Home > Ludicrous Language, Manly Men > What Graduate Students Are For

What Graduate Students Are For

Here’s a charming quote from a recent LA Times piece on neuroscience:

…Lynch said: “Several years ago, I sent a student out and said, ‘Your job is to find out what the boys know about assembly.’ That’s what grad students are for. They’re the cannon fodder of science. You throw them at problems that have no chance of being solved…”

The cannon fodder of science. If I were a graduate student, I would so not go to work in Moron Gary Lynch’s lab. Especially if I were a female graduate student. I mean, really – “the boys”? Sexism and infantilizing your rivals all in one handy phrase.
I swear to Christ, I sometimes can’t believe that morons still talk that way in this day and age. And get quoted and shown off in fawning newspaper articles to boot!

  1. jeffk
    August 20, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    As a grad student, I can say that if my boss said that, he’d simply be speaking the truth. No females work in my lab.
    I mean, the guy’s probably just a bastard but hey, you don’t know for sure.

  2. August 20, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Perhaps I should clarify: when he said “the boys” what he meant was “the entire neuroscience community”. Which, clearly, is not composed entirely of XY’s, and even those who are XY are not boys but grown men. Thus my comment about sexism and infantilizing your rivals…

  3. August 20, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    All part of a charming larger trend in lab-based sciences to give graduate students menial and meaningless bit-projects to waste 3-4 years of their life on. Any university or department with integrity would refuse to allow students to be fobbed of with something like that…
    I’m pretty sure I have to make an original contribution to the field to get a PhD. I’d argue that”finding out what the boys know about about assembly” is a job for a research assistant, not a grad student. Oh, hang on, you have to pay research assistants. My mistake.

  4. nitpicker
    August 20, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    On a side note, not all XYs are male and not all XXs are female.
    http://www.isna.org/faq/y_chromosome

  5. jeffk
    August 20, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Ah. My mistake.

  6. jeffk
    August 20, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Ah. My mistake.

  7. Tela
    August 20, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    @nitpicker: fascinating link.

  8. Wes
    August 21, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    You seriously wouldn’t work for someone because of a single turn of phrase in a newspaper that happens to offend you? Really? I mean, really? :-/
    I’ve never in my life met a single person with whom I agreed on everything, or who never said anything I found disagreeable and/or offensive. Everyone I’ve ever known for an extended period of time has at some point expressed some idea, or used some turn of phrase, which I didn’t like for some reason. If I followed your advice, I’d be unemployed.
    Of all the things to get worked up over…

  9. August 21, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    “Lynch was more prosaic. “It’s a bitch and two-thirds,” he said. “And stupid too.”
    Other scientists had moved on. “The boys,” as Lynch routinely referred to the neuroscience establishment, turned en masse to the exploration of what genes might be involved. ”
    To quote further from the article.
    -I- wouldn’t work for a man that thought “bitch” was proper language in an interview.

  10. August 21, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Wes, you’re denser than lead. I excerpted from the article an illustrative piece. He comes off like a jackass all the way through. But even so, what I excerpted is enough to give you a flavor for how this moron treats people around him: sexist, dismissive, condescending, shabby treatment of graduate students. And he is a perfect example of the ideology of science as a competition with others rather than as a search for truth and explanation. Gah.
    Yep, I’m pretty confident saying I wouldn’t work for that moron. But if you are comfortable with sexism and dismissive exploitation of graduate students, then by all means seek him out as a colleague. Don’t let me stop you.

  11. August 21, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Wes, you’re denser than lead. I excerpted from the article an illustrative piece. He comes off like a jackass all the way through. But even so, what I excerpted is enough to give you a flavor for how this moron treats people around him: sexist, dismissive, condescending, shabby treatment of graduate students. And he is a perfect example of the ideology of science as a competition with others rather than as a search for truth and explanation. Gah.
    Yep, I’m pretty confident saying I wouldn’t work for that moron. But if you are comfortable with sexism and dismissive exploitation of graduate students, then by all means seek him out as a colleague. Don’t let me stop you.

  12. August 21, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Personally, I thought he was hilarious and wished my boss could have a sense of humor like that. Of course, I have also inadvertently said “fuck” in job interviews (and gotten the job, in case you were wondering), so what would I know about appropriate or proper? As far as I can tell, “appropriate” and “proper” are just alternative words for “controlling,” which I generally prefer to avoid whatever the flavor – sexist, racist, classist, or other.

  13. August 21, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Personally, I thought he was hilarious and wished my boss could have a sense of humor like that. Of course, I have also inadvertently said “fuck” in job interviews (and gotten the job, in case you were wondering), so what would I know about appropriate or proper? As far as I can tell, “appropriate” and “proper” are just alternative words for “controlling,” which I generally prefer to avoid whatever the flavor – sexist, racist, classist, or other.

  14. James Stein
    August 22, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I take it you do not find wearing tropical shirts and sandals to the office inappropriate, either? Since “appropriate” is just “controlling,” and so on.
    I wouldn’t mind a boss that curses around the office now and again. I would mind one that thinks it’s acceptable to appear in print that way. It says a lot about his sense of professionalism and etiquette – which are things I value, especially in someone whose reputation will in some way affect mine.

