LW Women: LW Online
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)
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
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.