Monday, February 27, 2012

Is your heart fonder? Due to all the absence and all...

My apologies for the long wait between updates. I was on vacation last week in sunny Niagara Falls, ON, and so was away from the computer. But fear not! I have a list of blogging topics and have recently gotten my hands on several new zombie books, including Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel Drezner, which I had been covetting for a long time. My thoughts on that, along with my review of Deadline, and a few other odds and ends should appear here later this week.

In the meantime, I need to catch up on news and reading and blogs and stuff....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Deconstructing the Boys' Club

Over on Skepchick,  Jacqueline posts about the "Boys' Club" and how a woman can "infiltrate" it, by working hard, speaking up, and getting involved. And not having sex with the guys until she has her membership locked in. The advice in the article is useful in general, and anyone on the outside of power or privilege would be well-advised to follow her a point.

I had a little problem reading the article, though, and it was because it bared a sort of similarity to other articles written, where the underlying assumption is that the reason why women aren't in more positions of authority is because they just didn't want it bad enough. Too often, it seems that the reason for women's failures are that they didn't speak up, they didn't ask for the raise, they didn't report the sexual assault at the right time, they didn't wear the right dress and that's why they were raped. While Jacqueline's post is positive, and avoids laying blame anywhere, I feel like the larger part of the problem is ignored. But that's okay, because the post wasn't about how men are evil, it was about actions that women could take to improve their situation.

The larger part of the problem isn't really that men are evil (obviously), but it's that the playing field is so overwhelmingly tilted against women, and it will remain that way until men get their shit together and start paying more than lip service to the idea of equality and equity. And, because I'm so darn helpful, here are some ways that men can help women to get into the boys' club (if you wonder why we should want this, you might be reading the wrong blog):

1) Acknowledge contributions - it's true that women (and other minorities, really) need to work twice as hard to get half the credit. There are a lot of reasons for this, including our own biases. Because of the way we've all been socialized, we naturally attribute some qualities to men and other qualities to women whether or not they've actually demonstrated those qualities. For a man to appear hard-working, all he has to do is show up. One thing that men can do is to carefully and consciously look for and acknowledge or reward when a woman has gone above and beyond. Not patronisingly, but frankly and honestly. Take a long hard look at who is being rewarded and why, and do your best to overcome your own bias. Sometimes we miss things that are really, really obvious, and we need to put in extra effort to see what we are missing. Who gets the promotions? Who gets the bonus? Who gets the congratulatory emails? When in doubt, side with the minority: they have so many other obstacles to overcome, it would be nice if you can give them a break, even if you're wrong once in a while.

2) Leave space for others to speak - women are socialized to defer to men, and men are socialized to speak up. Years ago, while training to volunteer on a gay youth helpline, one of the subjects we covered was how people with privilege often have the assumed right to speak, and so entire meetings can happen where only one point of view is ever spoken. For anyone who's ever been in a group situation where your opinion differed from the group's, you know how difficult it can be to speak up. The next time you're in a meeting, pay attention to who speaks, and how many times someone is interrupted or ignored. Unless there's been a massive shift, you'll see that most often men speak. When women do try to add their opinion, they're more likely to be interrupted, ignored, or dismissed. Try to be aware of this and allow space for other viewpoints to be expressed. If you're chairing the meeting, give time to the people most different from you to speak. They will probably have an insight that you hadn't considered, and you'll also be showing that you support an environment where different perspectives are appreciated and welcomed.

3) Invite people. If you're organising a conference, and realise that all or most of your speakers are straight white men, do some research and change it. This isn't token-ism, its due diligence. Rare are the professions where there are no experts with diverse backgrounds. It's a giant planet we live on, and we tend to only pay attention to the meagre little circle of colleagues and acqaintances that we already know. Also, there's this thing? Called the internet? Use it. If you can't find a person of colour, a woman, a differently abled, a queer speaker, you are doing it wrong. Right now, it takes a bit of extra work, but that's because the playing field is not level. One of the ways to get that field level is for those of us with the advantages to put in the legwork to give some advantages to other people. Awards, panels, discussions, lead teams....if you've only got men, you've got work to do.