  15. August 22, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, I do think “appropriate = controlling.” What is “appropriate,” after all? Custom, protocol, rules, rites and rituals, tradition, etiquette, social graces.
    At their best, these things grease the wheels of daily life, smoothing social interactions, making people comfortable with one another. There is a security in knowing what to expect out of a person, and in knowing that if you follow the correct steps you will receive the same warm welcome in return.
    At their worst, they are most certainly used as weapons. Want to keep the group of powerful small and selective? Well, “custom” says it isn’t “appropriate” for a ______ to be in a position of power. Tradition tells me that it would be folly to try things a new way – everyone else does it the tried and true, appropriate way. Never mind if a new method might be found that actually works better, because even trying to discover it would break the status quo, be deemed as crazy or inappropriate or improper.
    So, for the record, and to answer your other question, I am sitting here at work taking a little fifteen minute break to read a blog and write a response. I am wearing blue jeans and a tight t-shirt that I just noticed has a tiny stain on it, and my hair looks like shit because I never cut it frequently enough (I personally cannot tell that my hair looks like shit, but I know it must because my girlfriend has recently starting harassing me to get it cut, which she usually does about once every two months). I don’t wear sandals because I think they look stupid, but I suppose if someone gave me an awesome Hawaiian shirt I would consider it. I also am not wearing makeup. In about five minutes, the computer will probably do something I do not like and I will accidentally yell “goddamn it!” a little too loudly and everyone else in the office will probably hear.
    And yet, somehow, I still manage to do my job and do it well and even, on occasion, devise new and wonderful tools for our department. When it actually matters, I will put on a nice suit and go get a sharp haircut and make a wonderful impression. I will inevitably tailor this interaction to the person I am interacting with. I will consciously mimic their expressions and body language, I will pick up their sayings, and I will sign my e-mail the same way they sign theirs. If I detect they have a slightly wicked sense of humor, I will say something very slightly “off” and smirk ever so subtly – if I was correct, they will pick up on it and like me more, but if I was incorrect they will not even notice what I’ve just done. I will be 10 minutes early to all meetings.
    And then, when it doesn’t matter anymore, I will stop. Life is to short to do that exhausting nonsense all the time. Rules exist to make life smoother, not harder. You follow them when you must and then you – sensibly – ignore them when they aren’t necessary. Other times, you creatively break them when you shouldn’t because doing so will get you a desired, but perhaps unorthodox, result.
    So ask yourself – what is the result Mr. Lynch was striving for? He obviously fancies himself a bit of a rebel, and he’s quite, quite stuck on a problem. Without knowing him, I’d say he was fishing for collaborators who find his improper attitude appealing and who are themselves unorthodox – he was looking to draw in someone who can look at his problem with fresh eyes, because neither he nor anyone else on his team is able to do it themselves any longer. And, quite frankly, to do that he doesn’t have to stroke everyone’s egos or appeal to every PC contingent in the world, and he doesn’t have to follow the typical rules of professional behavior – he only has to appeal to one or two very specific people he hopes might be reading that article.

  16. August 22, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Alexis, it sounds to me like you are conflating “appropriate” with “conservative”. Which is an interesting rhetorical move to win an argument, but is not a fair interpretation of what James was talking about.

  17. August 22, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Alexis, it sounds to me like you are conflating “appropriate” with “conservative”. Which is an interesting rhetorical move to win an argument, but is not a fair interpretation of what James was talking about.

  18. August 22, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Zuska,
    Well, ask yourself – who defines what is “appropriate” in a given situation?
    My answer: Probably the dominant culture. And, at least as I understand dominant culture, its choices are generally geared towards maintaining itself. Given that, things that are defined as “appropriate” will probably be defined in a way that maintains the dominant culture. That suggests that little change is occurring. Little change = conservative. Ergo – it’s rather difficult to unconflate appropriate and conservative.
    I would be interested to understand better what James was talking about, since I’ve misunderstood it. Here’s what I took away:
    Professionalism and etiquette are important….in all situations. Ultimately, that’s the part I’m really disagreeing with. Who defines professionalism? Who defines etiquette? Are there truly not situations where it is more useful to, at least briefly, abandon these notions? I don’t think life is black and white, and I don’t think we are confronted daily with choices that have one good and one bad solution. When confronted with the question “Shall I offend some people, possibly besmirch my field, and potentially make progress (thereby later bringing glory to the field), or shall I offend no one, bring honor to my field, but fail to make progress (thereby later making my field irrelevant)?” What is the correct answer? Neither answer results in all good or all bad, there are trade-offs to each.

