sexism inherent in giving girls-in-general different reasons from boys-in-general.

The problem is that your statement has definitional ambiguity. Reframing to make it clear which specific case you're talking about will help cool down this debate.

Comment author: Randy_M 27 November 2012 10:23:32PM 9 points [-]

Sexism has the same problem, as a word, that racism has. Is it believing in a contextually significant difference between groups OR is is believing that one group is universally superior to another OR is it actively working to support or harm an individual based on group affiliation? Examples of the latter are used to make the word have revulsion which is then used to discredit those who hold the former.

Those may be correllated, but are not identical positions.

Comment author: juliawise 24 November 2012 11:22:42PM *  25 points [-]

Both messages are only about the past/current state of things and leave no room for "The old model stinks, and I hope your generation will continue changing it."

I prepared for adulthood/marriage on the old model, and it did not serve me well. It was like getting a job only to find that my typewriter skills weren't needed. Early on we had a series of dinnertime arguments that boiled down to: "Have some more food." "No, thanks, I'm done." "I cooked you this Good Food because I am a Good Wife! Why can't you appreciate the work I put into being good at this? Eat the damn food!"

Comment author: Emile 25 November 2012 04:21:32PM 13 points [-]

I prepared for adulthood/marriage on the old model, and it did not serve me well.

As an extra anecdote, my wife says she prepared on the old model, and that it did serve her well (or at least, she doesn't regret).

I can see two perspectives:

A) The "traditional" model is good advice for a majority of the population, but is useless or harmful for a minority, in which case situations (like yours) where the advice failed may not be enough evidence that the advice was bad.

B) The "traditional" model may have been useful in the past, but society has changed too much (we live in large cities and know few of our neighbors; there's less physical work, a single earner can not usually support a family any more, many house tasks have been automated or outsourced), that the "traditional" model is about as useful as career advice from the 1920s.

I expect it's a mix of both, with the second effect probably being a bit stronger.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 November 2012 10:41:23AM *  12 points [-]

Good cooking skills provide a lot of utility for all members of the family. The costs of cooking are mostly the time spent cooking and the time spent learning cooking. The benefits of good cooking are pleasant experiences of eating tasty food, better health because of using more healthy ingredients, and saving some money (depends on cost of cook's time, and the size of family).

The traditional heuristic reduces the total costs of learning cooking by assigning the task to one gender. Also, in the context of traditional society, it is the gender with less income from work, therefore the opportunity costs of learning cooking are smaller.

On the other hand, contemporary society increases the opportunity costs for women, and also provides relatively cheap cooked food (probably still not as good as a good cook can make at home, but the difference is getting smaller). Also the costs of learning cooking are smaller because of available semiproducts and internet recipes; you can get mediocre results with trivial costs.

My (male) opinion is that the best solution today would be for everyone to learn some basic cooking (pasta, rice, soup...), at least the trivial recipes of form "put all ingredients together and cook for n minutes". After three experiments with each of them you learn to avoid the basic mistakes (too much salt, undercooking, overcooking) and get some basic confidence. From that point later: if you need to cook, cook; if you don't need to cook, at least do it once in a few months to preserve the skill. You have passed the psychological barrier, the rest is mostly about experience.

Perhaps one problem here is expecting too much too soon. A beginner cook may feel pressed to provide results on expert level. (An advice to the expert cooks: you are really not helping by providing thousand little unsolicited information. Inferential distances, et cetera.) This is why many people learn cooking when they are alone, cooking only for themselves. Also: Learning basic cooking is not a precommitment to get to the expert level. There is nothing wrong with mediocre cooking skills, they already give lot of utility; and if you later change your mind about this, you can complete your learning later.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 04:49:01PM 6 points [-]

"I cooked you this Good Food because I am a Good Wife! Why can't you appreciate the work I put into being good at this? Eat the damn food!"

This might be why my grandma gets very annoyed when I don't eat all of the food she cooks.

Comment author: cousin_it 28 November 2012 04:48:49PM *  2 points [-]

Hmm, I'd eat the food. Not just to show appreciation, but to keep up the good husband/good wife roleplay. The traditional model makes a lot of sense to me, as long as both parties buy into it.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 06:25:54AM *  17 points [-]

"You need to get a good job and learn how to dress well, or else no woman will want to marry you."

I would endorse giving this advice if I thought marriage was a good deal for men. Currently I plan to strongly advise my future sons against marriage. I'm unsure whether to advise my daugthers to marry or not, since it will give them greater power over their partners which may destablize such relationships.

I think its pretty crappy that cohabitation laws are now basically converging with marriage laws. I wish there was a "state please get your grubby hands out of my romantic relationships" wavier I could sign.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 26 November 2012 02:05:48PM 5 points [-]

Currently I plan to strongly advise my future sons against marriage. I'm unsure whether to advise my daugthers to marry or not

I'm curious about (a) your present age, and (b) how old you expect to be by the time you're advising your children about these things.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 07:36:19AM 3 points [-]

a) early 20s b) 40s

Obviously much can change in 20 years.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 November 2012 10:58:52PM *  14 points [-]

Alicorn gave an excellent summary. But there's another issue also. When people say this sort of thing it is often with implicit premises that it is a massively important part of a woman's life to get married, to an extent that doesn't exist as much with men (with exceptions to some extent to certain ethnic and cultural groups which emphasize grandchildren). If you scratch this sort of thing beneath the surface you often find beneath the surface something like "Women exist to cook, clean, and pump out babies. If they go to college it should be to get an MRS degree."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 November 2012 07:30:04AM 3 points [-]

I think both are offensive because they're implying that the child should see themselves as only valuable if they can fulfill hypothetical strangers' wants. It's also off-key because the focus is on getting married rather than on the more important aspect of having a good marriage.

How does "If you don't learn to do household repairs and tech support, no woman will want to stay married to you" come off?

