Friday, June 30, 2017

Taking down a bad argument about the gender pay gap



“If the gender pay gap was real, why wouldn’t companies just hire women instead of men? They’d save a fortune!” 

This is a line I hear a lot from MRA and “devil’s advocates” types, when cornered with hard data showing the disparity in pay between male and female employees performing the same job. It’s not logical, their argument goes, that companies would spend more to keep men on than women, therefore companies can't be paying men more than women - and so the data must be wrong.

The data is not wrong, but their logic is deeply flawed. It doesn’t take into account three significant factors – sexist perceptions of competence, availability of female candidates, and the fact that this is actually happening in some fields. 

No matter how greedy a company, if they believe men can get the job done and women can’t, they’re going to keep hiring men as long as they need the job done. And the fact is, there are many people – men and women – who have internalized this kind of thinking. 

To be clear, that’s not to say that everyone who correlates competency with a specific gender is necessarily doing so deliberately or out of sexist motives. I know that is not the case. The fact is that kids in the United States are raised, from infancy on, to think that boys grow up to be scientists, engineers, soldiers and badasses; and women grow up to be mom, Barbie and/or a princess. That’s bound to wear off, and it doesn’t mean someone who has unconsciously internalized that nonsense is “bad” for doing so. Indeed, it’s impossible not to internalize it without recognizing and consciously fighting it. 

Understanding where such thinking springs from doesn’t negate its existence, though. And unfortunately there are many professions out there that are still associated largely or entirely with masculinity.

Speaking personally, I’ve worked in IT for almost a decade now. Nine times out of ten, unless I specifically list my job duties, it’s assumed that I’m in a support role when I mention that fact. I’m a programmer with extensive voice engineer experience. I can write code in most modern programming languages, I can build websites and applications, I can work with SQL and Oracle databases, I can build ICM scripts and CVP applications, and I’ve developed tools that serve thousands of people; but people don’t assume these technical proficiencies when they hear I’m in IT. They assume I document what the programmers write, or work in a help desk setting. (This almost never happens to my male friends – and to those it does, it’s usually those deemed less traditionally “masculine”; on the other hand, I've often heard this complaint from my female friends in IT). Again, that doesn’t mean the folks making that assumption are being jerks when they do it; it’s just something ingrained in many people that women in IT support what men build. Men develop, women help; men build, women support. 

I’m happy to help dispel these misconceptions, but I am also realistic – it’s going to take awhile before this nonsense dies the death it deserves. And in that interim, this thinking will continue to impact the IT world.

But there’s a second point, closely related to this one. Even if people weren’t going to make assumptions of competency based on gender, in some fields there just aren’t enough female applicants to displace the male ones. Again, IT is a good example of this. I can’t count the times I’ve been the only woman in a meeting of IT professionals, or, back when I was in school, the only woman in class. Even if all hiring managers were smart enough (many of them are, many are not) to figure out that we women are just as competent as our male peers, there wouldn’t be enough women available to replace men in some fields. (Again, not to get swept up in tangents, but I would argue that this goes back to the first point – too many girls internalize the cheerleader/genius female/male dichotomy society presents to pursue those career options, and too many men internalize it and are in turn hostile to women encroaching on what they believe to be “their” spaces). 

Finally, and perhaps most damaging to their case, when the first two conditions I mention are satisfied (women are considered competent enough for the field, and there are sufficient numbers of female applicants) this is literally already happening. Look at “female dominated fields” like teaching and nursing. Consider that, now that women are considered competent enough to participate in these fields, we consistently see two things happening. First, we see pay and benefits evaporating. Second, we often see the institution itself attacked – to take teaching as example, educators are constantly belittled in modern discourse, and the field treated as if it's nothing more than glorified babysitting. It’s more than a coincidence that a respectable career path that used to pay a good living complete with solid benefits, is denigrated and subjected to ever increasing cuts by (largely male) politicians and administrators as soon as women dominate the field. It is literally what the MRA’s suggest isn’t happening, in action. Women are paid and valued less -- and when women outnumber men in the field, the field itself is assumed to require less competency, less talent, less brainpower and less work than when men dominated the field.

The fact is, the pay gap is real. It is harmful to women. It’s harmful to families. It’s harmful to society at large, and individually to men as well – both because it drives down the wages of their spouses and daughters, but also because it impacts entire fields of work. And it’s only going to get worse, for both men and women, as women continue to work – unless we stop trying to look for reasons to ignore the problem, deny the problem, and blame women for the problem, and just fix the damned problem.

