The Four Levels of Discrimination (and You) (and Me, Too)

I’ve been talking about sexism recentlymy own and others — and I have to say I’ve found it increasingly exasperating to see the massively defensive response of “not all men are sexist” that inevitably follows. One, because it’s wrong (more on that in a bit), and two, because the more I see it, the more it’s obvious that it’s a derail, as in, “Holy shit any discussion of sexism makes me uncomfortable so I want to make it clear I am not sexist so I’ll just demand recognition that not all men are sexist so I can be lumped in with those men who are not sexist and I can be okay with myself.”

(I also note a fair correlation between the men who demand acknowledgment that men are not all sexist and the men who show some general hostility either to women or to the idea that they are being actively sexist through their own words or actions. But then, I don’t really find this correlation all that surprising.)

The silver lining to this exasperation is that it’s been making me think about sexism, and the more general concept of discrimination, more carefully. At the crux of the “Not all… ” formulation, it appears, is the (honest or otherwise) assertion that in order to participate in discrimination, one has to actively and with malice aforethought choose to discriminate — in order to be sexist, one has to be a sexist, in other words (or to be racist, one has to be a racist; in order to be homophobic, one has to be a homophobe, etc).

And, well. No. In fact, you don’t actively have to go out of your way to discriminate in order to participate in discrimination — that’s kind of the point. Some of that is already built into the system that everyone is part of. You get it, positively and/or negatively, no matter what; everyone does. You may then also decide to support discrimination in one way or another, and that’s the thing that changes you from being (for example) sexist to being a sexist. But to deny that baseline discrimination we all deal with because you’re not by your own lights actively trying to promote that discrimination is silly. It’s there, it’s real and it’s measurable, and you take part in it, one way or another.

But where does the line get drawn between being [x]ist and being an [x]ist, as it were? Let me posit what I think are four (very) general states of discrimination, as a way to suss out my own thoughts on the matter.

(And here is where I add the following disclaimers: One, these are my own thoughts, not rigorous research. Two, people who routinely and rigorously study discrimination may find this delightfully naive. Three, I acknowledge that the following framework is both very general, simplified and “chunky,” as in, reality is a great deal more subtle than four easy-to-conceptualize levels. Four, this is a work in progress. Got it? Okay, then:)

So, here are four basic levels of discrimination as I see them, each building on from the other, each with generally increasing negative effect on those discriminated against:

Level One: Ambient – This is the discrimination that is given to you, by society in general, by the particular groups you participate with in our general society, and by immediate influences (i.e., family, friends, teachers and authority figures). Your own ambient mix of discriminatory things will vary due to all of the above, as you drill down from the general to the specifics of your own life. But that doesn’t mean you avoid discrimination (or its effects); it merely dials in what particular discriminatory things you are more strongly influenced by. Everyone is influenced by the ambient discrimination, which is why, in fact, everyone is sexist, racist, classist, etc — we all got given this stuff early, often and before we could think about it critically. This is the baggage we deal with.

Level Two: Advantageous – This is the level where you realize that sometimes discrimination works for you, and you take advantage of it… or at least, are willing uncritically to accept the benefits of it. You may or may not wish to acknowledge that you have these certain advantages, and when you do acknowledge it, you may or may not try to assert that those advantages don’t apply to you specifically, i.e., that you didn’t get an automatic benefit due to discrimination and instead what benefit you’ve accrued is due to something intentional about you (“No one ever gave me anything! I worked for it all!”). But your recognition and acceptance of this advantageous discrimination is neither here nor there about a) whether it works for you, b) whether by participating in it, you’re helping to reinforce that discrimination.

Level Three: Argumentative – This is the level where you take on board the idea that discrimination is desirable in some way (usually in a way that benefits you directly, or benefits a group you belong to, so you accrue general and indirect benefits), and as a result you argue for and/or defend discrimination. This can take on a number of forms, from the relatively benign (the “not all…” argument) to the not at all benign (arguing that being a slave in the US was not so bad, or that women aren’t mentally composed to do math or physics or computer programming, or that Muslims are naturally inclined toward violence, as examples), and the use of rhetorical process to drive a discussion of discrimination either away from recognition of discrimination, or toward a different topic in order to control and contain the discussion.

Level Four: Antagonistic – The level where you choose to actively set yourself against others due to their differences from you, by (as examples and not limited to) acting to obtain or calling for limits to their freedoms (or to maintain current, actively discriminatory practices), actively minimizing their participation in society, either in general or in a specific subset, threatening them by word or by action and/or encouraging others to do the same.

So: I am sexist in that I have a raft of general assumptions and expectations about women and men that I got just from living in the world that I do; some things seem “girly” and “womanly” to me while some other things seem “boyish” and “manly.” But I am willing to argue that I am probably not sexist, because I don’t, for example, believe that men have inherent rights and privileges that women should not, nor do I believe women’s roles are lesser or subservient to men’s, nor do I, say, threaten them with rape or violence when they say or do something I dislike.

But of course that’s an easy formulation, isn’t it. We don’t really do or say anything useful if we only acknowledge the most extreme examples of discrimination as evidence that someone is a bigot in one way or another. This is part and parcel of the “not all…” assertion — one, that the ambient discrimination in the world doesn’t count when considering someone’s discriminatory assumptions and behavior, and two, that somewhere along the way, there’s a big, bright line at which one can say “hey, now you’re being a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever.”

And, you know, I don’t think it works that way. Ambient discrimination makes us discriminatory. We all do it; we’re all that way because that’s what we get all around us. What makes us not a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe, or whatever, is what we choose to do when we recognize our discriminatory behaviors or attitudes (or have them pointed out by others). If you work to minimize them going forward, in yourself and in your larger world, then you’re probably not a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever. If you sort of shrug, and go, yeah, well, that’s life, then, yes. You’re totally a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever. You don’t have to wait to claim that title, or have it justifiably applied to you.

(And yes, before the angry straight white male brigade descends, this applies to everyone, not just straight white men. If you’re not aware of it already, please bone up on the concept of intersectionality. But let’s also not pretend that straight white dudes aren’t first among equals when it comes to these issues, please. You all know my thoughts on my own social group by now.)

So. Am I, John Scalzi, sexist, and racist, and other forms of discriminatory? Yup. That stuff got built in, mostly when I was young and/or wasn’t paying attention. It happened to you, too. Sorry. But I also try to work against being a sexist, and a racist and other such things, by seeing those things in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well. Am I work in progress? Yes. I’m not perfect at it, either. I show my ass from time to time. But I’m happy to keep on progressing. It’s a lifetime effort.

What I hope is that because of that effort, the ambient discrimination that people will get born into and participate in will suck less in the future than it does now. That’s what I can do, and what you can do, too.

290 thoughts on “The Four Levels of Discrimination (and You) (and Me, Too)

  1. Aaaaaand the caveats regarding the discussion here.

    1. Mallet! It’s in the warming chamber. Because this sort of topic attracts assholes, doesn’t it.

    2. You will be on your best behavior toward other commenters, which means polite and discussing issues, not taking potshots at each other on a personal level. Too many of you have been doing that lately on contentious threads, and I’m tired of it. If you can’t argue civilly, by what you know I consider to be civil, then walk off the thread. I’m looking at a couple of you in particular; I suspect you know who you are.

    3. We will not indulge in the “not all…” argument in this thread in any form. Because did you read the piece? It’s wrong, and it’s exasperating, and it’s a derail. If you can’t resist it and just have to write about it, do it on your own site. If you don’t have a site, make a site and then write about it.

    4. As noted in the entry, my “four levels” formulation is my own take on things and a work in progress, and so amply open to criticism, so feel free to criticize it in its formulation. What we will not do here is argue the underpinning assertion that society loads us all up with a heavy box of prejudices and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. Don’t be that tiresome dude, please. I’ll just Mallet you.

    That should be enough for now.

    (Oh, and, P.S.: This is funny and on point.)

  2. I notice this constantly and actively try to reduce it in my life.
    “Make you cry like a girl.” – Why do so many insults, even taunting, competitive type insults, attack women, minorities, homosexuals, other religions, other races, other countries?

    It has been fascinating stopping myself consciously when this happens and making note of it. This type of behaviour is pervasive.

    One that I find insulting when I am on the other side of it is: why do you act like that?
    As if there is something wrong about thinking like a typical male. My brain is always trying to solve problems. Is it sexist that I think differently about a problem than a female?

  3. Thank you for this.

    Two thoughts… I think you might add a level somewhere, and I don’t know whether it belongs below ‘ambient’ because it’s a form of denial, or maybe it’s actually a flavor of ‘antagonistic.’ This is where you find people arguing that discrimination is real, but that they are discriminated against even though they are obviously in a dominant group. I’m thinking of people who believe there is a real War Against Christmas in the US, or men who believe women now have it better in society than they do and that men are now the oppressed group.

    And, I think one reason people really have a hard time understanding that ambient sexism (or racism, or whatever) exists is that, in the USA at least, our myth is all about the individual. We revere cowboys, pioneers, Rocky-types. We hate thinking that we are embedded in any kind of system or even culture. We like thinking we just are who we are. We hate feeling controlled by unconscious forces, like confirmation bias and the tendency to “other”. We really want to believe in the omnipotent power of individuality, somehow. Of “going it alone.” Independence.

  4. I love this piece. It is particularly difficult to explain the concept of privilege to people who don’t think they have any, because when you are born and raised with it it is devilishly hard to see. Pointing it out comes across like an accusation, but we all float around level one in some respect.

  5. The adjective vs. noun construct you use resembles my use of it in a post on atheism.

    I think your post is nuts on. I’ve long believed in the idea that I, too, am a participant in the expression of discrimination in the world. It’s not about being or not being a participant, it’s about how you recognize that you can’t help but participate and what you do in the aftermath of that participation (assuming there’s an aftermath to deal with).

  6. I think the question of what level of willingness or participation is required to “be sexist” is a disputable point, and the question when defining terminology should be “what are the *effects* of using this definition?

    I tend to use a more restrictive definition, under which not everyone is inherently sexist, because otherwise the word becomes essentially useless for communication.

    And I’d point out: So far as I can tell, once you’ve accepted a definition under which *all* men are sexist, it turns out that all the women are too, for the same reasons. Women certainly can participate in discrimination against women, and some do quite openly and overtly. Really, *society* is sexist.

    But the four-levels, while I think it’s fairly accurate, are too much nuance to get into a single word, and I think it’s more useful to restrict referring to a person as “sexist” to cases where there is some kind of volitional act involved; your “level 2″. The first level strikes me as a statement about the environment, not the person, and if we include that, then we no longer have anything non-sexist to compare to, so what’s the word giving us exactly?

  7. John says — > “What makes of us not a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe, or whatever, is what we choose to do when we recognize our discriminatory behaviors or attitudes (or have them pointed out by others).”

    I think that there is a huge difference between someone who says, “well, I can’t be —ist, because I’m just NOT, I couldn’t be, and besides, it’s not such a big deal anyways!” and someone who wonders… wait… maybe what I just said/ did isn’t that cool after all, let me do a bit of research.

    My suggestion for pretty much everyone, everywhere:

    Get to know people who are “different from you.” Become friends. Learn from each other. Find out the ways in which you really are alike and the ways in which you really are different. (In a productive, respectful way.)

    If they say that something you did is “—ist,” ask them why, how it made them feel, and just learn from it. This doesn’t require endless guilt or bad feelings/ negativity. It’s just growth and it’s good. Let them learn about the things that make you feel icky, too.

    If we enter these conversations assuming there might be something to learn, rather than having our guard up, we will end the conversation improving on ourselves and each other.

  8. At the beginning of your description of Level 2, you say that it is where you realize you can take advantage of ambient discrimination. Later, you say that it doesn’t matter or not if you recognize that you have advantages. To me, that seems like two different things. If you honestly don’t recognize you have advantages, even if you are using them, I think you are still back in Level 1.

    I think the four levels are a great construction, but that’s one place where I think the line is a little hard to find.

  9. Seebs:

    “Really, *society* is sexist.”

    Yes.

    Beyond that, you’re engaging in a form of the “not all…” argument, aren’t you, and I already said where I am on that. I happen to think these words can handle the freight of many layers of meaning, and a discussion of what words we should use besides them yanks us off the main point.

    Dave Hogg:

    Changed the wording to better reflect what I was intending to say there.

  10. “But I also try to work against being a sexist, and a racist and other such things, by seeing those things in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well. Am I work in progress? Yes. I’m not perfect at it, either. “

    And that’s really all any of us can ever do, to strive for continued personal improvement.

    In addition to occasional traits of sexism or racism, I also exhibit periodic laziness, self-indulgent worldviews, and more. I find great challenge and satisfaction in conquering such failings in myself, and the best mirror for such viewing is the eyes of my young daughter. She was born with few failings, and I’m trying not to add too many more in the time I get to be her curator and custodian.

  11. I suppose if everyone is sexist, male and female alike (because it would be sexist if only one group were sexist), then to be non-sexist would seem sexist. If we all breathe air, why assume we must breathe propane? Of course, the extremists of this norm are what I’m sure you’re referring to, in which case, sure, they are really screwed up people.

  12. I’m not sure thinking (or saying) “Muslims are inclined towards violence” is discriminatory. Islam isn’t an unabandonable condition you are born with. You choose to belong to the religion, just like people choose to belong to the Rotary Club or the KKK. It isn’t discriminatory to say “KKK members are inclined towards racism.” because that’s what the KKK teaches and part of what membership there *means*. It wouldn’t be discriminatory to say “Rotary Club members are inclined towards racism” for exactly the same reason, although it would be quite factually wrong.

    I think “Muslims are inclined towards violence” is factually incorrect and not a friendly or helpful thing to say, but I don’t think it’s discriminatory.

  13. Good post, John. You put a lot of thought into this, and for the most part I agree with you. See? I said, ‘for the most part.’ Why? My life was/is/will be different from yours, and anyone else’s for that matter.

    We’re all biased to some degree due to the influence of our environments and how we react to it. That relationship forms a perception one eventually forms in ones psyche. It shapes us and shapes our own ‘picture’ of our world. Even something as biological as chemical imbalance can do that, shading the overall picture of ones perception. So many factors involved. The end result is a distinctly unique view of the world we claim as reality, though reality and what goes on in our minds are not necessarily equal.

    The best thing we can do to balance our perceptions is to communicate and ask questions especially of ourselves, I feel. Also, to meditate, but that can be a difficult practice for many people nowadays. As long as we accept input and opinions from others without restriction (and that means anybody), we should be able to come up with something that approaches balance.

    The advantage of meditation is that it makes a person more accepting of such input, steadily wearing away the filter in our minds until our own thoughts have no more, and no less, weight than the next person’s. Balance can be found in the aggregate or whole.

  14. Applies to everybody, yes. We are all prejudiced in various ways. Only by acknowledging this can we strive to actively remove these biases based not in fact but in cultural, environmental and personal influences and beliefs. I really enjoyed the recent discussion on This American Life about those not of your tribe, in several ways. One is the persistent pressure to be part of your own group (in my case, guys) and differentiate yourself from the other group (in my case, non-guys). ‘Guys’ is a very particular term, and I acknowledge its insistent corrupting effect by using it this way. Historically, being a member of the group afforded great privileges, one of which was not getting killed. I am glad we no longer live in the world of physical struggle where this is necessary.

    The thing I always struggle with, and you highlight it here, is to listen and try to understand the perspective of others in this regard. It does me no physical harm to attempt to broaden my understanding in order to reduce my prejudices, but my brain thinks it might! The struggle comes from the fact it is emotionally exhausting and I can’t do it all the time. I think the question is, often, how best to engage others in this discussion and how to allow oneself the room not to engage when you are not ready to; at that time, switch the task to preparing oneself to engage thoughtfully and carefully. After all, we are trying to unlearn memes that were passed down because they kept people alive over countless generations; unlearning them is completely necessary for the next stage of evolution, but our mid-brain really doesn’t want to let them go. If we believe that progress is creating a world where everyone can reach their full potential, then we must.

  15. If you’re a picked-on male, maybe you look for others to pick on. But society as a whole is advancing in the direction of equality and compassion, and there’s also a growing emphasis on lifelong personal growth and development. (Hence, these kinds of discussions.) These factors plus the Internet make sexism and other parochial viewpoints less acceptable.

    The aggrieved male is right: he probably IS being picked on. The world can be harsh, especially on the 99%. And patriarchy sucks even for men. (See Terry Real’s books.) But the sexist guy doesn’t realize that being picked on is the universal condition, or is stuck in a zero-sum mindset where he can only see himself winning at the expense of others. Unfortunately, his “solution”–to oppress “lower-caste” (hence, safe) others–just makes things worse for all of us, and him.

    Finally, a lot of the sexist guys in SF, atheism, etc., are probably overprivileging both rational thought in general, and their own rationality in particular. (Which is of course ironic.) People are mostly not rational–any psych text will tell you that; and I really like Tavris and Aronson’s pop-psych book Mistakes Were Made–and the world itself certainly isn’t rational. Rationality is a helpful tool, but it is not the main show, and you’ll just drive yourself nuts expecting the world to conform to your standards of rationality.

    I want to put in a plug for Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, which posits a worldwide decline in violence over the centuries. He cites research indicating that late 18th century Europe became less violent and more compassionate because of the invention and meteoric rise of the epistolary novel, which were wildly popular and schooled people on empathy. If that is indeed the case, then we have reason to be optimistic about the future! Because Internet. Recommended!

  16. 3. We will not indulge in the “not all…” argument in this thread in any form. Because did you read the piece? It’s wrong, and it’s exasperating, and it’s a derail.

    I am not interested in making a “not all…” argument, but you’ve essentially promised to mallet someone for disagreeing with an assertion made in the piece. Why is that not fair game?

  17. Some things we can do to de-[x] society:
    1. When you encounter those unconscious assumptions, refrain and rephrase. Never ever say, “you’re acting like a girl.” Say, “You’re acting like a whiner.” The trick is to catch yourself, and recognize the assumption.

    2. Teach the next generation better. When I was young, I was taught “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo” using the N-word for the toe-caught one. I still have to consciously correct that before I say it. Probably always will. But my son, I taught using “catch a tiger by the toe.” He will have no cognitive dissonance, and that’s one tiny little culturally racist meme gone extinct. The tigers are on their own.

  18. @Peter Cibulskis: “Is it sexist that I think differently about a problem than a female?”

    As a female who is extremely analytical, let me respond.

    It’s not clear from your statement whether you are saying, “Is it sexist that I think differently about a problem than most of the females I have met?” or “Is it sexist that I think differently about a problem than the new female I am about to engage with?”

    My answer to the first question would be no, but to the second, hell-to-the-yes

    It’s not sexist to acknowledge that there are differences between how the average male and the average female brains work. What is sexist is then extending that observation about the average to the entire gender.

    If you are predicting her analytical abilities based on your average previous encounters, you are failing to consider the vastly high variance in the human population. Not to mention that your experiential data set is extremely limited.

    You are probably more analytical than the average female you encounter. But you are also quite probably more analytical than the average male out there and you are definitely less analytical than many women out there. Failing to acknowledge that last point would be sexist.

  19. Crystal Shepard:

    “I’m not sure thinking (or saying) “Muslims are inclined towards violence” is discriminatory. Islam isn’t an unabandonable condition you are born with.”

    Anyone who thinks Islam inherently advocates violence doesn’t know much about Islam, however. Ignorance is an explanation for such discrimination, but it’s not an excuse.

    With that said, this is not going to be the place where we have a discussion about the inherent violence of Islam. It’s off the main point.

  20. I like this. I think it’s a good way to look at how everyone participates in maintaining structures of injustice.

    I think it’s also important for us to dig deeper into the more subtle ways those structures are maintained. It’s not so simple as Group A has All The Power and Group B has none, and people in Group A consciously choose to abuse people in Group B. There are hierarchies of power (due to intersectionality) within both groups, which means pretty much everyone has some responsibility for shoring up the status quo. People in Group A obviously have considerably more responsibility for this, because they also get considerably more of the benefits of the status quo, but not everyone in Group B is simply being helplessly victimized. Many are acting in the interests of Group A. Sometimes because they’re just power-ladder climbing, but other times because they feel they have no choice.

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how sexism is enforced among men. I think we feminists sometimes forget that women aren’t the only ones at whom violence is aimed in the service of maintaining the status quo, and that among men, there is a pretty harsh hierarchy of power. The consequences for not being sexist are pretty darn major for a lot of men, so it’s not surprising that they keep perpetuating it. This is not to excuse the behavior–the overt stuff, at least, is definitely a matter of active choice, and people have a responsibility to choose otherwise–just to explain that the pressure to behave that way is immense. Many men simply don’t have enough power, relative to the power of other men, to fight that off as well as some. It’s kind of like the Milgram experiment, in some ways. People–particularly those of lower social status–will often do some pretty horrible things because they feel they have no choice but to obey the authority telling them to push that button.

    The hard part, unfortunately, is getting some of these lower-status men to admit that that’s really what’s happening to them. The only thing worse than being subjugated by people with more power is consciously acknowledging that that’s happening. Admitting that one is weak enough to be controlled or even merely influenced by others is to invite even more abuse. It’s not surprising people would avoid it. Women do this, too. We often like to pretend that the things we do that support sexist cultural structures are a matter of choice because to admit that we don’t actually have a choice, or that the choices we make are from an artificially limited range, is to admit that we have even less power than we like to think. So there’s an awful lot of messenger-shooting when someone else–an outspoken feminist, for instance–points out that what we’re doing isn’t entirely of our free will after all. In particularly bad cases, the accusation gets turned around: I’ve been told many times that telling a woman her choices have been influenced by sexist conditioning is inherently sexist in itself, as it implies women are too weak or stupid to make their own decisions. (That is, of course, not the case. Thing is, ALL of us are shaped by our culture. Only people with a great deal of awareness, combined with the privileges necessary to resist pressure, can even begin to fight that off.)

    The truth is this: We are all stewing in this mess, and all of us are tainted by it. All of us have disadvantages and all of us have privileges. The key to solving injustice is to recognize the areas in which we have the latter, and do our best not to abuse them, instead of using our disadvantages as a get out of responsibility free card.

  21. I was just having these thoughts about being annoyed with myself for suggesting that men start with my third book because the first might be too “girly” for them. Like… why do I support, in my use of language, the idea that men are not interested in love stories and that to be interested is to be somehow lesser? I try to root it out, but still.

    Thanks for writing this.

  22. I mostly want to point out a field of literature on ‘subtle gender bias’ or at least I want to point to one paper that I’m aware of http://bit.ly/1h7gE5S (okay, full disclosure, I haven’t actually read it, I’ve just heard one of the authors discussing it here: http://bit.ly/1gM5NTh ). The paper tested the subtle discrimination among scientist by asking a selection of professors to review whether they would hire or mentor a fake scientist always described exactly the same except for their gender, and how much they would pay. A few salient points; I get the sense that ‘subtle gender bias’ is a lot like your ambient discrimination though I have a feeling there are some variations, but both are society wide and both are unconcsious (until attention is called to them). The study found that there was a significant difference between how these professors would treat the otherwise identical male and female–even though (and they tested this) very few were willing to be overtly sexist (less so than in society at large).

    But what was really interesting, and the point that that’s mostly background to, is that the gender of the professor did not influence how they treated the fake student. Male and female professors were both more likely to considering hiring an equally competent man than woman, and both willing to pay more to the man than the woman. That (and other things) make me think that a certain amount of what is going on has more to do with the enforcement of gender roles–we can enforce gender roles on people of the same and opposite gender. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the (often subconscious) desire to enforce gender roles is one thing underlies sexism (as well as homophobia)

    That brings up one other quick point; you set the higher levels up (at least 2 and 3) as acting in respect to what is desirable to such people. Maybe this is a matter of semantics, but to be fair to the bigots (only somewhat fair), many of them aren’t so much looking to better themselves, as being afraid of changes to the status quo. I get the impression that a lot of people want to fight to maintain gender norms not because they are consciously seeking an advantage, but because they’ve built so much of their life on living up to their gender norms, and if they are shattered, then they’re afraid that something about themselves will also shatter. It’s an irrational fear, but still a fear.

    Finally, I think you’re doing this something of a disservice by assuming that all discrimination has a source in society or, for the higher levels, in a person’s conscious mind, and that none of it has any sort of genetic bias. I know that people have tried to make disclaimers in the past that you can’t call it sexism because it’s genetic. The problem is that genetics causes a lot of BS that we need to work against (and not just when it comes to -isms). Our brains are actually built to create a division of Us vs. Them. There’s a simple reason for this; we don’t have the ability to catalog ever last person we meet as generally good, or generally bad, and then there are many more people that we will only ever need to interact with once. It’s been evolutionarily useful if don’t go in blind. In the modern world where we might come across hundreds or even more people, and we needed to react or be prepared to react to all of them, our brain has to make snap judgment calls if it doesn’t want to get bogged down. But that brain short cut ends up causing discrimination of various sorts. So perhaps your schema needs a level 0 of Instinctual -ism. (Of course, our brains natural Us vs Them mechanism get’s societal ideas overlain on it. It’s probably debatable just how much discrimination there would be in a feral human. Or maybe the question is where it would be directed)

  23. Stereotypes are dangerous things even, or maybe especially if they have a basis in fact. If you tell women that they aren’t as good at math as men before they take a test they’ll do measureably worse. And I expect you’ll find a similar effect if you stereotype men as violent, whether or not it’s true. There’s good evidence that’s it’s easy to have diversity trainging backfire, so it makes sense that we should be careful to avoid stereotyping when addressing these problems.

  24. I’m having a problem with this. For one thing, where’s the definition of “sexist” that you’re using?

    For another, your “four levels” is vastly inadequate – the universe (except in certain parts of math) is *not* black and white (or even black, white, red and blue), it’s *all* shades of gray. Even your first level doesn’t allow more or less, or for the folks on the ends (yes, like me, and don’t tell me that I have no right to assert this, without a) knowing me personally, and b) having direct evidence of my sexism.

    Did I mention, yet, that I have three grown daughters, and let me assure you that if they needed me to do more than hold their jackets while they beat the crap out of anyone who suggested that they couldn’t/shouldn’t do X because they’re women, I’d be happy to help.

    * And two of them fence, well.

    But, finally, the studies you mention: where were they published, were the journals accredited, creditable, and peer reviewed? Sorry, I’ve seen stuff over the last, um, 40+ years that was significantly over the top. Shulamith Firestone’s first book was really good… but later on….

    And, a post-finally, how much is sexism, and how much is *culturism*? My wife, from Ohio, gets offended if I respond to something with “you didn’t know that”, where pretty much everyone else I know has a response of “no, how’s that go?”

    Feel free to accost me at Balticon, or Capclave, or Philcon, or Worldcon, and force me to defend myself….

    mark

  25. @Crystal Shepherd: You choose to remain with a religion, and are able to apply what you’d like to that choice, but it’s nothing like joining the Rotary club of the KKK. I am no longer a practicing Catholic, but I was born into a family which raised me Catholic, and in a Catholic community. Islam doesn’t teach violence, and being Muslin doesn’t mean being violent. The religion wasn’t founded for the purpose of rooting out foreigners and persecuting former slaves. Painting Islam with the same brush one paints Al Qaeda is no different than painting Christians with the same brush one paints the KKK, it’s discriminatory.

  26. @Crystal Shepard: “Discriminatory” means showing an unfair prejudice. It’s not discriminatory to say that the KKK is racist, because that is part and parcel of what their organization is founded on and believes and works toward every day so that assessment is fair. It would be discriminatory to say the same thing about the Rotary Club.

  27. Peter Cibulskis:

    One that I find insulting when I am on the other side of it is: why do you act like that? As if there is something wrong about thinking like a typical male. My brain is always trying to solve problems. Is it sexist that I think differently about a problem than a female?

    Yes, it is sexist, not that you approach a problem in a certain way, necessarily, but that you think it’s a “male” way as opposed to a “female” way. Let me walk you through it here: while scientists have found some neurological differences between male and female brains (men seem to be a bit more spatially oriented on average, women verbally, etc.) these differences have very little effect on most matters of thinking, especially when we get down to individual women and men. Essentially, biologically, women and men don’t go about problems differently, or at least they don’t have to. They often do so because they are socially taught to do so based on their gender (ambient sexism) and because we have then labelled traits male or female (ambient sexism.)

    So a woman may tend towards conciliatory negotiation and team-building and such, which can be a good thing, but she tends to do so because she was taught that’s how women are supposed to do it, and that style of problem solving is labelled female by the society (and thus often considered inferior.) And a man may tend towards aggressive negotiation and such, which can be a good thing, but he tends to do so because he was taught that’s how men are supposed to do it, and that style of problem solving is labelled male by the society (and thus often considered superior and strong.) When a woman uses more aggressive negotiation and problem solving, she gets called bossy, etc. She’s acting too much like a man, etc. And when a man, say, listens to his fellow female employees and does conciliatory negotiation, etc., he may get called too feminine and weak, and so may avoid those strategies. Or he may use those strategies, because he is male and society is less likely to judge what strategies he uses related to his gender. This is all ambient sexism and it has a great effect on what women are allowed to do in society and the workplace and what influence they can have.

