Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.
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!)
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.”
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.
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