Lots going on lately that's making me think about women, sexism, and science.
It all started with the Science Cheerleaders
. I was surprised at the amount of uncritical happiness I saw about them from feminists, since I had strongly mixed feelings from the first moment of exposure. Over at Blag Hag
, I wrote:
"Represents empowerment right now" is exactly where I am on the Science Cheerleaders. Do I think they're making a free choice without social coercion to value and promote their sexiness? Of course not; they're getting literal, monetary compensation for being sexy, and I'm just guessing but there might be some tiny amount of social approbation as well. (Note that I am not saying they're not athletes; their brand of sexiness requires physical prowess.) But I am thrilled to see them, because they're compensating for other social pressures that are leading girls not to develop as the scientists they may want to be because it's considered unsexy, and sexiness is supposed to always be a good and necessary thing for girls. The reinforcement the cheerleaders provide to that idea worries me, but I predict that more critical thinking skills taught to more different people will lead to more questioning and social improvement later.
(I don't agree with much of Jen's very-third-wave original post, but I think my fellow UW grad needs to keep posting as long as the amazing Twisty Faster
does, and I liked the discussion that ensued.)
last week there was a review of two books on How Neuromythologies Support Sex Role Stereotypes
(link probably requires subscription, sorry). The books are Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences
by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young and Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
by Cordelia Fine Norton. As usual, when people get started on gender differences, even supposedly impartial scientists can say some idiotic shit, and the books point this out at length. The reviewer, Diane F. Halpern, wrote Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities
, which I have not read, and she does maintain that differences exist across cultures:
"Consider the finding that, in more gender-equal societies, females perform as well as males in mathematics (7), much better than males in reading (7), and much worse than males in visuospatial tasks (5). No simple theory, such as the hypothesis that sex differences reflect societal norms or that gender-equal societies will reduce all sex differences, can explain this pattern of results."
Halpern wanted a more balanced view of actual gender-difference science rather than mere mocking of pseudoscience, which is what these books deliver. I admit that I am more likely to read the mocking than I would be to read the balanced view; not only is it more entertaining, but it seems like you have to go too far to get anyone to listen to you at all, see also Richard Dawkins. Balance those scales, authors!
In a fine example of similar mocking, we have Fannie with Breaking: Boys and Girls Are Inherently Different, Except When Boys Prove Worse At Stuff
. I particularly like her point that "...while I agree with many societal explanations for such [performance in school] disparities, especially racial ones, I think it's worth noting how rare it is for anyone to say, 'Well, now that girls have been attending school on parity with boys for awhile now, we are seeing that they are actually inherently smarter than boys.'" It's obviously untrue, but does that stop people from saying a bunch of other crazy shit? It does not, and the omission's noteworthy.Tony Porter's TED talk about getting out of the "man box"
(social rules for men) is pretty phenomenal. He owns up to complicity in perpetuating the nasty stuff, complete with creepy rape story, but he's clearly gotten way past it and he's telling people why. I was disappointed to see almost all women in his audience; this is a talk for men to hear.
Late in the game but well worth reading came Sady Doyle's wonderful "Ellen Ripley Saved My Life" (http://www.theawl.com/2010/12/ellen-ripley-saved-my-life
). Doyle explicitly ties her own life to those of fictional heroines, and goes a beautiful job of it. I'm grateful that she doesn't fall into the fallacious science-as-villain trap
despite noting that institutions are a real problem for these strong women.