Feminism and Me

I’ve been mildly interested in women’s equality issues for a while, but it was some time in the summer or 2014 – almost certainly as part of reading Gamergate commentary – that I ended up reading a fair chunk of the Geek Feminism Wiki. That was the start of a journey which is far from complete, but firmly begun.

At this stage, my views are reasonably “mainstream feminist” as far as I can tell. As an incomplete list of example views:

  • I believe women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, that’s still not happened.
  • I believe society is squandering the talent of women through a culture of making it harder for them to make career progress in many professions, often through unconscious bias. (I believe that the same is true for men in some other professions – and that fixing the culture would fix both problems.)
  • I believe we are culturally desensitized to the difference in how men and women are represented and perceived. The media does a lot of this representation, but I believe that’s just part of a feedback loop of culture. The media may well be a great lever for helping to fix the culture though.
  • I believe that violence against women is significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and horribly stigmatized against victims. The high bar for proof and “innocent until proven guilty” principles of the law do sound noble and I’m extremely wary of changing them – but they lead to a particular disparity in violence against women. At some point, the notion of “I’d rather let ten criminals go free than one innocent person go to prison” has to give.1
  • I believe our cultural and professional expectations of child-rearing need to change, and that this would be a net win for everyone. I suspect that more equal parenting would help keep families together in some cases, give better male role models, improve career opportunities for women, give men a better work/life balance, and so on.
  • I believe that remarks and catcalls which might be described as jokes or compliments by some have a significant impact on the lives of women who have to put up with them day in and day out. It’s hard for those who don’t experience this to really appreciate the impact – so I think it’s best to believe the reports of those who do.
  • I believe that with better representation in both politics and business, many aspects of our society would be fairer. Going back to “squandering the talent” point made earlier, I’m sure that widening the pool of thought leadership would lead to better ideas being aired, too.
  • I believe many people suffer discrimination on multiple fronts (e.g. race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities) and that this can have a very significant effect on quality of life, requiring particular care and consideration in combination rather than treating each aspect of discrimination as isolated.
  • I believe trans women are women, and should be treated as such by society. There’s a huge amount I don’t know about trans and more at the moment, and I suspect that I’ll only make a dent in my ignorance over time… but I’m aware that those who aren’t conveniently cisgender (in whatever way) face very particular challenges within a cisgender-oriented society.
  • I believe men have a part to play in supporting causes of equality. (And yes, I think it’s entirely reasonable for me to call myself a feminist.)

I can’t decide whether that sounds like a bold set of beliefs that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice as well as I might… or just obvious, hard-to-dispute truths (that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice…) I tend towards the latter option, but if these things really are fairly obvious, why is the world the way it is? I suspect it’s like an oil tanker being very hard to turn around – deep shifts in culture (rather than just trends and technological habits) seem to take a very long time to materialize.

Most of my education so far has come from books, so it’s probably worth listing the relevant ones I’ve read (so far) since the Geek Feminism Wiki awakening. In no particular order:

I’m hoping to review each of these on this blog to whatever extent I can still do so (bearing in mind the time between reading and reviewing in some cases), but before going into details I can heartily recommend all of them here and now. Even those I found I disagreed with most (The Female Eunuch in particular) were definitely worth reading, and were thought-provoking. I’d particularly recommend Everyday Sexism as an eye-opener… and if you’re more of a fan of fiction than non-fiction (as I usually am), both of the Louise O’Neill books listed above are wonderful but deeply disturbing.

Next up: The Women’s Equality Party, and why I joined it. After that, book reviews – and after that, I may have had some original thoughts worth noting.


1 To clarify my view here, as it’s provoked some alarm – I really am extremely wary of changing any of this, but I don’t think the status quo is good enough. When so many cases of sexual violence are “he said” vs “she said”, what does count as fair? How can we best protect everyone? No system will be perfect, but it seems clear to me that the current approach simply isn’t working. Surely we can do better.

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jonskeet

Mad props to @arcaderage for the "Princess Rescue" image - see https://toggl.com/programming-princess for the full original

25 thoughts on “Feminism and Me”

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve said above, but I think the underlying issue is of injustice in general, rather than specifically injustice towards women.

    Loosening the taboo around “innocent until proven guilty” is a very definite no-go area for me. How soon before the “guilty until proven innocent” regime bleeds into other areas other than women’s issues?

    The real issue is situations where people are exposed to risks against their persons, where no other witnesses would be available. This is much better dealt with by education, by teaching young kids how to keep themselves safe, and by generally raising awareness about issues around violence.

