January 14, 2014

"I think that we need to have a conversation about subtle structural sexism."

Says Megan McArdle, leaning into the conversation I said I thought was played out years ago. In fact, here are Megan and I bloggingheadsing about that topic 6 years ago:



Anyway, what's interesting me right now is McArdle's use of the term "structural sexism." She doesn't define the term, which she uses twice. The other usage  is:
[Many people who make accusations of sexism] would genuinely like to gently convince people that there is much more subtle structural sexism out there than they understand... and they would also like to be able to get their political opponents hounded out of office for making sexist remarks. 
That appears before the quote in this post title, where McArdle says she too wants to talk about. Her focus is on how hard it is to have a good conversation on the subject. But it jumped out at me that she used the jargon "structural sexism." Both times she puts "structural" in front of sexism, she also puts "subtle." "Subtle" is easy to understand and doesn't give off a whiff of left-wing academialike "structural."

Searching my own archive for the term, I stumbled onto this paragraph from Obama's "Dreams From My Father" (describing his approach to life at Occidental College):
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.
So, what's the deal with "structural"? Should McArdle be throwing that word around so casually?

59 comments:

tim in vermont said...

"To avoid being mistaken for a sellout..."

Wow. I had read the paragraph before, but seriously. Wow. How many of us worry that we will be mistaken for a sellout, and then choose our friends based on that fear?

Ann Althouse said...

You've got to give him credit for being self-critical (even if it's calibrated self-criticism).

Brando said...

Tim--I get the feeling a lot of people choose friends at least unconsciously for such reasons. I can't really fault Obama for looking back at such behavior with what I have to assume is regret (though I haven't read his book so don't know the full context).

Clayton Hennesey said...

Isn't structural sexism when you only use her as a sex object in one of those freestanding pleasure swings?

Brando said...

But what does "structural" mean in the context of feminism? Is there some common usage that McArdle is violating here?

Michael said...

Structural means you can't argue with it nor can you see it or define it. It doesn't mean "shut up" but it does mean "be quiet."

Terry said...

When I read the Obama quote I wonder who did the alienating? "alienate" is a verb, isn't it? If Obama and his friends are the object, who or what is the subject?

MayBee said...

These conversations would not be that hard to have if people didn't feel someone with a differing opinion had to lose something.

When did it get so hard to just have conversations about life?

fivewheels said...

Structural sexism is like institutional racism ... it's when no one has done anything sexist or racist, but you still need to blame sexism or racism for something.

Revenant said...

The article itself is good and interesting, but then McArdle's writing usually is.

tim in vermont said...

"I get the feeling a lot of people choose friends at least unconsciously for such reasons."

If they do, I feel bad for them; talk about being a conformist.

Terry said...

Remember that Obama was the child of two academics. He was raised mostly by his grandmother and grandfather, one a banker and the other a furniture store owner. He attended Punahou, an exclusive prep school in Hawaii. In Indonesia he lived with his mother and his stepfather, an oil company engineer.
What values, exactly, did he think that he had to sell out?

MayBee said...

d. No, the real problem, to me, is that women attract an undue amount of nonsexual rage and denigration from people who don’t like the opinions they hold. People are ruder, angrier, more condescending and more dismissive with women who make arguments they don’t like.

I have a problem with this assertion. I don't see it around the internet.

Otto said...

Such nonsense, get your head out of your navel.
I think you should direct your attention to a subject that has had a bigger impact on the human race the last 200 years - the electromagnetic wave. You probably never heard of it, it's a guy thing.

MayBee said...

Maybe to go along with "mansplaining". We need to coin "womancomplaining"

TosaGuy said...

Didn't watch. Watched this instead.

Larry J said...

fivewheels said...
Structural sexism is like institutional racism ... it's when no one has done anything sexist or racist, but you still need to blame sexism or racism for something.


Sounds like it's closely related to the mythical "white priviledge." It's a way to blame your own shortcomings on someone else while projecting your own racism and/or sexism on them.

TosaGuy said...

Obama's childhood was made into a movie. He describes his childhood here.

Henry said...

I think McArdle is intentionally trying to avoid the academic out. If she doesn't use the term "structural" then the academics can say "but what about structural sexism, hmmmmmm?"

Remember our discussion about the word "specifically" not long ago?

Think of all the rhetorical tricks required to be specific about those things that are subtle, or subliminal, or implicit.

Our culture's monstrosities continually escape into the swamps of subtlety. It's very hard, academic, work to flush them out.

tim in vermont said...

Who am I to talk? The man invented himself and parlayed that invention into the presidency.

Xmas said...