    Additionally, when males use “male” labelled problem solving techniques, those often involve overriding colleagues, undermining them, impulsive action over conferencing, seizing control, etc. — which all can be used to strongly discriminate against female co-workers and family members even, depending on the problem. So if somebody says that you are tackling a problem in what you both consider a “male” way of doing it and the person believes you are discriminating (advantageous sexism,) you might want to step back and consider if in fact you are using privilege and position and society’s approval of males taking over and using so-called “male” strategies over female participation, credit and leadership. If you are, in your problem solving, deciding that the females can’t also use those strategies because they are females, and you are discriminating against them accordingly and blocking them from participation and effectiveness on the basis of their gender and the stereotype, discriminatory assumptions you hold about their gender.

    Because when you have ambient ism, which we always do, advantageous ism creeps up often. Your designation of someone complaining to you about your methods being an insult is an example of this. Because if you decide that something is an insult, you don’t have to consider it or look at your behavior. Your behavior is always justified, even if it is discriminatory. Essentially, any form of problem solving you do, women also can do and may in fact do it very often. So there is no actual gender ownership of problem solving strategies, (gender being largely a social construct anyway.) But there are many ways to block women from equal participation on the basis of assumptions about gender that we absorb from society.

    Dana: The War Against Christmas is Level 3, Argumentative Discrimination.

  28. I prefer not to use the words “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobe/homophobic” or “bigot/bigoted” to describe human beings at all, but to reserve them as descriptors for actions or speech or assumptions or policies. I do not think that any antidiscrimination cause is helped by using more labels.

    Furthermore, I think the key to helping people see the harm in their actions and speech is to make a clear distinction between the actor and the action. Racism, sexism, etc. is not an immutable part of anyone’s personality; nor is “non-racism,” “non-sexism,” as some have pointed out, since we live in a society that is still permeated by it. Designating certain persons as “racist” or “sexist” is akin to announcing that there are some lucky people who are not those things. When we acknowledge that the tag “racist” belongs to an action and not to a person, we create a space where people, becoming aware, can choose not to contribute more racism to society, regardless of their past history.

    Labels on people dehumanize, period.

  29. This is, in some sense, both on- and off-topic, and I apologize if this is belaboring a point, but…

    With regard to comments by Crystal Shepard and John Scalzi above: Using the statement, “Muslims are inclined toward violence,” as an example of discriminatory behavior in this post is peculiar insofar as the statement can be reflected back as, “Not all Muslims are inclined toward violence,” thus employing a variant of the construct the original post is arguing against.

  30. “But to deny that baseline discrimination we all deal with because you’re not by your own lights actively trying to promote that discrimination is silly. It’s there, it’s real and it’s measurable, and you take part in it, one way or another.”

    Some people eliminate their baggage and don’t pass it on. My husband was the home person for over thirty years while I had a career. He did all the cooking, dishes, shopping, etc. That–and the kids–were his *only* job. Trust me, he saw LOTS of discrimination directed at him, but he shrugged it off. And our life was good. Our children had the benefit of someone who had the patience to do the repetitive household chores and was still fun to be around. He is still doing most of the cooking and dishes (as I write this he’s making an egg bread five feet away from me). He isn’t sexist. I would know it if he were. And it isn’t just because of the “role-reversal” (such a pompous term) we did. But also because of how he treats me and the kids. Our kids (two boys and a girl) aren’t sexist either. They were raised in an unconventional household and that helps. We aren’t a family that buys into what “society” says or thinks and they went to a special school that did not reinforce cultural stereotypes and tried very hard to get the kids to see each other as the individuals they were and not more or less. I don’t think I’m sexist either, but it’s harder to tell from the inside out.

    So, John, while I get your point and agree with it overall. There are exceptions and I’m proud to know a few.

  31. This is a useful proposal. Thank you. The current, ongoing discussion about discrimination in the comic book industry has caused some of my straight male friends to ask me about what they can do to change, which is terrific, and humbling; I’m a straight white male, too, and I’m sure I’m far from perfect on this, though I try.

    I would think that claiming “but they do it, too!” is a form of derailment. I’ve had to point out to people that, yes, women can be anti-feminist and just because a woman agrees with them, that doesn’t mean what they’re doing isn’t sexist. Men can be feminists, too. It’s not split evenly along gender lines, after all (not to mention that gender lines aren’t so cut and dried, either).

  32. John,

    Regarding the Ambient level, you source it from “society in general, by the particular groups you participate with in our general society, and by immediate influences (i.e., family, friends, teachers and authority figures).” As I read the comments I’m not sure we all share the same definition of the term “society.” Is “society” a synonym for “culture”?

    As you have done, I have lived in three very different parts of the USA — (Southern) California, (Northern) Virginia, and (North) Texas. Each of these three areas is vastly different from one another in terms of culture and influence–based on my personal experience, of course.

    So when you say “society” do you mean local culture or something different? I’d appreciate some clarification on that point, if you would.

  33. Bearing:

    That’s nice, but what you would prefer is neither here nor there to the larger issues we’re discussing here. Also, I disagree: I think the words work just fine being applied to people. Either way, however, let’s stay on topic.

    Gina Black:

    “Some people eliminate their baggage and don’t pass it on.”

    That is indeed one of the big goals, I would say. There are baseline discriminatory things I had in my life that my daughter doesn’t, at least not at home, because I made a point to slice them out of my worldview.

    Nick:

    “So when you say ‘society’ do you mean local culture or something different?”

    Yes. By which I mean I think some things in our culture are national, some are regional, some are local, etc. It’s a drill-down. There are assumptions and prejudices, etc at each stage.

  34. If everybody is X-ist, then does the term X-ist have any real meaning other than “live human”? Perhaps we should distinguish (verbally) between instinctive tribalism and overt X-ism.

  35. Re: another commenter’s concept of religion as “abandonable,” this is a common misconception among atheists/agnostics.

    Freedom to follow your own religion (or lack thereof) is one of the rights that is so often protected, and with good reason. In its sincerest form religion isn’t a “choice” in the same sense as one chooses what color to wear or what to have for dinner. It is a person’s best hypothesis as to the true meaning (or lack thereof) of the universe: a hypothesis that can never be proven or disproven, and so must be judged only by the extent to which it resonates to your mind as truth. And once you find what you feel to be true, you have to make life choices that harmonize with that perceived truth, or sink into the kind of misery, shame, and self-loathing associated with other forms of self-denial, such as repression of one’s sexuality etc.

    TL:DR – One can’t always just “unchoose” a religion; often it’s way more complicated than that.

  36. There is a great online test for implicit/ unconscious bias, hosted by psychologists from Harvard, U of Virginia and U of Washington. It tests along a number of axes – sexism, racism, age-ism, etc. I take it fairly frequently in an effort to make unconscious biases conscious so I can do something about them:

    http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias

    Highly recommended.

  37. Bob Collins:

    “If everybody is X-ist, then does the term X-ist have any real meaning other than ‘live human’?”

    Yes. Also I’m not seeing a) how “tribalism” is instinctive, b) why as a practical matter regarding how we treat other humans, a distinction should be made. For that matter, even if tribalism were instinctive, it does not follow that it is desirable here at this point in the 21st Century.

  38. John, thanks for this. It’s so thought provoking to have a well reasoned and rational discussion on this topic. I’m just glad I discovered it so early. I get discouraged when I see there are 400 posts, and I have a feeling you are going to get at least that many. I will be back.

  39. @ Mary Robinette Kowal –

    That’s interesting. Your comment made me think back to who I’ve been recommending your books to and unsurprisingly, it’s been overwhelmingly to women, although I KNOW several men who have read your books and have enjoyed them immensely. Which is definitely something to chew on, because I don’t see why men wouldn’t enjoy stories about intrigue, complex character relationships and magic, but I seem to be reflexively going on the “Ladies like Jane Austenish stuff” assumption (which again, is horsepuckey, because clearly Jane Austen’s stuff has appealed to everyone, regardless of gender).

    John, thanks for writing this. Getting over the “I can’t be sexist/racist/cissexist/heterosexist etc because I’m a GOOD PERSON” hump is really one of the hardest points in social justice discussions. Most people are “good people” and don’t want to think that what they’re doing/saying could be hurting someone or contributing to discriminatory practices, but because of the culture we’ve grown up in, so much deeply embedded systemic discrimination is considered “normal” to the point where you don’t realize how you’re playing into and contributing to it, especially in situations where you have social privileges and *don’t have to be aware of it.*

    Part of the trick, I think, is moving beyond focusing on how *you* don’t want to be challenged on your self-image as a “good person” and understanding that it’s not just about you, that your hurt feelings over realizing that you may have unintentionally acted/said something x-ist are not the pinnacle of the issue. Yes, your feelings may be bruised, yes, you may be embarrassed, but because you have social privileges that allow you to walk away and not have to deal with it if you really don’t want to, you have a responsibility to try that much harder to be aware, because there are lots of people out there who have no choice but to live with taking the brunt of that discrimination, whether it’s intentional or not.

  40. Going a bit meta, but: I wonder if some of the “but I’m not a …” disconnect is a result of individualist thinking. Acknowledging that we’re all influenced by -ist cultural structures (and thus all have a responsibility for dismantling them) is acknowledging that we are all connected and interdependent. It’s acknowledging that human behavior isn’t all a matter of at least semi-conscious, individual choice. Which is kinda scary, if you’re a person who needs the security of believing the Just World fallacy.

  41. While I agree with the basic premise, I have a couple of difficulties in accepting the way the semantic argument is set-up due to a few assumptions. First is the question of whether a sentient being has free will (I mean this in the Mahayana Buddhist sense of the word ~ all humans are sentient beings, and some believe mammals are sentient, and anything else that can acknowledge it’s own suffering is sentient). If there is no free will, then any argument about whether a person is discriminatory is basically moot. If there is free will, the question arises as to whether there is a moral or ethical imperative for the sentient being to treat each and every other sentient being the exact same– whether they are Hitler, Pol Pot, Mother Teresa, or Gandhi. In Mahayana Buddhism– no matter what the perceived “quality” of the other sentient being– one is to consider them precious above all else. In the first of the “8 Verses for Transforming the Mind” by Geshe Langri Tangpa, it states “1. Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefit for all sentient beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, I shall hold them most dear at all times. 2. When in the company of others, I shall always consider myself the lowest of all, and from the depths of my heart hold others dear and supreme.3. Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears in my mind, endangering myself and others, I shall confront and avert it without delay.4. Whenever I see beings that are wicked in nature and overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering, I shall hold such rare ones dear, as if I had found a precious treasure. 5. When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insults or the like, I shall accept defeat and offer the victory to others. 6. When somebody whom I have benefited and in whom I have great hopes gives me terrible harm, I shall regard that person as my holy guru. 7. In short, both directly and indirectly, I offer every happiness and benefit to all my mothers. I shall secretly take upon myself all their harmful actions and suffering. 8. Undefiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldly concerns, may I, by perceiving all phenomena as illusory, be released from the bondage of attachment.” Mahayana does not pick and choose to whom to grant loving kindness; and if I may say- neither did Christ. Now, in many ways, this is the opposite of what science teaches us about biological evolution, because Buddhism is interested in transcending the transitory. But evolutionary biology illustrates predation as a driver of evolution; game theory illustrates at it’s most basic the zero-sum game, and dominance and pack hierarchy literally has a physical effect on a life form. If there are no ethics and only life feeding on life, no viable argument can be made against those that enjoy social or biological dominance in whatever form. Finally, there are a tremendous number of blind spots, deliberate or otherwise, when we discuss discrimination/prejudice no matter where the individual stands in relation to the discussion. As a Caucasian male, I have to reject the overarching assumption that across all time and space, and even within the history of this country, that it is the easiest level to play the game. In fact, I cite Scalzi’s own amazing essay on poverty as proof: one can be white and male and impoverished. Rarely, does it matter what race or sex you are if you have nothing and no one to help you. Scalzi should have said that if you are one of the 1% that owns the majority of wealth, then that is the easiest level of difficulty– no matter what your sex, race, country of origin, religion, or sexuality. Personally, In my case, I would rather be a Caucasian male Buddhist, than a well-meaning White person. When, in the interests of political correctness, you come with the statistics on life expectancy, the demographics of poverty, the disparity in wages, recorded historical injustices, and other sorted data, those forms of filtered data– while accurate and possibly very telling– are filtered by their very nature. They do not show the whole beneficial or detrimental “cost” analysis of being a “statistical type” of sentient being. In short, while it is proper to show empathy for others’ suffering, it is another form of arrogance to assume that because one is not a white and male– and society seems to favor white males– that one is suddenly cursed with no other benefits, supports, or gifts by life itself that are– by their very nature– not available to white males. So the question remains: Is there a moral or ethical imperative on the individual to treat all people “better” and to remove the ignorance that keeps the individual from doing so by any means necessary?

  42. Ferchrissakes, folks, I explicitly said that those who think Islam is violent are factually incorrect. @Scalzi – if you think I’m arguing that Islam is violent, reread my post. Again, I explicitly said that belief is false.

    I still don’t think believing that, based on false evidence (or true evidence selectively presented), isn’t discriminatory. It’s not discriminatory to believe (falsely or correctly) that someone has chosen to belong to an organization that teaches evil beliefs and is thus more likely to hold those beliefs. They may be, as they often are in the case of Islam, incorrect, and harmfully so. They just aren’t discriminating by believing that.

    The word “discrimination” does carry different meanings. It can mean, innocently, recognizing differences, as in “My discriminatory skills in wine-tasting are excellent.” But in its more useful sense, it refers to unfair judgments or prejudice against categories of people who are in those categories by things other than their choice – race, sex, age, gender identity, orientation. It *is* sometimes used to refer to unfair prejudices against groups voluntarily chosen, but that is very much a secondary meaning.

    That secondary use makes the core concept less useful – there are cases where it is fair and correct to have a negative bias towards members of voluntarily chosen groups (the KKK, the WBC), and there are cases where it is not (Islam, Christianity, the Rotary Club) based primarily on just their membership. Because of that, there are circumstances where we can provide reasons why our biases against those groups are a good idea (e.g. the WBC pickets funerals of fine individuals). In other words, if we accept that secondary meaning as the normal one, arguments about whether someone is discriminating or not suddenly include arguing about facts about the individuals or groups putatively discriminated against.

    If we only take the core meaning, the only discussion we have to have about the victims of discrimination is whether they chose to be in that category, and for the major categories of discrimination that’s a fairly quick and easy job. Most of the discussion can be focused, as it appropriately is, upon the discriminators.

  43. I like your categories of discrimination. Sure, it might be an initial cut at the subject, but it’s a good way to start thinking about it and it works.

    After some thought in my own life and in people I’ve known, I think it’s possible to be in one category in one part of your life and in a different category in another.

    Work and home life for example. Old friends we grew up with vs our college buddies vs our current friends vs our work friends. We all of us live in different cultures, work, home, traditional, secular. It’s greater for immigrants to the US from other countries, but it’s something we all do. I think it’s called code switching to move between one cultural context and another.

    I’d bet that these cultural contexts are a dividing point where we also may switch categories of discrimination too.

  44. A couple of quick corrections: First, it should say “I still don’t think believing that, based on false evidence (or true evidence selectively presented), is discriminatory.”

    Second, “They may be, as they often are in the case of Islam, incorrect, and harmfully so.” was unartfully written. I intended to say that they are incorrect, and harmfully so, and this mistake occurs frequently.

  45. @lunarobverse

    I would think that claiming “but they do it, too!” is a form of derailment. I’ve had to point out to people that, yes, women can be anti-feminist and just because a woman agrees with them, that doesn’t mean what they’re doing isn’t sexist. Men can be feminists, too. It’s not split evenly along gender lines, after all (not to mention that gender lines aren’t so cut and dried, either).

    Yes, that’s definitely a form of derailment. As it’s been pointed out, *everyone is sexist* and that includes women. Learning to recognize internalized sexism and working on those assumptions has been an issue many of my close female friends and I have bonded over. Many of us grew up with the whole “I’m not one of THOSE girly girls, I like boy’s stuff like comics and scifi and playing in the dirt and fishing, so we’re BETTER” attitude – just typing that out made me cringe terribly because YIKES!

    Thinking about some of the comments and actions I let pass from my dude friends because I didn’t want to be “one of THOSE women” (and risk losing my friends even though those things made me uncomfortable) when I was younger, less aware and less sure of myself also makes me cringe because holy hell, yes, that stuff was sexist (and sometimes downright misogynistic). I hate to think that some of them are still going around thinking it’s ok because I never called them on it.

  46. I’ve been trying to tamp down my own “ambient sexism” (I really like that term, by the way) recently. As an example, I was talking to a couple of women in my office the other day about a race we all ran recently (I ran the 10K, one of the women ran the 5K, on the 1/2 Marathon), and I had to resist the initial urge to tell one of them she was “more manly than I am.” Thankfully, my brain caught it before my mouth let it out, and I was able to quickly change it to “more beast than I am.”

  47. I think what people considered sexist is HOW the difference between men and women’s thought processes differ. We know that in math, girls are more likely to ask why and men often need to work it out physically. I think the sexism plays in when people say things such as “men think more sexually” or “women are more emotional thinkers” because these are socially roles and stereotypes that have no root in neurology. It’s the difference between saying “minorities are more likely to be in poverty” and “minorities can’t hold onto a job.”

  48. @ Shawna

    Going a bit meta, but: I wonder if some of the “but I’m not a …” disconnect is a result of individualist thinking. Acknowledging that we’re all influenced by -ist cultural structures (and thus all have a responsibility for dismantling them) is acknowledging that we are all connected and interdependent. It’s acknowledging that human behavior isn’t all a matter of at least semi-conscious, individual choice. Which is kinda scary, if you’re a person who needs the security of believing the Just World fallacy.

    I don’t think you’re off the mark at all. The great American myth of the individual has some positives, but it’s also a great way to avoid acknowledging that we are still part of something greater that can influence us even if we don’t want it to. It’s also a damned convenient excuse to be self-absorbed and selfish, because acknowledging our collective responsibilities to each other and that our actions have consequences outside of ourselves can be difficult and inconvenient, so it’s easier to blame other people’s problems on them for not trying harder to fit in/work harder/be tougher etc. Why analyze your own actions and views and find you may have to do the hard work of changing yourself when you can just pawn it off on others?

  49. Saying that Islam is a belief system that one actively chooses is to deny the fact that many people uncritically adopt the belief system of their parents and surrounding community, the belief system in which they were raised. This is true of all belief systems. The child of atheist parents is probably being raised to be an atheist :)

    Perhaps it would also be useful to point out that some Muslim-majority countries regard being born into a Muslim family as proof that one IS a Muslim and view subsequent rejection of Islam as apostasy, which is punishable by death. People who have lost their faith have to be v v discreet in such countries. Being ostensibly Muslim is sometimes not a free choice.

    Addendum: I do not regard such countries as representative of the best in Islam. Rumi and Moinuddin Chisti, Sufi teachers now revered by millions, preached love and acceptance, not sectarian hatred.

  50. Crystal Shepard:

    “@Scalzi – if you think I’m arguing that Islam is violent, reread my post. Again, I explicitly said that belief is false.”

    I’m not aware of saying that you believed it. I was pointing out that belief was ignorant. And you’re wrong, it is entirely discriminatory; again, ignorance doesn’t excuse discrimination, even if it explains it. Nor do I think which definition of the word “discrimination” applies here is in much doubt.

    I’m pretty sure there are a lot of things that people are ignorant of being discriminatory of that are still discriminatory even aside that ignorance. I was at Emerald City Comicon a couple of weekends ago and someone said to me and a friend, about something or another, “well, you don’t want to get gypped.” I am almost certain this fellow was not aware that saying someone got “gypped” is a slur against Roma (i.e., gypsies), suggesting they are thieves and cheats; it doesn’t change the fact the word is still discriminatory and a slur. That he said it to someone who has Roma ancestry and knew very well what it meant (not me; my friend) was kind of icing on that particular cake.

    I think you may have a point that you’re trying to make that I suspect I am missing rather widely. Could you try to refomulate it, please?

  51. All humans breathe. Does that make “breath” a meaningless term? No.

    Is it still a useful term when talking about things like — for example — environmental racism and racially-based healthcare disparities, even if they don’t have the immediate effect on breath that a lynch mob’s noose does? Hell yes.

  52. So, in short, we all live within flawed, imperfect culture. If not prisoners of same, we at least can become parolees who try to live on our best behavior toward are fellow life-voyagers to avoid remaining imprisoned. Okay. I am good with that.

  53. I think that it’s worse that you think. I think that we are intrinsically “Other-ist”.

    We all suspicious of the other (guy, girl, group– In 50 years we will have to add in Species). Some of our prejudices are societal, but some are just there. People darker than us are dirty, people lighter than us are unfairly privileged, people who earn more are rigging the system, people who have nothing are thieves and/or are lazy, people who don’t fit into our system must have dark secrets.

    The best of us force ourselves to second guess our prejudices, but we never extinguish it.

    Prejudice has a function in primitive society, it protects the band and keeps it cohesive, but like our appendix, we only think of it when it gets inflamed.

    As the Onion T-shirt says, “Prejudice is a terrific time saver”.

  54. John, thanks for posting this. I love it when you post about politics. You always make me reassess my thoughts and clarify things. I especially like (or dislike) the idea of ambient discrimination. Even those of us who are unhappy with the ‘system’ and fight against it benefit from living within the system. Thanks again for the clarity you bring to complex situations.

  55. If you think that prejudice is unique to us, try getting some clown paint and putting it on at a neighbors, then say hi to your dog.

  56. A good and unfortunately necessary piece. Since I agree with the whole thing I’ve nothing to add but to thank you for writing it.

  57. Thanks for this, John. While it’s true it’s a bit naive from the standpoint of someone who studies discrimination on a systemic basis, the fact that there’s still debate about the smallest of levels and the simplest of terms really underscores how much the 101 version needs its signal amplified.

    My own anecdotal evidence is fairly telling about how ingrained some of this stuff is. For instance, I would not have said my partner is sexist, but when we moved in together and his 3 cats came with, I noticed the subtle sexism in the affectionate terms he used for them – one was called handsome boy, one was good buddy, and one was pretty princess. Now, the female cat is in NO way a princess in her actions vs the other cats’ actions. At all. So why call her that? Well, because she was a female cat. I notice this in the way some of my friends, female and male alike, refer to their children. “Sweetie” vs “buddy.” “Big boy” vs “good girl.” Habit is insidious. So yeah, ‘society’ is sexist. But guess what? We comprise society. It’s up to us to identify what we do that participates in ingraining sexism and try to change it.

    The other piece of my own perception is how much people of the dominant group tend to resent having others “signal boost” the voices of lesser-heard groups. I read a Medium post by Anil Dash, in which he describes what happened when he made a concerted effort to only retweet women on Twitter. He got a lot of shit for it, from friends and strangers alike. Why? Why would that even be a problem? “Reverse sexism” was thrown at him, but really, what is reverse sexist about looking at a man and a woman’s tweet, noticing the woman’s is just as good at stating what he wants to relay, and retweeting hers?

    Finaly: In a future post I would be interested in your POV, John, about how your work as an ally fits in to those levels. I think of this because the MOMENT someone says “not all men are sexist” or “not all white people are racist” they have identified themselves as Not An Ally, and I believe many folks who attempt to put themselves apart from the terribleness of overt racists and sexists would be upset knowing they’d inadvertently put themselves in the “enemy” category.

  58. @ Pinky

    I think what people considered sexist is HOW the difference between men and women’s thought processes differ. We know that in math, girls are more likely to ask why and men often need to work it out physically. I think the sexism plays in when people say things such as “men think more sexually” or “women are more emotional thinkers” because these are socially roles and stereotypes that have no root in neurology. It’s the difference between saying “minorities are more likely to be in poverty” and “minorities can’t hold onto a job.”

    Assuming, for just one minute, that it’s true that if you went into a a math class you would find this kind of gender divide, you still need to step back and ask why. The reason why any level of sex- and other -ism is a problem is that children are societal learning machines. They pick up on absolutely everything including and maybe especially what we do and say unconsciously. They figure out how they’re supposed to behave, and internalize it–EVEN if their parents don’t mean them too.

    Think of it this way. There are any number of people who have tried to raise an ungendered child by making sure they have access to traditionally male and female toys, equal amounts of blue and pink, etc., but very few who succeed. One reason is that the way we talk contains tons of subtle cues. Even if we can eliminates obviously gendered words (manly, feminine, etc.) it takes an amazingly careful mind to catch many others. The ‘bossy’ discussion is but the tip of the iceberg. There are cases where parents have raised ungendered children, but considered what they had to do it’s not surprising if the vast majority fail.

    So, if it’s true that today boys and girls approach math problems differently, that’s not genetically necessary. But by passing on the idea that it is normal, we can end up training future generations of girls and boys to continue to have an unnecessary divide.

    (On a side note, that math divide is rather comparable to the women ask for directions, men don’t idea, which does have a gender role background because society says that men are supposed to be able to figure that kind of thing out on their own and that women can’t. And so there is a pressure to fall in line or to feel that one is not properly male or properly female)

  59. The main objection appears to be one of semantics for failure to define the basic root terms.

    What is sexism? Per M-W: 1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women. 2. behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.

    Your argument seems to fail when using the first definition, since prejudice and discrimination take an intent. But it flows pretty well from the second definition. Or are we going to get caught up on whether prejudice and discrimination require intent? In which, case, we can figure out the definitions were are using there as well.

  60. After the Canadian Women’s Hockey team won their last two Olympic gold medals, supporters of the Men’s team held up signs reading “Play Like Girls”. I’m half pleased by the subversion, and half discouraged by the fact that the subversion might reinforce the idea that this is an exception to the rule.

  61. @Kilroy – quoting Scalzi: “And, well. No. In fact, you don’t actively have to go out of your way to discriminate in order to participate in discrimination — that’s kind of the point.” So 1st definition applies.

  62. Thanks for these discussions John. Your posts are refreshing and well thought out. You have no idea how wonderful it is to find a safe space like this on the internet.

  63. @lar – in no way did Scalzi say it was unique to us. (failed derail.) And, my dog doesn’t care about face paint or bags over the head. (point does not work in real life experience.)

  64. The “intent” thing makes me think of the different categories of homicide, from murder 1 (malice aforethought, etc.) to criminally negligent. I think a lot of people believe that in order to be convicted of the “crime” of an -ism, the prosecution is required to prove that the criteria for the harshest category be fulfilled. That’s just not the case. If you kill someone because you were texting instead of paying attention to the road, that person is just as dead as if you had gone to their house and shot them in the face, and you are responsible for that person being dead. Exactly how much punishment you get for that crime will vary, but you’re still responsible for it.

  65. I might assert that Ambient should apply to those who are aware of their own possibility of having absorbed discriminatory attitudes, and are attempting to resist thinking that way or passing it on.
    Advantageous would be for the people still in denial that they could possibly have advantages unfairly bestowed by some portion of intersectionality. Or, aware, but unwilling to change their attitudes or behavior.
    I ALSO think that you don’t get assigned one category, and stay there. I might waver between ambient and advantageous depending on if I am acknowledging the benefits that I have from the categories that I get to check off( white, middle class upbringing, college education, cis, het, no accent, raised Christian, no obvious disability). I don’t think that I get to stay in the top category without some work at unpacking the blessings that I have; if I start to take it for granted, then I am taking Advantage.

  66. Wonderful post John. It has helped me clarify (even if only to myself) my own level of x-ism.

  67. In defense of some people when it comes to these sorts of discussions, they want to think themselves free of prejudice. Having to examine their inner most thoughts, particularly the deeply embedded assumptions and blindness to the value being white and/or male provide makes them uncomfortable. Its a poor excuse but I understand it.

    As a child of the 50’s with very open minded parents I learned that it was wrong to hold certain opinions about people of other races. It was painful for me when I was old enough to see what being white had done for me. Which is a different thing entirely than just thinking yourself free from racism. It would be like seeing what air does for us, its so natural and common place that we ignore it. The gender issues came later and by that time I already had a pretty good idea why the “easy setting” thing applied to men.

    That does not mean my life was easy or that I got all the breaks. But I know I got breaks I would not have even had a chance at if I had been a woman or black. Many people want to believe not just that they are good and pure but that they got where they are all on their own & would easily have made it had things been different. They resent having to confront the truth. Then there is the whole deflection thing performed by the worst of the bunch. But you have detailed all this very well already.

  68. @Mary: I dont like romance at all. So atleast 1 guy out of 3 billion fits your stereotype. When I read a book that has romance, I skim over it. I don’t really care. You could pander to me to get me more interested in your books by adding things that guys are expected to like (and I do)

    1. gratuitous violence (lop some heads off)
    2. fast paced action3.
    3. likeable torturer (a la joe abercrombie)
    4. a few midgets who are going on a quest to toss a ring into a volcano.
    5. make the male love interest lose and get the smack down. Its annoying to me to see the ‘perfect guy’ in a story. I want to see him brought down a peg. Male ego thing.

    I fit several guy stereotypes.

  69. @Sarah M. and @Kat Goodwin
    Sorry that I was less clear. My question was not about how people think and generalization, although those generalizations are clearly sexist.

    My question was when my behaviour is categorized as sexist, when I think it is different thinking, not sexist.

    When I am presented with a problem, I try to solve it. That’s how my brain works (nature and nuture).

    Is it sexist to try and solve problems when a male presents the problem, but just nod and listen if it is presented by a female?

    I guess the more general question is: should my behaviour change depending on the gender of the person that I am talking to, which feels quite sexist?
    Or should I have the same behaviour ignoring gender, which feels less sexist?

