LW Women: LW Online

Stan­dard Intro

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

Sev­eral 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.

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!)

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 sub­mit­ters- 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.

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

(Note from me: I’ve been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing on post­ing these. Sorry to ev­ery­one who sub­mit­ted! But I’ve got them or­ga­nized de­cently enough to post now, and will be putting one up once a week or so, un­til we’re through)

Sub­mit­ter A

I think this is all true. Note that that com­menter hasn’t com­mented since 2009.

Ob­jec­tify­ing re­marks about at­trac­tive women and sneery re­marks about unattrac­tive women are not nice. I worry that guys at less wrong would ig­nore unattrac­tive women if they came to meet­ings. Unat­trac­tive women can still be smart! I also worry that they would only pay at­ten­tion to at­trac­tive women in­so­far as they think they might get to sleep with them.

I find the “women are aliens” at­ti­tude that var­i­ous com­menters (and even Eliezer in the post I link to) seem to have difficult to deal with: http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​rp/​​the_op­po­site_sex/​​. I wish these posters would make it clear that they are talk­ing about women on av­er­age: pre­sum­ably they don’t think that all men and all women find each other to be like aliens.

I find I tend to shy away from say­ing fem­i­nist things in re­sponse to PUA/​gen­der posts, since there seems to be a fair amount of knee-jerk down-vot­ing of any­thing fem­i­nist sound­ing. There also seems to be quite a lot of knee-jerk up-vot­ing of poorly re­searched arm­chair ev-psych.

Linked to 3, if peo­ple want to make claims about men and women hav­ing differ­ent in­nate abil­ities, that is fine. How­ever, I wish they’d make it clear when they are talk­ing on av­er­age, i.e. “women on av­er­age are worse at en­g­ineer­ing than men” not “women are worse at en­g­ineer­ing than men.”

A bit of me wishes that the “no mind­kil­ler top­ics” rule was en­forced more strictly, and that we didn’t dis­cuss sex/​gen­der is­sues. I do think it is off-putting to smart women—you don’t con­vert peo­ple to ra­tio­nal­ity by talk­ing about such emo­tive top­ics. Even if some of the claims like “women on av­er­age are less good at en­g­ineer­ing than men” are true* they are likely to put smart women off vis­it­ing less wrong. Not sure to what ex­tent we should sac­ri­fice look­ing for truth to at­tract peo­ple. I sus­pect many LWers would say not at all. I don’t know. We already rarely dis­cuss poli­tics, so would it be ter­rible to also dis­cuss sex/​gen­der is­sues as lit­tle as pos­si­ble?

I agree with Luke here

*and I do think some of them are true


Sub­mit­ter B

My ex­pe­rience of LessWrong is that it feels un­friendly. It took me a long time to de­velop skin thick enough to tol­er­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where warmth is scarce. I feel pretty cer­tain that I’ve got a thicker skin than most women and that the en­vi­ron­ment is putting off other women. You wouldn’t find those women writ­ing an LW nar­ra­tive, though—the type of women I’m speak­ing of would not have joined. It’s good to open a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the gen­ders, but by ask­ing the women who stayed, you’re not find­ing out much about the women who did not stay. This is why I men­tion my thin­ner-skinned self.

What do I mean by un­friendly? It feels like peo­ple are ten thou­sand times more likely to point out my flaws than to ap­pre­ci­ate some­thing I said. Also, there’s next to no emo­tional re­lat­ing to one an­other. Peo­ple show ap­pre­ci­a­tion silently in votes, and give ver­bal crit­i­cism, and there are oc­ca­sion­ally com­pli­ments, but there seems to be a dearth of friendli­ness. I don’t need in­stant bond­ing, but the cold­ness is thick. If I try to tell by the way peo­ple are act­ing, I’m half con­vinced that most of the peo­ple here think I’m a mo­ron. I’m thick skinned enough that it doesn’t get to me, but I don’t en­vi­sion this type of en­vi­ron­ment work­ing to draw women.

Ive had similar un­friendly ex­pe­riences in other male-dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ments like in a class of mostly boys. They were ag­gres­sive—in a self­ish way, as op­posed to a con­struc­tive one. For in­stance, if the teacher was demon­strat­ing some­thing, they’d crowd around ag­gres­sively try­ing to get the best spots. I was much shorter, which makes it harder to see. This forced me to com­pete for a front spot if I wanted to see at all, and I never did be­cause I just wasn’t like that. So that felt pretty in­sen­si­tive. Another male dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ment was similarly heavy on the crit­i­cism and light on nice­ness.

