Civility or Mindless Compliance?

July 3, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Suppose you were about to walk into a campus building, and you saw this sign.

Would you take the door indicated? If you were headed for one door when you saw the sign, would you change your course, even if it meant adding a full three steps to your journey?

If so, according to the people at The Situationist, you are guilty of “gender conformity” and “mindless compliance.”

Here’s the full video. (Note: it’s silent. Don’t bother, as I did, trying to figure out what’s wrong with your computer’s sound.)

The Situationist lists “related” posts on the Zimbardo prison, the Milgram obedience experiments, and the Asch conformity experiments.

Why didn’t they link to something about civility?

Suppose you’re walking into a building, and a stranger says, “Excuse me, would you mind walking through this other door?” would you stop and demand that he explain the rationale for his request? Or would you say, “Sure,” and go on your way?

The experimenter, Sarah Lisenbe, frames this as a gender issue. But would the results have been different if the sign had indicated different doors for first-year students and sophomores and above? Or students and faculty?

The video ends with a sigh (a signed sigh). But it left me with a question: what about the people who saw the sign but deliberately ignored it? What kind of person would disregard such a simple request?

Yes, I know there’s a counter-argument – that mindless conformity to signs based on gender only serves to reinforce gender inequality. It’s like obeying the Jim Crow signs for colored and white drinking fountains. (Is it relevant that this video was apparently taken at Mississippi State?)
So I guess the question is this: do you see the sign as an intrinsic part of a system of sex segregation and male domination; or do you see it as another request, like a traffic arrow, that’s so minor you don’t even bother to wonder about its rationale?


Anomie said...

I would probably note it as odd and go through the door for women. I'm not inclined to see it as a gender issue.

Todd Krohn said...

Great post, Jay. I too would probably "mindlessly comply" and go to the gender-appropriate door, for the same reason I'd do the same at a public restroom.