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Read This Comment!

Everybody ought to read this comment by Grimalkin. Especially those of you who are so enamoured of “just speculating” and/or “considering the possibility” that women’s essential biology causes them to “not be interested in” math, science, and engineering. After you read it, please stop parroting unthinking, unreflective, misogynistic crap about why women just don’t go into [name your favorite technical field here].

  1. Carolyn
    May 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    We know that if you take one baby, and introduce them as “Jane” to some people, and “James” to others, the two groups will interact with the baby differently, and form different impressions of them. I posit we haven’t come near the experiment of seeing what boys and girls as populations are “really” like with an unbiased upbringing. My acquaintances sometimes comment on how girly baby girls are, and how boy-like baby boys are, and how parents all know that gender is inborn.
    Maybe there’s a difference on average over a population, though a population has within-group variation too. But there are certainly gender norms and roles which kids learn about at a very young age.
    This shouldn’t bug me as much as it does.

  2. May 7, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I’m not fond of “Cathy” but remember when she was trying to buy a gender-neutral toy for her friend’s baby. She finally demanded a dinosaur – a nice, un-gender-role-stereotype dinosaur – and the salesclerk triumphantly produced “cowboy-astronaut-soldier” T-Rex and “princess-ballerina-bride” Brontosaurus…

  3. becca
    May 7, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Aww, now I wanna cowboy-astronaut-soldier T-rex!
    The comment is well-put, and it rings true.
    Although personally, if I had been a boy I probably would have a much harder time with fractions- I would (sadly) have been less likely to enroll in my sewing class, which is about the only place I saw them as useful (I can still eyeball 5/8 of an inch)

  4. chemniste
    May 8, 2008 at 3:32 am

    I agree with the overall point that you’re trying to make, I think that societal factors have such an overwhelming influence on peoples perception of gender roles that the only reason why people consider the possibility that there are significant inherent differences between men and women is to reinforce a conscious or unconscious prejudice. It also reinforces a defeatist attitute about gender equality and demeans any attempt to remove societal factors that are discouraging people of particular genders from improving particular skills.
    On the other hand I don’t really think this is the way to go about arguing with them. After all, it’s only anecdotal evidence. All someone needs to say is ‘well I once knew a girl who wasn’t interested in maths even after getting extra tuition’ and you’d be back to where you started. Besides, looking at a few of the comments from recent posts it seems like the people that you’re arguing against accept that statistical trends can’t be applied to individuals.

  5. Mecha
    May 8, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Chemniste: The argument, though, isn’t about ‘do women exist who want to do science’, because only complete denialists, sexists, or people who don’t bother looking would say no to that given the wealth of examples that disprove it. The anecdotes are meant to prove something else, to me.
    As a moral being, most people would weight two options, one of which did harm provable harm, one of which didn’t, and say that the one that did was bad. That’s what we’ve got here. People who perpetuate, and argue, and maintain the stereotype that women don’t want to do/can’t do science (and do so using our flawed society as a basis) cause real damage to peoples’ lives. Their belief that they should be able to say the ‘unpopular’ thing seems to trump the actual damage they are doing. Are they really ‘seeking truth?’ Really ‘exploring reality?’ Or just trotting out the same old stuff wrapped in excuses?
    It shouldn’t be about proving that ‘yes, there are women who want to do math’, or ‘no, there aren’t women who want to do math’, because both of those should be trivially known facts. But when arguing against a stereotype, one should ALWAYS be about showing that maintaining, perpetuating, and arguing for pusing a stereotype as policy, whether statistically backed or not (Hey, that black guy’s gonna mug me! It’s statistical! 9_9) does far more harm than good.
    What good have stereotypes about women in science done? Any? Any at all? Then why do people feel the need to bring them up? As if nobody’s heard of it, or as if the newest research (which doesn’t take into account sexism) completely explains away the effects, thereby absolving people of the sexism that has been proven to exist?
    That’s why the bad people who are ‘just proposing’ that women are biologically unsuited for things get to have their cake and eat it too, and the naive people who are ‘just proposing’ allow the bad ones to persist. And you have to show people that ‘just proposing’ and ‘stereotypes are okay if they’re true’ does real damage.
    -Mecha

  6. chemniste
    May 9, 2008 at 5:18 am

    I understand that the anecdote wasn’t meant to illustrate the fact that there are women who want to do science, I took the moral of the story as ‘people perform badly in tasks when they’re told they suck at them’ and I think it’s a point that Zuska could back up with some science.
    It’s not that I disagree with using personal stories in blogs, I think they can put a human face on the point and make a post more interesting as well as more convincing. It’s just that this is scienceblogs, so I think there should be at least some science in the post. A lot of people don’t bother to read the comment threads under a post unless they’re directed to, so if they see a blogger apparently trying to use anecdotal evidence to argue their point it’s not going to make a particularly good impression.

