« Why Argue Values? | Main | Sex, Nerds, and Entitlement »

July 02, 2008

Comments

What would the benefit be of tallying up the advantages of being one gender or the other unless one was considering changing genders but was unsure which gender had it better(in which case the social stigma associated with changing genders is clearly a dominant consideration)? I can see an argument that parents should figure this out and use it to decide what gender of children to have, but how many parents actually would choose on that basis? Also, screwing with gender ratios is socially playing with fire, so its probably best that parents don't do this.

Robin: "For the same reasons we make point lists to help us make tough job decisions, or ask people who sue for damages to name an amount and break it into components, we should try to break down these important social claims via simple calculations. And the absence of attempts at this is a sad commentary on something."

I largely agree with this conclusion. One of the problems we face when trying to do this is a lack of honesty in both face-to-face discussion and even on anonymous surveys. We need a source for our priors, afterall, and if all we have to go on is a collection of unverifiable personal anecdotes... As a believer in radical honesty (though not yet a full practitioner), I believe the amount of our knowledge on such controversial topics that has been obscured by dishonesty is shameful, and at least on this blog, 'holy ground' as it was once put, we should try to get over that. For those of you actually in social-science research, how do you try to deal with this problem?

The irony of the female privilege checklist linked above is that it is presented as as part of an argument against feminism, while it can reasonably seen as an argument for feminism*. Feminists see many forms of privilege as sourced in what they call patriarchy, and are fully aware that patriarchy also has set roles for men, and a pecking order for them. I think it's fair to state that replacing patriarchy with a more egalitarian social system is one of the goals of feminism; the corollary is that female feminists would be happy to see many of the listed female privileges disappear as part and parcel of the dismantling of patriarchy.

* That is, an argument for feminism directed at men.

Good to see we're making some progress on this. I like Megan's point here:

"I'm probably more willing than most feminists to give credence to the possibility that, say, women have lower IQ variance than men and are therefore less likely to show up in the tails of the cognitive/income distribution--though I also think that people often see what they want and expect to see, which makes those kinds of arguments rather more tenuous than their advocates allow."

Sounds like run-of-the-mill confirmation bias. From a quick search of the archives, Bruce Britton suggested you should "Expand your Focus to include information that lessens the force of the information (you cherish) that confirms your existing belief". So it seems we should be motivated to seek out information that disconfirms the idea of sex differences in cognitive/income distribution. Anyone have any?

The problem I see with 'quantifying' things like privilege, is that the lists of privilege are vastly different. As I perused the male privilege categories, I noticed that many related to preferential treatment in obtaining a goal-goal state, whereas many of the female privilege categories concentrated around privileges towards emotional expression:

For example:
"If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job"

"The decision to hire me will never be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon,"

versus

"I am allowed to wear clothes that signify ‘vulnerability’, ‘playful openness’, and ’softness’."

"I have probably been taught that it is acceptable to cry."

(Also, I'm not entirely sure that genetic propensity to live longer is a societal privilege, but that's for another day)

Accordingly, you as a man may weigh highly female privileges that you lack, and simultaneously undervalue the privileges that you have. And I, as a woman, might do the same in reverse.

My point to this is that because the privileges themselves don't weigh on a simple 1:1, apples to apples metric, I find it hard (but not impossible) to adequately 'weigh' them with any mathematical value.

What kind of clothing signifies vulnerability? A T-shirt that says "I am stabbable"?

Cyan - agreed. The question should not be "which sex has it worse" (which, like Michael Vassar pointed out, would be a bit pointless), but rather, "how to make things better for both sexes".

Cesoir:

That one struck me as odd, which is part of the reason I included it. I'm guessing, that the author was thinking of clothes that are or make the wearer 'fragile' in some way -- thin, diaphanous fabrics perhaps, or dresses that might constrict or otherwise leave a person incapable of defending themselves.

Cyan,
There is feminism as it should be and feminism as it is actually practiced. I am unfamiliar with the blog in question, however considering that part of the title is "Engendering Discussion" and not something offensive like "Shut up and get me a beer", I tend to give them a benefit of some doubt.