    I completely agree with your examples, the confident woman being “bossy”, etc, etc.
    They are all great examples of absurd double standards, that we should all try to stomp out.

  70. @Scalzi – I think it *is* a matter of definition. There are two competing definitions here:

    1) Discrimination is an unfair judgment against members of any group, because of their membership in that group.
    2) Discrimination is an unfair against members by fiat of a group, because of their membership in that group.

    Google combines the two into one: “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” In other words, they take the second meaning I gave as primary, but also recognize that the first meaning sometimes occur. (Google because it’s a clear definition – the OED is no doubt better, but complicated in ways helpful to linguists, but not discussion.)

    Why do I strongly prefer the second definition? Well, I think it’s a good thing when discussions of biases against a group can be discussed publicly without it becoming a discussion of the characteristics of those groups. In the case of the core groups, that comes about immediately: Even if a high percentage of members of a group with fiat membership have an unpleasant characteristic, the fact that there is even one member of that group without that characteristic makes an assumption that all members have that unpleasant characteristic is unfair to that person, who didn’t even choose to join that group.

    That’s *not* true of groups voluntarily chosen. If you are the one member of the KKK who doesn’t hate african-Americans (perhaps you naively believed their white pride arguments), the general bias against KKK members isn’t unfair to you because A) you should have known better and B) you can leave an abandon that association at any time.

    Because of that distinction, arguments about whether an action is discriminatory differ quite a bit depending on which side of the distinction the claimed discrimination falls on. For fiat memberships, they pretty much *can’t* be about the characteristics of the groups (except in cases of 100% attribution, which are mostly mythical) because bias is still unfair to members of that group without that characteristic, no matter how few the number. For voluntary memberships, they are almost entirely about that – if you want to justify your bias against the KKK you’re entirely reasonable to bring up the normal KKK member’s characteristics (racism, sexism, homophobia). They chose that association, so it’s not unfair to judge them by it.

    If discussions of discrimination were only among trained philosophers and educated clear-thinkers, it wouldn’t matter. But discussions of things among lots of people just follow pre-carved social channels. If people see that arguments about “discrimination” are including character characteristics of the group in the case of the KKK, the Rotary Club, or Islam, they’ll keep talking about the characteristics of african-americans, gays and women. By restricting the term “discrimination” to the core of fiat-membership groups, discussions of discrimination can’t rationally go there.

    Don’t think that I’m not sympathetic against unfair judgments against groups with voluntary memberships – a huge amount of harm is done there. But the defenses of members of those groups from those biases comes down to discussions of the characteristics of those groups. The fact that there are lots of Christians, for example, who aren’t homophobes is a great reply to me if I am biased against Christians for homophobia I encounter as a trans woman. But saying “lots of black people aren’t lazy” to some idiot racist doesn’t even warrant a place in conversation.

  71. @mary: this may disturb you, but thanks for the tip about starting with your 3rd book. This implies there is less romance. You have been on my to read list for a while ( i dont read that quickly and my list is long. I may read 15-20 books/year.).

    when I get to your books, ill probably start with book 3. This was not meant as a joke. I’m serious. Different people like different things and if an author thinks that a stereotypical male reader will prefer to start with book 3, then in my opinion your probably correct.

    I am seriously going to get to your books…

  72. [Deleted because leading with an ad hominem argument is not as effective as dpmaine would like to think. If you want to try again, dpmaine, go ahead, just try not to make it about me, because, eh, you're not very good at modeling me - JS]

  73. Many wonderful comments. One thing that’s not been stressed enough, however is how hard it is to really shed all that cultural baggage. I actively try to advocate for a broader social equality; for equal representation of woman, for gay rights, for broader inclusion of blacks and other non-white people in society. All in all, I’m a social liberal through and through, but that doesn’t mean I’m above discrimination.

    It’s a struggle, I tell you. I hate seeing myself acting or talking exactly the way I’m always working against, even if in private and seemingly inconsequential conversation, but it happens. Being aware of my own implicit biases is frustrating, even if I know at direct fault for them.

    That being said, this is something we *really* need to do. No one is safe from society’s implicit biases, but no one is haplessly bound to them either. Only by noticing our own discriminatory behavior we can apologize and correct ourselves, and work to lessen how often it happens in the future.

    By the way, many smart people have been doing research on implicit bias, and one particularly nice outcome is Harvard’s Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

  74. “That’s *not* true of groups voluntarily chosen. If you are the one member of the KKK who doesn’t hate african-Americans (perhaps you naively believed their white pride arguments), the general bias against KKK members isn’t unfair to you because A) you should have known better and B) you can leave an abandon that association at any time.”

    This is simply an argument for “good discrimination”, assigned to an arbitrarily distinction of fiat vs fiat group membership. An invented way to still be able to other and exclude members of some groups that you personally find distasteful.

    Basically, trying to find loops to “content of character” as the standard for judgement.

  75. Crystal: I think you may be getting hung up on the difference between belief, culture, and active, adult-chosen membership in an organization. There is, after all, such a thing as an atheist, non-observant Jew. My husband, for instance, is somewhat culturally Mormon. He was raised in the church, 80% of his family are still active members, etc. He stopped attending services when he was 17, is on the border between atheist and agnostic, and thinks church leadership and political action is reprehensible, but being raised in Mormon culture still informs who he is.

    It is possible for an adult to reject the theology and organization of the religion (or denomination) in which they were raised, but they can’t entirely divest themselves of it.

  76. @Peter Cibulskis – You bring up a very interesting mechanism in our culture – the assumption that you can’t *ask* what people want from you. Assuming that your behavior should change based on gender is not good – but neither is assuming it SHOULDN’T. It makes people into categories rather than individuals.

    Your behavior *can* be tailored to the individual without sacrificing your own. A friend of mine likes to ask “What can I do to help?” which allows a person to say “advice please” or “I just need to rant a sec about that jerk who [insert GRAAR here]” or “I need a hug.” or or or. The possibilities are endless.

    I have found that the item in the middle – the need to rant – seems to be completely agnostic of sex, gender, race, class, or orientation. ;)

  77. @Gina Black, I don’t know you or your family, so it’d be stupid for me to comment on your specific example.

    That said … um. I’ve known a few people who believed that they’d eliminated their sexist/racist/ etc baggage … including Yours Truly. What that *actually* meant was that was that we’d gotten rid of the larger bags, and maybe even the carry-ons, and then … we stopped paying attention.

    So we didn’t notice the smaller bags, and the hip pouches, and the shit crammed into our pockets. And we didn’t notice the fact that the ambient condition keeps trying to sneak more bags into our trunks.

    I will admit that it may theoretically be possible for someone to be completely non-sexist and/or non-racist, etc. But it seems to be much more common for people to have convinced themselves that they are.

  78. @ lichstrom I guess it is a “dog” prejudice, but as a first year vet grad, I made the mistake of wearing face paint to work on Halloween. Yes, the number of dogs that started growling when I walked in the room went up well beyond statistical significance. (less than 1/day to 75%). Many dog trainers use gaudy hats to get dogs used to new people and situations rather than bringing in “extras”.
    I know that JS didn’t say that it is H sapiens specific, but what I poorly illustrated was that I believe that it is common in quite a few species that are not as capable of self programming as we are.
    I did not intend a derail. To me understanding the nature of our prejudices makes us less likely to discount them.

  79. @Crystal: Regardless of the truth or falsity of the premise that Islam promotes violence–a big objection to your argument is the underlying assumption that religion is a voluntarily chosen thing. @Mikes75 and @Mishell touched on this, but there are a lot of ways in which you don’t or can’t choose a religion the way you choose a club.

    First, most people are born into a religion, steeped in it during their formative years. That doesn’t come out, not easily, not completely. Using myself as an example: I do not believe in the religious teachings of Judaism, haven’t set foot in a synagogue in years, haven’t actually attended a Jewish service in many many years, but I’ll never not be Jewish. I can choose not to keep unleavened during Passover; I can even choose to study and adopt Buddhism or Methodism or Pastafarianism, but at best I’ll just be a Jewish Pastafarian. Just see how many people describe themselves as “lapsed Catholic” or “ex-Baptist” or “non-practicing Jew” for examples.

    Second, in the case of people who come to a religion with intent. These people generally choose a particular religion because its teachings resonate with their own sense of how the universe wags. This is not, on the whole negotiable. If I personally feel that pie is more delicious than cake, and late in live I have become a Pie-Preferentialist, there is not really any kind of argument or incentive for me to abandon the church of Pie-Preferentialism in favor of, say, Cookietarianism or even becoming a dessert agnostic. Only if my internal perception of the universe changes to the point that I no longer consider pie the best dessert will I think about changing religions. This happens, obviously, from time to time, but it’s not common, and it’s not a small thing.

  80. I won’t get into it in-depth, because it’s off-topic, but I do think Peter and some other folks here might benefit from an understanding of constructionism vs. essentialism, and the interactivity between the physical and environment. Tl;dr version: Observable differences in gender are constructs, but they are also biological in that the mechanisms that construct them influence how brains develop.

    For example: A person who wants their son to be an athlete may selectively observe that the child is particularly strong, agile, etc., and will encourage the development of those skills over others. The child then shows a “natural” talent for baseball at a young age, and people think he was born with it. Genetic factors may indeed influence how his body and motor skills develop, but the difference between him using those things to, say, build houses vs. throwing a ball and running are all cultural influence.

  81. @bearpaw – LOVE the “shit in your pockets” and “trying to sneak into bags in the trunk” comment. It’s very important to be aware of how sneaky biases can be. I myself was astonished at how watching regular TV news for a month ruined a lot of unpacking around race that I had done. The juxtaposition of images and trigger language is hard to erase from one’s psyche. So – I don’t watch the news anymore.

  82. @Chris Carter; except “Not all Muslims are inclined towards violence” is deceptive. Muslims are a predominantly non-violent group (like every religion) that happens to have a very violent group of factions within it, again like pretty much every religion. But it’s the opposite of the “Not all…” argument in that the “Not all…” implies that most of a group conform to a behavior, but the special flower making the argument is an exception, while unless referring to a group or society of violent people, the other statement is dishonestly inclusive.

    Yikes. I hope that was intelligible. I sure knew what I WANTED to say…

    @Crystal: Lumping any group of people into a stereotype is discriminatory by its nature. While it isn’t in and of itself discrimination, it is a result of and catalyst for discrimination. You can’t really have stereotypes without some kind of inherent discriminatory behavior coming along for the ride.

    For my own shortcomings, I try really hard to leave everything at level 1 and then work on those things as actively as possible. I try to use my advantage of being a white american guy the same was Scalzi does; I have access to ears that would probably get ignored if I was a minority or a woman.

    And then I pour a bunch of liberal touchy-feely stuff into them because I think everyone should be nice to each other.

  83. A *-ist society discriminates in favor of some and against others based on stereotypes about groups. A*-ist person is anyone who, when such discrimination is pointed out doesn’t say “I’m sorry” and try to learn better behavior, but instead says “no.”

    The difference between exhibiting ambient *-ism and being a *-ist is whether or not one is kind enough to try to be better.

  84. John, I enjoyed your article – I think that self-examination of ones preconceptions, stereotypes, etc. is important. If you never think about it, you never have the opportunity to fix it.

    In one of your comments in this thread, you said “…I’m not seeing…how “tribalism” is instinctive…” This is something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with for a little while. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps “tribalism” became, at some point, part of our evolutionary baggage. My thinking is that at some point, early in our history, it was to an advantage be instinctively wary (or even hostile) to anyone we classified as “not of my tribe” – either through the way they looked or acted. Those who thought this way more often survived than those who were not simply because they put themselves at risk less. The strange and different can be dangerous. The familiar is safe and comforting. Over time, this became part of our inherent make up and led to the x-isms we see today. They’ve become instinctive tribalism.

    So I think it’s important to understand that while our specific “x-isms” are defined by our society and those around us as we mature, our general predilection to embrace them is something that we may have been wired for.

    2 notes on the above: 1st, I am *not* saying that this can be used as an excuse, just a possible root cause of an undesirable trait and 2nd, I’m not a psychologist, anthropologist, or evolutionary expert, these are just some ideas and thoughts I’ve been rolling around and poking at for a little while.

  85. @Shawna – I think Judaism is a bit of a linguistic outlier. It’s both a culture and a religion, and those who only hold on to the cultural part are still considered Jews. People who only hold on to the culture of Southern Baptists but don’t believe the religion aren’t considered Southern Baptists anymore. Muslims or Mormons who are still culturally tied to their faith, but reject the religious beliefs are no longer Muslims or Mormons. Those institutions will claim that loudly, and the ex-members would agree.

    @Logophage – certainly leaving a religion is often not easy at all. But if you’re raised a child-sacrificing Aztec and you attend the child-sacrificing ceremonies, I think it’s fine to judge you accordingly. I *do* have a little more patience with people who are homophobes “for religious reasons”, but I still think they’re making a moral failure by staying in the congregations that teach that hate. People can and do leave religious groups – people have even left the WBC or left their faith in countries where apostasy has the death penalty.

  86. great post. And now I come to the realization that I am both *a* feminist and sexist. That’s pretty wild. I think John makes an excellent point that the extra effort it takes to combat your ingrained X-ist tendencies is not just a good thing, but also a means to prevent those tendencies from passing on to the next generation. That’s a very keen insight.

  87. @Crystal Shepard

    “I still don’t think believing that, based on false evidence (or true evidence selectively presented), [is] discriminatory. It’s not discriminatory to believe (falsely or correctly) that someone has chosen to belong to an organization that teaches evil beliefs and is thus more likely to hold those beliefs.

    So, I meet an individual, and I learn that they are a member of a larger identifiable group. I then (wrongly) believe that the individual specifically will probably exhibit behaviors that I (wrongly) believe to be typical of the group generally.

    And you don’t call that discrimination?

    Then what the hell do you call it? Because that sounds to me like the basis for pretty much all discrimination.

  88. My Dad has a saying (which may not be unique or original to him, but he is where I got the notion) that ignorance breeds fear while knowledge breeds understanding. I’ve always liked this idea because I do believe that much, if not all, of our bigotry is rooted in fear. We are living in a period of massive and rapid change, which paired with what I believe is a hard wired fear of ‘different than me’ (useful when dealing with the creature at the water hole, but not so useful in the current environment) means that we are a society of folks dealing with a lot of fear to greater or lesser extents. And we really don’t know what to do with it other than bury it or deny it and then get really upset when it rises to the surface.

    This idea of bigotry as an outgrowth of fear gives me a little more compassion for those who are at that sort of low, ambient level. A little more compassion for those who are somewhat more fervent. And a lot of pity for those who froth – as they are surely the most fearful.

    I have been reduced to tears of frustration by conversations with good people (male and female) who insisted that my experience was somehow invalid simply because they hadn’t experienced it. This notion of fearfulness has given me a different perspective, looking back on those conversations now I hear the fear, in both them and me. How both parties struggled to justify our fears, how both parties desperately wanted to prove that our fears were the reality.

    It has led me to wonder if we can stop being fearful which I suppose is another way to ask if we can stop being bigoted or x-ist (as someone upstream put it). I think we can to some degree, but not completely. I think that, again, there is a certain level of hard wiring that we are combating. I do know that in those lucid moments when I am confronted with my own bigotry there is a rational voice in my head that tells me that I am indeed being bigoted and I need to stop. In those moments I become acutely aware that I am floundering in my own fears – fear of ‘different’ that is then compounded by fear of being ostracized or criticized, fear of being wrong and on and on. It just becomes so easy to fall into that spiral and so hard to get out. The only way out, in my experience, is to challenge it. To take a bold and bald look at what is driving my feelings. The challenge in that notion is that fear is always reactionary, a fight or flight response.

  89. @dpmaine

    I think the distinction between groups you choose to belong to and groups which you belong to without choice is a perfectly natural distinction and not an artificial one at all.

    Regarding whether I’m trying “to still be able to other and exclude members of some groups that you personally find distasteful.” Yep, sure am, though I’d replace “distasteful” with “reprehensible”. I think being able to exclude, mock, humiliate and apply any other kind of social pressure we can upon the KKK is a good thing. I may be a liberal, but I’m not going to be so foolish as to think the way to deal with groups like that is to understand their poor unfortunate circumstances and cry sympathetic tears for their poor unfortunate beliefs. These are people consciously choosing to belong to an organization spreading hatred and horrible beliefs, and I hold them accountable for that.

  90. I like your categories. I propose a mid point between 1 and 2, 1.5? which is the I don’t want to know that I receive advantage from a discriminatory system because then I’d have to do something about that and I don’t want to because it will be hard so please don’t make me see it. I know a LOT of people who are in that place. I have been known to spend time in that place myself.

    Also I disagree heartily with those who say that noting that everyone (yes, everyone, male and female) picks up and unconsciously engages in some sexism by virtue of living in a sexist society renders the word meaningless in that context. Sexist is not a comparative term. It doesn’t describe a relative degree of something, like tall or short or fast or cold. It describes a behavior. Even if everyone engages in the behavior the behavior still exists.

  91. It doesn’t appear to have come up yet, so I’ll bring up the fascinating results of a change in how musicians audition for an orchestra. Back in the 1970s, women made up about 5% of the musicians in the top five orchestras. If you asked the conductors and other musicians in the orchestra why that was so, they’d tell you that women just weren’t as good as men. And they could point to the scorecards that were used for auditions; women consistently scored lower than men did on them.

    And then in the 1980s and 1990s, orchestras started using “blind auditions”; they’d have the musicians play behind a curtain so that all the conductor and others had to score them on was the quality of the playing. Suddenly, a lot more women started getting high scores and were being hired. Why? Because blind auditions removed a lot of that ambient sexism and provided a level playing field. Today, women make up about 25% of the musicians in the top five orchestras.

    The same thing is true in other fields. In science, it is common for women to go by their initials on papers where men tend to use their full name simply because of that ambient sexism. Writing is so full of women who have published under men’s names that it is almost expected. And so on…

  92. @Crystal: People can and do leave religious groups – people have even left the WBC or left their faith in countries where apostasy has the death penalty.
    They leave their faiths because those faiths conflict with their world view. If I were in a place where badmouthing Pie would get me shunned, beaten or killed, the only reason I’d leave the church of Pie-Preferentialism would be if I really and truly couldn’t stand Pie, and the prospect of living that lie was worse than that of facing the consequences of leaving. In such a case, it’s not so much “choosing” not to be a Pie-Preferentialist as dropping a false front. I will stipulate that that in itself is a choice, but it’s not the choice you seem to be thinking it is.

  93. John Scalzi,

    “Yes. Also I’m not seeing a) how “tribalism” is instinctive, b) why as a practical matter regarding how we treat other humans, a distinction should be made. For that matter, even if tribalism were instinctive, it does not follow that it is desirable here at this point in the 21st Century.”

    Instinctive tribalism is not something you can get rid of.

    Instinctive tribalism occurs when, for example, researchers flash pictures of people of different “races” and it takes longer for the faces to be recognized in the brain when the viewer and picture are of different “races.” Unless the picture is of someone very famous like Tiger Woods. Or the picture is of the numerically dominant
    “race.”

    We are all “guilty” of racism this way. I use these quote marks because I don’t believe in races and I don’t believe humans should be held responsible for their unconscious brain workings when they had nothing to do with those workings except be born. So my instinctive tribalism is sorta similar to your first category.

    The book _Our Political Nature_ by Avi Tuschman has some interesting research on the role evolution plays in our tribalism and our position on the liberal-conservative axis.

    I still think that calling everybody racist means we have to invent some new, commonly accepted terms for those whose racism manifests itself (either internally consciously or externally).

  94. I read once that part of the problem with people self-applying the word “ally” is that it implies a sort of static condition in the best sense, and a paper shield in the worst. Even in the best case, saying “I’m an ally” indicates that it is a thing you /are/, as opposed to a thing you /do/. And in the worst cases, it’s used to mean “I am an ally to You People, so I couldn’t possibly have done –ist thing.”

    I was reminded of this by the end of your piece, because it is a work in progress, and one that may never be perfected. The work itself, however, is well worth doing.

  95. Vodstock: It’s a matter of getting things backward between which is an exception and which is a rule. Also whether the “not all” is being used as an excuse to discriminate or a way to excuse one’s responsibility.

    Using myself as an example: People commonly assume that bi/pansexuals are cheaters, and use this assumption as an excuse to discriminate against us. Pointing out that most of us are not cheaters often gets a comeback of anecdotal evidence, which, to the person who wants to discriminate, is seen as proof that I’m lying. Fact is, yes, there are bi/pansexual cheaters. There are cheaters of all orientations. Noting that the majority of us do NOT cheat isn’t trying to excuse the rotten behavior of those who do.

    On the other hand, people commonly assume that people with a household income in our range are fiscal conservatives who are opposed to social programs and higher taxes to pay for them. This isn’t true for us, but it’s true enough for most that that assumption is warranted, and also that assumption virtually never results in any real oppression. Therefore if people assume that of me, I don’t complain. I may correct them where I’m concerned, but I don’t use that to deflect criticism of the group in general.

    Crystal: I think you’re ignoring the fact that childhood culture is a HUGE part of a person’s identity, and that leaving the source of that culture doesn’t scrub the identity itself. You may as well be arguing that someone born and raised in Sweden who then moves to the U.S. at age 25 is no longer actually Swedish, and their native language isn’t Swedish, either. Religion isn’t only theology and structure. It’s also culture and ethnicity. You can’t just cut those parts of yourself off when you stop attending services.

    (And this is all aside from the fact that there’s no one “Muslim” culture anyway. Not only different denominations, but entirely different structures of its culture depending on the other ethnic and political aspects of where and by whom it’s practiced. An Indonesian Muslim is nowhere near in the same culture as a Saudi Wahabbist.)

  96. @Stephen McNeil:

    “So, I meet an individual, and I learn that they are a member of a larger identifiable group. I then (wrongly) believe that the individual specifically will probably exhibit behaviors that I (wrongly) believe to be typical of the group generally.

    And you don’t call that discrimination?

    Then what the hell do you call it? Because that sounds to me like the basis for pretty much all discrimination.”

    Because one of the things that comes with voluntary membership in a group is an implicit endorsement of their beliefs, actions and norms. Another is a more explicit statement that the people therein are people they wish to associate with. Because being a member of that group is a choice, being a member of that group is potentially blameworthy. Being a member of a fiat group can *never* be something you’re blameworthy for.

    If someone calls out a KKK member as a racist, based on the general characteristics of the KKK, would you say that’s unreasonable of them? I certainly wouldn’t.

  97. @Shawna – you’re right that Muslim culture is not monolithic or monochromatic. Never though otherwise, but there’s a limit to just how much disclaiming or careful differentiation you can make in blog response. ;)

    And yes, definitely, you can’t completely abandon your background when you leave a religion. Those beliefs *are* deeply inculcated. But you *can* choose to remove the implicit endorsement of the beliefs a religion holds by leaving it. Or, in those religions that don’t excommunicate so quickly, by explicitly rejecting those beliefs and fighting against them from the inside.

  98. JS– you continue to be deeply difficult to understand in terms of rules. You wrote:

    “But let’s also not pretend that straight white dudes aren’t first among equals when it comes to these issues, please.”

    Which is an ad hominem. Whatever, it’s literally your blog. It’s also odd that you would want to be able to make sweeping statements like, “othering” me with information or context to support it.

    You also called for criticism writing:

    “As noted in the entry, my “four levels” formulation is my own take on things and a work in progress, and so amply open to criticism, so feel free to criticize it in its formulation.”

    So it’s a little that you would mallet the post (I presume) for labeling the levels juvenile. You disparaged me with a sweeping ad hominem, and I criticized your levels as requested.

    When is it acceptable to return ad hominem with less severe and less strident labels?

  99. Of course society and culture are discriminatory. Individuals are part of society and culture. It’s not like you can honestly say “sure the water is filthy, but the fish are clean.” Or, as I see several comments saying “sure the water is filthy and some fish are filthy but *I’m* clean.”

    It’s like when a kid is getting bullied at school. You may not be the one giving the wedgie, but if you just were glad you weren’t getting one and moved on, you were absolutely part of the problem the kid who did was having with that bully. You may have been comfortable telling yourself “well, I’m not a bully, well done me,” but I don’t think the person actually being bullied was going to see quite the degree of separation you did.

    If your big opinion in social justice debates is how unfair it is that people are labeling you with insufficient attention to how shiny your halo looks, maybe it’s time you put the polish away and stepped back from the mirror.

  100. “These are people consciously choosing to belong to an organization spreading hatred and horrible beliefs, and I hold them accountable for that.”

    That’s fine, but unless it’s based on an individual assessment – the “content one’s character” – it is abundantly clear that you are discriminating just as a racist, sexist, or homophobe does.

    Freedom of association is an inherent right (God given, if you believe that way), and recognized by most nations and the UN. Othering based on membership is an attempt to deny one the uncoerced membership of an organization.

  101. ERose– your premise presumes that I owe you, the bullied or the bully – something. I don’t owe you anything. No one owes you anything.

  102. Peter:

    My question was not about how people think and generalization, although those generalizations are clearly sexist.

    Actually, your question was about generalizations. See, this is why it’s tricky.

    My question was when my behaviour is categorized as sexist, when I think it is different thinking, not sexist.

    If you think that your different thinking is because you are a man, that’s a sexist assumption. It’s treating the genders as uniform groups, rather than the people in them as individuals. We are taught things about men and women and if casual evidence in our lives that then fits that confirmation bias comes up, we then solidify those gender assumptions as the way things are. And when someone checks that, points out the discriminatory bias, our tendency is to come up with a justification for the behavior that gives us a get out of jail free card. Rather than acknowledge someone’s hurt or concern, we seek to explain to them why their view of their own experience is wrong and their feelings and perceptions are invalid. But if we’re all stewing in it, and we are, odds are they’ve probably spotted something you missed, especially if they are on the down axis and you are on the up axis or even level to their axis.

    When I am presented with a problem, I try to solve it. That’s how my brain works (nature and nuture).

    But the problem of conflict with a colleague who believes you are discriminating against her is not one that you want to solve? You would just like her to decide she doesn’t have the problem that she has twenty times a day with guys in the work world? You’ve been taught to solve problems without considering other positions as a man. That’s what a man is supposed to do. So the question is, are you willing to refine the behavior or not, or are you just going to assert privilege as a guy and never check how you’re doing things to see if those methods create problems?

    Is it sexist to try and solve problems when a male presents the problem, but just nod and listen if it is presented by a female?

    How about if you listen to the problems when both men and women present them, rather than rush to solve them? You could consult with them, ask them how they think the problem they have might be solved. And in dealing with a female, be aware of biases and that you are more likely (because we are socially trained to do so,) to dismiss what the woman says much more than what the man says, and to not trust the woman as much as the man to solve or help you solve the problem.

    In having to deal with you about the problem, the woman also has to deal with you differently than the man would. She has to be deferential, she has to worry about you seriously discriminating against her if you are pissed off by her unwomanly to you behavior, she has to assess at all times if you’ll hurt her, she has to chose strategies that you will not find a challenge to you, whereas the man does not. (This is the really hard one for a lot of guys to understand.) When a woman co-worker comes to you with a problem, she’s already at an enormous disadvantage and risk. That’s neither of your faults, but it is a factor in what happens. If you keep aware of the biases in how you see the behavior and thinking of both male and female and spectrum co-workers, that helps you avoid various traps. Men tend to mentor men, not women, and women are expected to fulfill various performance requirements that their male co-workers aren’t just to get anywhere at all. Their contributions are simply dismissed or erased as coming from them. (A good book about this is What Works for Women at Work by Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey, about the patterns that women are evaluated by in the workplace by both male and female employees and bosses.)

    I guess the more general question is: should my behaviour change depending on the gender of the person that I am talking to, which feels quite sexist?

    Your behavior already does change depending on the gender of the person you’re talking to. Everybody’s does — that’s the ambient sexism part. I’d be willing to wager you are a lot more eager to step in and less in agreement with a woman than with a man, from what you’ve said. So it’s more a matter of walking back behavior that is discriminatory and puts the woman at a disadvantage, blocks her, rather than giving a woman special treatment. By being aware that you’re going to try to block her, automatically and unconsciously, and that she is already at a disadvantage in talking to you, you can watch out for it and not do that as much. Which is being an ally, and even a mentor.

    It also means being aware that what you think is happening is not what is happening to the woman, that there are different frames of reference not because of gender, but because society imposes them on gender and power thereby. So you can ask her. Building up a relationship of trust tends to work better to solve problems than a claim that she’ll have to lump it because you don’t feel like changing how you do stuff and you don’t want to feel bad. (The latter is an example of advantageous sexism.) Pretending the sexism isn’t there in the system and how both of you were raised is the sexism that continues the damage. Being aware of the sexism and trying to minimize its effects creates more equality and a better work culture. And the same for all the isms.

    This seems like a very tiring to do. When will it end if it permeates everything? But aspects do improve and it’s a lot more tiring for the folks on the receiving end of discrimination. The discrimination is artificial and social — we have to get out of the habit of it. You have a habit. You can try to change it. And if you do, others follow your example, especially if you are the boss.

  103. This is a constant struggle, and hopefully I am getting better at recognizing and fighting the discrimination I see in myself. The best thing I think is to get to know people who are different, whether at work, in life, or even on social media. I have been fortunate to be able to travel, too, with an open mind as best I am able. The key is to see each person as an individual, struggling with the human issues of life like we all are. And not all people are nice, but most are in my experience, but that is a function of their individuality.

