“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is Wrong

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

Related Post Roulette

106 Responses

  1. Thanks for writing this. I have long had mixed feelings about that story, and/or the “lessons” people claim to take from it. My biggest gripe is that the fact the child didn’t see the fine threads doesn’t mean the threads didn’t exist. It just means, to me, that child was honest enough to admit that he wasn’t among the most discerning.

    I had forgotten the part about the execution, however.

    I also don’t like the way people say “so-and-so warns of horrible things. They’re just a Cassandra.” Well, Cassandra was right. But that’s a different story.Report

  2. CK MacLeod says:

    Not sure what OG VB means by “the story.” There is the Hans-Christian Andersen version, and then there are its sources, which are apparently diverse and ancient, and may include interesting variations – e.g., “weavers who claim to make a suit of clothes invisible to any man not the son of his presumed father.” Usually or perhaps always the tailor (or multiple characters serving the tailor’s purpose) are swindlers of some type. I’ve never read the HCA version, but, in the Wikipedia summaries, execution is not mentioned: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes All that said, the moral that OG VB draws, which is kind of a meta-moral about reception of the story, is a particularly nice one, since it turns the story itself into our own “new clothes.”Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    I thought it was two thieves not a legitimate tailor doing a temporary con? Why would a tailor do a con on an Emperor anyway? If an Emperor is impressed enough with a tailor’s work than the tailor can ask for a patent to be the official imperial tailor. This patent would great increase the number of people patronizing the tailor because everybody of importance would want to go to the Emperor’s tailor. Unless the tailor is a radical Marxist, it simply makes no sense for the tailor to perform a trick.Report

  4. The Hans Christian Andersen version, certainly the most familiar one, is here. There’s no execution. It ends with the Emperor, realizing he’s been swindled going on with the naked procession anyway,Report

  5. Glyph says:

    I am struggling to understand what this post is about. It seems to take issue with certain implausible aspects of a folk or fairy tale; but such tales often contain highly-implausible elements, especially because its elements are primarily simply part of the mechanism for imparting its lessons. The “protagonist” in such a tale is not really (much of) a vehicle for audience identification, like he is in less-symbolic work; here, like all other parts of the story, he exists less as an actual character than as another moving part to help serve up the moral(s).

    And I wonder who ever heard this tale without innately understanding that we are meant to empathize and take lessons from ALL its players, not just the child who speaks truth to power; we also are warned not to be like the Emperor, so prideful and vain that he is snookered, ripped off, and ultimately humiliated; and not to be like his subjects, either too fearful of the Emperor’s wrath, or too concerned with being “fashionable” or trendy to see or state what should be obvious to all.

    If your point is simply that too often IRL we are either the Emperor or his subjects, and not the child, well, that’s true…but THAT’S THE MORAL OF THE STORY. That a whole mess of otherwise-powerful adults were made fools by their pride/fear, and don’t do that.

    If your point is that IRL, pointing out the foibles of the powerful, or otherwise crossing them, is unlikely to end well for the weak party who does that, well, duh..and IRL the dragons and giants are also generally going to win against the guy with a slingshot. In real life, both the tailor and the child just earned themselves a one-way ticket to the dungeons.

    So what is the moral of this post? Am I being dense?

    (For a nice bit of symmetry, O’Connor famously had her own “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment on SNL.)Report

    • Will H. in reply to Glyph says:

      Our judges claim to wear “robes,” but these robes are truly “gowns.”

      What are you wearing?Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

      I am struggling to understand what this post is about.

      The moral I took from it is that if you squint hard enough, in just the right way, you can find your preferred moral in any story.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Glyph says:

      Glyph: If your point is simply that too often IRL we are either the Emperor or his subjects, and not the child, well, that’s true…but THAT’S THE MORAL OF THE STORY.

      That wasn’t the moral I extracted until this year now that I’m almost 40. I think I’m slower than most in picking up on such things though.Report

  6. zic says:

    So this is a story about Chelsea Manning and Edwin Snowden other whistleblowers?

    Yes, they feel the wrath of the state.

    And yes, daughters, too, should be raised to be aware of both their own moral responsibility to truth and the risks of shouldering that responsibility. The story is better when it includes not only the consequences to the tailor, but the consequences to the boy, too.Report

  7. Michael Drew says:

    I don’t think the smugness is something suggested to us by the story, though. If that’s your response, then its yours, but I don’t think the tory is telling us to feel smug about the crowd’s conformity. I think it’s telling us to ask ourselves, are we as deferent to power as these people, that only an untutored, insolent youth would think not to go along with a plain lie for fear of embarrassing the power figure? Are we that much less deferent? Etc.