    I say this especially bearing in mind the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay after being held hostage for 14 years in the prime of his life, without even being charged with a crime.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your knowledge with the rest of us. Stay blessed.

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    1. So you’re suggesting the solution to rape is for women to never allow themselves to be alone with men? That sounds like a pretty bad solution from everyone’s point of view. Bear in mind how many rapes are perpetrated by those who already know their victim – and are often in relationships with them, but ignore a lack of consent. Your approach wouldn’t help in those situations at all.

      I’m very aware of the dangers of changing the legal system around this – hence the wariness expressed in the post – but the result of the system (for this kind of case) is certainly not justice… nowhere close.

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  2. Great article Jon and great initiative. Thank you for the book recommendations! I’ll add them to my kindle wish list. I moved to Sweden some years ago, and although there’s a still a gap between salaries of men and women, I feel like stuff like great childcare, very flexible work conditions, perhaps a specially progressive mindset and a lot of independence from an early age help push this society towards equality and empower women to pursue careers if so they wish. We are making progress. We just need to keep pushing ^_^

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  3. Jon, if you have not already, I encourage you to read the works of feminists Christina Hoff Sommers and Wendy McElroy who both shed a different light on some of these points, specifically the pay gap. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. ‘“innocent until proven guilty” principles of the law do sound noble and I’m extremely wary of changing them – but’

    That’s one hell of a quote.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes. It is. But we’re looking at an epidemic of hard-to-prove crime which is victimizing some people disproportionately. The problem with “this crime is hard to prove and thus won’t be prosecuted” is that there are victims who are being harmed under the current system.

      We just currently consider that okay.

      This is a big deal. And it’s not clear what a good change would look like. And we, as innocent people, are very wary of a system where more innocent people might be targeted.

      And right now, you and I can only ignore it because different innocent people are currently targeted, and currently being forced to take your and my share of the injustice.

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      1. Please don’t make assumptions of my history with abuse. Bad as it is, not everyone who has suffered is ready to abolish the rule of law just to ease some temporary pain.

        You need to understand how people with this ideology sound to normal people.
        “The rule of law is the way our world should be governed, but” sounds literally exactly like “I’m not a scientist, but”. It’s the new “I’m not racist, but”.

        There is no room for “but” here. Any attempt at a “but” sounds like “let’s abolish the rule of law” and it makes you sound crazy – even if I agree with most everything else you say.

        I believe only a very inexperienced person would have doubts about how establishing such a precedent will be abused to horrible ends. There is a reason why this rule exists.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Also, it’s really, reeeeeeally suspicious how we’re looking at an “epidemic” of something that’s “hard to prove”.

        Perhaps you’re clairvoyant and know something other people don’t know, but… how are you sure the epidemic exists, if you can’t prove it happened?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think any man who is not in favor of equal rights for women is a bozo. But what passes for “feminism” these days seems to have gone beyond equal rights to a demand for female superiority. For instance, many feminists seem to want equal rights while still retaining much or all of what were formerly called feminine privileges, such as the expectation that if they hit a man, the man is not allowed to hit back, even in self defense. If one wants full equality, then one needs to accept the liabilities, and not just the advantages.

    Jon, you need to read some oppositional literature as well. There is more than one, or even two points of view. Don’t restrict yourself to politically correct sources. I suggest you have a look at a video by a men’s rights advocate, Karen Straughn, who is in favor of equal rights for women, but is most certainly NOT a feminist: “me, a feminist? No way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqEeCCuFFO8

    My political blogpost on the issue of pay equality is here: http://iwasabouttosay.com/2015/11/11/the-so-called-gender-pay-gap/

    Nice to see you talking about more than just tech! Please keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sure, I’ll read everything – but I don’t expect to change my overall views. And the modern feminist material I’ve been reading has not been trying to “retain […] feminine privileges”. I don’t recall seeing anything saying it should be okay for a women to hit a man and the man not to defend themselves, for example… but I’d say that the man (assuming a situation where the man is stronger than the woman) needs to show proportionality too, and only defend themselves to the extent required to avoid further injury.

      Of course there will always be extreme viewpoints in any movement – so yes, I’m sure there are “feminist man-haters” who would have many opinions I’d vehemently disagree with… but the mainstream feminism I’ve observed is much more equality-based, including recognition of areas where the same cultural problems cause problems for men as well as women.