  104. @ dpmaine

    You must be loads fun at parties, when someone tries to talk to you, and you walk away without a word. After all, you owe them nothing. Seems like a pretty awful attitude considering that you are literally embedded in human relationships.

  105. dpmaine: Freedom of association as a political principle does not mean it’s not rational to make judgments based on association. If you pal (well, palled, he’s dead) around with Fred Phelps, I’m entirely justified in believing, prima facie, that you’re a nasty human being.

    As for your statement that I am “discriminating just as a racist, sexist, or homophobe does”, that Ad Hominem is simply false. I am judging people based on their individual choices – to join with and associate with horrible people, norms and institutions. A racist, sexist, or homophobe is judging people on unchosen characteristics.

  106. If discrimination is treating people differently based on who they are, I need to hear why that is inherently negative. I treat children differently than adults. I treat hearing impaired differently than those not so afflicted. I treat women differently than men. Why do I do this? Because we are different. Are there ranges of difference up to and including overlap in many areas? Yes. I treat the strong differently than the weak. I treat the brilliant differently than the dull.

    None of that must be unjust. All of that can be unjust and injustice is probably a more productive thing to rail against rather than the fact that we have differences and we should consider those differences in our actions.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  107. @crystal shepard I think what people are having a problem with is the “Muslims = fiat group” you were expressing earlier, vs splinter groups having specific, entrenched egregious beliefs that your membership implicitly endorses. As we know, Muslims and Christians have a great, beautiful spectrum of beliefs, most of which are generous and gentle – the Muslims/violence statement was a poor example since even a declaration of jihad is not explicitly violent. It’s colonialist, yes, but that puts it on par with Christianity.

    Is what you’re getting at more along the lines of the stances taken by the NRA? Because I am absolutely on board with the idea that while many people who are members don’t buy into their more extreme rhetoric, it is absolutely fair to take members to task for supporting that rhetoric. (That was why George H. W. Bush rescinded his membership in the NRA – he couldn’t support the statements they were making.)

  108. you pal (well, palled, he’s dead) around with Fred Phelps,

    This is ignorant. Do you suppose that everyone who ‘pal[ed’ around with Fred Phelps was a nasty person? Anyways…

    The question is whether it’s discriminatory. It quite clearly is. You are are discriminating based on association not on the “content of one’s character”.

    That is the precise way that a racist, sexist, or homophobe does, not based on the person but rather based on class membership.

    Adding an artificial distinction between groups you “join” and groups you do not voluntarily join is nothing more than a popularity contest based on your own irrational assumptions. As JS and others have pointed out, you are born into the cultural assumptions. Has it never occured to you that being born into the KKK is an actual thing that happens?

    It’s really quite simple. Either group based discrimination is unideal, or it’s acceptable. All we are doing is quibbling over whose group choices are okay. It seems like you are firmly in the camp of “discrimination is okay so long I am on the who selects the unfavored groups”.

    Discriminating against an individual member of the KKK to punish the KKK is equivalent to discriminating against a black person to punish Blacks.

  109. @Rod Rubert discrimination is treating people differently but *monolithically* based on who you THINK they are, not based on who they really are. For instance, children should not all be treated the same. Hearing impaired folks should not all be treated the same. People are differently brilliant; differently dull. It’s choosing a path based on an assumption you are making about a category, not an individual.

    (I will not get into how irritated it makes me that people treat children monolithically.)

  110. dpmaine:

    “you continue to be deeply difficult to understand in terms of rules.”

    Not really. The rules are: Do what I tell you to do, or you lose the ability to comment.

    Also, don’t assume you comment here under the same rules that I, the proprietor, do.

    I trust that is sufficiently clear for you.

  111. Re: “if everyone is sexist, then that term is useless”

    In Europe in the Middle Ages, pretty much everyone had lice. That didn’t make the term “having lice” useless. Also, the situation can change over time. For instance, nowadays, very few people in Europe or its colonies (e.g., USA) have lice.

    Being sexist is not intrinsic to being human. It is just that sexism (along with racism, etc.) permeates Western society. Avoiding it if you live in a Western society is like trying to stay free of lice in the 1400’s. That doesn’t mean you can’t change it — we (mostly) got rid of lice, but it took centuries. I think we can (mostly) get rid of sexism, but it will take many generations.

    Re: definition of sexism.

    The dictionary definition Kilroy quotes leaves out some points that are essential to the way social justice people use it. The biggest one is that, as we use it, the discriminatory or unjust behavior has to be part of a system of oppression. What makes “women can’t think logically” sexist isn’t that you or your buddy says it. It’s that those who say it are backed up by countless TV shows, movies, books, talking heads, preachers, Dr. Phils, etc., who also say it, by employers who won’t give women certain jobs because of it, by police officers and auto mechanics who dismiss what women say because they’re “illogical,” etc. The prevalence of that attitude is used to systematically disempower and disadvantage women.

    Social justice people use the term “racist” in the same way. One restaurant in all of New York City refusing to serve someone because (s)he’s white is not “racist” because there are thousands of restaurants that will — the white isn’t unable to get a decent meal in a restaurant because of it. Restaurants in the USAan South refusing to serve blacks _was_ racist because all of the restaurants did the same, and anyone (white or black) who challenged this faced rejection (if white) or violence (if black.)

  112. dpmaine: The “Tolerant of Intolerance” gambit, and a false dichotomy. I wasn’t sure you could double that up in one comment without exploding the internet or something.

    lichtstrom: good luck, but Mr. Rubert is well known around these parts for drive-by deliberate obtuseness. I expect he will maintain form in this thread as well.

  113. You must be loads fun at parties, when someone tries to talk to you, and you walk away without a word. After all, you owe them nothing.

    Would it be so unjustified for me to do so? If we agree to converse, that’s fine. If not, am I bad woman for refusing? Am I bad for refusing to sleep with you? What exactly do I owe you given that you breathe?

    Seems like a pretty awful attitude considering that you are literally embedded in human relationships.

    Why? What do you suppose you owe your parents? Siblings? Please tell us what exactly is owed to everyone.

  114. I trust that is sufficiently clear for you.

    No it’s not. I have no idea what set off your rule hammer so I will not try again right now. It is deeply confusing at what point you are unhappy with people responding to staggering claims.

  115. Rod: I think it’s pretty clear that when we’re talking about “discrimination” we’re talking about the kind that makes an already difficult life even harder.

    That said, I do think it’s worth pointing out the “colorblindness” mistake a lot of folks make. Acknowledging and accounting for differences isn’t inherently unjust. Where the problem comes in is when people hold mistaken ideas of what differences a given person has based on their vital statistics, and then treat said people unfairly because of that.

    Crystal: Look, I understand the point you’re trying to make. Materially participating in an organization with stated, active goals of doing something awful is defacto supporting those goals, and it IS worth judging people based on the chosen act of material participation. However, there’s considerably more to a person’s religious identity than that, and even people who are active in an organized denomination with hateful goals may not be making things worse. Some may, for instance, be working steadily for change within that organization. Take, for instance, all the people who are working hard to change the stances of United Methodists on same-sex marriage.

    I totally get the concept of judging people based on a chosen membership to a hateful organization if 1) There is no other purpose to that organization or 2) They’re not doing anything to change things. But religion has more purposes than something like the KKK, and not all of those purposes are harmful, and not all people who are members of a religion are contributing to the parts that are.

    Speaking of my husband’s cultural background, I have a huge problem with active Mormons who think that because they don’t, on an individual level, engage in anti-gay acts that they’re not culpable for their support of an anti-gay organization. However, active Mormons who are working within the organization to change its anti-gay goals? Totally different story. I may not believe in LDS theology, but it does me no harm, so people can participate in their only source of actively engaging with that belief, especially if it’s part of their cultural identity, and I have no problem with it. Likewise, people who support the church’s welfare and other social programs which are divorced from its sexist and anti-gay stances. It’s only the other activities of the church that are so damaging, and people who are working to change that will incur no negative judgment from me.

  116. @lichtstrom

    I never said Muslims were members of a group by fiat. In fact, I said the opposite. And I never claimed that Islam was violent. In fact, I said the opposite.

    I *did* say that Muslims, because of their choice to participate in the religion, could be judged on the basis of that decision. The judgment would come out fine, but they could. Any choice we make is an appropriate candidate for moral judgment – most choices of most people will be judged morally fine. (Not that continually making moral judgments of this and that is always *helpful*, but that’s another issue).

    And yes, the NRA is a fine example, as is George H.W. Bush’s quitting. Or Jimmy Carter leaving the Southern Baptists. I didn’t give those as examples, because if I say something anti-NRA or anti-Southern Baptist the dialogue would digress even worse than it did. The KKK and WBC are safer to discuss, because only dpmaine will defend membership in them.

  117. @dpmaine:
    ” your premise presumes that I owe you, the bullied or the bully – something. I don’t owe you anything. No one owes you anything.”

    You are alive today because your parents and the other adults around you decided they “owed” you food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc. You drive around in a car made by someone else, and on roads built and paid for almost entirely by other people. If you have a job, it’s because someone went out of their way to hire you and not someone else.

    Your entire existence (and your ability to post on Scalzi’s blog) is due to stuff society provides you with. You are also fortunate to live in a large, diverse society where you can express non-mainstream opinions and be a jerk if you want to and not get ostracized or killed. To say you “don’t owe anyone anything” isn’t just selfish. It’s also amazingly ignorant.

  118. Dpmaine:

    “No, it’s not.”

    Leaving aside that whether it is clear to you or not, I expect you to act on my instructions, or lose the ability to comment here: this is your problem, rather than mine. Given that other people appear to be able to figure these things out without too much problem, I have every confidence that you, a PhD candidate if memory serves, will be able to as well. But if it causes you that much confusion, then I suspect you are correct that it’s best for you to hold fire until you can figure it out.

    Also, with regard to the “owing no one anything” line of discussion, (and this is aimed at the other participants as well as you, dpmaine) at the very least let’s try to keep it directly focused on the subject at hand rather than a general discussion of whether people in a society do things all by their very lonesome, with no help from anyone else. Aside from being off the point, such a belief would be an indication of utter cluelessness as toward how the world actually works, and I know no one of us would wish to expose ourselves as such a tendentious creature.

  119. @crystal shephard it is that “judging based on participation in the religion” that people have a problem with, because “Muslim” as a religion doesn’t *have* a specific set of egregious beliefs. Judging someone for being a Muslim would have to know what sect they participated in, first, and what mosque within that sect. Then they would have to know what beliefs that mosque espoused. Otherwise, if I’m to turn that on its head, it would be totally fair for me to judge a Unitarian Universalist for conversion therapy for gay folks, since that’s commonly associated with Christian communities. And that makes NO sense whatsoever.

    Also, totally understood re: KKK and WBC. ;)

  120. @ John Blake Arnold

    It is really unclear what you are trying to say. Paragraph breaks are your friend and would have made it easier for me to parse your words. It seems like you feel that evolutionary theory is a justification for discrimination. The problem is you make some factually incorrect assertions about evolutionary theory.

    You say “Game theory illustrates at it’s most basic the zero-sum game”. Actually, game theory is much more complicated than that. Game theory also looks at relative advantage, where all individuals win, some more strongly than others. A similar dynamic exists in hierarchy theories, in that hierarchies can be fluid across time and space, and so it is possible for all individuals to win, some more often than others.

    Further, evolution does not suggest that it is simply life feeding on life. What it does suggest is that certain traits allow certain individuals to produce more offspring that survive over time because of said traits. Over time, these traits essentially crowd out the offspring that lack these traits. What is done by humans during this time, can be in direct contradiction of biological influences.

    Later in your post, you attempt to derail the conversation by saying that it’s actually wealth, not race, that is the easiest mode of being. Again, not really germane to Scalzi’s point, and also kind of annoying to see attempts to distract from racism. .

  121. … and the mallet warms up when John sees my name …:) / // along with, “Oh dear, my post will be coming after Kat and her uniforms” talk … :-; /// along with, erm, are some folks getting mad at about this time in the thread? Well, this time is all the time I’ve got.

    First, excellent essay, JS! Essays are more potent to me than scattershot tweets, not intending offense. Second, very interesting difference in Thread tenor, here; at least up till late. Why all these quick well thought out posts? Because of the earlier similar thread? This one appears to be chugging along quite well. Wish I had time to really absorb it all. Too, I’m grateful for the 4 Levels of distinctions, with erm, their implied condemnations. After all, it is Lent. Too, I loved Katheryn’s commonplace, “ignorance breeds fear while knowledge breeds understanding,” along with my ever-loved, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Common sense can get common that way, and I can follow it. Humility seems the right way, too, from what I’ve read.

    Now here’s what I’ve gathered together into my little brain, from all this (this thread moves so fast!) As to isms (including Fascism), I’m beginning to think isms occur when More Able Groups get brutal towards Less Able Groups: MAG>LAG? Brutal, as in power to make cower. Perhaps Millennial feministic efforts can de-arm sexist MAGs through brain instead of brawn? A hopeful idea. I have to tell you, pessimistically, that history steers more towards brawn; although I feel in my heart that the more optimistic prognostications as I’ve read here, upthread, do make me feel more hopeful. Thinking helps seeing.

    And thanks for the jargons! This cowboy means that humbly. (I’m a sad cowboy right now, his favorite horse got his head hurt; I can’t go galloping.) I do wish, however, that jargons could be defined to fewer than 5 tightly-written pages, as with intersectionality. As John Bunyan once argued in his biggest introduction, it’s best to have burrs that stick to saddles, than to have kitchens that haul in carts. (Erm, I’m interpreting a bit.)

  122. “Your entire existence (and your ability to post on Scalzi’s blog) is due to stuff society provides you with. You are also fortunate to live in a large, diverse society where you can express non-mainstream opinions and be a jerk if you want to and not get ostracized or killed. To say you “don’t owe anyone anything” isn’t just selfish. It’s also amazingly ignorant.”

    None of things are owed to me. Some are given. Some are lent. Some are borrowed for. If society wishes to give me roads (toll or paid for indirectly) in exchange for me to doing something productive, than so be it.

    You owe no one anything. I owe nothing to anyone, let alone strangers in the hall way. If you disagree, it would be helpful to understand on what basis I am obligated to you.

    In the end all involuntary claims of what I owe to someone else tend to boil down to slavery, which is not cool dude.

    JS–

    “Given that other people appear to be able to figure these things out without too much problem, ”

    I will think on it, but keep in mind that your audience, 95+% of them that post agree with you. The entire gambit of people responding to you are people who agree with you, at the low of point of approximately “I worship you” to the high point of approximately “You are the best thing ever”. The high point of disagreement is basically “I would agree with you even more if”. Saying that a lot of people figured out is fine so long as we are limiting it to the subset of people who basically agree with you. As always it’s your blog. There was nothing I can think of that I posted that was not either directly invited by your post or violated the general rules or the post rules. But again Whatever, it’s literally the name of your blog.

  123. @lichtstrom

    To the extent that Islam as a whole doesn’t promote immoral beliefs, any judgment of them won’t find them wanting. And the existence of groups within it that do have egregious beliefs would only be relevant to someone wanting to judge members of those particular groups.

    The same, of course, goes for Christianity. So the UU folks are fine, when it comes to conversion therapy. The Assemblies of God isn’t – though any moral judgments of members of that faith would also have to take into account any charity work, public service, etc. And even judgments of individuals are defeasible – if I find out they’ve worked hard to end their church’s support of conversion therapy, I obviously have to factor that in.

    And the “subgroup” idea applies across the board. The Log Cabin Republicans are ahead of the rest of their party by one less bad idea.

    I only mentioned this in passing before, because it’s an aside from my main point, but it’s also important for people to realize that A) Moral judgments are often best kept to oneself, and B) Often the best response to negative moral judgment is engagement and education. Maybe that NRA member just doesn’t want the government to take away his guns and really believes that’s a threat. Maybe that NAMBLA member would never do anything horrible, really just doesn’t want to feel like a horribly evil person for having his impulses, and doesn’t feel accused there. Maybe the KKK member was raised by KKK parents and has never actually had a real conversation with a member of any of the groups he was taught to hate. Doesn’t mean I should hand them over my children for moral education, an example of why moral judgment is necessary, but examples of people, even in horrible organizations (Not that the NRA, unlike the other two, is truly *horrible*), with whom engagement would be productive.

  124. Dpmaine:

    “I will think on it, but keep in mind that your audience, 95+% of them that post agree with you”

    Meh. Not everyone who agrees with me on one issue agrees with me on another, and there are plenty of people who disagree with me more than they agree with me, whose posts exist unmolested. So, no, on this as on a number of things, you’re off base yet again.

    With that said, it’s certainly the case that you, dpmaine, have less credit with me when it comes to the Mallet than other commenters here, because I think you argue more poorly than you think you do, and that you have a pronounced tendency toward derailment and trollism, whether intentional or not. Now, you may disagree (I suspect you would), but that’s my call to make.

    What keeps you out of my moderation queue is both my belief that you really are trying to make points of substance (even if I disagree with them much of the time), and that you are showing a willingness to try to find the right side of the conversational boundary, and a willingness to take direction when it is given to you. Which is to say, I work from the presumption you are trying to argue in good faith here, but perhaps you have several bad habits to unlearn from elsewhere.

    But yes, in the meantime, the Mallet does seem to find you more often than others. It is to be hoped that over time it will find you less frequently.

    (And with that, incidentally, we should draw this particular line of conversation to a close, as it really is not germane to the overall discussion. But at least now you may have a clearer idea of where I, and the Mallet, are coming from.)

  125. Do I have some sexist (and racist) biases? I sure do. I try to keep them in mind and watch for them. I guess that puts me in the “ambiant” category. But by applying the term “sexist” and “racist” to all levels of discrimination – you take away a lot of the power of the word.

    And I would say that sexism (unlike racism) comes with two edges on that sword – the expectations based on gender roles both have plusses and minuses. I’m not saying they’re equal, but I’ve known some male friends going through a divorce trying to get custody of the kids and being told “you’re not the mother so you lose”. If you don’t live up to image of what it’s like to “be a man”, it’s hell. And just compare the treatment of male vs. female teachers who have sex with their students (and the way the students are considered).

    No, that doesn’t make it right for all the ways women are discriminated against. No, that’s not a reason for women to earn less, be less likely to be taken seriously in a discussion, less likely to be hired for so many positions. But those great wrongs don’t make the other wrongs right either.

    I will be thrilled when the day comes when there’s not even a possibility of a woman being treated as lesser than in politics, business or social. But that thrill will be tempered if it’s still women and children first, you have to stand up and give your seat to that lady, etc.

  126. @dpmaine – I never said anyone owed anything in my posited scenario. I said under those circumstances, it’s not really reasonable to expect the bullied kid to use the same yardstick you do to measure your behavior.
    Since my overall point was that no one owes anyone else a gold star, I’m not sure where you think what you’ve said is a contradiction of my post.

    That said, I’m not overly impressed with your conclusion, but since it seems wildly off-topic I don’t think this is the space to engage with it.

  127. It’s important to respond to this notion that we don’t owe anyone anything. This idea is pernicious. It has real consequences for discussing -isms.

    To the extent that we believe that we are separate from the wider social matrix, we then misdirect our energy. The belief becomes something along the lines of “Of course I can’t affect racism. First off, it doesn’t really exist, because aren’t we are all rugged individualists bootstrapping ourselves up to success? And, even if it did exist in small pockets, that is only because some vanishingly small number of individuals care too much about judging other people instead of getting their bootstrap on.” In this case, we end up either denying the problem wholesale, or minimizing the problem while also stating that the solution is we need to stop talking about it.

  128. I don’t know how many women still want to be on pedestals or don’t. I’d hope that the expectations are the same sort of inherent biases that will go away. But usually, the problems men face through society’s ingrained sexism is just dismissed as “trying to distract from the problems of sexism”.

    I’m just saying there’s two sides of the coin. And both sides need fixing.

  129. The problem with saying “I and everybody else am X” is that you’ve created a conversation about what people are rather than what they think or what they’re doing. It instantly puts people on the defensive, and they may well be justified in that reaction. It basically amounts to name-calling, even if you include yourself in it.

    “You have sexist ideas and/or do sexist things” is a noticeably different claim from “you are sexist.” Honestly, the whole idea seems defeatist to me. If we’re all damned by the sins of our fathers, how can we ever hope to set things right?

    I also note that your four levels of discrimination make no distinction between those who struggle with ambient sexism and those who passively or ignorantly accept it. A lot of us (including you) are actually actively engaging with the sexist notions we absorbed and that surround us. It frankly denigrates that struggle to pin us with a label that we can never be free of.

    Bottom line, I don’t think insulting men aids the cause of feminism. I don’t think it helps here, and I don’t think it helped with the “easiest difficulty level” post either.

  130. BTW, I am not saying that the problems of sexism where women come out behind aren’t larger and usually more damaging than the ones where men come out behind, or that we can’t do anything until everything is solved. I’m just saying that it’s worth recognizing that the gender assumptions of society and how it’s affected people has problems for both sexes.

  131. @crystal shepard when you say:

    “To the extent that Islam as a whole doesn’t promote immoral beliefs, any judgment of them won’t find them wanting. And the existence of groups within it that do have egregious beliefs would only be relevant to someone wanting to judge members of those particular groups.”

    You’re absolutely correct. And anyone applying that judgement to someone who is Muslim without an awareness of said group, is discriminating against that person because it’s applying a small stereotypical assumption to an individual who might not hold those beliefs. And since in the US, the majority expression of Muslim people here is “Muslims = Arab = Terrorist,” judging someone for being Muslim IS discrimination. Muslim religions are, in the US, inextricably tied to race. (From a certain perspective, so is Judaism.) Which is where I’m struggling – trying to figure out why you think judging someone for being Muslim and speaking from that judgement ISN’T discrimination. Are you from someplace that isn’t the US? Do you not care for Sufi poets, like Rumi, and think them somehow morally bankrupt?

  132. Jedibear:

    “It frankly denigrates that struggle to pin us with a label that we can never be free of.”

    It frankly doesn’t. Call it what it is: Sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and whatever else you may have on your plate. Running from the word doesn’t change what it’s going on. It’s not pretty, and it’s not nice. But then again, the people who have to live with the ingrained sexism, racism, etc don’t have it pretty or nice either. Changing the words of what they experience wouldn’t change the discrimination, either.

    Look: If someone’s commitment and interest battling the discrimination that affects them directly can be compromised by directly and unambiguously calling that discrimination by name, then they aren’t really committed to fixing it, now, are they. Nor do I think we will be free of it. It’s a process, not a race.

    So don’t hide from it, dude. Own up to it, call it what it is, and work on it.

  133. Interesting post and comments. I love how your always trying to better yourself and be aware of the world around you Scalzi as well as get people to talk.

    I recently read Dog Whistle Politics which talks about how most racist are good people. This is a really difficult concept for most people. You can be a good person and still be sexist/racist/*-ist. Somehow we have to overcome our need to defend ourselves when we are called on our behavior and instead listen, really listen. It’s hard to do, no one wants to be bad/wrong, no one wants to be labelled -ist. But if you can let go of the need to defend you can be the person you think you are.

    Much of your posts/tweets mirror some of the concepts talked about. One really important point the book made was that we need to start using the -ism/-ist terms again and people need to be uncomfortable. We have to call out behavior and evaluate our own. Much of the book was recap for me as I had a strange upbringing so I tend to be more aware of sexism/racism/etc. but I did learn some terrifying facts and it reinforced the need to be vigilant and speak up.

  134. Somewhere in there… I’m not sure how or where… it should address the matter of discrimination by pedestal. “But I LOVE women!” etc. Some of the most infuriating discrimination out there comes with that cover.

  135. @Donald Brown: Interestingly, the problems you mention arise because of sexism. It’s sexist to assume women are naturally the more nurturing parent. It’s sexist to declare women require special protection, because it assumes women are fragile. It’s sexist to side with a female rapist, because it assumes that the natural state of woman is unthreatening and that any male can overpower her.

    Please stop talking about these as “the other side”. They’re the same side and come from the same problems.

  136. @MRK, a while back:

    Like… why do I support, in my use of language, the idea that men are not interested in love stories and that to be interested is to be somehow lesser? I try to root it out, but still.

    I keep wondering when this peculiar modern superstition (that men don’t like romance) will wither and die a well-deserved death. It certainly wasn’t true in the 19th century or the early-to-mid 20th century.

    Every one of Edgar Rice Burrough’s very popular novels was a romance–written for guys. About 1/3 to 1/2 of Louis L’Amour’s insanely popular western novels were romances–written for guys. Quite a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories had romance sub-plots, and most 19th century novels were romances or had romantic elements.

    I have never heard anyone suggest that L’Amour’s westerns were “too girly” for them. Ditto for Burroughs. I personally think that novels for men that pretend that love and romance don’t exist are impoverished and barren things.

  137. @Alice K. – absolutely, they all come from sexism. But in other discussions, and in the original post, sexism is described as “the discrimination suffered by women” and discussions of disadvantages of being a man are “attempts to distract from the ‘real issues'” (The implication being that the downsides for men aren’t ‘real issues’.)

    Generally, as for the labelling issue – there’s a difference between labelling thoughts/actions and labelling people. Yes, I have some sexist biases, they exist, I try to fight them. Sometimes I fail and make sexist statements and view them through that. They can be fought. But as soon as you turn it into a personal label, “you are a sexist”, I’ve been defined. It becomes part of my essence. I’m human, I’m right handed, I’m a sexist. And I’m not going to become a dog or a cat, I’m not going to become left handed, and I’m not going to become a non-sexist. More, it’s a binary label, you are or you aren’t. I’m a dudebro, might as well go hang out with them.

    Labels are toxic. Even this one.

  138. I’ve been thinking about this post all day, trying to form a response that’s worthy of the thought you put into it. I don’t know if I have yet, but here goes. 1. As a lady, I am equally disgusted by men who say “All ladies are X” as I am by ladies who say “All men are Y.” These are not productive sentence structures. 2. Living in Europe, and coming from a background of, yes, a fair amount of privilege (from a global perspective) I was shocked by the casual generalizations the people I met when I lived in Europe. “Well, you know. She’s German. You know what THEY’RE like.” “I never liked Americans until I met you.” “Well, they’re Arab. What do you expect?” “Oh, I would NEVER date a Turk.” Coming from a conservative Southern culture where all racism, at least in my and my mother’s generations was carefully cloaked in polite language, I found it shocking. It also allowed me to confront some of my own entrenched issues. I’m old enough to remember being told by teachers that I’d never be good at math or science cause I’m a girl, and by family members that boys are only after one thing. Listening to people be so frank and open with their petty prejudices and ingrained beliefs about national character helped me come to terms with my own petty prejudices and ingrained beliefs about national character. I believe to a certain extent tribalism is a natural part of the human condition, but like savagery and violence, needfully surmountable. Having dialogues about it is much more productive than cloaking it in silence and insincere euphemism. So thank you for this.

  139. Category 1: Ambient, is basically meaningless. Defined as you have it, it applies to all of humanity, and isn’t even something we’re aware of. Logically, if “everyone” is a sexist, as specifically defined in this point, then nobody is.

    It’s as meaningless as when religious people say “We’re all sinners”. If something is universally intrinsic to all of humanity, without qualifiers, then it’s useless to portray it as a social problem or something we can possibly even do anything about.

    In other words, individuals are not culpable or guilty for systemic problems, just from having been a part of a system, especially if that system is inherently tied to their own natures.

    (I’m specifically addressing the definitions and phrasing of your point 1, not my own beliefs here)

  140. @MrManny:”We’re all sinners” when said by religious people is not meant to be followed by “so fuck it, do whatever.” It’s meant to recognize we all have imperfections, and should be striving to overcome them. Likewise discussing the presence of sexism in society as a whole isn’t always about identifying who the sexists are.

    The balance sheet mentality, that problems are only worth discussing if there are specific penalties to be assessed for specific crimes, results in those systemic problems never changing.

    Also, logically, if everyone is sexist, that means everyone is sexist. It means we’ve identified sexism as making estimations of worth based on sex, decided that’s a bad thing, and can see it happening. The application of “if everyone is, then no one is” doesn’t apply because, unlike being special or being rich, sexism doesn’t have a specificity to it. Differing degrees of severity mean I can be sexist for accepting an argument made by a man, but questioning the same argument when made by a woman, while Phyllis Schafly can be more egregiously sexist for saying women should be paid more to encourage them to marry up. Her being worse doesn’t absolve me.

  141. Scalzi – Is the paragraph immediately following the Level 4 description your example of a level 4?

    When I first read your definition of Antagonistic, and presumably your highest level, I envision someone who actively votes against women’s reproductive rights or any form of equality laws or things of that nature, but then I read the next paragraph and I am unclear.

  142. So. Am I, John Scalzi, sexist, and racist, and other forms of discriminatory? Yup. That stuff got built in, mostly when I was young and/or wasn’t paying attention. It happened to you, too. Sorry. But I also try to work against being a sexist, and a racist and other such things, by seeing those things in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well. Am I work in progress? Yes. I’m not perfect at it, either. I show my ass from time to time. But I’m happy to keep on progressing. It’s a lifetime effort.