    It seems obvious that the point of the story is not to allow us to feel smugly better than the crowd, but to get us to worry about whether we’re as much better as we hope we are.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    Did someone say Hans Christen Anderson?


    • Will H. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Hans Christian Andersen used to be a very fine line of pipes made by the Danish company Stanwell.
      Danish tobacco tends to the bland and flavorless, but they make good pipes, though I remember a Plum Cake that I believe was Danish, and a very sweet vanilla (found here, mine was the circular tin, and it was a roll, not flake).
      There was one model of the HCA released every year, and it came with two stems, a churchwarden and a quarter-bent, as I recall it.
      I would like to have one myself.
      I have a fondness for churchwardens, and I’ve always wanted an HCA.
      A bit spendy though, when I can get two Savinellis for one Stanwell.
      Savinelli did a line from the paintings of Van Gogh which are really nice, though too a bit spendy.Report

  9. James K says:

    In my version of “Realistic Emperor’s New Clothes”, it’s the boy that gets executed, not the tailor.Report

  10. Damon says:

    Nailed it James.

    Quoting from Sin City, “Power is being able to tell a lie and everyone else believing it.” The crowd would not laugh. They’d allow the emperor to execute the boy because they WOULD see the clothes and know the boy is obviously wrong and needs to be punished.Report

  11. DensityDuck says:


    Batton Lash, referencing Joe The Plumber.

    edit: meh, the darn thing won’t let me bring in the actual image. You’ll just have to click.Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    Reading fairy tales, fables, and the like under the assumption they were written for children is your first problem.

    I believe the tale includes the tailor making several attempts to please the emperor and each time being rebuked. The non-clothes clothes is his revenge. He is playing to the emperor’s vanity… “How could you be upset with clothes that ONLY the most discerning eye can see and ONLY the most discerning skin can feel?” It is the underdog fighting back.

    The idea that the towns people fell for the trick speaks to all sorts of cognitive biases and social phenomenon that were probably observed but not necessarily understood at the time. The child serving as the comeuppance was yet another shot… this time at the masses.

    The tailor “wins” and the boy — the innocent child — is virtuous: honest to a fault. The king is a vain, gullible tyrant and the townspeople are appeasing, gullible cowards.Report

  13. zic says:

    Speaking of the emperor, (and since Vikram’s daughter is given some credit for his revisiting the tale,) It’s been two weeks, since May 4, since there was a post written by a woman. On May 4, Katherine wrote about Babylonia, and Gabrielle comment-rescued a comment of mine. In the mean time, there have been two new contributors introduced, presumably both cis-male. The next post written by a non-male is, again, Katherine’s Babylonia post from April 19, Rose with a TV post on the 14th, and a ‘serious’ post on the 8th. We haven’t seen a post

    The emperor’s only half dressed, and he’s not seeking out some voices that might discomfort him.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      I’ve pitched the site to two women in the last few months. Both declined. (The same number of men, one of which is now a contributor and the other agreed but then kind of fell off the planet.)Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to zic says:

      haven’t we had this discussion before?Report

    • Kim in reply to zic says:

      I think Jay may have a post from me go up today. If not, I should ping him about it.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        (I wrote you back about it already.)Report

      • zic in reply to Kim says:

        I am not talking about guest posts, @kim

        @will-truman asked two women who declined. I wonder, did he ask you? Katherine? Me? Maribou? Veronica? DRS? Perhaps we’re all too unpredictable; prone to saying stuff that’s controversial. I have this feeling that the powers that be measured and found us lacking in one way or another. Or they forgot to consider the flowers growing in their own garden.

        I’ve invested a lot here because of a commitment to change, a commitment be more inclusive of women. I’m seriously reconsidering that commitment now, and rather then just disappearing, after four or so years participating, I thought it might be worth at least expressing my complaint.Report

          • zic in reply to CK MacLeod says:


            Thanks for the validation, CK.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

              I think that’s unfair. Will, of all people, is certainly not a sexist, and even more certainly not acting on unsound methods. Tod has expressed – and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity regarding the issue or his acting upon it – that he wants to get more women OPers here. So I – as easy as this is to say as a DOOD – have to believe that the lack of female posters here at the ole OT doesn’t result from latent misogynistic tendencies.

