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

29 Post author: daenerys 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: 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.