    One thing to add to this accurate but general statement. Social preconceptions do get inculcated in every member of society. Anyone that would actually attempt to argue against that is either disingenuous or in la-la land. The specifics of that inculcation are not, however, up wholly to where society places one in its matrix. This, I should think, is implicit in the argument that you can do something about it, that you can make a choice how to proceed from realization. So I take it as read that anyone saying you have a choice (including you, John), grasps perfectly well that you always had a choice, if not the frank self-honesty to acknowledge it. You were always a work in progress. At every turn, you (and I, obviously) made decisions, conscious or unconscious. People are not blank slates ready to receive their programming. One individual chooses differently from the next not simply because of minute variations in matrix coordinates, but also because of the complex feedback between their life experiences and their choices.

    Consequently, there is no single formula or crystal ball into which you (or anyone else, obviously) can plug the circumstances of your birth and find out what baggage you’re carrying. This is, I believe, why so many (most?) otherwise well-intentioned people (SWM or otherwise) simply avoid the whole task – and why they avoid seeking enlightenment in general – because it requires as much introspection as extrospection, and tearing down the walls in your mind (to borrow a paradigm from Ursula K. Le Guin’s brilliant novel The Dispossessed) is more personal and therefore often more uncomfortable than acknowledging that society gave you an unasked-for leg up at certain turns.

    Moreover, I suspect it’s also why many people resist arguments that they even have that baggage. And I’m not just talking about SWMs here. I’m talking about everyone who has some privileges but lacks others, the poor-born SWM who resists acknowledging his own privilege but acknowledges that of someone born with a silver spoon, the SWW who acknowledges male privilege but not her own. That is to say, they conflate one thing you (and so many others) have said…that everyone benefits from discrimination…with another…that everyone has cultural baggage baked in. They mistakenly think you’re telling them they’re nothing more than a cog in the machine who’s patterns of thought and behavior are externally determined, and they resent what they perceive to be a denial of their individuality.

    TL;DR – Critiquing society = easy (not simple). Critiquing self = hard (not complex).

    @MrManny

    Logically, if “everyone” is a sexist, as specifically defined in this point, then nobody is.

    Only if sexism is a relative behavior, which it is not. If you’re going to appeal to logic, it’s wise to use it logically and not extrapolate from empirically false axioms.

    In other words, individuals are not culpable or guilty for systemic problems, just from having been a part of a system, especially if that system is inherently tied to their own natures.

    Guilty no. Culpable is more complicated. If you lived in Germany during Nazi rule, and were not among those whom the Nazi’s targeted, but were not yourself a Nazi, you were not directly responsible for their actions. But if you remained silent while those with less power were oppressed, your silence indirectly legitimized the Holocaust. The fact is, if you’re threshold for culpability is “it’s not my problem” that’s basically antisocial in the most literal sense of the word.

    You benefit from society. If all you ever do to make it any better is to make amends for the faults for which you are directly guilty, then you’re culpable for not making yourself a better person than the baseline. A socially zero-footprint life is of no use to the world it inhabits. It takes without giving. Short of moving to uninhabited regions, everyone participates. And everyone has a choice. Work to make the world a better place for everyone, or drag your heels while the world carries you.

    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” ~ John Donne (wise man)

    http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/meditation17.php

  143. “That said, I’m not overly impressed with your conclusion, but since it seems wildly off-topic I don’t think this is the space to engage with it.”

    Fair enough, maybe next time.

  144. Donald: You’re right that men also suffer from sexism. However, they’re not suffering at the hands of women, but at the hands of the men who stand to benefit from maintaining gender-role-based power structures.

    Issues of custody, for instance, are set because men in power positions want to maintain an unpaid domestic-servant class which helps them have the time and energy to continue gaining power. It’s in their best interests to push the idea that men are incapable of raising children because that absolves them of the responsibility–and the massive time-and-energy sink–of doing so.

    Yes, women also hold some responsibility for maintaining this fallacy, but it’s because they, too have been molded by the same influences. Women DO contribute to sexism, but it’s not as generals in the war; merely as footsoldiers (and often drafted or coerced ones at that.) The reason men, even the ones getting screwed over by sexism, hold more responsibility for fixing this is that they benefit from it more, are negatively affected by it less, and have greater power to exact the necessary change.

  145. I wish I could remember or find this riddle I read 5-6 years ago. it’s a riddle that’s got something to do with a surgeon–I don’t remember any of the specifics. But I read it and tried and tried, but could not figure it out. Well, the riddle was designed to expose a common unexamined bias–namely, the automatic assumption many people (including me, it turned out) would make that the surgeon was a man.

    If you stop assuming that and realize the surgeon could be a woman, the riddle is easy to solve. It’s the fixaed assumption that the surgeon is a man that makes the riddle unsolveable. And I couldn’t solve because I, a woman, was assuming that “surgeon” necessarily meant male, and I was assuming this WITHOUT REALIZING OR RECOGNIZING I was assuming it.

    Eye-opening moment for me about unexamined bias. And, in riddle format, SO much more effective that someone triyng to TELL me I had unexamined biases. I wish I could find that riddle.

    Actually, I wish someone much more clever than me (I am not good at riddles) would create a bunch of them and they’d go into wide circulation!

  146. “Only if sexism is a relative behavior, which it is not.”

    Scalzi defined it as a relative behavior when he gave four different types in this post. According to the OP conditions, it is relative. That’s what I am going by. So your point does not stand.

    Also, take note, I am only contending with point 1.

    “But if you remained silent while those with less power were oppressed, your silence indirectly legitimized the Holocaust.”

    No. No person is morally obligated to be someone else’s savior. Failing to oppose sexism doesn’t make you sexist. “It’s not my problem” *IS* a completely legitimate answer. Because it isn’t your problem, if you are not the target of oppression, and you are not doing the oppressing.

    That makes you indifferent, and perhaps even callous. But not guilty, and not culpable.

  147. –“”We’re all sinners” when said by religious people is not meant to be followed by “so fuck it, do whatever.” It’s meant to recognize we all have imperfections, and should be striving to overcome them.”

    ——–

    When said by religious people, it’s nonsense, and a way to guilt people into feeling like they require forgiveness and absolution (and thus owe the church something) even when they don’t. It’s a means of control.

    Calling someone a sinner is nonsense. Calling someone a murder, a liar, a thief, those are specific things that they can be held accountable to, than can be corrected.

    In the same manner, saying “everyone is sexist” is nonsense. It provides no useful information.

    Saying “that guy is a rapist” or “that guy harasses women at conventions and invades their personal space” or “that guy preferentially hires only men for management positions and preferentially hires women for secretarial or janitorial positions” are specific wrongs than you can see, that can be corrected and addressed.

    That is also how you affect systemic change. You change the components of the system, and change the way those components interact, and you have a different system. You can’t change a system by saying “all of these parts are rusty!”. That provides no solution and no course of action that can be taken to improve it.

  148. Donald Brown:

    But by applying the term “sexist” and “racist” to all levels of discrimination – you take away a lot of the power of the word.

    Actually, no. It gives the words more power. Because otherwise the words can simply be dismissed as that extreme thing over there that has nothing to do with me. And the lower, more systemic levels of discrimination — which can be much more damaging to larger groups of people — get dismissed as non-existent, exaggerated, minor policy problems, etc., rather than as what they are — discrimination and ingrained attitudes. What is normal is discrimination. To change what is normal to less discrimination means acknowledging that normal is discriminatory and not just the extreme stuff is discriminatory.

    We’re all willing to talk about discrimination in the past, because that discrimination, which was normal then, is not normal now. But we don’t want to look at discrimination now unless it has a white hood over its head or equivalent. And the kind of discrimination we’re dealing with now, the kind that is normal, the kind that makes laws and has very real effects, doesn’t do that. So calling it all out as discrimination instead of just the big budget action movie discrimination helps make actual system-wide change as people have to deal with their inherent attitudes, rather than patting themselves on the back that they aren’t doing things like in the 1960’s so that should be sufficient. Complacency is a big enemy of equality.

    And insistence that the grievances of individuals in the privileged group must first be addressed over or in addition to issues of disadvantaged groups is a very tiresome diversion. It is actually possible to talk about how women are being discriminated against systemically without talking about problems of individual males too, about how black people are being discriminated against without talking about individual white people’s problems, etc. The insistence that we must remember the advantaged group and any individual problems some of them may have also and first is trying to control the agenda and minimize the issues of discrimination. It is a way to silence those bringing up discrimination.

    The if we’re all doing it, we might as well give up and hang with the extremists line is also a diversion. The civility tone argument that labels are toxic so stop talking about systemic discrimination is a diversion. And a way to silence those bringing up discrimination.

    Here’s some things that are toxic and systemic, but that we could change: non-whites and women making up not even 20% of the leadership positions in North America. Black people going to jail at enormously higher rates than white people on the same charges in the U.S. is toxic. The Louisiana state congress deciding to keep a law making gay sex illegal that has been declared illegal at the federal level years ago is toxic.But a woman, black person, gay person bringing up these things to talk about the system wide bigotry they face every day and how we’re all involved with it? That’s apparently toxic. And requires long diatribes about how advantaged groups suffer too and should be given special dispensations for good behavior, as if we don’t hear about those issues constantly.

    I’ve had a lot of discussions here, like this one, that are related to social justice issues. But I’ve never actually had a discussion here about social justice issues. Because people are much more concerned with what they are called than actual social justice issues and that’s all they really want to talk about. And that’s part of the systemic discrimination too, a big part.

    And Patrick, after our discussion on the other thread, I am disappointed.

  149. JS, how is this? I think this is appropriately on point and concise and civil.

    But I also try to work against being a sexist, and a racist and other such things, by seeing those things in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well. Am I work in progress? Yes. I’m not perfect at it, either. I show my ass from time to time

    This is letting yourself and others who believe this way off far too easy. As with a previous question you responded to about how you would avoid being affected by being on the payroll of a right-wing billionaire, I read your answer as being a long version of “I’m not perfect, but hey, I am trying, and that’s better than nothing” with a side helping of “and since I acknowledge this I get a pass”.

    That sentiment imposes no strict requirement on it’s holder, and I find it to be fairly pointless. The discussion of emotion and emotional things can be valuable, but what matters is the action and the results. No matter your intentions, or your process, we must hold each other accountable to the results of our actions and doings. Reducing a sexist or racist or homophobic act to “showing your ass” is not appropriate. Doing something that is racist or sexist or homophobic is the problem. The solution is to not do it. It is not a process or a journey, it is a discrete thing or set of things that you do, or not do.

    Learning about your levels and justifications for your self image is like hearing Sean Penn talk about his process for Mystic River. It may be interesting, but the awards are given out not for the process but for the result. As much as I love Sean Penn, his value and his works value must stand or fall based on his work.

    Just as I do not care that a right-wing bible thumping thug gives succor to the poor because he’s afraid of the sky fairy sending him to the bad place, I do not and should not care that you are a work in progress or that you later have hurt feelings over doing the wrong thing.

    TL;DR: Do. Or do not. There is no try.

  150. L. Resnick:

    The riddle is this: A man and his son are driving in a car, when they are struck by another car. The father dies in the accident and the son, badly injured, is rushed to a hospital. A surgeon is brought in to operate on the boy, but the surgeon says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son!” How is this possible?

    It’s kind of dated now, but only because we’re a lot more used to doctors being women. But that’s exactly the sort of example of the normal of the past changing as discrimination is fought and opportunities — being a surgeon — are opened up and become more common for folk in disadvantaged groups.

  151. John, it seems to me that your ambient category is something best left ignored. Beyond being inescapable (I think it was Foucault who despaired over the impossibility of overthrowing the dictator of imposed categories), it trivializes the more significant problems of sexism, racism, etc. I’m thinking here of Ta-Nehisi Coate’s brilliant exchange with Jonathan Chait and his generous, thoughtful follow-ups. TNC isn’t concerned that you might not remember his face as well as a white face. He’s concerned about nearly implausible conflicting cultural demands, tremendous costs—financial and emotional—being born by both a legacy of slavery, and the presence of what you would call advantageous or argumentative racism.

    Strategically, I think it also fails precisely because it makes it easy for a man who is unconsciously engaged in more damaging forms of sexism reject introspection.

    @Shawna:setting aside your definition of women as passive victims, you’ve created a hierarchy of victimhood. Sexism harms women, sexism harms men. Whatever point the sexist, “traditional” gender roles benefited men is rapidly fading into the past. So many of the values that boys are given as appropriate are wildly dysfunctional in contemporary America. The harms men experience as a result of those gender roles is very real and damaging. Men have as much to gain by redefining gender roles as women. And that’s good thing for women.

  152. @Shawna There are some men who do relish the advantages they get from the current gender roles and so deliberately reinforce them. There are also some women who do that. The vast majority of us, including those “men in power” are just replaying the programming we got as kids.

    And @Alice K., meet Kat Goodwin. Talking about the way men are disadvantaged by gender roles is apparently not allowed and just a way to stop fighting against sexism.

    And Kat, I have no problem with labelling thoughts, actions, laws, regulations, decisions as sexist (if applied with consideration – any “ist” can become a comfortable club). I have a problem with labelling people that way, somewhat of a problem in any case but definitely for the sort of ambiant levels Scalzi described.

  153. Folks:

    Threads like this have a tendency to sprout trolls overnight, so I’m going to close down the comments for now and turn them back on in the morning. See you then!

    Update: Comments back on, uh, later than I planned. Sorry, folks; I slept in.

  154. Scalzi: What makes of us not a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe, or whatever, is what we choose to do when we recognize our discriminatory behaviors or attitudes

    I can see real value in a person taking “we are all sexist” and using it like a mirror to look at themselves and ask themselves “is this true for me?”. Likewise, the story of Jesus, the Pharisees, and the woman caught in adultery has real value when people take Jesus’ words “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” and use it to look inward and discover something about themselves with regard to their judgements and their mercy.

    Value is not the same as veracity, though. Whether the story of Jesus and the adultress are a literal true word-for-word account of historical events, is irrelevant to whether people find value for themselves from the story. And likewise, whether “we are all sexist” is literally, factually, scientifically true is irrelevent to whether a person might find value from using it to introspect.

    (or have them pointed out by others).

    One problem with any religion is when the path to self awareness and self improvement is turned into a means to judge others (or even your self). One lifts people up, the other pushes them down.

    It’s been said that all the religions in the world are just different paths up the same mountain. If there is a mountain called “equality”, then I think “we are all sexist” is one path to its peak. If someone uses that path to better themselves or others, to lift themselves or others up, to get closer to equality, great. But “we are all sexist” isn’t my religion or my path. It doesn’t mean I’m not heading up the mountain, its just that I think Martin Luther had it right: each of us must find our own personal relationship with God.

    One thing I’ve been struggling with is how to deal with someone trying to include me in their religion when I don’t want to be included. When a christian says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of god”, and they use it for introspection and looking at their lives, that’s value. But when value gets conflated with veracity, suddenly the important thing in that verse becomes the absolute dogmatic truth of the words “all” and “sinned”, what exactly do these spiritual markers mean, and how can we apply those words to everyone else.

    So, for example, when a non-christian has a bunch of christians telling him that he’s a sinner, a heretic, and will burn in hell for all eternity unless he subscribes to the veracity of their statements, unless he follows their path up the mountain, what’s the “heretic” supposed to do? As someone who had a falling out with God rather early in life, I never really found a good answer to that.

  155. @MrManny:

    “Saying “that guy is a rapist” or “that guy harasses women at conventions and invades their personal space” or “that guy preferentially hires only men for management positions and preferentially hires women for secretarial or janitorial positions” are specific wrongs than you can see, that can be corrected and addressed.
    That is also how you affect systemic change. You change the components of the system, and change the way those components interact, and you have a different system. You can’t change a system by saying “all of these parts are rusty!” That provides no solution and no course of action that can be taken to improve it.”

    You’re assumption seems to be that the people saying “all these parts are rusty!” aren’t also doing the other things you suggest, which seems an odd position to take here.

    To build off your analogy; saying “all these parts are rusty” is the same as saying “this machine keeps breaking in the same or similar way, and a lot of people are getting hurt when it does. Maybe we need to consider some routine maintenance to clean it every so often. Also consider whether we can’t make it more efficient by overhauling portions, or recognizing some of the initial design was poorly done and needs to be refined.”

    Responding when people say “all these parts are rusty” with an implication along the lines of “no shit, it’s a machine, machines rust” is awfully defeatist, and reductive of what people are trying to accomplish. It also suggests you prefer to deal with the machine’s problems only when it breaks and inconveniences you, rather than try and improve the machine so everyone can benefit from it.

  156. Dpmaine,

    I am impressed that you read a piece written around the argument “It doesn’t matter if people don’t intend to be sexist, they can still be sexist.”, and took away “It doesn’t matter if I [Scalzi] am sexist, because I didn’t intend to be sexist.”

  157. Hey Kat – Sorry about that. I’m still working on this part of things.

    Here’s the problem I am having. As I follow along, this is what I hear Scalzi saying.

    Scalzi: The Devil’s biggest accomplishment is to convince the world he didn’t exist. Those we must fight the most are those that say the Devil does not exist, not those that believe and support the Devil. The Devil cannot be ignored. Apathy is the enemy.

    Me: Wow! mind blowing! Ok, yeah. That makes sense. We must keep vigilant for Devilish behavior. I do that. Ok, good. We’re on the same team and Scalzi is far smarter and knowledgeable about Devils, history of Devils, and Devilish behavior than I am.

    Scalzi: The Devil is in Society. The Devil is REAL! The Devil is in you. You must own that the Devil is in you. Do not deny the Devil exists!

    Me: Wait. Are you saying the devil is real? Like, real real? I believe the devil is a symbolic representation of devilish behavior. The Devil isn’t real, but devilish behavior is! Are you saying I am the worst type of Devil minion because I don’t believe the Devil is real?

    Scalzi: The Devil is REAL! You are a child of Magog, Bael, and Arthur the half beagle Devil. You are the worst kind of Devil because to this day you reap the benefits of your Devil believing ancestors and you fail to acknowledge it. AND YOU ARE the worst kind of Devil because it is worse to say the Devil is symbolic than to want devilish things or to say that devilish things don’t exist or they aren’t devilish.

    Me: You’re weird. I want you pointing out the devilish things that I and others have blinders for, but sometimes I forget you think the Devil is real and there are actually many different Devils and that I am a descendant of the worst. That’s kinda Devilish. You have a blind spot.

    Scalzi: YOU CAN’T COMPARE DEVILISHNESS, YOU UNHOLY DEVIL.

    Me: So, if I say I believe the Devil is real and in me, not symbolic, will you go back to fighting the fight that you are really good at?

    Scalzi: Devils like you make me SICK! Devil.

    Me: This isn’t working. I am failing.

    The weirdest part is that it’s hard to compute Scalzi having this as a blind spot. I realize this is my interpretation of Scalzi. This is probably a listening problem on my part.

    There’s probably a word or concept that explains what I am thinking right now, but the most educated and knowledgeable people on a topic tend to be the polar extremes. There’s a fine line, though, of realizing when you’ve crossed the barrier into the extremist side.

    I know I can get closer to the line of extreme sexism fighters, but I think we’ve gone off the rails when the battle becomes fighting those closest to agreeing with us. That’s how one gets labeled extremist.

  158. dpmaine:

    “This is letting yourself and others who believe this way off far too easy.”

    Well, you know, actually, dpmaine, in a larger sense I don’t think you and I disagree on this specific point (as far as I am understanding you here, and I may be off). It’s one thing to say “hey, I’m working on it,” and then think that merely the act of saying that is sufficient and that you are thereafter absolved of making a real effort (or of criticism if you do a poor job of it); it’s another thing to say, “hey, I’m working on it” and then actually work on it, act with intention to root out things you see as problematic. I think it’s easy to fall into the first, and difficult to maintain the second.

    Which is to say that the phrase “I’m working on it” in this case is not performative; it’s aspirational, and the person who says it (I think) should be willing to be held to account for it, with (generally) the understanding that the goals that someone may have for themselves could be different than the goals that other people wish they had.

    Everyone:

    It’s my wife’s birthday today and she and I are a) going off to run errands, b) doing birthday stuff with family later, so while I will be checking in to make sure this thread doesn’t go off the rails, I probably won’t be doing a lot of active participation today. So play nicely amongst yourselves, please. I thank you in advance.

  159. @Mr Manny

    Scalzi defined it as a relative behavior when he gave four different types in this post. According to the OP conditions, it is relative. That’s what I am going by. So your point does not stand.

    Incorrect. He defined four levels on an absolute scale, things that someone is either doing, benefiting from, participating in, or not. It’s entirely possible for everyone to be at any one of the levels. And if everyone is somewhere on the scale, then everyone is participating in sexism. You can argue whether or not ambient sexism is a real thing we all either reinforce or resist (I certainly think it is), but it makes no sense to say it’s relative. That’s like saying if everyone speaks a language, no one speaks a language.

    No. No person is morally obligated to be someone else’s savior.

    That depends on your value set. Moral obligation extends from your values, which everyone chooses, consciously or by default, whether they choose for themselves or choose to have someone or some group (such as a Church or Party) choose for them. If your values do not morally obligate you to make the world a better place, then your values are antisocial. Which is your choice, but the world can and will hold you morally responsible for being a passive beneficiary of injustice.

    And even if it could not or did not, moral obligation is a poor basis for personal conduct. Yes, you could do the bare minimum your persona values demand, and let the chips fall where they may, but you’d be coasting. Hardly a path to self-betterment. Your other comments suggest to me that you’d see value in self-betterment. Don’t you want to do more than what you’re obligated to do? Don’t you want to do what you yourself find morally laudable? Wouldn’t you pity someone who didn’t try to be a better person than the bare minimum, even and especially by their own lights?

    Failing to oppose sexism doesn’t make you sexist.

    I never said it did. It makes you culpable for benefiting from ambient sexism. Culpability and personal guilt are not the same thing. Moreover, I don’t think there is any bright line past which someone’s -isms make them -ist. What matters and what’s categorically true is that when you are behaving sexist, you’re being a sexist, and when you aren’t, you’re not. As much as I respect him and his rhetorical skill, I’m frankly unimpressed by what appears to be John’s attempt to define a line, though he did concede that it was far from rigorous. There is no Platonic sexist. It’s something you do, not something you are. Similarly, benefiting from sexism is something you do, not something you are. And when you’re benefiting from sexism, you’re a beneficiary of injustice. I’ll leave the sophistry over who is what to others.

    In the same manner, saying “everyone is sexist” is nonsense. It provides no useful information.

    Saying “that guy is a rapist” or “that guy harasses women at conventions and invades their personal space” or “that guy preferentially hires only men for management positions and preferentially hires women for secretarial or janitorial positions” are specific wrongs than you can see, that can be corrected and addressed.

    And yet you’re clearly capable of recognizing examples of sexism. Sin is a violation of a moral framework extrapolated from a specific value set. Because there are no objective value sets, only the values we choose, sin is subjective. Sexism is a non-subjective inequality with well-defined conditions:

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sexism

    …of which everything on your list of specifics is an example, demonstrating that you yourself recognize the difference. You’re committing the fallacy of arguing that general categories are unreal, that, to borrow from mikes75, there is no property of rust common to many parts. Every one of your “specific examples” could be broken down into more specific examples. They are nonetheless examples of the category of sexism. Sexism isn’t a value or an ethic, it’s an inequity. A given value set may deem it good or bad, but cannot alter the simple fact of its existence.

  160. @Patrick wow is that a misreading of Scalzi.

    Let’s see if I can make this simpler for you. We’ve all been brought up in a sexist/racist/many other -ist society. Because we learn this stuff before we can rationally think many times we don’t realize when we are being unconsciously -ist. This means that we must watch what we say and do even when we think we have exorcised the bad -ist behavior.

    If someone from the oppressed groups (or anyone really) points out that our behavior/words is -ist instead of getting defensive we need to have an open mind and an open conversation to find out where we went wrong.

    Those from the oppressed groups also have been brought up with all the -ist stuff and so some/many may seem (or truly be) fine with -ist behavior. Some seem it for fear of what could happen if they don’t as @Kat has explained.

    What we also need to be aware of is our privilege and that we may not see things that are happening in front of us. Many males do not see sexual harassment happening in front of them so they think their social circles & workplaces are free of it & when women complain of it they insist it can’t be happening because they don’t see it. They don’t see it because it’s “not relevant to them” & “normal/acceptable” until someone stands next to them and walks them through what’s happening & then they start seeing it everywhere because the blinders are off. But this does not mean they were bad men prior to the eye-opening event just blind.

  161. Tasha – Yeah. I’m trying to figure out why I hear/interpret that. I don’t think I am alone in hearing that though.

    It’s not the overall thing, it’s that last piece. Your explanation stops short of declaring the Devil real and getting mad that I think the Devil is symbolic.

    And there’s a point of taking off the blinders and putting on Devil seeing glasses.

    Now, I don’t think it hurts to wear some Devil seeing glasses and point and say that’s a devil, or ridiculously close to being a devil, let’s discuss whether that’s a devil or not. That’s exactly what we should do.

    The discussion seems to be focused on telling people they need stronger devil seeing glasses. Which when phrased poorly, is an attack, not a discussion. That said, I need some stronger Devil seeing glasses. :)

  162. If I am not clear, in my weird devil seeing analogy, just taking blinders off you can see devils. The glasses make things look MORE devil-like and make you see more things as Devils that may or may not be devils.

  163. Every single one of the bits below are all focused on proving the veracity of the statement “we are all sexist”, rather than acknowledging it being one path of many towards equality. if it helps you see something about yoruself, great, but it turns into a “how many angels on the head of a pin” argument when you try to prove it is true.

    Bearpaw: All humans breathe. Does that make “breath” a meaningless term? No.

    Well, first of all, not all humans breath. Some hold their breath voluntarily. Others have sleep apnea. Others have heart attacks or get into accidents and stop breathing. The ABC’s of first aid is airway, breathing, circulation because not every human is breathing. In which case “breathing” is meaningful and an extremely important disctinction precisely because not everyone is doing it.

    Kat:So a woman may tend towards conciliatory negotiation and team-building and such, which can be a good thing, but she tends to do so because she was taught that’s how women are supposed to do it, and that style of problem solving is labelled female by the society

    Not every demographic difference is the result of -ism or people conforming themselves to the expectations of -isms. 70% of NBA players are black. But blacks constitute only about 15% of the american population. So either there is rampant racism in the NBA and blacks are dispropotionatey going into basketball because “society” taught them to do that, or, maybe there is a demographic difference in height between blacks and other races.

    Sweden has zero restrictions against women serving in any position in their military including combat posiitons. Only about 5% of the Swedish military is female.

    MrManny: You can’t change a system by saying “all of these parts are rusty!”.

    Actually that’s a good description of how “sexism” is defined in this thread. It’s not something you do, it’s something you’re surrounded by or something you have.

    mikes75: To build off your analogy; saying “all these parts are rusty” is the same as saying “this machine keeps breaking

    Except now you’re talking about how the individual part affects the system as a whole. that requires the individual part have some effect on the machine. If the rust on the individual part is in a place that doesn’t contact any other part of the machine, it has no effect on the machine.

    Tasha: If someone from the oppressed groups (or anyone really) points out that our behavior/words is -ist instead of getting defensive we need to have an open mind and an open conversation to find out where we went wrong.

    Have an open mind. Agreed.
    Have an open conversation. Agreed.
    that doesn’t mean we “went wrong” every time someone says we’re -ist.
    Sometimes accusations of -ism are inaccurate.

    The point is to look and see if you see anything within yourself. If you see something about yourself, great. But the point isn’t to jump off your own path and fall in behind anyone who accuses you of doing the wrong thing.

  164. When you use the word so broadly that you have to define sub-levels, I think you may have expanded the definition to much that it’s essentially meaningless. When you say “sexism,” you might as well be saying “human being.” Well, yeah, all human beings are, in fact, human beings.

    It’s a common phenomenon on the internet, two, or three, or fifty sides all talking past each other, all using words in completely different ways, all flatly refusing to acknowledge that it is even possible to do so.

    This is why I still occasionally read your blog, John. It’s hysterically funny to watch you strut your moral superiority, in the form of being able to delete comments you don’t like.

    (There’s a joke about arguing on the internet and the Special Olympics, but it’s not fair to the Special Olympics, and more that a little rude. Still, this made me think of it.)

  165. Goober: When you use the word so broadly that you have to define sub-levels, I think you may have expanded the definition to much that it’s essentially meaningless.

    I think this points to why the definition is so broad:

    “This is part and parcel of the “not all…” assertion — …one, that the ambient discrimination in the world doesn’t count … that somewhere along the way, there’s a big, bright line at which one can say “hey, now you’re being a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever.””

    Some people redefine “sexism” so that the circle it encompasses doesn’t include their own sexism. One response is to remove the definitional lines completely, remove the circle, say “everyone is sexist”, so as to create a definition of “sexism” that includes the sexist guy who was trying to avoid it.

    I personally don’t think that’s a good solution.

  166. Greg: Indeed, it does seem to be a matter of deciding on a conclusion, then working backwards to a definition that supports it.

    Which is to say, a complete lack of interest in actual conversation, and an utter commitment to pontificating about the speaker’s superiority, moral or otherwise.

    Which I find tremendously amusing to watch, especially when it’s all meaningless, powerless, irrelevant gas.

  167. @Greg

    Have an open mind. Agreed.
    Have an open conversation. Agreed.
    that doesn’t mean we “went wrong” every time someone says we’re -ist.
    Sometimes accusations of -ism are inaccurate.

