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Spurlock comments on LW Women: LW Online - Less Wrong Discussion

29 [deleted] 15 February 2013 01:43AM

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Comment author: Spurlock 18 February 2013 06:18:46AM 15 points [-]

Can we discuss how LW's lack-of-niceness relates to the topic of men-and-women? I feel a little confused, and this insanely long comment is my attempt to ferret out that confusion.

I expect that most people who come to LW for the first time probably find the community somewhat threatening. The karma system does make you feel like you're being judged, everyone seems extremely smart and meticulous about being right, and there's a whole lot of background knowledge to absorb before you even feel qualified to open your mouth. This is exactly what I experienced when I first came here, so I agree with the OP entirely. But I'm a male, and nothing about this seems to have anything to do with sex or gender. My response to this feeling was to read the sequences, read comments, and become knowledgeable enough (about both rationality and community norms) to participate. The OP doesn't seem to complain that the community is only cold towards women, so if there's a difference here it would seem to be at the level of how this coldness is perceived or reacted to (no, I'm not about to conclude that women are at fault for being overly sensitive).

The sort of obvious, stereotype-driven interpretation here is that women are more emotional than men, or more emotionally sensitive, and will be therefore find LW's coldness to be more off-putting than men will. I dunno if we're doing women a service or disservice by accepting this viewpoint... is it an interpretation that many feminists would approve? It seems to paint a relatively "frail and helpless, need to be protected" picture of women, which makes me think we can do better.

If we try to get more specific than just saying "emotional", Submitter B seems to be implying that women will in general need more positive feedback and "warmth" in order to feel welcome or encouraged when posting online. Or that women tend to be calibrated differently in determining what level of warmth/coldness should be interpreted as hostility. For instance, a comment that the average man would interpret as neutral, the average woman would interpret as slightly aggressive or unwelcoming. This seems at least like a less condescending interpretation than the previous one.

And shouldn't we expect self-selection effects to largely eclipse gender differences here? Reddit seems to be a predominantly male community (probably less so as time goes on and the site grows, but typical-male-bullshit still gets catapulted to the front page of the popular subs constantly). But Reddit doesn't strike me as cold at all. There's a strong sense of community identity, the comment threads are mostly just riffing off of the jokes of other commenters, and lots of warm-fuzzy "thanks for posting this!" and "you sir are a gentleman!" gets posted and upvoted all over. That last example is obviously ironic in this context, but at the same time it does demonstrate that coldness doesn't seem to be much related to maleness, which is the point I'm making

So I'm inclined to attribute LW's coldness not to it's embarrassingly male dominated demographic, but instead to some kind of apparent correlation with interest in x-rationality. To sketch another stereotype, analytical/smart/nerdy people will tend to be more cold and robotic, treating more as machines than as people, and having poor empathic skills.

It doesn't seem like a stretch to say that it will be predominantly "analytical" people who will find LW's subject matter and style of investigation interesting. So the question is how much truth there is to the stereotype that lack-of-warmth will tend to be part of the package.

I'm not sure how much to trust this stereotype. At best it's true as a rule-of-thumb with plenty of exceptions (people with great analytical minds and seemingly natural "people skills" certainly do exist). But if we run with it for a moment, doesn't it seem to screen off gender differences? That is, even if women do tend to lie further towards the "emotional" end of the emotional-analytic spectrum (again, I'm not arguing that this is even a real spectrum, just trying to hash out my confusion), this doesn't matter much because it's only the more analytical women who will give a damn about LW to begin with. The majority of men wouldn't find LW interesting for the same reason (if you think they would, I suspect you've spent too much time in this tiny corner of interest-space).

So one might naively expect that even women are more emotional than men, this difference will mostly have vanished when we shift to the groups "Men Who Like LW Stuff" and "Women Who Like LW Stuff". But apparently this isn't the case, since OP finds (and some commenters agree) that women who are on LW still tend to be more put off by the hostility. So I suppose we should conclude that the correlation between analytical-ness and empathic-shortcoming is bunk. Or possibly that the correlation between "finding LW interesting" and analytical-ness is bunk. But the Reddit example seems to show that the correlation between male-dominated-population and empathic-shortcoming is also bunk. So here I am confused how all this relates.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 February 2013 10:38:59AM *  13 points [-]

women who are on LW still tend to be more put off by the hostility.