I think it's positing getting married as what would be called a terminal value here, or what I've also heard called an uncontexted absolute. I don't know whether there's any more accessible way of phrasing the idea of something which is posited to be so important that other considerations should be ignored.

I would say that the advice for the girl is somewhat more offensive because it's less true. Unless I've missed something, cooking is a much less important part of courtship than it used to be. Once upon a time, most of what a married man ate would be cooked by his wife, but it hasn't been like that for a while.

Mind you, it would be a different and possibly better world if people took helpmeet considerations more seriously before getting married-- while you aren't necessarily dependent on your spouse's cooking, you will probably need your spouse to wrangle medical personnel for you at some time.

Discussion of traits, including a degree of self-sufficiency, which make people better company

Comment author: Alicorn 24 November 2012 06:16:31PM *  34 points [-]

There's a few parts. Let's charitably assume that the father is just making an empirical statement, to shorten the list.

  1. He assumes that his daughter needs to achieve the prerequisites of marriage - that she needs to get married. (And that it's his job to prepare her for this, even if only informationally.)

  2. He assumes she's going to marry a man.

  3. He describes her future marriage in terms of the wants of her hypothetical husband, as opposed to hers (compare something like, "You need to be able to dump guys over long-term dealbreakers without dating them for years, or how will you find a man you want to marry?")

  4. He is wrong as a statement of fact, because there exist men who would marry a woman who doesn't clean and cook - and this isn't just a harmless falsehood (compare the implausible "you need to wear cunning knitted hats and eat parsley, or what man would want to marry you?"), but one that draws attention to evaluating his daughter's value in terms of her domestic skills - a pattern that is reinforced elsewhere, while cunning knitted hats and parsley are not.

Comment author: Emile 24 November 2012 09:52:08PM 15 points [-]

Some of those objections disappear if you treat the father's advice as a heuristic and not an absolute rule - something like "being able to cook and keep a house clean increases your chances of finding a desirable long-term partner"; especially objection 2 (I would expect a woman would also prefer a partner who can cook and keep a house clean, all else being equal) and 4 (even if some men are perfectly okay with a wife that can't cook, I would expect that all else being equal being able to cook still makes one a more desirable partner).

"There are exceptions to that rule" is close to a fully general counterargument, because there are exception to pretty much any rule (outside the hard sciences), and I'm a bit annoyed when such an exceptions is used to triumphantly "refute" an argument (for example "once there was this guy who would have died if he had been wearing a seat belt!").

I do agree that the statement is sneaking in some iffy connotations like "your value as a woman is who you marry" and "you don't pick a husband, you get picked", and even if knowing how to cook does make increase the chances one ends up in a happy long-term relationship, other traits probably have more bang for the buck.

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 24 November 2012 11:01:54PM 17 points [-]

If you interpret the father's statement as "all else being equal, being a better cook is good" and you completely divorce it from a historical and cultural context, it is indeed not really problematic. But given that we are, in fact, talking culture here, I do not think that this is the interpretation most likely to increase your insight.

Comment author: Emile 24 November 2012 11:43:07PM 5 points [-]

(not disagreeing, but note that I'm not saying the statement isn't problematic, merely saying that some objections are better than others)

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 25 November 2012 05:11:58AM *  11 points [-]

Let's charitably assume that the father is just making an empirical statement, to shorten the list.

But my whole point was that if it's an empirical statement, then we shouldn't be offended by it. That position seems fundamental to the whole rationalist project - a minor corollary of the Litany of Tarski is "If X is true, I want people to tell me that X is true [1]". X can be "the sky is blue" or "women who can cook and clean have better marriage prospects", it really shouldn't matter.

Think about the precedent you are setting when you get offended by an empirical statement. First of all, you are attacking the messenger - the fact that potential suitors will evaluate a woman in part based on her domestic skills is perhaps deplorable, but it's hardly the father's fault. Second, you are giving your allies an incentive to hide potentially important social information from you, since you have established the fact that you will sometimes get angry at them for telling you things.

[1] A better statement of this idea would be "If the probability of X is p(X), I want the proportion of people who tell me X is true to be p(X)". The people who advocate the minority positions (i.e. iconoclasts) are actually crucial to forming a well-calibrated picture of the world - without them you will become disastrously overconfident. You should take a moment today to thank your friendly neighborhood iconoclast.

Comment author: Emile 25 November 2012 04:04:09PM 7 points [-]

But my whole point was that if it's an empirical statement, then we shouldn't be offended by it.

I'm going to sidestep the talk of "offense" because I think it's sufficient to talk about whether a statement is morally right or wrong ("offensive" seems to be "morally wrong" with some extra baggage).

Two cases in which I might judge an empirical statement as morally wrong:

1) the statement is false, and yes, saying false things is usually considered morally wrong

2) the statement is true, but is used in a context where it will have negative repercussions - for example, telling your kid a huge amount of factually true statistics that cast a bad light upon a group you don't like (blacks, jews, women, etc.), or teaching a madman how to make explosives, etc.

In this case we're talking about the value a statement not in the abstract, but as life advice given from a father to his daughter. The important part isn't as much the truth of that particular piece of advice, but of what it allows us to infer about the general quality of the life advice given.

Comment author: Kindly 25 November 2012 05:36:42AM 16 points [-]

An empirical statement, even a true one, can place undue emphasis on a particular fact. There's a hundred things in the same reference class that the father could have said; this particular one isn't being picked out because it is more true than the others, but because it conforms to gender stereotypes.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 November 2012 06:52:39AM *  27 points [-]

When epistemic rationality is counter to instrumental rationality

Epistemic rationality is about knowing the truth. Instrumental rationality is about meeting your goals.

The general case is that the more truth you know, the better you are at meeting your goals (and so instrumental and epistemic rationality are heavily tied to each other), however there exist rare occurrences where this is not the case.

More importantly, there are many times when SPEAKING the truth is counter to your goals.

For an absurd example: Say you are in a room full of angry convicts with knives. It probably is counter to your goal of staying alive and healthy to start proclaiming TRUE but insulting statements.