    The point is to look and see if you see anything within yourself. If you see something about yourself, great. But the point isn’t to jump off your own path and fall in behind anyone who accuses you of doing the wrong thing.

    I’m a 47 SWF I can count on less than 2 hands the number of times I’ve heard someone told their words/behavior was -ist where I’ve been privy to the situation and it might have been iffy. I can’t remember the number of times the “accused” person claimed it was not and mansplained how wrong the hurt person was to take offense as it has happened so many times so yeah I tend to think if someone tells me I was -ist the probability I was is 99.9%+ and chances are the more I need to defend myself against the accusation the more likely something unconscious is going on that I don’t want to look at.

  168. Can I just say that it pains me that I am on the side of the mansplaining dudebros at the moment? How did I get here?

  169. @greg:

    mikes75: To build off your analogy; saying “all these parts are rusty” is the same as saying “this machine keeps breaking

    Except now you’re talking about how the individual part affects the system as a whole. that requires the individual part have some effect on the machine. If the rust on the individual part is in a place that doesn’t contact any other part of the machine, it has no effect on the machine.

    Please look at my full quote again:

    To build off your analogy; saying “all these parts are rusty” is the same as saying “this machine keeps breaking in the same or similar way, and a lot of people are getting hurt when it does. Maybe we need to consider some routine maintenance to clean it every so often. Also consider whether we can’t make it more efficient by overhauling portions, or recognizing some of the initial design was poorly done and needs to be refined.”

    I’m not denying there are many paths to fixing a problem, I’m suggesting perhaps there are paths we should be considering in addition to patching the problem when it breaks, and larger things we should look at to understand why it breaks so often.

  170. You implied at the beginning of the post that all men are sexist. Then, towards the end, you indicate that some are ‘probably not sexist’ if for “discriminatory behaviors or attitudes” they “work to minimize them going forward, in [themselves] and in [their] larger world.”
    Either all men are sexist or some aren’t. You can’t have both.
    I grant it is difficult to define exactly what it means for a person to be sexist. Your effort here is a perfect example. Your definition of ‘sexist’ is too broad, leading to contradictory claims.

    You may define ‘sexist’ as you like, but I do wonder: why is it so important to you that ‘sexist’ includes men of good will, who believe in equality of the sexes, and work to correct sexist attitudes when found? Such a broad definition makes no distinction between such men of good will and misogynists. What is the utility of the word ‘sexist’ if it fails to capture that distinction?
    (Clearly your definition of ‘sexist’ has this feature, because you call yourself a sexist.)

    Is it your aim to emphasize that all men err, even those with good intentions, and that the process of improving ourselves and our culture never ends? Those are great points. However, you don’t need a ridiculous and contradictory definition of ‘sexist’ in order to make them.
    An examination of the concept of ‘false humility’ may be in order.

  171. Tasha: I can count on less than 2 hands

    The point being it isn’t always some -ism at play. To me, 99% is still enough to require a quantifier like “some” or “most”, but not “all”.

    chances are the more I need to defend myself against the accusation the more likely something unconscious is going on that I don’t want to look at.

    if there is something unconscious going on for me around -ism conversations, it is usually that I abhor anything that has a whiff of collective punishment to it. The “we are all sexist” pushes a lot fo those buttons for me. I can see value for people using it to look at themselves, but I don’t see it as being an absolute truth. Applying it to everyone rubs me the wrong way because of that.

    Generally speaking, I think if someone points out an external behavior of mine that could land as -ist in some way, I think I try to acknowledge it could land that way and it wasnt my intent to land that way, and apologize.

    Usually where there is resistance from me is when its no longer about my external behavior but about my thoughts or some implicit characteristic. At which point, because there is no external objective measure, if someone uses that lack of objective measure as an excuse to project into my intentions whatever thoughts they want to be there, then I get a bit rankled.

    It’s not that I won’t look internally, but more often than not, when someone makes an assertion about my thoughts or intentions or internal characteristics, its usually someone who I am in the middle of a disagreement with on the internet. And then because I disagree with them about this or that, they suddenly have the clairvoyance to tell me that I’m sexist or racist or that i meant to offend or some other thing.

    If I’m inthe middle of a disagreement and someone tells me this thing I said was only because I have the mind of a racist, I’ll look, but more often than not, it usually seems like they disagreed with me and felt compelled to demonize me: i.e. “You have the heart and soul of a racist.”

    It’s spectral evidence and it aggravates me.

  172. @Patrick I didn’t call you a mansplaining dudebro I hope nothing I said came off as that. It does suck when you find yourself feeling like you are perceived as or actually defending people you don’t want to be like doesn’t it? This happens to me in Jewish circles.

    @Greg note I said iffy not that it was wrong. So I still standby “all”

    I’m kinda confused as to what punishment your referring to. In this discussion I’ve seen little discussion of punishment except for real crimes (rape, sexual harassment, theft).

  173. Ok, honestly?

    There are a lot of comments on this thread that remind me of a little kid saying it’s mean to say they might wet the bed because of how many stickers they have on their potty training chart.
    Everybody shits, just like everybody has tendencies toward being an asshole. Learning the correct thing to do about both is a process. Most of us quit needing a round of applause because we shit in the toilet today instead of on the floor many years ago (one hopes, anyway), and I don’t think there’s a parent in the world who thinks “well, close enough” just because their kid is making progress.
    Not sure why we’d then figure the process of becoming a more just person is all that different. Nor do I imagine why grown men would go around the internet (not just here) and insist upon prefacing adult discussions about the process with “yes, but first please acknowledge my stickers.”

  174. Tasha, it’s me feeling like that. I don’t think anyone has said that about me. I was just looking around and it seemed to me like I was closer to being there.

    It became more apparent when I was thinking of citing an example of perceived sexism that I committed. I was clearly wrong to call her stupid and she was more than correct at being hurt, upset, offended by my action. It wasn’t a deep seated belief that all women are stupid or more likely to be stupid. She was being stupid. Regardless, she called me sexist.

    Really the problem is I shouldn’t treat anyone that way, but it never occurs to me that I shouldn’t call a woman stupid the same way I call a man stupid. And really, I didn’t and don’t say someone is stupid, I say they are doing something stupid.

    One thing these conversations have made me a bit more aware of is when calling a specific woman stupid, the observation is made and that it reinforces societal sexism, even if I called 15 men stupid immediately prior.

    That said, I should stop calling people stupid. But sometimes they ask for it. They really do. ;)

  175. @Donald Brown: As Mr. Scalzi took great care in differentiating “that’s sexist” and “you’re sexist”, I’m rather puzzled about what the second part of your comment is on about.

    Yep. Sucks to be judged by one aspect of oneself. It’s not like one can choose to behave in a way that distances oneself from the label. Clearly, judging such behavior is just as bad as the systemic pressure telling over half the world they’re worth less than the other half due to factors they never chose.

    Pardon the sarcasm, but I’m rather weary of the “you’re discriminating against my discrimination!” battle cry.

    Upthread, others have mentioned how tiring it is, recognizing sexism and fighting against it. Those who’ve made the remark, please understand I’m not picking on you. I appreciate that you put the work in.

    But please understand that those of us subject to those attitudes can’t just turn it off when we feel overwhelmed or tired. We are SURROUNDED by people who think we’re less than, that we’re prey, that we exist for their pleasure. I have never gone a waking hour without some reminder of the ambient sexism steeped into the very fabric of our culture. I can’t turn on the TV, go for a drive, walk into a store, talk to a co-worker, go online, or hang out with lady friends without SOME reminder cropping up of the less-valued role my gender is expected to fulfill in modern society.

    Any steps to help others see that this is a problem are positive, in my view. But it’s also frustrating, for the very reason this post revolves around. Because EVERYONE is complicit in creating this environment. So many refuse to stop, or even see why they should.

  176. Donald Brown:

    Talking about the way men are disadvantaged by gender roles is apparently not allowed and just a way to stop fighting against sexism.

    I have no ability to allow or disallow a topic of conversation on someone else’s blog or out in the world. (Attempted diversion: ascribing me powers I don’t have because you don’t like being critiqued about this.) Nor am I against the topic of straight white men affected by discrimination towards women, etc. in the system ever being discussed.

    What I am pointing out, however, is that whenever we’re trying to talk about discrimination in the system against disadvantaged groups, inevitably guys like you pop up with, but what about what happens to straight white men! We must talk about them too! It’s very important! You didn’t give due observance to the problems of the most privileged group first!

    And this is a form of discrimination – advantageous discrimination. You acknowledge that the SWM has the privileged position, while asserting that privilege means we must absolutely talk about them if discrimination is going to be discussed at all. It’s a very effective way to erase disadvantaged groups from the main conversation. And in fact, that’s what you are doing. Now the discussion is about the tribulations of SWM and their worthiness, rather than the pervasive social discrimination of the disadvantaged groups. So it’s a diversion. And you’re going to keep doing it, I imagine, because it’s habit for you to steer the conversation to the plight of the SWM. It’s something we are trained by society to do.

    I have a problem with labelling people that way,

    If you have ist attitudes – and we all do – and you thus engage in ist behavior, both small and unconscious and more sizable and tangled – and we all do – then you are being ist and it’s a totally accurate label of all of us. We live in a ist society. We accept that ist society. We have not torn it down. We often don’t see it happening until it’s pointed out to us. We are being sexist, etc. Trying to slip the label so that you don’t feel bad again tries to erase and diminish the discrimination and prevents it from being examined and talked about and maybe changed. It’s a diversion again from the subject, that objection.

    All you are doing – and again this is why I said I’ve never actually had a real conversation about discrimination on this blog – is defending and defending the status quo so that we don’t have the conversation about discrimination of disadvantaged groups. And this is again habit. Say that talk about discrimination is being done on unreasonable terms and you don’t have to talk about it. You can just argue about what we get to call you or ourselves – something that you actually don’t have any control over and neither do I. It’s all about who gets blamed and how awful that is, instead of the actual system wide discrimination going on.

    London:

    TNC isn’t concerned that you might not remember his face as well as a white face.

    Yes he is. A big concern that many African Americans have is that white people don’t see them, erase them and their contributions, their words, their faces – a subject TNC has written about many times. That white people see blacks as looking all the same, indistinguishable and unmemorable except for their color, because white people are considered the norm. That media uses an unreasonable ratio of white faces to non-white ones on t.v. shows, etc., thus erasing blacks from the culture and people’s minds. And that reinforces the idea that black people have much less to contribute, and should be less listened to, etc., because their faces, contributions and words get erased in favor of whites.

    In YA publishing, for instance, we’ve had the problem of whitewashed covers where a book about a non-white female protagonist is given a cover with a white model. So that becomes ambient racism – all the teens and kids get to see are white faces on the book covers, no matter the characters. Which leads to a tendency to buy YA stories with white main characters over blacks without thinking about it. And a low level belief in the society, in schools, etc. that white faces are preferable and better than black ones because they are the norm, they are the promoted. And this then effects black people on all sorts of levels, including work, promotions, schooling, physical safety, the police, etc.

    So ambient discrimination is incredibly important because it is the most pervasive and common and unconscious. But it can be changed and has been changed, so there’s no reason to ignore it and quite a lot to be gained from looking at it and talking about it.
    For instance, someone mentioned that high profile tweeters were making an effort to just retweet female tweeters for a bit as a signal boost, because women don’t get retreated anywhere near as much as men. That’s because we have a bias in the society, ambient discrimination, that women aren’t as worth listening to as men. And because they get retweeted less and are thus erased from the public consciousness, it simply reinforces the idea in society that women aren’t contributing the way men can because you don’t see them contributing.

    And this happens also in the very important academic issue of citations. Citations help academics build their careers and also help data and work get shared which helps the field investigate its area of study. And citations have become more important in these areas with the Net, because you have blog articles that get cited as well as papers and books, and the citations are more frequent through blogs and twitter. And male academics get cited something like three times more than female academics by both male and female academics. They have in fact studied the data on this form of ambient sexism. And so female academics are being blocked and erased in their careers, and their data and projects aren’t getting shared which impoverishes their field and the work of male academics. So what a lot of academics are trying to do is consciously cite the females’ work more, pay attention to the work more to correct the bias. Which helps the male academics as well.

    Rather than identifying the problem and then keep using the bias – advantageous sexism – they are actively combatting it and changing the view of what’s normal – that you mainly cite men to you cite both men and women. So no, ignoring ambient isms just because they’re pervasive is a bloody awful idea unless you think discrimination is just dandy.

    And that, Patrick, is how you are drifting into machobro land. Because you keep trying to insert “the Devil” into it – that the discrimination is that extreme thing over there, and let’s ignore it over here and in all of us because that’s a lot more comfortable than working on it. The male and female academics who practiced ambient sexism aren’t the devil, nor has Scalzi said they were. They were simply doing what they’d been trained by society to think of as normal without thinking about it and questioning it. And that creates a statistically measurable bias which causes damage and reinforces wider discriminations in the society. You don’t have to be the devil to cause harm.

    And that freaks people out way more than human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, sodomy laws, court injustices, pay gaps, prejudicial firings, etc. Talking about discrimination becomes much more important and offensive than actual discrimination. The intent of the discussion becomes to silence, because if we really do have discrimination all around us, then you have to deal with it – at least if you think it’s bad. The amount of energy spent trying to get people who are talking about discrimination to shut up or downplay discrimination in society or provide some sort of magical free and clear zone is enormous. It’s the boulder that first has to be pushed up hill before any change can even be discussed.

  177. @Patrick

    That said, I should stop calling people stupid. But sometimes they ask for it. They really do. ;)

    Now calling people stupid is ableist… And so it’s a double insult when you do it to women who really do get called stupid more frequently than men and have our ideas stolen/not heard. So yeah you might want to stop calling people that maybe try something more original and creative.

    I like “your, your, your… YOU”

  178. Kat: And that freaks people out way more than human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, sodomy laws, court injustices, pay gaps, prejudicial firings, etc.

    Oh good grief. No. On a thread where people object to a definition of sexism because it includes “living in a society where other people are sexist” and they object to that definition because they think it downplays sexist behavior like human trafficking, they’re actually freaked out way more by human trafficking than a blanket definiton of sexism that include everyone regardless of their behavior.

    That’s the fricken point of objecting to a definition that lumps literally everyone into the same category as human traffickers, genital mutilators, and honor killers.

  179. @Greg I’d have to read the entire thread to make sense of the few comments in the area you pointed me towards.

    What I can say from having read 3-4 posts you’ve commented on is that you appear very defensive on the topic of sexism, give little credence to other people’s facts or feelings, and discount the long-term affects of cultural sexism. Now it’s entirely possible I’m misreading you. I’m just saying this is how you’ve come across to me. From that I can imagine you being accused of performing an -ist behavior or of saying -ist words and believing in your heart that you haven’t and the other person believing you have.

    It might be worth looking at why it is that people seem to misinterpret what you are trying to say/do if you want to have less problems. Or to keep the way you are going and be constantly wronged. Again I’ve found when multiple people are finding me constantly wrong then I’m doing something wrong.

    Now you could point out that you and possibly Patrick are having problems with what I’ve said on this thread so maybe I’m the one in the wrong. But generally I’m well understood by people I disagree with and not accused of things I don’t mean to be saying.

  180. Kat – No. I am not trying to insert the devil into it. That doesn’t freak me out at all. I’m not trying to silence a conversation. I like conversation and dialogue. I have no concern with being called an asshole or the concept that generally good people who conform with the best parts of society and that society as a whole can be rather skeevy.

    It feels like we agree all the same things are wrong, down to the minutiae.

    I just believe the devil is a symbolic reference and you want to tell me he is real. And to me, when the conversation is about the devil being real, it’s missed the point of what is wrong.

    Then you cite more things that are wrong and say that I am trying to silence those and therefore the devil is real.

    And I say – holy shit – those are things that are wrong that I haven’t considered, you get this better than I do. The devil is symbolic, but those things ARE wrong. We still agree! Why do you not agree that we agree?

    It’s a weird conversation.

  181. Tasha – no issues here. :) You and I are getting along just fine. At least I think we are. My judgement on these things seems to be suspect.

  182. Level One: Ambient. Since you defined it as you have, then everyone is [x]-ist, and as a classification/descriptive word, [x]-ist is meaningless for this category.

    Level Two: Advantageous. The level where you realize that sometimes discrimination works for you. Here, I can’t be sure whether or not it has ever worked in my favor. I am white, but I am Jewish and male, and while I don’t know that I haven’t taken advantage (unsuspectedly) of being white, I do know that I have been discriminated against many times for being a Jew and for being male. So if being white and being male is defined as advantageous (and I’m willing to grant both, from the 1970s on – my career period) I am [x]-ist because the system was slanted (in theory, at least) in my favor. But again, as you’ve defined it, everyone is [x]-ist (for some x), whether they are active in support of the discrimination or not (they only have to have possibly benefited from it, even if they weren’t aware).

    So your first two levels do not require mens rea (criminal mind/intent) for someone to be declared [x]-ist.

    So if one accepts your first two level/definitions, everyone is [x]-ist, and the classification becomes meaningless.

    Is this what was meant, or am I missing a key point here? I’d expect that a classification term would have two categories of objects – those that were of type X and those that were not of type X.

  183. @Patrick other than my total confusion over your devil thing we are ok :).

    I don’t understand your devil thing. We all pick up signals from everything from the day we are born which makes us unaware of some/many/all of our biases. Is that what you are calling the devil? Those biases that we subconsciously have picked up from day one to today?

  184. Guys, I’m not gonna lie, every time I see one of you say something along the lines of “if everyone is [x]-ist, then the word is meaningless,” I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes, because it says to me you’re trying to look at discrimination like it was math, rather than a multifaceted condition that exhibits idiosyncratically for every person depending on their specific circumstance. I’m sexist and so are you, but how we are sexist is different, and that will actually matter; it’s not a 1:1 thing. When we’re solving for [x] here, we’re not doing it by reducing fractions. We’re doing it by reducing discriminatory assumptions and ingrained behaviors.

    (I’m still mostly out for the day, incidentally. Thank you for keeping things generally on an even keel here.)

  185. Tasha – I don’t really understand my devil thing. I am probably just causing confusion. It goes back to the “we’re all sexist” title. I’m thinking that it is more relevant to say that society is inherently sexist than we are all sexist, but when I say that, Kat makes it out that I am trying to shift blame to make myself feel good or silence someone or something. Telling me that ‘sexist’ isn’t a bad thing, just a fact, doesn’t really make sense to me.

    I just tried to understand that debate in different terms. Regardless whether it makes sense to say “We’re all sexist” vs “Society is inherently sexist” as long as we all work on stopping the behaviors both personal and external, then we’re all trying.

    I need to bow out of this conversation. There is no ending. Kat is probably writing a long post to me. Sorry about that Kat. :(

  186. I’d like to credit my timing of following/crossposting Scalzi’s comment. Some days I am beyond awesome!

  187. Patrick:

    I just believe the devil is a symbolic reference and you want to tell me he is real.

    You are the only one bringing up the devil. So saying that he’s my symbolic reference when I was just responding to your post and saying that it’s not a matter of the devil doesn’t make a lot of sense. :) Discrimination is real and we all do it. That has nothing to do with devils.

    My kid jumps on me and her dad all the time about how we say things. That’s because the normal that she grew up with is incredibly different from the normal we grew up with, thank goodness. She’s checking us on our ambient left-over stuff. Nonetheless, she wants to enter a profession where she will be limited in her career because she’s female due mainly to ambient sexism, as well as some advantageous and argumentative sexism and probably a bit of aggressive sexism as well. But mostly ambient. It’s real, it’s there, it has real effects. It’s just people, not a devil. And people who are working on changing that, advocating for women in the profession, and talking about that discrimination aren’t extremists either.

    When you try to shift the focus of conversation from discrimination to hey, you’re saying I’m the devil, it is an attempt to silence folk talking about discrimination. It’s a defensive move — you rolled a boulder down hill. And it’s an automatic habit.

    In the other thread, Scalzi got frustrated with attempts to parse out different forms of discrimination because you and others were trying to do it as some being discrimination and some not — so that you get a get out of jail free card on the discrimination. Or rather, you wanted Scalzi to give himself his own get out of jail free card on what he’d identified as a sexist bias of his that can have real world effects, and some of you were terribly upset that he wouldn’t do this and instead planned to keep working on that discrimination. In this thread, he’s talking about the different forms of discrimination again to point out that they are all discrimination that we are all involved in — no get out of jail free card. It’s basically the same theme. And as before, the main thrust of the conversation isn’t about types of discrimination. It’s about whether they are discrimination, how bad they are to be worth dealing with and how people want get out of jail free cards before even looking at discrimination. Boulders, boulders everywhere.

    Boulders don’t help my kid. Boulders don’t change the world. Talking about discrimination does. If you want to call that the devil, devilish, toxic labels, uncivil polarizing discourse, witch hunts, extremist persecution, or pink bunnies, I don’t really give a crap. It’s smoke and boulders all the way down. If we agree, as you say, then talk about the discrimination.

  188. I wrote that long post, Patrick, and didn’t refresh, etc. so sorry about that. You do discuss in good faith; otherwise I would not bother to talk with you. But you keep worrying more about blame than discrimination, and like I said, that’s the boulder we have to roll away up hill just to get to talking at all about discrimination. And it’s tiring.

  189. Tasha: I’d have to read the entire thread to make sense of the few comments in the area you pointed me towards.

    Here’s the conversation in a nutshell:

    DAVID: you’re having one of those foamy conversations
    mintwitch: Oh, the humanity! Maybe we should have called in the Army
    Greg: And I’m the one having the “foamy conversation”?
    mintwitch: I didn’t say “foamy”. That was a guy. Which only further demonstrates your sexism.

  190. Kat: But you keep worrying more about blame than discrimination,

    I know! human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and every single person who lives anywhere on planet earth, 2014, they’re all “sexist” in one way or another. Right? What’s to worry about?

  191. Greg: Almost every human being past the age of 5 will have participated in violence or bullying of some kind, whether as the bully or as an observer who did nothing to intervene (but nevertheless benefited by not being bullied themselves).

    We apply the bully category to 5 year-olds and to those who beat people to death, why is sexism so different?

  192. John, you’re not the only one rolling your eyes. Your various categories of “sexist” are so different that it isn’t meaningful to discuss them using the same word. It really isn’t. You might as well redefine “apple” to include “citrus fruits with green skins,” and them roll your eyes when someone points our you’re now calling limes apples.

    It wouldn’t be so amusing if it weren’t for that fact that you’re using it differently than the common usage, and struggling to avoid having to admit it. What it reminds me of the most is those people who self-identify as atheists online, while redefining atheism to include other concepts, especially agnosticism, and refusing to acknowledge it so they can mix the two definition freely. And call other people names for pointing it out.

    On top of that, the word you choose is pejorative and inflammatory; it cannot fail to provoke a confrontational reaction. Given your skill as a write, and number of years on the internet, I cannot imagine how you could not know that, so provoking confrontation appears to be your specific goal.

    In short, you’re trolling, as you often do (and do very, very well), in a place where you, by definition, always get to win, because you can just delete anything you don’t like.

    And, dude, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. It’s your blog, you own it, you can troll on it if you like, and you can deny you’re trolling, too. And mallet the hell out of anybody who calls you out on it, if that’s your thing.

    The one thing you don’t get to do is stop me from finding it funny as hell. Mostly, I’m laughing with you. Mostly. Cuz your commenters are apparently unaware of the one absolute rule in internet trolling:

    You cannot win. The only way to not lose is to not play.

    You may now return to rolling your eyes, and feeling morally superior due to your expression of self loathing.

  193. No worries, Kat. As I’ve said, I learn something each time from your long post. Whether it sets in or not is my challenge. I was more concerned with you taking the time again.

    I’m still trying to understand “It’s a defensive move — you rolled a boulder down hill. And it’s an automatic habit. ” if I am doing this and why am I doing it.

    “you wanted Scalzi to give himself his own get out of jail free card on what he’d identified as a sexist bias of his that can have real world effects”

    We all have a combination of blinders and goggles that either can’t see it or see where it doesn’t exist. I don’t think anyone is entirely free that we can ask for the definitive of IS/IS NOT.

    I think a discussion of sexism involves determining whether an action is sexist, directly or contributing to sexism indirectly. That’s how we can remove the blinders or goggles. Some, like human trafficking, aren’t really in need of discussion beyond how do we eliminate.
    For me, it was a genuine attempt to understand why Scalzi thinks that particular action was sexist. I may have blinders, but he may have goggles.

    I used an example above of me calling a woman stupid. My intentions and thoughts were not directly sexist, though she accused me. I understand, though, how it contributed to sexism’s tenants. Part of that amplified by how society has previously treated her, part of that, others observing the treatment feeling it is justified and reinforcing things.

    I don’t know if I am worrying about blame rather than discrimination. I am going to think on that. In my mind, I am searching for root causes.

    Somewhere along the line, I got the impression Scalzi was saying “The worst are those who argue that we are all sexist is meaningless. Defenders of the defended…” Yeah. I think that pushes the boulder back down the hill. Both sides discussing that.

    I know. I’m not good at leaving. I like you all(almost typed guys). :)

  194. Goober:

    “Your various categories of ‘sexist’ are so different that it isn’t meaningful to discuss them using the same word. It really isn’t.”

    Meh. Oddly enough, people are meaningfully discussing the categories here, using the same word, and are doing a pretty good job of it. So simply as a matter of actual fact, you’re wrong, and spectacularly so (you may argue they’re not meaningfully discussing it, but that would be stupid of you, and we wouldn’t need to give such an argument credence). Asserting that something isn’t possible while it is literally going on all around your assertion is not a really great way to convince me that you have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

    Clearly, the word “sexist” is capacious enough to be used as it’s being used here. It’s not like calling a lime an apple, it’s like using “river” to describe both the Sweetwater (the little river near my house) and the mighty Ohio. It’s evident you don’t like it, but, eh. Again, oddly enough, other people seem to be doing just fine with it, without your approval, or acceding to a desire to derail the discussion until such times as new terms are furnished which meet with your approval. If you want to try to set up a new nomenclature, you are welcome to do so, somewhere else. In the meantime, the conversation will be continuing here. Meaningfully!

    “In short, you’re trolling, as you often do”

    Your understanding of what trolling is appears to be as limited and confused as your understanding as to what is sexist, Goober. So you can be assured that I will give such an assertion exactly the consideration it deserves.

    “You may now return to rolling your eyes.”

    Oh, Goober. Isn’t it obvious? With you, I never stopped!

    Why don’t you run along now, Goober. It’s evident you are far too clever and meaningful for the rest of us to genuinely comprehend. I would hate for you to continue to lower yourself to our level.

  195. acyoung1: ok lets try it with ‘bullying’. The notion that “we are all sexist” demands that everyone is sexist. Even the victims of sexism are themselves sexist.

    So even the victims of bullying are themselves bullies? The kid who stopped the bully today by sticking up for the victim? He’s a bully too.

    And say we want to establish bull-free zones. Great. Nobody can go there because everyone is a bully. Or maybe we want to make some anti-bully laws. Whelp guess we have to arrest everyone.

    That is what the “we are all sexist” idea gets you. A completely unworkable scenario.

    If we define ‘bully’ to mean something actionable, then we at least have something to work with. If we are all bullies, what the hell do you go on to take actin to stop bullying? You would have to invent “grades” of bullies where some bullies are more bullier than other bullies. At which point, just define bully to some actionable definitiin and be done with it.

  196. Greg:

    The logic behind “I assert that Not X does not work, therefore X will not work,” when X and Not X are manifestly different things, is not the winning strategy you appear to think it is.

  197. Yes, folks. We really are all sexist. Or, in my own preferred parlance, we have all performed sexist actions in the past and are likely to do so again.

    In my observation, the people who explicitly acknowledge that they have Xist tendencies are the ones least likely to perform Xist actions.

    Much in the same way that people who acknowledge that humans are susceptible to confirmation bias (or other cognitive biases) are less likely to succumb to it.

    I mean, really? Really? Scalzi explicitly said that he didn’t want this to be a “NOT ALL” conversation, and yet, that seems to be what it has been mostly about.

  198. Sally Strange:

    Indeed, so much deeply unimpressive pretzel logic on display here in order not to acknowledge one’s own latent, socially-enculturated discrimination.

  199. Patrick:

    To be clear, again, we all roll the boulders down hill. That’s part of Levels 1-3 in our society. It just gets tiring on the times when you are the one below the boulder, trying to have the conversation about discrimination. It gets even worse when it’s a particular instance of someone you love being the one below the boulder and having to deal with the widespread discrimination and the desire of folk not to talk about it.

    What Scalzi is saying is, we all have blinders on of various degrees at various times (the suggested levels.) And he’s trying to have goggles, just like you are. When we catch a blinder in action — such as that women academics are being less cited and that you can actually measure it with scientific data that adjusts for variables — then we look at it, talk about it, see if we can do something about it, in our own thinking and in general. Rather than roll a boulder at the female academics that maybe there is no citation bias; or that maybe there is but they are entirely too angry about it so we won’t do anything about it; or there is but it has nothing to do with us and somebody else will have to take care of it and discuss it; or that there is a bias but sometimes (white) males don’t get cited either and we have to be very careful that doing anything to change the bias blocking female academics and hurting the whole field does not in any way make any male academic uncomfortable or feel bad for a second; etc. All of these are arguments we’ve had so far here and regularly.