4) Give respect. To a degree, respect is earned. But there is room for all of us to decide on a base level of decency and regard that we can give to every human being we encounter. Examine where this level is for you, and whether it is consistent across genders, cultures, and ranges of ability. Take the time to learn a little bit about the psychology of bias, and examine where your prejudices may lie (if you're human, you have prejudices). Then, do what you can to overcome those biases. Acknowledge that some people have had to work twice as hard as you did to reach the same achievements, and be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. Consider the other side of things, the other person's perspective. Think of them as a person.

Boys' clubs don't really help anyone. Individuals profit from them by getting privileged access to information and power, but as a whole what they really do is limit our vision and hamper our ability to make decisions. When you only have one "kind" of person in charge, important factors get missed and catastrophes can happen that could have been avoided. By making room for different perspectives and experiences, you allow your organisation (or whatever it is) to open up more opportunities for enrichment. Oh, and also you get to be a pretty decent human being as well.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Drinking and sex - is it rape?

I just had one of those surprising breakthrough moments where I read something and my opinion is changed. On Almost Diamonds, Stephanie Svan talks about an an unfortunate response in an advice column about a woman who drank too much, had sex with some guy, and now feels that she was raped. The advice columnist was a douch, basically saying "Well, I hope that girl learned her lesson: drinking leads to unwanted sex! Let's hope she makes better choices in the future!"

And, yeah, there are actions that people can take or not take that increase or decrease the risk of bad things happening to them, but even so, that sort of response, based on the limitted information available, is a sign that something is wrong.

Last night, I forgot to lock the door before I went to sleep. This pisses off my boyfriend to no end, because he grew up in the Big City, and to him, an unlocked door is just asking for robbers and murderers to come and pillage. It doesn't matter that I knew he was coming home from work 30 minutes after I drifted off, according to him I took a giant risk by not locking the door while I was unconscious and basically helpless.

Now, leaving aside how much risk I was actually in (we live in an apartment building, on a high floor, where we know our neighbours, and there is security for the building), what if someone had come into the apartment, brutally stabbed me, and left me to die?

Well, obviously the police would come, realise that I had left the door unlocked, and sadly inform my distraught partner that unfortunately I'd taken a big risk by not locking up, so really they couldn't be bothered to investigate and bring the murderer to justice. After all, I was practically begging to be killed.

Okay, no. But isn't it funny that while many people would say that rape is horrible, even worse than murder, when someone's killed we blame the murderer, but when someone's raped, we look at the victim's actions and ask what they should have done differently?

My analogy is flawed, but it points to something about how we treat victims, particularly women, of sexual violence (I think we also might do something similar with visible minorities, too, come to think of it).

The opinion of mine that changed, or at least solidified, is that if the person you are talking with has had too much to drink, it is risky business to assume that they've given consent. If your intention is to be a good person and to not knowingly inflict harm on others, this is just one of those cases where you need to be aware and make very, very certain that you are not taking advantage of someone.

Now, in the comments below, one guy jokes:

Using that logic, I guess I was a serial rapist throughout most of my college years….

Well...maybe you were?

I mean, the commenter might be a perfectly nice guy and all, but really, if he was going out and banging drunk college chicks, how many of those women regretted it the next day? There's no way to say.

And the problem is that our culture gives more weight to a man's right to have sex than to a woman's right to be protected from unwanted sex. The messages we send out are that women need to be vigilant, but we don't go out of our way to tell guys to be careful about where they stick it because they could be unwittingly taking advantage of someone else.

Why should the onus be on guys? Because of the power differential: from basic physical strength to social power and authority, guys tend to be on the upper hand. It's a lot harder for a woman to have her wishes listened to than for a guy. It's a lot more difficult, for a variety of reasons, for a woman to be heard, to get a man bent on sex to stop.

Should guys never have sex if their partner's a little tipsy? Well, this is where nuance comes in. We're complex creatures capable of making complex decisions, giving different weight to different factors. Do you know the woman? How well? How much have each of you had to drink? Are you in a relationship? Is she happy? What does her body language say?

