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If they can't even play with trucks correctly...
January 18, 2005 10:48 AM   Subscribe

"In his talk... [Harvard President Larry] Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them 'daddy truck,' and one 'baby truck.'

"It was during his comments on ability that Hopkins, sitting only 10 feet from Summers, closed her computer, put on her coat, and walked out. 'It is so upsetting that all these brilliant young women [at Harvard] are being led by a man who views them this way,' she said later in an interview." Summers then responded with the currently in vogue non-apology apology.
posted by occhiblu (182 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Why punish someone for their opinion about issues that are far from settled one way or the other? Hardly seems sporting.
posted by rushmc at 10:59 AM on January 18, 2005


Loved the apology. Almost as good as "mistakes were made", but not quite as good as "I couldn't be sorrier" or "I can't tell you how sorry I am".
posted by weepingsore at 11:01 AM on January 18, 2005


"He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks."

Do females working high-level positions in science or engineering have children? Can they even get dates?
posted by DBAPaul at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2005


Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them 'daddy truck,' and one 'baby truck.'

The "baby" "daddy" thing is treating trucks like dolls? Small kids tend to do that with everything, from what I remember.
posted by jonmc at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2005


Oooh, he said innate differences "might be" one of the reasons why women don't do as well as men in math and the sciences. He could have also said that women might not do as well because our culture has a bias against female scientists.

The fact that people got into such an uproar over what was a stupid thing to say that he'd already couched in escape words is a waste of time and effort.

He actually even says that these things need to be studied further. Why do people automatically go straight to infuriated without considering what was said first?

It doesn't seem to me that he said or did anything wrong, he wanted to start a dialogue about why women aren't represented in math and the sciences more. He's achieved his goal and the dialogue is flowing madly. Shame its all about what a woman hater he is because that's not how I read the article. But maybe I missed something.
posted by fenriq at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.

Shee-it. Anyone would be reluctant to work 80-hour weeks.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2005


hmmm... her comment of :

"When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill..."

I just don't know what to say about this.... but it doesn't convey the image of strength.....

I call a "mixed message" foul.....
posted by HuronBob at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


When you go looking for justification for gender bias, it's easy to find examples like that. The problem is that it tells you absolutely nothing about the inherent nature of humans (if any), but tremendous amounts about the intensive social conditioning program delivered by the dominant culture from the moment of birth onward.
posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2005


"Let's not forget that people used to say that women couldn't drive an automobile."
We still say it, just not to your face.
posted by DonnieSticks at 11:09 AM on January 18, 2005


Do females working high-level positions in science or engineering have children? Can they even get dates?

They can date male scientists or engineers, who would otherwise never see a woman.
posted by orange swan at 11:11 AM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Do females working high-level positions in science or engineering have children? Can they even get dates?
posted by DBAPaul at 2:02 PM EST on January 18


Some do, some don't. Same goes for a lot of men. The problem is that all women have to deal with assholes like this, usually in positions of authority over them.
posted by googly at 11:13 AM on January 18, 2005


This is the same Harvard president, by the way, who managed to put the African-American Studies department in an uproar several years ago.

While I might agree that a few comments taken out of context would be silly, the man is starting to develop a track record.
posted by occhiblu at 11:13 AM on January 18, 2005


For a 5th grade Science Fair some years ago, my son devised an experiment offering his classmates either a toy truck or a small doll. As it happened, the majority of boys wanted trucks and the girls wanted the dolls, which he presented without drawing any conclusions. I thought at the time that for an 11 year old it was an interesting and unique research project, and I was disappointed that he didn't receive any ribbon or notice, and I was wondering what lesson he may have learned from the experience.
posted by semmi at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2005


There's currently a raging debate on this over at fark---I was hoping that a Meta post, if one happened, would include links to some of the actual research and other subjects being discussed at the conference beforehand to provide some sort of context.

It's hard to know what Summers was really saying without a full transcript of his remarks. I'd never argue that men and women are NOT different on a biological level, but do I agree that using an anecdote about his daughter and her trucks as supporting evidence that women are inherently less interested in math and science is ridiculous.

Anyone who doesn't understand why this is a touchy subject should imagine a similar treatment by the president of an Ivy League university on "Why are there less blacks and latinos in the hard sciences--is it really just due to socialization and opportunities?"
posted by availablelight at 11:20 AM on January 18, 2005


These bitches need some chocolate and deep dicking.

The problem with so many sand-in-vagina women is that they refuse to explore the idea that there is such a thing as gender differences.

It's not a matter of superior/inferior, it's a matter of complimentariness and it's what makes relationships beautiful. Noticing patterns in behavior is not offensive, it's called science. Kudos to Summers for exploring his theory despite the sniveling cacophony. Males and females are engineered differently. Get over it.
posted by Lisa S at 11:21 AM on January 18, 2005


Sounds like someone's got some sand in her vagina.

WTF?

There's currently a raging debate on this over at fark

*cries*
posted by matteo at 11:22 AM on January 18, 2005


What I don't understand is why he sought to provoke people from the very beginning of his talk. If he seriously intended to look at the evidence in an objective way, why didn't he just present it in this way? Did he think that messing around with people's emotions was going to faciliate a better discussion?
posted by sotalia at 11:22 AM on January 18, 2005


>The problem with so many sand-in-vagina women is that they refuse to explore the idea that there is such a thing as gender differences.

No, it's that many of us don't believe those differences should be "proof" that we're unqualified for certain positions.
posted by occhiblu at 11:23 AM on January 18, 2005


Yeah, except there's so litte evidence for gender differences. DNA-wise, 99.99999% the same. Even an elementary survey of world cultures will give you data points showing characteristics and behaviors viewed as "male" or "female" assigned with incredible variation and little consistency. And finally, all measurable variation (physical strength, intellectual ability, verbal ability, porblem-solcving, spatial, you name it) within each gender is far greater than the range of variation between gender.

Gender is socially assigned. Get over it.
posted by Miko at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2005


Availablelight, from the apology article...

"No transcript was made because the conference was designed to be off-the-record so that participants could speak candidly without fear of public misunderstanding or disclosure later."

C'mon, if you're going to attend a conference that is specifically off-the-record and then do unto one of the presenters who can't defend himself because there's no transcript or record, that's just not playing fair. This is just outrage for outrage's sake.
posted by FYKshun at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2005


fenriq, his comments don't add up. Beyond their blatantly sexist nature they also represent very poor science. The hypothesis that women are essentially inferior to men with respect to technical subjects cannot be tested--even in the anything goes world of sociology. You might suggest that males enjoy certain advantages in such abstract thinking (and there is a bit of experimental evidence for this) but this would do absolutely nothing to explain why there are so few women scientists. What this guy really seems to be saying is that women fundamentally can't do science which is ridiculous. The sexist comments are in poor taste but then trying to hide behind science and "scholarly research" is just cowardly and pathetic.

(The thing is, I know this guy isn't dumb. He was probably just trying to "provoke" the audience, in which case he succeeded--but this doesn't forgive his poorly thought out comments.)

Good to see the boyzone out in full effect.
posted by nixerman at 11:27 AM on January 18, 2005


Summers was probably just upset that his request to have women jumping on trampolines at the conference was denied.
posted by Dr. Boom at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


As it happened, the majority of boys wanted trucks and the girls wanted the dolls, which he presented without drawing any conclusions.

If it was an experiment, shouldn't it have ended with some sort of conclusion to be ribbon or notice-worthy?
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2005


occhiblu, Summers has hardly developed a "track record."

He rightfully scrutinized Cornel West, and he made a brain-dead feminist "physically ill." I'm sure he'll head straight to Bob Jones University after the Harvard Trustees hand him his walking papers.

On preview, please continue mischaracterizing Summers. Clearly, you enjoy the outrage.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2005


occhiblu -- Why shouldn't this be proof? If somehow there were empirical evidence that women are less qualified than men in certain areas, I wouldn't blame an employer for hiring more men in order to increase productivity. Would you sign a 5-foot-5 center to your basketball team when there's a 7-foot-1 player on the market? Your team wouldn't make it past the division.

Unqualified is unqualified, regardless of gender. To hire an unqualified woman over a qualified male just because she's a woman reeks to me of gender discrimination. And sand in vaginas.
posted by Lisa S at 11:31 AM on January 18, 2005


I like Larry Summers generally, but his remarks were completely inappropriate, and good for Nancy Hopkins for walking out on him. Of course, if Summers willing to stand up at a conference about academic women in humanities fields and argue that, since girls score better than boys on language tests, a history or English department without a vast majority of women faculty is probably practicing discrimination, I take it all back.
posted by transona5 at 11:31 AM on January 18, 2005


Yeah, except there's so litte evidence for gender differences. DNA-wise, 99.99999% the same... Gender is socially assigned. Get over it.

Miko, could you point me to any articles that support this?

Also -- could it be that what so many scoff at as "social constructs" arise from the need to accomodate natural tendencies?
posted by Lisa S at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2005


There's currently a raging debate on this over at fark

*cries*


Yeah, well, I mentioned it because the content of the MeFi post doesn't have much more to offer (its purpose seems to be to start a flame war instead of a discussion on the actual science and politics behind gender differences in certain academic fields), and the comments here are already at or below the quality of what's going on over at you-know-where. Jesus Christ, sand in her vagina"? "These bitches need some chocolate and some deep dicking?" (You could have at least been inclusive of the lesbian bitches and said, "deep LICKING"!) Bringing up an allegedly award-worthy grade-school science project (that skipped the "conclusion" part of the scientific method) that proved that 11 year olds pick out trucks or dolls based on gender?? I'd love to see y'all have the nerve to have this level of "discourse" on racial differences in academic performance, and the uppity....people who are offended by certain theories.
posted by availablelight at 11:37 AM on January 18, 2005


Lisa S, could you point to any articles that support the hypothesis that women cannot be as good in math and science as men?
posted by sotalia at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2005


If somehow there were empirical evidence that women are less qualified than men in certain areas, I wouldn't blame an employer for hiring more men in order to increase productivity.

Lisa S, is this a joke?

What ever happened to evaluating each applicant independently and ignoring their gender? This is actually, I believe, the law and enshrined in the Constitution. Your comment is so absurd it's hard to take seriously.

As for trying to explain percentage differences e.g. why men make more, why men dominate executive positions, and why men dominate technical areas, which hypothesis seems more likely to you:

A) Women are essentially inferior to men in certain fields and therefore are less qualified and therefore will not be promoted/hired into exclusive positions.

B) Gender discimination, which has been fundamental to Western culture since the Greek times, is still rampant today and it is the reason for skewed percentages.

Think about this slowly.
posted by nixerman at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2005


Summers' point has nothing to do with inferiority, it has to do with available qualified pool to hire from.

Stonewall Jackson: The result is the conclusion. In science it should be enough, particularly in 5th grade.
posted by semmi at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2005


Metatalk, for what it's worth.

Walking out of a speech because you don't agree with its content is particularly lame. If a certain viewpoint with which you disagree is making you physically ill, I'm not sure why academia is a good career choice.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2005


I think it's worth noting that Summers is the same guy who suggested encouraging dirty industries to migrate to poor countries. He does have a record of, ahem, "provocative" views on subjects other than gender.
posted by jeffmshaw at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2005


Nancy Hopkins is not a "brain-dead feminist." She's a biologist at MIT, which, last time I checked, is a fairly respectabel institution.

>If somehow there were empirical evidence that women are less qualified than men in certain areas...

Yes, but my point is that there's not, at least not in this particular area. You said anyone who objects to these comments is refusing to admit there's a difference between men and women; I'm saying that's not necessarily the case, that one could object to the assumption that gender differences somehow made women less *able* to pursue science.

As for further studies about women in science: This one points out, among other things, the inherent "'male model' of academic success involving a total time commitment to scientific work and aggressive competitive relations with peers" that women are expected to unquestioningly follow, and why that's often a barrier.
posted by occhiblu at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2005


"Gender discrimination has been fundamental to Western culture since the Greek times. . . "

Good god, someone go back and tell the women of Sparta about this, please.
posted by gsh at 11:43 AM on January 18, 2005


It really doesn't matter if men, on average, are somewhat better at science and engineering. There are clearly many women capable of performing at the top levels. Nancy Hopkins has quantitative, documented evidence that these women have been discriminated against (by MIT.) Larry Summers, a non-scientist, has a daughter who assigns cute names to her toy trucks. It's not hard to see why Hopkins might have been pretty disgusted, and she expressed her discontent without disrupting the speech in any way.
posted by transona5 at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2005


As an example, he mentioned autism, once believed to be a result of parenting but now widely seen to have a genetic basis.

This is his example of cutting-edge genetic research? Didn't someone tackle this years ago?

President Summers: You are an economist, not a psychologist.

To gloss over the power of social factors (stereotype threat, anyone?) in underperformance is to ignore a critical branch of psychological research.

And in front of women more knowledgeable than you, too. Tsk.
posted by sellout at 11:45 AM on January 18, 2005


Walking out of a speech because you don't agree with its content is particularly lame.