Unless we have some availability bias here. Such as, people who dislike something, speak more in discussions about disliking it. And if those people are women, they are more likely to attribute their dislike to male behavior, than if they are men.

In other words, a reversed form of this. A man: "Wow, I dislike how people behave on LW." A woman: "Wow, I dislike how men behave on LW."

My personal guess is that the truth is somewhere in between. Some things that men do here, are unpleasant for women. But also, sometimes women attribute to "male behavior" something that actually is not a specifically male behavior... but because majority of LW users are male, it is very easy to assign every frustration from LW to them. For example, discussing PUA stuff and "getting women" may be really repulsive for many women. But a lack of smiling faces, disagreeing with someone's self-description, or feeling threatened by very smart people, that can be (at least partially) just a gender-independent consequence of having a website focused on rationality.

Comment author: wedrifid 18 February 2013 10:52:52AM 2 points [-]

women who are on LW still tend to be more put off by the hostility.

Unless we have some availability bias here.

Robin Hanson has also speculated about differing payoffs for complaining.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 February 2013 01:08:21PM *  2 points [-]

The different payoffs for complaining explain the presence of complaining. They don't explain the absence of... anti-complaining. As in: "girls, I seriously don't know what is your problem; I am a woman, and LW is the most friendly website ever". Did you ever see anything like this on LW? Me neither. (EDIT: OK, here is a rather positive comment.)

Imagine how much status on LW a women could gain by defending men. Seems like no one takes it.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 February 2013 01:45:50AM *  3 points [-]

Well, Nancy Lebovitz made a point of saying "I'm a woman and I don't have a problem with the tone".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 February 2013 09:57:58PM 3 points [-]

Thanks. I was thinking about bringing that up, but on the other hand, what I said wasn't as hostile as wedifrid's suggestion of "girls, I seriously don't know what is your problem; I am a woman, and LW is the most friendly website ever", even though, as it turned out, I really didn't understand the problems a lot of people have with LW's tone.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 03:02:45PM 1 point [-]

Right. You didn't dismiss their discomfort, you just said that you didn't share it yourself.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 03:00:46PM 2 points [-]

The mystery is resolved if you accept the men's rights activists claim.

No one gains status by dismissing the needs of women. Not men. Not women.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 21 February 2013 03:59:44PM *  3 points [-]

Broad claims should be reexamined for specific unusual situations (LW is an unusual social situation). Also to avoid mindkilling, it would be better just to cite the claim without saying who claims it.

Even when outright dismissing is socially impossible, there can still remain some more subtle form of feedback. As a very extreme example, even in a totalitarian regime where no one can safely contradict the leader and everyone must clap their hands when the leader says something, people who disagree clap their hands slightly differently from people who agree.

I wrote this comment before erratio wrote hers. (And I somehow missed or forgot NancyLebovitz's comment.) Now, with the new data... I stand corrected. I guess in this situation, the positive comments by erratio and NancyLebovitz are as far as a woman can go without a status loss. Whether someone did or didn't go that far, that is an evidence we can use; and now that I see the evidence, I retracted the original comment.

So, considering this evidence, now I think that the situation is mostly OK, and that the whole "LW Women" series probably suffers from availability bias and priming. The complaining women were more likely to participate, they were primed to complain ("told to not hold back for politeness"), and they were primed to focus on gender issues (by the fact that they were selected for being women).

Just to make sure, by "mostly OK" I mean that I respect the wish to talk about sex/gender issues less. I don't think we can avoid them completely, because sometimes they are strongly relevant to the topic, but we should always think twice before introducing them in a thread. Some degree of reducing emotions is necessary for a rationality debate (regardless of gender), but perhaps we are too extreme in this, and could be a bit warmer, simply because just like rationality is not a reversed stupidity, neither is it reversed emotionality. But of course we should not push people for whom that would be unpleasant. Anyone who prefers a different environment is free to lead by example, instead of blaming others for having different preferences.

Comment author: MugaSofer 19 February 2013 01:00:08PM 0 points [-]

They don't explain the absence of... anti-complaining. As in: "girls, I seriously don't know what is your problem; I am a woman, and LW is the most friendly website ever". Did you ever see anything like this on LW?

Um, yes. The very first comment I saw here was exactly that. There are even more comments saying "girls, I see your problem; I am a male, but I too have experienced X" which fits the gender imbalance here.