It seems to me the sexes evolved different survival strategies. The male of the species uses his technical skill to deal with physical reality directly, to turn a dangerous diseased jungle in to a comfy city with TVs, computers and electric blankets. The female of the species uses her social skills to get the male to deal with reality for her. Maybe she could maintain a modern city with all it's technicalities if she wanted, but she has evolved the ability to talk someone else in to doing it.

The two survival strategies will naturally result in the kinds of privileges and social norms listed. Men will die more frequently due to working more directly with the physical world. And the physical world can't be pleaded with, you just have to get the math right or the roof falls down! So men will naturally be less emotional and more straight talking. And women will naturally be allowed more freedom of clothing and emotion because these are part of a social survival strategy.

Did these things come out of "patriarchy" or different survival strategies?

anomdebus, I don't disagree what you've written.*

* This style of comment totally ripped off of Robin Hanson.

Ian C.:
Did these things come out of "patriarchy" or different survival strategies?

These are not mutually exclusive - patriarchy is the overall social system which has formed gradually over time, and social systems don't tend to form without a reason. Feminism 101 words it as "an ancient and ongoing social system based on traditions of elitism (a hierarchy of inferiorities), privilege and the subjugation of women via strict gender expectations which constrain individualist expressions" - but note that the "strict gender expectations" also hurt men. See, for instance a feminist blog's category Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too.

Ian C., don't lose sight of the fact that flesh-and-blood people are by their own account negatively affected by the privileges and social norms listed. The point isn't so much whether or not it's "natural". The point is to alter the system so that people don't suffer under these social constraints.

I posted Greg Cochran's response on military spending here. Just recently I had a post discussing Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson's "evolutionary feminism" here.

I can't agree with the entire concept of privilege. Knowing that you are unlikely to be raped is not a "privilege", it is a background standard of living. Knowing that your children are unlikely to be taken away from you is not a "privilege", it is a background standard of living. No one should feel guilty for having either of these "privileges". If some people lack that background standard of living, it is a problem. If some people do have that background standard of living it is not their fault.

I saw the "male privilege" checklist previously, and sighed about the fact that they hadn't tried to compile a checklist that showed all asymmetries of either type, not for comparison purposes, but in order to show that they weren't that self-absorbed. Yes, I'm aware that feminists want their own space to list their own grievances - but I'm sorry, I just can't imagine myself trying to compile a selective checklist of injustices. That's what you do before starting a war, not before reforming a society.

Trying to see who has it worse is completely pointless, and buys into the same warped psychology that generates one-sided lists in the first place. A gender-imbalanced society does not mean that the two sides should start a war.

I was surprised to see the "female privilege checklist" was written by men, considering how many obvious items are left out - like "I decide whether I get the abortion", "My children will not be taken away from me", "I will never want to kill myself over sex deprivation", "If I make a sexual advance it is extremely unlikely that I will be prosecuted for it", and alimony. (None of these items have ever applied to me personally.) Mostly the "female privilege checklist" seems targeted as an attempt to persuade women of something, rather than being an honest list of items that actually make men miserable.

I agree with the direction McArdle takes when she writes:

But the basic thing, to me, is that I endorse the project of changing social values to increase the scope of human possibility.

If we did try to count up and see which sex has more privilege on some point scale, what would we do then? Would we seek to give the under-privileged sex more special advantages and perhaps handicap the over-privileged sex? That would seem to be pretty crude.

Instead, I would suggest that we go through both male and female privilege lists, eliminate redundancies, and then add the points for both lists to get a total point value for sexual discrimination. Think of them both as sexual-inequality lists. Then we could consider policies that would reduce this total point value. The goal would be to move towards a state in which both sexes had equal opportunities.

Cyan- Robin does have a delightful way of not saying anything at all...

Hal Finney and Eliezer Yudkovsky make very sensible points. In this as in other instances, "Politics is the mind-killer": it is quite likely that the people drawing such privilege checklists are signaling and reinforcing their ingroup identification rather than effectively striving for the improvement of society. This is not that far removed from the kind of mentality which leads people to actual wars.