Th­ese seem to be a theme in male-dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ments which have always had some­what of a de­ter­ring effect on me: self­ish com­pet­i­tive be­hav­ior (Con­struc­tive com­pe­ti­tion for an award or to pro­duce some­thing of qual­ity is one thing, but to com­pete for a priv­ilege in a way that hurts some­one at a dis­ad­van­tage is off-putting), fo­cus on nega­tive re­in­force­ment (act­ing like tough guys by not giv­ing out com­pli­ments and be­ing abra­sive), lack of friendli­ness (There can be no warm fuzzies when you’re act­ing manly) and hos­tility to­ward sen­si­tivity.

One ex­cep­tion to this is Vladimir_Nesov. He has be­haved in a sup­port­ive and yet hon­est way that feels friendly to me. Shan­nonFried­man does “hon­est yet friendly” well, too.

A lot of guys I’ve dated in the last year have made the same creepy mis­take. I think this is likely to be rele­vant be­cause they’re so much like LW mem­bers (most of them are pro­gram­mers, their per­son­al­ities are very similar and one of them had even signed up for cryo), and be­cause I’ve seen some hints of this be­hav­ior on the dis­cus­sions. I don’t talk enough about my­self here to ac­tu­ally bring out this “creepy” be­hav­ior (an­ti­ci­pa­tion of that be­hav­ior is in­hibit­ing me as well as not want­ing to get too per­sonal in pub­lic) so this could give you an in­sight that might not be pos­si­ble if I spoke strictly of my ex­pe­riences on LessWrong.

The mis­take goes like this:

I’d say some­thing about my­self.

They’d dis­agree with me.

For a spe­cific ex­am­ple, I was asked whether I was more of a thinker or feeler and I said I was pretty bal­anced. He re­torted that I was more of a thinker. When I per­sist in these situ­a­tions, they ac­tu­ally ar­gue with me. I am the one who has spent mil­lions of min­utes in this mind, able to di­rectly ex­pe­rience what’s go­ing on in­side of it. They have spent, at this point, maybe a few hun­dred min­utes ob­serv­ing it from the out­side, yet they act like they’re ex­perts. If they said they didn’t un­der­stand, or even that they didn’t be­lieve me, that would be work­able. But they try to con­vince me I’m wrong about my­self. I find this deeply dis­turb­ing and it’s com­pletely dys­func­tional. There’s no way a per­son will ever get to know me if he won’t even listen to what I say about my­self. Hav­ing to ar­gue with a per­son over who I am is in­tol­er­able.

I’ve thought about this a lot try­ing to figure out what they’re try­ing to do. It’s never go­ing to be a sexy “nega­tive hit” to ar­gue with me about who I am. Disagree­ing with me about my­self can’t pos­si­bly count as show­ing off their in­cred­ible abil­ity to see into me be­cause they’re do­ing the ex­act op­po­site: be­ing willfully ig­no­rant. Maybe they have such a need to box me into a cat­e­gory that they in­sist on do­ing so im­me­di­ately. Per­son­al­ities don’t fit nicely in cat­e­gories, so this is an auto-fail. It comes across as if they’re ei­ther de­luded into be­liev­ing they’re some kind of mind-read­ing ge­nius or that they don’t re­al­ize I’m a whole, grown-up hu­man be­ing com­plete with the abil­ity to know my­self. This has hap­pened on the LessWrong fo­rum also.

I have had a similar prob­lem that only started to make sense af­ter con­sid­er­ing that they may have been mak­ing a con­scious effort to de­velop skep­ti­cism: I had a lot of ex­pe­riences where it felt like ev­ery­thing I said about my­self was be­ing scru­ti­nized. It makes perfect sense to be skep­ti­cal about other con­ver­sa­tion top­ics, but when they’re skep­ti­cal about things I say about my­self, this is in­gra­ti­at­ing. This is be­cause it’s not likely that ei­ther of us will be able to prove or dis­prove any­thing about my per­son­al­ity or sub­jec­tive ex­pe­riences in a short pe­riod of time, and pos­si­bly never. Yet say­ing noth­ing about our­selves is not an op­tion if we want to get to know each other bet­ter. I have to start some­where.

It’s al­most like they’re in such a rush to have defini­tive an­swers about me that they’re sab­o­tag­ing their po­ten­tial to de­velop a real un­der­stand­ing of me. Get­ting to know peo­ple is com­pli­cated—that’s why it takes a long time. Tear­ing apart her self-ex­pres­sions can’t save you from the am­bi­guity.

I need “get­ting to know me” /​ “shar­ing my­self” type con­ver­sa­tions to be an ex­plo­ra­tion. I do un­der­stand the need to con­struct one’s own per­spec­tive on each new per­son. I don’t need all my state­ments to be ac­cepted at face value. I just want to feel that the per­son is hap­pily ex­plor­ing. They should seem like they’re hav­ing fun check­ing out some­thing in­ter­est­ing, not in­ter­ro­gat­ing me and ex­pect­ing to find a pile of er­rors. Maybe this hap­pens be­cause of hav­ing a habit of skep­ti­cal think­ing—they make peo­ple feel scru­ti­nized with­out know­ing it.