life Reflections WISE women in computer science

Intellectual Feminism, and Sexist Pigs

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I love Big Bang Theory (Amazon), but, and bear with me for a depressing though of the day, I think Sheldon is the most feminist of all the guys. Of course, that is in large part because he despises everyone as being beneath him, but the people who has has a little-more-than-grudging respect for include: Amy Farrah Fowler, Leonard’s mother, and his own mother (OK, that one is more fear than respect). All women.

Of course Leonard and Raj have a whole ton of issues to do with women, but Howard I find interesting. Howard is engaged to Bernadette, who has a PhD and a good job. He’s cool with this, proud of her even, but you see his discomfort when she buys him something pretty because she’s making so much more money than he does. He’s pro children, and someone staying home to raise them, until she points out that financially it makes sense if he’s the one who stays home.

Howard is what I think of as an “intellectual feminist”. He’s cool with successful women, working with them, working for them. But when it comes to the reality that his partner is more successful (on some measures) than he is? Well that makes him uncomfortable.

Think, too, of Tom and Lynette in Desperate Housewives (Amazon).

But, it happens in the real world too, I’ve seen (and dated), men who were cool with successful women, attracted to it, even, but then came to resent it.

Easy to see in the world of romance, but also outside of it. A woman having a professional disagreement she feels passionately about, has her argument discounted because she’s being emotional. A guy hits send on an inappropriately critical/complaining email, to a woman, that he probably wouldn’t have hit send on had it been a guy who he was unhappy with. Or, at least, maybe he wouldn’t have cc’d a guy‘s boss.

Years ago, the Sexist Pig would look you up and down, and tell you to fetch him a coffee before performing a sexual favor. The Sexist Pig of today is more subtle. They think – and this has been demonstrated lately – that they are completely egalitarian and people are just being over-sensitive/taking things the wrong way. They are an intellectual feminist.

Howard is a pure Intellectual Feminist. He gets that sick look on his face, but doesn’t say anything – I like to think it’s not out of fear of losing Bernadette but because he realizes he’s made a flawed assumption. In my theory of Intellectual Feminism and Sexist Pigs, where the intellectual feminist starts to cross into Sexist Pig territory, it’s because they are acting on their flawed assumptions and trying to justify them. They can’t take that a woman pointed out that they are wrong, and so they go on the attack and try and destroy the woman’s credibility. They generalize, “I worked with a woman and didn’t really like it, and I’d prefer not to do that again”. Personally, or professionally, they try to hurt the woman who has (unintentionally) challenged their self-esteem.

Sometimes people say things, or do things, that are manifestly wrong, and stupid. But mostly, it’s a thousand little cuts. Questions, where we ask ourselves – would he be behaving that way, if I were a dude? Maybe the answer is No, and that is a problem. But the fact that question even crosses her mind at all? That is what eats away at her – at me – and makes Sheldon seem like not that terrible a person to interact with, after all.

I mean, yes he would be like that with a dude. He’s kind of a jerk.