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Ensnarled by votes and comments on this answer https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/94935/42272 but I deal with this often around here. I'm close to deleting my account over pretty persistent comments and answers that bias the content on this site away from circumstances where a woman might be treated differently.

I haven't seen any way to deal with this. I just find it too exhausting to be riddled with complaints that an answer is sexist if it invokes the existence of gender, or suggests that women might face a concern in the workplace that men do not. I kind of love the format of a StackExchange site but I don't like volunteering effort into advancing people's careers when community participants put the brakes on reaching women in the workplace. There's other communities that have other problems in how they structure Q/A, but I don't really see putting time into one where I have to avoid writing of concern to women.

For the record, the question concerned a woman being alone in a room with a man and making an ambiguous joke about the woman calling for help. I found it pretty difficult to write gender-blind advice, just like I find it difficult to pretend that answers should be gender blind when reality is not.

This is probably just a rage quit because I'm pretty acclimated with the community's attitude on this category of problems. Posting on meta is no different, and I mostly know that every layer of this community is way too proud of itself for doing nothing for this category of problems. I have a crapton of professional experience at companies that make gender equitability a business priority, not an agenda, and I really can't emphasize enough how shitty it is to have that experience shuttered down whenever it adds real value to the situation, by users who simply put do not know what they are talking about and ought to be leaving their politics and offendability aside when someone with experience dealing with issues of bias in the workplace offers expertise.

I don't care that this community is mostly used by men, but my problem is that it is almost entirely moderated by men who place an outstandingly high burden of proof for gender as a thing that exists and matters, far exceeding every other issue, because they have had to deal with gender far less than they realize and don't see how there could be any problem they are not aware of, and are offended by the suggestion that there is and call that sexist. Not only do I have to address the poster, but I also have to address the throngs of moderators, who basically have zero education in issues of gender and instead of curiosity or humility pile on their offendability, pride, and accusations of sexism. This is a lot of work I have to do just to address the OP!

It's also shitty to throw away a > 10k account, which has taken a lot of time and been a source of pride on the times when I've really nailed an answer. But 5% of the time I have an answer where experience in gender issues is required and have to decide whether to throw that away or get in some other argument about how acknowledging gender as a topic is not sexist (and today I had to spell out that I wasn't accusing "Clark" of being a rapist, which seemed pretty evident to me by the fact that I didn't do that.) And it feels like a huge violation of my integrity to pass over circumstances.

It's just a pretty big violation of my integrity knowing that the 5% of the time where talking about gender is really the right thing to do in an answer, I have to cut that out and throw it away. This probably sounds extreme but I feel like I'm helping men out, because men form the overwhelming majority of moderation on this community, and sometimes women when they get a chance to join.

Sadly this only makes me confident y'all will be worthless when a man actually stops by here to discuss an issue that is best understood by gender where they are on the victim side. I am not worthless in those situations but I have already been accused that because I am willing to talk to women about gender, I will not talk to men about gender. This is pure polemics and I don't like dealing with nonsense about how I'm sexist for acknowledging gender when it affects a woman because that somehow signals I won't acknowledge gender when it hurts a man, which is false, and something I'v had to dispel repeatedly and am sick of dispelling.

Really my only remaining question is whether this complacency of free for all moderation by a mostly male community with strong politics when it comes to whether gender issues can be discussed rolls all the way up to StackOverflow. To me there's a difference between "Yes, there's a problem" and "The moderation clearly produces the most equitable outcome possible, and you are sexist if you complain about that," because I like knowing which of the companies I support I also respect.

I don't see a case for staying around here if I'm the only one who thinks improvement in this area is necessary. Or even just not sexist to acknowledge.