  7. absinthe
    May 9, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Chemniste; if anecdotal evidence of discrimination in the sciences is shown, people (like you) say “but that’t not scientific! You need to provide statistics!”
    So then someone (like me) goes and does a rigorous statistical analysis (actually, many statistical analyses in my case), and then people cry “But that’s just statistics…you probably just manipulated those numbers to suit your own agenda! (you feminazi bitch)”. Or (and this is coming from a government agency that is supposed to be investigating discrimination uncovered by rigorous statistical analyses) “Those are just statistics…we have to actually contact every single woman at the lab to find out if they *felt* they were discriminated against”. And you can bet if they find even one who says she hadn’t noticed any discrimantion, they will declare the problem null and void.
    I am so sick and tired of people who sit and pick holes in any evidence (anecdotal, statistical, or otherwise) that shows gender discrimination in the sciences.
    Thanks for being a mouthpiece for the patriarchy. It is so refreshing and edifying to hear the same old nit-picky idiotic arguments yet one more time. Zuska, wasn’t there a recent plan to add a numbered list in the sidebar of the kinds of nit-picky avoidist crap comments that chemniste is spouting here?

  8. May 9, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    As a woman in a tech field purely online, it didn’t take me long to notice how people treated me differently if they thought I was a man.

  9. chemniste
    May 9, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Right, so complaining about the reliance on anecdotal evidence is now considered “nit-picky idiotic…avoidist crap”? I guess someone had better go tell the Hoofnagles and PalMD over at Denialism Blog because their fight against the anti-vaccination crowd is about to take a *big* turn for the worse.
    Or is relying on anecdotal evidence considered acceptable, as long as your arguing a point that You agree with?
    Now, if you just go up a few posts and (re)read my first post in this thread you might notice that we’re actually on the same side. I just disagree with the methods of arguing for these points and thought that it could do with some psychological or statistical data to back it up. I couldn’t recall any specific experiments at the time (I was rather hoping someone with more experience in the field might provide some) but I just did some digging (i.e. searched google for about 60 seconds) and found this-
    “In a 1999 study, Steven Spencer and colleagues reported that merely telling women that a math test usually shows gender differences hurt their performance. This phenomenon of �stereotype threat� occurs when people believe they will be evaluated based on societal stereotypes about their particular group. In the study, the researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equally to men. What’s more, the experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in math.”
    (from – http://www.psychologymatters.org/thinkagain.html )
    Now, if I (a “mouthpiece for the patriachy”)can come up with some interesting science to back up this point in the five minutes it took to write this post then is it really too much to ask for something similar to be mentioned alongside a well written anecdote that illustrates exactly the ‘real-life’ effects of stereotype threat?

  10. chemniste
    May 9, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Right, so complaining about the reliance on anecdotal evidence is now considered “nit-picky idiotic…avoidist crap”? I guess someone had better go tell the Hoofnagles and PalMD over at Denialism Blog because their fight against the anti-vaccination crowd is about to take a *big* turn for the worse.
    Or is relying on anecdotal evidence considered acceptable, as long as your arguing a point that You agree with?
    Now, if you just go up a few posts and (re)read my first post in this thread you might notice that we’re actually on the same side. I just disagree with the methods of arguing for these points and thought that it could do with some psychological or statistical data to back it up. I couldn’t recall any specific experiments at the time (I was rather hoping someone with more experience in the field might provide some) but I just did some digging (i.e. searched google for about 60 seconds) and found this-
    “In a 1999 study, Steven Spencer and colleagues reported that merely telling women that a math test usually shows gender differences hurt their performance. This phenomenon of �stereotype threat� occurs when people believe they will be evaluated based on societal stereotypes about their particular group. In the study, the researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equally to men. What’s more, the experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in math.”
    (from – http://www.psychologymatters.org/thinkagain.html )
    Now, if I (a “mouthpiece for the patriachy”)can come up with some interesting science to back up this point in the five minutes it took to write this post then is it really too much to ask for something similar to be mentioned alongside a well written anecdote that illustrates exactly the ‘real-life’ effects of stereotype threat?