More realistically, raising children is one example where, if your goal is to raise happy, sane, well-adjusted adults, there are many statements that should NOT be spoken, no matter how true they are.

Examples:

  • No, that's a horrid drawing. I can't tell at all what it is. I could do better in 5 seconds. I will probably throw it away as soon as you forget about it.
  • Your mom and I just had sex on the living room couch. What's sex? Well...
  • Let's learn about the history of torture! Or how about I tell you about factory farming and where your hamburger came from. Or poverty! (if said to a preschooler)

Even if it the cooking and cleaning statement were epistemically true, it is not instrumentally rational to tell this to your child if your goal is to have her grow into an independent adult who can support herself, and does not feel bound by the "traditional" gender roles (which are falling out of favor anyway).

Likewise, if you value having a higher percentage of women on this site, it is not instrumentally rational to make statements such as "You only got upvoted because you're a girl", or "<X> girls aren't as attractive as <Y> girls," EVEN IF you believe that said statements are true.

I highly value truth. But a prime reason I value it is because it allows me to meet my goals. When speaking the truth is harmful to my goals, it is wise to hold my tongue.

Comment author: Swimmer963 25 November 2012 05:20:22PM 7 points [-]

•Let's learn about the history of torture! Or how about I tell you about factory farming and where your hamburger came from. Or poverty!

I don't think this example is in the same class as the other ones...as in, there's a certain age at which I would think that it is a good idea to tell your child, at the very least, that torture/factory farming/poverty exist. Preferably in a "let's think of something small that you could do about nasty situation XYZ" format. I wouldn't recommend telling 4-year-olds about these things-they aren't at an age to understand them-but 10-11 year olds is a different story. To do otherwise is to raise children to unconsciously ignore these issues, as most adults do. These issues exist.

Comment author: army1987 26 November 2012 12:15:40PM 4 points [-]

When epistemic rationality is counter to instrumental rationality

See also Bostrom (2011).

Comment author: Vaniver 25 November 2012 06:01:45PM 8 points [-]

Even if it the cooking and cleaning statement were epistemically true, it is not instrumentally rational to tell this to your child if your goal is to have her grow into an independent adult who can support herself, and does not feel bound by the "traditional" gender roles (which are falling out of favor anyway).

Indeed. But why suppose those goals? I would value my daughter's happiness above her being independent and untraditional, in part because the former seems absolute while the latter two seem relational. When there are conflicting goals, all we can discuss are the empirical results of polices, and it's not clear to me that this is a case where accomplishing goals and speaking the truth conflict.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 05:08:48PM 9 points [-]

Your mom and I just had sex on the living room couch. What's sex? Well...

Why? I was under the impression that not telling children about sex was usually the result of an emotional hangup on the part of the parents and/or a culturally cached thought that originally arose from the “sex is dirty” meme from the medieval/early modern Christianity memeplex (possibly both things reinforcing one another), rather than a rational expectation that the child would be worse off if they knew about sex based on any kind of actual evidence. Am I wrong? (How common is that taboo among non-European-derived cultures?)

Comment author: Alicorn 25 November 2012 05:14:31PM *  11 points [-]

Telling children how sex works is important. You can do this when they ask about it or when they reach some level of sophistication that will let them understand the explanation you're ready to give. Telling anyone - especially your child - that you just had sex on the couch is a poor choice (outside of some plausible dynamics that consenting unrelated adults could set up). It's none of their business, and a psychologically typical child won't want it to be their business or will be embarrassed to have so wanted when they get older.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 November 2012 11:29:52PM 11 points [-]

I looked up 'sex' in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Comment author: David_Gerard 25 November 2012 11:35:25PM 6 points [-]

How old were you? Did it tell you anything that seemed useful, anything that in fact turned out to be useful? (Did you have a Britannica at home?)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 06:59:39PM 6 points [-]

All of those examples are cases of the hearer being insufficiently intelligent, insufficiently sane, or insufficiently mentally developed, and thus not equipped to hear truth-statements without taking unreasonable offense. Into which of those categories do you think the women on LW fall...? I'm going to guess "none of the above". But that leaves you with an absence of examples that actually support your point.

Also: the empirical statement "making this statement will probably lead to this-and-such bad outcome for me" is not equivalent to the value judgment "this statement is offensive [to this-and-such part of my audience]".

Comment author: Emile 25 November 2012 08:42:27PM *  5 points [-]

All of those examples are cases of the hearer being insufficiently intelligent, insufficiently sane, or insufficiently mentally developed, and thus not equipped to hear truth-statements without taking unreasonable offense. Into which of those categories do you think the women on LW fall...?

Back at the top of this thread, what is discussed is "A father tells his daughter X. Some here may find that objectionable." - what would be obejctionable wouldn't be X, but the fact that a father tells his daughter X.

Daenerys's examples are analogous to X - things that may not be particularly offensive as truth statements, but that one still may not want to tell small children.

(I think in this subthread some don't pay enough attention to the differences between "what's okay for discussion on LW" and "what's okay for a father-daughter discussion")

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 09:16:01PM 3 points [-]

Hmmm, a fair point. I took the people objecting to said statement as saying that it's offensive/objectionable in general, or offensive/objectionable to them specifically, rather than saying "maybe so, but perhaps not something you should say to your kid". If my interpretation was incorrent, I apologize.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 07:13:26PM 5 points [-]

IME certain topics are so mind-killing that few people are sufficiently intelligent, sane and mentally developed for them -- even on LW.

Comment author: handoflixue 30 November 2012 01:23:11AM 2 points [-]

All of those examples are cases of the hearer being insufficiently intelligent, insufficiently sane, or insufficiently mentally developed, and thus not equipped to hear truth-statements without taking unreasonable offense. Into which of those categories do you think the women on LW fall...?

