They can’t see what they can’t see

I wrote a post on Facebook a bit ago:

You know what I’m sick of? I’ll tell you what I’m sick of. I’m sick of men writing think pieces explaining why women should be perfectly happy to see men writing think pieces about how women just happen not to be suited to all those careers in which they’re a minority, because it’s their temperament to be too nurturing and cuddly to be suited for [desirable job X].

I’m sick of seeing those men never pause for one second to take into account the fact that being seen as unsuited for [desirable job X] IS ITSELF AN OBSTACLE and that they themselves are adding to the obstacle by lecturing us on why we shouldn’t be “offended” by such claims but just smile acceptingly and take it all on board.

That’s what I’m sick of.

Then I decided to talk about it here including saying what the source irritant was. It was a pair of articles, by Russell Blackford and then by Jerry Coyne linking to Russell, on the Damore memo and how reasonable it was and how mistaken it is to think otherwise.

Russell first:

In August 2017, James Damore, a Google software engineer, was fired for writing an internal memo that offered views about sex-related differences in interests and emotions.

Damore had suggested that part of the over-representation of men in software engineering at Google might be due to psychological differences between women and men: not intellectual differences, but differences in what activities the sexes find attractive and enjoyable. He argued that Google should focus on equality of opportunity for individuals, without necessarily expecting equality of outcomes across its workforce.

Damore’s firing from Google was an example of an increasing intolerance of inconvenient or controversial ideas within democratic societies. Here, then, is one great moral challenge of our time. Once an issue becomes politically toxic, we may reject inconvenient viewpoints out of hand. We may reject opponents – viewing them as ill-disposed people – without listening to them, and we may even try to punish them for their views.

But this wasn’t a disinterested discussion at a think tank. It was a non-supervisory male employee writing up his unsolicited opinions on why there are fewer women than men in jobs like the ones at Google – in other words a contribution to a hostile work environment. It’s not just a matter of “oh my god this man’s valuable academic opinion on a completely random abstract subject has been suppressed!!” – it’s also a matter of person from favored group explaining to disfavored group that it’s disfavored because of its own psychological quirks, in the workplace. If one put it in racial or ethnic terms it would probably be more obvious how grotesque and discriminatory that is – “Oh you see it’s just that Indians are mystical and contemplative so they don’t want coding jobs, it’s quite natural” – but when it’s women, the dudes just don’t see it.

Damore explained that these are statistical differences, discernible at the level of populations, and that there is a large overlap in the distribution curves for the respective sexes. For example, many individual men might be more oriented to feelings and people than most women. Thus, he emphasised, these findings should not be used to stereotype or prejudge individuals.

No indeed, they should simply be used to explain why there are so few women at Google and there’s no need to do anything about it, especially not telling dudes to quit telling women why they won’t like working at Google.

Now Coyne’s:

As a scientist, I’m appalled when certain ideas that may be true, but offend some group or other, are considered off limits, even when those ideas—like global warming—must be accepted and discussed if we’re to save the planet. Psychological differences between men and women aren’t as dangerous to the welfare of Earth as a whole, but if we’re to figure out the reasons for sex disparity in professions, we have to take them seriously and figure out what effect, if any, they have on gender parity.

But the point isn’t that the ideas “offend”; the point is that they can contribute to an environment perceived as hostile. They certainly don’t have to; research and inquiry into the reasons for sex disparity in professions can obviously be a feminist and a feminist-compatible project; but random coder guy putting out a memo explaining it’s because women would rather stay home with the babies is not that inquiry. Yes, that’s hyperbole; I find the refusal to see this extremely annoying. The point is that Damore is not a researcher or scholar in evo psych or the reasons for sex disparity in professions, and there are sound and compelling reasons to ask why he thought he needed to put out a memo on the subject the upshot of which was “it’s because they don’t want to, not because we don’t let them, so there’s no need to do anything about it.”

Again: I think this would be blindingly obvious to them if it were about race, and I find it infuriating that they can’t see it when it’s about women.

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