“Don’t do this: Lower the bar for female candidates. I once interviewed for a software engineering job on the same day that my husband interviewed with the same team for the same kind of role. When we compared notes afterwards, I was shocked at how hard his interview was. Mine was superficial and skirted any tough technical questions. We both got job offers, but I declined. I didn’t want to join a team that didn’t think I had the same technical chops as a man.
Do this instead: Design your interviews to be just as tough for women as for men.”
This really resonated with me. I’ve attended interviews where I left thinking, “great, I sailed through that”, but received a call from the agency afterward to tell me that they wanted someone more senior. I noticed a pattern – they were asking me extremely basic questions because they assumed that that was the level I operate at. This would generally mean that I’d be asked only simple technical questions, and not anything more challenging or to do with the management aspects of engineering. And this was in spite of the evidence on my CV that said I was more than capable.
But it gets worse. I’ve accepted offers from firms after such a successful interview, to then be put in the most junior role on a team. They interviewed me as a junior engineer, and so they employed me as one. I’d be stuck doing menial churn work, with zero chance of progression. And the team assumed I must be “new” as they’d been told by the interviewing panel that that was what they were getting. Any attempts to query this were met with incredulity, because someone taken on in such a lowly position couldn’t possibly be so audacious as to challenge their authority.
Because of this lowering of the bar, the majority of my time employed in engineering has been in roles that I’m over-qualified for. It’s demotivating and demeaning. And while it won’t scare the women off until after the interview, it will cause them to quit. And then the bosses will no doubt wring their hands over why women won’t stay, or where all the quality female candidates are.
I wrote about two years ago on my unsuccessful quest for honest feedback, and found validation this month in a number of reports that back up what I was saying: that male leaders don’t like giving honest feedback to women. Here’s the tweet that jogged my memory:
A central factor in this giving of half-hearted feedback is the worry that men have of offending or upsetting female staff. Well, knowing that my career is stalled by unhelpful performance reviews is both upsetting and offensive.
I recognised this in my male managers – I can only think of one who spoke to me on the same level as the men in this regard. And another actually confided in his boss that “he worries about me because I’m delicate and remind him of his wife” – how on earth could they provide me with professional feedback while holding such a sexist and inappropriate view?
We’ve all heard it before, amirite, ladies? We mention an instance of street harassment in conversation, and some ‘helpful’ chap chimes in with “maybe he was just saying hello”, because clearly our experience is worth less than the hypothetical musings of some random man. So I will start this post with an example of what is not “just saying hello”, which happened to me earlier this week, and then I will finish with an example of what is “just saying hello”, with the aim of clearing up any confusion.
NOT “Just Saying Hello”
This is just one example of many that I could have provided, like the times I’ve been grabbed in the street, yelled at out of cars and from the other side of the road, wolf-whistled and spat at, and told to smile by someone who has no right to my time or attention. But this is the most recent, and perhaps the most entertaining. So here we go, lads, this is how to not just say hello to a lady you’ve spotted minding her own business:
Walking home from a friend’s, and on my way to the little Tesco’s, I passed two blokes out for the night. One of them clearly had had enough (of drink, of the night, possibly of his over-exuberant friend) and wanted to go home, but the other was totally plastered and wanted to stay out. They were discussing the merits of heading to the Northern Quarter, and as I passed the latter engaged me in the banter as to why they should party the night away. I’m well aware that getting drawn into these situations can be A Bad Idea, but on that night my faith in humanity was at a high, and it seemed fun and harmless, so I obliged. Besides, the sober-ish friend seemed to have his head screwed on right, so I felt safe.
The pissed-up friend was trying to convince his mate that there would be a naked street party on offer, and it was pretty funny – you really had to be there though – I jpkingly said it sounded great and I’d like to go along too. His friend, however, was having none of it, and made his excuses and went home after we had walked a couple of blocks down. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and parted ways. What a nice gentleman he was.