Speaking as a woman of LessWrong, when I was 16, I was insufficiently sane and insufficiently mentally developed. If you go back to 14 and assuming my journals aren't a practical joke I played on myself, I'd say I was also insufficiently intelligent/rational.

It's key to remember the context here: these things are often said to children and adolescents.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 30 November 2012 02:39:11AM *  5 points [-]

Speaking as a woman of LessWrong, when I was 16, I was insufficiently sane and insufficiently mentally developed.

So was I. I don't think we disagree that when speaking to children, adolescents, and other people who aren't equipped to hear truth-statements without taking unreasonable offense, we should suitably modify our statements.

But the original question was whether we (here at Less Wrong) — who are more or less sane, intelligent, and mentally developed — ought to take offense, or even whether we should consider the statements to be "offensive" in the sense of saying that any offense taken to them is justified. In other words, which of these scenarios is closer to what should be going on:

Father: You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?
LW Observer, looking on from the sidelines: What an offensive statement! I am offended.

or

Father: You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?
LW Observer, looking on from the sidelines: That statement is probably poorly suited to its intended audience.

The thing about offense is that it's an emotional reaction, and one that prompts us to certain sorts of behaviors toward the person or group who caused the offense. We should be careful to be offended by those things that we actually think should prompt us to the resulting behaviors. I happen to think that there are very few kinds of actions or statements that deserve the sort of response that we see to "offensive" things these days, certainly much fewer than actually get such a response. This suggests that we should get offended at fewer things. Emotions have consequences.

Edit: How the heck do I put in a line break...? Is there an equivalent to <br /> here?

Comment author: lucidian 25 November 2012 01:13:31PM 9 points [-]

The truth is not immutable. It seems that many people on this site would elevate empirical facts (what is) into normative rules (what ought to be). Clearly, if X is just the Way Things Are, then there's no use fighting it; a good rationalist learns to accept that X is true, and work with that knowledge instead of ignoring its reality. (X could be anything from atheism to "black people statistically commit more crimes" to "most men refuse to marry a woman who can't cook".)

But just because something is empirically true now doesn't mean it has to be true forever. This is especially the case with social norms. Feminists aren't trying to say "men really don't care about a woman's cooking skills, and fathers who tell their daughters this are wrong". They're not denying that the world is this way, they're just denying that it ought to be this way. And a reliable way to change social norms is to teach new social norms to the next generation!

Be aware that when you speak a truth such as "Men only marry women who can cook", you are not just acknowledging a fact but perpetuating it. You are not just an objective scientific observer of a fact, but a subjective participant in that fact.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 05:02:32PM 11 points [-]

And a reliable way to change social norms is to teach new social norms to the next generation!

Er, not necessarily. Local maxima can be dangerous to venture away from.

Suppose that it'd be safer for everybody to drive on the right side of the road than for everybody to drive on the left side (as a consequence of most people being right-handed), and you're living in a country where it's customary to drive on the left side. You wouldn't teach your children to drive on the right side, would you?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 November 2012 11:40:28AM 6 points [-]

And a reliable way to change social norms is to teach new social norms to the next generation!

And would you teach those new social norms as something that is or something that ought to be? Also, if different people have different opinions on what ought to be, what is / ought to be the algorithm for selecting the "correct" one?

Comment author: Plasmon 25 November 2012 01:57:53PM 4 points [-]

It seems that many people on this site would elevate empirical facts (what is) into normative rules (what ought to be).

I don't think this is the case. In fact, most criticism of the original statement centres around the fact that it was insufficiently clear whether it was empirical or normative.

A cursory search reveals at least two relevant posts: 'Is' and 'Ought' and Rationality and SotW: Check Consequentialism

Nonetheless, people should indeed pick their battles, and fight those unpalatable truths they think most worth fighting.

Comment author: army1987 25 November 2012 04:56:16PM *  6 points [-]

A better statement of this idea would be "If the probability of X is p(X), I want the proportion of people who tell me X is true to be p(X)".

Er... if p(anthropogenic global warning is occurring | all publicly available evidence) is 85%, I'm not sure what I want is 85% of the people to tell me anthropogenic global warning is occurring and 15% of the people to tell me it's not.

Comment author: PeterisP 26 November 2012 11:19:55AM *  4 points [-]

Why not?

Of course, the best proportion would be 100% of people telling me that p(thewarming)=85%; but if we limit the outside opinions to simple yes/no statements, then having 85% telling 'yes' and 15% telling 'no' seems to be far more informative than 100% of people telling 'yes' - as that would lead me to very wrongly assume that p(thewarming) is the same as p(2+2=4).

Comment author: Alicorn 25 November 2012 05:36:53AM 14 points [-]

But my whole point was that if it's an empirical statement, then we shouldn't be offended by it.

Yes, well... I don't agree with your point!

Some empirical statements, orthogonal to truth or falsity, are offensive. Virtually any claim can be made in an inappropriate way even if it's not intrinsically problematic (if someone shouted the multiplication tables at the top of their lungs in a public space for an hour, I might not use the word "offended" to describe my reaction, but I would sure want it to stop). Some claims can be made in a normal tone of voice during a conversation between consenting conversational partners and still be offensive. Many insults are empirical in nature. Slander/libel is generally empirical, although it's false if it can be described by those words. "I fucked your mom" is a claim about reality, true or false though it may be in any given instance; most people will be offended by it and they aren't wrong.

The particular statement under evaluation here is problematic for the reasons I outlined. Even if the statement is true and its content is appropriate - even if we assume that the man's daughter wants to grow up and marry a man and is perhaps actively soliciting advice about how to appeal to a wider pool of suitors - then he owed it to her to be gentler, less judgmental, and less endorsing of the stereotypical pattern about which he was trying to communicate information. Maybe "Well, a whole lot of men value domestic ability in a prospective wife - cooking, cleaning, that sort of thing." Same information, less harmful baggage.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 25 November 2012 06:50:16AM *  12 points [-]

I completely accept that the father's statement was framed poorly and that he should have been more tactful and diplomatic, but that seems like a relatively minor misdemeanor and is also unrelated to the points raised in your original comment.