      A long time ago I read a book called “Failures of Feminism” which was interesting back then and which I’ll probably reread at some point, in light of my own thought changes.

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      1. I wouldn’t want you to change your overall views — for one thing, I generally agree with them, at least in qualitative terms. But you must be aware that while extremist views are often dismissed (in any movement), sometimes they become mainstreamed simply because those expressing them shout so much more loudly than those with moderate views, and are listened to by those in authority in the government and in journalism as well. The squeaky wheels get the grease.

        I want my daughter to be paid the same as her brother, if they both have the same job working at the same level. I want batterers to be jailed. I don’t want a woman scientist’s career held back simply because she’s female. But some parts of the culture are not conducive to certain changes that some feminists desire, and some of that is biology-based. And this needs to be recognized.

        Well, it’s your blog and I won’t clutter it up with more commentary. But thanks for engaging with me. You do good work, Jon Skeet!

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  6. Hi Jon, thank you for sharing your personal thoughts with us.

    I don’t really disagree with all your points, I can’t really agree with them either.

    I’d be interested to hear your opinion on these questions:

    “I believe many people suffer discrimination on multiple fronts (e.g. race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities)”

    How would you distinct discrimination and disability? If I’d lose my eye sight today, would I be disabled or would I be discriminated by the world because I can’t just walk into a restaurant and there is enough technology in place to fully compensate my lost of eye sight?

    My other question is that I sometimes struggle to understand what the ultimate goal of feminism is? Do we want to make women and men entirely the same? If I say that a man is stronger or more muscular or “better” in something than a woman I know it is politically incorrect – and I don’t say it. But I ask myself is our goal that one day when I will walk down a street I will no longer be able to distinguish who is which gender any more, because we have completely blurred all lines and pushed both genders to be as equal as possible?

    I also ask myself if this is really what either of us want. Do man really want to see a woman this way and do women really want to see a man this way? Maybe we do… I don’t know…

    I think I am a big supporter to create fairness but I am not sure if equality on all levels is really desired, achievable and really a better place to be. I would like to live in a fair world, where families are supported, criminals punished appropriately, people able to express their individualism, their thoughts, sexual direction and what not, but this is different than equality to me. I think we will always remain different between men and women, gaps here and there, etc. and I don’t see this being bad as long as the environment is fair to whoever wants to break out of a certain role.

    What is your thought on this?

    Thank you,

    Dustin

    Just like you, I change my opinions frequently and I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this!

    Like

    1. The “disability and discrimination” aspect is a matter of people treating others differently because of their disabilities, not the problems caused by the disabilities themselves. (There’s also the discrimination of not making appropriate facilities available to compensate where possible, but that’s different again…)

      In terms of feminism and “sameness” – no, absolutely not. I firmly believe there are innate differences between men and women, and they should be celebrated… but should still be treated equally. That doesn’t even mean necessarily treating people exactly the same way – just applying equal consideration. For example, when it comes to parental leave, men and women may have slightly different needs due to (say) breastfeeding… but equal consideration should be applied for both.

      What you’ve described as your “fair” world sounds like the “equal” world I’d like to see. Perhaps this is a matter of talking about treating people as being of equal value rather than being equal themselves?

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  7. I agree with all your points except for the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. I can’t imagine a system that diminishes that assumption without diminishing justice. Can you? How would it work? I really don’t think we can do any better than the status quo, at least from the perspective of the legal system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we can, by recognising the special situations which will always be one person’s word against another. Perhaps changing “beyond reasonable doubt” to “in the balance of probability” would help, for example. And yes, I’m sure that would lead to some miscarriages of justice – but the hope would be that it would prevent many of the miscarriages of justice which currently happen the other way.

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  8. “I believe that violence against women is significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and horribly stigmatized against victims.”

    Yes, but you can say the same about domestic violence against men.

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      1. I don’t know which is bigger. Fact is that violence against men is something we don’t hear about talked in public because it has much bigger stigma than violence against women.

        I completely agree that there are lot of gender related issues in our world, but still think that feminism is a wrong kind of ideology. Egalitarianism would be much better philosophy to associate oneself with.

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  9. Jon, not only did I personally find this post inspiring, we’re currently having one of our (optional) monthly company Inclusion chats about how to be an ally, and are using this post as the primary prompt for discussion around what we all took away from it. Just wanted to let you know that your efforts here are making a difference more broadly. Thanks as always for your leadership, which is apparently still expanding into whole new areas. Keep up the good work.

    Like

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