Note that there is a difference between a view point that you disagree with and a view point that is nonsense. Or do you think all speakers should be respected and listened to regardless of what it is they're saying?
posted by nixerman at 11:46 AM on January 18, 2005


These bitches need some chocolate and deep dicking.

The problem with so many sand-in-vagina women is that they refuse to explore the idea that there is such a thing as gender differences.


Excuse me? There sure are gender differences, but implying that women aren't as smart as men is going to rile me, every time. And no, women who are upset about this are not in "need" of anything, except equal respect.
posted by agregoli at 11:46 AM on January 18, 2005


Nice False Dilemma, nixerman.

C) Women spend more time out of the workforce to raise children than do men.

D) Women (for whatever reason) do not negotiate as men do.

I'm sure anyone with a brain can come up with E and F.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:47 AM on January 18, 2005


The result is the conclusion. In science it should be enough, particularly in 5th grade.

I'm no scientist, but if the result of any experiment was simply the conclusion, one could conduct any "experiment" to "prove" literally anything. That shouldn't cut the mustard, even in fifth grade. Kudos to your son for attempting something more unconventional than the usual mice-in-a-cage or vinegar volcano grade school project, but as was pointed out above, if you neglect the "conclusion" aspect of any experiment, it's not science.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 11:53 AM on January 18, 2005


nixerman, let me clarify: I do NOT think an employer should make decisions on the basis of gender. Clearly each applicant should be assessed independent of gender. But if an employer finds that men (or women, for that matter) are more suited for a position, that employer is going to have to take the heat for "discrimination" when he (or she) is really just concerned about the bottom line. As well he should be.

As for your options, perhaps there is a third option: C) "Women are essentially inferior to men in certain fields and therefore are less qualified"... which accounts for the fact that patterns have developed in which men are recruited for tasks that suit their strengths.

I know gender discrimination is alive and rampant. But let's go after it when it's there and not chalk everything up to our so-called grossly patriarchal society. This actually blinds us to the progress that truly needs to be made.
posted by Lisa S at 11:54 AM on January 18, 2005


"In his talk... [Harvard President Larry] Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them 'daddy truck,' and one 'baby truck.'

Why was this cited as some egregious remark? On this point, at least, he was (presumably) simply relaying a fact. Hell, if this is offensive, we should be pissed at the daughter for failing to realize how she had already internalized society's gender roles.

And I was going to say more, but ... what Lisa S said here.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:55 AM on January 18, 2005


"No, it's that many of us don't believe those differences should be 'proof' that we're unqualified for certain positions."

It seems to me that that's a willful misreading of what Summers said, occhiblu.

If one were to assert that there are biological differences between men and women that make certain activities more or less difficult, comparatively, then that assertion is not equivalent to an assertion that any given woman (or man) is unqualified for certain positions.

Let's not be ignorant of the social and historical context: first, your and other people's outrage over Summers's comment has everything to do with the fact that informal and institutionalized sexism against women has, going back forever, been justified on the basis of "innate differences". So there's good reason for people to be suspicious of comments like those Summers made.

Second, feminism went through a long phase where it completely denied everything other than superficial sexual differences between the sexes; taking its cue from cultural studies and the then dominant strong cultural relativism, all human minds were seen as essentially equal and differences in outcomes were the sole result of nurture, not nature.

When I became a feminist, feminism was in the last stages of strongly adhering to this viewpoint and it was the anchor around which much of my own feminism was secured.

Thirdly, right about that time there was a counter-movement in feminism that instead of insisting there were no differences, innately, between men and women, insisted that the differences were profound. The argument against sexism here was that most socieities have traditionally valued the masculine characteristics and devalued or scorned the feminine characteristics. This counter-movement also arose, understandably and correctly I think, as a result of the fact that the existing paradigm essentially, in practice, often insisted that women be like men.

Fourthly, in the last twenty years of so, there's been a huge body of accumulating evidence that there are innate differences between male and female brains and that there are existing personality and capability differences that are likely the product of those innate differences.

And in all this, no one (except the sexists) are willing to give-up the liberal ideal of equal opportunity and equal respect for each person as an individual.

Let's step back from something as ambiguous as intellectual capabilities. In school districts around the US, there are occasionally young women that desire the opportunity to play on the high school football teams. This creates lots of debate. But the liberal, generalized feminist position (disregarding the feminist position that pooh-poohs a young woman even wanting to play football) is that she should be able to try out, and if she is good enough, play. Most of us don't deny that most young women are not physically adept at the kind of activity entailed in football, and we don't expect gender parity. But we also expect that there will be young women who are quite competent at playing high school football.

There's a fair amount of research (and it's not "cutting-edge" and hasn't been for at least a decade) indicating that male and female brains differ with regard to certain intellectual activities, particularly some things like math. It well may be the case, whether we like it or not (and I surely don't like it, believe me) that the female brain is less, generally, adept at doing very advanced mathematics. On the other hand, it's a complex issue and this may be completely false and it could be other things.

Nothing Summers said seems to me to indicate that he doesn't support the effort to increase the number of women in math and sciences to as high as that number can realistically be achieved. While it's possible that he is inclined to embrace the nature position as a means to hide his sexism, it seems to me that the fact that he and his spouse attempted to raise their child gender-neutrally would indicate that he's not the best candidate for a crypto-sexist.

For my money, I'd bet that the disparity between men and women in math and science is 90% the result of societal factors and only 10% or less the result of innate differences. But I have had to reluctantly accept the accumulating evidence that male and female brains are not alike. So should everyone else who's interested in these issues. These differences are playing a role, somewhere, and while in most cases it may well be that it's not the dominant role, we're eventually going to have to factor these differences into our social engineering ambitions. Too early to do so? Probably. But not too early for well-intentioned speculation about all the various casues for gender disparities.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:56 AM on January 18, 2005


nixerman, I didn't read that he was making any hard conclusions or that he was even presenting any "findings". I understood his speech to be a firestarter based on his personal beliefs and trying to explore them in an academic atmosphere.

He was suggesting it as a possible reason for the lower penetration of women in the sciences. Not as a definitive conclusion.

It seems to me that he was attempting to open up a conversation but was instead met with closed minds and intolerance for exploration.

He could have very likely approached his subject with alot more tact but it doesn't seem to me that he was intending on offending anyone, he was intending on exploring some of the potential reasons lying under the gender inequality in math and the sciences.

Maybe I'm reading it with too open a mind though.
posted by fenriq at 11:56 AM on January 18, 2005


I wonder if it's true if it will ever be accepted.

It took a while for the whole Earth around the Sun thing too.
posted by orange clock at 11:59 AM on January 18, 2005


He was suggesting it as a possible reason for the lower penetration of women in the sciences. Not as a definitive conclusion.

It seems to me that he was attempting to open up a conversation but was instead met with closed minds and intolerance for exploration.


Amen, fenriq. Again the totalitarian monster of political correctness rears its head.
posted by Lisa S at 12:01 PM on January 18, 2005


Nothing Summers said seems to me to indicate that he doesn't support the effort to increase the number of women in math and sciences to as high as that number can realistically be achieved.

In particular, this did: his remark that "if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere." It's couched in terms like "main factor," but he's pretty much denying the existence of discrimination altogether. Of course, it's total bunk. Apart from the few geniuses that stand apart from everyone else in their field, most science faculty are very smart, very competent people who, given the right environment, will do good work. And there are more of them than there are good academic jobs. One very smart and competent person may not look all that different from another. The women being turned away may not be all that much better than the men being hired, but that doesn't mean there's no discrimination. And furthermore, as Hopkins found, a lot of discrimination involves things like lab space, not hiring.

Again, no one is willing to use these "innate differences" to argue that 80% of short stories in the New Yorker should be written by women, with their inborn language facility. Because everyone's used to it being 20%.
posted by transona5 at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


The only acceptable interventions, if you ask me, are at the K-12 level, where girls are burdened with expecations as to social fitness and intellectual well-roundedness from which math-and-science gifted boys are totally excused. I think that this diverts plenty of girls with great potential from being positioned and motivated to pursue higher education in math and science.

By the time freshman year of college roles around, I don't want any breaks or concessions. Turning out brilliant scientists is a system that works very well in the U.S. Don't fix what isn't broke, most especially the imperatives towards long hours and stringent peer review of research.
posted by MattD at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2005


What this guy really seems to be saying is that women fundamentally can't do science which is ridiculous.

I don't think that's his point. His point is that on the average it's possible that women and men have differnet aptitudes, and that could be one cause of many as to why there are fewer women in science. He probably believes that any individual woman or man is capable of any given job, but people tend to congregate toward things they're better at. To say anything else is to make a huge strawman out of the whole issue.

For example - on the average women are shorter than men. I know plenty of women taller than most men and plenty of men shorter than most women. But, on the average women are shorter.

On the average women have larger breasts. I know some guys with astounding moobs, but on average it's true. That doesn't mean that an individual girl has to have breasts, or that an individual guy doesn't have moobs, but on the whole it's true of the averages.

On the average men have more testosterone than women. Again, there are exceptions. But this profoundly impacts the way our brain and bodies develop. It's not a product of culture - men grow facial hair and want to beat each other up as a result of their endocrine systems.

There is evidence to suggest that on the average men have slightly better spatial reasoning skills than women. This is not settled at all so don't take me as final authority. But if it's true then it means that of course there are plenty of men who couldn't navigate their head out of their ass if you gave them a flashlight and a map. And there are women who can and have explored continents. But, on average there might be a slight difference.

I know that people don't like these differences. I sure as hell wish that we were all exactly equal around the whole world. But, going around with our eyes closed to the scientific reality doesn't help. Science is not about what we like. I'd like it if it didn't hurt so much when I fell on my ass. But, I might as well admit that it does so that I can look into how to reduce that.

Heck, maybe if we have a better understanding of a possible genetic difference then we can learn how to integrate more perspectives into science and make new discoveries faster.

On preview - Amen Lisa S.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2005


And finally, all measurable variation (physical strength, intellectual ability, verbal ability, porblem-solcving, spatial, you name it) within each gender is far greater than the range of variation between gender.

Gender is socially assigned. Get over it.


I think I agree with this. Mostly. But I think that there are some (slight) physiological differences between male and female brains that may account for gender specific behavior, aptitude, etc.

Example: although my siblings and I were raised in a pretty goddamn gender-neutral household (well, as neutral as it could get even though we had American culture pounding on our door), there were some inherent differenced between me/my sister and my brother when were tiny pre-verbal tots. Like my brother would run around the yard with a stick and yell "raaaa, RAAAA" and jab at things, while if someone pretended to shoot me, I'd cry.

On preview:

For my money, I'd bet that the disparity between men and women in math and science is 90% the result of societal factors and only 10% or less the result of innate differences. But I have had to reluctantly accept the accumulating evidence that male and female brains are not alike.

This is what I was trying to say.

And that said, I think that Summers could have been far, far more tactful and well-informed before he started shooting off at the mouth. Especially since he's the president of a highly esteemed American college, for chrissakes.
posted by Specklet at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2005


such pomposity is so typical from government economists.
posted by milkman at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2005


"What ever happened to evaluating each applicant independently and ignoring their gender? This is actually, I believe, the law and enshrined in the Constitution. Your comment is so absurd it's hard to take seriously."

With all due respect, if you're not aware that the ERA failed and that any and all non-discrimination clauses in the Constitution are in effect only where competency is not involved...then you don't have any business in this conversation.

Where gender is pertinent to the job being performed, it is lawful to discriminate on the basis of gender. The ERA might have changed this, but probably not, in practice.

Secondly, the statement of Lisa S's that you objected to is, perhaps, ambiguous. A generous (and much more likely to be correct) reading is that an employer that hired women only for the sake of hiring women (for example, to achieve gender parity or just because he/she likes women) for a job that women are, in general, less able to perform (like, say, being a NFL running-back) then she wouldn't argue with people who complained that his/her choices were decreasing "productivity". I don't think she was asserting that said employer should increase the ratio of men to women blindly in order to increase productivity. I suppose that's possible. But it sure would be stupid, in my opinion. Stupid to do, and stupid to defend. There's a lot, a lot, of better ways to increase productivity that such a blanket standard (that would likely, in the end, hurt productivity for reasons I won't go into except to mention that the women that he/she isn't hiring are likely self-selecting much-more-than-average in competency).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2005


>It seems to me that that's a willful misreading of what Summers said, occhiblu.

Ethereal Bligh, I was responding directly to Lisa S's comments, not to Summers. I do not think that was necessarily what Summers was arguing, but I do think it's increasing that (90%) societal expectation thing when the president of one of the country's top universities uses an anecdote about his toddler to explain why 94 percent of full professors in science and engineering are white; 90 percent are male in America's universities.

And as transona5 pointed out, as soon as these studies of "natural inferiority" start being used against men in English departments, I will cede that I'm being a rabble-rouser for the sake of rabble rousing. But they're not, and so I still find them sexist, in that they assume that a "different approach" to a subject automatically equals an "inferior approach" when the scientist in question is female.
posted by occhiblu at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2005


Do females working high-level positions in science or engineering have children? Can they even get dates?