I am going to stand by my basic claim that rationalists should try to build an environment where people can make statements about their perceptions of reality without fear of social repercussions.

Comment author: simplicio 25 November 2012 07:37:19PM 9 points [-]

I am going to stand by my basic claim that rationalists should try to build an environment where people can make statements about their perceptions of reality without fear of social repercussions.

The flip side of that is building an environment where people clearly differentiate normative claims from empirical ones. The father (I would guess intentionally) failed to do this, which is a moral failing on his part - he seems to be trying to guide his daughter into a traditional gender role, not disinterestedly providing her anthropological facts about her (assumed) future dating pool. When doing the latter, he should use more objective language and also explicitly state his moral position on the status quo.

As to making empirical statements without the fear of social disapproval, I don't think that's possible. All statements are speech acts - affecting our emotions and values - and empirical statements are no different. Trying to build a community that is tone-deaf to the implications of a technically true empirical statement like "Jews are apes" is not a particularly desirable goal. If you want to transmit empirical truths with a potentially nasty social undertone, there is no shortcut but to try your best to disavow the undertone.

Comment author: satt 26 November 2012 04:15:29AM 5 points [-]

I am going to stand by my basic claim that rationalists should try to build an environment where people can make statements about their perceptions of reality without fear of social repercussions.

I reserve the right to publicly spurn insults, nagging, implicit normative claims, misleading innuendoes, and outright falsehoods, whether or not they're presented as statements about someone's perceptions of reality.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 06:13:45AM 8 points [-]

The slander/libel case seems instructive: truth is an absolute defense against the accusation of slander or libel; it's the falsehood of a slanderous statement that harms.

Shouting the times-tables is a problem because of the delivery mechanism, not the content. Shouting anything at the top of your lungs for an hour in a public space is harmful to bystanders, and as you said, "offensive" is not what is wrong here.

"I fucked your mom", if true, is only potentially offensive for something like the following reasons:

  • Swearing in polite company is frowned upon; "I had sex with your mother" is qualitatively different despite having the same content.
  • It's an implication of promiscuity (or low selectiveness of sexual partners) on the part of the target's mother, and our society's views on sexuality derogate promiscuity, turning this empirical statement into an insult. Arguably, this is a problem with society's views on sexuality ("slut shaming"), rather than the fact that informing someone about their sexual encounters with that person's mother is inherently offensive.

In short, I don't think I buy your claim that "Some empirical statements, orthogonal to truth or falsity, are offensive." At least, I'd like to see it supported better before I consider it. This isn't simply contrarianism; I think that the ability and right to say true things regardless of whether someone finds those truths unpleasant is extremely important, and social norms to the contrary should not be adopted or perpetuated lightly.

Comment author: simplicio 25 November 2012 08:25:01PM *  16 points [-]

In short, I don't think I buy your claim that "Some empirical statements, orthogonal to truth or falsity, are offensive." At least, I'd like to see it supported better before I consider it.

Some examples of empirical statements with questionable-to-bad ethical undertones. I present them to you as food for thought, not as some sort of knock-down argument.

  • "Your husband's corpse is currently in an advanced stage of decomposition. His personality has been completely annihilated. Remember how he sobbed on his deathbed about how afraid he was to die?" (Reminding a person of a bad thing they don't want to think about.)
  • "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here are twenty police case files on convicted child murderers, all of them Albanian just like the defendant, without any statistical context." (Facts presented in a tendentious manner.)
  • "Just thought it might be interesting for you to know that women tend to do about 10% worse on this test than men. Anyway, you may turn your papers over now - good luck!" (Self-fulfilling prophesies.)
  • "You're the only asian in our office." "Did you notice how you're the only asian in our office?" "Maybe you didn't realize you're the only asian in our office." (Drawing attention to & thereby amplifying the salience of an ingroup/outgroup distinction.)
  • "All I'm saying is that girls who wear revealing clothing are singling themselves out for attention from predators!" (Placing blame for a moral harm on a blameless causal link leading to the harm.)
  • "If he dresses effeminately like that, he's going to get bullied." (Ditto; also, status quo bias.)
  • "A black man will never hold the highest office in this country." (Self-fulfilling prophesy; failure to acknowledge shittiness of (purported) empirical situation.)

I think that the ability and right to say true things regardless of whether someone finds those truths unpleasant is extremely important, and social norms to the contrary should not be adopted or perpetuated lightly.

Not lightly, no. But as I was saying to Daniel_Burfoot above, there is just no avoiding the fact that statements, including statements of truth, are speech-acts. They will affect interlocutors' probability distributions AND their various non-propositional states (emotions, values, mood, self-worth, goals, social comfort level, future actions, sexual confidence, prejudices). Inconvenient as human mind-design is, it's really hard to suppress that aspect of it.

But there is a big asymmetry here - you (the speaker) know what you mean, so if it really needs to be said, take an extra second to formulate it in the way that has the least perlocutionary disutility.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 November 2012 09:09:56PM 10 points [-]

Some examples of empirical statements with questionable-to-bad ethical undertones. I present them to you as food for thought, not as some sort of knock-down argument.

These are food for thought indeed. My thoughts on some of them, intended as ruminations and not refutations:

"Your husband's corpse is currently in an advanced stage of decomposition. His personality has been completely annihilated. Remember how he sobbed on his deathbed about how afraid he was to die?" (Reminding a person of a bad thing they don't want to think about.)

I'm not sure what I think about this one. I do note that it would probably be perceived differently by someone who was aware of its truth (this person would certainly be hurt by the reminder of the bad thing), than by someone who was not (i.e. a religious person).

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here are twenty police case files on convicted child murderers, all of them Albanian just like the defendant, without any statistical context." (Facts presented in a tendentious manner.)