    People do not have to help. They don’t have to talk about discrimination; they don’t have to do anything about discrimination, even really strong, open discrimination; they don’t have to look at themselves or others regarding discrimination, whether they are on the down axis or not. They can even actively work for discrimination to be maintained or increased (aggressive discrimination.) So when we get the argument that if the society and everybody in it is ist in a variety of ways, that means we can’t do anything about it, that’s pretty much people behaving just like usual — blinders.

    But historically, it happens not to be true. Even though the societies of England, Canada, the United States, etc. were (and still are,) thoroughly sexist, women and male allies got women the vote despite opposition from both men and women who felt things couldn’t and/or shouldn’t change. It took a lot of talking with people who did not want to talk, a lot of pushing boulders up hill including screaming and risk, to change not only the law, but people’s attitudes towards women on that point. And then there are the smaller things (which can have just as big an impact,) — changing it from okay for the boss to slap female employees on the ass to not okay in some countries, dealing with unconscious, ingrained biases in the workplace and diversity disparities, trying to get convention organizers to understand that proposing working out a harassment policy is not a freaking personal insult to them, etc.

    At an academic panel, someone asked about Lawrence Summers and his claim that women are genetically uninterested in and unfit for the hard sciences. And Neil DeGrasse Tyson in this clip video answered by relating it to race, and well, it’s what we’re talking about here:

    http://www.upworthy.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-reveals-that-hes-been-black-his-whole-life-hilarity-and-wisdom-follow?c=gt1

  200. Paper came out in PLOS One this summer that showed (in a randomized controlled experiment setting) that the people who were aware of their implicit bias actually discriminated LESS than the people who thought they didn’t have any implicit bias. Awareness means you can notice and correct for the problem.

  201. Scalzi: I assert that Not XX does not work.

    No. Acyoung asserted that “bullying” was just like sexism and we call shchool yard bullies and beat-people-to-death bullies, so why not do it with sexism.

    All i did was show it doesnt work with bullies.

  202. Reblogged this on XP Chronicles and commented:
    I had been drafting an article about this specific topic. John Scalzi of Whatever has done a better job than I had already. Instead, I’ll follow up my own thoughts on the matter at a later time. Until then, definitely have a read if you’re interested in combating your own discrimination, which in turn improves this place we call the Gamer Community.

  203. I don’t get this ‘if everyone is x then x is meaningless’ idea. I really don’t. If I come home and see that my whole house is dirty does that mean I should just wallow in it, because there is no dirt? No, it means I have a very large cleaning job to do…

    Happy Birthday to your wife, John.

  204. Nicoleandmaggie, awareness means you disciminate less. Thats cool. So its about the external person-to-person behavior. So if i dont behave towards someone in a gender discriminatory way, then I’m not sexist. Huzzah! I’m not sexist!

  205. Additionally, the fact that we are all sexist to varying degrees means that the adjective “sexist,” whether applied to an action or a person, is not “pejorative and inflammatory,” contrary to Goober’s assertion, It is in fact extremely mundane and unremarkable. In the social justice/activist circles in which I move, it’s fairly common to hear “Hey that was kinda sexist,” and the response is something like, “Oops, you’re right, sorry about that,” and everyone moves on. Or has a discussion. Either way, it’s basically the opposite of a big inflammatory pejorative deal.

    I know Goober already got banhammered, but this is an extremely common misperception that is actually another oppressive silencing tactic. So I thought it was worth saying something about.

  206. @greg… Uh, there’s a reason that academics talk about explicit bias, implicit bias, and discriminatory behavior (or in my discipline, differential treatment with respect to group, which is broken into taste based discrimination, statistical discrimination and stereotypes). Sexist is a colloquial term that can mean a lot of different things. Chances are good that you are implicitly sexist but not explicitly so because you’re not explicitly a bad person (unless you are, of course). In terms of how you treat people, if you don’t think you’re implicitly sexist, chances are that you are discriminating and aren’t even aware that you’re doing it. People who think they are good people and believe in equal rights often have no idea that they subconsciously favor white men, yet, it shows up in experiments.

  207. This kind of pervasive, unconscious sexism and racism is a big problem, no doubt about it. At the same time it is too simplistic to suggest that we can do our part by educating ourselves about it and trying to improve our tendencies. What methods of improvement will actually work is a huge and very difficult topic for psychology to study. Some things are thought to work, with some evidence backing them up (for example, before evaluating job applications or the like one should call to mind “counter-stereotypical” examples of high-achieving women and racial minorities). But I don’t know of any evidence backing up the hypothesis that a focus “seeing those things [biases] in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well” will actually work. For some cognitive biases and systematic mistakes we’re prone to, keeping the problem in mind is actually likely to exacerbate the problem. And I see at least some reason to think that systematic bias is one of those cases. In my own life, the times when I am most conscious of a black person’s race or a woman’s gender, and focusing carefully on my duties to be non-discriminatory and fair toward them, are the times when I seem most prone to acting weird or awkward around them (a form of microaggression). It’s just hard to act natural when you have such issues on your mind.

    In short, I would be surprised if the solution is as simple as coming to understand your biases and consciously trying to fight them. This goes doubly for the bias of lookism, which one is going to participate in no matter how hard one tries to fight it (it’s inescapable in your sex life, for example).

  208. Dave

    Part of the problem stems from the willingness of some people to claim that if a proposal does not indubitably fix a particular problem then it isn’t worth trying.

    Such people tend, on the whole, not to apply this approach across the board; logically, such individuals would decline medical treatment since no doctor can avert death for ever, and yet the number of people declining medical treatment on these grounds is extremely low. Much, much lower than the number of people arguing that there’s no point in trying to identify one’s biases, so that one can consciously attempt in future to be less biased.

    You may, of course, be one of those very rare individuals who does apply this approach across the board, but the odds are against it…

  209. It isn’t pretzel logic, it’s simple logic.

    The fact that so many rational, intelligent people think that point 1 is either sketchy or just complete nonsense should at least tell you that the point is, well, pretty sketchy. There’s alot of doubt as to whether it even has a sound premise.

    To borrow the earlier example of bullying, somebody isn’t just “a bully”. That doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We call them a bully only when it’s connected to some specific behavior. Whether that’s a 5-year old shaking down another kindergartner for his lunch money or a dictator invading a neighboring country.

    We don’t say “everyone is a bully”. Because not everyone is. In the same way, even though sexism is a serious problem, not everyone is sexist.

    Tell me, under the premise of point 1, are 1-year olds sexist? Are newborns? What about a person who was born blind and deaf, are they still sexist? If you still answer “yes” to those, then point 1 is standing on shaky, crumbling ground at best.

    You can roll your eyes and sneer all you want, but consider this: When you do, you aren’t behaving any differently than when other authors label those who disagree with them “moonbats”. If you can’t have respectful disagreement, then were we even having a discussion to begin with?

  210. Just got back from a trip, miserably sick, felt the need to say: I agree with Mr. Scalzi.

    There. That’s my 2 cents.

  211. @greg, also notice that the researchers found that people who believed they had implicit bias discriminated LESS than people who did not believe they did. They still, of course, discriminated. Just less. In randomized controlled trials where there was no true difference between what they were evaluating other than the assigned group difference.

    Basically, it’s showing that people who think it’s a big deal for them not to be called an -ist because that hurts their world view of themselves tend to be doing more harm with their actions than people who accept that culture keeps pushing biases on them that they have to fight. But fighting biases still doesn’t eliminate their negative consequences.

    On an anecdotal note, once you become aware of your biases it becomes much more apparent that you have them and you’re constantly asking yourself, why did I make that snap judgment, and is it fair? And if you’re aware of those implicit biases, then you’re also able to not rationalize them away, and you can check yourself to correct them and put in systems to check yourself and to correct biases. (There’s some interesting work on rationalizing biases in randomized controlled hiring settings as well… people are very good at rationalizing why they pick one group over another, even when there’s no true difference between the randomized things they’re looking at other than the group difference.) Once you become aware, you kind of roll your eyes at people who get really upset at the idea that everybody has implicit bias. Because those also tend to be the folks that think something is majority female (or underrepresented minority) once the numbers hit 15%. They’re generally trying to be good people but they have no idea.

    If you want to see if you’ve got implicit bias, there’s a test for that. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ Not perfect, but definitely illuminating. (And it seems to be getting more accepted as a good measure as time goes on rather than less.)

  212. Greg:

    “So if i dont behave towards someone in a gender discriminatory way, then I’m not sexist. Huzzah! I’m not sexist!”

    So you’ve never had a moment of surprise that the doctor, the mechanic, the car salesperson, the game store clerk … is a woman?

    You’ve never assumed that the person in charge of a group was the man, not the woman?

    You’ve never been taken aback for an instant when the end of the first date ends in a handshake rather than a kiss?

    You’ve never had a second of annoyance that your pick-up line is greeted with a scowl?

    You’ve never told a woman to smile?

    You’ve never told a woman in a professional setting that she was attractive?

    I could come up with a dozen other examples, given time.

    And if you said “no” to all of them…? I’d find a few dozen more.

  213. You may be interested in reading around Allport’s Scale of Prejudice, a similar system which takes a slightly different tack in trying to classify the overall level of prejudice of a society.

  214. Perhaps it might be helpful to provide an example of the way in which our cultures influence us. This a quote from my daughter’s Facebook page a few days ago: she’s a doctor.

    “standard on-call yesterday. On politely explaining to old man that pinching her bottom whilst she attempted to examine him was a bit inappropriate, he replied “well what use are you then?”. Erm?!?”

    My daughter has, so far, put in almost ten years of extremely hard work training as a doctor. She has another five to go, because she has chosen a dual specialisation, and she’s also studying for an MSC degree.

    She’s a bloody good doctor, not just in the sense that she has aced every exam she has taken- and there are a lot of exams- but because she is passionately committed to the welfare of her patients.

    And yet a hefty chunk of the population think that the only use for women is to sexually assault them, and if they can’t do that then they will complain about not being able to do that.

    I don’t know where John would rank that in the four levels, but I personally would rank it as deserving relocating the guy’s testicles to the vicinity of his tonsils. On the other hand, my daughter will have done everything possible to cure him, or at least improve his quality of life, notwithstanding the fact that he sexually assaulted her, because that’s what she does.

    I would really, really like to live in a world where sexual assaults are not the inevitable result of being a woman…

  215. I wonder how much of prejudice is rooted in the human instinct to identify patterns in things? We learn to identify them at an early age to solve problems or make quick judgments. 10,000 years ago that may have saved our lives, recognizing that the plant is edible or that the berry won’t kill us or that we need to seek cover when lightning strikes.

    Now though, we must recognize that some of those learned patterns from our childhood are incorrect. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in their song, “You’ve got to be taught” prejudice comes early and can stay unless you’re willing to learn new ones or, even better, forgo them completely. It isn’t easy.

    I was fortunate enough to be raised in a home with parents of different faiths and friends of different cultures. My prejudices were not racial or sexist, but I definitely had (and still have) some baggage that I work on every day.

    I will probably never be 100% tolerant of those who differ but I hope that I can at least learn to be more patient and willing to listen.

  216. Mr. Manny:

    The fact that so many rational, intelligent people think that point 1 is either sketchy or just complete nonsense should at least tell you that the point is, well, pretty sketchy.

    Well no, the fact that a minority group of folk on this one blog want to pretend there aren’t discriminatory biases in society and in their own lives doesn’t tell us anything except that some people really, really don’t want to deal with unpleasant facts.

    Discrimination does have the effect of bullying in that it blocks people from equal treatment, rights and opportunities, but it’s not the same thing as outright, conscious bullying. It’s a set of attitudes we have, again, about what is normal and acceptable that disadvantage large groups of people simply for being members of that group. We don’t think about a lot of these attitudes and we certainly don’t think about their effects very often unless they directly and very visibly affect our lives sometimes.

    But scientists do think about it — they study it. And there are reams and reams of studies over decades that have collected reams and reams of factual data about Level 1 ambient discrimination in society (and the other levels as well.) Everything from the effect of blind orchestral auditions on improving women musicians being hired to the female academics less likely to being given citations and tenure to the pay gaps to people’s beliefs about gay-dar to the rates of blacks sent to prison versus whites not sent to prison for the same charges to how bank loans and business loans are apportioned to the request for job interviews skewing on a resume that is presented as female or black to some employers and male or white to others.

    They study how people react to ads, what attitudes they have about images and case examples, how instructors react to male and female students, the obstacles put in front of non-SWM politicians. They study how people react to disabled folk in various situations and what assumptions they have about the mentally ill. They study all of it and the data clearly shows that ambient discrimination is present widely in even the most progressive societies (like Scandinavia) and has a large economic effect.

    And then there are the reams and reams of examples of it in media, all the articles and discussions about how women are this and should do that and men are this and should do that, and are black kids from inner cities hard to control on a basketball team. There’s the women in the fridge phenomena in movies and t.v., the whitewashed book covers, the cultural biases in standardized tests, the tendency to award Grammys to white rappers over black ones, and the constant sexual objectification of women and teen-aged girls and verbal attacks of women judged to be too much sexual objects or too little.

    And then there are the millions of personal stories of people who have experienced ambient discrimination and other levels first hand, in public. The black people who have their hair and dreadlocks touched by white people at SFF conventions or been followed around in stores by security or out of the stores and arrested for buying a luxury item. The women who are told that their absence from the fields of science is clearly due to their lack of interest in science. Stevie’s story of going to give an investment seminar and having a man waiting outside assume she was an attendee too and needed his help to understand what she then went on to speak about. Mintwitch’s story about the male vendors who insist on hugging the female employees at her company and refuse to do business with the females over the males if the females won’t hug.

    So, on one side we have reams and reams of years and years of scientific data that factually measures social and common discriminatory biases and their statistical and economic effects, tons of visible examples in media and culture, and tons of personal experiences of dealing with these biases even from close friends and family as well as out in public and at work. And on the other hand, we have your belief that it couldn’t possibly be happening. Which to choose, which to choose? I’m going with the factual data myself.

  217. So you’ve never had a moment of surprise that the doctor, the mechanic, the car salesperson, the game store clerk … is a woman?

    no. no. no. no.

    You’ve never assumed that the person in charge of a group was the man, not the woman?

    no.

    You’ve never been taken aback for an instant when the end of the first date ends in a handshake rather than a kiss?

    no.

    You’ve never had a second of annoyance that your pick-up line is greeted with a scowl?

    not sure if I use “pick up” lines, but no.

    You’ve never told a woman to smile?

    heh. no.

    You’ve never told a woman in a professional setting that she was attractive?

    A women I worked with for a year or so was leaving her job and leaving the area and some time near her last day of work, but not while at work, I told her that it never seemed to work out that either I was dating someone or she was dating someone or she was looking to leave and then I was looking to leave for a new job too, but I wished I could have asked her out. Her response expressed agreement with the sentiment.

    I’m not sure if that counts as a “yes” by your question or not. But we were both fine with it.

    And if you said “no” to all of them…? I’d find a few dozen more.

    OK, but If I may ask a few questions of my own: Please read my first post on the thread. Then answer me this: To what end? Why would you find a “few dozen more”? To what purpose?

    Are you trying to get as many people up the mountain called “equality” by any path they find? Or is it more important to you that people go up the mountain by your path?

    Because I assure you, yours is not the only way up that mountain.

  218. The amount of squirming by some of the men in this thread to avoid acknowledging they are sexist in any way whatsoever, even though at the lowest levels it’s not a matter of blame but of awareness … I’d like to say it’s mind-boggling, or shocking, but it isn’t. It’s not even mildly surprising.

  219. No. There’s no squirming going, although I’m disappointed that people have asserted that several times. I’m sure you’d *like* there to be squirming, so you can tell yourself that the people disagreeing with you are immature, stupid, whatever, rather than having to face the “unpleasant fact” that adults can come to different conclusions starting from the same information. Maybe you never learned to agree to disagree.

    From me, at least, the only point contested is point 1. I pretty much agree with the original post, when it comes to Points 2,3, and 4.

    But anyways:

    “The black people who have their hair and dreadlocks touched by white people at SFF conventions or been followed around in stores by security or out of the stores and arrested for buying a luxury item. The women who are told that their absence from the fields of science is clearly due to their lack of interest in science.”

    Those are all individual acts of discrimination: Discrete, specific actions. Touching somebody’s hair, following them around. Mansplaining to somebody. Etc.

    In fact, every example you gave was a discrete action. That’s all you did, was give a long list of discrete discriminatory actions.

    So, point 1 is bullshit. Pure and simple. There is no “ambient” sexism. There is alot of sexism and alot of people who commit sexist acts, and we need to change that. But claiming that everyone is sexist is bullshit.

    Just because your cause is just, and you’re raising awareness of a serious societal problem, doesn’t meant you get a pass on making bullshit claims, which this is.

    Just to reiterate, I agree with what John said, when it comes to points 2, 3 and 4.

  220. We’re just talking at each other now, instead of having a discussion. So, peace out. Enjoy your evening.

  221. MrManny – I think you and I are having the same issue with this conversation.

    I think a lot of it boils down to something that Sally Strange said which was –

    “We really are all sexist. Or, in my own preferred parlance, we have all performed sexist actions in the past and are likely to do so again.”

    It’s the preferred parlance. I have that same preference. You probably do, too.

    Sally and Kat and several others have said to the effect – denying that we are all sexist is a silencing technique. I’ve been trying to understand that part of it. I have been trying to say what Sally said. My preferred parlance is to say “society is sexist. hey, that thing you did was kinda sexist. Lawrence Summers is a sexist.”

    I’ve been reading the “It’s a silencing technique” part and trying to understand that.

    Discrete or ambient isn’t really the debate. It’s about understanding or denying that my love of women in yoga pants is sexist in the sense that it objectifies women and the cascading effects of that. It, by itself, minor.(I hope) and denying that it has an impact on sexism is the problem or the silencing that I think is being referred to.

    I think that’s the crux of the conversation that has been the challenging part for me to understand. I have a preferred parlance like Sally. That’s all I ever really wanted to say and understand if my preferred parlance is somehow a problem. I don’t think it is, because I don’t think I am using it intentionally or unintentionally as a silencing technique.

  222. Patrick, I think you may be closer to understanding than you think. “We are all sexist” is not the same as “We are all sexists,” just as saying “I am sexist” is not the same as saying “I am a sexist.” We are all sexist to one degree or another and at one time or another. That does not make us all sexists. Going back to the original post, skip down to the penultimate paragraph, where I think John makes the point that he is sexist but works not to be *a* sexist.

  223. BW – Yeah. I think what some have described as pretzel logic and squirming is actually trying to communicate that logic.

    If I take the Larry Summers/Neil DeGrasse Tyson video –

    Larry probably thinks that saying ‘women are genetically predisposed to not be scientists’ is not sexist and is the equivalent of the average height of women is 5’4″, while acknowledging that there certainly are 6’4″ tall women. The percentage is small. He’s stating a fact/theory from his analysis of genetics. So, it’s not sexist to him.

    Neil’s response is, you can’t have that discussion until you stop stacking weights on women’s heads to MAKE them 5’4″, which is what makes Larry’s “fact” sexist.

    The point being, if we stop stacking weights, we might find the average height of women might be 5’8″ or 5’10”, or maybe if we stop stretching men, we might find they aren’t that much taller on average, after all.

    My time on this thread has really been all about preferred parlance. (And probably a little bit of SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG!)

    I’m not denying that I am a sexist/do sexist things, I just have a preferred parlance that uses the term for people like Larry Summers, who probably thinks he isn’t a sexist and he needs to own that he is.

    It’s just hard to aim a “We all need to own our sexism” at a Larry and not have someone like me feel the crosshairs. Defender of the defended, I suppose.

    I also know that I know very little about Larry Summers other than that brief description in that video and may be ascribing things to him, based on that little bit. He works as a good example though. I think.

  224. Re the existence of ambient sexism:

    In 1989 an individual entered the Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal and shot 28 people, all but 4 were women. Fourteen women died. He explicitly stated in his suicide note that he was fighting feminism. Feminists argued that this attack was connected to wider issues of societal violence against women. Yet many people asserted that his actions had nothing to do with larger social issues—he was just a madman.

    Well, of course he was a madman, and of course a wide range of factors, including poverty and abuse, influenced him. But why did choose to target feminists? He harboured a specific resentment against women who moved into traditionally male enclaves (engineering) but he didn’t attack the administration or faculty of the school who enabled that to happen. He attacked women students.

    People do violent things for specific, individual reasons. But culture influences where they choose to point the gun.

    The public discussions after this massacre showcased an extreme and highly visible example of denying the existence of cultural influences. But at the other end of the scale, this: I’m a middle-aged woman: if I defer to a man in conversation and allow them to speak over me, and would not do so in a group entirely composed of women, I am exhibiting sexist behaviour. This is something I have actually done, because as a woman I’ve been explicitly conditioned to defer.

    But this action is not extreme and highly visible—most of the time no one will even notice that deferral, including me.

    It’s at this end of the scale that ambient culture is most insidious—it’s hard to see its effects and very easy to deny. Culture is a soup we all swim in. We don’t notice it, because it defines the norms of the society we live in, but it does affect us: there’s a significant temperature difference between gazpacho and hot and sour soup (not to mention spices). But because we’re in it, we don’t notice it—it’s ambient.

    Ambient cultural levels don’t define actions, but they influence them. Individuals, depending on their history and situation and the exact ingredients of the type of soup they swim in, may or may not act in specifically *ist ways. But the soup is still there and still has the potential to influence everyone in it. In that sense, in a culture that has significant sexist content, we are all by default sexist because we are all subject to those cultural influences. We can change the default settings and choose not to act based on those influences, but first we have to notice them and/or be aware that alternatives exist.

    Saying that ambient sexism exists and that we are all influenced by it does not equate to saying that everyone is a sexist asshole. It is saying that influences that exist that should be examined. We can look at our soup and decide whether to drink it unquestioningly (yes, I know I’m mixing my swimming/drinking metaphors, oh well) or whether to choose a different recipe. Recognizing the influences of ambient sexism on me allows me to say, “Hey, maybe instead of being quiet I should speak up, because I actually have something useful to say in this discussion.”

    I entirely agree that it is right to focus strongly on people’s actions and holding them accountable for them. But that does not exclude the possibility of simultaneously examining the effects of culture on all of us. These strategies are complementary.

    In order to deny the existence of Scalzi’s point 1 it seems to me to be necessary to deny either the existence of culture values altogether, or to assert that a culture has no influence on you as an individual. I find it hard to buy either argument. Even people who fight against specific cultural values (e.g. fight against sexism) are still being influenced by the existence of those values in their reactions.

  225. kittehserf: The amount of squirming by some of the men in this thread to avoid acknowledging they are sexist in any way whatsoever,

    There seems to be implications on this thread that if you behaved in a sexist way any time in your life, even sixty years ago when you were a child, then you are now and forever will be, sexist. That’s nothing but “original sin” all over again. I’m assuming the laundry list of questions from ReginaG was a fishing expedition into my past to find something/anything with which to label me always and forever a sexist.

    This might actually be the biggest problem with “we are all sexist”. THe people pushing it the hardest are often the ones coming at it from the point of view of once you’ve made one mistake, you’re forever broken. condemning humankind for the transgressions of Adam and Eve is a morality system I don’t subscribe to.

    BW: “We are all sexist” is not the same as “We are all sexists,” just as saying “I am sexist” is not the same as saying “I am a sexist.”

    See that right there? That is the perfect demonstration of why this idea is so horribly messed up. If one has to jump through that sort of linguistic jungle gym just to be able to say “we are all sexist” and then create grammatical permutations so that we can make real distinctions with the term, then the term is broken.

    If you’re lexicon attaches substantial meaningful functional differences between “sexist” and “sexists”, then your lexicon has failed to address the basic human attitude that the difference between singular and plural are simply one thing and multiples of the same thing.

    What you’re tryig to do by saying “we are all sexist” is different from “we are all sexists” is probably distinguish between systemic and individual levels. But “systemic” and “individual” are terms that actually distinguish the two concepts. “sexist” and “sexists” do NOT distinguish systemic from individual.

    What you’re trying to distinguish between “I am sexist” and “I am a sexist” might be the difference between implicit and explicit bias. But the terms implicit and explicit actually distinguish the concepts. trying to bend the dictionary so that “sexist” means implicit bias and “a sexist” means explicit bias, is just breaking the dictionary to no good end.

    By making “sexist”, “a sexist”, and “sexists” describe fundamentally different things, you’re making a word salad fo the English language.

  226. The difference between “we are all sexist” vs. “we are all sexists” is using it as an adjective vs. a noun.

    Except the purpose of an adjective is to describe things that are special to the thing you are describing. Describing a statement as sexist helps distinguish it from non-sexist statements. Describing a rule as sexist helps distinguish it from non-sexist rules.

    But by saying “we are all sexist”, you’re saying that it’s a universal adjective, so it does nothing to separate it from those who aren’t sexist. Doubly so on the binary nature, since adverb modifiers of “a little bit” or “somewhat” are usually rejected as something that can be used on “sexist”. That’s what I, and others, are saying as “it’s meaningless”.

    And no, saying as a label on people is wrong isn’t a silencing act. The label is meant to act as a silencing act. It’s the latest version of our old friend “you’re in denial”. A label that is its own irrefutable proof because disagreeing with it shows it applies to you. Of course you would say you’re not in denial, that’s what being in denial means. Of course you would say you’re not sexist, that’s sexism in action. The label is the judgement which allows one to comfortably discount and ignore anything said. And it can come with a nice heaping side of shame, also good for silencing.

    Nobody here is saying that there’s no such thing as sexism. I don’t think anyone is even saying they’re completely free of sexist biases/assumptions/early programming. But the broad brush “we’re all sexist” is just the kinder version of what was being said when I was in college: All men are rapists, some just haven’t gotten around to performing the act. Yet.

  227. Donald – Let me ask this of you, because I am also asking myself. Are *we* (me) on a witch hunt to make sure that no one is saying this is ‘original sin’ or ‘All men are rapists’ and as a result, *are* we essentially silencing – by only allowing the conversation that we agree to have once we have established the allowable parameters?

    If I am doing that, my intent is to help make sure the message comes across effectively and correctly. I am probably not accomplishing that goal though.

  228. I’m not sure anyone is deliberately trying to silence others. There’s a thin line sometimes between vigorously presenting your position and silencing, and I’m trying not to step over it. Often, it’s completely unintentional, coming from things you just don’t know are trigger words for others.

  229. Mr. Manny:

    Those are all individual acts of discrimination: Discrete, specific actions. Touching somebody’s hair, following them around. Mansplaining to somebody. Etc.

    What’s interesting there is that you first carefully avoided all the examples of scientific studies about inherent biases in society — which are not individual acts of discrimination but collective philosophies that lead to discrimination. And second, on the personal stories about specific, individual discrimination based on social attitudes, you try to separate discriminatory actions (2-4) from the discriminatory attitudes (Level 1) that lead to the discriminatory actions and effect behavior, as if the discriminatory acts occur in a vacuum. The point of Level 1 is that you assume attitudes from the society that are discriminatory that influence your behavior and your views of others.

    So, why did the white people touch the black people’s hair? Are they being aggressively discriminatory? No, and they would be and usually are shocked that the black person thinks them touching their hair was discriminatory. Why? Because of ambient racism that influenced the white people to believe that black hair and hairstyles are other, unusual, and that black people can be touched without their consent. That’s a belief and attitude that they have (ambient) that led to the behavior. Why are black people followed by store security and white people aren’t? Because of ambient racism, the society’s belief that black people are more likely to steal, no matter how well dressed, and that black people are less able to buy luxury items and so must be committing fraud. It’s the attitude that leads to the act. Some of those acts can be more egregious than others, some of them may simply be talking about disadvantaged groups in a certain way. Many of the acts, such as store security or police targeting black people and black males, are institutionalized discrimination that stems from ambient discrimination — attitudes about black people accepted as likely fact.

    A white customer in the store won’t necessarily watch a black customer with suspicions of theft. But a white female customer might put her hand on her purse when a black male is around and not a white male — and might not even realize she does it. A white male customer may be much more aware of the black customer’s presence and locale, while ignoring whites, because the black person is other. No overt act, not even a conscious decision, but a reaction that is culturally taught. And if a person is made aware of that attitude — of ambient influences, they may be able to get out of the habit of having that reaction, they may stop seeing black people out in public as the other as much and instead more equal.

    The mansplaining comes from ambient sexism. The influence of society’s bias that teaches that women are not as competent and smart as men, that women need help having things explained to them, that women should be open and friendly towards being physically touched and if not, then they aren’t good business partners in Mintwitch’s story. These are all attitudes, baggage, picked up by the society in which we grow up in, as Scalzi described as Level 1 — they are ambient discrimination. So the man sees the woman and assumes she cannot possibly be the seminar instructor on investments, in Stevie’s case. He assumes the instructor will be a man because he has been culturally taught to expect that — that’s ambient sexism. Another man might assume the same thing — but not mansplain to Stevie. That’s still ambient discrimination.