  • I'm really not sure what you're trying to accomplish here. Unless I'm reading it wrong, the question is about a woman (Alice) who's new to the team being replaced and publicly implying that her replacement is likely to harass female coworkers. That's defamation and potentially slander, not an "ambiguous joke". That's Not Ok in a workplace. But your answer ignores the specifics of the situation entirely to instead go on a tangent about sexual harassment in general and that the OP should "ally" with this Alice? And that aside, you then get into a discussion with another user – Lilienthal Jul 13 '17 at 10:25
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    which I can't even follow as you seem to both be talking about entirely different things and have apparently forgotten our Be Nice policy. But that discussion inspired your meta post here which is also confusing to me. SE is not a site to push your agenda, even if that agenda is increased awareness over gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. If you're injecting gender issues in an answer where it doesn't belong it seems normal to me that comments would point that out. – Lilienthal Jul 13 '17 at 10:25
  • And if it is gender-related, you could still get comments from users who disagree with your take on things and want to give a different perspective or point out why a particular answer is problematic in their view. That can happen on any subject, it's kind of what comments are actually for. Could you clarify what your post here is about? – Lilienthal Jul 13 '17 at 10:28
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    Your answer doesn't really answer the question, thus the down vote(s). Your comments just fueled a fire. It takes 2 (or more) people to argue, so if you didn't like the comments you shouldn't have kept arguing and left your answer with the down vote or deleted it. – SaggingRufus Jul 13 '17 at 10:46
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    Not trying to pile on, but I'm not sure what you're asking here. I think you probably have a valid question, but I think your frustration from the comment string on your main post has run over into this one, making it difficult to distill what you actually want to achieve here. Could you clarify? – David K Jul 13 '17 at 12:16
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    I hadn't seen that question yet (no flags). Several comments on your answer were inappropriate, and now that I've seen it I've purged those. We're a large site and people's attitudes and levels of constructiveness span quite a broad range. We can't see everything as it happens, and we rely on the community to let us know where problems are flaring up. (I'll try to respond to your broader question later.) – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '17 at 13:11
  • @Lilienthal "agenda?" Addressing a concern surrounding women in the workplace constitutes an "agenda" to you? Censoring doing this as somehow too sexist or too offensive you think isn't an agenda? It's just an agenda you like and that is largely dominant here. Women talk about gender in the workplace all the time because it's a necessary survival skill. So do people of color re. race. Many men get too offended by this. Apparently you're one of them. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 14:49
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    @MonicaCellio Since the OP has stated that they won't be listening to any opinions from men on this topic, I think it would be best that they get a response from you, either here or via mod channels. – David K Jul 13 '17 at 16:01
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    @djechlin its all in how you phrase it. The answer you post to that question (in my mind) was quite a bit crass. If your other answers were voiced in a similar tone, its not surprising to see a similar result. I don't think any of the points you made were necessarily as bad as some of the commenters did, but I do think your tone is what caused the issue. – SaggingRufus Jul 13 '17 at 17:02
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    @DavidK [citation needed] – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:47
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    @RichardU well I was called sexist by 3 people immediately after posting my answer. I don't call people idiots when they make a math mistake until they discuss it out with me and correct it. I don't call someone a terrible manager until they take the time to convince me their advice is correct. Broach gender though and it's an entirely different ball game. Everyone all the sudden is the most easily offended person on the Internet. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 19:05
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    @MisterPositive responding to the comments almost always generates negative votes unless it's for clarification or to thank a person for their suggestion. – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 19:18
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    @djechlin First, I misread a part of your post and misquoted you. I apologize, I was not calling you a man-hater. However, that doesn't change that right now, on this topic, where you clearly feel very strongly that Workplace is allowing too many male voices to suppress issues of gender, it is plain to me that you would not listen to any man who told you that there wasn't an issue. I thought it prudent to have an experienced female voice enter the conversation. – David K Jul 13 '17 at 19:41
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    @djechlin Second, the majority of the blowback you are gettinghere has nothing to do with the gender issue and everything to do with your tone. You are obviously very angry about this, but when you come here, accusing the entire Workplace of being out to get you, guns blazing looking for a fight, you are going to get one. This is The Workplace, where we expect people to be polite, civil, and above all professional. I understand that you are frustrated with comments you have gotten, but if you want people to listen to what you have to say, you need to be more civil about it. – David K Jul 13 '17 at 19:46
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    You used your answer as a soapbox to go on a largely irrelevant (to the question) tirade against sexism and every comment you've posted here practically defines agenda pushing, even if you refuse to acknowledge it as such. You define your agenda in the very sentence where you deny having one! You're even referring to the users here as an "audience". Perhaps drop the personal attacks and the hostility for a second and consider what it is that you're trying to accomplish here. Because all I see is someone lashing out after being called out for political grandstanding. – Lilienthal Jul 14 '17 at 6:54
9

I'm one of the two elected (diamond) moderators who is also a woman, just for context.