Exploitation of cognitive biases in the audience. Certainly an unethical and underhanded tactic, but note that its effectiveness depends on insufficient sanity in the listeners. Granted, however, that the bar for "sufficient sanity" is relatively high in such matters.

"Just thought it might be interesting for you to know that women tend to do about 10% worse on this test than men. Anyway, you may turn your papers over now - good luck!" (Self-fulfilling prophesies.)

This one is interesting. A tangential thought: have there been studies to determine the power of stereotype threat to affect people who are aware of stereotype threat?

"You're the only asian in our office." "Did you notice how you're the only asian in our office?" "Maybe you didn't realize you're the only asian in our office." (Drawing attention to & thereby amplifying the salience of an ingroup/outgroup distinction.)

I think I'd have to agree that harping on such a fact would be annoying, at best. I do want to note that one solution I would vehemently oppose would be to forbid such statements from being made at all.

"All I'm saying is that girls who wear revealing clothing are singling themselves out for attention from predators!" (Placing blame for a moral harm on a blameless causal link leading to the harm.)

There's something wrong with your assessment here and I can't quite put my finger on it. Intuitively it feels like the category of "blame" is being abused, but I have to think more about this one.

"If he dresses effeminately like that, he's going to get bullied." (Ditto; also, status quo bias.)

The problem here, I think, is that some people use "X is going to happen" with the additional meaning of "X should happen", often without realizing it; in other words they have the unconscious belief that what does happen is what should happen. Such people often have substantial difficulty even understanding replies like "Yes, X will happen, but it's not right for X to happen"; they perceive such replies as incoherent. The quoted statement can well be true, and if said by someone who is clear on the distinction between "is" and "ought", is not, imo, offensive.

"A black man will never hold the highest office in this country." (Self-fulfilling prophesy; failure to acknowledge shittiness of (purported) empirical situation.)

See above. Also, there's a difference between "A black man will never hold the highest office in this country, and therefore I will not vote for Barack Obama" and "A black man will never hold the highest office in this country; this is an empirical prediction I am making, which might be right or wrong, and is separate from what I think the world should be like."

If I think X will happen (or not happen), it's important (imo) that I have the ability and right to make that empirical prediction, unimpeded by social norms against offense. If people who are afflicted with status quo bias, or other failures of reasoning, fail to distinguish between "is" and "ought" and in consequence take my prediction to have some sort of normative content — well, it may be flippant to say "that's their problem", but the situation definitely falls into the "audience is insufficiently intelligent/sane" category. Saying "this statement is offensive" in such a case is not only wrong, it's detrimental to open discourse.

I happen to be reading Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate right now, and he comments on that well-known failing of twentieth-century social sciences, the notion that "we must not even consider empirical claims of inequality in people's abilities, because that will lead to discrimination". Aside from the chilling effect this has on, you know, scientific inquiry, there's also an ethical problem:

If you think that pointing out differences in ability will lead to discrimination, then you must think that it's not possible to treat people with equal fairness unless they are the same along all relevant dimensions. That's a fairly clear ethical failing. In other words, if your objection to "some people are less intelligent than other people" is "but then the less intelligent people will be discriminated against!", you clearly think that it's not possible to treat people fairly regardless of their intelligence... and if that's the case, then that is the problem we should be opposing. We shouldn't say "No no, all people are the same!" We should say, "Yes, people are different. No, that's not an excuse to treat some people worse."

Not lightly, no. But as I was saying to Daniel_Burfoot above, there is just no avoiding the fact that statements, including statements of truth, are speech-acts. They will affect interlocutors' probability distributions AND their various non-propositional states (emotions, values, mood, self-worth, goals, social comfort level, future actions, sexual confidence, prejudices). Inconvenient as human mind-design is, it's really hard to suppress that aspect of it.

Agreed. I just think that branding certain sorts of statements as "offensive" is entirely the wrong way to go about treating this issue with the care it deserves, because of the detrimental effects that approach has on free discourse.

But there is a big asymmetry here - you (the speaker) know what you mean, so if it really needs to be said, take an extra second to formulate it in the way that has the least perlocutionary disutility.

Agreed, and I think this is a special case of the illusion of transparency.

(P.S. Today I learned the word "perlocutionary". Thank you.)

Comment author: simplicio 25 November 2012 10:10:59PM *  10 points [-]

As an aside, I almost forgot a really good example of the phenomenon of "harmful facts," which is that the suicide rate in a region goes up whenever a suicide is reported on the news. Indeed, death rates in general go up whenever a suicide is reported, because many suicides are not recognized as such (e.g., somebody steers into oncoming traffic).

For this reason, police tend to hush suicides up (at least, they did in my old hometown & I think it's widespread).

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 November 2012 09:48:55PM *  7 points [-]

"All I'm saying is that girls who wear revealing clothing are singling themselves out for attention from predators!" (Placing blame for a moral harm on a blameless causal link leading to the harm.)

What moral theory are you using in the parenthetical comment? For example, according to naive utilitarianism it makes no sense to divide causal links leading to harm into "blameless" and "blameworthy".

Comment author: Cyan 26 November 2012 03:09:40PM *  6 points [-]

This comment is directed to the LW commentariat, not just Daniel_Burfoot.

Fill in the blank with responses covering reasonable prior probability mass:

Father: You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?
Daughter: I'm not interested in getting married -- I'm going to focus on my career instead.
Father: __________

Father: You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?
Daughter: I'm not interested in getting married -- to a man.
Father: __________

Father: You need to get a good job and learn how to dress well, or what woman would want to marry you?
Son: I'm not interested in getting married -- I'm going to focus on my hacking skills and RPG game design.
Father: __________

Father: You need to get a good job and learn how to dress well, or what woman would want to marry you?
Son: I'm not interested in getting married -- to a woman.
Father: __________

Comment author: thomblake 26 November 2012 05:09:52PM *  5 points [-]

Daughter: I'm not interested in getting married -- to a woman.