I don't think she's throwing the term "structural" around casually. I think she's using it as a preemptive strike against certain types of feminists. The whole point of the article is that the ad hominem attack tactics of the "Smash the Patriarchy"/"PIV is always rape" crowd have bled into everyday political discourse. Disagreement is countered with declarations of the oppositions obvious sexism/racism/classism/privilege. While some things can be shrugged off, accusations of racism or sexism can result in some serious consequences for people.

MayBee said...

Womanplaining is women complaining that they are being treated in a sexist manner when men won't act the way women want them to.

virgil xenophon said...

"Structural/Cultural racism" is akin to the Japanese having all the street and store-front signs in Japanese and American ex-pats living in Japan complaining that they are not in English, i.e., an idiotic concept..

Fen said...

Gobbledy Gook. With the qualifier "subtle" used to mask it.

SteveR said...

He wasn't at Occidental long enough, much less at an age when he would have actually formulated it that way, to have come up with that. But Bill Ayers certainly could come up with that 20 years later.

"Structural" yeah academialike. I see pin heads constructing sexism and feminists. Like engineering students with Legos, making Structural stuff.

Molly said...

The use of the term "structural sexism" is a sign that the acts under consideration are not really sexist, but that an accusation of sexism can be made to sound plausible to those unwilling or unable to think critically.

Carl Pham said...

Structural sexism is the fault of architects who make monuments all look like penes. We need some giant vulvas on the Mall, is all, although passing through the columns at the Lincoln Memorial comes close I guess.

Carl Pham said...

As for having a "conversation"...ah ha ha ha.

Not to be too coarse, ladies, but fuck you and have a nice day. The sine qua non of starting a conversation is a sincere offer to listen. That's what distinguishes a conversation from an offer to lecture.

When the furrowed-brow X-chromosomed pundits of the world pull up a chair in front of men and say Listen, ape, I'm going to totally shut up now and listen to you, and I want you to tell me why you do this and such, and what the hell is going on between those stubbly ears -- talk! why, then, we can imagine an actual conversation.

But our interest in a "conversation" that consists of a long lecture on how you feel, and what you think we should think or feel or do about it is within hundreds of a degree of absolute zero. We already know enough to work with you, and manipulate you, or ignore you when that works. We're good, actually. If you want change -- change.

(I have the same advice for men who complain about not knowing what the hell women want, BTW. If you really want to know, pull up a chair and offer to listen. With your mouth firmly shut.)

MadisonMan said...

When I read We need to have a conversation I find that it inevitably means I want to lecture you.

traditionalguy said...

Structural always means a Marxist analysis of people unconsciously being bad thinking people and therefore in need of re-education labor camp or taken out and shot.

The individual man is dead. The collective man is expendible.

Long live the Woman's Republic.

Paco Wové said...

"When I read We need to have a conversation I find that it inevitably means I want to lecture you."

Pretty much McArdle's point, I think.

n.n said...

Structural means organized. It implies pervasive. Essentially, she is slandering half of the world's population.

Speaking of holding a conversation at gunpoint, will feminists refrain from holding a conversation at scalpel-point? They cannot argue rights and simultaneously deny the most basic right. Not to mention it is, at best, considered poor form, to cast general aspersions on half of the world's population.

The feminists have jumped the cradle and are now wallowing in the toilet.

Doug said...

What is it about women talking about sexism that makes me want to stab myself in the heart?

AJ Lynch said...

Megan has too much time on her hands -she needs a couple kids [can I say that here?] to rid of her of the idea she is one of our foremost public intelluctuals.

Larry J said...

MadisonMan said...
When I read We need to have a conversation I find that it inevitably means I want to lecture you.


Exactly. Example: Eric Holder says we need to have a national conversation about race. That means white people (especially white men) need to sit down, shut up and listen to everyone hector us for every real and imagined case of discrimination, ever and forever.

Smilin' Jack said...

When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.

So that's how assholes think of themselves. I've always wondered.

madAsHell said...

I woke up this morning with priapism, but now I see that it's nothing more than structural sexism.

rhhardin said...

To break a structure you need a force, and vice versa.

tim maguire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

Structural means it's built into the system, you don't have to talk about it, it's simply there. Subtle, most don't recognize it as sexism, you have to carefully look for it to find it.

An example of structural sexism might be maternity leave that is not matched by paternity leave. It is built into the system and sold as a benefit that the mother stays home with the new baby, harming her career and making women less attractive to employers.

The man works, the woman raises the kids. The man gets bonus points for nurturing because any is more than what is expected. The woman feels guilty for putting work ahead of her family and so is less likely to do it. It's part of the structure of our society.

Fen said...