  19. James Stein
    August 22, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Alexis,
    I want to address your questions respectfully, but you’re making it difficult. Your answer really blows things up out of proportion – moving far beyond the practical mundanities of etiquette to professionalism-as-philosophical-standpoint.
    You seem to be drawing a direct correlation between one’s adherence to etiquette and sense of professionalism to their ability to think freely – as Zuska said, conflating “appropriate” with “conservative.” I would go one step further and say that you seem to conflate it with banality, rigid thinking, et al. After all, you include the line “You follow them when you must and then you – sensibly – ignore them when they aren’t necessary. Other times, you creatively break them when you shouldn’t because doing so will get you a desired, but perhaps unorthodox, result.” in your post, which seems to sum up your entire argument.
    I’m saying this just to make sure you understand that what follows targets the above. If I’ve misunderstood your point, please say so – because it’s the above I find ludicrous.
    Ludicrous is a good starting point. If you wish to follow the assertion that dressing shabbily is some sort of prerequisite to a free mind and original thoughts, I don’t imagine there’s any I can disprove the notion to you, but I do find it laughable.
    I’m going to hope that you take the less absurd version of that stance: that acquiescing to the dominant culture that establishes what sort of dress and behavior is appropriate makes one less original due to some sort of over-all trend to acquiescence. I have to assume you don’t think that just wearing such clothes has no effect but is a marker of an otherwise subservient nature, because then you should have no reason to avoid it except vanity.
    So, does submitting to the culture’s rule of etiquette somehow make you less original, less daring in every other sense? Does it limit your ability to think? It would seem so – you argue that “as I understand dominant culture, its choices are generally geared towards maintaining itself.” I find this to far too epic an appeal to fairly simple things; we are not speaking of the rule about bowing to a passing lord, but to not use profanity in newspapers. The reverse is just as stupid – Lynch seeks out freethinkers by saying “bitch” in the paper? Why not say “needle-dicked cum-dribbling shits?” That ought to draw in the *really* free thinkers.
    Now, then. “Professionalism and etiquette are important….in all situations. Ultimately, that’s the part I’m really disagreeing with.” Which you’re welcome to disagree with, but not what I said. In fact – I’m not sure how you overlooked this, considering how short a post it was – I said “I wouldn’t mind a boss that curses around the office now and again. I would mind one that thinks it’s acceptable to appear in print that way.” That would seem to be quite the contrary of “etiquette in all situations,” wouldn’t it?
    “Who defines professionalism? Who defines etiquette? Are there truly not situations where it is more useful to, at least briefly, abandon these notions?”
    In all fairness, this is not what your entire post here-to-fore has discussed. You’ve essentially attacked all etiquette and professionalism as “tools of the oppressor.”
    ” When confronted with the question “Shall I offend some people, possibly besmirch my field, and potentially make progress (thereby later bringing glory to the field), or shall I offend no one, bring honor to my field, but fail to make progress (thereby later making my field irrelevant)?” ”
    This is the ludicrousness I referred to earlier. This -isn’t- the choice being offered. I assure you that when Lynch was being interviewed, he wasn’t weighing saying “that research was difficult!” against saying “that research was a bitch!” and making a breakthrough! This is outright immature; as though dressing like a rebel and bucking all things associated with the ‘dominant’ culture somehow makes one more original, as opposed to just contrary. I had a lit professor who thought the same way – she opposed empirical science not on the grounds that it was wrong, but because it came from “old, white men.”
    You ask whether you should use etiquette to avoid offending people? Yes. Because that’s what it’s for. Because original thinkers do not wake up in the morning and weigh ground-breaking research against Cole Haans shoes; because people that want a socially functioning lab bear in mind the sensibilities of those around them. It matters because while one in a billion people sparkle in isolation and care not a whit for people, the rest of the scientific community requires the gracious cooperation of colleagues, bosses, underlings, and so forth.
    I’m not making the machiavellian argument of “if you want to get ahead, get on people’s right side.” I’m making the straightforward statement that if you want healthy social relationships, you have to do the bear minimum to make those people comfortable.
    And all I said regarding Lynch was that I wouldn’t want to work for a man that clearly DOESN’T keep those things in mind, considering that HIS reputation would tar mine – and my reputation matters to me, professionally. I wouldn’t want to work for such a man, not because he’d say “bitch” in the office, but because the lack of thought that goes into saying “bitch” in a paper doubtless doesn’t stop there.
    I’ve spent a great deal of time at Cornell and Columbia; I’ve met fantastically intelligent people doing original work. The people with utter disregard for the sensibilities and feelings of those around them were not any more intelligent, clever, or original: they were just assholes.

  20. August 22, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    I’m going to break this one up for easier reading.

