Mind Your Manners?

This is the inaugural post in what I hope will be a series of reflections and discussions of manners.  The format will depend on readers’ interests but the basic hope is to provide a forum for considering ways to understand and effectively respond to professional challenges linked to prosaic good manners.  There are of course a number of intriguing high theoretical issues attached to manners – e.g., whether and in what sense having good manners is morally important – but my interest is in the more immediately challenging practical side of things.  Subtle and not-so-subtle variations in how ordinary mannerly conventions are practiced can encode bias, for example.  It can be difficult to know how to respond (politely or not?) to an interlocutor who appears sexist.  And being well-mannered can, in the rough and tumble of some philosophical interactions, seem disadvantageous, the polite person appearing weak.  Most generally of all, my own sense is that philosophy, as it is too often practiced, can be quite rude.  Worse, it can cloak garden variety rudeness in the noble garments of “independence of mind” and freedom from the petty conventions by which only the unimaginative herd abide.  One trouble with this is that rudeness is rarely distributed equitably and its burdens may well fall heaviest on those already marginalized or underrepresented in the profession.  This at least seems a conclusion with some support in the testimonies on the “What is it Like” blog, where bias appears often to flower heavily fertilized by a willingness to be rude.  In my own professional life at least, I sometimes find myself torn between practicing what I would count the rude (but sometimes disturbingly professionally legitimating) conventions of the discipline and maintaining my own commitments to being well-mannered. The direction of these posts, then, is simply to invite consideration of such dilemmas and how to resolve them.  To submit queries, simply use the “Contact” tab!

Asian Girlz: “That moment when hipster racism stops even trying to be ironic and is just like yep, racism.”

Racialiscious reports that people are, reasonablely, pissed off about this song.


The band responded with this quote,

We appreciate all the criticism and support. Our song “Asian Girlz” was not written with any malicious, hateful, or hurtful intent. We know it is racy and does push the boundaries further than other songs out there. Understand that we do not promote or support racism or violence.”


But if you’ve read my last two posts, you know the following two things:

–You not being malicious does not mean you deserve a cookie.  And you not being maliscious does not preclude you from promoting racism or violence.   (“Not racist. But #1 among racists!”)

–If you want to be edgy and push buttons, maybe you can try not sh***ing on a group of people who are already getting sh** on disproportionately.  Understand that you saying something that you’ve always kind of felt but that people seem think isn’t socially acceptable to say out loud doesn’t mean that your feelings are wrong.  But it does mean that maybe you shouldn’t express those feelings…like a jackass.

PC Police Officer Says: Maybe Don’t Be Such as Jackass?

Watch a video about what it means to be PC.

Some choice quotes:

“It’s not that your feelings are wrong. It’s that you are expressing your feelings like a jackass.”

“If you want to be edgy, if you want to push people’s buttons…talk about white privilege.”

“Using inclusive language is not hard. If you think it’s hard, it’s because you’re not trying.”

“You may have noticed that I’ve used the word ‘Jackass’ many times over the course of this presentation.  That’s because, well, I’m a little drunk. But also…”



Feminism and Cookies

Two recent stories about sexism have made me think about cookies. So I’m posting about them together.

1) When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory was running for the office, he was asked, “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?”  He responded, “none.” 

He recently signed a bill that put further restrictions on abortion.

His response to protesters who were upset with him signing a bill he promised not to sign?

He gave them cookies.  According to WaPo, “The cookies were returned, and it wasn’t because he forgot the milk. The note on the untouched plate read: “We want women’s health care, not cookies.””

2) Anita Sarkeesian just released the 3rd and final video on the videogame trope of Damsels in Distress. (Future videos will discuss other tropes in video games.) The video game development blog Gamasutra posted about it, to which many peopled commented.

Some of the comments stuck out to me because they were some of the clearest, most charitable articulations of why people see basic feminist arguments as untenable.

For instance,

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the ‘damsel in distress’ type of game. Sexism comes in from how you depict the damsel. I just don’t think that every example she gave of sexist games are necessarily as malicious as she makes them out to be.”

When another commenter points out that Sarkeesian does not accuse these games of being “malicious,” the original commenter replies,

“Maybe malicious is too strong of a word to use, but her tone is definitely condemning. Spelunky developers made it so the player could rescue a male or dog instead of a female and instead of even saying thanks for trying but its not good enough, smacks them back down and further criticized them for making the female replaceable. If you don’t want to say malicious choose a different word for publicly talking down to them because she did not approve of their attempted fix.”

If I understand this argument correctly and charitably, it is something like this:

Yes sexism exists, but if someone wasn’t explicitly trying to be sexist, they deserve a cookie and not condemnation. [suppressed premise: Because not f***ing up is hard. And public disapproval makes us feel negative. And sexism makes us feel negative. And aren’t we trying to get rid of things that make us feel negative?] (Okay maybe that wasn’t so charitable. But accurate, I think.)

Takeaway ‘lesson’ from both of these stories:  Cookies and niceness–as opposed to actually doing the hard work of swallowing one’s pride and working to fix the problem–are the better ways to approach sexism.

Other takeaway lesson:  Some people think that equality for women is about making them feel warm and fuzzy; not about anything like giving them access to full agency and control over their image, their lives, and their destiny?
(Also they think women not being mad at them is more important than improving the lives of those women?)