              As comforting, to some, as that theory may be.Report

              • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

                Perhaps, @stillwater

                But I still question the lack of trust in the women already here. It’s like why women don’t get promoted on the job; sharp elbows and all.

                It may not be overt sexism, but it’s still sexism.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

                Look at it this way: if management thinks the job requires a cut-throat, heartless bastard and women are consistently passed over, it’s very much a compliment, right?

                Apart from that, I really – and I mean this with emoticons of sincerity (since this is the interwebs afterall) – that I really don’t know what you’re referring to. I agree that there’s a shortage of women OPers here at the ole OT (women comprise roughly 50% of the pop., if memory serves…). So … why are women-folks under-represented? I really don’t know. I just have a hard time believing it’s the result of misogyny in TPTB.

                (Acourse, I could be wrong about that!)Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                I made no accusations, and meant actually to disagree with @zic a bit.

                Now, I’m exaggerating a bit with that Apocalypse Now clip, but my point was that, though the site does in fact have editors operating according to a general, heartfelt commitment to diversity, the enterprise, if that’s not too strong a word, doesn’t (or can’t) operate according to some systematic overall scheme of development. It pays its writers in exposure and praise, and is otherwise fully dependent on would-be contributors asserting themselves – as, both essentialist and anti-essentialists will agree, while differing on the reasons, real-existing menfolk are more likely to be OK with. The site will tend passively or spontaneously to re-produce and even accentuate imbalances that exist in its environment, the culture generally, as distortedly refracted already in the internet free-for-all.

                OT lacks the surplus resources and the structure required to implement changes “against the current” and against its own origins. You may call that a mere “excuse,” but it lacks the resources and structure to defend itself against that criticism. Expecting the powers, such as they are, to do or to have done much better than, say, the New York Times with its selection of op-ed columnists is unrealistic and probably unfair.Report

              • zic in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                I understood that you meant to disagree, @ck-macleod

                that was the validation of my point.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to zic says:

                zic: It may not be overt sexism, but it’s still sexism.

                In this peculiar situation, the feminist assumptions of the editors probably work to sexist effect. The eds I think honestly believe that women are not just fully equally able to comment on the things that the editors find interesting, but, given an open opportunity to do so, will eventually turn up to do so.

                Put differently, if the eds were truly more sexist about things, or truly less afraid of being thought sexist, in the spirit of taking the world as it is rather than as they think it ought to be and want others to think they think it ought to be, the quickest way to achieve gender balance would be to invite some women to write on subjects that most of the guys here are, I suspect, not much interested in: So, instead of finding women to write OT posts, you’d expand the assumptions about what an OT post might contain. You could invite some fashion bloggers and “mommy-bloggers” and shopping bloggers and relationship and art bloggers, too – the, please forgive me, “chick flick”-ification of the League of Ordinary Gentlepersons. You could decorate the place with a bit more of a feminine touch, or show more care for the surroundings, too.

                So, accept the culture, including its millennia of near-universal “sexism” and its molding of the real people all around us, for what it is, and trust or hope or be open to the possibility that, over time, the fashionistas and mommies might start asserting themselves on video games, baseball, horserace politics and political theory more forcefully, too.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                (I happen to know a few articulate young women who write on art, fashion, and education, but I’d still like to straighten the place up some more, and decorate it, before inviting them over to take a look.There was also a certain well-liked and -respected contributor at the site who happens to be into photography whom I invited to help put together a portfolio style post, but she never followed up on it.)Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                I’m not sure I’m understanding you correctly, CK, but I certainly don’t think the lack of female columnists on this site is because women don’t care about politics and serious issues and are really only interested in family and fashion. That seems like it would be a rather sexist thing to say, so I hope I’m misunderstanding you there. There’s no shortage of women with strong interests and opinions on politics and economics.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to KatherineMW says:

                @katherinemw If I had meant to say that “the lack of female columnists on this site is because women don’t care about politics and serious issues and are really only interested in family and fashion,” I would have said, “The lack of female columnists on this site is because women don’t care about politics and serious issues and are really only interested in family and fashion.”

                Whatever the explanation – which I think would likely include numerous mutually reinforcing tendencies – we in the opinion of at least one commenter observe at the site a gender imbalance problematic enough to justify threats to leave unless there is action to address it. There were also accusations of broken promises.