His friend decided to continue to walk with me up to the Northern Quarter as I was going that way anyway, and he had some serious partying to do (it’s not very far, maybe three minutes’ walk from where we were). No problem with that. We got talking about politics and what I do for a living, no red flags apart from he wanted to know about my living arrangements in a little too much detail. He decides he will also go to Tesco’s as he needs some food. So far, so normal. But… then he sort of follows me when I’m looking for bread and milk, and begins a deep philosophical discussion about bread choices. After some consideration, I come to the conclusion that seeded batch will meet my carbohydrate needs. He approves, and then asks if he can come back to mine for toast and a glass of milk. I sort of nervously half-laugh, and then realise he’s serious when he remonstrates with me that he played a vital role in my selection of baked goods, and this somehow entitles him to my toaster and, ahem, hospitality. It got rather creepy and uncomfortable, as he’d set this up just right and clearly expected me to cave, but honestly, I don’t take drunken strangers home with me as a habit, and I prefer a more thoughtful courtship than this. In spite of all my ‘no, thank you’s, he tries the age-old persuasion technique of asking me ten different variants of “oh go on” / “why not?” and then says “ok, I’m not going to push it” (you already have, mate) and then hotfoots it off into the night… I honestly don’t think he saw the problem with propositioning a random person in the bakery aisle.
So that was how to not just say hello. Here is the alternative, for comparison:
Just Saying Hello
I was on my way to work in the morning, and I passed by a building site. There was a labourer sat at the gate, reading the newspaper. He looks up as I walk past, and says “Good Morning”. I turn to face him, say “Good Morning” in return, and continue on my journey to the office. Nothing more comes of this.
And that’s it. It’s not difficult, right? No stalking, creeping, manipulating me, literally Just Saying Hello. We know the difference, thank you – if you need to check that we’re telling the truth then perhaps you need to examine your own behaviour.
You may remember my rant on the “Regressive Left”, a phrase used by those wishing to disparage the views of those on the left who approach cultural mismatches with tact and pragmatism. Well, those on the right have had a pop at Peter Tatchell this week on Twitter. I’m so pleased that a well-known figure such as him is standing up for sensitive and intelligent handling of difficult issues. Here’s some of the highlights:
Oh, wait, smearing LGBT folk looking out for ordinary Muslims as “the regressive left”, or “turkeys voting for Christmas” is actually doing the far-right’s work for them. Whoopsy!
When you stand up for human rights, you need to consider a set of universal values. You don’t get to downplay the rights of one group just because some of them hold objectionable views – that would be moral relativism, and I thought that was a bad thing, no? They are still human beings. We even have to extend that truth to the racists. They are but human, sadly.
The saying goes something like “But how can atheists be militant? They are defined by their absence of ideology!”, usually said in the company of other cookie-cutter Straight White Male atheists, with all the self-awareness of a baboon’s arse. Well, there is such a thing as a proselytising atheist, and this is what they look like from the outside:
As much as I want to find this caricature unbelievable, I do sometimes find myself in the company of those whose mouths are bigger than their modesty. And it is so tedious. We don’t need to “debate” this stuff, it achieves nothing. This Easter, let’s celebrate by keeping our mouths full of chocolate, and free from bluster.
Meow! Controversial “debates” abound this week with the argument (mainly from radical feminists) that trans women can’t be “real” women because they experienced male privilege while growing up. First off, this is a complete non-argument; it’s like saying I can’t identify as disabled because I was healthy up until my teens, or because I had a brain tumour that others couldn’t see, that I experienced “able privilege”.
So you’re probably able to summarise my thoughts on the matter quite succinctly. I am: it’s utter bollocks. But let’s delve a little deeper to highlight some of the errors, contradictions and downright fantasies that make up this viewpoint.
The male privilege argument
This is the most controversial of all the points, for me, because there is a grain of truth behind it. We don’t choose to have privilege in any given situation. It is as much about people’s perceptions of an individual as it is about the actual characteristic that is said to be responsible for the advantage. So while a trans woman may have experienced terrible suffering and marginalisation as a child due to their gender identity, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t perceived as male, and therefore treated like a boy (and this will have added to their problems).
