Revenge of the petunias: the gender edition

This section of my reply to Dave Freer got to long and also touched on issues beyond the proportionality discussion of the Petunias and Whales. I am posting it seperately.

DF: I don’t know if you’ve worked this out, but I assume you would accept that there is bias in the number of women winning Hugos? Well – over the same period I make that as rough count of 57. So given that women make 50% of the population, and Conservatives 40% because Mike’s definition of conservative is more generous than mine – you then establish that bias against conservatives is actually 2.7 times as bad. Am I suggesting we ignore women? No. But we cannot ignore something worse, and notice women’s participation.

Firstly let me make a distinction between what we might call shenanigans and society. In Part 8 I discussed some aspects of bias in general. I’ll simplify that a bit to make a distinction:

  • Shenanigans*: by this I mean an active antipathy to a group that people in a given circumstance, community, organization are using to keep that group out.
  • Society: processes in society, unconscious prejudices, established power relationships, historical disadvantage, cultural boundaries etc etc that for one reason or another lead to one group suffering in general.

In some case shenanigans are legitimate when applied to ideology. I actively discriminate against conservatives when I vote in a general election :). However, I agree that shenanigans against conservatives in something like the Hugo awards is wrong – with some caveats.

The caveats I have discussed elsewhere is when there is conflict between somebody’s aesthetic choice and somebody else ideological choice. In such cases (particularly around identity politics) it may difficult to even work out which is which. People wanting more gay central characters in their fiction is an aesthetic choice with ideological associations – it is an aesthetic choice though, just like somebody who wants more clockwork-robot central characters in their fiction. In this case what may appear to be a legitimate evaluation of a work by one person may appear to be political shenanigans to another.

tl;dr on shenanigans. People should not be actively plotting or campaigning to get conservatives off the Hugo ballot just for being conservatives.

but…on the issue of people of extreme ideologies (for example an actual white-supremacist or an actual neo-Nazi or an active supporter of Al-Qaeda) I reserve judgement – people who are using their work to promote the active antipathy against a group don’t get to appeal to the “no shenanigans” rule. I think that is just common sense.

In terms of women and the Hugos, then the same applies obviously. People should not be trying to get women off the Hugo ballot just for being women. I think you would agree.

Now onto society. Statistical bias against a group  within a community (organization etc.) may appear even when everybody is acting in good faith and nobody is actively engaged in shenanigans against that group. These biases arise for historical or cultural reasons but could also just be emergent properties of a free-society. The US film industry is centered on Los Angeles and hence we’ll find a statistical bias in the geo-location of movie actors for example. Some of these socioeconomic biases may be effectively benign and some may be truly awful.

More importantly a particular community that is unprejudiced against group X may still show a statistical bias against group X because of prejudices external to that group. For example nobody in a given community may be actively discriminating against people of particular ethnicity but that ethnicity may still be under-represented because of prejudices that ethnicity faces in general.

So far, you’ve shown (as far you are concerned) a statistical bias against conservatives in the Hugos and although I’m more sceptical I can’t claim that there definitely is not one (just that it is hard to detect given the quality of data we have). There have been various claims on Puppy blogs of what we might call shenanigans but again, not much of a smoking gun.

So should I still be worried about conservatives being underrepresented if the bias is external to Hugos? i.e. society rather than shenanigans? After all I am concerned about the representation of women in the Hugos regardless of whether it is society or shenanigans.

Sorry but “conservative” as a group isn’t the same as “women” as group. I suppose there are some liberals who see diversity as an end in itself. I am not a liberal I don’t see diversity as an end in itself and I can’t speak for those that do. I’m an egalitarian who wants to see centuries old inequalities of economic and social power brought to an end. Conservatives are not an economically or politically disadvantaged group. Certainly some conservatives are also members of historically disadvantaged groups whether by socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality or ethnicity but as a whole conservatives do not suffer some systemic economic or power disadvantage by virtue of them being conservatives. That conservatives are elected in significant numbers to high office in the most powerful nation on earth, and can be found at all levels of the economy and include in their numbers many, many powerful and wealthy people, means that from my perspective there is no particular reason that a particular organization needs to worry itself about whether conservatives are sufficiently represented.

More to the point conservatives should agree with that – or at least steadfast conservatives who, typically, oppose affirmative action even for historically disadvantaged groups. So it would seem very odd that conservatives should suggest I should be concerned about their level of representation in any given organization. I.e. you haven’t established why I should care if there is an under-representation of conservatives any more than I should care if there is an under-representation of stamp collectors.

Conservatives are not lacking, on the whole, in either money, power or influence. If conservatives are choosing to do something other than writing SF/F I’m not clear as to why I should be making an effort to convince them to do so. I assume they are happy doing what they are choosing to do.

I strongly suspect (and the quality of conservative writers in the 2015 nominees increase my suspicion) that the biggest source of statistical bias is a lack of good, effective conservative SF/F writers. Puppies would be better putting their efforts into fostering a genuine conservative SF/F aesthetic movement that justifies itself against its own standards rather than defining itself as an opposition to straw-bogeymen SJWs, CHORFs etc or sulking about imagined conspiracies. Neither behavior is likely to encourage non-conservatives to take the writing seriously.

[*I’ve picked a cute name for what can be a terrible thing and which may include systematic bullying, threats of violence or actual violence. The cute name is not meant to lessen how appalling sexual or ethnic or many other kinds of discrimination can be or the real damage it does to individual lives. I’m using it try avoid some more common language in this field that may provoke knee-jerk reactions from some quarters of the right]
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6 thoughts on “Revenge of the petunias: the gender edition”

    1. Well yes indeed. The notion of some equity between discrimination against women versus conservatives though – it is like sorry but no. Conservatives aren’t systematically under paid compared with non conservatives just because they are conservatives. They aren’t beaten, sexual assaulted or the consistently the asymmetric victims of violence just because they are conservatives. They haven’t been subjected to possibly thousands of years of economic disparity, stereotyping just because they are conservatives. And non-conservatives don’t spend their time earnestly debating how we should control the bodies of conservatives right down to when and how and with whom they should have sex.

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