Thursday, September 17, 2015

Troubleshooting a Systemic X Nation

I am a programmer. In my eyes, what makes a programmer great is his [or her] ability to see all potentials from a given statement. For example, the ability to recognize that some readers might be offended that I stuck with the "patriarchal" use of "his" in my previous statement and thus I added the "or her." Some might still be offended that "his" came before "her" or that I merely put it in brackets. But I also recognize that I cannot please everyone simultaneously and I will simply have to let some sticklers remain unhappy. Still, this ability to see multiple perspectives enables a programmer to recognize the follies, foibles, and pitfalls of any one chunk of logical code. A good programmer can see the holes, the potentials for unexpected inputs, and the unintended interactions of multiple pieces of code. I am not particularly here to talk about code, of course, but this particular mindset is crucial in troubleshooting today's social problems. Unfortunately, such a skill makes for a fairly frustrating writing experience by recognizing all the holes, fallacies, potential misunderstandings, room for poor interpretation, and conclusions to be jumped. Perhaps this is good for solidifying an argument, but I personally find that I compensate by throwing too much in and making a scattered mess of a dissertation. No matter what I do, I am sure I will not be thorough enough which is absolutely frustrating as a programmer trying to program the understanding of each and every reader. But I digress.

Back to the topic at hand, the word "systemic" gets thrown around a lot these days and, to be honest, it irks the living crap out of me. Not that I am against the position of people who use it, but that I find it too broad a statement that is too easily misconstrued and not particularly specific enough to get the proper intent across. Systemic sexism and systemic racism are the main mantras and there is certainly truth to the complaints. While at the same time, there is also truth to the complaints regarding the complaints. I can see both sides of these issues and the way two differing parties interpret certain statements, actions, and data. Often, I believe the issues are mere communication gaps due to poor word choice. People think differently and thus a particular choice of words can offend one person and yet not another. Stating that women are objectified by men will get a, "Heck yeah, that crap needs to stop" from some men while leading to a, "What the hell? I don't do that, you jerk-faces!" from others.

The very proclamation of systemic sexism, to many men, immediately comes off as an accusation of mistreatment of women on their behalf. Some advocates of the cause truly believe that all men are indeed offenders if even by subconscious choices and their upbringing in a patriarchal society. This, of course, might be offensive to some who believe they are perfectly fair toward women. I believe such offense is also quite justified given the means by which it is often presented. Constantly telling people to check their "male privilege" for not understanding the plights of women is entirely offensive and very sexist. My stating that it is offensive and sexist, of course, leads many people to start complaining that a male-privileged person is complaining of unfairness which is ridiculous given their privilege. Such complaints by men are generally not geared toward garnering support for a woe is men group, but rather to oust hypocrisy in the group that is blaming and offending them. So the one group then continues to berate the offended party for being offended themselves and for being clueless of women's issues, while the other group then complains about the sexism and hypocrisy of such claims. Not a very good situation and, in my opinion, is a fault of people on both sides.

If we can find a way to express the plights of women without accusing men of being terrible and ruling women with an iron thumb and an intent to rape them every chance they get, we will probably have a lot more success in reaching solutions. Since I have explained the issue that many men (and even women, believe it or not) have with the feminist movement and their barrage of perceived attacks on men through their choice of words, allow me to attempt to explain one particular problem without such accusations.

Humans tend to be selfish jerks although many are kind and compassionate. Most of us are probably both at differing times. That said, those who lean more toward the selfish jerk spectrum will do whatever is in their power to get their selfish ways. It is an unfortunate fact that men, on average, are biologically geared toward being physically stronger than women. This puts women at an extreme disadvantage in defense and they have suffered this disadvantage over thousands of years. While women might very well be just as selfish as men (I actually don't know if this is true or not), they tend to lack the physical ability to get their way. Thus, it is quite often the case that women are mistreated by men and not the other way around. This is not at all to say (and I hope the feminists are listening) that there is a systemic problem with men. Some men use their biologically-given physical strength to do harm and others do not. This does not, of course (and I hope the anti-feminists are listening) remove the plight and fear from women. Men and women are probably built equally selfish but only the women truly have to worry about being raped. Sure, it happens to men as well, but I cannot remember the last time I feared being raped more than considering it a blessing if a women so desired to rape me. Women actually have to consider being raped when they go out in the same way we must consider applying sunscreen if we are pasty white and venturing into the great outdoors.