They can date male scientists or engineers, who would otherwise never see a woman.

This is just fucking stupid, prejudiced, and typical of the idiots here. Do you guys even know any scientists? They are normal people, except that their careers are in science instead of whatever else "normal" people do. The physics professors at my academic institution are very "normal" and you would never guess they were professors. Two of them are young males and ridiculously buff - they look like football players. Also, the hottest females I know are physics majors, no joke. One goes to MIT.

As for Summers, people are totally taking his remarks out of context. No one doubts Harvard's committment to ensuring gender equality. Anybody who knows anything about higher education, especially the top schools, knows that they are crazy about affirmative action and having the right amounts of "diversity" everywhere. If anything they take this too far.

As for females in the sciences - there is nothing Harvard or any college can do about it, because it is a sociocultural thing. Women don't go into math/science because they don't want to. This could be because of innate abilities, cultural stereotypes (that many MeFites demonstrated already), etc. The thing to do is try to figure out the root causes, which people like Summers do for a living.
posted by aerify at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2005


First, speaking as someone at a school across the river, Harvard needs to get over itself. The world would be better if it didn't exist to eat up so much endowment money and waste it on useless things.

Second, it seems as though several different positions on this issue could be true. That is: you don't have to ignore possible diversity in being egalitarian. Males and females could have different ways of thinking and learning and might still belong in a classroom together. In fact, I'd even say males tend to enjoy life better if they're surrounded by educated women and learn alongside them. But I can't speak for women. Perhaps people should just be a little more careful about talking about who's "superior," since that doesn't really matter, and since grade are confidential and are really more based on the individual. (Succeeding at Harvard seems to me to have less to do with what's between your legs and more to do with what's in your bank account and who you're related to, anyway.)

Thirdly, wow, academia sure has wasted away since the 60's, eh?
posted by koeselitz at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2005


"Nancy Hopkins has quantitative, documented evidence that these women have been discriminated against (by MIT.)"

Just because MIT's PR department caved doesn't mean she was right. Her methodology was entirely backwards. There are less female tenured faculty than male. Male faculty have more access to labs, and their share of lab space is larger. THUS, gender discrimination. She worked from a conclusion and filled in the necessary data to support it. In the articles I've read, she doesn't mention what these tenured women were concentrating on--one would expect certain fields to require more floorspace than others. From an article:
When we began our study, in the summer of 1994, I was amazed that after 25 years of affirmative action, there were only 15 tenured female faculty members in the six departments of science at M.I.T., compared with 194 tenured men.
Clearly looking to fight some windmills. If the process is gender-blind, and instead relies on track-record, amount of published papers, etc., and there are still less tenured women faculty, then perhaps the problem isn't with MIT at all.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2005


No, it's that many of us don't believe those differences should be "proof" that we're unqualified for certain positions.

They're not looking for proof. The gender ratios are already skewed, and they are looking for REASONS why that is the case. Maybe you don't like the reasons, they're not asking you to like them. Perhaps it is somewhat related to biology. You can't make the problem go away by pretending it doesn't exist.
posted by aerify at 12:13 PM on January 18, 2005


Though perhaps off topic with the careening direction this thread is taking, I feel compelled to admit my 2.5 year old son did this very thing the other day. "Mommy" and "Daddy" and "Baby" X, where X=some non-anthropomorphic object I can't remember right now. Blocks, maybe? I highly doubt that his (my son's) experience is non-typical.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:15 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Summers pissed off Cornel West 2(?) years ago for daring to suggest that maybe West should produce scholarly works rather than rap CDs. He was attacked for this, though it reflects no bias, and in fact is one of the duties of a university president: to encourage serious scholarship at this institution.

This is a similar situation. Summers made what should be an uncontroversial remark: that it is possible that biological differences explain why women are less present in sciences than men. As president of (arguably) America's pre-eminent university, he should encourage real study on this topic, regardless of its potentially unpalatable outcome.

In both situations he has been unfairly maligned in the name of political correctness. But he's been in the right both times if you get past his undiplomatic presentation.
posted by defending chump at 12:16 PM on January 18, 2005


First the snippy remark: hre we have an MIT scientist woman and she is upset...she storms from the room rather than stand up and give her point of view or argue with the guy.

More to the point: driving is a cultural thing. Women still do not drive in Saudi Arabia. This is not what the real issue is.
What we have in sum: the age old debate between what is thought to be culturally imposed and what is genetically embedded--ie, Nature Versus Nature, which, as Pinker (MIT) and so many other have show is not that simple but rather a mix of the two.

Think no differences? Read Dorothy Tannen et al
Do you ever see a guy go goo goo to some woman's baby ? Nah, if not his. But women do it all the time. Why?
Women make great doctors but how many go into engineering and math? some but few. If they can go into doctoring (tough to get accepted) then they should be able to get into engineering and math but most choose not to. Not culture then but "inclination." Men in prison make punks for sex; women in prison form families--why the diff?
posted by Postroad at 12:16 PM on January 18, 2005


Summers is right when he suggests that there isn't much discrimination against females. In fact the level of affirmative action at these places is insane. If you are a woman in science and reasonably competent you will get snatched up by the top schools. The problem is there aren't enough of them. Why? Because they DON'T WANT TO DO SCIENCE. The number of female undergrad majors in non-bio sciences are always low. Now, this could be due to stereotyping, cultural expectations, biology. etc. There are many reasons. But by the time you're in college you can't really do anything about it. Colleges try to recruite a diverse pool of majors but if the females don't want to do science you can't make them do science.
posted by aerify at 12:18 PM on January 18, 2005


If you are a woman in science and reasonably competent you will get snatched up by the top schools.

Here's a link to an article about the study where various university departments were sent identical CVs for "Brian Miller" and "Karen Miller" and asked to judge whether the applicant would be an acceptable candidate for a faculty position. Even in those supposedly affirmative-action-happy engineering departments, Karen did a little worse.
posted by transona5 at 12:26 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


This is just fucking stupid, prejudiced, and typical of the idiots here. Do you guys even know any scientists?

aerify: I can only assume you are (a) one of those non-date-getting engineers or (b) not in tune with our earthling sense of humor.
posted by absalom at 12:26 PM on January 18, 2005


No, but colleges can influence high school guidance counselors, who help high school kids apply for college.

High schools can influence middle schools. We were often told in 8th grade that we had to do things a certain way because "that's what they expected in high school."

...and on down the line.

When the president of Harvard speaks, it can have ramifications down along the educational ranks. If top universities start saying that discrimination in any form isn't tolerated, and start actually acting on those beliefs, then that thought and those practices will eventually start trickling down to the fourth-graders (and their teachers) when such encouragement will do more good.
posted by occhiblu at 12:26 PM on January 18, 2005


Well it would be nice to have the transcript of what Summers says, just to make sure there's little or no editorializing or selective (pro or contra) quotation.

So let's see

Summers has called last year's results, when only four of 32 tenured job offers went to women, unacceptable and promised to work on the problem

Unacceptable why ?

It could be that there were only 4 women were qualified for the job...I wouldn't be outraged to find that only 4 men received the offer, as long as the measurement method is 1. disclosed to public 2.actually applied 3. had no reference to sex of the person unless proof is offered that a) absolutely no men or women can do that job without b) irreparable prejudice to the outcome of the job leading to a significant reduction of performance.

But let's give him the benefit of doubt of the provocation thingie...having the text would rule to see how much of it was structured as a provocation and how much as dissertation on a topic ; personally if I want outrage and provocation I'll ask Mr. Stern, I want "hard evidence" from university people.

"When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill," Hopkins said

That's unfortunate and I hope she feels better and I sympathize with her for she may have had suffered some sexual discrimination in her life...but she better fight back with logical analysis and debunking of Summers statements rather then report about her feelings who affect primarly her and only her.

Freeman said, "Men are taller than women, that comes from the biology, and Larry's view was that perhaps the dispersion in test scores could also come from the biology."

Freeman probably misses one relevant point : on AVERAGE men are taller than woman indeed (afaik)...but that doesn't come from biology, that comes from mathematics. It could be that on a restricted (or enlarged) sample the absolute value of height of a man is less then the height of a woman and that would still prove nothing interesting, except that w e changed the size of the sample.

Also it seems to me that there's a creeping argumentum ad naturam hiding somewhere ; if , for instance, it was proved that women (or man) are naturally slower or faster at doing something...that would imply that it is better to have man or woman on a particular job.

That's a quite common error of thinking that what nature does is best ; it could be in selected instances, but the mere fact that something happens "naturally" doesn't imply that it's automatically "superior" or "better" or "desiderable".

Indeed if we think the humans don't make fire naturally, our use of fire should be against nature and ,therefore, unacceptable.
posted by elpapacito at 12:27 PM on January 18, 2005


Lisa S has sand in her head.

What's with all the newb's all of a sudden, anyway? matt needs to shut down regisration!
posted by delmoi at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2005


Sorry I missed this:

"Yeah, except there's so litte evidence for gender differences. DNA-wise, 99.99999% the same. Even an elementary survey of world cultures will give you data points showing characteristics and behaviors viewed as "male" or "female" assigned with incredible variation and little consistency. And finally, all measurable variation (physical strength, intellectual ability, verbal ability, porblem-solcving, spatial, you name it) within each gender is far greater than the range of variation between gender.

Gender is socially assigned. Get over it."


Those are all huge overstatements to the point that they've become falsehoods. Leading up to the last, which is simply false.

And I say this as someone who wishes you were right. But you're not.

Comparing total DNA percentage matches? Stupid. Very stupid. That's a very blunt tool that is useful only in certain contexts. This isn't one of them. (And it's not useful in claiming that, for example, a chimp brain must have 99.999% of the same capabilities of a human brain, either.) I can type up two complex 1000 line computer programs that differ only in about three characters that create entirely different, and complex, output.

Your second assertion is just a mess. It's certainly true that a great many "masculine" and "feminine" qualities as defined by our culture are not shared or are consistent across other cultures. But a great many others are and your conclusion is at least a mistatement, or plain false. Please cite more than one survey post-1980 (not from the Meade era, thanks) that asserts what you say (and, please, be sure that it hasn't hand-picked traits to survey and, instead, has randomly selected gender-associated traits taken from a pool of all known gender-associated traits). Still "little consistency"? What are you saying? "Little consistency" across each and every trait? "Great variation" across each and every trait? That's what you want to imply, but not what the results are. In the context of this discussion, there only has to be a single trait that rarely varies cross-culturally, and that is the trait under discussion. Using a generalized result to debunk a particular is a fallacy.

Your third assertion is true, more true, than most people believe. It's not as true as you assert when you use the word "all". "Presence of ovaries", for example, varies pretty widely between men and women relative to within women, don't you think? Again, your choice of language is either ill-advised or deliberately misleading. But the general point is true, and important: if gender differences exist and are innate, then for most of them (and so, in general) those differences are statistical in nature—that is, they are generalized differences and a given man may be more like a given women in a given characteristic than he is like most other men. This is an important point, and has policy implications.

And yet, that assertion has implications that directly damage your argument and your complaint against Summers. Because if there are statistical differences at all (and you seem to be aknowledging that there are), then it is precisely in the realm that Summers is discussing that those statistical differences will start to show up: in a large enough population, you'll see gender disparities in representation related to certain skills.

A huge portion—the greater portion—of gender identity is, in fact, socially constructed. But to claim that gender in essence is a social construct purely is to assert an untruth that damages your credibility as an intelligent person and, interestingly, also damages your credibility as a feminist because there's a considerable and respected camp within feminism these days that has explicitly denied the "gender differences as pure social construct" assumption.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:29 PM on January 18, 2005


When I was about 2, before I should've known about girl toys and [ahem] boy toys, my mother gave me a baby doll. I immediately ripped off its head and threw the body in the toilet. I always liked Legos.
posted by sciurus at 12:30 PM on January 18, 2005


(Off topic: warning.)

Summers is right when he suggests that there isn't much discrimination against females.

Are you fucking kidding me? You do realize that women in America still make .76 on the dollar in the same fields as men, right? Right?
posted by Specklet at 12:30 PM on January 18, 2005


Miko (yes, I'm very late)

On casual inspection, men & women do *not* share 99.99999% of the same DNA. There's that little Y chromosome that women don't have.

Besides, just because 99.999... is the same doesn't mean the 0.0000001% doesn't make a difference. One nucleotide difference, in the right place, could be the difference between surviving to term or being stillborn (and possible horribly deformed).