                I have not read any very recent statistics on the subject, but it was said in 2008 that around 70-80% of readers of political blogs were male, and that the vast majority of political bloggers also were male. Maybe someone knows of a more recent survey focusing on blogs in particular, but research on parallel questions yields similar results, as observed in this 2011 post. http://volokh.com/2011/02/15/the-gender-gap-in-interest-in-politics/ For example:

                [D]ecades of research show that there is a substantial gender gap in political knowledge, with men especially overrepresented among the 5% of the population who follow politics most closely, as measured by political knowledge levels (a group that is some 80% male).

                My main point was that expecting little ol’ OT to buck the trend successfully might be unrealistic, including for the reasons I gave. I also provided an illustrative example of an alternative approach if the objective was merely to achieve gender balance among writers and readers.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                As mentioned below, I’m specifically looking for outside voices. I can say that at least a couple of the people you’ve mentioned have specifically been talked about regarding an invite, and not unfavorably. None materialized, possibly due to sexism but possibly due to the fact that a lot of people brought up in such a context do not end up receiving invitations.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Shorter CK: the OT is a community, bounded by the limits of community as they reflect the interests of that community. So. Nothing really strange or unusual happening here.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                @zic I’m not sure what trust has to do with it.

                I will make no secret that when we look to add writers, we tend to look first to people who are not already part of the conversation here. That’s not by accident, but it isn’t out of disrespect for our commentariat. Rather, it’s that we want to keep things fresh *for* the commentariat.

                FTR, if you are a commenter or guest poster here, I work with the assumption that you are doing what you want to be doing at OT. If you are a commenter who would like to write a guest post, please let me know. If you are a reader, commenter, or guest poster that is interested in being a regular contributor to OT and is willing to commit the time, please do the same.

                That includes you zic. If you have the time, I’d love to talk to you about it.Report

              • North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                For what little it is worth I think Zic would be a spectacular regular contributor.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

          Zic, my own priority is finding outside voices, so I’m looking outside the garden rather specifically*. I’d love to find female outside voices, and have been looking for them. The same goes for minority voices. Though, personally (and this is my desire, not speaking for management), I am also preferring voices from outside the current liberal-to-to-liberaltarian-to-libertarian axis. Though neither particularly conservative, it does seem more than just possible that had either of the women I invited accepted the invite, they might not have met your definition of our definition of controversial.

          * – I have nothing against promoting commenters. That’s how I got here, after all. We have actually discussed a more direct mechanism through which those who wish to can transition from guest posts to contributor status. But it’s part of a much larger change in how we organize contributors, so there’s a lot to talk about.Report

          • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

            When I rejoined, there was a large discussion about including women. That’s why I stayed.

            I don’t think we’ve lived up to that goal.

            Lots of people have been invited from commenting to posting since I’ve been here, al male except for Michelle who’s wearing her invisibility cloak.

            More to the point, I’m not speaking for me. I’m speaking so that your daughter and Vikram’s daughter don’t get that awkward feeling that I’ve got right now; that if you speak your mind, and you do so in a way men don’t approve of, you bad.Report

            • Pyre in reply to zic says:

              Well, why don’t you?

              If you feel that the current state of the front page needs more posts by the female members of the League, then write posts and get on Kim/Maribou/etc to write posts.

              If you feel that the League needs more female members, why not jump on your female friends and tell them to post here? I think Jaybird was on me for a year, possibly a year and change, before I made my first comment here. My current 2015 (due to expire in 2016 when the presidental election really gets under way) return to the League is largely due to Jaybird saying things like “I notice you haven’t been on the League for awhile.” Go find your female friends and tell them to comment.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Pyre says:

                Yes to this. How else is it supposed to go?

                And points to Jaybird for puttin the screws to you to comment more often. He’s an OT evangelist, he is. I the best sense of that word. Always tryin to get more folks to participate and all.Report

              • trumwill in reply to Stillwater says:

                One of the downsides to the pseudonym is I can’t evangelize as much as I like.Report

              • Glyph in reply to trumwill says:

                RE: pseudonymity – Yeah, there’s about five people IRL that actually know I post here. Two of those are immediate family members.