Unfortunately, gender issues are a hot-button issue for some people -- people on both sides. Some people refuse to believe that men and women can experience a situation differently. Others insist that any issue between two people who are not of the same gender must automatically be a gender issue and not something else. Both of those positions cause a lot of heat, and sometimes they spill over into the positions in the middle too. It's frustrating, and I appreciate it when people flag to let us mods know that something's going on that we should look at. (Comments especially can fly under the radar.)

Holding an entire community responsible for the non-constructive actions of a few, and to the point of rage-quitting over it (your word, not mine), seems out of proportion. The community here is large, varied, and worldwide (even if there are a lot of men from the US). People will have different opinions -- which is fine -- but everybody needs to focus on being constructive. It's extra-helpful when, in the face of provocation, people de-escalate and flag instead of engaging and helping the flames to climb higher.

I expect (in the performative sense, not the predictive sense) people here to:

  • Present questions and answers in as factual and dispassionate a way as possible.

  • Understand that different people can see a situation differently, including that some will be concerned about a situation that others would shrug off. You can acknowledge that concern without validating it.

  • Be constructive and mind the hyperbole. You can disagree with a position without making accusations.

  • Seek clarification instead of jumping to conclusions.

This question was about gender, but we see the same kinds of issues when the topic is religion, disabilities, race, politics, nationality, and other hot-button topics. If you find yourself saying either "your concern is not valid/stupid/etc" or "that's obviously because of this concern", it's probably a sign that you need to hold that thought and not post.

In the case that prompted your meta post, we have a young, new female employee isolated with an older male one in a position of authority, another woman saying "watch out for her", and little other information. We don't know if that specific man has a track record, if that specific young woman is particularly vulnerable, if that particular other woman has history with either of them, or what. There are possibilities that don't even involve gender in general but involve those particular people. It's also possible that it's primarily about gender.

There are lots of possibilities, a fact that people participating in the question should bear in mind.

  • Thanks! How many moderators are there in total at The Workplace? I only ask because the OP stated "it is almost entirely moderated by men" - that surprised me. – Joe Strazzere Jul 13 '17 at 16:26
  • @JoeStrazzere there are five diamond moderators. I couldn't tell if the OP meant "moderated" more broadly (a lot gets done here by the community), which is why I specified "diamond moderator" in my answer. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '17 at 16:34
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    Thanks. So 40% of the "diamond moderators" are women. Got it. – Joe Strazzere Jul 13 '17 at 16:36
  • I haven't seen too much fire over disabilities, and I have my ear to the ground on that one as that usually gets my goat over anything else. – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 18:14
  • is there another type of moderator, besides diamond? – Mister Positive Jul 13 '17 at 18:32
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    @MisterPositive well, technically everyone has community moderation abilities (varying based on rep level). I have often seen users mix all moderation actions together. – enderland Jul 13 '17 at 18:33
  • I see what you mean. Does diamond = elected moderator? – Mister Positive Jul 13 '17 at 18:34
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    @MisterPositive for non-beta sites, yes. Beta site moderators are sort of elected by popular vote too but ultimately Stack Exchange decides. On graduated sites like Workplace all moderators were elected at some point (see election results for the history here, each site will have a respective /election page). – enderland Jul 13 '17 at 18:36
  • @JoeStrazzere a small fraction of moderation is done by diamond moderators. Upvotes, downvotes, and comments that are often censuring are the primary form of moderation and I don't think any platform puts these community moderation tools as front and center as any SE site does. It sort of surprises me that 40% of the diamond mods are women (unless it means 2/5, in which case I know of Monica, and the second would be my sort-of surprise). – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:52
  • @MisterPositive yes, obviously we use "moderator" to mean "diamond mod" but every now and then it's important to remember what huge amount of moderation takes place over votes, comments and flags, without involving any diamond mod. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:53
  • @djechlin it was not obvious to me what the term diamond mod actually meant. – Mister Positive Jul 13 '17 at 18:54
  • @Monica I feel like every so often I have an answer at the "undergraduate calculus" level of gender awareness and am met with some - rather large - combination of censuring comments and downvotes from people who believe that high school math really ought to be off limits here. At least until they each get their personal discussion, trying to ramp up to calculus quite quickly, and I get called math-ist for as long as that goes on, and it does not end successfully. Yes, the end result is that I hold my tongue on these issues, and participation entirely if that's the best deal available. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:57
  • Even the "small" number 3 votes per answer is actually quite a lot, for the many of us like me who feel invested in quality answers, and I consistently see it for this class of answers. It's just not fair to me to call it quitting over just the actions of a few users. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:59
  • @djechlin you can see current moderators on the users tab undermoderators - workplace.stackexchange.com/users?tab=moderators from there it's pretty easy to see at least two of the moderators are women (well, I guess technically they could be men impersonating women and lying to us all? hah). – enderland Jul 13 '17 at 19:10
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It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Consider if your answer instead was this:

Make yourself available to Alice should she need you for anything. Whether her remark had an overtone or not, the danger she alludes to is an unfortunately real situation for many women. I think all you need to do is make a point of asking "How are you?" sometimes.

It is not sexist to recognize that some seemingly commonplace situations can also be dangerous situations for a woman. You do not need to incriminate anyone or discriminate against anyone to recognize this. The right thing to do is proper "ally" behavior.

I think you would have received far fewer downvotes while effectively saying the same thing (and assuming the same thing about the people involved in the OP's situation).


Some of the key things I changed and their effect:

  • You start off quite confrontational "it's not sexist" rather than answering the question, which even in my rewritten answer doesn't do much (I didn't add to your answer, just rephrased things)
    • By starting with the answer part instead of the interpretation part, it helps set expectations for where your "it's not sexist" part is coming from
  • I removed a sentence about overtone that added implications to the motivations of people that added nothing to your answer
  • I changed "dangerous situations" to be more descriptive and added context for why they were dangerous
  • Removed "my best suggestion" -- this makes your answer read like "here's my thoughts about what might work" rather than "here's an answer to your question"
  • The rewording of "danger" to "real situation" ties your phrasing in "can also be dangerous situations for a woman" 2nd paragraph to the advice you gave, rather than making it look superfluous and unrelated commentary, particularly because of the rewording
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    Love love love that saying. I repeat that to my kids at least twice a week. – Mister Positive Jul 13 '17 at 18:34
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    Couldn't agree more. This is something I struggle with daily,. – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 18:41
  • Honest question, that may indeed prove your point, how is that actually different from what I said? – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 18:50
  • @djechlin I edited in a bunch of explanation. – enderland Jul 13 '17 at 19:03
  • Thanks, it probably would have stemmed some of the complaints, but obviously many people would prefer gender not be mentioned at all. I do feel far more precision is demanded on this topic than any other on the site. Usually a blunt, curt style is very actively promoted and celebrated on this site, it's part of our brand about no nonsense answers to tough situations. – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 19:17
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    @djechlin I do feel far more precision is demanded on this topic than any other on the site. -- then be precise and detailed instead of dropping a short answer with lots of polarizing language, assumptions, and not trying to explain itself? Your comment here makes me feel like you are trying to blame this on everyone else rather than actually trying to learn and understand the reasons why your post was poorly received. – enderland Jul 13 '17 at 19:21
  • @djechlin check out the revision history of this question and see how the tone was changed. it went from a negative rating with several close votes to 84. workplace.stackexchange.com/posts/69487/revisions – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 19:29
3

As a general rule, injecting gender politics into an answer is going to get a mixed response at best. Lecturing people on "proper 'ally' behavior" is going to garner a response you may not be prepared for.

In this particular case, you got up on your soapbox for some reason instead of addressing the issue at hand, which is inappropriate behavior. The OP's description of the behavior of "clark" was simply pointing out that this fellow is a jerk who lords his title over others and seems to like to push work off on others.

Also in the OP's question, the OP mentioned that the intern didn't seem intimidated or even particularly bothered. Your answer essentially told the OP to go on a witch hunt and to check under his bed for sexism.

In my opinion, and since you asked, you can take the following advice for what it is worth.