Comment author: wedrifid 18 February 2013 01:38:27PM -2 points [-]

The different payoffs for complaining explain the presence of complaining. They don't explain the absence of... anti-complaining. As in: "girls, I seriously don't know what is your problem; I am a woman, and LW is the most friendly website ever".

That doesn't strike me as something that needs explaining. Lesswrong isn't the most friendly website (and nor should it be!)

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 02:58:27PM *  1 point [-]

Hanson momentarily hovered around the explanation a men's rights activists would give.

Women express their needs because people care about women's needs and act to satisfy them. Men don't because no one cares what a man needs. If he needs something, it's his problem. This is particularly true with complaints of hurt or injury.

Comment author: OnTheOtherHandle 27 July 2013 01:14:20AM 0 points [-]

I'd be curious if women actually did complain more than men do, or if that's a myth, or if women are more likely to express displeasure in ways that are labeled "complaining" (as opposed to "arguing" or "debating")? I know that the plausible-sounding and widely believed claim that women talk more than men do but the effect seems to be either very small or nonexistent.

It'd be interesting to see a study on this using a similar soundbite capturing device to find out if women did actually complain more. Even though there'd be issues with defining "complaining," it could be useful. I'd predict that Hanson is coming up with an explanation for an effect that doesn't really exist.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 February 2013 06:31:43AM 3 points [-]

I dunno if we're doing women a service or disservice by accepting this viewpoint... is it an interpretation that many feminists would approve?

How is this relevant? The important question is whether this interpretation is true.

So one might naively expect that even women are more emotional than men, this difference will mostly have vanished when we shift to the groups "Men Who Like LW Stuff" and "Women Who Like LW Stuff". But apparently this isn't the case, since OP finds (and some commenters agree) that women who are on LW still tend to be more put off by the hostility. So I suppose we should conclude that the correlation between analytical-ness and empathic-shortcoming is bunk.

Why? All you've shown is that this correlation doesn't fully screen off gender.

Comment author: Spurlock 18 February 2013 05:22:57PM *  1 point [-]

The important question is whether this interpretation is true.

Fair point. I think I was using this as a proxy for truth, the same way you might ask "do economists believe X?" instead of "is X true about the economy?". But also I was up late.

Why? All you've shown is that this correlation doesn't fully screen off gender.

True. It is possible that empathic ability is affected by both gender and analytical disposition directly, rather than gender by-way-of analytical disposition. Or more realistically, that empathic ability is affected by analytical-ness as well as other, orthogonal personality traits, and that these might be gender-correlated as well. This interpretation seems messy from a complexity standpoint, but such is the subject matter.

I wonder what other personality traits we'd have to account for before we could explain the gender difference. Also, there's the question of just how much of the difference is left over once we've screened off however much analytical disposition screens off. Again, I'm just hashing out confusion here, not claiming to have solutions.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 February 2013 01:39:20AM -1 points [-]

Fair point. I think I was using this as a proxy for truth, the same way you might ask "do economists believe X?" instead of "is X true about the economy?".

You really need to get better proxies for truth.

Comment author: Spurlock 19 February 2013 04:57:51AM 2 points [-]

Well, if nothing else comes out of this exchange, at least I can now relate to the OP that much better.

Comment author: bogdanb 09 March 2013 04:38:56PM 0 points [-]

Weird. I read Eugine's "better proxies" comment as an obvious joke, and had to think for at least five seconds to realize what your reply meant. I can't tell for sure if I would have taken it as criticism if it were directed at me, but I can see how it could be unpleasant if I had.

Priors to update: I can't tell if a comment is unpleasantly critical as well as I thought I did.

Comment author: Desrtopa 20 February 2013 07:20:11AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure how much to trust this stereotype. At best it's true as a rule-of-thumb with plenty of exceptions (people with great analytical minds and seemingly natural "people skills" certainly do exist). But if we run with it for a moment, doesn't it seem to screen off gender differences? That is, even if women do tend to lie further towards the "emotional" end of the emotional-analytic spectrum (again, I'm not arguing that this is even a real spectrum, just trying to hash out my confusion), this doesn't matter much because it's only the more analytical women who will give a damn about LW to begin with.

I think this rather incorrectly conflates being "emotional" in the sense of being nonanalytic with being "emotional" in the sense of being sensitive to the actions and opinions of others. While people who don't have analytical inclinations are unlikely to have a place in this community as long as it continues to follow its intended purpose, I don't think that's necessarily the case for sensitive people.