                Of the remaining three, two were specifically invitations I made to female friends who are smart, informed, articulate, and argumentative as hell – IOW, to me, they seemed like they might fit right into the culture around here; brawling in the comments, at least, if they didn’t feel like contributing more than that.

                It seems that arguing about politics with complete strangers over the ‘net in your free time is not something that appeals equally to everybody.Report

              • trumwill in reply to Glyph says:

                About five know about Will Truman and Hit Coffee. I don’t think any of them – except for you-know-who – ever made their way over here, though. The one guy I would most tell about this place specifically (because I think he would love it, if he found the time) is a guy that I’m not really ready to reveal my pseudonym to.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Dude, I love this place. This place is my family. The only thing wrong with my family is that it’s not big enough.Report

            • trumwill in reply to zic says:

              I think the criticism is not unfair. While we have done non-zero, there is certainly a good argument that we haven’t done enough. And it certainly can’t be dismissed that at least passive sexism has played a role in that.

              I do object to your characterization of how it unfolded, that we dismissed out of hand the females you mentioned because they were too uppity or controversial. That really isn’t the case. If they were dismissed on account of (unconscious) sexism, it was more likely figuring that they weren’t interested or would contribute once or twice and put on the invisibility cloak.

              But I do think it’s fair to say that we haven’t followed up on this as we had intended. Invitations have been sent out, but that isn’t necessarily enough.Report

              • zic in reply to trumwill says:

                If they were dismissed on account of (unconscious) sexism, it was more likely figuring that they weren’t interested or would contribute once or twice and put on the invisibility cloak.

                Did you ask? Did you discuss asking?

                If you didn’t, it was unconscious sexism, and it merits pointing out. If you discussed it and found discomfort reasons for not asking, that also merits some serious frisking.

                And I know this came down is if I were pointing at you; I am not, I’m pointing at a whole community, and asking what happened? And I feared Vikram’s daughter be afraid of revealing the naked emperor like I am, now.Report

              • trumwill in reply to zic says:

                It was discussed, but not followed up upon. Sometimes we think we asked and it turned out we never did. All of this has been very, very common in the decision-making apparatus (and not just on the subject of invites). It’s something I think we’re working on. I don’t see that there would be much discomfort (or opposition) for almost all of the names you mentioned.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

            I am also preferring voices from outside the current liberal-to-to-liberaltarian-to-libertarian axis.

            You’re chasing unicorns, Will. There are no conservatives on the Internet.Report

            • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              No, but there are reactionaries. See 4chan.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kim says:

                How do you self-identify politically, Kim? I’ve never really been able to pin you down.Report

              • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I’m a liberal, but not one that’s prone to defending stupidity (and liberals have done enough stupid, that’s for sure). More technocratic than anything, and interested in solutions from whichever quarter they come (I like the whole guaranteed minimum income idea!).

                And I well remember that Democrat does not always equal Liberal, particularly where the party’s entrenched.

                Libertarian’s a nice philosophy, but we need to fix private charities first. When they’re no longer working like a plague of locusts taking money and doing jack shit with it all, then maybe we can talk about having the government do less (which I do believe in! I see the government as a vital safety net, but I’m never adverse to throwing up a second net).

                Any mutterings from me you might misidentify as conservative are strictly because I know and support a troll (he does work politics) — it’s generally a bad day when all his candidates win.Report

    • Maribou in reply to zic says:

      @zic FWIW, KatherineMW wrote a substantial, albeit guest-authored, post about nonviolence less than a week ago.

      As for me, I am unlikely ever to become a contributor here. Many (many (many (many))) moons ago, when I inquired as to whether such a thing would be possible or even if it might be possible to write more guest posts for the site, I was told no. A polite no, but a very firm one. Since then, the only regular-contributor-person who has notably indicated they felt otherwise has been Jaybird, which, you know, his judgments are sound, and his interest emphatic – but his motives are suspect ;).

      And honestly, even were I to be invited, I’m not sure I could. I’m very tired, most of the time, these days, and often in a lot of physical and/or emotional pain, as I work on dealing with stuff I don’t talk about much here, and I’m far behind on all of “my own” projects. (I’ve read almost 160 books this year, and I’m 40 books behind on writing the little short blurbs I like to write. I haven’t written even a friends-locked blog post that isn’t about books in months. Several of my favorite regular correspondents languish un-replied-to. I keep wanting to go to Santa Fe and not even having the energy to research it. And I haven’t finished a needlework project in months. Just for starters.) And then, I’m lucky enough to have a job I really *love* – that I pour the same kind of dedication and energy and enthusiasm into that Jaybird does into this website – and which has been needing a lot from me these past few years. When I come home, I’m really just feeling too selfish, most of the time, to commit to anything serious – particularly something serious where I’m pretty sure I’d have to prove myself worthy of being a participant.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:

        “when I inquired as to whether such a thing would be possible or even if it might be possible to write more guest posts for the site, I was told no.”

