May 7th, 2008
foreverdirt linked to this excellent talk about sexism in science, the talk is an hour long and there are introductions before and questions after so it is a bit long, but I think worth it.
One of the excellent points made, and one that I have failed to express when I wanted to, so I'll do it here instead - is saying things like "women are innately worse at science" is *actively harmful* to the progress of women in science, and that if you are thinking of saying such a thing in public then you really ought to be very sure that you are right; that just saying such things with the force of your reputation and your conviction that you are right will cause other people (in this case women) to internalise the message (and as a result be worse at science). It turns out that this has actually *been tested*; if you give girls a maths test then they *do worse on it* if you remind them that girls aren't good at maths before they sit it.
It's not just being sure, it's using the right statistical terms too. "Women are innately worse at science" is not true; "the mean score on a spatial awareness test is lower for women than for men, and spatial awareness is used in some aspects of studying science" may be true. It always amazes me how some people with physics degrees seem to lose all their knowledge (1) of basic statistics and (2) that one aspect of a problem isn't the whole problem, when they start talking about gender and science.
Edited at 2008-05-07 10:14 am (UTC)
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)|| |
Yes, it's very silly of them.
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)|| |
And then all the men are like "Oh, but you should just ignore it" or "Don't be such a wuss". Which is EPIC FAIL at basic human psychology.
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 11:17 am (UTC)|| |
if you give girls a maths test
I'd be interested in the results of the same experiment on boys. There are sections of the population where they notably do perform worse on average, so you could certainly do it with just the reminder rather than with a lie.
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: if you give girls a maths test
I'm pretty sure I've seen mention of a similar study based on race rather than sex, in an area where there wasn't a strong stereotype of who was good at what, so they just separated people (it was Americans, I'm pretty sure) into "white" "Black" and "Hispanic" and told each group that their group had been found to be bad at [whatever it was], or not. Same result - even, remarkably, given that this didn't reinforce a stereotype they'd been absorbing since birth.
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)|| |
I think that test would work for both sexes, however, the drip, drip persistance of negative comments regarding women's abilities will have a cumulative effect over the course of a a girl's educational career on her confidence.
There is a shocking amount of misogyny in this city regarding IT and the sciences - I see that and I'm only networking at the university-spin-off business end of it. I had a fantastic moral-support-kick-up-the-back-side from Walter Herriot - Director of the SJIC, who said he observes ex-university businessmen (in IT and engineering etc) talking down to women every day "They'll be talking to you but they'll be looking over your head to see if there is a more interesting man they can talk to" and that I was never ever to think that it was me.
Sadly he turned out to be so very right. And I have had some amazing put-downs in networking situations in the last year and I've been so grateful for his words or I may well have developed a complex! It is clearly an institutionalised sexism and deeply ingrained. The new guys coming through seem to be much less inclined to judge so if we continue to point stuff out, perhaps over time things will change. Long way to go though.
I left the Cambridge Network - and I joined the Cambridge Business Women's Network and I ran into (proportionally) just as many scientists and IT people, the main noticeable difference is that they talk to me. :)
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)|| |
If it is true that in the top 1% of scientists there are more men than women, saying "women and men are equally good at science" can also be actively harmful if it decays into "so the top institutions must take 50% men and 50% women"
|Date:||May 7th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)|| |
Right; but if it is true that the top 1% of scientists contains more men than women that data is *not sufficient* to state that women can't do science - there are loads of other reasons; like schools that suck, universities that suck, hiring policies that suck, maternity leave and child care provision that sucks... and there really is no way to see to what extent (if any) "women innately suck at science" is a factor amidst all these confusing factors.
Using quotas might be the only way to force universities/schools/employers into accepting that women can (and do) do Good Science; which is a huge shame. Also sometimes I think that a quota system makes women think "I'm only here because of the quota" so I'm not really in favour. I'm in favour of forcing people to institute policies that make their workplace/study-place an attractive place to be for women - but that's much harder to achieve, and it's possible that with more women around places will change faster to accommodate them.
Besides the Top Institutions do not train only the Top 1% of Scientists. I know; because I have a Cambridge degree and no *way* am I in the top 1% of scientists; so clearly chucking out mediocre-boy-students in favour of mediocre-girl-students is not actually going to result in many fewer Top Scientists.
I think that people do tend to give up more easily when they're told that something is hard, so I can see what you're saying. Also, I think that we need to stop advertising sciences and maths as "hard" subjects, as I think this leads to people of both genders giving up and potentially missing out on what I believe are very interesting subjects.
The flip side of this is that when a girl does do well at maths or science, this may be more commented on than if a boy did equally well. Which is probably encouraging, if patronising, to the girl.
|Date:||May 13th, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)|| |
One of the things I've noticed a lot, particularly around Cambridge, is that successful women in science and IT often seem to imitate the boreish, aggressive, overconfident men who I try to avoid with a barge-poll even in professional situations. There's lots of explanations for that, of course. It could be that this is what it takes to get on; or else that this is their natural unfettered inclination; but the number of professional IT people I meet who within seconds are telling me about their prizes, awards, and programmes they're enrolled in, in fact the number who've never made a professional mistake, I've automatically switched off within a few seconds, too, just like for the more common, similar men. My instinctive reaction is that whether they're right or not, they're best left to whatever it is they do, and not really to talk about it. Kind of a bit like the matters of the gods: best not interfere.
They say that heaven is like TV, a perfect little world that doesn't really need me.
As with all things, there are exceptions, of course, and the spread is massive. And because the origins this kind of hypercompensation, I know that I should
probably be more tolerant of it, but it's always a bit of a struggle to interact with people consistently contrary to their projected personality. Not that the presence or absence of such things matters, of course, if it helps them.
Something else, of course, is that men in junior management positions who choose women in their team, or to progress according to their opinions, don't tend to get promoted themselves. It doesn't take them to internalise that, of course, just a selection process.
|Date:||May 13th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC)|| |
Oops, that was me.
I think that saying that "you really ought to be very sure that you are right" and then not giving even a whiff of a reference for "this has actually *been tested*" is bad science. Quote your sources, please.
Yumm, sources. I love 'em.
Oh wait, was that one of the things that was was sourced in the talk? Which, ahem, naturally I haven't bothered to sit through yet.