I'm guessing example #4 was supposed to have a character named "Son"?

Comment author: Salemicus 26 November 2012 03:50:20PM *  6 points [-]

All my answers would be variants on:

Father: You need to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?

Daughter: I'm not interested in getting married -- I'm going to focus on my career instead.

Father: I fully expect you to do both. Stop being lazy and learn to look after yourself.

Comment author: Icehawk78 27 November 2012 01:54:42PM 2 points [-]

Personally, I (and I assume many others) would have a drastically different response than any of these four.

Parent: You need to [cook/clean, job/dress well], or what person would want to marry you? Child: Why should I learn these skills for the benefit of someone else, rather than for myself?

Regardless of the interest or not in marriage, these are skills/actions that are useful for anyone, marriage-oriented or not, to have, simply to live as a socially well-rounded adult. (Obviously, alternate options are available, such as getting such a well-paying job that you can pay for a maid/chef, or some alternate situation in which "getting a good job" is unnecessary to your well-being, as well.)

Comment author: dspeyer 25 November 2012 03:55:47AM 6 points [-]

I suspect the word "need" is highly relevant here. It was emphasized in the original after all. And "need" doesn't mean "this is one way" it means "the other ways don't work (or are really hard)". Being happy in singleness or attracting a partner with your super-sexy aikido and topology skills are not viable options. That's a very disempowering message.

As a test, let's rewrite the sentence without "need":

It will help you to be able to cook and keep a clean house, because this will make it easier to attract a husband, and having one will make your life more fun.

By your emotional reaction, is this version

Submitting...

Comment author: Larks 25 November 2012 08:45:12PM 8 points [-]

Poor question framing. Some people would say it was both equally offensive and not offensive, if they didn't think the former was offensive.

Comment author: dspeyer 25 November 2012 09:20:29PM 4 points [-]

Point.

If you did not find the original offensive, please do not vote at all. The purpose of the poll was to investigate why people found this original offensive. So if you did not, applying this introspective probe serves no purpose.

I would edit this into the post, but ISTR that editing posts with polls is bad.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 27 November 2012 12:06:21AM 3 points [-]

Also since the only way to see the results of a poll is to vote in it, it's considered polite to add a "don't want to vote but want to see the results option".

Comment author: Asymmetric 27 November 2012 02:35:29PM 2 points [-]

It seems as though most responses to this comment talk about how learning to cook is a good thing because it helps one pursue other, more universally valuable goals. I definitely agree with this!

But honestly, the thing that makes women angry about the statement is not the first part. It's the second. Because there are many good reasons to learn how to cook, but the father is only focusing on the pursuit of marriage, as if that's the foremost goal she should have. The fact that cooking is so important in general exacerbates this -- it means that, regardless of all of those other vastly more important reasons, the only one women should care about is their obligation to get married.

Comment author: Oligopsony 25 November 2012 01:17:40PM 15 points [-]

I daresay this is the least terrible discussion of gender we've ever had. Good job, LW!

Comment author: Strange7 27 November 2012 12:47:35AM *  12 points [-]

You're supposed to go into the forest and find the dark elves. I don't have anything else about the farmers. The elves are the adventure.

Did... did she completely fail to comprehend the one thing she does know about the farmers, namely that they are being repeatedly attacked when they attempt to do any actual farming? The correct response here was something more like:

"A few minutes after you've got the plow hitched, there's a 'swish' noise and the horse falls down, an elven arrow protruding from it's neck. Roll initiative."

Comment author: shokwave 24 November 2012 03:27:52AM 20 points [-]

This feels like Main material, both in the "well written and based on collected data" sense and the "something the whole community benefits from reading" sense.

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 November 2012 10:02:50AM 5 points [-]

I have to respectfully disagree. The articles on Main are usually a bit more structured: they have a specific point to make, and they outline the reasoning and evidence that would lead one to conclude that the point is true.

This article doesn't seem to have a central point, and it doesn't offer any reasoning. It contains a bunch of interesting anecdotes, and it is great for creating discussion, but it doesn't belong in Main.

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that the article is bad (in fact, I do like it), only that it doesn't belong in Main.

Comment author: shokwave 27 November 2012 07:38:45PM 3 points [-]

they have a specific point to make, and they outline the reasoning and evidence that would lead one to conclude that the point is true .... It contains a bunch of interesting anecdotes, and it is great for creating discussion

I had the impression, reading the post, that this does have a specific point to make ("many of the problems of a male-dominated culture stem from availability biases and can be mitigated by providing information"). Rather than reason that it would be true, they're simply undertaking to carry it out.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 November 2012 01:00:25PM 2 points [-]

This might be a case of prototype vs. definition. I tend towards definition: articles belong in Main if they likely to be of sufficient interest to the whole community.

Articles with structure and citation are much more likely to be of sufficient interest, but that's only an indicator, not the point of having a Main section.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 November 2012 06:19:08PM 6 points [-]

Thanks! This comment got more upvotes than I predicted it would, so I'll try moving it to Main, but I understand if the mods want to move it back to discussion, because there's going to be quite a number of posts on this topic, and I can see how they wouldn't want that clogging up the front page.

Comment author: shokwave 25 November 2012 12:17:59AM 12 points [-]

wouldn't want that clogging up the front page.

Personally, I would be distraught if the front page got clogged up with well-written, interesting, and informative posts.

Comment author: MixedNuts 24 November 2012 10:54:43AM 8 points [-]

To any catcalling experts:

I look female. I go out on my own or with other female-looking young adults rather often. I live in a poor neighborhood. Why have I never gotten catcalled? I am ugly and dress unfemininely and shabbily, but Internet feminists claim this doesn't reduce catcalling much, and men do sometimes politely hit on me.

Comment author: thomblake 26 November 2012 04:34:31PM 7 points [-]

I am ugly and dress unfemininely and shabbily, but Internet feminists claim this doesn't reduce catcalling much

Anecdotally, this seems wrong. Having observed some groups catcalling, they did not catcall every woman who walked by, only the more-conventionally-attractive ones. So there should be notably lower incidence of catcalling with unattractiveness.