  11. Math
    May 9, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    My comment is long and just made up of personal anecdotes… FYI.
    My AP-BC Calculus class in high school. One of those “I’m your buddy” kinds of teachers. Casual, sarcastic, joking. But there always seemed to be a weird edge to his “friendly humor” that I couldn’t put my finger on. One day he “jokingly” responded to a female in the class in a way that crossed some line I couldn’t put my finger on, and which no one else visibly or audibly noted. I remember the girl’s face closing up a bit and turning down and her remaining silent as the banter in the class continued. I started thinking about how this particular situation, although it was a little extreme, was not out of character with the general tone of the class. The class was a mix of males and females, but I had been going on the assumption that it was mostly males because of the predominant tone of the class. And it seemed to make sense anyway – we were in the highest level math class available at the school, so the fact that more males were in there than females seemed right (right?). I did a quick scan of the room and was surprised to find that the females outnumbered the males in the room – by quite a margin.
    And yet we seemed marginilized. I was realizing that the banter was more welcoming to participation by the males in the class, and so the males were more vocal, more comfortable – hence the impression that we were in a predominantly male class. I started noting how the teacher reacted to females’ comments in a way that had a subtle but present patronizing undertone. A female had to assume that the teacher’s public response to her comments would include some personal flirtatious ribbing. Again, this was high school. How many people feel like being honed in on a class like that when all you want to do is answer the question or ask for clarification? A female was more likely to have to bat back innuendoes about her appearance or dating habits and suggestions that she “wasn’t getting it”, as opposed to the more “we’re on the same level, buddy… you can get it… you can do it” attitude males got when they spoke up. It was “all in good fun”, cause the teacher was a “fun guy”, but females in the class had to be in a more robust mood if they were going to speak.
    After that one particular class I mentioned the female/male ratio to some of the other females. They were also surprised and noted that they had been thinking it was the opposite. Some mentioned later that they had come to realize how much more quiet the females in the class were and how they personally felt less apt to speak up in class because of the unwelcome “nubile girl in the spotlight” experience that often came from it.
    On to one other class in college – freshman undergrad. An astronomy class. It was kicking my butt. Such a struggle. My numerical scores on tests were low – some 60’s, sometimes lower. I hadn’t realized that it was a class mainly taken by grad students in the sciences and maths. Ouch. In this class, females were truly in the minority. Partway through the semester I was considering dropping the course or switching my mark in it to Pass/Fail as opposed to a letter grade. I spoke with the professor about this and he acted as though he had been expecting me to come to him with these questions. I assumed it was because he had noticed that I, in particular, was struggling and getting low scores. He was sympathetic. He asked what my major was, if it was English or something like that. I said it was, and he nodded and said that maybe I was in over my head. I decided to think on it some more and decided to stick it through – can’t remember why. At the end of the course I found that my final grade was an A, due to the curve. Although my numerical scores were low, they were better than those of most of the other students, and had been all along. I found myself ticked off – I wondered the extent to which his assumption that I was in over my head (even though he should have noticed by the time I spoke with him that my scores were among the best in the class) was due to the fact that I was female (and an attractive one), that I didn’t present as a stereotypical “geek”, that I was an English major (and was his guess at my major influenced by my gender and appearance), and that I was an undergrad – a freshman. I was pissed that I was encouraged to quit – to not push myself. Even if the course was not central to my major, I thought the point of school was to explore. Instead of offering encouragement, or at least the knowledge that my scores, though low, were really better than most, he was prepared from the get-go to give me a pat on the shoulder (or head), and say “nice try… too bad you aren’t bright enough for this. get back to what you know.” F U.

