5/25/2017 1 Comment
This week, Portland State University philosophy professor Dr. Peter Boghossian and mathematician Dr. James Lindsay collaborated to write and submit their hoax paper, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” for publication in an academic journal.
This beautifully illustrated the point that academe routinely trades respectability for ideological crusades. So it's no wonder that Christina Hoff Sommers, "Factual Feminist" and author of One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance, was able to school "microaggressions scholar" Derald Wing Sue in a single, six-minute youtube video.
She begins by pointing out a sexist, ageist, "looks-ist", and "gelfist" tweet targeted at her by none other than "social justice warrior" Lindy West, columnist and author of such masterpieces as Shrill and How to Be a Person.
This tweet, Sommers points out, is a "textbook microaggression" -- a reminder of Sommers' "devalued state as an age-enhanced woman."
Other microaggressions include referring to America as America (it "erases" South and Central America) or a melting pot (because people shouldn't assimilate or learn the language, even though assimilation is THE fastest way for immigrants to escape the poverty cycle and become part of a larger society); calling a group of women "you guys" (because... women are so hypersensitive that this erases them?); and asking someone where they're from (because it implies they're not from here).
Columbia Professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership". In his influential treatise, Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, Sue writes that microaggressions "deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being, shorten life expectancy, and deny minority populations equal access and opportunity in education, employment, and health care."
But is there any actual research to back up these claims?
According to Emory Professor Scott Lillienfeld, the evidence for microaggressions is flimsy at best. In Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence (2017), he writes:
Microaggression research program (MRP) rests on five core premises, namely, that microaggressions (1) are operationalized with sufficient clarity and consensus to afford rigorous scientific investigation; (2) are interpreted negatively by most or all minority group members; (3) reflect implicitly prejudicial and implicitly aggressive motives; (4) can be validly assessed using only respondents’ subjective reports; and (5) exert an adverse impact on recipients’ mental health.
In other words,
1. There is no coherent definition of the term "microaggression."
2. It's not clear which, if any, groups are offended by microaggressions. (It's kind of entirely subjective, isn't it?)
3. There's little evidence to support grand claims, such as the claim that microaggressions shorten your lifespan.
Sue concedes these points -- but complains that Lillienfeld relies on "elitist research methods favored by the dominant class." Because things like "valid measurements" and "evidence of causality" aren't as important as "lived experience."
PAUSE for a second. Before we get back to Sommers' closing argument, which I loved (even though it, too, relies on "lived experience" to make a point).
Let's first acknowledge that this is the most sexist, racist bullshit anyone's ever said. Calling the scientific method "elitist" implies that women and people of color are unable to do real science. Sue is far from the only scholar who is guilty of this type of benevolent sexist and racism. Is Everyday Feminism... Secretly Anti-Feminist points out several examples of benevolently racist and sexist scholarship. For example:
Structuring feminist science, in Women’s Studies International Forum:
Are STEM Syllabi Gendered? A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis, in The Qualitative Report:
Glaciers, gender, and science, in Progress in Human Geology:
In other words, science is too hard for women. Words like “attain” and “must” and “will” scare women. Also, shame on professors for teaching critical thinking and the scientific method, because women don’t like the idea of knowledge being something you can “attain” — women like conversations.
Also, science is scary for women, so “alternative knowledges” like folklore (that are generally "marginalized" through colonialism, imperialism, inequality, unequal power relations, patriarchy) ought to supplement Western science.
As a woman in science, this is the most insulting shit I've ever heard. No, a picture of a white man isn't going to limit what I can do. But telling my professors not to respect me or teach me how to do real science... absolutely will. Don't forget what Rosenthal famously learned in his "academic spurters" study: people will rise (and fall) to meet the expectations we set for them.
So... want to keep women and people of color in their place? Want to keep them from leadership positions in STEM? Then keep doing this! Don't teach them science! Just make sure their feelings never get hurt.
Okay, unpause. Let's go back to Sommers' closing argument:
I'm not bothered when someone addresses my friends and me as "you guys," or someone tells a "lame" joke -- pardon the expression. I mean, who cares? Not me, and I suspect not most women.
Policing people's words, jokes, Halloween costumes, and social media photos is not the way to promote social change -- just anonymous informants, censorship, and fascism.
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