Privilege doesn’t cancel itself out
There isn’t a scorecard of oppression that we use to decide who gets the most points in any given situation. Intersectionality is a wonderful frame to consider complex relationships between different axes of privilege. And it’s for that reason that it’s not a totting-up exercise. A trans woman who was once considered male doesn’t lose the trauma and dysphoria of her earlier years due to the concept of male privilege. It’s not Top Trumps, people!
There is no universal standard of womanliness
You’ve often heard it said that there’s more variation within a population than between populations. And it’s true in this case! There’s so much variability in people’s experiences of childhood, that I couldn’t tell you what a typical childhood even is, let alone a typical “socialised female” childhood. If we’re going to say that trans women never had the experience of growing up as a girl, we’re going to have to exclude a lot of “real” girls from that as well.
Trans women are women
There are so many different facets of what it means to be a woman. we can pick and choose the criteria in whatever way we like, but they will never give a complete picture, and every single definition we choose is going to unjustly exclude somebody. Perhaps the problem is that we are looking for too rigid a characterisation, like a Girls Only club with secret passwords and a ladies-only treehouse. I feel that this is one of the failures of trans-exclusionary arguments: that because historically women have been oppressed as a class, we must protect the definition of “woman”. But what then? We have our perfect definition that can never be challenged, and this is going to help us to fight the patriarchy… how? Isn’t it better to expand the definition of “woman” to reflect the entire female experience and to increase the number of allies?
Privilege works both ways
Transgender people are disadvantaged on just about every scale you can think of. More likely to be unemployed, more likely to be the victim of crime, more likely to attempt suicide, more likely to live in poverty, more likely to experience direct and indirect discrimination, etc, etc. I could sit here listing these all night. It makes the male privilege argument rather redundant when you consider the unending torrent of disadvantage many trans people have to wade through every single day of their lives. And let’s not forget that those making the trans-exclusionary argument are almost always white, middle-class and wealthy. Have they checked their privilege recently?
Men aren’t the problem, either
This “debate” inevitably ends up with someone claiming that trans women are men. Well, that ain’t so, and even if it was, it’s a fallacious route to head down. While it is true that the majority of gendered violence is perpetuated by men, it is by a minority of men. We hear so much about them because they create a toxic culture that often goes unchallenged and causes numerous disadvantages for women. There are feminists who believe that all men are an immediate threat, and they are wrong. There are plenty of things that we are all guilty of, like bias, stereotyping and sexist language, but they aren’t the same as rape and murder. This is a bit like comparing all the “arguments” against Islamic doctrine to terrorism – it’s just nonsense. Oh yeah, one more thing. I’ll say it again: trans women are not men.
What about the (trans) men?
Oh, look, a huge f*cking elephant in the room. Well, I suppose we’d better address it. Trans-exclusionary arguments always, without fail, ignore not only the issues that trans men face, but that they exist at all*. There’s no moral panic over where trans men go to do their business; it’s almost like it’s not really about bathrooms. Shouldn’t we be going after these chaps with our pitchforks for betraying the sisterhood? No? Why not? Is it like Queen Victoria refusing to believe that lesbianism existed because she couldn’t imagine it? How simple-minded the anti-trans brigade must be.
It’s not a zero-sum-game
I’m sure that if you’ve read this far, you don’t need this explaining to you, but here it is anyway: there’s not a finite amount of rights to go round. In protecting the rights of one group, we don’t need to take rights away from someone else in case we run out of human decency. There’s enough to go round for everyone. And if we then come back to the idea that women are suffering because our society chooses to treat transgender people with dignity and respect, I’d really like to see some evidence to support that claim. It’s ok, take as long as you need – the last 40 years or so haven’t yielded anything, so I’m in no rush.
So what am I allowed to debate then?