    A. On creativity and whether I am conflating rigidity with a lack thereof
    You say:
    You seem to be drawing a direct correlation between one’s adherence to etiquette and sense of professionalism to their ability to think freely – as Zuska said, conflating “appropriate” with “conservative.” I would go one step further and say that you seem to conflate it with banality, rigid thinking, et al. After all, you include the line “You follow them when you must and then you – sensibly – ignore them when they aren’t necessary. Other times, you creatively break them when you shouldn’t because doing so will get you a desired, but perhaps unorthodox, result.” in your post, which seems to sum up your entire argument.
    I’m saying this just to make sure you understand that what follows targets the above. If I’ve misunderstood your point, please say so – because it’s the above I find ludicrous.
    Ludicrous is a good starting point. If you wish to follow the assertion that dressing shabbily is some sort of prerequisite to a free mind and original thoughts, I don’t imagine there’s any I can disprove the notion to you, but I do find it laughable.
    ———————————–
    I am certainly not saying that conspicuous and pointless rule-breaking is an indicator of creativity. It could well be an indicator of stupidity. But an inability to break rules is, IMHO, an extremely clear indicator of lack of creativity.
    Specifically:
    I believe the ability to understand 1) what the rules are, 2) when to follow them, 3) when you might benefit from not following them, and 4) just how much you can get away with are key. In other words, to be creative I think you need to understand the rules of a system (whatever system it is you are being creative with, whether a social system, a computer system, a physical system, a cooking system….etc) and be able to see new ways to approach/modify/connect that system and those rules. It may well be that you choose not to break certain of those rules (your manner of dress, say) because there is ultimately no particular reason to, or doing so would be counterproductive. On the other hand, you may feel there is something to gain from breaking that particular rule, or that there is nothing to lose from it, either and it is just easier to break it (the reason why I am probably quite slovenly – it’s just easier, and as a programmer, it doesn’t affect my performance…if I were a teacher, I would dress differently because dressing poorly would negatively impact my control in the classroom).

    B. In which I agree with you that social graces serve a purpose….to a point
    This is also why I pointed out in my previous post, and which you ignored, that social graces and “appropriate” behavior are not completely evil and ridiculous, and do serve a very real function of making day to day existence flow nicely. I am not disagreeing with you on this point – unlike your lit prof, I am not a raging feminist and I am not throwing the scientific baby out with the honky man’s bathwater. Above all, and what I am trying to get across almost more than anything, is that I find it prudent to recognize when norms are functioning in a stifling manner and when they are functioning in a helpful manner, and choose the appropriate behavior based on that.
    You said:
    “Who defines professionalism? Who defines etiquette? Are there truly not situations where it is more useful to, at least briefly, abandon these notions?”
    In all fairness, this is not what your entire post here-to-fore has discussed. You’ve essentially attacked all etiquette and professionalism as “tools of the oppressor.”
    No, this is not what my entire post discussed. I said in the last post, I said again above in this post, and I’ll say again once more so that it is crystal clear – rules can, have, and will always be used to oppress people, because they are the currency of daily interaction. As such, they reflect normal, everyday society, both in its good and ill. Saying that professionalism and etiquette are always good is like saying human beings are always good. And that, sir, is far more ludicrous than anything I have dreamed up today.

    C. On whether Lynch, or I, am an asshole
    Short answer: possibly. But saying a dirty word isn’t enough of an indicator, if you ask me.
    You say that Lynch did not consider the difference between saying “it was very hard,” “it was a bitch,” and “it was a cock-blocking donkey raping whore of a beast.” I find this hard to believe. We make decisions every moment. Millions of them, most likely. The brain is fast, and unless you also wish me to believe that Lynch is literally retarded, I’m not buying your argument here.
    So why did he say “it was a bitch?” Look, I said earlier I don’t know that man, and I still don’t know him. I’m hypothesizing as to why it would make sense for him to have said that in that situation based on why I would probably say something completely similar in the same situation. See the points way above concerning how creativity works, especially 3 & 4 (when to break rules and how much to break them) – I am assuming these to be the reasons our good Dr. did not refer to “cum dribbling cock stains” or whatever your equivalent example was, and used instead the word “bitch.” Because there are correct and incorrect ways to break rules. Using the former would garner him no benefit that I can ascertain, as the “really free thinkers” you posit he might attract would in fact probably be sociopathic or clueless. Using the word he instead chose can net him freethinkers who at least recognize the rules and can appreciate that they exist for a reason, even while still retaining awareness of the rules’ limitations.

  21. August 23, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Correct and incorrect ways to break rules? So there are rules for breaking rules? Can you break the rules for breaking rules? the mind reels…
    …sorry. I’m getting free wifi in a cigar shop. maybe the smoke got to me.
    I just wanted to say, let’s not blame James’s lit professor’s rejection of science on feminism, or at least not on all of feminism. While there may be some feminists, usually those who’ve taken the postmodern turn, who reject science out of hand, there are plenty of feminists who value science. Who are even scientists and engineers. Like moi.
    Alexis, you say you are not a “raging feminist”, I hope that doesn’t mean that you are unwilling to call yourself a feminist at all.
    But hey – what’s wrong with being a raging feminist? It’s what I do for a living these days. 🙂
    Final note: I appreciate both of you, Alexis and James, engaging each other honestly and respectfully in this discussion. There should be more of that kind of debate in the comments here.

  22. August 23, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    By the way, I don’t want to give the impression I endorse smoking…Mr. Z. has a cigar habit, so he’s the reason I’m in the cigar shop today…I’m just drinkin’ the coffee.

