Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Problem with Feminism

I'm going to say some things here that may be controversial.  Certainly that headline is.  But please, bear with me, and read this before you judge too harshly.

As another writer said, 2014 has been a terrible year for women in tech.  (Whether in the industry, or in gaming.)  Arguably, this is not a new thing, but rather events are reaching a head.  Women (some at any rate) are being more vocal, and awareness of women's issues is up.  On the face of it, this should be a good thing.

And yet, we have incredible conflict between women and men.  And this is at the heart of my problem with "Feminism".

The F-Word


Don't get me wrong.  I strongly believe that women should be treated fairly and with respect; in the professional place they should receive the same level of professional respect -- and compensation! -- as their male counterparts can expect.  I believe this passionately -- as a nerd, I prefer to judge people on the merits of their work, rather than on their race, creed, gender, or sexual preference.  A similar principle applies to gaming -- after all, how do you really know the gender of the player on the other side of the MMO?  Does it even matter?  When did gaming become a venue for channeling hate instead of fun?

The problem with "feminism" is that instead of repairing inequality and trying to bring men and women closer together, so much of it seems to be divisive.  The very word itself basically suggests a gender based conflict, and I think this, as well as much of the recent approach, is counterproductive.

Instead of calling attention to inequalities and improper behaviors (lets face it, nobody wants to deal with sexual harassment, discrimination, or some of the very much worse behavior that a few terribly bad actors are guilty of), we've become focused on gender bias and "fixing" gender bias as a goal in and of itself, rather than instead focusing on fair and equal treatment for all.

Every day I'm inundated with tweets and Facebook postings extolling the terrible plight of women at the expense of men.  Many of these posts seem intended to make me either angry at men, or ashamed of being one.  This basically drives a wedge between people, even unconsciously, to the point that it has become impossible to avoid being a soldier on one side or the other of this war.  And don't get me wrong, it has indeed degenerated to a total war.

I don't think this is what most feminists or their advocates really want.  (Though, I think it is what some of them want.  The side of feminism has its bad actors who thrive on conflict just as much as the other side has.  Extremism is gender and color and religion blind, as we've ample evidence of.)

I think one thing that advocates for women in tech can do, is to pick a different term, and a different way of stating their goals, and perhaps a different approach.  I think we've reached the critical mass necessary for awareness, so the constant tweets about how terrible it is to be a woman are no longer helpful.

I'm not sure what "term" should replace feminism -- in the workplace I'd suggest "professionalism".  After all everyone wants to be treated professionally, not just women.  (Btw, I'd say that in the gaming community, the value should be "sportsmanship".  Sadly some will see that word is gender biased, but I don't ascribe to the notion that we have to completely change our language in order to be more politically correct.  You know what I mean.)

Likewise, instead of dog piling on the one person (as I'm sure will happen in response to this post) on someone who doesn't immediately appear to support the feminist agenda, perhaps a little more tolerance, and education should be used in the approach.  Focus should, IMO, be on public praise for the parties who are working to make conditions better.

Educate instead of punish.  Make allies instead of enemies.

Salary Gap


The salary gap issue that was raised recently by Microsoft is another case in point.

I don't agree with Satya Nadella's comments saying that women should not ask for raises, but I think many women are nearly as likely to get a raise upon requesting one as a man of similar accomplishments.  (Yes, it would be better if this statement could have been said without "nearly".)   Far too few women feel comfortable asking for a merit based raise in the first place -- that is something that should change. But using race or gender as a bias to demand pay increases is a recipe for further division.  Indeed, men may begin to wonder if women are being compensated unfairly because they are women, but in the reverse direction. 

Likewise, bringing up discrimination in a salary discussion puts the other party on the defensive.  It presumes to imply prior wrong-doing.  This may be the case, but it may well not be.  After all, I've known many men that were under compensated simply because they sold themselves short, or were not comfortable asking for more money.   Why look for a fight when there isn't one?  (I suspect this is what Satya was really trying to get at.)

None of this helps the cause of "professionalism", and probably not the cause of "feminism".

Average tech salary figures are easily obtainable.  If a worker, man or woman, feels under compensated -- for any reason -- then they should take it to his employer and ask for a correction.  But to presume that the reason is gender, starts the conversation from a point of conflict.

Far far better is to demand far pay based on work performance and merit, relative to industry norms as appropriate.   If an employer won't compensate fairly, just leave.  There is no shortage of tech jobs in the industry.  If you're a woman, maybe look for jobs at companies that employ (and successfully retain) women.  Ask the people who work at a prospective employer about conditions, etc.  That's true for minorities too!  Ultimately, an employer who discriminates will find itself at a severe competitive advantage, as both the discriminated-against parties, and their allies refuse to do business with them.

An employer is not obligated to pay you "more" because of your gender.  But they must also not pay you less because of gender.  And yet every company will generally try to pay as little as they think they can get away with.  So don't let them -- but keep discrimination out of the conversation unless there is really compelling proof of wrong doing.  (And if there is such evidence, I'd recommend looking elsewhere, and possibly explore stronger legal measures.)

And yes, I strongly strongly believe that most men feel as I do.  They support the notion that everyone should be treated equally and professionally, and would like to stamp out sexism in the workplace, but many of us are starting to show symptoms of battle fatigue, and even more of us just don't want to be involved in a conflict at all.   Frankly, I think a lot of us are annoyed at feminist attempts to draw us into the conflict, even though we do support many of the stated goals of equal pay, fair treatment, etc. etc.

Closing Thoughts

As for me, I support the plight of women who find themselves discriminated against based on their gender, and I would like to see more women in my industry.  And I've put my money where my mouth is. 

But at the same time, you won't find me supporting "feminism".  I want to heal the rift, and work with awesome people -- and I happen to believe at least half of the awesome people in the world are of a different gender than I am.  Why would I want to alienate them?

I happen to believe that many well meaning people of many causes damage their cause by basically forcing people to deal with their "diversity" first, instead of of being able to deal with people as people on their own merit.  Its so much harder to appreciate a person on her own merits, when at least half of what she is saying is that she's unfairly treated because of gender, race, sexual preference, etc.  This true for everyone.  Show me how you're excellent, and I promise to appreciate you for your awesomeness, and to treat you fairly and with the same respect I would for anyone of my own gender/race/sexual preference.

You are awesome because of your accomplishments/innovations/contributions, not because of your gender or race or sexual preference.

But, if you won't let me look past your race/gender/etc. identity, then please don't be offended if I don't see anything else.  If you want to be treated like a "person", then let me see the person instead of just some classification in an equal opportunity survey.

3 comments:

Lorena said...

I appreciate the respectful note of your argument, but i have got to say i disagree. You may call it whatever you want to, but here is why i think it is important to use the term "feminism"
“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Lorena said...

“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Garrett D'Amore said...

Lorena, all I can say is that I disagree. I've been on try receiving end of the ire and wrath of people who call themselves feminists. This approach tends to make want to avoid these circles. It's hard to be an ally to people who are doing everything to alienate you and ascribe to you crimes because of your gender or race - even when you want nothing more than true equality.