Skepchick Quickies, 1.24


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. That undercover story is hilarious.

    So the women are upset not by the fact that the undercover police were being slutty male pigs, they were upset by the fact they were police officers acting like slutty male pigs, and acting like that specifically to avoid suspicion and gain intelligence.

    In other words, they’re not upset about being fooled by a guy, so much as they’re upset about being fooled by a guy they didn’t expect to be a policeman because he acted in a way the police aren’t expected to act.

    Granted, I’d be upset if it turned out the government was spying on me too, and I’d be upset to find out a girl I liked didn’t really like me but only wanted to get close to me to gather information. But how is that different from so many other relationships between ordinary non-police people?

    Does it really make that much difference why somebody begins or ends a relationship?

    It’s not like the women were raped. They voluntarily engaged in consensual sex.

    Life sucks.
    Some people are dicks/bitches.
    Sometimes on purpose.
    Get over it.

  2. @exarch:

    So you really wouldn’t mind at all if the roles were reversed? I mean, being completely and totally honest with yourself, you really wouldn’t be mad if this happened to you?

  3. With regard to women in computer science I have only a man’s experience so I can’t comment on whether she is right or wrong. The percentage of male/female students was roughly the same at my university. What I have discovered, however, is that lack of self confidence in itself is a hindrance. The people that get ahead routinely over-estimate their abilities. If you are honest about your own abilities and shortcomings your aren’t going to get the plum projects . These projects lead to more learning which lead to more and better projects which lead to more confidence. It is a wonderfully positive feedback loop. You also have to be able to forget about the inevitable failures and blunder forward anyway. I have no idea if this trait is male or female, but in my experience the best engineers have it. Most come across as arrogant which can make for difficult personalities, but they do get the work done.

  4. exarch: I agree it’s not rape but that’s the best that can be said for this policy. I don’t think that we should so casually accept such unethical behavior by law enforcement.

    To put this situation in perspective, look at it this way: would it be ethical for an investigator to have sex with a suspect in a case if they were honest about their identity? Not to mention the fact that such cases are often fraught with rightful concern about entrapment on the part of the infiltrator, and that starting sexual relationships with suspects in the case makes this issue far more severe.

    Yes many sexual relationships are based on lies, and it’s not illegal. But it is unethical and I would argue that it is even more so when the lie is that one member is spying for the government as part of an investigation. I see no reason why we ought to accept such behavior as part of civil law enforcement.

  5. @exarch: While no one should “fool” other people, police officers are supposed to be held to a higher standard. They have this thing called “ethics” that they are supposed to uphold. They are a higher authority . It is not dissimilar to when, say, a teacher takes advantage of a student.

  6. @marilove: I’m not sure about that analogy. In the student-teacher relationship, there’s an explicit, acknowledged power imbalance, hence the possibility of sex being coercive. These police officers didn’t have overt authority over their partners at the time; they weren’t abusing their position of power, because they couldn’t acknowledge that position of power. They were fitting in to a culture. They used sex in a manipulative manner, to gain information and mitigate suspicion – and yeah, I’d be pissed if someone did that to me, and it seems like a douchebag thing to do. But I don’t think you can argue that it’s wrong because of the power imbalance.

    That said, I’m not sure how I feel about these officers’ actions. I can understand that they needed not to arouse suspicion in their roles, but to use sex as an information-gathering strategy seems pretty unsavory. That’s a nasty thing to do to somebody.

  7. None of the quickies surprised me today. Young people still thing space is cool. Doing something over and over changes parts of your brain. People working undercover have different ethical standards than normal people. A woman wrote a cool blog about being a woman with a cool job dominated by men and was inundated with derpy comments, and its not hard to make certain plastics.

    I guess the only one that really surprises me is the whole “leftists are promiscuous” thing. Most of my friends are radical leftists. Did they miss the memo? Am I with the wrong kind of leftist? Where are these kinky tree huggers hanging out? This makes eco-activism sound like an endless orgy. Where do I sign up?

  8. “No chemicals are involved in transforming the potato into a good plastic replica.”

    Looking at the ingredients list, I must disagree. ;)

    Regarding the undercover cops … I have to say, I just can’t get upset over this. It’s consensual sex. Yes, it was intended to aid in manipulating the individuals under surveillance — but the very point of going undercover is manipulation. It seems that the only reason that anyone considers it unethical is because sex is involved at all, but if the sex itself is not unethical or coercive, then why is it any worse than anything else the officers do or say to gain the trust of their targets?

  9. One of the first comments on that women in comp sci:

    “it is actually only partly because of our culture. genetics found out many years ago that male and female brains are sort of preprogrammed trough evolution. man are stronger therefore they were more likely to survive risky endevors like hunting and in general experimenting. females in return had to cover the more manual, monotone and mostly repeating tasks without taking risks (collecting berries).
    through this evolutional behavior men just have no fear “breaking” things and women are rather scared of breaking things and try to handle situations on the emotional level instead of putting in risk. a good example is that women are prefered in factories doind repeating work. our brains are just wired like that.”