        Do you mind if I ask you told you this? I’m happy to take it in email form.Report

        • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          @tod-kelly It’s not that I mind you asking, but I don’t remember. The impression I had at the time was that it was a consensus-ish decision of the then much smaller number of people making decisions, that they were only looking for “proven writers” or something like that. It was a REALLY long time ago (like, we’re talking before I went to grad school, so at least 4 years, and I have a feeling quite a bit longer – my gut says about 6-7 but my gut is REALLY bad at timeframes), and I was rather miffed at the time (but also thought it was pretty egotistical of me to be miffed), so the details have mercifully faded into oblivion. I wouldn’t normally bring anything I’m that vague on into conversation, but my experience seemed relevant to the discussion at hand. It’s certainly still relevant to how I perceive said discussion, even though that was a long time ago, and relevant to my not being interested in making a greater effort to submit guest posts, etc.Report

          • Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:

            @maribou If it was that long ago it would have been before my time, which would explain why I can’t remember it. FWIW, please accept my appogies on behalf of the site — that was a terrible decision.

            And know that I would be thrilled to have you submit anything. The library post you let us lift from the comments section was awesome.Report

            • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              @tod-kelly I appreciate that. I’m not sure it will make a difference to what I do (see final para of original comment), but it does make a difference to how I feel.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:

                OK. I guess.

                Because I’m not above throwing a tantrum or a guilt trip to get you to submit somthing.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                @tod-kelly Oh, honey, I am the oldest child and most-reliable-parental-figure-my-siblings-had of a 4-child Irish-Canadian family*. I’ve been handling guilt trips and temper tantrums since I was *EIGHT*.

                *(Really we were like 75 percent Scottish-Canadian? And there was some German-Canadian and French-Canadian and even (gasp) English-Canadian in there, along with a couple of other things like the heritage of that one great-great-great-etc who was actually from Kerala, though she raised her many children on Irish soil? But since we had the Irish name, we were Irish, and woe to anyone who felt otherwise.)Report

      • zic in reply to Maribou says:

        @maribou thank you for reminding me of Katherine’s piece, I’m ashamed I missed it, it was terrific.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to zic says:

      I did the On Non-Violence post a week ago (May 13), which was definitely a serious post. (I see that Maribou’s already mentioned that).

      At any rate, I don’t think that the fact I missed a week doing Babylonia (and will be missing next week as well, due to travelling) says anything about the League’s record on gender issues. The general small number of women contributors (Rose, you, me, Maribou; anyone else?) might.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

      I know “we’re working on it” is a dissatisfying response. That’s in no small part due to the fact that that’s what everybody says whether they are working on it or not. Who writes here and who doesn’t are decisions above my pay grade here, and I don’t know how those choices are made or for what reasons. I remember Elizabeth Stoker seemed really productive for a short while before leaving, and we have women contributors who are great writers but don’t write posts as frequently as we as readers would like to read them. Encouraging good writers to write more is likely to be a persistent challenge for management. That ought to be a gender-neutral problem, but there might be reasons it’s not. Not everyone is going to find writing here gratifying, especially when the response received is negative. Also, I think we probably see the least amount of posts from our best writers in part because our best writers have the highest internal standards for their work. And a lot of those writers who are not content to just throw something out there for comment without it being fully thought out tend to be women.

      Another phenomenon I want to mention is that it can take a long time for changes to actually happen. There have been high-level discussions about changes that can be made to improve the site, and they are being executed upon (e.g. the changes to the commenting system and fixing many of the top navigation bar links), but with an all-volunteer team, it isn’t just a matter of seeing an improvement that can be made and making it. Some of the structural changes that would likely make the site more friendly to writers who aren’t already writing frequently are going to take longer to put into place.

