LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance

Stan­dard Intro

The fol­low­ing sec­tion will be at the top of all posts in the LW Women se­ries.

About two months ago, I put out a call for anony­mous sub­mis­sions by the women on LW, with the idea that I would com­pile them into some kind of post. There is a LOT of ma­te­rial, so I am break­ing them down into more man­age­able-sized themed posts.

Seven women sub­mit­ted, to­tal­ing about 18 pages.

Crocker’s Warn­ing- Sub­mit­ters were told to not hold back for po­lite­ness. You are al­lowed to dis­agree, but these are can­did com­ments; if you con­sider can­did­ness im­po­lite, I sug­gest you not read this post

To the sub­mit­trs- If you would like to re­spond anony­mously to a com­ment (for ex­am­ple if there is a com­ment ques­tion­ing some­thing in your post, and you want to clar­ify), you can PM your mes­sage and I will post it for you. If this hap­pens a lot, I might cre­ate a LW_Women sock­pup­pet ac­count for the sub­mit­ters to share.

Stan­dard Dis­claimer- Women have many differ­ent view­points, and just be­cause I am act­ing as an in­ter­me­di­ary to al­low for anony­mous com­mu­ni­ca­tion does NOT mean that I agree with ev­ery­thing that will be posted in this se­ries. (It would be rather im­pos­si­ble to, since there are some posts ar­gu­ing op­po­site sides!)

Please do NOT break anonymity, be­cause it low­ers the anonymity of the rest of the sub­mit­ters.

Min­i­miz­ing the In­fer­en­tial Distance

One prob­lem that I think ex­ists in dis­cus­sions about gen­der is­sues be­tween men and women, is that the in­fer­en­tial dis­tance is much greater than ei­ther group re­al­izes. Women might as­sume that men know what ex­pe­riences women might face, and so not ex­plic­itly men­tion spe­cific ex­am­ples. Men might as­sume they know what the women are talk­ing about, but have never re­ally heard spe­cific ex­am­ples. Or they might as­sume that these types of things only hap­pened in the past, or not to the types of fe­males in their in-group

So for the first post in this se­ries, I thought it would be worth­while to try to lower this in­fer­en­tial dis­tance, by shar­ing spe­cific ex­am­ples of what it’s like as a smart/​geeky fe­male. When sub­mit­ters didn’t know what to write, I di­rected them to this ar­ti­cle, by Ju­lia Wise (copied be­low), and told them to write their own sto­ries. Th­ese are not re­lated to LW cul­ture speci­fi­cally, but rather meant to ex­plain where the women here are com­ing from. Warn­ing: This ar­ti­cle is a col­lec­tion of anec­dotes, NOT a log­i­cal ar­gu­ment. If you are not in­ter­ested in anec­dotes, don’t read it.

Copied from the origi­nal ar­ti­cle (by a woman on LW) on Ra­di­ant Things:

It’s lunchtime in fourth grade. I am ex­plain­ing to Les­lie, who has no friends but me, why we should stick to­gether. “We’re both re­jects,” I tell her. She draws back, af­fronted. “We’re not re­jects!” she says. I’m puz­zled. It hadn’t oc­curred to me that she wanted to be nor­mal.


It’s the first week of eighth grade. In a les­son on pre­his­tory, the teacher is try­ing and failing to pro­nounce “Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus.” I blurt out the cor­rect pro­nun­ci­a­tion (which my father taught me in early child­hood be­cause he thought it was fun to say). The boy next to me gives me a glare and be­gins look­ing for al­liter­a­tive in­sults. “Fruity fe­male” is the best he can man­age. “Geek girl” seems more apt, but I don’t sug­gest it.


It’s lunchtime in sev­enth grade. I’m sit­ting next to my two best friends, Brid­get and Chris­tine, on one side of a cafe­te­ria table. We have been ob­sessed with Star Wars for a year now, and the school’s two male Star Wars fans are seated op­po­site us. Un­der Greyson’s lead­er­ship, we are mak­ing up role­play­ing char­ac­ters. I be­gin de­scribing my char­ac­ter, a space-trav­el­ing mu­si­cian named Anya. “Why are your char­ac­ters always girls?” Grayson com­plains. “Just be­cause you’re girls doesn’t mean your char­ac­ters have to be.”

“Your char­ac­ters are always boys,” we re­tort. He’s right, though – fe­male char­ac­ters are an anomaly in the Star Wars uni­verse. Ge­orge Lu­cas (a boy) pop­u­lated his tril­ogy with 97% male char­ac­ters.