Image Source: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/equal-pay/families#top

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Women are not Soul-Imperiling, Walking-Vaginas-of-Temptation -- and it's not cute to pretend we are



The fact that Pence won't sit across from a woman he's not married to is creepy as fuck. It's also indicative of a real issue for women in some areas of professional life -- where women aren't welcome to be "part of the club" because men don't want them there. Sometimes out of unfamiliarity and a garden variety misogyny, and sometimes because the man is apparently so twisted and disturbed he can't be a professional, he can't *share a table with a woman*, without being a creeper. Think of the impact this would have on a career, if a coworker - or supervisor - won't associate with you because of your gender. Won't mentor you, won't learn your strengths, won't help you overcome weaknesses, like he would a male coworker-- because you're female.

If Pence, as a supervisor, will not be around his female employees, he will not get to know their strengths and weaknesses like he will their male peers.
Believe it or not...When you treat your female colleagues and employees like soul imperiling, walking vaginas of temptation, you thwart their professional lives.

Of course, these same people will be the first to swear there's no barriers to women's progress in the professional world (as they vote against equal pay, and reproductive rights, and...), but I digress...

So this isn't something old fashioned and harmless, because it isn't personal; it's a deliberate choice to treat women differently than men, in a professional capacity. Choosing not to drink around other people? That's personal, because it has no impact on anyone but him. But pursuing a professional life and choosing not to associate with women? That's injecting some (very warped) hangups into your professional life -- and the professional lives of those around you. Pence is a professional, and in a professional capacity this idea that one-on-one time with a woman is corrupting and dangerous has the potential for extremely negative effects on the careers of his female colleagues -- much less subordinates.

Of course, since this gross misogyny comes from Christianity (and a white man at that), it's socially acceptable. (The same conservatives who screech about Sharia law, who feign a fear for the safety and dignity of women as a justification to leave Muslim refugee kids to die, will have no problem with this. Again, I digress...) Tools like Matt Walsh are rushing to his defense, saying that he's just "protecting" his marriage. Because, you know, the female is a dangerous, corrupting vagina of temptation, and exposure to her presence will surely lead a pious Christian man to Satan's embrace.

The fact of the matter is, though, that such regressive ideas about women are harmful. It's demeaning to men, who are assumed to be so incapable of professionalism and decency that they can't share a table with a woman without jumping into bed with her (presumably, she's willing; always; because who, after all, could resist the charms of Mike Pence?). And it's deeply demeaning and damaging to women, who are not only put in the role of eternal temptress and seductress, but whose careers will necessarily suffer from being relegated to this role. These backwards, misogynistic ideas have no place in a decent society -- much less in the top tiers of government.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Milo Yiannopoulos's supporters have no deniability

So, Republican Man, you celebrated Milo when he claimed sexual harassment victims were
making a big deal about nothing, that women should just suck it up and move on, and that those women who complained about having their breasts grabbed by strangers were just boasting about how attractive and sexually interesting they were. You cheered as he said campus rape didn't happen -- and that the young women who had been raped were liars. You laughed along when he degraded your sisters, your mother, your friends, your relatives who stood up for their rights. You cheered him on as he harassed strangers with utter vitriol, when he'd sic a troll army on random people who dared to disagree with him. You celebrated when he trivialized or outright denied all the issues that impact Americans who aren't straight, white, male and conservative.

You shared his rants, promoted him, you helped make him a "somebody". Because he despised women the way you do, but would come out and say it -- like you wouldn't dare. Because you thought his anti-LGBT comments gave you cover for your own homophobia and transphobia. Because you didn't mind, and maybe even deep down shared, his "edgy" (read: racist and anti-Semitic) takes on race, on anti-Semitism, etc.

And when you were called on it, you hid behind "lolz" and "making librul heads explode". That's what you loved most about Milo: he gave a voice to the hatred you harbor for women, for LGBT people, etc, and you were only too happy to amplify it. And you imagined it came with some kind of deniability.

Now you want to pretend you're aghast that he condones rape of 13 year old boys. A man who laughed about and denies rape. Who degraded women for protesting sexual assault. Who has shown nothing but contempt for victims.

Maybe you thought those attitudes only applied to women and girls. Maybe if he'd stuck to condoning and denying rape of women you'd be ok. Now you're surprised.

Sorry, guy who used to love Milo; but there's no deniability here. You promoted a man who mocked, trivialized and denied sexual abuse. You celebrated a man who crossed just about every boundary of decency, and now you're wringing your hands, saying, "but how??"