  • Keep your answers relevant to the question
  • Assume good intentions not just on the part of querants, but also on the people being described
  • Keep your answers limited to behavior, not motive. Trying to read intent of someone you've never met relayed as third party information over the internet is just setting yourself up for criticism.
  • Keep politics out of answers
  • If you think there is an issue on this site that isn't being addressed, raise it as a question, not in an answer.
  • Understand that some of your answers are going to bomb, and move on. It happens to all of us.
  • If comments are annoying you flag them and the Mods will review. If the mods aren't deleting the comments, then you should take a closer look at your post. The mods on this site are quick to delete comments that they have been found to be not constructive.
  • Avoid loaded terms and phrases. Any time you drop terms like "sexism", or anything ending in "ism", you're going to attract down votes and comments unless you are very clear on how it is relevant to the question and not what "might" be happening.
  • Refrain from doing the same things yourself. People are vindictive, and if you frequently comment on other answers, and people notice, you'll get the same from them.
  • Avoid getting involved in the comments. This only attracts more down-votes

Tone means a great deal here. I once edited a question that had a -7 rating and only changed the tone and it reversed and went up to +84. I was surprised at the dramatic change, but it did teach me to try to watch my tone as well.

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    Speaking of loaded terms and phrases, you might want to reconsider "lecturing", "soapbox", "check under his bed for sexism", and the like. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '17 at 16:48
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    @MonicaCellio and your reaction proves my point. Put loaded terms in, and you get comments. Yes, I did it deliberately. – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 17:16
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    Kinda proves my point that your soapboxing is mostly celebrated (comment upvotes), condoned here (answer upvotes) and bragged about ("I did it deliberately"), but what you call my soapboxing - which is not a thing I am doing - is harassed ("calling him a rapist"), insulted ("sexist") and downvoted (the answer). – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 19:00
  • @djechlin I did put in those points, but the substance of my answer, the bulleted items, is quite serious. People have all sorts of hot buttons. I was not bragging about putting those loaded terms in, I was demonstrating how they can garner negative attention. You've made it very clear in the past that I am not one of your favorite people here, which is fine, it's your right, but I am not being hostile towards you. It took a long time for me to learn the culture in here. Tone is everything, as I've said numerous times. My advice is honest, please take it in the spirit it is given – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 19:16
  • OK, thanks. (Sure, "not my favorite," but I also remember having very smart discussions with you sporadically over quite a while.) – user42272 Jul 13 '17 at 19:19
  • @djechlin thank you. This was not meant as a personal dig against you. I appreciate your presence here and hope it continues. Believe me, there are times when I've come close to a rage quit as well. It's the nature of the beast, I guess, especially when the general consensus flows against you. Intent is very hard to convey over the internet and it is very easy to be misunderstood. I think we all should go back and read the "assume good intentions" part as I think we tend to forget. – Retired Codger Jul 13 '17 at 19:22
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    @RichardU so you knowingly and intentionally used loaded terms to provoke a reaction to prove some sort of point? Don't you see how you're doing exactly what you say not to do? The rest of this answer is good, but the non-constructive language detracts from it. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '17 at 22:09
  • @MonicaCellio exactly. – Retired Codger Jul 14 '17 at 1:37
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I think one point to take away from this is that you have to tread very carefully when talking about gender. People are very passionate about these issues for various reasons and sometimes simply acknowledging ends up being discriminatory.

In this post for example, you complain that this community is of and moderated mostly by men. However, this is an issue of diversity, and many men can have equally valid contributions to a discussion regardless of their gender. Not just in an idealistic sort of manner, but they can experience gender discrimination themselves as well. Saying "we need more women to be able to bring in their viewpoints" might sound better than "there's too many men drowning out all the women" (I know I'm being extreme).

In the post you're commenting on, I would argue that mentioning that a women alone with a male can be dangerous, is very much sexism without explicitly accusing anyone in particular, even if this fact is true. There are many groups of people of different races, religions, and genders and such that may by chance have statistically higher chance of being violent than others. Telling someone to be careful because someone belongs to one of these classes of people is sexist as sexism can be based in fact.

I do however encourage you to continue to try to foster inclusion and diversity. You just have to be extremely careful in your words and be willing to accept criticism and perform self reflection.

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