[Letter] Less outrage, more meaningful discussion

PhD student Sander Konijnenberg thinks the discussion on diversity lacks clarity and coherency. “Substantiate your claims properly”, he argues in this letter.

(Photo: Mike Navolta/Pexels)

A while back I raised a few issues concerning diversity and inclusivity. I pointed out that there is a lack of a clear rationale for equal gender representation, and that the research on the role of implicit bias is unconvincing. Since then, little progress has been made in addressing these questions. As I argued previously, the responses I received contained redundant explanations and displayed demonstrable ignorance.

Recently, a column by Padmini Manivannan on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was published. Manivannan insinuates it’s good that Damore (whom I referred to in my previous letter) was fired for his memo, because it ‘spares his women colleagues the need to prove themselves’. This statement reveals that Manivannan is ill-informed or disingenuous. Let me explain.

While some claim that forced equality creates a better world for everyone, the fact of the matter is that it promotes a destructive narrative that states that all inequality is to blame on an oppressive privileged class (men, whites, ‘the patriarchy’) and it should be resisted. For example, in the TU Delft Feminists’ letter to the former Dean of Architecture, ‘whiteness, heterosexuality, and masculinity’ are linked to ‘assumptions about superiority based on old, neo-colonial narratives that allowed a few to dominate many’.

‘Being victimised doesn’t justify victimising or radicalising others’

This narrative legitimises nasty means of resistance to the privileged oppressors. I’ve cited Felienne Hermans’ comments on firing men or the TU Delft Feminists’ call for censorship multiple times. Another example are the comments of Ingrid Molema from the National Network of Female Professors (LNVH). She stated that bias and sexism make ‘an academic career … a children’s slide for men, while for women it’s a climbing wall’, and that many men in high-level positions could be replaced by more competent women. To propagate this narrative, women are purposely being made resentful. From a report on a DEWIS symposium:

Most candidates stated that while they never felt discriminated against while researching at TU Delft, in light of the symposium, this opinion may have been influenced by their own implicit bias.

It’s very plausible that there are women in STEM who face unjust hardships that men don’t, and that it in part has to do with bias and sexism, and that we should put some effort into trying to fix this. But being victimised doesn’t justify victimising or radicalising others. Wanting to fire men because of their gender; wanting to censor a documentary because it contradicts your ideology; devaluing achievements of men who’ve worked hard for them; telling men that their very presence is unfair; actively convincing women (or other minorities) they’re systematically oppressed by society. It’s all unacceptable.

Damore had to undergo diversity training where this ideology of oppression and guilt is drilled into employees (I mentioned previously how such practices have led people to vote for Trump). Here’s how Damore reacted: he acknowledged the problems with bias and sexism, but he rejected the idea that all inequality must be due to bias and oppression which the privileged classes (i.e. straights, whites, and males) should atone for. Rather, the role of other factors, including biological ones, should also be considered. While it’s true some scientists were critical of the memo, others approved of it.

So Manivannan is extremely misleading in suggesting that Damore wrote a pseudoscientific memo just to put down his female colleagues. And it’s ridiculous to dismiss Damore’s elaborate point by easily referring to unspecified ‘studies by neuroscientists’, while at the same time proclaiming without citing any evidence that sexualised female superheroes are somehow the real problem (as if Superman sets realistic body standards for men).

Moreover, Manivannan leaves many claims vague and unsubstantiated. She claims there aren’t ‘enough’ women in STEM and that it’s time to move towards ‘better’ gender ratios. Not ‘enough’ for what exactly? Are there also not ‘enough’ female truck drivers, construction workers, miners, prisoners, or homeless people? What should the ratio exactly be before we know we’ve eliminated unjust bias?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore options to create a better environment for various minorities, but enough with the shallow outrage and showing off naive good intentions. Rather, form a clear and coherent narrative, substantiate your claims properly, and address criticism clearly. That’s the only sustainable way forward.

Sander Konijnenberg is a PhD student at the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

  • Our platform is open to well written and well argued opinion articles written by students and employees of TU Delft. The maximum word count is 700. Email us at delta@tudelft.nl.

Opinion / Our platform is open to well written and well argued opinion articles written by students and employees of TU Delft. The maximum word count is 700. Email us at delta@tudelft.nl.

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