DNA and phenotype (behavior, especially) is much, much more complicated than you might think. A lot goes on during development both in the womb and out of it. A hell of a lot happens during adolescence, too. It's not just DNA sequence, but *when* bits of it get expressed and where.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2005


sciurus: first door on the left, go ahead ..knock on door with "psychiatrist" sign on it.
posted by elpapacito at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2005


The reason many women do not want to do science is that the system really works against aspriring female scientists. As pointed out in the article that occhiblu linked,

"Marriage and children negatively impact women's careers in academic science at three key times: having a child during graduate school, marriage at the point of seeking a job, and pregnancy prior to tenure. In addition, we found some disparagement of marriage during the graduate student career. Women, but not men, are sometimes thought to be less than serious about their science if they do not stay single while in graduate school. "

Waiting until one gets tenure before marrying or having children is often not an attractive option for most women. Thus, many of them avoid academic science altogether. This does not mean that they have less interest or aptitude.
posted by sotalia at 12:44 PM on January 18, 2005


The only acceptable interventions, if you ask me, are at the K-12 level, where girls are burdened with expecations as to social fitness and intellectual well-roundedness from which math-and-science gifted boys are totally excused.

MattD, I think we disagree on efforts to increase the number of women faculty but thank you for saying something that so few people get. When girls achieve this "intellectual well-roundedness" and are praised for it, some people interpret that as evidence of discrimination against boys, when it does nothing but hurt the chances of girls to become serious academics.
posted by transona5 at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2005


Re the "daddy/baby truck" thing (especially in light of RikiTikiTavi's comment), I think that's less of a gender issue than an experiential one. Regardless of gender, a 2.5 year old's world is pretty much mommy/daddy/baby, so of course that's what s/he is going to assign to toys. I'd be a whole lot more surprised if s/he had enough familiarity with the trucking industry to be able to mimic what trucks actually do (other than the basics of going vroom on the highway, and we don't even know if the daddy and baby trucks did that anyway). Goes to show that not all social constructs boil down completely to dualist gender issues; Summers' interpretation, therefore, gives off a whiff of paternalistic sexism.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2005


It may be true that women on average have less capacity for math than men, but the problem is that this becomes generalized so that women who in fact are good at math are commonly assumed to not be as good as men. Human beings categorize and stereotype everything subconsciously, and apply generalized knowledge to particular instances without good reason.

We make assumptions about people based on all sorts of secondary factors, and will commonly judge unfairly due to our expectations. History obviously shows us that women are not taken as seriously in many areas where they have equal or even greater innate capacities- take philosophy, for instance. Until basically the second half of this century there were practically no recognized female philosophers...

The point is, active effort needs to be put forward so that women who do exceed in math/science are not discriminated against due to expectations or generalizations. This doesn't mean we should expect an exactly equal division, but just that we need to make sure we are properly judging individuals and not the categories to which they belong.
posted by mdn at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2005


Those are all huge overstatements to the point that they've become falsehoods. Leading up to the last, which is simply false.

Not really. Everything I've said there is based on extensive research in primary psychological studies which I used in my thesis, 10 years ago, on the treatment of girls in our public educational system. Someone asked me to post studies; there are too many. This report is a good start, along with its challenges and citations.

These sound like generalizations because they are conclusions drawn from a broad survey of 30+ years of scholarship. An afternoon in a university library should suffice to catch you up. The idea that gender is a social construct is very current.
posted by Miko at 12:48 PM on January 18, 2005


Regardless of gender, a 2.5 year old's world is pretty much mommy/daddy/baby, so of course that's what s/he is going to assign to toys. I'd be a whole lot more surprised if s/he had enough familiarity with the trucking industry to be able to mimic what trucks actually do (other than the basics of going vroom on the highway, and we don't even know if the daddy and baby trucks did that anyway).

Not true at all. My 2.5 year old son's favorite things to play with are trucks and trains, particularly construction trucks. He knows exactly what their function is (he knows an excavator from a dump truck from a cement mixer), and has never once tried to put them into some kind of human context. I'm offering this not to say what he's doing is necessarily "right," but just to show that there are, indeed, differences. (My four-year-old nieces have never shown the slightest interest in trucks or vehicles for any purpose. But if forced to play with them, it wouldn't have surprised me at all if they had anthropomorphized them and assigned them familial roles).
posted by pardonyou? at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2005


A quick google search shows me that over 80% of all faculty members or professors in Gender Studies programs are female.

Perhaps this demonstrates that women have an inborn genetic talent to even care about such things.


I kid, I kid!
posted by sourwookie at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2005


"Again, no one is willing to use these 'innate differences' to argue that 80% of short stories in the New Yorker should be written by women, with their inborn language facility. Because everyone's used to it being 20%."

Well, I'm not so sure that I'm not willing to argue such a thing. But, again, there's some confusion (perhaps deliberate) between whether people are using "is" or "should". It doesn't seem to me that Summers was in "should" mode, he was in "is" mode.

But, given a lot of recent science that, as you say, should that women have (in general) stronger language faculties, then why are the much larger portion of New Yorker short stories written by women? If the gender disparity in aptitude is that great (which is may or may not be) then it should be reflected in accomplishment at this level. And if it's not...well, I'd argue that it's because of institutional and unconscious sexism against women that it's not. So I will argue exactly such a thing, assuming that it's assumptions are correct.

As it happens, I don't think that there's an equivalent dominance of the NY fiction by women as there is of science by men. But if there were, and given that you seem to be accepting that there are some known differences in language aptitudes, would you object if someone were to hypothesize that the disparity is the result of those differences? That would be an "is" state of mind, not a "should". (Because, of course, even if this disparity existed and resulted from innate differences, we may well have a huge number of other social concerns that would lead us to come to a different "ought" conclusion. I don't see where Summers is asserting what "ought" to be the case.)

transona5: In particular, this did: his remark that 'if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.' It's couched in terms like 'main factor,' but he's pretty much denying the existence of discrimination altogether. Perhaps there's a context I don't have, but I certainly don't read that quote that way and am confused as to how you could claim your reading of it is self-evidently correct. Your interpretation would require some incoherence on his part. And perhaps he is incoherent in this way: it's simultaneously asserting the primacy of irrationality (the bias against women being dominant) with the primacy of rationality (a particular insitution recognizing what's in its greater benefit). If the irrationality is the "main factor", who's to say that it's not dominant enough to preculde any institution from acting rationally in its own interest? This sort of analysis is natural for an ecnonomist, but it seems strange to me to see him to unrigorously treat the irrationality of bias and the rationality of self-interest and put them on a sort of even footing.

On the other hand, he could have been speaking speculatively about what a school should do, not as an argument disproving bias as the "main factor".

Anyway, I don't see how bias (at that level) could possibly be the "main factor" if the pool itself is biased. And sure it is: we know it is. The inequalities don't suddenly start at the postdoc academic hiring level. It's obvious they don't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2005


So, I am one of those rare women approaching the upper reaches of academia in mathematics/science (specifically, computer science). While I do agree that men and women do have different tendencies in some areas, I strongly disagree that it is scholastic aptitude that is keeping women from the upper reaches of the ivory tower. I think a lot of it has to do with culture and societal expectations.

I joined a society for women in computer science not because I needed a support group against those mean old boys, but because I needed to speak frankly with other women about timing their pregnancies and child care around a teaching schedule and a tenure clock. I have no children now, but I’ll need at least 5 years of planning before I can even think about it, plus worries about the “two-body problem” when my postdoc rolls around. It’s not like any of us are expected to put in 80 hour weeks, but it is difficult to find a male partner who will make sacrifices in their career in the same way that women in our society are expected to make sacrifices. I know we can’t switch places for things like childbirth, but it is clear that finding the support necessary to nurture a full fledged academic career is difficult as a woman. I need someone who is willing to move to another city if I don't get tenure or who will pick the kids up from daycare if I need to stay late and write a grant proposal. Or, I could choose to be alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s not worth the trouble and I dream about jobs bagging groceries.

Just speaking for myself.
posted by Alison at 12:52 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Are you fucking kidding me? You do realize that women in America still make .76 on the dollar in the same fields as men, right? Right?

Let go of the rage, Specklet, and stop repeating this canard as fact.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2005


I heard a radio interview about a person who felt she was a man trapped in a woman's body. They were interviewing her (who was now a 'him') after he had been taking testosterone for several years and had a sex-change operation. He made a comment about how after he had been taking testosterone for several months he noticed that he started thnking about women in a very objectified and sexual way, which as a woman she had never done. He also said that he had a sudden deeper understanding of math and science, and started studying and enjoying it more than he ever had previously, as a woman.

I have no link, so make of it what you will.
posted by Espoo2 at 12:56 PM on January 18, 2005


sonofabitch.

As a female scientist who believes in merit-based hiring, in a bio-related field that's very good to women : there is discrimination. Sometimes it's big, and sometimes its small, and usually we just ignore it or get around it, but to claim its not there is ridiculous.
Look, I totally believe that there are some fundamental differences between men and women, and I'm not surprised that there are more men in techie academia. I can deal with an imbalance to a certain degree . But, just to be a controversial, GIVEN that women do things like have babies, is it then discriminatory that universities don't have explicit systems to support them/their labs when they're pregnant? Is it discriminatory that when a woman vs. a man chooses to have a child the medical differences are not necessarily compensated for? Should she get a grace period if she's coming up for tenure at that time?

on preview: /waves to Sotalia and Alison.
posted by synapse at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2005


Perhaps there's a context I don't have, but I certainly don't read that quote that way and am confused as to how you could claim your reading of it is self-evidently correct.

His analysis, if correct, would apply if discrimination were any kind of significant factor, not just the "main" one. Understandably, he didn't want to come out and say this.

The inequalities don't suddenly start at the postdoc academic hiring level. It's obvious they don't.

Yes, and it's interesting that this did not make Summers' list of reasons other than hiring discrimination for the dearth of women science faculty. The omission definitely makes him sound less than convinced that any discrimination occurs.
posted by transona5 at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2005


> DNA-wise, 99.99999% the same

And yet the physical differences that result from that tiny genetic difference (I'll take that number as a fact because I'm tired of googling today) are quite scientifically, not to mention casually, measureable.

It should not be considered outrageous to at least entertain the idea that men and women might tend to think unalike due in part to the physical structures of their brains and the chemical soups that pulse through them.

Upon further study, it might turn out that women's brains tend to be superior to men's in some ways as measured by certain kinds of tasks. In fact, I think there have already been some credible studies indicating such things. Would you reject such studies out of hand?

I'm not saying anything about whether Summers is a good or bad guy in general. I don't know much about him. But I do wish people wouldn't reflexively reject reasonable speculation.

(I also wish people wouldn't toss around lines such as "someone's got sand in her vagina," and I wonder how it is that these people expect others to listen to their arguments when they speak like that. I know, I know, even mentioning this probably proves to you that I have sand in my vagina, but I can assure that it is not the case.)
posted by pracowity at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2005


I think that a feminist professor stalking out of a lecture she disagrees with does more to set back her agenda than any comments made IN the lecture.


Men and women are different, and male and female brains are different. It may be in fact true that some gender differences are societal, but many are not. It is not antiwoman to examine that in a scientific manner. What is, is....and btw even if it were to be proved that all gender differences WERE societal, I want to know why it is automatically assumed that "female" traits are negative?

full disclosure: I am still holding a grudge against Friedan and Steinem.
posted by konolia at 1:02 PM on January 18, 2005


> if you neglect the "conclusion" aspect of any experiment, it's not science.

OT, I guess, and maybe a late reply, but this is not true at all. A large part (arguably the majority) of science is the gathering and recording of observations. A well-researched body of observations helps people form and falsify hypotheses. Tycho Brahe recorded the motions of the planets with much greater accuracy than had been done before, which led to Kepler's and Newton's breakthroughs that led to the laws of motion.

All of which is to say that semmi's kid is a scientist..
posted by jlub at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2005


Again the totalitarian monster of political correctness rears its head.

Lisa S has sand in her head.


Not to mention mold on her metaphors.
posted by liam at 1:04 PM on January 18, 2005


Regarding her choice to walk out:

She was sitting on the dais w/ Summers, no? The link says 'sitting only 10 feet from Summers'.

And guess what? We're having this argument now.

She knows what she's doing.
posted by milkman at 1:05 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


ie, Nature Versus Nature, which, as Pinker (MIT) and so many other have show is not that simple but rather a mix of the two.

Think no differences? Read Dorothy Tannen et al
Do you ever see a guy go goo goo to some woman's baby ? Nah, if not his. But women do it all the time. Why?


Postroad, why don't you consider that maybe it is Nurture that averts men from going goo goo on baby's faces? Why do you assume it is Nature? Isn't it similar to "boys don't cry" and "men are tough" cliche?

IMHO, women face tremendous bias in society when it comes to science. It varies from culture to culture. It varies based on the (attacker's) background and personal views. It ranges from the well-known "women cannot do science because they are too emotional", "women should stay home and care for their children", "she is brilliant scientist! and a woman, wow!", "she is a spinster! she works 24hrs a day!", "she is attacking a (male) scientist with scientific arguments, she is a bitch!" to the more covert but equally abhorring "this institution operates under affirmative action". I never declare my gender (nor my race for that matter) when I apply for jobs, but it is hard to keep it a secret for long.

Oh, and Summer SUCKS! It is ok to have such (filthy) views but it is NOT ok that he is president of a prestigious (pfff!) university and has to advice and prepare younger generations for life.