"What would the benefit be of tallying up the advantages of being one gender or the other unless one was considering changing genders but was unsure which gender had it better...?"

Michael, a good question. I think the benefit here is primarily sexual signalling, between folks like Robin and Laura ABJ (not at all limited to the two of them, you, me & everyone else are probably included), which I think is one part signalling sexual difference, and one part signalling reproductive fitness. I think this may apply generally to parlor gender wars.

There are some classic recent comments along these lines, which I'll post links to in this thread if I get a chance.

Eliezer:
Knowing that you are unlikely to be raped is not a "privilege", it is a background standard of living. Knowing that your children are unlikely to be taken away from you is not a "privilege", it is a background standard of living.

That's exactly the point. These are things which should be obvious - in other words, things which shouldn't be privileges at all, but which should apply to everyone. At the moment, however, that isn't true - and in fact, because they seem so obvious, people are blind to them - especially if they belong to class to whom the things are obvious. Men have a hard time realizing male privilege, because they take it as an obvious thing, not realizing that it doesn't apply equally to women.

Also, the claim isn't that anybody in particular would be "at fault" due to having privilege. Again citing Feminism 101:

Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege.

In a nutshell:

Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf. (Emphasis in the original)

Also, later on, the following:

it’s not about one person saying or doing one thing, it’s about a whole lot of people saying and doing things that, collectively, end up giving men an overall advantage.

It's not that men are being blamed for being men, but one can't try to reform a society without understanding what privileges men (or for that matter, women) do enjoy. (I recommend reading the whole linked entry, by the way, not just the excerpts I chose to post.)

anytime i see the word "patriarchy" i think back to this econlog article about whether it's men or women who are more paternalistic.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/03/make_that_mater.html

Eliezer: "No one should feel guilty for having either of these "privileges". If some people lack that background standard of living, it is a problem. If some people do have that background standard of living it is not their fault."

Most of those who advocate awareness of privilege would not disagree with this. Cf. Betty: "Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you've done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it's not those things, and it's not because of those things." Cf. also the Feminism 101 blog: "it’s not about one person saying or doing one thing, it’s about a whole lot of people saying and doing things that, collectively, end up giving men an overall advantage."

I think the idea is that an individual may have a moral obligation to be aware of, and try to counteract, their privilege, even though it's not their fault.

Kaj beat me to it.

I read that Feminism 101 blog. Lawd luv a green-eyed duck, why are so many seemingly intelligent people falling over this most naive, cotton-brained, victim-cultured, 1970s form of feminism? Watching you all here excoriate yourself with cats-o-nine-tails for this stuff is frankly sad.

Please embrace more serious thinking and stop swallowing the political power trips based on guilt. This whole thing is just turning into PCI: Special Pleading Victims Unit. Enuf, I beg you.

"I think the idea is that an individual may have a moral obligation to be aware of, and try to counteract, their privilege, even though it's not their fault."

Or, "you've done nothing wrong, but give me that position (degree, job, status, Senate seat) you've got anyway because, damn it, I'm due and my great-great-grandma couldn't go to medical school."

I've had meetings all day.

Michael, the reason to tally is Megan's concern and others like her. It is not obviously bad to have a society where different kinds of people face different choices, but inequality across those choice sets seems more obviously bad. If the choice sets are roughly of equal quality then we didn't be as anxious to change them.

Carey, yes of course there are lots of subtleties to consider. But can it really be better to just ignore them and declare women are "more" restricted?

Kaj, it is not obvious there are ways to make things better for both sexes.

Eliezer, are you saying you can't make sense of Megan's claim? I was trying to flesh it out.

Hal, it is not obvious to me we want a world where men and women face identical choice sets.

"[I]t is not obvious to me we want a world where men and women face identical choice sets."

Why not? Could you elaborate?

z.m., if women are more feature X and men more feature Y, and women tend to choose situation A more relative to men choosing situation B more, then A may evolve to better accommodate X while B evolves to better accommodate Y. At that point it may be, all else equal, easier for woman to choose A and easier for men to choose B. Their choice sets will not be identical because which choices are easier than others will be different for men and women.