To take an example who immediately comes to mind (and I hope she doesn't mind my using her as an example of such), Swimmer963 has often made references to her own social sensitivity, in the sense of being powerfully affected by what she perceives others around her to think and feel. This certainly doesn't seem to have impeded her in becoming a valuable member here. It also obviously hasn't resulted in her being driven from the community, but if a sensitive individual had a poor initial experience here, it seems very likely that they would decide not to stick around.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 02:34:38PM 1 point [-]

I think a lot of things are getting conflated on the "emotional" side.

1 The ability to sense the emotion of others.
2 The ability to feel the emotions of others in yourself.
3 The likelihood of feeling an emotional reaction to the statements of others.
4 The people skills to effectively manipulate the emotions of someone else.

Psychopaths are very good on 1 and 4 but not on 2 and 3.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 February 2013 06:15:58AM 1 point [-]

I would argue that being sensitive is something one has to at least partially overcome in order to be rational, i.e., one has to be able to ignore the social pressure to conform to popular irrational beliefs.

Comment author: Desrtopa 21 February 2013 02:10:56PM 0 points [-]

There may be a correlation between them, but I think the tendencies to feel the pressure to conform to others' beliefs and to be emotionally affected by the feelings and actions of others are separate.

As Spurlock points out, Yvain also describes himself as being highly sensitive in the latter sense, but having read through the archives of his blog, I don't get the impression that the former is something he's had similar issues with.

Comment author: Spurlock 21 February 2013 02:58:43AM *  0 points [-]

Yeah you're right. I think part of what I was wondering was whether it does make sense to group those 2 things under one heading, or just how strongly they're correlated.

Now that you mention it, I seem to recall reading on Yvain's blog that he's also hyper-sensitive to negative criticism, so there's another data point for it not being tied all that strongly to gender.

Edit: Aforementioned Yvain blogpost

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 February 2013 06:09:51AM 1 point [-]

I seem to recall reading on Yvain's blog that he's also hyper-sensitive to negative criticism

In that case he's good about not showing it.

Comment author: MugaSofer 19 February 2013 12:55:09PM -1 points [-]

Can we discuss how LW's lack-of-niceness relates to the topic of men-and-women?

Because everyone knows women are more emotional and caring, and thus there's no possibility that the author could have had an experience shared by both sexes. There have been similar assumptions made throughout "LW Women".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 February 2013 10:00:40PM 2 points [-]

It's at least interesting that the most extensive (and probably the most useful) discussion we've had about the tone here used "what are problems women have with LW?" as the entry point, even though some men have a lot of the same problems.

Is there anything to be concluded from this, other than that damned hard to find your own blind spots?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 03:05:26PM 0 points [-]

See earlier comments on men's rights activists. It accounts for this observation as well.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 February 2013 02:22:07PM *  1 point [-]

Or that women tend to be calibrated differently in determining what level of warmth/coldness should be interpreted as hostility.

I think that's certainly part of it - they have different priors for the relationship of intent and associated comments. Theirs is probably more common in general.

To sketch another stereotype, analytical/smart/nerdy people will tend to be more cold and robotic, treating more as machines than as people, and having poor empathic skills.

To put it differently, nerdy people have different habitual goals in speech. They're trying to communicate facts, not interact/handle/manipulate people. They may have empathic skills, but they're not always applying them.

I wonder how much of the perceived distinction between male/female styles correlates to time spent in ideologically heterogeneous communities. If you're only used to discussions with an in group, the out group will feel very jarring and hostile. This is probably more of an issue for progressive posters, as libertarians rarely have the choice to be in an ideologically heterogeneous community. Also, I suppose anyone with any religious impulse would find the atmosphere rather hostile as well.

And almost all emotional queues are lost online. For people who habitually make emotional evaluation a prime part of their mental focus in a discussion, it must be rather disorienting, while nerds will be perfectly comfortable and at home. Nerds were made for the net, the net was made for nerds.

Comment author: OnTheOtherHandle 27 July 2013 01:03:55AM 0 points [-]

I think this is very important for putting questions like "Why aren't there more women interested in X?" into context. Even restricting it to people who regularly participate in online communities as opposed to using the Internet solely for Wikipedia and Google and funny YouTube videos and Facebook (maybe 15% of the population?), how many people total would be interested in LW? Maybe 0.1% of the men, and maybe 0.05% of the women?

There's no reason to expect those people to be typical along any given dimension, even gender dynamics.