  10. From the Software Engineer story:

    until I realized he was just an asshole who probably wouldn’t get too far in life anyways.

    Neither will people who use the non-word “anyways.”

    But seriously. There are few fields with LESS in the way of discrimination against *good* women practitioners than computing.

  11. @quarksparrow: Agreed, police lie all the time when talking to or questioning suspects or when in an undercover operation. Police are allowed to lie to suspects about all kinds of things as a means of getting a confession unless there are threats involved or someone’s civil rights are violated.

  12. I am familiar with this meditation research. The observed changes in brain anatomy due to mindfulness meditation are due to neurogenic nitric oxide generation. It is nitric oxide that causes the changes.

  13. <i.The observed changes in brain anatomy due to mindfulness meditation are due to neurogenic nitric oxide generation. It is nitric oxide that causes the changes.

    Really? I thought it was engrams.

  14. @marilove: I have to disagree, Mari. If it were a case of “If you sleep with me, I won’t give you a ticket”, then the teacher/student imbalance is accurate. This is certainly deceptive, but so is claiming to be a pilot or that the house you’re sitting is totally yours… or even “Hey, I’m against the big companies poisoning our air, too! Let’s sit around and talk about which ones we’re gonna bomb!”

    The essence of undercover work IS deception. “I am a member of your subculture, so it is right for you to trust me.” Part of that deception is fitting in with the subculture as a non-remarkable member. “Yes, I would love some heroin.” “I spent three years at Illinois State Penitentiary.” “Gore got totally robbed in 2000.” And, sometimes, “Yes, I would love to sleep with you.” If you are trying to infiltrate a subculture, being remarkable… and being remarkably abstentious is being remarkable… is a horrible idea.

    I think it’s a bit skeezy, but so long as the relations are entered consensually… it’s consensual sex between two adults.

  15. @catgirl, of course I’d be mad. But what would make it any different from any other girl/woman who played on my feelings? Be it to get information, or to get free drinks all night, or to get a guy to make her homework, or to get a ride home, or for whatever the fuck else people (men AND women) take advantage of others.

    It’s not a very nice thing to do. But it’s not like they’re pounding down the door of every other guy who ever dumped them or treated them like crap.

    It’s a nasty way to treat people, but it sure as hell isn’t the first time someone did it, and it definitely won’t be the last. No matter what their job is. Some people are assholes. Some people just pretend to be assholes for a living.

  16. @marilove:
    They have this thing called “ethics” that they are supposed to uphold.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that having sex with a woman from a group you’re infiltrating is “unethical”.

    Unethical would be a cop who forces a prostitute to have sex with him in order to let her off the hook.

    This situation is the exact reverse: these cops are having sex with those women as part of their cover. Precisely because everyone seems to think that cops can’t have sex with the people they’re investigating, so surely, that must mean they’re not cops. Like those idiots who think that if you ask an undercover cop whether they’re a cop they’re not allowed to lie to you.

    As a means of gaining trust, it sure beats bombing a McDonalds to prove you’re “part of the team”.

  17. As someone with 35 years in software, I feel I should comment on Jean Hsu’s experiences, but I think I’ve led a sheltered life. In my own small company (where I’ve worked almost literally for ever), people are valued for their skills and knowledge, but all of us are just scratching the surface, so more important is willingness to learn. Anyone who claims to already understand everything about computers, as Feynman observed about people who claim to understand quantum mechanics, is wrong. We don’t hire people like the male undergrads Jean had to deal with, or if we do, they don’t last long. People like Jean are the people we want. But I don’t know how typical this is of the industry in general.

    I don’t know if most college undergrad CS departments are similar to hers; I hope not, but it is my (limited) experience that the real world is more like her post-college experience. There are relatively few women, but for the most part they they are treated fairly. Maybe this is because they can quit and find a better job more easily than women in many professions, despite the bad economy. Or maybe the arrogant jerks she encountered as an undergrad have either grown up or not obtained positions of power and influence.

    Maybe more young women* will read this and not be discouraged from continuing in CS or will decide to pursue it. It’s a great career if you like being paid (a lot!) to solve puzzles and to think logically.

    [*] and young** men too, who aren’t into the whole macho “my programming fu is better than yours” thing.

    [**] or older men (and women.) One of our best programmers spent 20 years driving an 18-wheeler for a large grocery chain before returning to college to study CS.

  18. @BeardofPants: “man are stronger therefore they were more likely to survive risky endevors like hunting and in general experimenting”

    I may be stronger than my girlfriend, I’m still lunch to a bear or a leopard.

  19. @weatherwax:

    I read:

    I may be stronger than my girlfriend, but I’d still punch a bear or a leopard.

    The two clauses did not make sense together, but made me giggle. Also, it made me question my current blood/caffeine ratio.

  20. @BeardofPants: “Oh please don’t get me started again on that stupid comment. Something about a little information is more dangerous in this particular instance?”

    Yes, it’s only one small problem with the reasoning. There’s no point in trying to address most of it.

    @Mark Hall: Given the original quote, hell, that makes as much sense as anything else.

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