Well, you’ll have you consult your self-awareness guide for that one. I’m not going to tell you what to think. But I am going to tell you that you should think. We can criticise gender roles, gender-based violence and discrimination, while still supporting equal rights for transgender people. Indeed, many transgender people will have views on those topics, and they are worth listening to. It’s not an either/or problem. Yes, men in general start off from a more advantageous position than women in almost every area of life. But that’s not a Get Out Of Jail Free card that we can whip out every time a new feminist topic comes up. We didn’t just do feminism up until the 1970s and then it was job done. The world is changing and it’s not going to wait for us. Feminism isn’t simple, and nor should it be.
*NOTE: while trans men get conveniently hushed out of the room, some trans-exclusionary folk do have a problem with non-binary identities. I’m not completely sure what their “academic” argument is, but it quite often descends into insults like “trans-trender”, and it’s really ugly. I can only assume that they feel threatened by AMAB (assigned male at birth) people adopting identities that are more feminine, but at the end of the day it comes across as a dogmatic belief rather than anything backed up by evidence or a solid argument.
BULLSHIT. That’s right, if it ain’t inclusive, then it ain’t equal. Intersectional feminism strives for equality for all genders, recognising that while gender oppression is a huge factor in an unequal society, it is also more complicated than that alone. There are numerous other influences that are oppressive in their own way, or that combine with gender discrimination to create an even worse problem. For example, a black woman is more likely to experience both racism and sexism, whereas a white woman is likely to only experience sexism, and a different expression of it. Disabled and transgender women are at a similar junction – there are feminist issues specific to minority women that arise because of the traits that make them a minority. It’s really not that difficult to understand, unless you’ve got your head stuck in the 1970s.
And you’d think, what with them being a switched-on feminist publication, that this would be easy-peasy for Jezebel (they’re often criticised, but the conversations they generate are usually important ones). But they have really let themselves down today:
The headline reads “The FBI, Which Still Won’t Address Online Threats Against Women, Arrested Someone For Tweeting a GIF at a Male Journalist”. This is complete intellectual dishonesty. That headline, while technically true, doesn’t talk about what actually happened. The GIF was sent to the recipient, Kurt Eichenwald, specifically because the sender knew he has photosensitive epilepsy, and with the intention of causing him to experience a seizure. Besides that, it’s possible for the FBI to concentrate on more than one problem at a time – they are a national government-backed organisation with plentiful resources.
This was investigated and prosecuted because there was enough evidence to bring a case, and because this crime crossed the line from threat to assault. There is an issue of female journalists (and, generally, females) suffering disproportionate and gendered harassment online, and it needs to be taken seriously and investigated. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prosecute other crimes, and arguably this case works towards creating a safer online environment for women anyway, because there is now precedent for dealing with online abuse.
And then, back to the bullshit. The article (click if you dare) and its headline are worded in such a way as to take a story about an individual, trivialise the main issue, turn it around and make it about women. This is the exact derailing tactic used by the “what-about-the-men” trolls, and we shouldn’t be giving sexist knobheads any ammunition by behaving like sexist jerks ourselves. Not to mention the intersectionality fail. Mr Eichenwald was targeted for his disability (although it’s probably no coincidence that the person who did this had the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein). It had nothing to do with his gender, until Jezebel decided to make it so by throwing the disabled under the bus. Thanks a bunch, Jezebel.
Today was a Throwback Friday! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? This week, we’re going back to the 1970s, so get your tank tops and platform heels ready! Fujifilm, somewhat unbelievably, ran a press conference with a product demo that included a semi-naked female body as a prop for “testing the camera’s performance on skin tone”. Yeah right, pull the other one. It was a thinly-veiled excuse to cover up that they brought out a topless model to titillate the all-male audience.
Fortunately, one of them spoke out. Everyone listened to him because, well, he’s a man. Women have been complaining about this sort of thing for decades, but are routinely mocked and silenced.
The Metro’s article on this is surprisingly good (usually The Metro’s only any good if the train toilet’s run out of bog roll on the morning commute) – you can read it by clicking here.
My thoughts on this aren’t as stereotypically righteous as you might imagine. While I do find it offensive that this was deemed an appropriate marketing technique in 2017, I’m actually really embarrassed for Fujifilm. Like, seriously, did no-one tell them it’s 2017?
