MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL, OR IT WILL BE…

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:

 

Did you really think this through, Jezebel?

 

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.

WOMEN ASKING QUESTIONS

I attend a lot of public talks (usually of a scientific and skeptical nature), and frequently most of the audience questions come from men.  It’s been noted that more women attend the talks in the first place over time (good), but it’s still the men that are the most vocal.  So there are two different parts to this problem:

  1. It used to be a male-dominated environment, but now it isn’t.
  2. Women still don’t ask as many questions as men, regardless of audience make-up.

So, regarding the first point, there are many reasons that the gender balance is closer to parity. Maybe it’s because there are more female speakers (solving the visibility problem), but I’d be tempted to hypothesise that it’s because there are more speakers and topics generally, thus reaching out to a wider and more varied audience. So it is an issue of accessibility, but only because the range of topics is not so narrow. Unfortunately I don’t have any data on the groups I attend, so I can’t actually test the theory. Dammit.

However, this article in The Guardian does cover this notion, that “the fault lies with past generations of [atheist] leaders who didn’t address the issues that matter most to women and minorities“.  Note that I’m not a fan of the term ‘leader’ when applied to atheist groups, as it has connotations of religious ‘leadership’, and I don’t think we should be putting rational thinkers on a pedestal.

So now that many atheists have moved with the times and looked beyond their own experience, matters that affect people who might not necessarily be like them are brought up.  And it’s a good thing.  And it’s been done silently and with relatively little fuss.  Which brings me on to the next part of the problem.

There is an argument that the newcomers to the group might still be finding their feet and less likely to speak up.  Well, ok, seems plausible.  But also there’s the issue of what has been studied, measured and reproduced in many psychology and sociology papers.  That when women speak up it’s received differently to if a man was talking.  Unfortunately it’s not just in the workplace that this happens, and if you see a pattern occurring every time you dare to open your mouth, then the safest thing might be to keep quiet.

One way is for the speaker to pick more questions from women audience members.  And I think the success of this lies in the execution.  If it’s done subtly (i.e. so that it’s not obvious what’s going on  – I didn’t say imperceptible, mind), then it can work, and builds a foundation for a more balanced mix of questioners at future events.  I attended one talk where the speaker specifically asked for questions from women because they feel women are often under-represented in this respect.  This gets a mixed reception – it just so happened that at this event it worked out well, no-one objected, and we got a good mix of questions from male and female audience members.  Maybe that would have been the case anyway, but there’s no way of knowing.  It was important in some ways that the speaker highlighted this problem because people do feel a bit uneasy about addressing feminist issues – like it’s a dirty word or it might upset the men – and we need to get over that.  However, some people complain that it seems patronising (or even a form of benevolent sexism), and that’s always a risk you run, especially to an audience containing women who already feel empowered.

I think the best way is to encourage women to speak, but in more subtle ways, and ensure that we give them the airtime without interruptions, without some oaf ignoring what they’d said and repeating the same idea and claiming it as their own; without explaining things to them that they already know.  Basically to demonstrate that it’s a respectful environment for anyone to ask questions.  And yes, I know that in the majority of cases, this is so – but it’s the exceptions that stand out in people’s minds and have a more damaging effect.

MISS, MRS, MS.

Women’s titles tend to be rather more variable and politicised than men’s (they have it easy, just the one-size-fits-all “Mr”). When I was younger, I grew up in a very conservative and insular community, where you were either “Miss” or “Mrs”. “Ms” was believed to be for divorced women (I’ve never heard this explanation anywhere else, so it was presumably a misconception in only the area I was raised). Also, it was Very, Very Important to maintain the distinction.

In common parlance, “Ms” is a title that women can use if they do not wish to be defined by, or reveal, their marital status.

One of the school art teachers used “Ms” and we all thought she was a freak.  Indeed, “Mzzzz” sounds a bit like a fly, and we were clueless kids learning our social skills and expectations within a backwards and overtly religious setting.

Then I moved to a major, and very liberal, city. “Ms” became a more attractive and less offensive title.  It sounded more adult than “Miss” (see the example of the French, below), and meant I wasn’t pigeonholed due to my relationship status (most people outside of isolated and traditional communities don’t think this is a big deal anyway these days, but for me it did mean something).

I don’t like being referred to as “Miss”, and if/when I marry, I won’t use “Mrs”.  It just seems really outdated.  In France, many unmarried women use “Mme” (the French equivalent of “Mrs”) instead of “Mlle” (like “Miss”), because “Madame” is for ladies, and “Mademoiselle” is for little girls.  Great idea.  We should define ourselves how we like and not let outdated notions of status make the decision for us.

Many people in public-facing roles think it’s appropriate to refer to me as “Miss”.  It isn’t.  I don’t like “Miss” for many reasons: it’s over-familiar (much like the ubiquitous “love”, “sweetheart” and “darling” – bleeeuuuurgh), plays on my youthful appearance (this is a massive curse – more on this in another post), and triggers my “stereotype / gender roles” button.

I began updating my title from “Miss” to “Ms” with various utility companies, institutions, professional bodies, etc, about 5 years ago.  Although it’s something that is important to me, it still feels quite strange, because it makes no difference legally, and not everyone understands why I choose to do this.  The more I get challenged on it, the more comfortable I am explaining it, though.

So please, please, please, stop referring to me by a title that makes me feel 8-years-old.  I am a grown-up now, and so are you.

Regards,

Ms. Science Lady

SWEARING, BANTER & TOILET HUMOUR

“Hurrah! Finally a post about something interesting!” I hear you cry.  Well, steady on because there is a serious point to this one (booooooo!).

For some reason there’s a bit of an odd dichotomy between things that can be said in the workplace, and things that can be said in the workplace in front of delicate ladies.

I find this, frankly,  hilarious.

Watching people stop mid-sentence and dance around what they were actually going to say before they caught themselves provides me with a perverse pleasure. And I suppose I am a little bit offended that people think they can’t be themselves around me, or even that women are so appalled by filthy language that they have to censor themselves for our benefit.

A couple of great examples spring to mind.  I was inspecting a site, and a joiner was in the corner of a room I had just walked into, talking to someone just beyond the doorway on the other side of the room.  He was effing and jeffing in spectacular fashion, and then he noticed me behind him, stopped talking and apologised.  I said “no, say what you like, mate”, and he said “I f*cking well will, then!”.  In that instant, he gained a whole lot of respect from me.

Another, in a meeting, someone paused what they were saying to just check that it was ok to swear in front of me (???).  I said, “Yeah” and the person sat next to me said “You should have said ‘F*ck, yeah!”.  Tee hee.

And the person who sits behind me at work has the sickest, dirtiest mind I ever thought i could imagine (apart from my own, of course).  This is bloody brilliant.  Hours of entertainment.  Keep it up!  Even try and out-do yourselves! Really, I have such a high offence threshold I consider this a challenge.