Because unwanted sex can have such an impact on the victim, again, if you want to be a good person, you need to consider these and other factors before you act. If you are having sex with someone who is drunk, you could be potentially raping them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Words and Rainbows

I can remember the first time I heard the term "genderfuck." I was a young gay, attending a meeting of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Project in Nova Scotia (sponsored by Planned Parenthood, an organisation that will always always always have a special place in my heart) and one of the members had been to a meeting of the Radical Faeries (I memory gets dusty in my old age) and was showing us pictures. I don't know if it's because I learned the term in such a warm and open environment, surrounded by people who cared about each other and encouraged diversity, but I adore the phrase.


As in, fuck gender. As in, we're fucking with gender. As in, its my gender, and I get to fuck with it. As in, fuck your preconceived ideas about what I can do with my gender. It's offensive, aggressive, but open and welcoming at the same time. I love it.

Since then, I've met a lot of people, and I've been lucky enough to meet them where they could be comfortable and be themselves. I've learned new words, or heard old words used in new ways. I've seen people joyfully take the sting out of insults, taking pride in their identities or else gleefully or angrily destroying the identities thrust upon them. As someone who reads a lot, I love language, and I think that no one else has as much fun, is so inspired, has such an awareness of the power of words as the Queer community(ies).

I just read a link about trans vs trans* where near the end Static Nonsense writes:

Many people, including myself, want to move away from this linear progression that assumes things like surgical procedures and Gender Identity Disorder with all of its baggage, and instead look at things more from the angle of self identity, expression and the effects of socially constructed differences in gender. Because things like genital and surgical essentialism isn’t cool and erases a lot of people who don’t want surgical reassignment or may not even have access to it for reasons such as medical, financial, even cultural. If anything, maybe we should branch away from such terms, instead going with something that focuses more on the concept of gender identity and what it means for people on an individual basis instead of building off of assumptions regarding one or a few groups.

And that last part about identity being about the individual resonates very strongly with me. A few years ago I read an awesomely comprehensive book called Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden about the incredible diversity in gender, sexuality, polyamory and all that in the animal kingdom. Pretty much, if you can think of it, an animal's done it. Before there was the internet to pornify everything, animals were already there. And more and more as I think about human gender, sex, and relationships, the more I realize that it is individual. The concept of a binary anything is woefully incomplete, and I'm so incredibly thankful for the people who are challenging our ideas through their choices of language and how they identify themselves, even if they choose to eschew labels or even violently attempt to destroy labels.

The infinite diversity in the ways we see ourselves, our longings and passions, our hopes, fears, desires, and perversions, is something beautiful about life, and humans in particular. The more we learn about ourselves, the more clear it becomes that there are very, very few hard and fast rules, and that change and variation are intrinsic to our existence. The more I learn about our differences, especially from the people who seem to inhabit spaces I never knew existed, the more amazed I am at the complexity and beauty of our planet. I hope that one day, everyone can see the beauty inside of each of us, and maybe one day the people who are now considered gender outlaws and deviants will be seen for what they are: uniquely beautiful individuals who give us a glimpse into the true diversity of the universe.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Job Hunting Tips!

I may have mentioned that I'm taking night classes. The goal is to achieve my Human Resources Management certificate, which will then lead to fame and fortune...or at the least another step in my career path. I'm not quite sure why I have a career path, because it doesn't feel like a "me" thing...I'm a bit too sketchy and disorganised. Until now I've mostly had a career meander, but since 2012 is the year of "Get 'er done," career path it is!

Last night we discussed recruitment and selection, which is an area that's interesting to me, especially the selection part. I have a hunch that I might be good at that, so I'm interested in learning more. One of the things that interests me about selection is that to be good at it, to be able to discern the best fit for a position based on very little evidence, you need to overcome your own bias and be able to analyze and weigh data appropriately.