It’s Brid­get’s thir­teenth birth­day, and four of us are spend­ing the night at her house. While her par­ents sleep, we are role­play­ing that we have been cap­tured by Im­pe­ri­als and are es­cap­ing a de­ten­tion cell. This is not pa­pers-and-dice role­play­ing, but ad­vanced make-be­lieve with lots of pre­tend blaster bat­tles and dodg­ing be­hind fur­ni­ture.

Chris­tine and Cass, as­piring writ­ers, use role­play­ing as a way to test out plots in which they make dar­ing raids and die nobly. Brid­get, a fu­ture lawyer, and I, a fu­ture so­cial worker, use it as a way to test out moral prin­ci­ples. Brid­get has been try­ing to per­suade us that the Em­pire is a le­gi­t­i­mate gov­ern­ment and we shouldn’t be try­ing to over­throw it at all. I’ve been try­ing to per­suade Amy that shoot­ing stormtroop­ers is wrong. They are hav­ing none of it.

We all like dar­ing es­capes, though, so we do plenty of that.


It’s two weeks af­ter the Columbine shoot­ings, and the lo­cal pa­per has run an ed­i­to­rial de­nounc­ing par­ents who raise “geeks and goths.” I write my first-ever let­ter to the ed­i­tor, defend­ing geeks as kids par­ents should be proud of. A girl si­dles up to me at the lunch table. “I re­ally liked your let­ter in the pa­per,” she mut­ters, and skit­ters away.


It’s tenth grade, and I can’t bring my­self to tell the pres­i­dent of the chess club how des­per­ately I love him. One day I go to chess club just to be near him. There is only one other girl there, and she’s re­ally good at chess. I’m not, and I spend the meet­ing lean­ing silently on a wall be­cause I can’t stand to lose to a boy. Any­way, I de­spise the girls who join robotics club to be near boys they like, and I don’t want to be one of them.


It’s eleventh grade, and we are gath­ered af­ter school to play Dun­geons and Dragons. (My father, who origi­nally for­bid me to play D&D be­cause he had heard it would lead us to hack each other to pieces with axes, has re­lented.) Chris­tine is Dun­geon­mas­ter, and she has re­cruited two feck­less boys to play with us. One of them is in love with her.

(Nu­gent points out that D&D is es­sen­tially com­bat re­worked for phys­i­cally awk­ward peo­ple, a way of re­duc­ing bat­tle to dice rolls and calcu­la­tions. Chris­tine has been trained by her un­cle in the typ­i­cal swords-and-sor­cery style of play, but when she and I play the cul­ture is differ­ent. All our ad­ven­tures fea­ture pauses for our char­ac­ters to make tea and omelets.)

On this af­ter­noon, our char­ac­ters are ven­tur­ing into the coun­tryside and come across two ema­ci­ated farm­ers who tell us their fields are un­plowed be­cause dark elves from the for­est keep at­tack­ing them. “They’re go­ing to starve if they don’t get a crop in the ground,” I de­clare. “We’ve got to plow at least one field.” The boys go along with this plan.

“The farm­ers tell you their plow has rusted and doesn’t work,” the Dun­geon­mas­ter in­forms us from be­hind her screen.

I per­sist. “There’s got to be some­thing we can use. I look around to see if there’s any­thing else pointy I can use as a plow.”

The Dun­geon­mas­ter con­sid­ers. “There’s a metal gate,” she de­cides.

“Okay, I rig up some kind of har­ness and hitch it to the pony.”

“It’s rusty too,” in­tones the Dun­geon­mas­ter, “and pieces of it keep break­ing off. Look, you’re not sup­posed to be farm­ing. You’re sup­posed to go into the for­est and find the dark elves. I don’t have any­thing else about the farm­ers. The elves are the ad­ven­ture.” Reluc­tantly, I give up my agri­cul­tural res­cue plan and we go into the for­est to hack at elves.


I’m 25 and Jeff’s sister’s boyfriend is com­plain­ing that he never gets to play Magic: the Gather­ing be­cause he doesn’t know any­one who plays. “You could play with Ju­lia,” Jeff sug­gests.

“Very funny,” says Dan­ner, rol­ling his eyes.

Jeff and I look at each other. I re­al­ize geeks no longer read me as a geek. I still love ideas, love al­ter­nate imag­in­ings of how life could be, love be­ing right, but now I care about seem­ing nor­mal.

“...I wasn’t jok­ing,” Jeff says.

“It’s okay,” I re­as­sure Dan­ner. “I used to play ev­ery day, but I’ve pretty much for­got­ten how.”


