Special snowflake watch

A physicist commenting on a post about how a newspaper report of a social sciences paper (speculating on why the rate of rape by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian women is reportedly low) has whipped up somewhat of a rightwing frenzy (read Aunt B’s full post, where she was somewhat critical of physicist Standwick’s commentary on her own blog):

I admit to being willfully ignorant of the basics of feminist theory, but I suspect it’s along the lines of “all power boils down to sex,” which would mean that my assessment that women see rape in terms of sex and men in terms of power would be tautological. My point about the article is that, coming from the perspective of the natural sciences (I am a physicist), whenever you reach a conclusion in which any action produces the same result, your theory is essentially useless.

As Magniloquence points out, this is not a good look.

I also dislike it when people do the “I don’t know anything about it and I’m not going to bother looking it up, but I’m going to proceed to tell you how it’s wrong” thing.

When Standwick is challenged for unprofessionalism, she quibbles about how she wasn’t paid for her commentary on this article as if that somehow makes professional standards irrelevant to someone who is using her academic status to give her words authority, and then retreats into cant about how when one’s field is the majesty of the cosmos it makes studying human interactions seem “impossibly silly”.

If human behaviour is “impossibly silly”, then why does she bother to comment on it at all? Or is the “impossibly silly” claim just the transparent excuse that it seems to be to not bother to look deeper into the social science fields when she can dismiss them as not having the neat concreteness of astrophysics?

Now, here’s the special snowflake bit, invoked when one commentor takes an admittedly cheap shot at physicists:

Well, now I know why the profs in the rest of the STEM fields keep warning the grad students about the screwballs in the physics departments. Physicists have quite the reputation of being the embarrassing James-Watson shoot-your-mouth-off egocentric loonies of the hard sciences, which I keep cheerfully hoping is just a relic of the past and no longer true. I’ve been fortunate that this thread is the first time I’ve personally seen behavior supporting that reputation.

Here’s Stanwick’s comeback:

This is generally why I don’t like to argue with women. The temptation to abandon objectivity and resort to ad hominem is too strong, and the argument goes nowhere. Playing with the boys is so much easier, which is why I prefer to work in a male-dominated field.

Wow, it sure is “objective” to argue that one commentor’s statements are representative of an entire sex((Addendum: I once lent an SF book by a woman author to a male friend of whom I was deeply fond. My sentiments towards him changed from affection to confusion and later distaste after he returned it with a comment not just that he didn’t like it, which is a matter of personal taste, but with the judgement that “women can’t write Science Fiction”. The author was Hugo and Nebula award winner Lois McMaster Bujold, by the way, but the fallacy of his conclusion wouldn’t have mattered if the author was Ms Unknown from Schlubsville. ~tigtog)), isn’t it?

Standwick is playing the exceptionalist card, where she is the special snowflake who is unlike all those other silly women who can’t think straight. A lot of clever women seem to have an exceptionalist view of themselves as superior to other women and therefore they personally are equal to men without having to have a movement behind them, and those poor other inferior women should just accept their inferiority and quit complaining. Quite a few of these exceptionalists find that such sentiments expressed articulately can end up paying quite well, too: Ann Coulter, Phyllis Schlafly, Camille Paglia, Miranda Devine et al.

Obviously, I find this sort of “I’m all right Jack” mentality repugnant in the extreme. Standwick and others like her are buying into the status quo which denigrates women’s criticisms as intellectually substandard without a second thought, with what appears to be no more justification than pure sexist prejudice.

How objective.

Categories: culture wars, education, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, law & order, Science, violence

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17 replies

  1. Wow. Just…wow. I admit that I’m rather spoiled when it comes to physicists, as all of the physics nerds I know are pretty much the exact opposite of this Standwick person (ie: open-minded, won’t talk about things that they have no goddamn clue about, et cetera). Oy.
    Additionally: If she’s so “above” human affairs, why is she squelching precious minutes of her life commenting on blogs?
    annaham’s last blog post..They’re in Our Schools–Everybody PANIC!

  2. Along similar lines, there’s this opinion piece by Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Hearald today, which goes something like this:
    *They are storing grain at Svalbard*, in case of an apocalypse.
    *Most women say they would pack baby photos in an emergency bag.
    *But I think that most women would take their handbag, because it’s an external uterus [because of course women can’t be anything more than a uterus].
    *Women are instinctively good at shopping, and men suck at it.
    *This has something to do with testosterone and autism, which means that men have a get out of jail free card when they want to be anti-social.
    *The grain at Svalbard has something to do with our innate, hardwired gender roles, that couldn’t possibly result from social conditioning or anything like that.
    I don’t know if Farrelly is claiming that she’s a special snowflake or not, but there is, I think, clear similarity between her attitude and the attitudes of Standwick and the other women you mention in your piece. Saying that you believe in gender stereotypes, as a woman, gets you cred, particularly with most men. You get condescendingly praised for accepting the “truth”, rather than being labelled “irrational” (although the rationality of one’s arguments often has little to do with whether or not they will be accepted). Gah.
    *OT: I want to visit the parallel-world Svalbard that is populated by talking Armoured Bears.