There's a reason decent people were appalled by him. And the fact that you weren't, well, that reflects on you. The rest of us knew what Milo was. You need to take a long, hard look inward and figure out why you didn't. Because, frankly, I'm less worried about a single monster than I am his legion of fans and rape apologists.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stop slut shaming Melania Trump

There are a few images making the rounds on social media, juxtaposing an image from a nude modeling shoot of Melania Trump beside various First Ladies. The First Ladies pictured vary by meme, but they're always clothed; it is meant to convey the dignity of these other women, in contrast to Melania Trump, because they're clothed and she's not. This is straight up slut shaming, using a woman's sexuality and body as a weapon against her.

And this is being shared by liberals and so-called progressives.

This is not acceptable, people. There are plenty of reasons to dislike and oppose Trump. There are hundreds of legitimate criticisms of Trump. And not one of them involves how or why his wife took her clothes off.

Yes, it's legitimate to call out the hypocrisy of the Right, in slut shaming First Lady Michelle Obama for baring her arms while having no qualms about Melania's modeling. Yes, it's legitimate to call out the hypocrisy of the Christian conservatives, whose power is largely derived from promoting sexual "values" that shame and limit women while celebrating a family that embodies the reverse of those values. It's absolutely fair to call out the hypocrisy, because the focus is on trying to force us, by the letter of the law and the full brunt of social pressure, to live by their religious teachings as they flout them. But Melania Trump isn't that person; she's not and never has been a crusader against nudity, or a "family values" champion, or a religious crusader. (Even if she were, while it would be absolutely acceptable to point out the hypocrisy, it would not be acceptable to slut shame.) What she chooses to do with her body is her business, and she does not deserve to be dragged through the mud for it simply because we don't like her husband.

That is not progressive. Frankly, it's no better than what they do. Please knock it off.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Yes, we can -- and should -- reach more of the working class (and the country at large)

I read an interesting article from The Daily Beast awhile back, suggesting more or less that the white working class voter -- the kind that votes Republican, anyway -- is basically a tribal racist who votes on us-versus-them biases rather than economic issues, and liberals should stop "pandering" to his whims. The economy really isn't the issue; it's the focus on the "other".

That voter certainly exists. I've met that voter; I'm sure you have too. No matter what the problem, fewer Mexican immigrants, closed borders, and stay at home moms would solve it. Oh, plus prayer. Always prayer.

The thing about that voter is, though, that he's often not actually a poor or lower middle class working man. He's the upper middle class business owner with a Trump sticker on the back of his pristine truck. He's the guy who doesn't actually have financial worries; he's the guy who pays his workers as little as possible while railing about illegal immigrants. He's the guy who pretends he cares for the working man, as he works hard to shaft him.

But the working man? The eight-to-five "lunch pail" carrying guy described in the article? You better believe the economy features into his worries (and he may wear a blue collar, but his worries are not that different from his struggling white collar colleagues). When you live paycheck to paycheck, you can't help it. When you can't afford the medical care, or car repairs, you need to get back to your job, the economy matters. When you know you will never be able to send your kids to college, when you see your jobs being shipped overseas, the economy matters.

Now, that's not to say the working man can't hold biases. It's not to say that plenty of Working Joe's don't hate immigrants, or hold onto bigoted ideas. We all know that voter too. But the thing is, in many cases, those views are directly tied to the economy. The Working Man may hate immigrants, but the Working Man is told 24-7 by conservative media and the Big Business Party that those immigrants are the reason for his low wages. He's told 24-7 that the reason his boss can treat him like dog shit is because of all the unskilled and illegal labor Big Government is letting into the country.So let's be absolutely clear: while the Working Joe can be wrong, and can be bigoted, both are tied closely to the economy.

The liberal solution to this is often to help alleviate the pain of the Working Man. Labor Unions are the primary and most effective means of accomplishing that (which is, of course, why conservatives have made them Enemy Number One). Now, plenty of working people hate unions. Of course. Sometimes it's a bad experience with a particular rep, sometimes it's the idea of paying dues when your job is  just fine at the moment (usually, and not coincidentally, "at the moment" is when you have a strong union). It can be hard to convince people that union dues are like buying insurance – only this is insurance against being treated like dirt at work. That's for two reasons – because conservatives have waged a full scale propaganda war against unions. And the other? The economy. Penny wise and pound foolish is not a great budgeting strategy, but when you're dealing with more pennies than pounds, it's sure as hell tempting.

The other way liberals try to alleviate the suffering of the working class is through assistance – be it the safety net or education resources. This, too, is the recipient of conservative hatred, and a focus of rampant propaganda. Which brings us to another aspect of the Working Joe. Joe may or may not oppose the safety net, but if he does, his motivation is usually economically driven at least in part. He's thinking of how hard he works, how much his family struggles, and hearing that he's working for people who don't work.