We discussed some types of bias, like the "Halo/Devil Effect", where one event or characteristic colours the interviewer's perception of the entire candidate. For example, if the person I'm interviewing went to my old high school, and I have fond memories of my old high school, I may ignore evidence that demonstrates the candidate is not a good fit and focus only on the good stuff. Or the bad stuff if I hated high school. I think I actually suffered from this the first time I had a chance to interview people for a position a few years ago: one of the two candidates gave a good interview, but he made one comment that made him appear lazy, even though it was clear to me that he was not lazy. Just the way that he phrased it rubbed me the wrong way, and I used that gut feeling to convince myself this candidate was not right for the job. The person we hired was a disaster, though, and I wish I'd done my part in the process differently.

We talked about other things in this vein, some of it I remember from my old psych courses, like the primacy and recency effects, where the first and last people that you interview in a day tend to be the most memorable, and the comparison fallacy, where we tend to compare candidates to each other rather than to the requirements of the job, which could lead you to make a bad hire just because a mediocre interview happened to follow a string of bad interviews and so seemed great by comparison.

One of the principles of an interview method we talked about (behaviour-based interviewing) that I really liked was the idea of seeking contrary evidence, where the interviewer becomes aware of an assumption or conclusion they've made about the candidate, and intentionally looks for examples that contradict it. Say, for example, I'm interviewing someone and I start to suspect that they have a problem with following process. Instead of asking questions to confirm this idea, I should be asking questions to probe for evidence of when they did follow process. The idea is to not let my own biases guide the interview, which could pigeonhole a candidate and give me a one-sided picture of their abilities.

It's early days yet, but if I were to specialize in diversity under the HR banner, selection would be a great place to start. Last year I read a book by Anthony Stewart, You Must Be A Basketball Player, about racism and prejudice in academia, and it discussed a few of the ways that our own processes and systems in our institutions can help to support bias, which leads to universities with entirely white Humanities departments, even in communities and populations where you might expect - all things considered equal - a higher proportion of people of colour. How we select people in the job interview process is certainly one of the areas that hidden biases can have a real, negative impact on peoples' lives, especially minorities of all stripes. I believe that skepticism is a valuable tool in fighting social inequality, so it's interesting to see some of these concepts being used in the hiring process.

BUT you aren't reading this post for my musings on bias and selection! You are reading it because it says "Job Hunting Tips!" in the subject heading! And I put that there, because the last half hour of our class was dedicated to the instructer giving us tips on how to pursue a position ourselves! Most of this is somewhat common sense, but it's always useful as a refresher.

First, the resume: the resume should not be too long (less than 3 pages), should be HONEST, and should have absolutely no mistakes. I've been guilty of the occasional typo, so let someone proofread your resume.

Second, the cover letter: the cover letter should address the position, and include specific examples. So, if the job posting says "looking for people with strong organisational skills", include your abilities to organise in the letter and provide an example of how you've used those skills at work (eg "I redesigned our filing system to improve efficiency" or what have you). Bonus points go to cover letters who show that the candidate is familiar with the company and has actually done some research.

Which leads to the interview. The biggest tip? Be prepared! Look up the company on the internet, look at its web site, look for recent news articles about accomplishments and achievements. From the job posting, try to anticipate the types of questions you'll be asked, and again, have specific examples of situations to demonstrate key skills. Practice answering these questions with a partner.

At the interview itself, keep your hands free: playing with a pen, keys, etc, can be a distraction. If offered coffee or water, you may want to decline, because if you're nervous, you might spill. If it's a panel interview, make sure you're making eye contact with each of the interviewers, even when they are not the one asking the question. If you're the sort to take notes, keep in mind that having your head buried in your notebook during an interview could leave the wrong impression. Keep your hands dry so as to give a good handshake! And dress one notch above what you expect to be wearing to work in this position. For a business casual-type environment, for example, I would dress in my best work-wear, and would wear a tie and blazer, even if that's slightly more put-together than I would be required if and when I start the job.

After the interview, you can send a thank you note, but play this carefully. It should be brief and to the point, and isn't an opportunity to "do-over" questions you think you flubbed. Oh, and WARN YOUR REFERENCES, let them know that you are interviewing, for what positions, and what skills you'd like them to highlight.

Simple, eh?