Final thought: is this the "evangelical" America that won this election based on fucking-family values? Would the Sorbonne president EVER dare say something like that? I am not pro-french, but I...um.... think he would have been castrated. in public. with fireworks. i am so pissed...
posted by carmina at 1:07 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Everyone has a story about dolls vs. trucks. The point is, by the time a child is two, they've already had millions of clear, tacit messages about what they ought to be doing, what toys they should prefer. They are able to identify their own gender and are rewarded for behaviors which support gender identification, and subtly dissuaded from those which don't. Even if the parents are trying to avoid behaviors which they think are stereotyped, most of the messages are so swift and below radar that they affect children anyway.

In addition, every interaction an infant has is gender-coded by people other than the parents. When you say "so-and-so had a baby!" the next question, invariably, is a "Which is it -- boy or a girl?" Assigning gender is truly the most imporant thing to us after the knowledge of a baby's existence. That question comes before those about health, weight, etc. You might ask yourself, in a society which took for granted that gender role was innate and indelible, why would anyone be so obsessed with this question? The reason is probably that we want to know how to start treating it. We want to carry out the social script, from the moment of birth, that tells the baby how we want it to behave based on its gender.

Here's a succinct writeup. And here's another. I found those on a quick Googlehunt; to find all the sources I used 10 years ago would be too much effort, when all I'm trying to do is challenge conventional thinking.

I'm just saying: it's easy to throw around our ideas about why we act the way we do, and we'd probably like to believe that this is the natural way. But as Margaret Mead will tell you, humans have come up with all sorts of solutions to the problem of living, and assigning roles based on gender is quite common -- but what those roles actually are (food-gathering, math, hunting, flamboyant dress) changes with time and culture. So it's quite difficult to argue that there is anything truly inherent, or genetically programmed, about gender-compliant behavior.
posted by Miko at 1:08 PM on January 18, 2005


A large part (arguably the majority) of science is the gathering and recording of observations.

Yes, but the gathering and recording of observations is, in and of itself, not an experiment.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 1:08 PM on January 18, 2005


"Everything I've said there is based on extensive research in primary psychological studies which I used in my thesis, 10 years ago, on the treatment of girls in our public educational system. Someone asked me to post studies; there are too many. This report is a good start, along with its challenges and citations."

Bullshit. It's not a good start—it's a different topic. Sorry.

"The idea that gender is a social construct is very current."

Well, but that's not what you're trying to imply, is it? You're trying to imply that gender is exclusively a social construct or, at the least, almost exclusively a social construct for the purposes of forestalling anyone taking seriously the argument that there might be a particular instance where gender is not a social construct that has explanatory powers with regard to different outcomes. You're being dishonest. Or confused, or a bad scholar, or all three.

Gender is much more a social construct than most people, and most societies, believe. To simply say that "gender is a social construct" is dishonest, intended to mislead and is not (with regard to its intended implied meaning) supported by scientific evidence. Anyway, your anthropology is as weak as your genetics.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2005




That study is 100% on topic, since it focuses on what girls experience during education in the maths and sciences.

Bligh, thanks for the attempt at withering me. I'll accept that what I'm putting out there is my opinion, but it's a studied and strong opinion, based in evidence, and one I think should continue to be aired.
posted by Miko at 1:18 PM on January 18, 2005


The problem with most of the gender-difference crowd is that they refuse to accept certain conclusions of the research they prize most. The supposed edge that women have at language and empathizing (the trait that made Bill Clinton the amazing politician he is) should make them more likely to be brilliant writers, politicians and business leaders, but perhaps a "brilliant" anything is not what they have in mind as an acceptable role for women. Anyhow, we already know that men can succeed in all these roles, so no one would argue that they have inherent limitations based on some tests. Women have not been given the same chance to prove themselves as scientists.
posted by transona5 at 1:21 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


The result is the conclusion. In science it should be enough, particularly in 5th grade.

Hardly. Without an hypothesis, there is no science.

implying that women aren't as smart as men is going to rile me, every time

Women aren't as smart as men.

Men aren't as smart as women.

It's all in how you choose to define "smart," you see. In other words, it's an essentially useless comparison. Women are, however, inarguably different from men, right down to a neurological level (neurology is a subset of biology, and no one would dispute that there are other biological differences, so why make an exception in this case, except out of fear that someone might interpret "different" as "worse"?).
posted by rushmc at 1:23 PM on January 18, 2005


transona5, thank you for your comments. (Miko, I'm working on two books about just that right now -- one called "It's a Boy" and the other called "It's a Girl," about how our prejudices and expectations about gender affect the way we parent sons and daughters.)
posted by mothershock at 1:27 PM on January 18, 2005


Do you ever see a guy go goo goo to some woman's baby ?

Yep. My boyfriend. And he wants babies a lot more than I do.

Not culture then but "inclination."

Couldn't one's inclinations stem from cultural influence as well as biology? When I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist, but lost interest after a while, perhaps because there were no prominent female scientist role models for me to look up to. But then, one personal anecdote isn't really evidence of anything is it...
posted by apis mellifera at 1:27 PM on January 18, 2005


OK -- to clear up my genetics, I've got a text stating that males and females have a genetic difference of 2%, all of which is accounted for by the presence of the Y chromosome in males, and which is known to result in the secondary sex characteristics (gentialia, body/facial hair, developed breasts) appearing. So, 98% the same then.
posted by Miko at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2005


Espoo2, I believe that was a This American Life episode, called, Testosterone.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 1:29 PM on January 18, 2005


konolia: It is not antiwoman to examine that in a scientific manner. What is, is

:::does a doubletake:::
posted by rushmc at 1:30 PM on January 18, 2005


"IMHO, women face tremendous bias in society when it comes to science."

As mentioned by synapse, Sotalia, and Alison.

But generalization is always problematic. I, for one, have spent an enormous amount of time with scientists, mostly physicists, and was involved with a female astrophyiscist for a good while. And, oddly, I took the "feminist" position in that relationship with regard to this argument: she claimed that she wasn't aware of having experienced any discrimination on the basis of being female. Or, if she had, it was not that huge and mostly got lost in the noise of other ways in which she (and other people) had been discriminated against.

Now, my position was that it was her personality type that mostly made her oblivious to the ways in which she'd faced discrimination as a female physicist. She's in many ways the stereotypical physicist, she wasn't that aware of the social world around her. And, mostly, she was (is) the type of highly focused and motivated person who almost doesn't even recognize obstacles in their path: they work around them, not spending much time worrying about them or why they're there. They just do good work because that's what they do. She's been quite successful, I should add (perhaps unnecessarily).

(And I'll also disagree with aerify: the physicists I've known, as a group—but certainly with many exceptions—have been the most maladroit people I've ever known; easily out-nerding the philosophy/classics nerds that I'm also deeply aquainted with. [Or am one.])

Anyway, my XSO was wrong. I myself observed a number of occasions where she was treated differently, and to her disadvantage, from her male colleagues. Women are not expected to be, or allowed to be, as authoritative. This becomes obvious both at the seminar table and the lectern and is undoubtedly the case similary with faculty committees and peer-review.

It may seem that I've picked on the feminists in this discussion; but that's because I'm the sort that tends to be most critical of my comrades.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that bias is easily the main cause in the disparity between the sexes in almost all advanced disciplines. The bias occurs at that level, and it occurs long before anyone reaches that level. That said, I think that there are quite likely some innate differences that, were we to eliminate all the social and institutional bias, would be revealed and intractable.

But I don't know this. I don't know the relative weights played by the nature and the nurture factors. Given how many feminists I've known that loudly claim that the very enterprise of science and math, the very idea of them, that the idea of rationality is masculine and that women, innately, don't think that way...a viewpoint I strongly disagree with, by the way...to pillory Summers as a sexist for putting forth what is, in essence, the same idea in a different guise seems to me to be unfair. People on both sides of the "status of women in our society" debate in good faith take the nature argument seriously.

The best and most succinct thing anyone has written in this thread has been that written by mdn, above:

"It may be true that women on average have less capacity for math than men, but the problem is that this becomes generalized so that women who in fact are good at math are commonly assumed to not be as good as men."
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:31 PM on January 18, 2005


That study is 100% on topic, since it focuses on what girls experience during education in the maths and sciences.

On topic for the thread. Not for your assertions about gender differences for all people in all cultures. I'm trying to "wither" you because you're overreaching. Stop it. And using Mead as an authority on gender identity is, well, embarrassing. You place your ideas in 1995. Mead's authority in such matters was, by 1995, already fifteen years defunct.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2005


My girlfriend (in astrophysics, and I know I keep bringing her up on various threads, but she keeps being relevant) has mentioned that throughout high school, she was discouraged from pursuing a career in the sciences - not because she was bad at math (since she was excellent at math), but because she was good at english. Counselors, teachers, and fellow students all at times tried to point her towards the liberal arts.

She also has me, someone willing and able to take care of most of the domestic chores while she works a full-time job. I wonder how many female scientists have that benefit, as opposed to male scientists.

People I know in both the sciences and the male-dominated arts (such as non-vocal jazz music) have also mentioned a lack of female role models as being a bit of a vicious circle. It's harder feeling alone in a field, so fewer go into it, resulting in fewer role models for the next generation, etc. But in some areas, at least, that's slowly being corrected.

Speaking of music, it's well known that women began to be hired by orchestral ensembles in large numbers only when the practice of "blind auditions" (the auditioner hidden behind a screen) was introduced. The effect in terms of hiring was immediate, and notable, once only talent could be judged and factors such as gender (and race, and beauty) were taken out.

Anyone, not one of the female scientists or musicians I know has ever claimed to be at a disadvantage 'cause the boys are just so much more naturally talented at it than they are. And most of the evidence I've seen, both in studies and in life, indicates that such a "natural difference", if it even exists at all, is so minimal when compared to the wide range of talents within each gender as to be meaningless.
posted by kyrademon at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2005


holy shit I missed the boat on this conversation. And here I was thinking he was belaboring the obvious -- whether it's biological or cultural, his point is well-taken.

To stalk out and cry foul on behalf of women everywhere smacks of calgon baths and baby showers.
posted by undule at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2005


And using Mead as an authority on gender identity is, well, embarrassing. ...Mead's authority in such matters was, by 1995, already fifteen years defunct.

And yet, seems to be news to many in this thread. I use her because she is the name many people may remember as depicting a culture with a wildly different division of labor and dominance than our own.
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2005


Call me simple but after decades of interacting with a mother, a sister, a few girlfriends, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, and dozens of female friends and coworkers, including at least 3 women bosses, it just seems common sense to me that there are both inborn and learned differences between men and women. I honestly don't know how these debates can continue in face of common everyday experience.

Differences are good, contributing to better existences for everyone. I'm better at figuring out how the world works and devising strategies to deal with it than my wife in certain situations, in others I am deaf, dumb, and blind compared to her and I'd have no idea what was going on without her help.

These differences seem extremely persistent, year in year out, and I see the exact same things in the generation that went before and the ones following, I see people helping each other out of their strengths. I just don't believe culture alone is capable of imposing that kind of consistency.

Anyhow yes Ethereal, your mdn quote has it of course. That's the main problem, but how to move forward: accept differences while remaining open minded about individual abilities and I guess that's the best point to be made here. I just want to suggest it's an entirely non-productive doubling back against common sense to deny there are any general differences in the first place.
posted by scheptech at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2005


Do you ever see a guy go goo goo to some woman's baby ? Nah, if not his. But women do it all the time. Why?

actually, I have seen men go goo goo over other people's babies, and I have also seen women quite indifferent to other people's babies. It's ridiculous oversimplification to suggest that all members of one gender share certain qualities. I do not doubt at all that on average men excel at X and women at Y, or whatever, but I also do not doubt at all that the knowledge of these generalities negatively impacts the minority of the gender who are actually quite good at whatever their gender as a whole doesn't excel at.

And, when a field is dominated by men, it's simply a bigger undertaking for a woman to try to make her mark there. That's just a fact. As a woman in any academic discipline (other than perhaps english/literature), you are always fighting an uphill battle because the history is dominated by men - as a man you don't stand out as having to "show" that you're worthy. It's tacitly assumed that you're competent - innocent until proven guilty, kinda thing. For women, there is much more initial scrutiny to see if you've actually 'got what it takes'. In other words, men who will make mediocre scientists are much more likely to get through than women who will make mediocre scientists. Women often have to be better than average to be taken seriously to begin with.
posted by mdn at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2005


I want to know why it is automatically assumed that "female" traits are negative?

Damned straight. This world would be much better off, IMO, if female traits were valued and respected.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2005


OK -- to clear up my genetics, I've got a text stating that males and females have a genetic difference of 2%, all of which is accounted for by the presence of the Y chromosome in males, and which is known to result in the secondary sex characteristics (gentialia, body/facial hair, developed breasts) appearing. So, 98% the same then.

Okay, you're pissing me off. I want to take you seriously because you talk seriously and, generally, we're on the same side. But you just simply don't know what you're talking about. This is a perfect example.

