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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why Racism and Sexism will never go away

I was intrigued to read stories like New Research Details Strong Relationship Between White Racism and Gun Ownership and Sexist men and women -- made for each other?.

Partly it was because of the novel (even if not totally unexpected) findings, but it was more because the studies had ways of measuring racism and sexism.

Yet, when I looked more closely at how racism and sexism were measured, they were very problematic. The two scales are the Symbolic Racism Scale and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory.

In short, these scales are fatally flawed because they do not really measure racism or sexism, but rather disagreement with standard anti-racist and anti-sexist discourse. They also confuse prescriptive and descriptive statements, i.e. what is and what should be. They are also very dependent on the American social and temporal context, making them limited in application to other countries and time periods.

Let us look at each scale.

Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Hostile Sexism (ASI)
(I will not deal with Benevolent Sexism since I think the way it is measured is not problematic)

1) Women exaggerate problems at work
2) Women are too easily offended
3) Most women interpret innocent remarks as sexist
4) When women lose fairly, they claim discrimination
5) Women seek special favors under guise of equality
6) Feminists are making reasonable demands
7) Feminists not seeking more power than men
8) Women seek power by gaining control over men
9) Few women tease men sexually
10) Once a man commits, she puts him on a tight leash
11) Women fail to appreciate all men do for them

Source: The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism / Glick, Fiske (1996)

As can be seen, all of these items have some relationship with the real world and cannot be considered outside of this context. In other words, even if we assume for the sake of argument that in 1996 America, women did not exaggerate problems at work and so accusing them of doing so was sexist (assuming further that this is not a problem of misperception but due to bona fide sexism), if in 2016 America women really *did* exaggerate problems at work, the ASI would take this as evidence of sexism.

Of course, these are in reality propositions which are both contestable and contested (for example, women are really more easily offended than men). And some are just plain bizarre, like 11) Women fail to appreciate all men do for them; among other things, it is standard feminist dogma that men fail to appreciate all women do for them; does this mean that feminists are sexist against men?

In conclusion, the ASI is extremely dishonest - even if you believe that to be anti-feminist is to be (hostilely) sexist, the ASI makes expansive claims that define sexism extremely broadly.

(Minor point: note that this is all about sexism against women - sexism against men is ignored)

Interestingly enough, one notes that there is no item on the scale that most people would consider sexist. So in their eagerness to expose "hostile" "sexism", the authors have totally missed out real hostile sexism.

What would a real measure of Hostile Sexism look like, then? Here are some suggestions:

1) A woman's place is in the home
2) Women are inferior to men
3) Woman, without her man, is nothing
4) Things were better when women did not have the right to vote
5) Women exist to make men happy
6) Make me a sandwich

But then, using these real measures of sexism would fail to result in the "finding" that "hostile" "sexism" is well and alive even in the developed world.


For comparison, here is the The Symbolic Racism 2000 Scale, which suffers from similar problems:

1. It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
2. Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same.
3. Some say that black leaders have been trying to push too fast. Others feel that they haven’t pushed fast enough. What do you think?
4. How much of the racial tension that exists in the United States today do you think blacks are responsible for creating?
5. How much discrimination against blacks do you feel there is in the United States today, limiting their chances to get ahead?
6. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
7. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.
8. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten more economically than they deserve.

Here I note that 2) is particularly egregious - apparently to be informed by history is to be Racist, and that 4) denies black agency in creating racial tension (we can blame White People for the Black Panthers, presumably).


Disturbingly, all the discussion of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory I've seen takes it at face value (I haven't seen much about the Symbolic Racism Scale, but I haven't looked as hard). But then usually people who discuss these issues have a certain way of thinking already.

If racism and sexism disappear, then people whose careers revolve around studying and fighting them will be out of a job. Though at some level I'm sure they believe in what they are doing and don't recognise the problems with their assumptions. This is similar to how Communist Parties justify their holding of power on behalf of the proletariat, while awaiting a Communist Utopia that will never - and can never - arrive.
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