A’s Submission

My creepy/​dan­ger alert was much higher at a meet­ing with a high-sta­tus (read: sup­pos­edly util­ity-gen­er­at­ing, which in­cludes at­trac­tive in the sense of pleas­ing or ex­cit­ing to look at, but mostly the util­ity is sup­posed to be from ac­tions, like work or play) man who was sup­posed to be my boss for an in­tern­ship.

The way he talked about the pre­vi­ous in­tern, a fe­male, the sleazy way he looked while rem­i­nisc­ing and then had to smoke a cigarette, while in a meet­ing with me, my father (an em­ployer who was abu­sive), and the in­tern­ship pro­gram di­rec­tor, plus the fact that when I was walk­ing to­wards the meet­ing room, the em­ploy­ees of the com­pany, all men, stared at me and re­marked, “It’s a girl,” well, I be­came so creeped out that I didn’t want to go back. It was hard, as a less ar­tic­u­late 16 year-old, to ex­plain to the in­tern­ship di­rec­tor all that stuff with­out sound­ing ir­ra­tional. But not be­ing able to ex­plain my brain’s pri­ors (incl. abuses that it had pre­vi­ously been too naïve/​ig­no­rant to warn against and pre­vent) wasn’t go­ing to change them or de­crease the avoidance-in­duc­ing fear and anx­iety.

So af­ter some awk­ward at­tempts to an­swer the in­tern­ship di­rec­tor’s ques­tion of why I didn’t want to work there, I asked for a place­ment with a differ­ent com­pany, which she couldn’t do, un­for­tu­nately.

B’s Submission

Words from my father’s mouth, grow­ing up: “You *need* to be able to cook and keep a clean house, or what man would want to marry you?”


Sixth grade year, I had ab­solutely no friends what­so­ever. A boy I had a bit of a crush on asked me out on a dare. I told him “no,” and he walked back to his laugh­ing friends.


In col­lege I joined the lo­cal SCA (me­dieval) group, and took up heavy weapons com­bat. The lo­cal (al­most all-male) “stick jocks” were very sup­port­ive and happy to help. Many had even read “The Ar­mored Rose” and so knew about fe­male-spe­cific is­sues and how to adapt what they were teach­ing to deal with things like a lower cen­ter of grav­ity, less mus­cle mass, a differ­ent grip, and in­grained cul­tural hang-ups. The guys were great. But there was one prob­lem: There was no fe­male-sized loaner ar­mor.

See, ar­mor is an ex­pen­sive in­vest­ment for a new hobby, and so lo­cal groups provide loaner ar­mor for new­bies, which gen­er­ally con­sist of hand-me-downs from the more ex­pe­rienced fighters. We had a de­cent amount of new fe­male fighters in our col­lege groups, but with­out a pre-ex­ist­ing gen­er­a­tion of fe­male fighters (women hadn’t even been al­lowed to fight un­til the 80s) there wasn’t any­thing to hand down.

The only scar I ever got from heavy com­bat was ar­mor bite from wear­ing much-too-large loaner ar­mor. I even­tu­ally got my own kit, and (Happy End­ing) the up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion of our group always made sure to ac­quire loaner ar­mor for BOTH gen­ders.


Be­cause of a lack of op­tions, and not re­ally hav­ing any­where else to go, I moved in with my boyfriend and got mar­ried at a rather young age (20 and 22, re­spec­tively). I had no clue how to be in­de­pen­dent. One of the most em­pow­er­ing things I ever did was start­ing work as an ex­otic dancer. After years of think­ing that I couldn’t sup­port my­self, it gave me the con­fi­dence that I could leave an un­happy mar­riage with­out end­ing up on the street (or more likely, mooching off friends and rel­a­tives). Another Happy End­ing- Now I’m com­pletely in­de­pen­dent.


Walk­ing into the library. A man holds open the door for me. I smile and thank him as I walk through. He makes a sex­ual com­ment. I do the Look-Straight-Ahead-and-Walk-Quickly thing.

“Bitch,” he spits out.

It’s not the first of this kind of in­ter­ac­tion in my life, and it most cer­tainly won’t be the last (al­most any time you are in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, with­out a male). But it hit harder than most be­cause I had been ex­pect­ing a po­lite in­ter­ac­tion.

Rele­vant link: http://​​good­men­pro­ject.com/​​ethics-val­ues/​​why-men-cat­call/​​


The next post will be on Group At­tri­bu­tion Er­ror, and will come out when I get around to it. :P