I'm having trouble understanding how A and B are both situations people choose and things that evolving. What sorts of things are A and B?

"Privilege", to me, sounds like something bad and to be eliminated; the term comes from "private law", I believe.

If the goal is to de-deprivilege women and not deprivilege men, someone really needs to say so and maybe pick a different word. Talking about a normal standard of living as "privilege" leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I don't think it was intended otherwise, either.

@zmd
" '[I]t is not obvious to me we want a world where men and women face identical choice sets.'

Why not? Could you elaborate?"

Because maybe we don't want a world where anyone/everyone faces identical choice sets? If we don't have identical aptitudes and personal situations, how do we have identical choices? Shouldn't the individual be respected before the class?

Wouldn't that kind of radical identity/equality require amazing infringements on human individuality, which would be more shocking than the minor differences some class sets may now face? Wouldn't it basically put us in Harrison Bergeron land?

I mean until Robin can have my baby (forgive me for using you in my example, Robin), he and I will never have identical choice sets. At the most absurd and extreme case, when that technology becomes available, should we subject Robin to the baby-having implant to ensure that he and I then have identity of choice? And then of course I would have to subject myself to the baby-making implant. What if he or I decline to accept said implant?

Me no big Nietzsche fan, but perhaps his critique of simplistic ideas about equality has some use nonetheless?

frelkins,

No one here is advocating anything like what you've described, so your objection is a strawman argument. If we're going to agree that "equal choice sets" refers to the equality that feminists want to promulgate, then perhaps you could criticize that, and not an absurd exaggeration.

Frelkins, I think you assume far too much. I merely asked Robin to elaborate on his position; I did not and have not argued for equality of outcome. Correct me if I am mistaken in my interpretation, but by choice set I understand the set of choices one could make, not the set of choices one actually will make (in the many worlds, or whatever). Thus, I find it conceivable in principle that two individuals or groups could have identical choice sets without making identical choices. As a liberal individualist, I would like people to have as many choices as possible. In the realm of gender, that means I think men should have the option of doing traditionally feminine things if they so desire, and that women should have the option of doing traditionally masculine things if they so desire. I realize, of course, that people can't do whatever they want; there are real-world economic, technological, and physical limitations. I realize furthermore that there exist statistical sex differences such that women collectively and men collectively will not end up making the same choices. Still, I don't see what's wrong with giving people more options when it is feasible to do so. As you yourself say, should not the individual be respected before the class?

Robin, nor is it obvious that there wouldn't be. Simple things, such as pushing for entertainment portraying less stereotyped gender roles, already help.

Eliezer, don't get too stuck on the name. The content is what matters.

Z.M. Davis,

Why is giving two (or more) groups an identical choice set, with no regard for the differences in expected outcomes, a thing to be desired for its own sake? If your utility function is dominated by outcome-dependent preferences, your perceived choices may in fact not be choices at all. Therefore equality of outcome needs to be considered.

From the perspective of socially engineering equality between groups, I think the distinction should be made between differences in expected outcomes that arise from controllable vs uncontrollable differences between the groups. The desireability of actually controlling the controllable differences between the groups should be considered, as one would expect this to alter the expected outcomes of *other* choices significantly.

1)
"Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege."

If “social status” is in turn determined by rational agents who have knowledge of exogenous group differences and react in their own interest accordingly, then “privilege” is a highly obfuscatory word that can be applied to any group whose social outcomes are judged to be more desirable than those of other groups.

2)
The key question is to what extent innate differences restrict the set of feasible social systems. If women desire men with status, then in just about any free society men will compete fiercely for status in a way that women won’t, because they will need to for sex. Similarly, if effeminate men are on average much more likely to be gay, then in just about any society being an effeminate man will make people think that you are gay, and men who desire to have sex with women will therefore take fairly strong measures to avoid effeminacy.

Anonymous: "If your utility function is dominated by outcome-dependent preferences, your perceived choices may in fact not be choices at all."

I'm sorry, Anonymous, but I don't understand what you're trying to say with your comment.