  23. August 23, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Ha! Okay, you asked me to set myself up, so here goes.
    Am I a feminist? Probably.
    Am I unwilling to call myself a feminist? Yes.
    I’m of the opinion that every ought to get a fair shake at life. They may fuck it up, they may just get unlucky, but I think they oughtta have the same shot everyone else does, and (more realistically? feasibly? attainably?) they should be treated with the same respect as anyone else. This is regardless of whether they are a woman or not.
    Sadly, there are a lot of classifications used to keep people from getting a fair shot, and being a woman is but one of thousands. I don’t call myself any of those other 999 -ists, so I don’t see the point in calling myself a feminist, either.
    Unfortunately, the term “humanist” is already taken and comes with affiliated baggage, but hopefully you get my drift.

  24. August 24, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    I call myself a feminist because I’m not afraid or unwilling to admit publicly that I think women ought to be treated like human beings. Some people who claim to be humanists don’t always get this point. That’s why I think being explicit about the feminism is important. Same thing about the other anti-isms. Gender intersects with race, class, age, sexual orientation – if you don’t pay explicit attention to it you are apt to miss a great deal that is very important. That goes for everyone, not just women. Men have much to gain by paying attention to gender.
    I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that there are multiple strains within feminism, and some people’s brand of feminism will not coincide 100% with my views. (For example, I don’t reject science because it’s the product of old white men…if that’s someone’s idea of feminism, it sure ain’t mine.) But just because not everyone who calls themselves feminist doesn’t think exactly like me, I don’t see any reason to dispense with the term. It carries meaning, and significance. And I’m willing to claim that.

  25. August 24, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    When choosing which words to say, I ask myself the following question:
    If a woman’s not getting fair treatment in a situation I witness, should I step in and say “Stop, you can’t treat people that way,” or should I say “Stop, I’m a feminist?”
    I find the former more useful for a lot of reasons:
    1) Calling myself a feminist may have meaning and significance, but it doesn’t have much action.
    2) Meaning and significance cuts both ways. It means and signifies one thing to me, but something very different to someone else. This is not usually positive.
    3) Saying “I’m a feminist” is about me and my place in the world. “I am a feminist.” It’s a selfish statement and does not include the people I am supposedly saying should be included.
    4) It immediately sets me up in opposition to anyone I use it with who is not a feminist, practically guaranteeing that no progress on the situation at hand will be made.
    5) It perpetuates an us/them dichotomy.

  26. August 28, 2007 at 3:24 am

    Alexis: I’m a man. I’m happy to call myself a feminist. How self-centered does that make me?
    As for yon tosser swearing in an interview… well, I’m surprised they printed it unchanged. But do we really think that he’s trawling for collaborators in an interview with a mainstream newspaper? All sounds a bit manipulative to me. Then again, we’ve already established that he manipulates people to get what he wants without thinking about the conseqences for them (to wit: PhD projects that won’t get the student any new skills, nor any publications beyond a review).
    I wouldn’t work for him 😉

  27. August 28, 2007 at 3:24 am

    Alexis: I’m a man. I’m happy to call myself a feminist. How self-centered does that make me?
    As for yon tosser swearing in an interview… well, I’m surprised they printed it unchanged. But do we really think that he’s trawling for collaborators in an interview with a mainstream newspaper? All sounds a bit manipulative to me. Then again, we’ve already established that he manipulates people to get what he wants without thinking about the conseqences for them (to wit: PhD projects that won’t get the student any new skills, nor any publications beyond a review).
    I wouldn’t work for him 😉

  28. August 28, 2007 at 3:24 am

    Alexis: I’m a man. I’m happy to call myself a feminist. How self-centered does that make me?
    As for yon tosser swearing in an interview… well, I’m surprised they printed it unchanged. But do we really think that he’s trawling for collaborators in an interview with a mainstream newspaper? All sounds a bit manipulative to me. Then again, we’ve already established that he manipulates people to get what he wants without thinking about the conseqences for them (to wit: PhD projects that won’t get the student any new skills, nor any publications beyond a review).
    I wouldn’t work for him 😉

  29. August 29, 2007 at 5:13 am

    If ‘feminist’ isn’t inclusive enough language for you, how do you even speak? Do you also avoid ‘mankind’, ‘bachelors degree’, ‘master’s degree’ and ‘fellowship’? Even the words ‘woman’ and ‘female’ have sexist roots – they both suggest that male is the default option and female an elaboration.
    My opinion is that if you want to speak comprehensible English, you won’t be able to entirely avoid the use of words with etymologies you disapprove of. And the English word for the belief that women are fully human is ‘feminism’. If you mean it, use it.

  30. August 29, 2007 at 5:25 am

    Oo, you learn something new every day: it seems the words ‘female’ and ‘male’ have different histories, but the spelling of ‘female’ was altered in the fourteenth century to parallel that of ‘male’.

