Sunday, September 24, 2017

Too Much Push For Gender Equality In Tech? The MRAs Speak.

I cannot decide if today's New York Times article "Push for Gender Equality  in Tech? Some Men Say It's Gone Too Far" is to be taken seriously or if it's a very deep type of sarcasm.  The latter interpretation is supported by the way the author, Nelly Bowles, begins the article:

Silicon Valley has for years accommodated a fringe element of men who say women are ruining the tech world.

Now, as the nation’s technology capital — long identified as one of the more hostile work environments for women — reels from a series of high-profile sexual harassment and discrimination scandals, these conversations are gaining broader traction.

One of those who said there had been a change is James Altizer, an engineer at the chip maker Nvidia. Mr. Altizer, 52, said he had realized a few years ago that feminists in Silicon Valley had formed a cabal whose goal was to subjugate men. At the time, he said, he was one of the few with that view.

Now Mr. Altizer said he was less alone. “There’s quite a few people going through that in Silicon Valley right now,” he said. “It’s exploding. It’s mostly young men, younger than me.”

Emphasis is mine.  We move swiftly from the concept of a push for more gender equality in tech to quoting one man who believes that such a push is but the first step in the planned feminist subjugation of men!  Because there's no country on earth where men are subjugated to women (though plenty of examples of the reverse relationship exist), I decided that the article was sarcasm.

That it quotes Paul Elam and Warren Farrell, two famous Men's Rights Activists who believe that men are the truly oppressed sex, made me even more convinced that the author is having us on.

After all,  this is Paul Elam, one of the experts quoted in the article:

A Voice for Men’s founder, Paul Elam, who is a friend and protégé of Farrell’s, has justified violence against women and written that some of them “walk through life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH—PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.” 

And Warren Farrell's contribution to today's New York Times article is to suggest that tech jobs are men's safe  spaces (not well-paid jobs?) against the cruel world:

Silicon Valley has always been a men’s space, others said. Warren Farrell, who lives in Marin, Calif., and whose 1993 book, “The Myth of Male Power,” birthed the modern men’s rights movement, said, “The less safe the environment is for men, the more they will seek little pods of safety like the tech world.”
The author also tells us, poker-faced, that because there's a push to get more women into tech, one rational (?) response by those men who don't like that is total male separatism:

One radical fringe that is growing is Mgtow, which stands for Men Going Their Own Way and pronounced MIG-tow. Mgtow aims for total male separatism, including forgoing children, avoiding marriage and limiting involvement with women. Its message boards are brimming with activity from Silicon Valley, Mr. Altizer said.

And finally, there's this quote, from the lawyer of two men who have sued Yahoo for sex discrimination:

“When you’re on a mission from God to set the world straight, it’s easy to go too far,” Mr. Parsons said. “There was no control over women hiring women.”
He said that his clients, Greg Anderson and Scott Ard, had faced gender discrimination in Yahoo’s media teams and that other teams like cars were headed by women, which to Mr. Parsons was a sign of problems.
“No eyebrows are going to rise if a woman heads up fashion,” Mr. Parsons said. “But we’re talking about women staffing positions — things like autos — where it cannot be explained other than manipulation.”
Mr. Parsons is quoted in an article about the backlash created by the push to get more women into tech, and he makes a statement which consists of statistical discrimination:  The assumption that because women, on average, are less interested in and knowledgeable of cars, no woman can have that interest or knowledge.  So.

Surely this is satire?

But then I re-read the whole piece and started wondering if the article is, after all, intended to be taken seriously, even if most of those interviewed come across as radical extremist meninists?   This quote suggest something of the sort:

Though studies and surveys show there is no denying the travails women face in the male-dominated industry, some said that the line for what counted as harassment had become too easy to cross and that the push for gender parity was too extreme a goal.

The last line in that quote is probably a reference to the missive Mr. James Damore wrote while I was blissfully unaware of it and on holiday.  The missive, on the topic of the biological unsuitability of women to the field of tech, got Mr. Damore fired from Google*, but he is still active on the topic of us little ladies, a hero of the manosphere, and is also mentioned in today's article:

This turn in the gender conversation is good news for Mr. Damore. “The emperor is naked,” he said in an interview. “Since someone said it, now it’s become sort of acceptable.”
He added, “The whole idea that diversity improves workplace output, it’s not scientifically decided that that’s true.”
Actually, there's at least one study which found a positive relationship between diversity and output.  But never mind.  Damore's interpretations of the science of innate sex differences was taken seriously by such luminaries as David Brooks and Ross Douthat, both of the New York Times, and also by two start-up investors: 
Paul Graham, who founded an influential start-up incubator, Y Combinator, posted two articles about how the science behind Mr. Damore’s memo was accurate. Another start-up investor, John Durant, wrote that “Charles Darwin himself would be fired from Google for his views on the sexes.”
Here's one take of Darwin's views on the sexes, by the way:

Darwin built the prejudices of Victorian gentlemen into his account of the evolution of the sexes. He wrote that man reaches “a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands,” and he looked to the struggle for mates and the struggle for survival to explain why. He also noted that some of the faculties that are strongest in women “are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.” 

Thought you might like to know.  The lesson I take from Charles Darwin here is that we humans are inextricably molded by our cultures, that ignoring those cultures completely while staking everything on biological explanations just might lead us astray.

I believe that Mr. Damore was led astray in a similar manner**, though he also had many more recent (and not so recent) studies and pseudo-studies from which to pick and choose (and also to ignore, if he so chose), given the way evolutionary psychology has sprouted since Darwin's days.

The focus on biology as the explanation why tech might always remain a mostly male space leaps right over many more proximate causes. This tweet thread by Katey Alatalo, an astronomer, in response to the Bowles' article,  gives several examples of those.  It also exemplifies the possible effects of stereotype threats on women interested in a STEM career***. 

So what IS the intended message of Bowles' New York Times article?  I'm still not sure, partly, because the article gives us no data on how common any possible mistreatment of men in tech might be, partly, because of the use of experts such as Paul Elam and Warren Farrell and the whole MRA flavor of the story, but mostly, because we get no information about the number of those men who think that we already have far too much gender equality in tech.

For the sake of my own emotional well-being, I have decided to regard the article as sarcasm.  YMMV.


*  Ideally, he should not have been fired, but subjected to intense (and public) debates of the kind where he would have had to dig up every single reference to every single study he quotes, and where others would similarly have dug up every single study he ignores.  I hope to show in a later post (or, optimally, in a paid article!) why Mr. Demore would have changed his mind in that debate.

That option must be weighed against the fact that any such public debate will come across as questioning the competence of women in the tech industry.  It's not fun to participate in or follow a general debate about  whether one is worthy or not.

It's demoralizing.  It's also something that traditionally mostly only women and/or minorities have had to endure, and usually in an arena where those on the other side of the debate expect that all participants remain equally calm, clear and focused, despite the enormous differences in what's at stake.  —  Google made the choice to avoid those significant psychological costs. 

**  See above reference to a future post or article.  After a quick read of the Demore missive, I can already guess how he found his studies and which websites he may have frequented.  I can also see which studies he appears to have missed or ignored.

***  I wonder what the effect of this New York Times article might be in that respect.  It doesn't make tech sound a terribly welcoming place to female geeks.