      To give an example of changes everyone would like to make but haven’t been made yet, our domain name is still ordinary-gentlemen.com. It’d be nice to move to a domain reflective of the new branding, and this is again something that is in the works, but as you can see, it’s taken a while.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I remember Elizabeth Stoker seemed really productive for a short while before leaving,

        For better or worse, Elizabeth was already too far along for this place. That’s not meant as an insult to this place, of course, but she was on the precipice of a professional writing career, and she was able to quickly move on to gigs with more exposure and actual money. I think she had some issues with the way things went in comments, too, but for the most part she was a good get, but a bad fit, because of where she was in her writing career. She didn’t need this place, and I don’t think she really liked it either, so there was no chance we’d get her to stick around.

        This is, of course, the difficult thing: how do you find talented and productive writers who are not already being groomed for professional gigs, and who may not even recognize their own full potential? Ideally, it seems to me (and I’m not an editor, so this is my thinking, not the official thinking of the editors of course), you get a Russell or a Rose: extremely talented writers who are on non-writing career paths (writing is a part of both of Russell and Rose’s careers, of course, but writing is not their career). Eventually they may (mostly) move on to bigger and better things, as Russell and Rose have done, and we’ll be happy for them (especially if they still come around now and then), but while they’re here they’ll produce wonderful writing and contribute their voices to productive conversations.

        I’ve spent the last couple days trying to think of any Russell’s or Rose’s I might know, especially among the non-white and non-male writers I read, and how I might convince them to give this place a look. Unfortunately, most of the people I read are more Elizabeth than Russel and Rose, but I’m convinced that if I keep thinking and looking, I can find someone who would benefit from this place, and from whom we would benefit.Report

        • Chris in reply to Chris says:

          Also, I can think of worse ways to respond to Zic’s plaint and plea than a clip from Apocalypse Now, but that was pretty damn bad, and definitely inappropriate.Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

            I can think of worse ways to call posting a clip “pretty damn bad” and “definitely inappropriate” than just to say so without explaining what posting the clip conveyed to the judge, but it strikes me as pretty damn bad and definitely inappropriate. How am I supposed to reform my pretty damn bad and definitely inappropriate conduct if don’t know why someone finds it pretty damn bad and definitely inappropriate?Report

            • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              It was glib, its message was vague in that it’s unlikely anyone had much of an idea of what you were trying to say, and it seemed really dismissive. She was expressing a genuine concern, clearly felt deeply enough for her to consider leaving, and that was your response.

              You explained it later, but the respectful thing to do would have been to explain it at the start, and perhaps leave the clip off altogether.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                Rather than engage in a back and forth over whether I should or shouldn’t have felt free to post the YouTube clip in my initial response to @zic, I’ll make one statement for the record: Even though I am, as you all know, working on the site with the editors, as time and energy permit, and even though I have posting privileges related to that work, I do not determine who posts or doesn’t post here, and my views, my actual views or the ones reflexively attributed to me, should not be taken to reflect on the editors’ views. In fact, I’m pretty darn confident that they’d be happier if I kept my virtual mouth shut on this matter, especially in this context. I believe they fully agree with @zic and most others who have spoken up here, and will try to please them.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                CK MacLeod,

                In fact, I’m pretty darn confident that they’d be happier if I kept my virtual mouth shut on this matter

                I imagine you’re correct about that, especially when you write things like the following:

                The eds I think honestly believe that women are not just fully equally able to comment on the things that the editors find interesting …Report

              • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yeah, well, how many women exactly are interested in Babylon 5?Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                I dunno. Plenty of women who are geeks.
                Though I think it was DS9 that went for the “harold and maude” demographic…

                (And Grimm that went for the Lifetime Movie demographic… really…)Report

      • zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I really don’t care to hear excuses; I’d much rather hear, “we could do better; we haven’t lived up to the commitment we made to do better.” I didn’t make that commitment up; and though I know it was before your time, you are still part of it; you joined a group that had made it.

        I look at the roster of people who can post here without ‘guest post’ after their names, and it’s a problem. It’s indicative of lack of feminine perspective in behind-the-scenes discussions. It suggests that what female voices do appear on the front page do so with the permission of a man only.

        Now I admit that that’s ungenerous; particularly because I would not bother to bring it up if I didn’t think that it would trigger corrective effort. In other words, I think you’re all descent people and can internalize and adjust; not hopeless misogynists for life. I think you’re all capable of understanding that to some degree, you’ve been participating in the background radiation that keeps has ‘man’ as norm, and ‘woman’ as something outside norm. That is the norm of who’s allowed to contribute here.

