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Help me understand the difference between a sexist and a run-of-the-mill asshole that happens to be male.

I've never met a man who believes that every man is better than every woman at any given task. And if he did hold that view, it would be an example of colossal stupidity, not opinion. Daily life is bristling with examples of women succeeding in every field. How does one not notice?

And if we're talking about prejudging the likelihood of a member of one gender or another having a particular preference or trait, that's how all humans process information. The only people who don't automatically prejudge are in comas. A normal, healthy brain prejudges everything in its environment based on limited clues and patterns. But as more information becomes available, one is able to judge more accurately. Perhaps the man you first assumed was a hobo, based on his scruffy appearance, is actually a great network engineer. The normal brain notices a pattern, makes a preliminary assumption about what it means, and looks for more information to confirm or disprove the initial snap judgment.

Have you ever met a sane person who thinks differently?

When the FBI profiler says the bomber is probably a male loner in his thirties, that isn't sexism so much as statistics. And when the DNA on the detonator indicates the bomber was female, the FBI profiler says, "Oops" and changes her opinion. Every normal, human brain processes information this same way, give or take some cognitive dissonance.

So who are the sexists?

I hear plenty of stories of workplace discrimination against women based on gender. So let's stipulate that gender discrimination is widespread. There are too many first-hand accounts to imagine it isn't real.

So who is doing the discriminating during the hiring and promotion process, and what does that look like in the year 2013?

If a man overlooks a female job candidate because of gender alone, isn't that more a case of stupidity than sexism? Clearly women are excelling at ever profession on earth, so what kind of hiring manager would fail to notice a worldwide trend so immensely obvious? Answer: a dumb one.

Dismissing a job candidate based on gender alone is ordinary incompetence. Fifty years ago I can easily imagine a smart man who happened to be a sexist because he witnessed scant few examples in which women were excelling at their careers. But in 2013 there is no such thing as a smart man who hasn't noticed that women are excelling in every field. I think it's time to label the hiring manager who bases a decision on gender incompetent, not sexist.

Then you have the category of men who are dismissive of women in general, or talk to women in a demeaning way, or objectify women, or are generally disrespectful to women. Those guys get labelled sexists too for being hostile to women. But is that the label that fits best?

In my experience, assholes are assholes all the time, not just to women. And their impact is plenty toxic to men as well. I suppose somewhere on earth there is a guy who trash-talks and objectifies women during the workday then goes to his volunteer job feeding the elderly at night, but I kind of doubt it. I've never met a man who was an asshole to women but treated everyone else with respect. Being an asshole is a fulltime job.

So I think it's time to acknowledge the impressive gains women have made over the last century against genuine sexism and recognize that the mop up operation in 2013 (at least in the United States) is more about managing the assholes and idiots in the world than it is about old-timey sexism.

For the three women who read this blog, I'll tell you a secret about how men think. If I am your boss's boss, and you tell me your direct boss is being a sexist, my skepticism alarm goes off because the label so often gets misused. But if you tell me your boss is being an asshole, complete with examples, or you say he's incompetent at his job because he ignores qualified job candidates, I start considering his replacement. Your choice of labels can make a big difference.

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Nov 21, 2013
If "dismissing a job candidate based on gender alone" isn't sexism, then what is? Maybe dismissing a qualified candidate due to gender is also a stupid thing to do, but I can't think of a reason to say it's "not really sexism" except to minimize the existence and significance of prejudices that harm women.

People don't simply observe the world and update their opinions accordingly. We also learn and internalize stereotypes and prejudices that skew our observations. This is why women are judged differently in the workplace. Pretty women are assumed to have slept their way to the top; authoritative women are viewed more negatively than authoritative men (rhymes with witches). And, probably the most pervasive type of prejudice, is that many women aren't given credit for what they know and accomplish -- this is why many women report that men talk down to them about their own areas of expertise.

Most men can remember times they've encountered condescending !$%*!$%* who didn't give them enough credit. This doesn't mean that sexism isn't real, and women are only encountering the same !$%*!$%*. The reality is that many male managers give more credit to other men, consistently, and in statistically observable ways. They are only "a-holes" or "stupid" when it comes to women. That's sexism.

This post seems like yet another effort to argue that women don't really have it worse than men in the workplace. If the problem is a-holes, who treat men and women just as badly, then women are never really disadvantaged because of their gender. But if you believe the (well-documented) evidence that women are less likely to be taken seriously, respected, and promoted, you have to conclude that more is going on than stupid jerks treating both men and women badly.
Nov 21, 2013
As long as we have "gender studies" majors in college, we will have claims of sexisim
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 21, 2013
It's ironic that I've been reading your blog for years but decided today, when you stated (using hyperbole, I understand) the low number of women readers, I finally felt it worth my time to register to comment - to take a stand and prove you wrong. On a post related to sexism. You and your damn hypnotism. You're good, Mr. Adams; you're good.

Nov 21, 2013
I had a boss who was very abusive towards women specifically. He was an !$%*!$% in general, but he treated women very badly. But you're probably right that that doesn't indicate sexism per se. And after all, the death of his mother seemed to be the defining injury of his life.

What he was abusive towards was whatever was 'weakest'. As foreign as it is to me, some people target what they see as weak. I have no prejudice as to what 'weak' means, but I have gleaned from observation that society confuses less-well-physically-capable with weakness. I enjoy sports, but we see the ordinary civilian idolizes athletic prowess as a kind of pinnacle of personhood, despite the skills they represent having little direct positive influence on evolution or any any of the virtues that seem relevant to me.

So I think that primate philosophy of the "nail that sticks out gets the hammer" is in someway responsible for the the behavior that gets called sexism. And I already find it more primitive and disgusting than the term "sexist" can wholly encompass.
Nov 21, 2013
I know the internal censor is going to mangle this, but it's the speech from Team America:World Police....

We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are !$%*!$%* And Kim Jong Il is an !$%*!$%* !$%*!$% don't like dicks, because !$%*!$% get !$%*!$ by dicks. But dicks also !$%* !$%*!$%*! !$%*!$%* who just want to !$%* on everything. !$%*!$% may think they can deal with !$%*!$%* their way. But the only thing that can !$%* an !$%*!$% is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is: they !$%* too much or !$%* when it isn't appropriate — and it takes a !$%*! to show them that. But sometimes, !$%*!$% can be so full of !$%* that they become !$%*!$%* themselves... because !$%*!$% are an inch and half away from ass holes. I don't know much about this crazy, crazy world, but I do know that if you don't let us !$%* this !$%*!$%, we're going to have our dicks and !$%*!$% all covered in !$%*!
Nov 21, 2013
There goes Scott again being a sexist s-hole. He thinks only three women in the entire world can read. Somebody notify Jezebel!
Nov 21, 2013
I think it's mostly symantics - sexists are a sub-category of idiots. Not all idiots are sexists, but all sexists are idiots.
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