You completely ignore PurplePorpoise's point, or perhaps don't understand it. To attempt to quantify the differences you're trying to quantify based upon genetic similarity is completely wrong-headed. It doesn't work. It doesn't make sense. It's deeply ignorant of the science involved.

The genetic differences that result in the secondary sex charactersistics do so because of a complex interaction of developmental processes. Do you think that somewhere on the Y chromosome there's a "large breasts" gene? There's not. Instead, these sex differences are expressed via endocrine system activity that, important to this context, happen during early development and are known to affect almost every part of the body. Certainly we know it affects brain development of the fetus. Your "2%" figure means nothing in this context. Assuming that the context is "how different are men and women". Quit embarassing yourself and drop that line of argument. Along with Mead on gender and whatever else is in your grab-bag of poorly understood or outdated science you've opportunistically utilitized to support your pre-selected conclusion.

On Preview: "And yet, seems to be news to many in this thread. I use her because she is the name many people may remember as depicting a culture with a wildly different division of labor and dominance than our own." That's no excuse. Herotodus describes a culture (the "Amazons") with "wildly different divisions of labor and dominance" and he's not a reliable source. Whether or not the people in this thread are aware of it. A large portion of Mead's work has been discredited, more is under scrutiny. Her general point that much varies culturally—many things no one expected—is almost universally accepted. But an authority on certain topics, particularly gender? Nope. Not anymore.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2005


Hmm . . . five fresh fish, but if they're really valued and respected, why should they be considered "male" and "female" traits at all? Shouldn't everyone attempt to foster within themselves truly worthy traits? Being rational is not mutually exclusive with being empathetic, nor is it impossible to be both cooperative and competitive, and the same for being nurturing and driven. All exist within each person, and defining them as opposites and assigning them to genitalia never made much sense to me.
posted by kyrademon at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2005


Per kyrademon's comment: this is why I've transitioned from self-identifying as a "feminist" to self-identifying as an "anti-sexist". Part of the reason is that I very strongly think male gender roles need to be redefined and that desirable and undesirable qualities should be mostly moved outside the context of gender. I certainly don't think that it's much less the case that women are the ones being oppressed these days; but it is the case that I've come to feel that the time is right for a more broad approach to the problem (and that the broadened approach may well be more effective in combating sexism against women than the more narrow approach would be1).

1) Note that I wrote "would be". I strongly believe that in the past (and still possibly today) the more narrow approach focusing almost exclusively on female gender roles and bias against women has been absolutely necessary.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:20 PM on January 18, 2005


EB, your X's experience and attitude is very common among my female colleagues. It does not really matter that I am a physicist/climatologist --or does it? ;-) To be blunt: with our colleagues we compete. We are not sensitive to such input. We know where it comes from.

But my main *personal* feedback has been from people outside science. Society in general. You know, my dad, an ex-boyfriend, guys I meet here and there.

Anyway, did I also fail to point out clearly the geographical (cultural) distinction in female faculty numbers among different countries? There was an interesting study in Science (sorry cannot find link) a few years back about women as science faculty in universities in anglo-saxon countries (Britain and Germany) and in latin countries (Italy, Spain, France). Care to guess where the numbers were higher?
posted by carmina at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2005


"It should not be considered outrageous to at least entertain the idea that men and women might tend to think unalike due in part to the physical structures of their brains and the chemical soups that pulse through them. "

Of course it shouldn't ... but currently there is a clamp down on some lines of intellectual inquiry that rival anything the religious right is doing to the concept of Evolution, and for similar reasons.

For many people the denial of sexual differences is humans besides the purely secondary sexual characteristics is a religious one... they believe it on the basis of faith and political agenda. To challenge it is to incur their wrath.

"Instead, these sex differences are expressed via endocrine system activity that, important to this context, happen during early development and are known to affect almost every part of the body."

As it is becoming clear that the interaction of DNA and the resulting organism is much more complex than first hoped (not one gene = one trait) and we find that hormonal surges during development have a huge effect on final development in all areas this is becoming even more clear... not less.

How dare this man ask questions! Doesn't he know this is an issue of social responsibility, not science!

Maybe we should sticker all his text books :)
posted by soulhuntre at 2:34 PM on January 18, 2005


EB, I'm doing my best to ignore your incredibly incendiary tone and simply ask you -- do you have anything better to put forward? If you want to take me seriously, your best bet would be stop being so baselessly arrogant and put forward some content that isn't a citation-free attack on what I've said. I do understand my information, and I take offense at the schoolmarmish lectures you're delivering.

My point is: I'm deeply suspicious of attempts to ascribe any characteristic to an individual or group of individuals based on gender. I'm arguing that a) men and women are physically more similar than they are different; b) that the variation in characteristics within gender is always greater than that between genders; c) that different cultures have chosen to assign behaviors to each gender differently; and d) that gender is a social construct built on sex difference, and that the characteristics we associate with one gender or the other are fairly abitrary. If you take issue with any of that, why don't you post some information supporting the opposing viewpoint. If you don't have anything to post, it's probably because you agree.
posted by Miko at 2:35 PM on January 18, 2005


There's only one way to put an end to all this: Women -- oh, you who make up 50 percent of the population -- go out there and achieve parity in the field(s), thus removing the question and all the possible answers (plausible and otherwise) that can send people into an uproar. Achieve parity and render the question pointless.
posted by Possum at 2:36 PM on January 18, 2005


>How dare this man ask questions! Doesn't he know this is an issue of social responsibility, not science!

Yes, but he's an economist, at a forum sponsored by an economics board. Not a scientist. He's hardly knowledgable enough to be debating DNA, fetal development, or neuroscience on any sort of real level. Which means that what he says, more or less, is based on anecdote, stereotypes, and personal assumptions. Which, as presented by the president of a major university, suddenly become "pronouncements" that feed into that societal bias against girls studying science.
posted by occhiblu at 2:39 PM on January 18, 2005


Possum, I'm dedicating my aerospace undergrad degree to you.

That is, if I can get one from this gender-roles-biased educational system :P
posted by casarkos at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2005


Achieve parity and render the question pointless

Trying not to take this as a troll...

I think there are a lot of us trying to achieve this, and do it with a minimum of whining. But seriously, that's a pretty serious oversimplification.
posted by Alison at 2:54 PM on January 18, 2005


hmm...I seriously overuse the word 'serious', seriously.
posted by Alison at 2:55 PM on January 18, 2005


Miko, I said from the beginning that my criticism was of your strong and intentionally misleading overstatements. That those that you provide in your last comment are much more moderated are proof of the accuracy of my complaint in themselves. Even so, your use of the expression "fairly arbitrarily" gives you a lot of wiggle room and seems to support your earlier assertion, at the least strongly implied, that gender differences are entirely or almost entirely social constructions. Which is a matter of great contention and, in fact, not an assertion widely supported. Just so your assertion that "that different cultures have chosen to assign behaviors to each gender differently". Well, how differently? For the purposes of this thread, you have given the very, very strong impression that you'd like people to come away with the impression that it's "extremely" differently, that the assignment of gender roles is entirely arbitrary and varies without regularity across cultures. Again, that implied assertion simply isn't true.

My complaint is that you're either overreaching with regard to your expertise or that you're being deliberately misleading. Perhaps you are doing so to further a good cause. It is a good case, and fighting the strong naturist argument is always worth doing. But since I, too, spend a lot of time fighting the naturist position, I'm very sensitive to people and claims that damage the credibilty of the nurturist position. Finally, dogmatism on this (or anything) deeply offends me because, in my view, dogmatism creates obstacles to solving problems that need to be solved. I've had to accept, against my preferences, that there are substantial differences between male and female brains, and I work hard to incorporate that reality into my feminism and anti-sexism. It's unclear how great those differences are, and unclear how much they are or are not lost in the noise of the cultural factors that you are discussing, but it's not unclear that they exist. A reflexive dismissal of anyone who takes those differences seriously is, while perhaps understandable, not productive. An overaggressive denial that any of the ideas such a person holds have merit only, in the end, provides ammunition for those who because of their own ideologies want to push an opposing and also exagerated point of view (as fact!).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:09 PM on January 18, 2005


soulhuntre -

Except, of course, for the fact that there is a vast field of well-funded, peer-reviewed, published work attempting to establish what differences exist between the genders and whether they are innate or learned. So it's difficult for me to believe that, er, "the man" is trying to "clamp down" on these lines of research.

Most of the studies seem to indicate that there really isn't all that much difference in mental development. A much greater problem than these lines of research being "clamped down" on is that, when there are some indications of small and real differences, some people vastly exaggerate them and trumpet them as proof of a vast and uncrossable divide between the sexes. I do wonder if such people also have a "political agenda", and believe certain things on the "basis of faith", much like those you complain about.
posted by kyrademon at 3:12 PM on January 18, 2005


Miko: I'm doing my best to ignore your incredibly incendiary tone...your best bet would be stop being so baselessly arrogant and put forward some content that isn't a citation-free attack on what I've said

Dissonance or hypocrisy?

I do understand my information

I'm sorry, but your understanding is incomplete, at best.

men and women are physically more similar than they are different

Depends on what you look at. Yes, we have ten fingers and toes that end with nails, two eyes, nostrils, &c. Male and female brains are very different, and those differences begin at the moment that the neuronal network is being laid out early in fetal development.

b) that the variation in characteristics within gender is always greater than that between genders

Are you thinking about ethnicity instead of genetic sex? I don't have time to look up references, so I won't ask you to do the same.

c) that different cultures have chosen to assign behaviors to each gender differently

I contend that most cultures (excluding relatively young "subcultures") ended up assigning gender roles, if assigning is the correct word here, based on what worked for the society/group - and given similar problems (situations, if you would), similar solutions arose.

gender is a social construct built on sex difference, and that the characteristics we associate with one gender or the other are fairly arbitrary

I think that the sense that gender differences are arbitrary is an artifact of looking at gender as a binary choice. If I remember my human sexuality class waaay back when, gender (as opposed to sex) is more of a continuum. There will be some small overlap in the androgynous middle and two peaks at the middle of each respective spectrum.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:18 PM on January 18, 2005


Also, I'm curous, Miko: How do you account for the almost universally disastrous sex-reassignment at birth "therapy" of infants born with ambiguous genitalia? Here, precisely, was the nurturist experiment performed (with regard to gender), and the results strongly contradicted its premise. To my mind, those are very tragic results of ideology attempting to redefine reality—an ideology and premise, I should add, that I shared twenty years ago.

I just don't understand how you can be asserting the nearly absolutist things you're asserting. There's a huge amount of data available on, especially, the influence of testosterone on behavior—that is a sex difference that cannot be ignored.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:27 PM on January 18, 2005


Regarding an earlier point of contention between Miko and Ethereal Bligh, over 75% of the human genome is present in the nematode worm's(according to the third paragraph of the link). And yet we're very different from worms. I hope.

As a guy who has done some grad work in computer science, I find myself most in agreement with Alison's earliest comment. Doing research in the hard sciences means devoting most of your time to it. It doesn't leave much room for raising a family, unless you have a spouse who is willing to forgo a similarly work-intensive career.
posted by A dead Quaker at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2005


"A much greater problem than these lines of research being "clamped down" on is that, when there are some indications of small and real differences, some people vastly exaggerate them and trumpet them as proof of a vast and uncrossable divide between the sexes. I do wonder if such people also have a 'political agenda', and believe certain things on the "basis of faith", much like those you complain about."

You are absolutely correct here. Most (but not all) of those that make a big deal about these sort of findings have a (not so) hidden agenda.

But you're also not completely right about the acceptability of such research. True, there's a ton of research going on concerning this matter, more all the time. But things have changed a great deal in twenty-five years when, back then, such research was almost impossible to get funded because a) the nurturist assumption was extremely dominant; and, b) the motives of the researchers who wanted to engage in such research were strongly questioned. For the few people, twenty years ago, who in good faith wanted to conduct this sort of research, it was a difficult uphill battle. Some of the people that are vocal today came to academic prominence while trying to cross this political minefield. To them, there has been a good deal of PC squelching of their research. They are understandable defensive and vocal about it. And, I think, Miko's overstatements here are examples of the reflexive hostility that comes the way of anyone trying to investigate these things.

Okay, let's face it: there are certain fields in science that are so highly politicized that it's well-nigh impossible to get any decent research done because everything gets lost in political fighting. And the fighting creates polarization, which gets in the way of good science. This is one of those fields. I do think it's noticably better now than it was back when I was in school. Culturally things are better, too. To some, it seems that young women are not as strongly feminist as they once were. To me, I think they are far more indepedent, willing to self-create in ways that go beyond a particular ideology or set of expectations. That this is the case, I think, is the fruit of the feminism which came before. It's a good thing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:39 PM on January 18, 2005


PurplePorpoise: Depends on what you look at. Yes, we have ten fingers and toes that end with nails, two eyes, nostrils, &c. Male and female brains are very different, and those differences begin at the moment that the neuronal network is being laid out early in fetal development.

Well, brain development also depends on what you look at. Cognitively, men and women are pretty darn close to each other.