  31. August 29, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Chris:
    Just as self-centered as a woman who uses the term. Because you are still saying, “I am a feminist.” The subject of that sentence is “I,” not “females” or “feminism.”
    MissPrism:
    Fuck. I mean fellowship? Male vs. female? What the fuck are you even talking about? Did you even read what I said before?
    Case in point
    This is exactly why I don’t use the word feminist. Because all of a sudden we’re talking about women and these responses give me the impression everyone thinks I’m some sort of a damn moonbat, even though my original post on the subject was extremely clear that I am more interested in seeing equality for all people. But, god, earlier I mentioned having a girlfriend, and James starts asking if I’m like his feminazi english professor who never talks about white males. Then I just use the word feminist in response – to describe his teacher and NOT myself – and suddenly the entire fucking discussion is about feminism – a topic which I actually frigging hate and refuse to affiliate myself with. This is precisely why I do not use the word. Because everyone has a canned response to it, and all rational discussion just goes up in a puff of smoke the minute it is used. People stop bothering to read or listen to the entire discussion, and they pick up on out of context statements and phrases and tear them to death like some sort of hyperactive, rabid terriers.
    Christ.

  32. August 29, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Chris:
    Just as self-centered as a woman who uses the term. Because you are still saying, “I am a feminist.” The subject of that sentence is “I,” not “females” or “feminism.”
    MissPrism:
    Fuck. I mean fellowship? Male vs. female? What the fuck are you even talking about? Did you even read what I said before?
    Case in point
    This is exactly why I don’t use the word feminist. Because all of a sudden we’re talking about women and these responses give me the impression everyone thinks I’m some sort of a damn moonbat, even though my original post on the subject was extremely clear that I am more interested in seeing equality for all people. But, god, earlier I mentioned having a girlfriend, and James starts asking if I’m like his feminazi english professor who never talks about white males. Then I just use the word feminist in response – to describe his teacher and NOT myself – and suddenly the entire fucking discussion is about feminism – a topic which I actually frigging hate and refuse to affiliate myself with. This is precisely why I do not use the word. Because everyone has a canned response to it, and all rational discussion just goes up in a puff of smoke the minute it is used. People stop bothering to read or listen to the entire discussion, and they pick up on out of context statements and phrases and tear them to death like some sort of hyperactive, rabid terriers.
    Christ.

  33. August 29, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Okay, well, since Zuska earlier was so tickled about adult discussion on here, I’m going to try this one again. But, really, I must admit I’m starting to get extremely pissed with this discussion and willful ignoring of what is being said. And I am not going to reply to anything further if it does not actually address what I have said and instead only addresses what people imagined I said. Stop taking shortcuts and actually read the posts.
    MissPrism:
    You ask how I speak? Usually very thoughtfully, in spite of all the dirty words. In addition to generally making an effort to study human behavior, cognition, language, and psychology when I am bored, I also taught and worked tech support for a long time. As such, I find that I am often keenly aware of how people understand, and, more to the point, misunderstand, spoken and written words. I would also like to think that I have a general appreciation for nuance in language. Of course, like all people, I have been known to screw up now and then.
    Now, I would agree with your sentiment that if I was concerned only with the “inclusiveness” that words exhibited I would not be able to speak at all. But if you go back and look at my last post, perhaps you will see that is why I did not say that I am only concerned with the inclusiveness of words. I am concerned with their interpretation. As a matter of fact, on the whole I think inclusiveness of language is a sorely misguided concern, precisely because people do not usually sit around interpreting them as being inclusive or noninclusive (especially your absurd examples – I mean, fellowship? I was not talking about the problem being the root of the word, I was talking about the problem being the interpretation of the word. sheesh).
    But I do make an exception for the word “feminist.” Given that the alleged point of feminism is inclusiveness, I simply cannot accept the ludicrous hypocrisy of carrying around a word like a badge in such a way that it immediately isolates everyone who uses it and practically ensures that inclusiveness will never happen. That’s just plain stupidity, IMHO.
    Finally, I can’t help but point out that, based on the recent posts concerning the matter, I don’t possibly think I could make the point any better than the other posters already have, however inadvertently.

  34. August 29, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Okay, well, since Zuska earlier was so tickled about adult discussion on here, I’m going to try this one again. But, really, I must admit I’m starting to get extremely pissed with this discussion and willful ignoring of what is being said. And I am not going to reply to anything further if it does not actually address what I have said and instead only addresses what people imagined I said. Stop taking shortcuts and actually read the posts.
    MissPrism:
    You ask how I speak? Usually very thoughtfully, in spite of all the dirty words. In addition to generally making an effort to study human behavior, cognition, language, and psychology when I am bored, I also taught and worked tech support for a long time. As such, I find that I am often keenly aware of how people understand, and, more to the point, misunderstand, spoken and written words. I would also like to think that I have a general appreciation for nuance in language. Of course, like all people, I have been known to screw up now and then.
    Now, I would agree with your sentiment that if I was concerned only with the “inclusiveness” that words exhibited I would not be able to speak at all. But if you go back and look at my last post, perhaps you will see that is why I did not say that I am only concerned with the inclusiveness of words. I am concerned with their interpretation. As a matter of fact, on the whole I think inclusiveness of language is a sorely misguided concern, precisely because people do not usually sit around interpreting them as being inclusive or noninclusive (especially your absurd examples – I mean, fellowship? I was not talking about the problem being the root of the word, I was talking about the problem being the interpretation of the word. sheesh).
    But I do make an exception for the word “feminist.” Given that the alleged point of feminism is inclusiveness, I simply cannot accept the ludicrous hypocrisy of carrying around a word like a badge in such a way that it immediately isolates everyone who uses it and practically ensures that inclusiveness will never happen. That’s just plain stupidity, IMHO.
    Finally, I can’t help but point out that, based on the recent posts concerning the matter, I don’t possibly think I could make the point any better than the other posters already have, however inadvertently.