It's true that the traditional rhetoric of choice gets a little bit awkward when one is in a position to determine what other people will want to choose (e.g., through genetic engineering, or even just deciding how children are to be educated). Probably the criterion that no one be coerced leaves a wide range of possible societies. If a person or society could see the how present actions determine the desires of future people, then how to fairly choose amongst the many possible future societies? Wouldn't any sufficiently informed choice constitute a form of social engineering, which is traditionally thought to be antithetical to freedom? To the extent that this is philosophically problematic--and as a compatibilist, I rather doubt that it is at all--it's a problem for anyone who values both free choice and some particular social outcome.

--but I think we're talking past each other.

Captain: "[I]f effeminate men are on average much more likely to be gay, then in just about any society being an effeminate man will make people think that you are gay, and men who desire to have sex with women will therefore take fairly strong measures to avoid effeminacy."

I don't see why it would be prohibitively difficult to establish some sort of signal that says, "Despite my effeminate gender presentation, I'm actually straight!" Blue earrings, say. (I'd wear them!)

Z.M. Davis,

I inferred from your post that you value striving for providing identical choice sets over providing equality of outcome. But what if your striving only serves to unlock a choice where, because of a lack of equality of outcome, all the strategies but one are strictly dominated? It's like giving someone a book with the pages torn out.

I don't think it matters whether social engineering is antithetical to freedom or not, since it's something we all engage in, regardless. "There will be no not-jumping."

Anonymous:
But what if your striving only serves to unlock a choice where, because of a lack of equality of outcome, all the strategies but one are strictly dominated?

That's kinda vague. Could you give an example?

@Cyan

I think you attribute to much too my example and at the same time not enough. If that makes sense.

"No one here is advocating anything like what you've described, so your objection is a strawman argument."

I never claimed they were; I never attributed it to anyone, it was a response to ZMD's question about identical choices. A key thing missing here in this discussion is the body and thus desire. This is so important. This is what keeps there from ever being a so-called "equal choice set." (Feminism in the style of Simone de Beauvoir seems so compelling, until contemporary science enters the picture, at which point reality sets in.)

There will never be identical choices, a level playing field, equality, or egalitarianism -- what have you -- as long as we have the body. It's an inconvenient fact most Anglo-Saxon "pragmatic feminists" pay homage to in word, and then ignore in deed.

Anglo-Saxon feminism such as as we have seen recently in various threads here is not the only kind, nor the most common globally, and maybe one could argue that it is in fact among the least successful forms today. A few of the posters seemed indebted to Foucault-style Queer Theory, with which you can have issues on purely formal grounds.

"If we're going to agree that 'equal choice sets' refers to the equality that feminists want to promulgate"

I myself am a stated feminist, and apparently the most "radical" one here. Yet I will not agree that "equal choice sets" are what serious feminists want to achieve; in fact, if I think it through, I would have to vigorously dispute such.

This is my 3rd post, gentlemen, so I will politely exit. . .that clacking is the sound of Louboutins on the marble floor. . .thank you for your time.

Z. M.,
Good point. I only intended it as a hypothetical example of how some norms and attitudes might be very difficult to change due to innate preferences. Maybe effeminacy also signals potentially gay children?

But getting one's ears pierced seems like a big pain. I'd rather just wear a shirt that said, "I might act gay, but I'm really straight. If you don't believe me, let me prove it to you."

Heather Mac Donald covers most of my points in the beginning of this article.

frelkins,

The phrase "equal choice sets" was introduced by Robin Hanson to refer to Hal Finney's "equal opportunities". If you want to take the phrase and wrench it into a reductio ad absurdum directed at no one in particular, well... okay, I guess, but it's not really germane, is it? I'm far more interested in substantive criticism of "pragmatic feminists" that you hint at in your most recent post. Most of my engagement with feminist thought is in the pragmatic stream; I'm not very familiar with the French feminism that is your preferred variety.

P.S. I think the three-post rule is "no more than two posts on Recent Comments, three in extreme need" not "no more than three posts on any one thread".

Frelkins: "There will never be identical choices, a level playing field, equality, or egalitarianism -- what have you -- as long as we have the body."