  3. Wow Beppie, that Farrelly article is staggeringly incoherent (putting aside the ableist autism slur for just a second). New Year’s hangover performance art?

  4. Hey, you stole my comment! Incoherent is the word.
    What’s the point of setting up all this support for stereotypes only to climb back down with this?

    In the house, these gender models – purse and ball – recur as kitchen and shed. This sounds sexist. But if you accept that male and female principles are usually mixed, not pure, in persons, and that brains can be gendered differently from their host bodies, the question loses its political baggage and becomes intensely interesting.

    If there is indeed a mixture of brain types which don’t actually reflect biological sex, or gender either, then why compartmentalise the brain types as “male” or “female” in the first place?

  5. If you want a historical snowflake, I came across the following in Les Carlyon’s The Great War. The scheme mentioned was conscription.
    “Nellie Melba, the soprano and socialite, sent a message to the women of Australia, encouraging them to vote for Hughes scheme. ‘I tried to make it strong,’ she wrote to Hughes, ‘because entre nous very few Australian women use their brains.’
    Shaun’s last blog post..iPod in yer car

  6. I want a war on the abuse of the terms “logical”, “rational” and “objective”, all of which have useful functions which mean we can’t discard them, but all of which most often get used to mean “what makes sense to me from my point of view, when I don’t consider other proffered evidence”.

  7. A bit derailing but I find the increasing misuse of the word ‘autism’ in pop culture grossly offensive. It is always dropped in with a kind of “look at me, how witty!” wink and ususally, like that horrible “built autism” comment, it is used in a dehumanising way. I suspect this is because it does not occur to nitwits like Farrelly that many people with autism read, view, participate in the culture in general and are mightily pissed off at the mischaracteristions they read. [Link]

  8. This is generally why I don’t like to argue with women. The temptation to abandon objectivity and resort to ad hominem is too strong, and the argument goes nowhere.
    Wow, she really is clueless about feminism, isn’t she? If she had ever bothered to spend, oh, five minutes at a well-trafficked feminist blog, she’d know how pathetically moronic this assessment is.
    Cara’s last blog post..Cervical Cancer Screening Month

  9. Su, I’m totally with you on finding the mischaracterisation of autism obnoxious. My son is a high-functioning autist, and since his diagnosis I recognise that many of our relatives are somewhere on the high-functioning Aspie/HFA/PSD end of the Autistic Spectrum, there was just less recognition and diagnosis of such neurological variations in previous generations.
    I think some of the mischaracterisation comes from misunderstanding the autistic difficulty in recognising/responding to emotional cues in others as if autists therefore don’t experience emotions themselves. If they could have only seen my son sobbing in his first years of school at not having friends, and how his life has expanded since finding a friendship group at high school, they wouldn’t believe that anymore.

  10. I’m glad someone else found the Farrelly article incoherent. I’m still not sure what she was on about.

  11. I’d just like to say that I’m sorry if my comment appears to promote ignorant and discriminatory attitudes towards autism– I think that everyone understands that it was my intention to criticise Farrelly’s ignorant use of the term in the context of her broader argument, but I can also see how my reference to that part of her argument might seem flippant and dismissive of the seriousness of the issue.

  12. I think some of the mischaracterisation comes from misunderstanding the autistic difficulty in recognising/responding to emotional cues in others as if autists therefore don’t experience emotions themselves.

    Yes! I ranted on about this in my “Abnormal Psychology” course last year because for the umpteenth time the potted summary of autism contained in the text book (and every other text I’ve used in my course that mentioned ASD)perpetuated exactly this misunderstanding. My two son’s occupy very different spaces within the spectrum. My eldest at the age of 4 was crying one day and over about 2 minutes he managed to say that he was upset because “he couldn’t talk good.” None of the professionals I told about this believed that it was anything other than a random, meaningless utterance and told me that no child of that age could have any degree of insight. He has since proved them completely wrong. I know that my youngest, whose language is still largely echolalic, has a similarly complex inner life which he occasionally can communicate in words and actions, but convincing others that he grieved over his father’s death and wanted reassurance that I was here to stay has been impossible. They keep insisting that he only missed the routine, not the person. It is so insulting.

  13. Beppie, I certainly had no objection to your comments. Farrelly’s were another thing altogether.

  14. Eek! ‘sons’ not ‘son’s’. Damn viral apostrophes, I never used to that mistake.

  15. BTW, Shaun at #5, your comment got overlooked a bit.

    Yah boo sucks to the Melba snowflake!

  16. Beppie; what Tigtog said at 13, you weren’t flippant or dismissive at all.

  17. Okay, thanks tigtog and su. 🙂

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