He may well be guilty of lazy thinking. His objection, whether he is aware or not,  may be tied to racist Reagan-esque fears of the black “welfare queen.” He may well be a complete hypocrite, who benefits from every program under he sun while complaining about moochers stealing his tax dollars. We all know some combination of the above. But usually, there is an economic factor at play; and often, it's the primary one.

There's only so much liberals can do alleviate this problem. Correcting the Right’s rampant misinformation and promoting the positives of (I can't believe I have to say this) not leaving our countrymen to starve in the hedgerows is of course helpful. While again we run into the dilemma of spending pennies to save pounds in providing a safety net that will protect us all, decent people do not need to personally benefit to acknowledge that preventing starvation is a good thing. And the average Working Joe, blue collar or white, is a decent person. This is precisely why conservatives work so hard to convince him that the people on food stamps are spending his tax dollars on lobster, etc. The working guy, even though he's pinching pennies to get by, won't let his neighbor starve – unless you can convince him that his neighbor doesn't actually need the help after all, and is just using his hard earned money to live it up. Countering the dedicated propaganda of the Fox, et al, sphere isn't easy. But assuming that the working person is just a selfish, unreachable  asshole doesn't fix this either.

What will? Two things. First, realizing that there is a tremendous difference between the real moochers, those of the one percent, and working people. Everyone talks a good game about wanting to earn what they've got. The one percent say this, while writing the rules and stacking the system to give them as much as possible. Federal land? Check. Huge tax breaks and refunds? Check. Subsidies, low interest loans and every kind incentive under the sun? Of course.

That’s a vastly different outlook from the rest of the country, though. The rest of us work hard, just to get by; we’re not looking to game the system. We just want to be able to pay our bills, live a little, and have a decent future. So if your solution to income inequality is to promise free education and free healthcare (looking at you, Bernie…), you may think you're targeting the working class. But the working man doesn't want free education and healthcare, because he understands that he's still paying for it – through the government rather than out of his own pocket. The working man doesn't want Uncle Sam to fix the fact that he's living in poverty by paying for his kids’ education. The working man wants to be able to pay for it himself. 

Which brings me to the second point: expanding our focus. Unions are vital. The safety net is vital. Education is vital, and so is ensuring access for those who can't afford it. Ditto on healthcare.

But you know what else is vital? Jobs. Good jobs that pay a living wage. Strong labor laws without jobs is only half the battle. Keeping manufacturing here, making sure we have plenty of solid union jobs, and that we're not rewarding those companies that ship jobs overseas to exploit foreign workers, is both a political and moral imperative. We should not be turning a blind eye to billion dollar companies that treat workers on the other side of the world so badly that they need to keep suicide nets outside the windows to stop mass deaths (looking at you, Apple…). We should not be turning a blind eye as corporations that rely on American markets would rather treat people like slaves than employ American workers for a decent wage.

And then there's the tax burden, and the corporations and wealthy who get to avoid their taxes while the middle class pays and pays. Can you blame the working man, whether he wears a hard hat or a tie clip, for being skeptical of a free education promise in a country where he pays his taxes on 45K a year, but  GE doesn't?

We don't need to pander to anyone. That's what conservatives have been doing for decades – playing lip service to individualism, religious preferences, etc. Their promises are empty, and the results are decades of increasing failure. (It's worth noting that someone who acknowledged the economic difficulties facing many Americans [while offering a plethora of empty, albeit different, promises himself]  handily beat all the Republicans who stuck to their standard lines of pandering this election). We need to actively, aggressively pursue fixes to a system that perpetuates economic inequalities. Even if that means crossing moneyed interests; and not with vague, pie in the sky promises. We need real, solid solutions. We may not always win.The Republicans will fight tooth and nail to protect their interests at the expense of the rest of us. We may never win back all or even most of any given target, and that includes Republican voting working class people. (Although I would argue that Trump’s success indicates the opposite – that people are so  desperate they'll  even settle for  vain promises to address their concerns). But there are better reasons than votes to try: it's the right thing to do. Demonstrating the hollowness of conservative trickle down, big business-coddling rhetoric will transform our nation, improving the lives of all Americans.

So, by all means, don't pander. But don't hate the people the Democratic message has failed to reach. Let's actually fix this mess instead. I suspect you'll be amazed how many of those unreachable people will suddenly become reachable when they have good, secure jobs.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A giant conservative "safe space": the conservative vision of America, as it should be

Conservatives like to ridicule those liberals who ask for safe spaces or caution about "triggering" people, but the fact of the matter is, conservatives themselves treat
#triggered
America as if it is their own personal "safe space" -- and demand that Americans refrain from triggering them, or else.