    The experiment in which the same resume is sent out for job openings, with some bearing a female name and other copies a male name, or a white English name and a more culturally African-American or Asian name, is all about ambient discrimination. It’s not that the HR personnel deliberately set out to discriminate against female or non-white applicants. It’s just that they are culturally conditioned to see the exact same qualification information as more desirable if it is coming from a white male, and so give those resumes more offers for job interviews by a large statistically measurable amount. The likelihood is that many of those HR personnel were liberal leaning, supportive of women’s and non-white rights, were even possibly non-white and very likely female. Yet, they still did it. That’s ambient discrimination — it’s an attitude that influences our beliefs and our behaviors. It doesn’t influence us all in the same way — we all get our own set based on what we were taught, where we grew up, what experiences we have that reinforce various beliefs. But unless you have spent your life as a hermit in an isolated cabin with no other human contact, you’ve been soaking in ambient discrimination of society. Claiming that you are magically not effected even though other people over there are, is not very realistic.

    Basically, because you have not, to your knowledge, engaged in particular acts of discrimination that you consider bad, you want a special merit pony badge that lets you opt out of any or most concern, anger, criticism about inequality issues in society and above all, simple discussion of prejudicial biases in society that might relate to your life in any way. And nobody can give you a special merit pony badge, even if you consciously work to get rid of some attitudes and behaviors that you’ve decided are problematic. (And demanding a merit badge for simply treating people as less unequal is in itself another form of privilege discrimination.) So you can call bullshit all you like; we still have to live in the world we live in. The black male customer still has to keep an eye on others in the store because he knows they are keeping an eye on him, whether they wish him ill or not.

    And that Patrick, me fellow, is the silencing part. People very, very much do not want to talk about larger social biases and how they may relate to themselves. They do not want people talking about them, and accepting them as real and effecting everyone, even though doing so can lead to change of those biases. Traditionally, when women bring up social complaints, they are told that they aren’t real or entirely real, in the hope or demand that they’ll stop talking about them (silence.) Black people’s complaints about racism — not real unless there is a burning cross and a “N” word, so black people can stop talking about them (silence.) It’s bullshit, it’s nonsense, it’s lies, it’s unfair, it’s uncivil, it’s blaming, it’s aggressive, it’s totalitarian extremist, it’s shut up, shut up, shut up. The very suggestion that you might be influenced by the prejudicial society you are in must be rejected. The very suggestion that you might have the same or related biases as people whose behavior you deem bad must be rejected. Level 1 cannot exist — even though it feeds all the other levels and is simply part of society. Or if it exists, you want a special merit pony badge for somehow magically escaping it or part of it.

    The quick switch in rejection of marriage equality for gays being the majority in the U.S. to support for marriage equality for gays being the majority was almost entirely a result of a shift in ambient homophobia — in attitudes about homosexuals’ role in society — and it came from gay and spectrum people and allies refusing to shut up and talking about it, no matter how uncomfortable it made people — who had never used the f word regarding gays in their lives — to be told they were being homophobic in their attitudes. And it’s still going on because ambient homophobia shifted and lessened — it didn’t go away. And the discrimination is institutionalized with laws and more trying to get through every day. Even if you are for marriage equality, even if you have gay pals, the ambient that you live in effects your attitudes towards them and quite often your behavior, and this cumulatively effects society. And you can look at that and possibly try to make some improvements, or you can tell them to shut up because you are not possibly affected, or at least not like the “bad guys,” and don’t think it is worth talking about.

  230. I’m not sure anyone is deliberately trying to silence others.

    The entire thrust of this conversation is to notice and do something about the silencing (among other things) that is NOT deliberate.

  231. @Kat: “It just gets tiring on the times when you are the one below the boulder, trying to have the conversation about discrimination….”

    One thing feminists appear ignorant of, as regards us ignorant sexist SWMs, is our actual level of PURE IGNORANCE that we consciously have. We’ve probably been reared from the beginning without such necessary rhetorics or discussions on feminism, that the feminists themselves are fluent in. We may even be ignorant that such inequalities need airing! So: many SWMs (for example) discover here on the instant that SWMs (for example) are “uphill controllers” of boulders, and are instructed (sometimes impolitely) to grow up and stop it with the boulders and accept feminist rhetorics on the instant; which would be great if each and every one of us were a superman, or at least as forward-thinking as hero Doc Savage; but alas we have to warm up to topics and follow learning curves, so unlike Doc.

    Yet some don’t mind mallets and so we continue on threads like this. We try to get up to speed, albeit clumsily. In ignorance we probably concoct any number of straw houses or other such objections, as should be considered normal for possible fledgling aspirants; and at each instant we get professionally shot down … and rightly so, I think. We must argue with training wheels!

    As to this thread’s discussions of sexist ambience, sexist aggression, or just brutality – well kudos to what feminists mostly say here: I’m sure they are right; but I’m also sure that many of the ignorant learners here, myself included, who are doing their best (as able) are trying at least to catch up and follow and see the lay of the land. Folks assimilate and understand at varying speeds and abilities, which I am sure is tiring at times for all teachers. As to insults such as kittleserf’s calling some here squirming sexists and such, even those attacks are useful to hear, for they bespeak frustrations feminists have had, that we probably have been too ignorant to even notice elsewhere. As to JS’s Whack-a-Mole righteousness – well, I say to every boy his toy, and frankly such games as Whack-a-Mole are great fun from both sides of the mallet; it may be the only reason some of us ignorant sexists would participate. (Fun is fun.) As to points of math or philosophy, and the anecdotes throughout, I’ll bet you that practically everyone who bothers to investigate almost all such here (notice my desire to avoid absolutes!), will most likely find that MOSTLY EVERYTHING engrossing and well worth the original poster’s efforts

  232. “The entire thrust of this conversation is to notice and do something about the silencing (among other things) that is NOT deliberate.”

    YES, THIS. That is a far cry from “all men are rapists,” and the conflation of explicit and implicit sexism in these comments by folks who want to protest they’re not sexist is just depressing.

    And *everyone*, including women, is subject to implicit bias. As in, the stuff Scalzi is talking about is not just something white men do. It’s something everybody does to various degrees. We’re all affected by culture. Unintentionally. Implicitly.

    And when we realize we are, we can take steps to prevent it from negatively affecting other people. When we don’t realize, we just continue to silence and discriminate, without even noticing that we’re doing it.

  233. Richard

    Your level of Pure Ignorance is your problem; the only way of fixing it is to cease being ignorant.

    And, since there are schools and colleges, I suggest that they will be able to stop you being ignorant…

  234. nicoleandmaggie – “the conflation of explicit and implicit sexism in these comments by folks who want to protest they’re not sexist is just depressing. ”

    I think the problem is Marketing. Phenomenal product, horrible messaging/catch phrase.

  235. Greg – this is where I think you’re assuming “we’re all sexist and our culture brought us up that way” is a matter of finger-pointing. It’s not about blame, it’s about awareness, and included in that is that sexism overwhelmingly privileges men over women. It’s not about people being broken or original sin or anything like that; those comparisons are where the squirming bit comes in, like Patrick’s use of the Devil as a comparison. Bringing in something extreme, the ultimate evil, is a bit eyebrow-raising in a conversation about a prevalent flaw in our culture; talking as if people are being blamed, called sinners, called broken, etc (or rather, as if men are – I think that’s implied?) just ends up making me think the men writing this have had their buttons pushed and are trying really hard to say No, no, not me, I’m not like that!

    There’s also an element that’s pushing my buttons a bit: in so many internet conversations where women are talking about their experiences, some man will inevitably come along to either ‘splain things to them, or insist on nitpicking about terminology and how a slightly different interpretation means all the women are wrong and he can dismiss what they’re saying. I don’t know if it’s a matter of ill-will or privilege blindness generally; I don’t read it as ill-will here, and I get that on a writer’s site one will talk about words and their meanings much more, but it still connects with the denial and, in effect, silencing that is so damn common.

  236. This post points out why “Zoe’s Tale” is a book I intend to buy for my niece when she’s old enough, and why John Varley’s “Rolling Thunder” makes me grind my teeth at points in the narrative, even though both of them are written from a woman’s point of view. You made the effort to think from a girl’s perspective, while Varley seems to have settled for writing up his dream girl (nothing against the man; I do like the “Red Thunder” series). He also slides in his attitude abut how women should look, and I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it; for instance, he he points out in two of the books how much girls’ boobs sag in Earth gravity. Other image-driven passages make me not want to recommend him to female sci-fi readers of my acquaintance – not without a caveat, at least. It’s really hard to find good sci-fi written from the female perspective, and it’s sad, because there’s a lot of us sf-loving chicks out there.

    I grew up reading John Wyndham, who was remarkably un-sexist for his time (though not without his moments), even pointing out in “The Day of the Triffids” that women are just as sexist as men, and that a small society cannot survive without women and men taking on all needed tasks. It was a bit of a shock to go from that to other sf writers – in many of the stories, women hardly existed, as if the universe had a small stable of women it only trotted out at the end of the adventure – and as a result, I didn’t read sf for a long time after that, until my husband (a huge feminist) suggested I try, well, your books, among a couple of others. Not to suck up, but “Zoe’s Tale” (which I am right this evening re-reading for the umpteenth time) is awesome. And reads right.

  237. Richard:

    One thing feminists appear ignorant of, as regards us ignorant sexist SWMs, is our actual level of PURE IGNORANCE that we consciously have.

    As we previously discussed, you believe in the concept of feminism — that women are equal. That basically makes you a feminist, an advocate for female equality. Whether you choose to call yourself a feminist or not is up to you. People have different reasons for doing so or not doing so. (I learned about my own assumptions on that one.) But feminists are not some strange group over there. I’d say about ninety percent of the folks on this blog agree with the idea of feminism — women are equal — even those arguing fiercely against the existence of Level 1.

    Women are not ignorant of the varied attitudes and awarenesses of men. We have to live with them and their effects every day. What a lot of us aren’t so much any more is tolerant without comment of attitudes that involve ambient sexism, unless we are forced to be (which is moderately still often in the countries where we have some equal rights.) These attitudes aren’t ignorance so much as they are unquestioning assumptions that males have the privilege to not examine and to maintain. Guys don’t get a special merit pony badge either from others for claiming “ignorance.” The more men claim that they just didn’t know, or they aren’t sure it’s happening at all, the longer it takes to make the shift in society towards equality. It’s getting people to examine and discuss biases and assumptions that is the hardest part — the boulder rolled down the hill. Sometimes it’s a matter of people risking their necks and their jobs and lengthy court cases. The more people willing to do it, the faster things move. Nobody’s perfect at it and nobody on an up axis usually has to do it for anything related to a down axis. But if they do, it’s faster.

    Some people believe they have a financial or power incentive not to do it. That’s a harder one. Sometimes gaining civil rights is a matter of showing there’s a financial or power incentive to do it. And there always is because improved opportunity and equality leads to more productivity and economic activity, but people don’t always see it that way because they are raised in a system that institutionalizes inequality and sets up obstacles to maintain it.

    Patrick:

    Kat – are you mansplaining this to me?

    You indicated in the other conversation that you are a man. Did that change? If not, then no, because mansplaining is something that is done to women by both men and other women, though it’s usually done by a man. What I was doing was clarifying what I meant by silencing since you expressed confusion. Or, to put it more simply, I was rolling your boulder up the hill. :)

  238. BW: “We are all sexist” is not the same as “We are all sexists,” just as saying “I am sexist” is not the same as saying “I am a sexist.”

    Ya know, I’ve been trying to think of an example of any other word in the English language the meaning of which undergoes such fundamental changes when changing from singular to plural or when adding an “a” in front of it.

    acyoung1 tried to relate “we are all sexist” to “bullies”. And it failed before, but lets take another look.

    We are all bully.
    We are all bullies.
    I am bully.
    I am a bully.

    Yeah, no. Doesn’t work. The difference between singular and plural and the difference between general and “a” specific does not change the fundamental meaning of the word.

    Kat: you try to separate discriminatory actions (2-4) from the discriminatory attitudes (Level 1) that lead to the discriminatory actions and effect behavior, as if the discriminatory acts occur in a vacuum.

    Yeah, people try to separate cause from effect because they’re generally different things. The effect might be a flat tire. The cause might be a nail in the road, a bad tire, or someone sabotaging the tire. trying to conflate the effect and every possible cause under one vocabulary term is silly, confusing, and likely driven by alterior motives.

    If your first priority was getting people up the mountain called “equality”, you wouldn’t care what path they took. That you are so adamant that they take your path would suggest that something other than “equality” is your priority here.

    kittehserf: It’s not about people being broken or original sin or anything like that

    Original sin means you can’t save yourself through your actions alone. You are always flawed and only by the grace of god can you be saved.

    How do you save yourself from the statement “we are all sexist”?

    I asked that same question before, and was told it was easy, just “adjust” your behavior “to compensate”. So I pointed out that if I said I already compensated, that I’d get swamped with people telling me “oh no you didn’t”. And then as if to prove my point, three people immediately responded with “oh no you didn’t.”

    On top of that, “we are all sexist” is trying to define “sexist” to be a completely generic term like “sin” is a completely generic term. Everything from the physical act of committing genocide to thinking about your neighbor’s stuff and coveting it, is a sin.

    We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of god, and therefore can only be saved, not by works and deeds alone, but by the grace of god. And “we are all sexist” and can’t be saved by works alone, by never committing a sexist act ever again. The only way to escape “we are all sexist” is by dying and maybe going to non-sexist heaven.

    In short, this thing has “original sin” written all over it.

  239. Kat: Whether you choose to call yourself a feminist or not is up to you.

    But not, apparently, whether you call yourself sexist.

    heh. That’s good for a chuckle.

  240. Greg:

    “In short, this thing has ‘original sin’ written all over it.”

    No it doesn’t. You want to say it does because then you don’t have to own up to the fact you’re sexist (like everyone else), and you appear to be grumpy at the idea that it’s continual work to fight against it, rather than a thing you can entirely escape from by leveling up. Which is a different thing entirely.

    Also, Greg, trying to make an argument about sexism that relies on a specific grammatical construction not working exactly like another, is highly contingent on the assumption that English has a grammar that is anywhere near consistent, which it really does not (that said, another word that works just fine in the “sexist” construction: “racist”).

    Greg, are you aware how much of your complaints really do seem to boil down to “Waaaaaaaaaaah, I don’t wanna to be seen as sexist?” Just own it, dude. Because whether you want to own it or not, you’re sexist, like everyone else. All this wriggling around the point doesn’t hide the fact, it just makes it a focus of attention, as it relates to you.

    “But not, apparently, whether you call yourself sexist.”

    No, you can choose whether to call yourself sexist or not, too. It won’t change that you are if you choose not to, however.

  241. It matters what part of speech you use. Nouns are generally more limiting and dehumanizing than adjectives. Calling someone sexist is not the same as calling them a sexist. Personally I would only confidently label someone at level 3, though people at level 2 might deserve it. Are all of us infected with sexism? Yes. Are all of us as monstrously sexist as [insert name of very sexist person here]? No.

    The trouble, Greg, is that ‘bully’ doesn’t have an adjectival form. Your “experiment” didn’t work because you failed to set up a parallel case. I must mildly disagree with Our Host on this; the fault is not in our grammar, but in ourselves. In this case, yours. That said, he is also correct that grammatical arguments don’t really imply much about reality. Those colorless green ideas sure do sleep furiously, don’t they?*

    *And those who know me will now drop dead of astonishment at my quoting that person.

  242. Greg: In short, this thing has ‘original sin’ written all over it.”

    Scalzi: it’s continual work to fight against it,

    and lead us not into temptation.

    Wait, were we talking about sin or sexism?

    your complaints really do seem to boil down to

    to someone who grew up steeped in religion and knows the program when its running. There may be value for someone taking on “we are all sexist” and seeing something about themselves and bettering themselves. But its not the only way to better oneself.

    Xopher: The trouble, Greg, is that ‘bully’ doesn’t have an adjectival form. Your “experiment” didn’t work because you failed to set up a parallel case.

    The only reason I tried it with “bully” was because SOMEONE ELSE suggested “bully” as a way to try to explain “we are all sexist”. How many words in the english language undergo fundamental changes in their meaning by changing it from singular to plural? or putting an “a” in front of it?

    This language salad reminds me of a conversation I had with our church leader when I was young. The bible is chock full of verses that tell us we should “fear” God. And I asked why were we supposed to be afraid of God. And the response turned into the long thing about how “fear” didn’t mean “to be afraid” but to respect and even to love.

    But I’m pretty sure that when the bible talks about God wiping out an entire planet but for Noah and his ark, or destroying everyone in a city for their sins, or telling you you’re burn in everlasting hell if you don’t subscribe to the belief system, that “fear” really did simply mean “be afraid”.

    And if it didn’t mean that, if it really meant “love” or “respect”, then hey, ya know what? It really isn’t me that is causing the misunderstanding and it isn’t really me saying “Waaaaaaaaaaah, I don’t wanna to be seen as sinner!” by pointing out the very large problems with the choice of language or the mixed messages in the bible.

    Another thing that reminds me of those conversations I had when I was younger. When asking pointed questions about the bible, it was a common response to tell me (1) I just didn’t understand correctly or (2) I wanted to get away with doing something sinful and was looking for a loophole in the bible or some other thing. I can’t remember a single time having one of those conversations where the other person would acknowledge that their’s is not the only way to salvation. It was always defended as dogmatic truth, no alternative was allowed, and I wasn’t following God.

    Multiple times, I’ve acknowledged that I can see that people can get value in “we are all sexist”. But I don’t see it as the only way. And I certainly don’t see it as some sort of absolute indisputable truth. And I do see that it has some problematic wording and that there are problematic effects that come from it being worded almost indistinguishable from original sin.

    What’s making me chuckle a bit here xopher is that you have many times in the past asserted “the message recieved is the message delivered”. Well, this is the message I’m recieving. I can see it having value for some people, but it isn’t my way to self improvement, and I see it as having an inescapable “original sin” aspect to it that simply doesn’t work for me.

    That’s the message I recieve from this whole “we are all sexist” conversation.

  243. I generally add the caveat “willful misreading aside.”

    And there’s a reason for the phrase ‘except after C’, if you receive my meaning.

  244. xopher: “willful misreading aside.”

    Oh, come on, Xopher. I can be stubborn at times. uninformed at times. But I’m no liar.

    Speaking of uninformed: astonishment at my quoting that person. I know who the person is. But why the astonishment?

  245. Greg:

    “Wait, were we talking about sin or sexism?”

    Your desire to conflate recognizing that working on one’s own sexism is a process with a theological concept, doesn’t make it a good conflation, Greg. And doesn’t make you any less sexist.

  246. Scalzi: doesn’t make it a good conflation,

    Well, I’m not conflating. I know the difference between “we are all sexist” and “original sin”. But both say you can’t save yourself by acts alone, and both make assertions about the heart and soul of every person on the planet, which I think are big enough similarities that they’re worth pointing out.

    And doesn’t make you any less sexist

    Are you a sinner, John?

    Certainly, one could argue that everyone sins. One might simply argue that no one is perfect and therefore everyone has sinned in one way or another. But “sin” carries with it more payload than “not perfect”, and not everyone is going to subscribe to the rest of the payload. And therefore someone might go along with being labeled a “sinner” even if they label themselves “imperfect”.

    And doesn’t make you any less sexist

    It doesn’t make me any more sexist either, because its irrelevant to whether I’m sexist or not. If I behave sexist, then I’m sexist. Everything else just is payload you’ve attached to this “we are all sexist” notion.

  247. . And therefore someone might NOT go along with being labeled a “sinner” even if they label themselves “imperfect”.

  248. Greg

    Your religious views have nothing to do with the issue in question; God and the Devil have both been used in these conversations as a massive derail from the issue in question.

    And really, if you are that desperate to derail these conversations then you have, as the saying goes, issues; you are, of course, perfectly free to carry on flailing around in the hope of disguising this, but the more you flail the more obvious it becomes…

  249. Greg: My friends know that I think Chomsky’s linguistics is nonsense. In fact, I have argued against the point he was making with the “colorless green ideas” comment.

    Details some time when it isn’t grotesquely off-topic.

  250. @Greg: “Yeah, people try to separate cause from effect because they’re generally different things. The effect might be a flat tire. The cause might be a nail in the road, a bad tire, or someone sabotaging the tire.”

    You check your tires periodically to make sure they aren’t worn or haven’t picked up a nail (or weren’t tampered with). When you get a flat tire you check to see if it can be patched or whether it needs to be replaced. Cause and effect absolutely have a relation. You check before driving to avoid having a blowout on the highway; in the event you still have a blowout, you try to understand why so you can potentially avoid having another.

    Going through life just replacing tires each time you get a flat, and making no attempt to take preventive maintenance, is not a terribly effective path to take. It’s personally expensive in both monetary cost and time wasted, and potentially harmful to others as well. When an effect is possible, you try and determine the potential causes and avoid them. When an effect occurs, you try and figure out the cause and correct for it. You’re expending a lot of energy to convince people not all tires ever wear out, or might ever go flat when punctured by a nail.

  251. Stevie: Your religious views have nothing to do with the issue in question

    Stop trying to make me a member of your religion then.

    Xopher: I think Chomsky’s linguistics is nonsense

    Ah. I thought maybe he had said something, uhm, discriminatory, and I completely missed it.

  252. The reasoning of people who think they’re not sexist (or racist) is circular. “I’m not sexist, because sexism is behavior. My behavior isn’t sexist, as I define it, so therefore I am not sexist.” Dismissing, of course, the impressions and perceptions of everyone else who comes into contact with you. Which is sexist. And racist, depending on whom you’re dealing with.

  253. mikes: Cause and effect absolutely have a relation.

    The point was they have different names to distinguish them. Rather than just calling everything “sexism”, there are distinctions like “implicit bias” and “systemic discrimination”. if the cause of “sexism” is “sexism” and the effect of “sexism” is “sexism”, then I think the vocabulary was collapsed a bit too far.

  254. Stacy: My behavior isn’t sexist, as I define it,

    I think arguing that people are wrong because they’re defining their own terminology on a thread where the original post is entirely about redefinining termoniology is like rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you’ve already paid.

  255. Greg

    Less than a third of the global population of around seven billion people have even a nominal belief in the existence of the particular God you are clinging to, and around a sixth of the global population have no religious affiliations of any kind. No rational person suggests that sexism is confined to populations believing in God, or the Devil, and your desire to attribute the concept of sexism to the doctrine of original sin is, frankly, ludicrous.

    I do appreciate that it seems difficult for you to think in terms beyond your own back yard, but this doesn’t change the fact that your back yard is not a representative sample of the global population, and never will be, however much you may want that to be the case…

  256. The post doesn’t redefine anything, or attempt to. It only observes what’s already there and puts a name to it. It’s about the deeds, not the words. It’s to get you thinking about how you treat people who are different than you (or not so different than you) and about whether you’re capable of seeing things from another person’s perspective. But if you can’t even acknowledge that another perspective besides your own might exist, you’ve created a feedback loop of one.

    And that is the crux of most sexism. You decide you aren’t sexist, and therefore your behavior isn’t sexist. If someone on the receiving end thinks differently, well, they’re just wrong. Women experience this all the time–and not just with men–so it’s not just you. It’s all of us.

  257. Stevie: the particular God you are clinging to

    Uhm, I’d say that I’m officially an agnostic.
    but thanks for making it obvious that you haven’t actually read my posts

    AT ALL.

    Stacy: It’s about the deeds, not the words.

    I wish it was about deeds. If this was just about deeds and external behavior, then we wouldn’t have any disagreement at all. I’ve said multiple times I am sexist if I behave sexist, i.e if my deeds show me to be sexist.

    The problem I have with “we are all sexist” is that it doesn’t matter if our deeds are sexist, because it says we are intrinsically sexist. Always and forever.

    whether you’re capable of seeing things from another person’s perspective. But if you can’t even acknowledge that another perspective besides your own might exist

    Yes. Yes. Not acknowledging other people’s perspectives is exactly what I’m doing when I said “I can see real value” in this for people even if I disagree with the definitions, like I did in my first post on the thread and several other posts since.

    And clearly when I said If there is a mountain called “equality”, then I think “we are all sexist” is one path to its peak. that is totally a feedback loop of one, dismissing all other perspectives. I mean what dismisses all other perspectives more than acknowledging that someone else’s perspective has value for people even if I disagree with it in as literal truth? Amiright?

    For example, I can see value in Genesis even if I don’t believe the universe was literally created in a few days. So, I can see how you would insist I’m totally dismissing all other perspectives. “Value” is latin for “dismiss” isn’t it? Or something?

    You decide you aren’t sexist, and therefore your behavior isn’t sexist. If someone on the receiving end thinks differently, well, they’re just wrong.

    Not only did I not say its about me being right everone else is wrong, I explicitly stated that “whether “we are all sexist” is literally, factually, scientifically true is irrelevent to whether a person might find value from using it to introspect.”, which is like the total opposite of “they’re just wrong”.

    So, basically, I don’t know who’s posts you’re reading, cause you haven’t been reading mine.

  258. I mean what dismisses all other perspectives more than acknowledging that someone else’s perspective has value for people even if I disagree with it in as literal truth? Amiright?

    You disagree with it in literal truth? It sounds like you’re saying another person’s perspective is just… all in their head. It may have value to them, but that’s the only place it has value. Not in the real world, and certainly not from how you treat them.

    It’s a way of paying lip service to others’ perspectives without bothering to actually try to see things from their point of view. which was kind of my point. So yeah, I read your posts.

    At any rate, I am sorry for my part in the downward spiral.

  259. Stacy: You disagree with it in literal truth?

    How are you “capable of seeing things from another person’s perspective” if you insist your perspective is the literal truth? If your perspective is the literal truth, aren’t all other perspectives by definition false?

    I acknowledged the value in “we are all sexist” regardless of it being literally true, because I see it as one path of many up the mountain called equality.

    Not in the real world, and certainly not from how you treat them.

    Hey, I’m all about how you TREAT people. if this was all about defining sexism based on “the real world” and how you TREAT other people, then I’d be all on board. But it isn’t. “We are all sexist” says you’re sexist NO MATTER HOW you treat people. THAT is a moral judgement, not a literal truth. I get people can get value from it, but I don’t subscribe to it.

  260. Greg

    I read your posts. It’s a pity that you don’t do likewise.

    Agnosticism has nothing to do with this. You are clinging to a particular God not because you believe it but because you can’t abandon him; logically, if you did then you would have to abandon your cries of original sin, and if you abandoned that then you would be forced to tackle the issue on its merits.

    And that, it appears, is something you will do anything to avoid…

  261. Stevie: Agnosticism….. you are clinging to a particular God

    I can see why this vocabulary/meaning discussiin goes in circles.

    Stacy: no worries. Maybe we’ll meet at the top of the mountain someday.

  262. @elsworthy

    Glad to hear somebody else had the same problem with Varley’s “Rolling Thunder” as I did. I moderately enjoyed the first two books in the series but that one had such a… bizarre POV female character that it became nigh-unreadable for me.

  263. I ran into this, days later, thanks to Wil Wheaton posting a series of tweets to Tumblr.

    The thing is…you’re basing this on anecdotes.

    “I have never been threatened with rape.”

    Well, there we have it; John Scalzi has never been threatened with rape. Must not happen.

    Oh.

  264. And I’m troubled by your sentiment that be doing nothing, one is still guilty.

    By that reasoning, here’s a question: What have you actively done today to alleviate the suffering of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo? I’m not talking about some donation to a charity that may or may not have done anything; what have you done? Have you taken up arms against rapists? Have you taken in any refugees?

    Yeah, ad absurdum, I know. We’ll try for the ambient track again.

    You live in the United States, correct? I’m assuming it stands to reason that between your writing, television, and so on, you’re doing okay by American standards, correct? You’re also a white male. It also stands to reason that the name John Scalzi carries more weight than, oh, I’ll make up a name: Deborah T’so. Maybe Deborah is a brilliant sci-fi author; she’s not John Scalzi, though. Your success, by necessity, stands in the way of others finding similar success. Further, the world just doesn’t have the natural resources to support everyone living your lifestyle. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. By living your life–heating and cooling a nice house, maintaining an overweight physique (as do I), buying goods, and paying for services, you’re actually hurting others. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but by being that quintessential white American male, you’re harming the rest of the world.

    Sucks, doesn’t it?

    What are you doing about it?

  265. Regeya:

    “John Scalzi has never been threatened with rape. Must not happen.”

    I am not responsible for your faulty inferences, Regeya. I’m also not required to be impressed with what you come up with to rebut those faulty inferences, as they are, after all, faulty.

    Also, congratulations for ignoring the part where I address the topic of people demanding it needs to be addressed in both directions, in your rush to show it needs to be addressed in both directions. Given that much of that tweet thread addresses just that point, that takes effort on your part.

    “And I’m troubled by your sentiment that be doing nothing, one is still guilty.”

    Given the truly astounding amount of pretzel logic that follows that particular statement in the comment, this does not surprise me at all.

    However, Regya, I don’t care that you’re troubled about it. If someone you know is being an asshole to women, and threatening violence against them, and you just sit there saying nothing when it’s in your power to rebuke him, you’re part of the problem. Simple as that. That you by all indications appear to be more troubled that someone would consider you part of the problem than with the fact that you don’t want to be bothered to tell someone threatening violence to a woman to stop it is what I find troubling.

    Everyone:

    As this entry has been given new life by the tumblr post of my Twitter rant, which means an increased chance of trollery whilst I sleep, I’m turning off the comments overnight. They will be back up in the morning.

    Update: I plain forgot to turn this back on (I was traveling and it escaped my notice, I think), and it this point it’s probably best just to leave the comment thread as is. Thanks, everyone.

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