This fear of rape for women is real. It is a burden and they need to be taught how to keep themselves safe in this regard such as, well, I'll let The Daily Show's Jessica Williams cover the many things women must consider about halfway through this video: This, of course, is what most men are thinking when they mention what a woman was wearing when she was raped. Now, I am not at all advocating or presuming that what a woman wears truly has any effect on her likeliness of being raped. I have absolutely no idea if data supports this or not and I presume it does not. However, it is very easy to understand how someone might perceive this to be the case even if they are downright incorrect about it. So, mentioning that a woman was "asking for it" with the way she was dressed or anything similar is simply a very poorly-worded mantra explaining that they were not adequately preparing for the worst which is indeed advisable to do even if they should not have to. It is the same, in the eyes of these people, as saying you should have put on a jacket and gloves before making a snowman in order to prepare against frostbite. The only difference being that no one would blame the cold itself, of course, as if it made an immoral decision to cause frostbite.

Such statements, of course, are then met by feminists who are outraged that the blame is being shifted toward the woman. But no, that is terrible insinuation. While "she was asking for it" is a very stupid and calloused, unsympathetic, and usually self-righteous, anti-sexuality, religious way of putting it, this does not at all endorse rape or give a free pass to the rapist. "But so many rapists DO get a pass," I now hear the little voices saying within a well-learned programmer seeing from all angles of an issue. Yes, many do, but this is absolutely non-sequitur and is an entirely different problem which needs an entirely different discussion. Those who focus on clothes are not endorsing rape anymore than advocates of sunscreen are advocating for sunburns. This should be obvious when stated in this fashion, but again, many people think in many different ways. Words and sentences are only as good as the ears that are interpreting them (yes, yes, ears do not do any interpretation of their own) and so we need to be very methodical and thoughtful in how we present our arguments. It is very hard to do so, of course, but perhaps the mere recognizing of this fact can help us to ask more questions and accuse far less. Accusations will only close a mind and make it more stubborn in their foolish resolve to be right.

So yes, women worry about rape and a man can never truly understand what this worry is like on a daily basis. Even when I look around at all the women I know, I "male-privilegedly" might think, "boy, all the women I know don't worry about this! This is bogus!" Of course, I never asked any of them and they never told me, so I must be assuming that my random female coworkers would talk about their sexual fears with me if indeed they had them. A pretty foolish assumption if you ask me. Even if I did ask them, and even if they claimed to have no fears of rape, this does not mean that other women in other social situations and other cultural climates do not have this problem. My workplace is not every neighborhood, it is not the entire city, it is not the state, and it is not the country or world. My bubble counts for nothing. If women are telling us that they worry about this, then we should probably just believe them. They likely do. Whether or not it is a justified worry simply comes back to the fact that there are terrible people in the world and that men are naturally more "gifted" in their capacity to rape someone or generally take what they want. To get an idea of how women feel about rape, perhaps we could understand by walking around an impoverished neighborhood late at night looking rather wealthy and passing by a few groups of foul-mouthed cretins congregating on the sidewalks. Women naturally have the "goods" that men want and there is no telling which men are going to take them simply because they want them. Women cannot take their goods off like a rich person can when walking through poor people.