        Perhaps the problems of recruiting women from outside the community and of establishing a long-term FP voice within might well stem from that culture.

        I’m also disturbed by the notion of finding a conservative voice; instead of welcoming a strong voice.

        And I really really want to ask your forgiveness for hijacking your post. See, I couldn’t put this message out here without asking a man’s permission otherwise. That’s the problem.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

          I’m also disturbed by the notion of finding a conservative voice; instead of welcoming a strong voice.

          Female voices aren’t the only thing we lack around here.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

            Female voices aren’t the only thing we lack around here.

            Agreed. Have you guys thought about finding some good libertarian writers to post here? 🙂Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

              FWIW, I’m not solely looking for the “conservative” checkbox. I’m mostly looking for “Will say things that current contributors mostly aren’t.” Conservative is one way of meeting that criteria, but a rundown:
              Jewish female center-right-ish with a strong grasp of economics and economic policy
              White female atheist Democratic voter with strongly conservative economic views
              White male thoughtful conservative (Scotto)
              White male technocratic conservative lawyer
              Male Indian-American academic with an eccentric conservatism
              Male Hispanic former liberal who isn’t particularly conservative but is more right-aligned than left-aligned

              I invited the last two to write guest-posts with the hope that they would be a good fit, which is why I didn’t include them in my previous mention.

              I mostly started going into recruiting mode because I was experiencing some of the frustration that Zic talks to and while I knew that the editorship (which I was not a part of at the time) wanted more ideological diversity, somebody needed to aggressively pursue it.

              (Which, to bring us back to Zic’s complaint. I don’t think it’s that nobody is interested in more female voices… so much that nobody in particular has made it their mission.) (Then again, the totality of my success so far has been to add 1 conservative, so maybe it’s all pointless.)Report

              • I don’t think the site has any shortage of centrist and right-wing voices on econmics; most of the main writers here who talk econ fit into that category. If anything, there’s a shortage of people from the economic left.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to KatherineMW says:


                Your comment also makes me think that we (as a community!) ought to tease apart the two concepts which comprise the term “political economy” into government and economics. Then we could talk about folks who are economically to the right and governmentally to the left, or whatever.

                It certainly seems to me that most of the discussion is dominated by economic rightism at this site.Report

              • j r in reply to Stillwater says:

                It certainly seems to me that most of the discussion is dominated by economic rightism at this site.

                This may be true, but it is worth looking at why this is the case. My view is that the folks most interested in discussing an issue from an economic perspective tend to be right-leaning. This strikes me as endogenous.

                Or put another way, the folks most likely to be speaking against supposedly right leaning economic arguments tend to be the folks most likely to declare themselves suspicious of economic arguments.

                That said, I would love to see more posts from people making economic arguments from a left-of-center perspective or even left-of-center arguments with a mind towards economic viability.Report

              • Chris in reply to j r says:

                I keep thinking of doing more posts on my political views (and I have a really, really long post on work — like 15k words — from the symposium last summer that life kept me from editing enough to publish), but I never quite bring myself to do it. I probably have 4 or 5 incomplete drafts in the system, in fact.Report

              • There’s no shortage of libertarians, which isn’t quite what I am looking for. In fact, general libertarianism itself is kind of mark against in my appraisal because I think that is well-represented. It was actually a bit of a concern with regard to #1, overcome by her expertise and a temperament that I thought was a really good match. The “economic views” I refer to with #2 are hard to describe, but not free market views in the least.

                And I do believe the left-left (particularly as defined economically) is underrepresented since Healthy Commotion didn’t take off, but I’m not the person to find them.Report

        • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

          zic: ow I admit that that’s ungenerous

          It’s not wrong either. I continue to support this site because I trust the good intentions of the editors and that their plans will eventually result in more and stronger voices in the future and maybe in some editors who are women a generation or two beyond that. In the meantime though, progress is probably going to feel glacial.

          I’m also disturbed by the notion of finding a conservative voice; instead of welcoming a strong voice.

          I think we already do have some good conservative contributors, but they don’t write all that frequently.

          And I really really want to ask your forgiveness for hijacking your post. See, I couldn’t put this message out here without asking a man’s permission otherwise.

          Thank you for bringing it up. As I mentioned, these things are above my pay grade as a non-editor, but I trust the editors will consider your message.Report