When I first started working in engineering; design offices and site cabins had nude calendars everywhere, hardcore pornography was sent round the office by email, and corporate jollies involving strip clubs were commonplace (this was in the early 2000s). There was very much an atmosphere of it being a “men’s space”. I did not dare question this set-up, as those in charge were the same ones who were responsible for my progression and pay-packet. Worse than that, I was frequently underestimated and was the brunt of every “dumb woman” or “feminazi” joke going. If Bernard Manning had walked in one day, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
As more and more women enter professions that are traditionally male-dominated, there is a transition period where nasty behaviours get exposed and weeded out. The first women through the doors have to bear the brunt of the sexism and complaints that they’re ruining everything, and it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad or Feminism Going Too Far. There’s an element of this still in motoring and gaming (please, please, please, no-one mention GamerGate).
While I find it really childish that groups of grown men left to their own devices are only comfortable working in a playground environment, I also find it fascinating. Why does this happen almost universally in male-dominated circles? Given that I know a ton of men who aren’t rampant sexists, but who also wouldn’t complain about it either, here’s what I think is going on:
A few macho types at the top of the food chain proudly display their masculinity by creating an atmosphere in which overt manliness is the norm. No-one is going to question it, as to be seen doing so would make one “less manly” (oh nooooooooooooooooo!). And in not questioning it, all of the men get to enjoy the benefits: loads of pictures of boobs, and none of those pesky women hanging around telling them they can’t make poo jokes all day. Outside of this environment, these men (including the ringleaders, most of the time) behave like civilised human beings – they wouldn’t want anyone behaving around their mothers or wives like that, right? Trouble is, it perpetuates the problem, and makes it hard for women to succeed in these fields. As well as being made to feel uncomfortable, it’s a lot easier to dismiss and ignore those that you openly hold in contempt.
Here we are with another example of skeptics making thinking errors that they’d pick up on if someone else did it. However this is a bit more than just a failure of logic – it’s also a distortion of the original term. While words can and do change meaning, it doesn’t mean that we can appropriate a phrase and twist it to mean whatever we feel like. We get all pissy when “deniers” are referred to as “skeptics”, so let’s not be hypocrites as well, eh?
However, this phrase is really doing the rounds on the internet at the moment, applied to anyone who is prepared to step outside of their comfort zone and find common ground with those who are different. A significant part of the problem is hostility to religious folk, something written about here, by Hayley Is A Ghost. And the atheist community’s favourite example of such “loony left” behaviour is the Goldsmith’s LGBT Society’s support of the University’s Islamic Society.
Here’s a summary of what happened:
The SU’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society invited Maryam Namazie to give a presentation. Some members of the Islamic Society were unhappy about this and attended the talk with the intention of interrupting her and preventing her from speaking. With SUs being what they are, and student bodies being willing to support the oppressed, reports of what happened were misrepresented as the event being discriminatory to Muslims, and many people were outraged about it (which would have been a fair response if that was what actually happened). Other student societies who campaign for social justice stood in solidarity with the Islamic Society, because they saw an alignment of principles. And this is where it started to go really, really wrong.
Now, the LGBT & Feminist Societies aren’t populated by idiots. These are educated, if idealistic, young adults standing up for human rights in spite of the knowledge that Islam isn’t totally OK with women and The Gays. It was the problem of perceived oppression that was the issue. It’s something that many of us would do if we believed that people were being unjustly treated, even if we don’t personally share all the values of the group we seek to assist.
In keeping with their behaviour at Namazie’s talk, the Islamic Society then behaved in a not-entirely-honourable fashion:
It was rather amusing to see this clash of cultures played out in the Twittersphere, but I never thought of it as anything more than an awkward misjudgement of the character of others. The LGBT and Feminist Societies acted in good faith, and perhaps naively, expected others to do so as well. Anyone with half a brain knows that #notallmuslims are like this, and it should have just ended as an unfortunate incident that hopefully teaches us to be more aware of others’ motivations. But no! Never ones to miss an anti-theist bandwagon, it really captured the imagination of the skeptical movement, and not to be discriminatory in their nature, they then aimed their mockery at SUs as well as Islam – in particular any of the left-leaning societies (this is a weird thing, most skeptics I know are left-of-centre, yet right-wing ideas are very popular if they push the right buttons. Maybe we’re not sceptical enough).