I have had people steal from me a few times for something as mundane as a Nintendo DS. People quite often take what they want if they know we have it. Women always have it and sexually depraved people always know it. It is also another unfortunate fact that men are hardwired to desire sex quite strongly. Most men want sex more than they want simply stealable items. As such, there are quite a few more potential candidates for rape than theft and I have personally been a victim of theft enough to consider and prepare for it. No, I am not arguing that theft is more common than rape, but that does not mean more people would not do it if they thought they could get away with it as easy as they could with stealing. There are far fewer opportunities. With theft, depending on the neighborhood, I might have to worry about locking my doors and buying household security systems. In some neighborhoods I might not. But with rape, try to imagine if your body were the very goods that half the population wanted, and in the right circumstances it will happen that someone will indeed take those goods. It is a rather scary proposition. Imagine if half the population were vampires who desired your blood. Most of the vampires could be good folk but there are certainly those who will take your blood just because they want it or have been deprived so long and you would similarly need to adjust your life around it. It is a rather scary potential.

The main point of all this is that we need to be aware of and empathetic to the woes of a woman. Similarly, women need to recognize that berating men or utilizing statements like "rape culture" or "systemic sexism" is not going garner as much support or empathy. It will close people off and make them more intolerant. It also leads to no solutions. Okay, so most men are jerks trying to rape women. Now what? Tell them to cut it out? Right, that will work. The only solution is either individual preparations of prevention or else informing men so they can help keep a lookout. We will certainly not stop people from being selfish and taking what they want. The best we can do is prevention in one way or another.

I have only covered rape at this point, which is merely a subset of the issues women face and does not at all cover the "systemic sexism" aspect of things. Women also face stereotypes of incapability, lesser intelligence, and due to this, I believe wage discrimination is also quite likely. I only say it is likely because I do not personally believe the data is conclusive at this point. I only know of one very-poorly done study and one other super small subset study. Perhaps there are more but I am not currently aware of them and thus I am ill-equipped to make a valid observation. I think it might still be likely, however, that women are paid less given my knowledge of history, but even if or when data comes in to support it there is still a lot more analysis necessary as to why it might be the case and it will still not help to simply state that men are terrible jerks for paying women less. Women getting paid less does not immediately equate to a systemic problem, although this perhaps depend on one's idea of what the "system" is. Again, word choice is crucial.

When I hear of a systemic problem, my brain immediately imagines systems of government and company functionality such as laws and people. Thus, it is saying to me that we have a bunch of laws, practices, or requirements, that unfairly hinder women. The word unfairly is key because it indicates that someone is to blame and they should be locked away for being a jerk-face. The system is, to some people, however, more or less the workings of life for a lack of a better way to put it. For example, there is systemic sexism in companies hauling heavy furniture because we can clearly see that men are hired more regularly than women. This could very easily be explained by the physiological differences between men and women. The job requires someone to be strong and capable of enduring many hours utilizing this strength. Sure, some woman can certainly do it, but there will certainly be fewer of them and fewer who even desire to do it in the first place. Thus, there is "systemic sexism" because the system of life is so designed as to prefer men over women for this particular job. But I will be quite quick to claim that this is not an injustice that needs correction. This concept of "systemic" has no concern for the reason of the discrepancy but only that it exists in the first place.

It is not the right thing, however, to push women into desiring to move furniture and it is not the right thing to regulate the company to ensure they are hiring some certain number of women just because this form of "systemic sexism" is present. This is quite simply not a problem--this is the way things are given biology and the unique desires and qualifications of men and women on average. The average man is more capable (obviously not all) and the average woman is not (also obviously not all). And while men are generally physically stronger, they are also generally more aggressive and less compassionate than women but to a far wider degree of variation. Women tend to be far more compassionate and thus tend to take on more selfless roles in their work choices. They are more likely to go into psychology or humanitarian positions. (FYI, such positions tend to pay less than the more male-dominated roles due to their lack of highly desired commodity to sell which helps to skew data toward perceiving a wage gap that may or may not truly exist when more comparable data is collected). This does not mean that such organizations are systemically sexist against men and that we need to start enforcing laws that they hire an equal share of men or even that we start pressuring more men into doing it. We can focus on ensuring that men know it is culturally acceptable if they so desire to be in such a position, but we should not pressure them any more than we ought to pressure anyone to be homosexual just because it should be culturally acceptable to be such and there are not an equal number of homosexuals to heterosexuals. Similarly, we should let women know that engineering is a perfectly acceptable and respectable thing for them to do, but I certainly do not believe that we should pressure them into it just to make the numbers look nicer. Nobody should be pressured into doing anything that they are not personally desirous of doing. Except maybe chores. Kids need to do chores.