  12. Math
    May 9, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    My comment is long and just made up of personal anecdotes… FYI.
    My AP-BC Calculus class in high school. One of those “I’m your buddy” kinds of teachers. Casual, sarcastic, joking. But there always seemed to be a weird edge to his “friendly humor” that I couldn’t put my finger on. One day he “jokingly” responded to a female in the class in a way that crossed some line I couldn’t put my finger on, and which no one else visibly or audibly noted. I remember the girl’s face closing up a bit and turning down and her remaining silent as the banter in the class continued. I started thinking about how this particular situation, although it was a little extreme, was not out of character with the general tone of the class. The class was a mix of males and females, but I had been going on the assumption that it was mostly males because of the predominant tone of the class. And it seemed to make sense anyway – we were in the highest level math class available at the school, so the fact that more males were in there than females seemed right (right?). I did a quick scan of the room and was surprised to find that the females outnumbered the males in the room – by quite a margin.
    And yet we seemed marginilized. I was realizing that the banter was more welcoming to participation by the males in the class, and so the males were more vocal, more comfortable – hence the impression that we were in a predominantly male class. I started noting how the teacher reacted to females’ comments in a way that had a subtle but present patronizing undertone. A female had to assume that the teacher’s public response to her comments would include some personal flirtatious ribbing. Again, this was high school. How many people feel like being honed in on a class like that when all you want to do is answer the question or ask for clarification? A female was more likely to have to bat back innuendoes about her appearance or dating habits and suggestions that she “wasn’t getting it”, as opposed to the more “we’re on the same level, buddy… you can get it… you can do it” attitude males got when they spoke up. It was “all in good fun”, cause the teacher was a “fun guy”, but females in the class had to be in a more robust mood if they were going to speak.
    After that one particular class I mentioned the female/male ratio to some of the other females. They were also surprised and noted that they had been thinking it was the opposite. Some mentioned later that they had come to realize how much more quiet the females in the class were and how they personally felt less apt to speak up in class because of the unwelcome “nubile girl in the spotlight” experience that often came from it.
    On to one other class in college – freshman undergrad. An astronomy class. It was kicking my butt. Such a struggle. My numerical scores on tests were low – some 60’s, sometimes lower. I hadn’t realized that it was a class mainly taken by grad students in the sciences and maths. Ouch. In this class, females were truly in the minority. Partway through the semester I was considering dropping the course or switching my mark in it to Pass/Fail as opposed to a letter grade. I spoke with the professor about this and he acted as though he had been expecting me to come to him with these questions. I assumed it was because he had noticed that I, in particular, was struggling and getting low scores. He was sympathetic. He asked what my major was, if it was English or something like that. I said it was, and he nodded and said that maybe I was in over my head. I decided to think on it some more and decided to stick it through – can’t remember why. At the end of the course I found that my final grade was an A, due to the curve. Although my numerical scores were low, they were better than those of most of the other students, and had been all along. I found myself ticked off – I wondered the extent to which his assumption that I was in over my head (even though he should have noticed by the time I spoke with him that my scores were among the best in the class) was due to the fact that I was female (and an attractive one), that I didn’t present as a stereotypical “geek”, that I was an English major (and was his guess at my major influenced by my gender and appearance), and that I was an undergrad – a freshman. I was pissed that I was encouraged to quit – to not push myself. Even if the course was not central to my major, I thought the point of school was to explore. Instead of offering encouragement, or at least the knowledge that my scores, though low, were really better than most, he was prepared from the get-go to give me a pat on the shoulder (or head), and say “nice try… too bad you aren’t bright enough for this. get back to what you know.” F U.

  13. Mecha
    May 9, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    chemniste: Stereotype threat is a ‘known’ here, is the thing. I mean, really known. Even amongst the general scienceblogs crowd, not just this blog. Maybe there needs to be a basics post in the sidebar to cover the massive set of research.
    However, requiring that every time someone goes, ‘But it’s okay because women naturally!’ that one drags out stereotype threat and all the other evidence for the _elleventy-billionth time_ just to be ‘scientific’ is… well, typically, it’s meant to be silencing. It’s standard operating procedure: Demand that the feminists go through Feminism 101 (or Biology 101, if you sub feminists with evolutionary biologists on evolution) to win the argument. Requiring that, to play the game, feminists have to put out the entire body of research just to get people to pay attention, on every single post? That’s more than unfair. That’s ‘trying to convince people that the blog’s purpose matters.’ And while it is helpful to put forward the evidence, it’s sorta done a lot.
    I caught that you were being good-minded, but absinthe’s basic point is why this sort of discussion ends up being so frustrating. Heads, they win, tails, we lose. The science is not really on their side, experience is not on their side, basic ethics isn’t on their side, but the stereotypes persist, and the people putting them forward without thinking fully, or because ‘there’s nothing wrong with putting forward an idea!’ just keep coming. If pointing out that the stereotypes ruin peoples’ lives stops people from doing it? I’m a fan (and that’s a perfectly valid application of an anecdote or fifty.) If pointing out the science stops people from doing it? I’m a fan. The sad thing is that neither does the job, but feminists are required to present both. All the time.
    -Mecha