Again, I don't think anyone here has argued for identical choices--you say you understand this, but then it's not clear why you keep bringing it up. Leaving that aside--sure. People have bodies; people can't arbitrarily redesign or discard their body at will (yet, anyway), no matter how much they might want to. That's one of the economic/technological/physical constraints I mentioned earlier. I don't see how this has anything to do with the fundamental desirability of making more lifestyle options available to people, to the very limited extent that such is actually, in fact feasible. And I thank you for your time.

Anonymous: "It's like giving someone a book with the pages torn out."

Such is life in a lawful universe.

Captain: "I'd rather just wear a shirt that said, 'I might act gay, but I'm really straight. If you don't believe me, let me prove it to you.'"

Tacky. IMHO.

The relative unlikelihood of a man being raped in our society is not a privilege. It's a function of various psychological and physiological factors that are not under society's control. The rape of any person is forbidden - there are no "private laws" sanctioning the rape of women, nor are there any protecting men. It is neither a legal or a social principle.

Society is neither omnipotent nor all-responsible.

The relative unlikelihood of a man being raped in our society... is a function of various psychological and physiological factors that are not under society's control.

I really need to respond to this. The rate of rape in the U.S. have been dropping for decades. One study at a New Hampshire university campus showed a significant drop in unwanted sexual experiences between 1988 and 2000. Changing attitudes of men towards women is a highly plausible explanation. We may never eliminate rape or even get to parity, but there are strong reasons to believe that social change is effective.

Kaj,

A general example: any choice where implementation of the possible strategies involves expending some arbitrary resource that one group has an abundance of, and that another group has less than the critical amount of.

A specific example: say you are going to provide to various individuals access to a computer and educational software that will allow the able among them to learn some economically valuable skill of their choosing. Since learning requires time, and different people have varying amounts of free time, anyone who gains more utility from spending their time not-learning (hunter-gatherers perhaps, or someone working fervently to stay out of debtors prison, or someone living in a culture where such learning is punished) has been given a choice where all the viable strategies are already strictly dominated.

This is my 3rd post, gentlemen, so I will politely exit.

I want to stop the spread of the mistaken belief that there is a rule or convention against commenting more than 3 times in a thread or "comment section".

The correct convention (originated by Eliezer months ago) is that a commenter's name should appear no more than 3 times in the list of the ten most RECENT COMMENTS in the right column.

Cyan, nothing you said is in any way related to the point I made in my previous post.

We may never eliminate rape or even get to parity
Why in the world would you think "getting to parity" is a step in the process of eliminating rape?

Caledonian, perhaps your point was not as clear as you thought it was. And I don't actually think getting to parity is a step in the process to eliminating rape. That's a reasonable reading of what I wrote, but not one I intended.

Robin, might an object metric be to try and find the market value of the services provided by privileges in society? In some cases this actually seems kind of do-able.

Cyan,

"I think it's fair to state that replacing patriarchy with a more egalitarian social system is one of the goals of feminism; the corollary is that female feminists would be happy to see many of the listed female privileges disappear as part and parcel of the dismantling of patriarchy."

Then why call themselves "feminists"? Why not "humanists" or something else? I understand the need to focus on specific parts of society's faults, but the term "feminist" often comes off as being "anti-anything-but-females". One should be able to be a humanist focusing on females in society in the same manner one can be an economist and focus on investment banking.

I disliked how the list of male privileges included things like "...and it will be attributed to my sex". Having some trait attributed to one's sex, the color of one's skin, or one's handedness isn't any sort of privilege or dis-privilege at all. If anything I'd think it would be preferable to having a bad trait blamed on individual incompetence.

I also disliked how the list of female privileges seemed so focused on the ability of women to be emotionally open. I think those are probably one or two privileges, at best. The "I will probably live longer than the average man" was also pretty silly.

In the end I think males will always seem more privileged, at least as long as society (or genetics?) continues to view female complaints as being important while male complaints as signs of weakness. I don't think you can judge society's gender biases without first dealing with that (meta?) bias.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Less Wrong (sister site)

May 2009

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31