Monday, January 15, 2018

Echidne Thoughts on Arrogance, Online Fights And Taking Saunas

1.  My new year's resolution is to become more arrogant.  You know, like most writers out there.

2.  There are very good reasons why I would be a terrible feminist activist and why my activism is largely based on analysis and writing.  I derive zero enjoyment from watching or from participating in  the never-ending battles* about how to do feminism right.  In fact, they frighten me, because I'm a wimpy goddess.

I also believe that clarity is not what comes out of those online fights, but mostly just a lot of name-calling.  Even when the name-calling is deserved, it will not result in the kinds of changes the callers want to see, because humans don't work that way.

Whether analysis produces any more clarity can naturally be debated, but I'm more comfortable with it, even knowing that no analysis can ever be completely neutral and that all analysis is moored to the particulars of the experiences and position of the analyst.   But at least it uses more than a few hundred characters and, ideally, links to sources and, also, ideally, develops each strand of arguments in greater detail. 

Says she, arrogantly.

3.  This New York Times article summarizes many recent papers about the way women fare in the economics profession.  I have not read the original papers, but I did write about the economics jobs site which teems with woman-hating comments.  If you are a young woman entering the occupation**, you will not feel particularly welcomed by many voices on that site.  Then all you can do is hope that your future work colleagues don't hold those same beliefs!

This might be the place for one of my hilarious (?) economist stories.

When I was a student, I won a three-year doctoral scholarship from a private foundation in Finland.  Two men were also awarded one-year scholarships by the same foundation.  There was to be a celebration dinner for the awarding of the scholarships, and because I hadn't yet received the scholarship money and was broke,  I had to borrow both the money for the trip+hotel room and the dress I was going to wear at this festive occasion.  But I was so excited!  And happy!

The celebration dinner went as such dinners usually go.  When we were having the dessert course, the organizer told us that the program for the rest of the evening was a communal sauna!!!

I have to stop here for a moment and tell you that whatever you may have read about the Nordics and their penchant for naked saunas and group sex, communal saunas are not coed between strangers.***   On the other hand, people do usually go to the sauna naked.

So I hear this announcement and look around me and, for the first time, realize that I am the only woman present.  The Echidne-brain went into an overdrive:

(How am I going to cope with this?  There's no way I can take a sauna with all these guys naked.  Why is the organizer doing this to me?  Was he just oblivious?  His face looks like that, stunned, as if he is seeing me for the first time.  But is that the real reason or is he trying to signal me that I'm not that welcome?  Or what? 

Now he proposes that I go first, all on my own, while the guys have beers and network with each other.  But then I have to wait, all on my own, while the guys have a sauna together and network with each other, because  I'm sharing a cab with one of the other scholarship winners to the hotel and I don't have enough money to get one on my own or know anything about the buses and it's late at night.)

I ended up suggesting that I skip the sauna (so that nobody needs to wait for little me!).  The organizer proposed a nearby bar for a nice place for me to wait.  It was the kind of bar where women on their own are viewed as part of the menu.  But I survived.

Was that a hilarious story or what?  A nothingburger?  I'm not sure how I then viewed it, to be honest, but it taught me an important lesson:  My road forward would be bumpier than the roads of the other two scholarship winners, even if I did everything right.  


*  This doesn't mean that the debates wouldn't be about important questions, only that the format of the online debates is almost the exact reverse of what would be required for some progress to come from them.

By "required" I mean putting lots of people into one room for a long period of time, demanding that they listen to all opinions with the willingness to withhold initial judgement and so on, to allow for several rounds of clarifications and questions.

The online format tends to make people more entrenched in their initial emotional stances, perhaps, because it is so very good at the short quips category which rewards anyone able to pull emotional strings of all kinds, from anger to fear and more and because it rewards piling on without it seeming to be piling on.  I also suspect that for some participants the others on the net don't come across as real humans with feelings.

For an example of what I mean, though not a full-blown example, have a look at the comments to this article on Jezebel.  The comments thread does contain a lot of nuance and information which is important for truly interpreting the topic of the article, but reading through it also gives us a large sample of comments about ageism in both directions and of the hurt or anger of people who have been assigned certain beliefs largely because of their age. (Though the article doesn't directly refer to age but to the second wave of feminism, women who were part of the second wave are now considerably older than, say Katie Roiphe.  Even Daphne Merkin might be too young to have been part of the second wave proper.).

**  And even more so if you are a woman belonging to a racial or ethnic or sexual minority, because that site is rife with all kinds of bigotry.

***  Neither are they for sex.  It's far too hot.