  35. August 29, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Alexis, I’d call myself a humanist, but as you say that word is taken and has odd political overtones.
    How can a position statement not have “I” in it? Would you prefer a third-person sentence like they ones we’re trying to hard to stamp out of the scientific literature? All these issues ultimately boil down to individual interactions (at least I hope they do), so I think phrasing my stance in the first person is appropriate.

  36. August 29, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Does saying “I’m not a feminist” make you just as self-centered as saying “I’m a feminist”? Because the subject of both sentences is “I”. Just wondering.
    Okay, I do not think feminism precludes being for equality for all people. I mean, I think being for equality for all people is a natural consequence of feminism. Whether individual feminists are more or less good at acting on that in their personal lives is another question. I’m speaking philosophically.
    Is the point of feminism inclusiveness? Or is it something more radical? I don’t want to be “included” in the existing power structure, for example. I want to change the way things are. Wanting equality of treatment can’t possibly mean all of us being privileged overlords – who would we be lording it over? Equality implies a different sort of social order.
    Feminism is polarizing not because there’s something wrong with feminism, but because there’s something wrong with society that makes declaring one’s self to be for the treatment of women as human beings a dangerous and unappealing thing to do. Alexis, you are right that just declaring one’s self to be a feminist can result in polarization, but I think you err in putting the blame on feminism itself. Your goals and interests are not incompatible with feminism, indeed they are very similar to things I would say myself – you just don’t want to say the F word.
    I think it’s not sufficient to say “I’m for equality for all people” at least for me, because the special issues of women, of gender, too easily get lost in that saying. Just as if we only talk about gender, the issues of race can too easily get lost. (or class, or sexual orientation…) There is no “all people”. There are people marked by society in different categories, and those categories matter, and there are different philosophical accounts of why that marking and mattering happens and what it means. Feminism is one of those philosophies. To throw it completely out the door because it upsets people is to discard a valuable tool. To use its analysis but deny that one is a feminist, or is applying feminist theory, is disingenuous at best, it seems to me.

  37. August 29, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Regarding inclusive language: it’s true that most people do not sit around thinking about whether or not language is inclusive or not. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t responding to language as if it is inclusive or not. When we say “mankind” for example, people generally think about men, even though we all claim that mankind means men and women, all humanity. Why do we need a word like mankind if we already have a nice word like humanity? What purpose does a word like mankind serve? When people say it, they aren’t consciously thinking that they aren’t being inclusive, but the result of their thinking process is not inclusive. When you use inclusive language, you think about men and women. It does make a difference. It’s common to dismiss inclusive language as a trivial concern, but the language we use shapes the way we think. If inclusive language isn’t a big deal – if language isn’t a big deal – then what’s the big deal about the word feminism? Words do matter.
    I hope you realize that this and my previous post are meant respectfully. I have tried to attend carefully to what you have actually said in your posts.

  38. August 29, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Regarding inclusive language: it’s true that most people do not sit around thinking about whether or not language is inclusive or not. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t responding to language as if it is inclusive or not. When we say “mankind” for example, people generally think about men, even though we all claim that mankind means men and women, all humanity. Why do we need a word like mankind if we already have a nice word like humanity? What purpose does a word like mankind serve? When people say it, they aren’t consciously thinking that they aren’t being inclusive, but the result of their thinking process is not inclusive. When you use inclusive language, you think about men and women. It does make a difference. It’s common to dismiss inclusive language as a trivial concern, but the language we use shapes the way we think. If inclusive language isn’t a big deal – if language isn’t a big deal – then what’s the big deal about the word feminism? Words do matter.
    I hope you realize that this and my previous post are meant respectfully. I have tried to attend carefully to what you have actually said in your posts.