  14. Mecha
    May 9, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    chemniste: Stereotype threat is a ‘known’ here, is the thing. I mean, really known. Even amongst the general scienceblogs crowd, not just this blog. Maybe there needs to be a basics post in the sidebar to cover the massive set of research.
    However, requiring that every time someone goes, ‘But it’s okay because women naturally!’ that one drags out stereotype threat and all the other evidence for the _elleventy-billionth time_ just to be ‘scientific’ is… well, typically, it’s meant to be silencing. It’s standard operating procedure: Demand that the feminists go through Feminism 101 (or Biology 101, if you sub feminists with evolutionary biologists on evolution) to win the argument. Requiring that, to play the game, feminists have to put out the entire body of research just to get people to pay attention, on every single post? That’s more than unfair. That’s ‘trying to convince people that the blog’s purpose matters.’ And while it is helpful to put forward the evidence, it’s sorta done a lot.
    I caught that you were being good-minded, but absinthe’s basic point is why this sort of discussion ends up being so frustrating. Heads, they win, tails, we lose. The science is not really on their side, experience is not on their side, basic ethics isn’t on their side, but the stereotypes persist, and the people putting them forward without thinking fully, or because ‘there’s nothing wrong with putting forward an idea!’ just keep coming. If pointing out that the stereotypes ruin peoples’ lives stops people from doing it? I’m a fan (and that’s a perfectly valid application of an anecdote or fifty.) If pointing out the science stops people from doing it? I’m a fan. The sad thing is that neither does the job, but feminists are required to present both. All the time.
    -Mecha

  15. May 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Are they really ‘seeking truth?’ Really ‘exploring reality?’ Or just trotting out the same old stuff wrapped in excuses?

    BINGO!!!!
    Whenever I hear a privileged asshole explain that the reason why the non-privileged arent equally represented in some endeavor is due to genetics or lack of interest or some other cockamamie essentialist bullshit he pulled right the fuck out of his ass, I tend to be pretty fucking skeptical! Its just a little bit too convenient to just be a coincidence that dispassionate consideration of the scientific evidence on the ground leads right the fuck to maintenance of the privilege status quo, you know what Im saying?
    http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/explanations-of-under-representation-by-privileged-assholes/

  16. May 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Are they really ‘seeking truth?’ Really ‘exploring reality?’ Or just trotting out the same old stuff wrapped in excuses?

    BINGO!!!!
    Whenever I hear a privileged asshole explain that the reason why the non-privileged arent equally represented in some endeavor is due to genetics or lack of interest or some other cockamamie essentialist bullshit he pulled right the fuck out of his ass, I tend to be pretty fucking skeptical! Its just a little bit too convenient to just be a coincidence that dispassionate consideration of the scientific evidence on the ground leads right the fuck to maintenance of the privilege status quo, you know what Im saying?
    http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/explanations-of-under-representation-by-privileged-assholes/

  17. chemniste
    May 10, 2008 at 5:06 am

    mecha: I had never heard the term ‘stereotype threat’ until I found that link, I’d heard vague references to the effect but nothing specific. Then again, it’s not exactly my field of research and I’ve only been around here for a short while. When I did a google search for it I found that every blogger and their mother had written about it, so I figured it would be known here, but then there were two posts and sixty comments where it would have been *directly relevent*.
    I realise it must be frustrating to keep having to go over the same stuff again and again, but when you stop bothering to mention the basics you become unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already share your own view, like a feminist pharyngula.

  18. May 10, 2008 at 9:59 am

    I realise it must be frustrating to keep having to go over the same stuff again and again, but when you stop bothering to mention the basics you become unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already share your own view, like a feminist pharyngula.

    Expending effort pandering to the ingnorant and intellectually lazy very quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. There are Feminism 101 locales that cater to such people if they exhibit a genuine good-faith interest in learning.
    My best understanding of the main purpose of discussion here at Zuska’s blog is for people who understand the basics to explore more complex theoretical and empirical issues. Few, if any, people are here to attempt to be “convincing” to naifs.
    And the Pharyngula analogy is an apt one. Myers’s purpose is also not to “convince” naifs of anything. Rather, his and Zuska’s blogs provide important venues for an equally, if not more, important purpose within their respective substantive spheres.
    That purpose is to allow people who have already done the work of thinking through all the basics to explore together more advanced implications, and to share community with the like-minded. This is a different, but equally essential, purpose.

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