Feminism lost all credibility years ago when, after lecturing us for a decade on the evils of sexual harassment in the workplace, they whitewashed the sexual discrimination/harassment/assault of Jones/Lewinsky/Wiley as "just about sex, MoveOn"

TMink said...

Racism and other forms of bigotry are anything but subtle. If they are subtle, they are inconsequential.

Trey

pst314 said...

Structural sexism is when a woman gets a degree in Advanced Grievances and then has to settle for a job at Starbucks.

Structural racism is when a black guy constantly throws his race in white people's faces, refuses to let them forget that he's black and oppressed, and then complains that he detects subtle differences in how he is treated.

Sorun said...

I still open doors for women.

Thorley Winston said...

I still open doors for women.

I usually just leave cab fare on the night stand.

Any other money I find in her purse, I take with me.




Michael K said...

"You've got to give him credit for being self-critical (even if it's calibrated self-criticism)."

Or to Bill Ayres for seeing what would sell in leftist circles.

jr565 said...

What structural sexism is there? Maybe its because I live in a blue state, but I have yet to work in a job that didn't have women working along side of me and even as my supervisor.
Did we make the exact same amount? Even if we didn't it probably had little to do with our sex. But rather our experience levels.
And since some people stay on a job longer than others (like say someone takes a year off to raise a kid, or works as a consultant) you can't expect everyone's salary's to be equal.
The modern day feminist are saying that if equality of outcomes are not equal that it's an example of sexism. I can't think of many industries where you could ever have such an outcome without implementing strict quota systems.
There is no glass ceiling. Is this true for every industry? Of course not. But they have to compete with other companies that aren't restricting women. So it's not as if women can't go to the other company also in their industry that doesn't mistreat it's employees.
Either that or its an individual issue with individual manangers who treat their employees certain ways. But you can't base the degree to which there is sexism across the board on individual managers.Since each one is different.
You can't expect equality of outcomes, only equality of opportunity.

jr565 said...

I still open doors for women.

I stopped doing that recently for anyone who is a teenager or into their 30's. I would hold doors and if the woman was in her forties or older she'd say thanks. IF she was in her 20's she would often say nothing at all.
ANd note, I would also hold doors open for guys, so it wasn't based on chivalry but common courtesy.
But for younger girls, I don't really feel that I have to hold a door open.

Ann Althouse said...

"Structural always means a Marxist analysis…"

Well, that's one way to look at it and it's one reason I thought it was weird for Megan to use it without defining it or recognizing it's jargonosity.

Saint Croix said...

"structural" means you don't have to prove it or accuse any individual person. It's in the air, like climate change.

Tom said...

I think structural means that the issue is reinforced by institutions and or systems. In stark terms, if my grandpa didn't like black people, that's a personal bigotry or racism. He may feel that way regardless of any cultural forces. However, Jim Crowe was structural racism. It not only codified racism - it reinforced bigotry in the population.

I believe that McArdle is arguing that structural feminism is created by anti-sexual harassment laws and organizational policies. Since men can't "fight back", they are structurally made defenseless. A lot of feminists want this power to reside in the hands of women. And they may have good reasons for it that I don't understand. But there is no men believe the deck is stacked against them and it's very worrisome. Men at work avoid situations that erode teamwork and reduce organizational effectiveness out of fear of misunderstanding. How is that good?

elkh1 said...

"We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure." We were self-centered, we were obnoxious.

Unfortunately, Obama has never tried the ultimate demonstration of alienation, to off himself.

Paco Wové said...

"To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully."

Dunno, sounds pretty insecure to me.

RecChief said...

hey she's kinda hawt

Leit Bart said...

Yeah, but see, if it's "structural," we're all guilty of it. It's in the water. It's in the walls. And it's quite a nifty linguistic trick when the "racist" or "sexist" card won't stick because it's less intellectually jarring than "male privilege" or "white privilege" -- at least for now ...

But meh. Maybe I'm just hiding behind the "mask of masculinity" in our structurally "toxic" masculine culture.

http://ideas.time.com/2014/01/13/masculinity-is-more-than-a-mask/

Titus said...

You look fab Althouse. Love red lipstick on a woman....so delish.

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Larry J said...

Sorun said...
I still open doors for women.


If I'm going through a door, I'll hold it open for anyone following me, men or women. Both women and men do the same thing for me. Maybe people are just nicer here. Anyone who'd complain when someone holds a door for them is an asshole.

Fernandinande said...

"Structural" is Newspeak for "imaginary".

How many of us worry that we will be mistaken for a sellout, and then choose our friends based on that fear?

Only a manipulative scumbag would think that way.