  39. August 30, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Zuska,
    You say “To use [feminism’s] analysis but deny that one is a feminist, or is applying feminist theory, is disingenuous at best, it seems to me.”
    Well, really, this gets to the very heart of my problem with feminism itself (I am no longer speaking of the use of the word, but the whole kaboodle). Feminism in my experience is about analyses, theories, position statements, but it is not often enough about engaging with the world itself, for all its ugly warts and human messiness.
    I was particularly alluding to this in previous posts when I suggested that I am not interested in the phrase “I am a feminist” because I do not believe it accomplishes anything positive. It is imbued with symbolism and meaning and power, as you have said before, but this is in the realm of theory. In the realm of everyday reality, using it is akin to throwing a lit stick of dynamite into a room of people – all you end up with is carnage, when “theoretically” the point of feminism (at least any sort of feminism I would be interested in) is to achieve a level of egalitarianism. But as far as I can see, the unwillingness on the part of feminism and feminists to step down out of the realm of theory and understand on a human level what results their theory has on their progress is just a flat out killer and has the opposite effect intended.
    So, are the feminists the ones being radical, or am I? Only you can answer that question for yourself. But I, for one, having been mired in academia and its theories far longer than I needed to, no longer find anything “radical” about it at all. I find all of academia – including feminism – tired, conservative (yes, conservative), elitist, misguided, damaging, and, above all, unwilling to deal with actual human beings in any way, shape, or form. I am looking for a model that works, thanks, not a model that merely looks pretty and that I can trot out at parties as some sort of arm candy/cred factor.
    You mention yourself that you are for a different social order, one without inherent power structures. Aside from the fact that I am not sure this is entirely possible, can you explain to me how feminism’s perpetuation of dichotomies, how its insistence on fighting battles, and creating us/them splits, will be able to accomplish this? I mean, as far as I understand human nature, it is the very concept of otherness that allows and leads people to create power structures. They feel better than group X, so have no compunction in lording over them. So….er….maybe I didn’t read enough feminist books in college, but this seems like a very, very, very fundamental paradox in feminism itself. If you can explain to me how it’s not, perhaps I could change my tune.

  40. August 30, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t have time today for the truly thoughtful response your comment deserves, but I’ll give it this short go:
    I am not sure where you learned your definition of feminism but I don’t understand it as a system that invites people to feel better than group x, I understand it as being in direct opposition to that sort of thinking. I don’t understand feminism as creating the other and insisting on dichotomies, but pointing out how patriarchy (among other things) has created women as the other and has used dichotomies to reinforce itself.
    There’s feminist theory, and there’s feminist activism, and it’s possible to pursue the former without practicing the latter. One can argue (and plenty of people have) about the extent to which academic feminism has drifted exclusively towards theorizing and indeed I see a lot of that in much of what gets written as feminist science studies. But then I turn around and look at what groups like WEPAN do and promote – and they are working within the academy – and the types of academic research they rely on, and I see that it is possible to do academic research that is grounded in feminism and that seeks to make real change in the way things are done in the academy.
    You fault feminism, or at least the preponderance of feminist theory, for lack of action and for divisiveness. But again, I think these failings are the fault of individual people and not the fault of feminism, which is, as I maintain, a system of thought which holds that women should be treated fully as human beings. There are excesses of theory, and yet theory serves its purpose, too. Without some sort of theoretical understanding of what’s going on around you, you are just fighting one battle at a time in order to survive, you aren’t able to be strategic. You reject feminism as a label but feminist theory and the history of feminist action nevertheless underpins what you state as your goals and praxis.
    There’s a lot of stuff that goes under the name of feminism that I wouldn’t bother with. But I don’t see that as an excuse to throw out all that is valuable within feminism, nor am I bothered by the fact that people will get all huffy when one uses the F word. They’ll have to learn to deal with it, at least when I’m around.

  41. August 30, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Zuska says:
    I am not sure where you learned your definition of feminism but I don’t understand it as a system that invites people to feel better than group x, I understand it as being in direct opposition to that sort of thinking. I don’t understand feminism as creating the other and insisting on dichotomies, but pointing out how patriarchy (among other things) has created women as the other and has used dichotomies to reinforce itself.
    When I mentioned that otherness invites people to feel “better” than others (by which I should have more precisely said “superior”), I was referring not just to feminism, but to any system which focuses on people’s differences as being more important than their similarities. That is not to say that difference is not wonderful and fascinating and a source of inspiration, but without a small, tenuous similarity to grasp hold of, difference is merely scary and incomprehensible to the average person. For that reason, I think it is absolutely critical to cultivate an appreciation for commonality while still working towards an appreciation of differences – the two are mutually dependent.
    In my opinion, feminism (or feminists, if you prefer to separate the practitioners from the entity), by setting itself up in direct opposition to patriarchy, by adapting terminology like “we’re fighting a war” and “they’ll just have to get used to it,” by knowing full well that saying certain things will create opposition and insisting on doing it anyway (“because we’re right, by god”), is one of these systems that invites polarization and dichotomy. Feminism exists wholly as an opposite to “the patriarchy,” but I believe that by setting itself up in such a position and refusing to focus on what it is that women and men have in common (a prerequisite for achieving mutual respect), it has created a situation that actually perpetuates the very system it is trying to take down. It fosters mistrust, misunderstanding, and hostility. It guarantees that women will always be other, will always be “women” first and “people” as an afterthought.
    Or, more succinctly, I don’t see that the practices are really all that different than the ones employed by the people already in power. Divide and conquer. So much for the casualties on the other side, they weren’t really human anyway.
    As an aside, I am pretty sure we had this discussion a month or two ago, albeit under a different pretense. I doubt I’ve changed your mind much since then, but it’s useful to find other ways to express it and think it out more thoroughly, at least for me.

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