I think that the sense that gender differences are arbitrary is an artifact of looking at gender as a binary choice. If I remember my human sexuality class waaay back when, gender (as opposed to sex) is more of a continuum. There will be some small overlap in the androgynous middle and two peaks at the middle of each respective spectrum.

Which is the basic problem. The overlap in distributions is by no means "small." It's not a small androgynous middle, it's a pretty big one.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:42 PM on January 18, 2005


Do you ever see a guy go goo goo to some woman's baby ? Nah, if not his. But women do it all the time. Why?

Are you kidding me? I see boys goo-gooing over my friends' babies all the time. In fact, I have frequently witnessed the occurance of the women completely ignoring the baby as it is surronded by a group of guys all playing with it and vying for its attention.

As a female scientist, I think trying to put a genetic slant on the gender disparity among scientists is absurd when there are so many other obvious pieces to consider and attempt to fix first. As many others have mentioned, the "male" career path that makes having children extremely difficult, not to mention societal expectations that women will just not be as good at math/science as men. Trying to push a genetic difference view is just another way of sticking your head in the sand about the more difficult aspects of the issue.
posted by ch1x0r at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2005


KirkJobSluder: Cognitively, men and women are pretty darn close to each other.

Point taken. Yes, I concede that a lot of the tests that are given to youths to assess mental growth attempt/just-are to be gender neutral. I don't know if the tests used to come to the conclusion that men & women are very similar, are - well - similar.

Other tests, though, will also point out that women, in general, are better at certain functions and that men, in general, are better at other certain functions. In certain tasks, different parts of the brain get activated depending on sex (writing/reading/reading-faces come to mind). sorry, this is an interesting thread, but I don't have the time to look specific references up

The overlap in distributions is by no means "small."

Assign 100 "male" traits, and assign 100 "female" traits. I think that there are relatively few people who will score 50/50. My intuition would suggest that the peaks would be around 75/25, with 75 being their sex. 66/33 perhaps, with 26/75 being relatively rare.

Maybe we're thinking about my thought-diagram in different ways.

I would love it if there were more women in the sciences (ie,. I'd get to meet more of them). I think that, in addition to childrearing, there is a bias, coming from the top, that explains the lack of women in the hard sciences, I'm not contesting that, and indeed bemoan the situation.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:57 PM on January 18, 2005


ch1x0r: I have frequently witnessed the occurance of the women completely ignoring the baby as it is surronded by a group of guys all playing with it and vying for its attention.

I've seen it too, but it usually because the guys want to impress some(female)one. Only an personal anecdote, though.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:59 PM on January 18, 2005


PurplePorpose:
Assign 100 "male" traits, and assign 100 "female" traits. I think that there are relatively few people who will score 50/50. My intuition would suggest that the peaks would be around 75/25, with 75 being their sex. 66/33 perhaps, with 26/75 being relatively rare.

I don't understand the methodology you are describing here. It's not out of ignorance of research methods, but that it would seem to me that scoring masculinity and feminitiy by assigning "traits" shoots your validity to hell, and does not answer the question of nature/nurture (for which, more contemporary theory seems to be leaning more towards a systems approach of interdependence.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2005


Okay, let's face it: there are certain fields in science that are so highly politicized that it's well-nigh impossible to get any decent research done because everything gets lost in political fighting.

One can do politics or one can do science; one cannot do both at the same time.
posted by rushmc at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2005


Ethereal Bligh -

I'll take your word on the changes in attitude. When I was taking neurospsych ten years ago, it was a pretty common area of inquiry, but I haven't studied much of the history of the field and it isn't hard for me to believe it was a taboo subject ten years before that.
posted by kyrademon at 4:27 PM on January 18, 2005


Things changed a lot more between 82 and 92 than they have from 92 to 02, I think. With regard to these matters. Really, they had changed a lot from 72 to 82. I think this is because this was a much more heated social conversation during that twenty year period than it has been for the last ten or now. Personally, I think it's less heated because, basically, the side fighting against the old sexist attitudes won. (In relative terms: the battle, not the war. There's a long way to go in the war.) We won against some of the most blatant targets. A lot of things are now taken for granted that were hotly debated then. Someone in, say, 1985 looking at sex differences would very likely have been doing so in a reactionary fashion, hoping to score points against the sorts of things pushed by feminism. Now, that's not nearly as likely. But it still happens; and, as has been said, the people that are really loud and aggressive on asserting the supposed fundamental importance of sex differences are rightly subject to suspicion.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:42 PM on January 18, 2005


KirkJobSluder

Your understanding of methodology was never in question =]

Poor writing on my part I. I was thinking of this survey/demonstration from a prominant transgender resource/support group that wanted to help demonstrate that there is overlap between genders. They presented a lot of situations, what-would-you-do, answer these questions things after having the testee self-report genetic sex and perceived gender. iirc Self-identified transgendered people of both genetic sexes had poor correlation (some were, some weren't, some were in the middle) with their genetic peers, while self-reported heterosexuals fell into two heaps, which corresponded with their fellow genetic peers.

In retrospect, this doesn't have anything to do with sex-as-skills-determinant.

On-topic - gender; genetic or self-perceived (I know there has to be a better way of saying this), has very little to nothing to do with a large subset of skills. However, I'm still in the camp that genetic sex does strongly influence modes of thinking, likely from a mechanistic involvement. I do not discount the nurture part of nature&nurture, but that nature has a strong hand in determining predisposition.

In personal experiences, men and women sometimes have very different ways of tackling the same problem, as it pertains to scientific research. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, it usually depends on the individual.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:00 PM on January 18, 2005


miko, i'm no scientist, so--sorry if this is a clumsy question--but if the variation in each trait is greater between members of a gender than it is between the gender as a whole, then why can the strongest man beat the strongest woman to a bloody pulp in under 15 seconds?

i'm a testosterone-poor homosexual and i don't understand science.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:20 PM on January 18, 2005


There was the only one woman in my graduate math and physics classes.

On the other hand, There was only one person born in the United States.

I'd really like to know why we don't have >130 comment threads about how Americans are genetically deficient in math.

I really expected more from this community.
posted by cytherea at 5:31 PM on January 18, 2005


PurplePorpoise and KirkJobSluder:

As a side note, given your conversation: the students in my first year PhD class took a well-established "gender trait" ranking survey after we discovered it was used in one of our class readings. The results had very little correlation with biological sex overall. Most of the women showed up smack dab in the androgynous middle - including an ex- cheerleader, and a self-described "Martha Stewart" type. The guys were all over the map - "female", "male" and "androgynous".
posted by synapse at 5:37 PM on January 18, 2005


I have a twelve year old daughter who is quite proficient in math. Always has been. Speaks "math" like its her first language. Her teachers support her. But the boys in her class (whom she always out-performs) tease her. They call her "Harvard" and "MIT". Sometimes she see this as stupid jerk type remarks. Sometimes she sees this as sideways compliments. Sometimes she just cries about it. She is beginning to talk about how she "hates" math.
posted by trii at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2005


miko, i'm no scientist, so--sorry if this is a clumsy question--but if the variation in each trait is greater between members of a gender than it is between the gender as a whole, then why can the strongest man beat the strongest woman to a bloody pulp in under 15 seconds?

Open up a statistics text book and take a look at how normal curves work.

Having said that, in track and field women's records are falling at a faster rate than men's records, and if the current trend holds up, the women's mile run will beat the men's mile run sometime in the next 20 years.

synapse: Actually I read an abstract that found that men and women in the social sciences tended to identify themselves as more feminine that men and women in the hard sciences. So I suspect that there is quite a bit of social filtering going on.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:10 PM on January 18, 2005


Gotta toss in my two cents...

C) Women spend more time out of the workforce to raise children than do men.

My wife and I just found out we're going to have twins, our first children. She insists she's going to continue working after the babies are born; I insist that if there's any way for me to quit my job and let her keep working, I will be thrilled to stay home and raise the kids.

Sadly, neither of these things will likely happen. Why? Well, for us personally I make more money than she does, so we will have an easier time living on one paycheck if I work than if she does, at least in the short term...and I suspect when the kids are born, we will each have an equal desire to stay home and raise them. Desire equal, income not equal, I go back to work.
posted by davejay at 6:56 PM on January 18, 2005


oh. oops. check that. i'll go back to porn now.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:03 PM on January 18, 2005


Having said that, in track and field women's records are falling at a faster rate than men's records, and if the current trend holds up, the women's mile run will beat the men's mile run sometime in the next 20 years.

That's a pretty big if, don't you think? Of course slower times will show greater improvements than will faster times. That's how asymptotes and limits work.
posted by trharlan at 7:29 PM on January 18, 2005


This whole "women aren't good at science" thing really amuses me considering the research lab I work in is 90% female, and my college of employment's science faculty is mainly female. While I know this is hardly average, it still amuses me to be surrounded by scientifically competent women, when people say they are just unable to comprehend sciences the same way as a male.

When people bring up the "innate" differences in the female and male brains, and how they relate to understanding the sciences, I remember Richard Feynman's anecdote from "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out". He, too, believed women were incapable of understanding hard sciences, until he heard one girl explaining geometric principles to another girl. He was completely amazed that a woman could even understand these concepts. He listened long enough to find out she was telling the other girl how to knit argyle socks.

I will be the first person to agree that the male and female brains work differently, but I will be the first to disagree this should be used to par them from a particular area. In the summers, I teach at a science camp for fifth graders. I have been striving for the college this runs under to segregate the boys and the girls into different weeks. As a mixed group, they're impossible to teach - at that age, boys and girls learn differently. But just because they go about learning things differently doesn't mean the same things can't be learned by both genders.


She worked from a conclusion and filled in the necessary data to support it


I'm curious how you go about scientific research, Civil_Disobedient, as this is how I was taught. You state your conclusion. You find if the data supports your conclusion by applying the Scheffe test.

...And then, if you're me, you finish the Scheffe test, and cry as you scrap your work. :-P
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:39 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


My wife got her Masters in Education a few years ago from Harvard. She is hoping to go back this coming year to get her PhD (decision doesn't show until March).

Her reaction to this when it was on the news this evening was just a laugh and of all things she said she though the guy was probably right.

She and I both agreed that we would like to see Steven Pinker questioned about this (incidentally he was at MIT, but is now currently at Harvard). My wife said that when they studied all of this specifically at Harvard, the general consensus was that women just aren't as good (on average) at some things.

I pointed out to her that the women at Harvard are hardly average, so it might not be appropriate to assume that they would fall into that same area as Pinker would suggest.

That said, I am a logic/math/programmer guy and leave this sort of stuff to those that know what they are talking about.

I'll take Pinker and Gardner's word(s) on it (even if they do differ).
posted by MrFancypants at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2005


Also whoever pointed out the female track times and the logical fallacy of the rate of falling times needs to think through the word "rate".

If you actually study the physiology of it, you can show what literally are the physical limits of the human body as we exist right now and we aren't that far from it.

Women hadn't been allowed into sports for a long time so they are only now reaching participation levels on the global scale that allow them to statistically have the density to break all previous female records.
That said, they have essentially maxed it out at this point and you won't see the massive drops much more - at least not in the track and field world.

There is still some debate in the extreme distance events - starting at the marathon level and especially up at the ultra distance levels.

For anyone interested in a very accessible approach to analysis on the physical level, at least in running, I highly recommend starting off with some of Owen Anderson's writings on it.
posted by MrFancypants at 8:09 PM on January 18, 2005


She is beginning to talk about how she "hates" math.

She doesn't "hate" math. She "hates" people. This is because, on the whole, people "suck." A good lesson to learn at any age.
posted by kindall at 8:16 PM on January 18, 2005


She doesn't "hate" math. She "hates" people.

I think Trii knows this. I think the concern is that their daughter doesn't want to do something she previously loved, for whatever reason. The reason, of course, being teased for it. The exuberance and rowdiness of a lot of young boys in the school system in the past have led girls to become withdrawn and neglected in class. This low self esteem, due to lack of attention, can also contribute to the gender gap. So girls were then told to toughen up, and boys told to settle down. Now there are concerns about the "pushy girls" and the "effeminate" boys our society is raising.

Frankly, I'm almost as sorry for all these mixed messages we send children nowadays as I am for us not having cleared up the gender gap for them by now. Almost.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:52 PM on January 18, 2005


I haven't seen a link for this test yet...I don't know how accurate it is, as I am getting times vastly under the standards (for both men AND women), but still. I'm an online test whore.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:15 PM on January 18, 2005


cytherea -

Yes. It's atonishing to me that people who would dismiss the same kind of claptrap out of hand if it, say, came from "The Bell Curve" and was about race will treat the idea that women are genetically deficient by essentially shrugging and saying, "Well, sure. That's just common sense."

On the other hand, plenty of people here aren't acting that way. There's hope yet.
posted by kyrademon at 9:26 PM on January 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


That's a completely invalid comparison, kyrademon. Race doesn't exist. Sex does. If "race" did exist and did mean what people think it meant, then I, for one, wouldn't dismiss books like "The Bell Curve" out of hand. However, I do because they don't.