And it's not enough to insist on a nation-wide safe space that caters to their every whim. They demand the right to react in whatever over-the-top fashion they choose to if they're triggered -- whether it's devoting countless segments, year after year, to the travesty of people not celebrating a holiday exactly the way they do, or implementing laws that allow people to kill based on their feelings of fearfulness.

In other words, while some liberals may demand safe spaces to segregate themselves from people who frighten them, conservatives ask for "stand your ground" laws, to kill people who frighten them.  The liberal "safe space" is one where some groups can talk in private, without feeling frightened; the conservative "safe space" is the one where a person who feels frightened can shoot the person frightening him. With zero responsiblity to even try, you know, leaving before pulling the trigger.

And yeah, there are liberals who can be triggered by things like racism, sexism and rape jokes. Conservatives, though, are triggered by a cashier wishing them happy holidays. You know, because friendly holiday greetings are totally traumatizing if you don't use exactly the right words. Exactly. That one word is the difference between a happy holiday and a triggering, traumatic experience. ("But why should I have to police my language? Why don't you people just get over racism and sexism and sexual assault already?!")

So sometimes liberals are triggered by stories of people being raped, murdered or abused. But conservatives know what's really horrifying -- they're triggered by those scary stories of consenting adults marrying a consenting adult of the same sex. (Ohhh, take me to my Republican safe space ASAP! This is persecution!)

Conservatives are very good at controlling the narrative, painting a picture of their own rugged emotional stability in contrast with the wimpy, wishywashy sensitivity of liberals. But the fact is, they've been demanding an entire nation kowtow to their whims for decades. They've been carving out a nationwide safe space for the delicate sensibilities of Republican voters, and they've worked hard to make sure their efforts to make those "safe spaces", to avoid being "triggered", are backed up either by the billion dollar conservative religious industry and/or the force of law.

So, love them or hate them, the handful of liberal safe spaces and the rise of trigger warnings in liberal media pales in comparison to the demands of the rightwing. Conservatives may pretend otherwise, but they pioneered safe spaces and demands not to be triggered. The only difference is, liberals aimed lower -- they demanded specific spaces on campus instead of, you know, the entire country.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Huge potential for harm. Minimal potential for good. If we're talking guns, that's good enough!

The perfect drinking companion
So a guy outside a nightclub pulls a gun over an argument, and starts shooting. Another guy (outside the nightclub) shoots back.

And based on the reaction I'm seeing on social media, a guy resorting to shooting over an argument doesn't demonstrate to conservatives that it may be dangerous to introduce guns where people will be drinking and may, while impaired, argue. On the contrary, this just "proves" how we need more people bringing guns *into* nightclubs. Where people will be drinking, and, while impaired, arguing, and not thinking right because they've been, you know, drinking.

Even the NRA recognizes how dangerous this is. We tell drivers not to get behind a wheel to get home if they've been drinking, because they're a threat to public safety. As in, they can fucking kill people even when using something not designed to kill, because alcohol impairs judgement. We teach hunters that they should never mix hunting and alcohol because it's, you know, fucking deadly. But when it scores political points, mixing guns and alcohol is suddenly a great idea. Apparently to the "guns solve everything" crowd, the innocent lives that will inevitably be lost by mixing guns and partying are just numbers on a chart; and if, somewhere along the line, they can point to even a single instance where a gun being present turned out decently, tough shit for the many lost lives from all those other instances when it was a total, predictable fucking disaster.

In no other circumstance would we accept a clearly deadly thing because every once in a while a good outcome may occur. If eating rat poison occasionally prevented cancer, but mostly, if it had an impact at all, led to suffering and sometimes gruesome death, nobody in their right mind would urge people to eat rat poison, much less if there was the potential for individual rat poison use to have an impact on others too. And yet some conservatives are so insanely obsessed with guns that an obvious harm, a well documented danger -- mixing guns and alcohol and crowds -- is okay if once in awhile the outcome is good. No matter how many other times the outcome is disaster.

These people -- so many of whom pretend to be "pro-life" -- have taken a healthy embrace of the Second Amendment to an obsessive worship, where human life just doesn't matter if it gets in the way of their gun fetish. Thus the heavy confirmation bias, the selective preference of rare goods to frequent harms, that allows them to push their version of eating rat poison on the off chance that it may prevent cancer.

Their desire to carry a weapon absolutely everywhere, even if drunk, outweighs your right to life. Because if you don't have guns in a place where people are drinking and partying (and sometimes fighting), what's going to protect you from guns in a place where people are drinking and partying (and sometimes fighting)?