One thing I heard was that they were like “turkeys voting for Christmas”, and that Skeptical Trump Card, The Regressive Left (booooooooooooooooooooo!). Well, at the time, I felt quite off about it, but it wasn’t clear enough in my mind to articulate my opposition to it. But the popularity of this idea grew, and it got more tiresome with every minute. And so, here’s some commentary from the recent #womensmarch:
It featured heavily on my timeline, and, well, I’m not one to let these things slide:
This person, commenting elsewhere, summed up how I feel about the whole debacle:
I decided to educate myself on the identity of woman in the picture, with the US flag headscarf. Her name is Munira Ahmed, and she intended the image to demonstrate that she, as a Muslim, is as American as anyone else. And it’s an important point: Muslims are as diverse as just about any population you can think of. The caricature of Muslims perpetuated by the New Atheist Movement is horribly simplistic and creates division. We can’t say with any integrity that we will not support those women who look different from us, or those who are oppressed by our country’s actions. And what about Muslim women who do feel oppressed by the headscarf? Do we support them, but only as long as they take it off when in our presence? Of course it is possible to hold both beliefs: that Muslims are human beings who we should care about, and that the headscarf can be a tool of female oppression. That doesn’t seem so regressive to me.
I was out on Christmas Eve, heading over to The Boy’s flat for takeaway, wine, and nerdery, and I was Absolutely Bloody Fuming to have witnessed a transgression of the Highway Code that I felt I Should Do Something. If you’ve ever been in the car with me, you’ll know that my expectations of other drivers are exacting, and that my driving style is akin to that of Kenneth Noye.
I was using a pedestrian crossing, and waiting for the green man to appear as I had been instructed to do in my early years, and as We Should All Do (Rules 7 to 25 of the Highway Code). The much-awaited green man revealed himself, traffic approaching the crossing stopped, and about 30 of us (I live in the city centre; there’s rarely a time when it is not busy) stepped out, to continue our business on the other side.
Out of nowhere, a Deliveroo driver on a scooter shot through the red light, which had been that way for a good five seconds. He performed an emergency stop, but still hit someone, with whom he remonstrated for a minute or so before getting back on his round (so, fortunately, it wasn’t a serious collision). I was incensed that a fellow road user could be so inconsiderate and downright dangerous, so I put my Good Citizen Hat on and recorded the vehicle’s registration number. I was all ready to report it to the local fuzz and the Council’s licensing authority, but then I Calmed The F*ck Down, gained some perspective, and decided to conveniently erase what I had seen from my memory.
See, I know that a) it’s not easy working in the Gig Economy, and b) that gentlemen will be lucky to be earning the minimum wage, let alone a living one. Did I really want to get him into trouble and plunge him into an even worse state of poverty? Even worse, he probably needs to risk his life and license in order to complete all the drops he needs to, to put food on the table.
And a bigger question, to which I do not know the answer – is it ethical for me to use services like Deliveroo and Uber, where it has been well-documented that their workers are getting a substandard deal? I mean, people do want to work for these companies, and without this questionable means of running a business, those people would be without jobs. But in using their services, I’m helping to keep things the way they are. We could have even had the same driver for our takeaway that night. At least we left them a tip – seriously, everyone, look after your delivery and taxi drivers. They do a difficult and poorly-paid job, and they are the grease that keeps society’s wheels turning.
It’s complicated, and I don’t know what the answer is. While I can stay informed on consumer & human rights issues, there is only so much I can actually do to reduce harm. Hell, living in the West, you’re still shitting on someone else even if you go off-grid and live in a sodding yurt. How about we start a conversation in the comments?