On the other hand, the innate sorts of differences that are supposed to be endemic between races are quite definitely endemic between the sexes. That is, men and women are different across a huge variety of physiological levels, almost all body systems are differentiated to some degree by sex. This is, of course, not even remotely true—simply not true at all—with regard to race.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:37 PM on January 18, 2005


...and lest you're not paying attention to what I've written, I certainly do not believe or encourage the belief that such differences account largely for the different outcomes in terms of sex and gender in our society, nor would I use such an argument, even were it true in the strongest sense (which I don't think it is, even remotely) to rationalize a social order built around these differences.

But there's far, far better reason to suppose there are some behavioral/personality/cognitive differences between men and women than there are between "races". In fact, it's known that there are. It's a simple fact. How important these things are, how much they matter relative to cultural factors, is quite another matter and an open question. There is absolutely no reason to believe that there are such differences that causally correlate to "race" as "race" is commonly defined.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:50 PM on January 18, 2005


Also whoever pointed out the female track times and the logical fallacy of the rate of falling times needs to think through the word "rate".

Which is why I included the caveat, "if the current trend continues."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:49 AM on January 19, 2005


Ethereal Bligh -

There are people on this thread (not you) who have essentially said that, since there are current differences in measured performance between men and women in certain areas, these differences must necessarily have a genetic basis. This is exactly the same basic confusion of correlation and causation which made "The Bell Curve" such a pile of rancid garbage, science-wise.

I never said that it was a pile of nonsense that men and women were genetically different, which they are, as there's this thing called the Y chromosome. I said it was a pile of nonsense that women are genetically deficient. And, I think, most reliable studies on the subject support me.

Please note that I do not accuse you of claiming otherwise.
posted by kyrademon at 8:26 AM on January 19, 2005


This thread makes me think of the duckbilled platypus. I remember in grade school the platypus was touted as a near-magical creature because It's Mammal That Lays Eggs! It's A Bird That Nurses Its Young! It Has Bird Sex Chromosomes And Mammalian Ones! There's no magic, though - it's just an example of the inadequacy of human-made categories to describe the whole universe at one time under one set of terms.

Using Miko's reasoning, we'd have to ditch categories like "reptile" and "bird" and "mammal" as being useless because they're socially constructed. But we'd have to ditch all categories if that were the case, even though clearly we categorize things so we can communicate to each other about them. Every definition has its exceptions, and many definitions work only at a particular resolution. Look at any human-made image close enough and you'll encounter its component parts. They are foolish who mistake the map for the territory, but they are also foolish who conclude that because it is not exhuastive, the map is useless.
Gender is a "map" of ways men and women are often different. It exists so we can talk meaningfully about our lives. One of my philosophy professors liked to say that universals exist only becuase we have to talk about people in groups sometimes, to distinguish the crowd from the players or one team from another, or coaches from players, etc.
Some gender differences are created and reinforced by the maps themselves and are therefore ultimately harmful to society (i.e. "Men are better at math and science"), but some of them seem not to be and are useful to society (i.e. "Men have Y chromosomes"). I am wary of people who contend that gender categories arise wholly from human constructs and not at all from nature, just as I am wary of those who claim the opposite. It seems to be a combination of the two, and I'm not willing to join a fundamentalism of either type. I will tend to use gender constructs when they seem helpful and useful, and avoid them when they seem harmful.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2005


First, it goes to show you that letters after your name don't mean $h1t. Really, now. The fact that these comments got so much attention shows you how much trouble this culture is still in. Don't even start with me about the election as an indicator.

Both Lisa S and Summers are morons. Really. Gender is 100% purely a social construct. That's all there is to it. Sex is a biological reality. Eye color is a biological reality. Tying these things to specific behaviors/aptitudes/preferences is a mostly impossible task. It hasn't been done. Anecdotal evidence, surveys, cross cultural analysis, all have the same problem... there isn't any way to test people who haven't been part of any society.

I claim that height is an indicator of intelligence, and I use the height-success study data out there to prove it. WTF? This is basically an example of poor thinking skills, just like Lisa S. and Summers.

The fact that more people don't recognize poor thinking skills, in fact that most people have no grounding in logic, math, and the scientific process, is very very sad.

You have to prove there is a relationship between sex and behavior called "gender". You can't just say there is. And you have to prove that this "gender" is the result of sex causing behavior. Not anything else. Good luck with that.

I don't have to prove this relationship doesn't exist. All gender based thinking falls under the Appeal to Ignorance, aka the Prove the Negative fallacy. Here's a link.

Why are people so stupid? Because they like it. They like to put the world in nice little boxes that they can take out and show their friends. It's kind of disgusting, if you ask me. I'm glad she walked out.

Would anyone object to a black person walking out of a lecture on how black people are more violent because of their genes? Or that white people couldn't dance because of their genes? Or that anyone who goes to church is an idiot because of their genes? Come on.

I promised myself I'd keep my post short on this thread. Ya'll just pushed me over the edge. I blame you.
posted by ewkpates at 11:37 AM on January 19, 2005


eustacescrubb, I'm not sure Miko would agree that socially constructed categories are entirely useless merely because they are social constructions. Social constructions *are* both meaningful and useful. They're simply not inevitable; if something is socially constructed, it can change when the society changes.

In other words, even if the concept of gender is entirely a social construct, that does not mean gender is a pointless concept. It would simply mean that gender is something that can be altered or gotten rid of entirely if society changes to the point where the conception alters.

Personally, my own views about gender/nurture/nature are, well, kind of complicated. I will say that I know several women with Y chromosomes who would argue rather heatedly that your second statement is also a "map" imposed creation and therefore harmful.
posted by kyrademon at 11:46 AM on January 19, 2005


Really nice title on this post too, by the way. What a shit post.
posted by agregoli at 1:02 PM on January 19, 2005


This is because, on the whole, people "suck." A good lesson to learn at any age.

Strictly speaking, some people prefer licking, and even among those who suck some swallow and some prefer to spit.
posted by semmi at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2005


I will say that I know several women with Y chromosomes who would argue rather heatedly that your second statement is also a "map" imposed creation and therefore harmful.

I reccomend to them that they try arguing rationally, then, because I'm more inclined to listen to rational arguments over heated ones.
Or, you could have linked to this this bit in Wikipedia, where I went after reading your post, because I'd not heard of people with more than two sex chromosomes before. That goes a ways toward proving that establishing gender by chromosomes isn't absolute, but it doesn't prove that doing so is harmful, at least not beyond the general dislike I have for inaccuracy. Of course, I suppose I can imagine a world in which the religious right try to pass some terrible legislation saying marriage is only between a person with two X chromosomes and a person with an XY combo, and then it'd be harmful.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:37 PM on January 19, 2005


I think the post title was intended as sarcasm...
posted by transona5 at 2:52 PM on January 19, 2005


(The post title was indeed intended sarcastically, which I thought would be obvious. Given the initial reactions to the post, however, I will make my sarcasm more obvious in the future.)
posted by occhiblu at 3:18 PM on January 19, 2005


"Gender is 100% purely a social construct. That's all there is to it. Sex is a biological reality. Eye color is a biological reality. Tying these things to specific behaviors/aptitudes/preferences is a mostly impossible task. It hasn't been done. Anecdotal evidence, surveys, cross cultural analysis, all have the same problem... there isn't any way to test people who haven't been part of any society."

No, you're being stupid. Hey, look: "hunger" is a social construct. You can't prove otherwise because no person has not been a member of a society.

"Gender" as distinct from "sex" is, by definition, a social construct. Perhaps this rudimentary definition is confusing you. But that it's a "social construct" does not require that the construction is independent of biology. To assert that it is...well, that's incredibly stupid. It's dogmatic. And, frankly, you're completely wrong about the science.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:15 PM on January 19, 2005


Why are people so stupid? Because they like it.

Actually, no, it's because it's in their genes.
posted by bingo at 6:35 PM on January 19, 2005


The thing that most disturbs me about Summers' statements are that they came from a man who is in a position to ratify or reject tenure recommendations, and who has been subject to ongoing criticism for not granting tenure to enough women. In that context, everything he says strikes me as an apologia for his own behavior: I couldn't hire them, they're just too dumb!

It makes you wonder how he feels about the The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award being given to his former Clinton economic teammate Laura D'Andrea Tyson (who is female).
posted by alms at 8:56 PM on January 19, 2005


It may be late, but Summers has a pdf out about his remarks. You can find it here.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:24 AM on January 20, 2005


How much testing has been done on the brain activity of babies before they have had a chance to become socialized?
posted by pracowity at 7:30 AM on January 20, 2005


They would have to be prenatal -- there are indications that parents start treating girls and boys differently from the moment they're born (amount of eye contact, time held, etc.).
posted by occhiblu at 8:39 AM on January 20, 2005


parents start treating girls and boys differently from the moment they're born

But I doubt the brain would start to function measureably differently the moment someone put pink instead of blue on a kid. Or if it did, then that would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?

It doesn't make sense to completely reject testing just because there might be a tiny bit of socialization involved, or because some people might not want to know the results.
posted by pracowity at 10:13 AM on January 20, 2005


I'm not talking about pink and blue, though. I mean the length of time a mother stares into her baby's eyes, how quickly she responds to its cries, how often she holds it, etc. Those responses are going to shape the neural pathways of a developing brain.

The best study I could google up is this one, which includes this: "Researchers also generally agree that parents treat their female and male infants differently (see review by Beal, 1994). Mothers seem to be more emotionally warm and responsive with girls, and more encouraging of independence with boys. Fathers often spend more time with their sons and engage in more physical play with sons than with daughters. Presumably as a result of these differences in treatment, infants themselves begin to show some gender-typical behavior by at least 1 year of age (Jacklin, Maccoby, & Dick, 1973; O'Brien & Huston, 1985; Roopnarine, 1986)."
posted by occhiblu at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2005


Bligh, you are a nut job. Why would any physical characteristic necessarily cause a preference or a behavior or an aptitude? Testicles produce testosterone, and testosterone does have some relationship to aggression, but this tenuous link can't be the only evidence you have...

What's the difference between the old "black people have smaller brains" nonsense and gender nonsense? They were both used to deny people the vote! They are both unsupported by hard science and they were both reason given as to why the groups in questions had neither souls nor status as "human".

I'd like to tie a physical characteristic to a behavior. You are a moron because your short. Hit me back.

Oh, and this time, show me some logic or some science behind your wind bagginess.
posted by ewkpates at 7:39 AM on January 21, 2005


Someone recently pointed me to this article in the Chronicle, describing many of the methodological problems with "Boys and girls have different abilities!" studies.

From the article: "Many have also relied exclusively on statistical tests that are designed to find difference, without using tests that would show the degree of overlap between men and women. As a result, findings often suggest -- erroneously -- that the sexes are categorically different with respect to some specific variable or other.

"Yet in the latest edition of its publications manual, the American Psychological Association explicitly asks researchers to consider and report the degree of overlap in statistical studies. For good reason: Even if the mean difference between groups being compared is statistically significant, it may be of trivial consequence if the distributions show a high degree of overlap. Indeed, most studies that do report the size of effects indicate that the differences between the sexes are trivial or slight on a host of personality traits and cognitive and social behaviors."
posted by occhiblu at 11:06 AM on January 21, 2005


And today we have MRIs that show the brainz does work different.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:22 AM on January 21, 2005


Whoever was curious about what Pinker would say-- I hereby present it to you.
posted by trharlan at 11:28 AM on January 21, 2005


Pinker seems to ignore the fact that the conference did, in fact, refute what Summers was saying with arguments and facts, and that Hopkins left *after* that evidence had been presented.
posted by occhiblu at 2:33 PM on January 21, 2005


ewkpates, you're dogmatic. Your extreme position makes you appear to be very foolish.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:46 AM on January 22, 2005


Pinker seems to ignore the fact that the conference did, in fact, refute what Summers was saying with arguments and facts, and that Hopkins left *after* that evidence had been presented.

...according to Denice D. Denton, the outgoing dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington, says the article.

And maybe she's right, but in the context of a two-day conference composed 50 people, mostly economists, it doesn't seem likely that this 'refuting' was itself subject to serious rigor. No doubt someone had expressed differing views, but that hardly means that the ideas Summers was putting forth had been disproven there at the conference.
posted by bingo at 7:06 AM on January 22, 2005


Overview and concluding words I agree with by William Saletan of Slate.
posted by semmi at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2005


Epilogue (NYT).
posted by semmi at 8:31 AM on January 24, 2005


How does any of this explain how women are given less lab space or support when trying to do research? Or that they fill more lecturer and post-doc spots - they are clearly qualified to teach or do research, but not to be paid/supported properly?

As one of the links above clearly states, the problem with women in the sciences is not one of a lack of applications, but the fact that equally qualified women are not being hired (as shown with test CVs). When experiments on hiring show no bias, then we can start talking genetic differences. Until then, everyone is just shouting about a microscopic crack in a wall, while ignoring the huge hole beside it.
posted by jb at 11:31 PM on February 8, 2005


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