Comment author: army1987 24 November 2012 11:30:46AM *  12 points [-]

Maybe you live somewhere other than where the Internet feminists live. I wouldn't be surprised if the prevalence of such behaviours varied by an order of magnitude from one region to another, even within the western world.

EDIT: Indeed, a couple months ago an Italian friend of mine living in Barcelona posted something on Facebook about being constantly catcalled whenever she went in a particular district, from which I guess it hadn't happened to her (or hadn't happened that often) elsewhere.

Comment author: Dustin 25 November 2012 10:31:16PM *  3 points [-]

I can't say I recall ever hearing men participating in catcalling. I live near St. Louis, but in a rural area.

Comment author: Emile 27 November 2012 09:22:18PM 2 points [-]

For an extra anecd, I mean, datapoint, I asked my wife - she remembers being catcalled once, when she was wearing some extra-short shorts - which she stopped wearing after that.

Comment author: lukeprog 24 November 2012 02:03:30AM 8 points [-]

From the final hyperlinked article:

Why do men catcall women?

I've never understood this, either. Any good guesses?

Comment author: drethelin 26 November 2012 09:51:59AM 14 points [-]

As a man who doesn't catcall, it seems really obvious to me: Whenever I see someone really attractive, I want to shout out that they are to them. I'm well aware that my well-meaning comment about how great someone's ass is or how I love their hair would be weird or uncomfortable, and so I don't do it. But it's very easy to imagine someone less aware who does.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 25 November 2012 11:10:09AM 13 points [-]

I guess we could understand catcalling better by seeing its equivalent in more primitive societies, or preferably at apes. Or perhaps by putting a hidden camera on a person who does it frequently, and examining the consequences.

My guesses:

1) Some women react positively to catcalling. Even if one in a hundred, then it would be enough, because the cost is low. As an analogy, receiving spam is also annoying, but a tiny fraction of humans react by sending their money, which rewards the spammers.

2) Catcalling may be a defection in a Prisonners' Dilemma of a group of men meeting a woman. A more polite group would be more likely to impress her positively. But even in the best case scenario, she would most likely choose only one of them as her sexual partner. By catcalling, a man positions himself as a "speaker" of the group, as the dominant male. He slightly increases his personal chance by decreasing the chances of the group as a whole.

3) In its most primitive form, catcalling could be an encouragement to a group rape. It is not a signal for the woman. It is a signal for the fellow men to join the action.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 November 2012 09:00:57PM 17 points [-]

Additional hypothesis-- for some people, being disliked is preferred to being ignored.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 25 November 2012 08:54:18PM *  11 points [-]

1) Some women react positively to catcalling. Even if one in a hundred, then it would be enough, because the cost is low. As an analogy, receiving spam is also annoying, but a tiny fraction of humans react by sending their money, which rewards the spammers.

Note that the catcallers only need to believe that it's worthwhile; it needn't actually be.

Comment author: army1987 26 November 2012 05:55:03PM *  3 points [-]

As for 1), the article linked to at the end of the post says:

I’ve spent most of my life in U.S. cities, of which most of the last decade has been spent in New York, and I have never once seen a woman respond positively to being catcalled. And, mind you, this is from a sample of literally thousands of occurrences, which makes me think that catcallers neither want nor care about a positive response from the victims of their harassment. [emphasis in the original]

(EDIT: But maybe there are women who respond positively, but not in large cities, and the men who catcall grew up somewhere where certain women did.)

As for 2), it's not clear to me which side of the evolutionary-cognitive boundary. Are you saying that men believe (or, at least, alieve) that nowadays by catcalling they make each other less likely to get laid but themselves more likely to get laid, or are you saying that their brain is wired to find catcalling fun, and the reason why it is is that their ancestor who did so had more children than those who didn't?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 November 2012 02:29:39AM *  33 points [-]

Six options:

1) Low rate of success is coupled with a very low investment level. 2) The behavior isn't to try to pick up the woman at all but rather to engage in shared bonding among the males. (Note how this behavior seems to generally occur when there is a group of males.) 3) Lack of self-restraint. The people in question who do this are typically low status and low income. There's a large body of evidence that people with lack of self-control have less life success. (The marshmallow studies and all that.) Some of these people may have little self-control or bother so little to exercise self-control that clearly unsuccessful behavior is still attempted. 4) Attempts to harass the people in question, possibly to blow off steam at one's own lack of sexual success. 5) A well-meaning attempt to actually complement people for being good looking and well-dressed. They may just be unaware of how uncomfortable this behavior often makes women feel. 6) Possibly combining with any combination of the above possibilities- cultural behavior. Once there's some small fraction doing something, how long does it take before the same behavior is imitated in the general group?

Comment author: Morendil 24 November 2012 10:42:31AM *  7 points [-]

The marshmallow studies and all that.

Take those with a grain of salt.

The people in question who do this are typically low status and low income.

There's plenty of evidence (e.g.) of higher-income people engaging in similar behavior.

Comment author: RobbBB 25 November 2012 02:37:27AM *  17 points [-]

Yes. The take-away point is that the children's patience with marshmallow promises and their long-term life success may be correlated because they're mutually determined by whether adults and peers in their life are trustworthy and reliable, more so than by a variable of Intrinsic Self-Discipline.

Comment author: shminux 23 November 2012 11:42:57PM 8 points [-]

That's quite eye-opening, thank you!

Comment author: MichaelVassar 26 November 2012 08:47:49PM 4 points [-]

My most immediate question is whether you think your more rapidly increasing desire to be normal was due to biological differences, more cultural pressure, or something else.

Comment author: BrassLion 21 December 2012 05:20:09AM 2 points [-]

I'm male. The anecdoes above are only not shocking to me because I've read a bunch of geek feminism / feminism by geeks before.