So again, this concept of systemic sexism perceived simply because the data seems to indicate a leaning does not immediately mean there is a culprit who needs dealt with. It might just be a natural desire of men and women causing a perceived discrepancy and nothing more. It might be fair, and it might not be harmful in the slightest. Of course, there might also be very valid instances where it is indeed unfair and harmful. One such instance is revealed by blind auditions for a orchestras. Once the ability to know sex was removed and the choice came down to merely listening to the quality of the performance as it should, more women began being selected. So clearly there must have been some kind of discrepancy against women. Unless, of course, the study happened to be performed over a period of time where more women began applying and thus may have been selected anyway. Either way, it may require further examination to know the true cause when thinking from all angles, but the end result is to simply keep blind auditions. It makes sense and removes the potential for the problem. It may be good to research the real reasoning behind it in order to know how to combat other problems, but this one in particular is solved. We need not call out the patriarchy and accuse men of being jerks because of it. It does not help and indeed harms.

Many other discrepancies such as the hiring of African Americans or other minorities might also benefit from blind interviews and perhaps voice distortion. If we think there might be a problem with discrimination in hiring, then let's give it a shot and see what happens. I find this far more fair than simply ensuring that we hire a certain number of people from every race so as to appear as if we are not racist. That is certainly more harmful and quite racist to even consider and yet it is indeed done all the time. For all we know, we might find that we hire even fewer people of certain races because we are no longer fearing being called a racist by not hiring a particular minority. It could be that discrepancies of statistical race representations have nothing to do with racism and everything to do with a system that does not adequately train up qualified candidates within that race or perhaps that race as some kind of sub culture that makes them less desirous to apply to such positions. A lack of qualifications could be due to any number of reasons which may or may not come down to racism in an entirely different department. We have to be open minded, we have to come up with solutions and tests, and we have to stop simply pointing at data and claiming, "See?! It's a problem!"

We often point at arrests and note that African Americans are arrested at an alarmingly higher rate than white people. Well, when looking from all angles, we do not know if this is racism of the police by this statistic alone. Perhaps the racism is in teachers that do not adequately teach black students and thus they turn more to violence and crime. There are so many possibilities and yet we so often jump to the first available idea as to the culprit. It may come down to racism in the end, but simply saying, "The police are racist jerks," will not solve the problem even if it is true. If we suspect this to be the case then maybe there are other solutions. Clearly we cannot have the police running around blind all the time so that option is certainly out. Hopefully someone can come up with something far more ingenious, but an example might be having some kind of program to alternate police forces from vastly different regions who then might have an extremely different outlook on race relations. Perhaps it is not very practical, but it would be quite interesting to see what happens if you swap Ferguson's police force with a fairly diverse city elsewhere that does not appear to have the same discrepancy in arrests.

Would the Ferguson police force bring about that discrepancy and would the alternative police force bring down the discrepancy proving the fault in the police force themselves? Or would they remain consistent? Perhaps they would even be drastically different in that Ferguson's force would arrest more white people if they perceived the black population as being far less violent than Ferguson's and maybe the other force would arrest even more black people if they perceived them far more unruly than they are used to in their hometown. Such an experiment could be potentially eye-opening and quite useful. Maybe we would find things being far more fair simply by starting such a program because people would no longer become calloused against their particular city. Perhaps they get tired of going to the same neighborhood time and time again and thus become more likely to arrest, more likely to fine, and more likely to punish harder. Swapping out forces might remove that potential. Pointing at our police as the problem, however, and inducing anti-police propaganda is simply stupid, dangerous, irresponsible, and any other nasty adjective you'd like to add.

Let's look for solutions and stop pointing our fingers. Didn't anyone ever teach us that when we point our fingers we have three more pointing back at us?

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