“The chilly environment for women may not be going away any time soon."
February 18, 2016 3:36 AM   Subscribe

The Peer Perception Gap. The Washington Post describes a study in PLOS One which had a goal of identifying peer gender bias in the biology classroom: Men over-ranked their peers by three-quarters of a GPA point [...] In other words, if Johnny and Susie both had A's, they’d receive equal applause from female students — but Susie would register as a B student in the eyes of her male peers, and Johnny would look like a rock star.
posted by frumiousb (42 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have experienced this time and time again in the workplace. And while it has made me work harder and get better at what I do, it also really, really grinds you down after awhile. It's so demoralizing.

The study, he said, should be a warning. Today's students will grow up. They will make hiring and promotion decisions. They will shape policy.

Wrote the researchers: “Our work implies that the chilly environment for women may not be going away any time soon.”


That this still such a big problem, despite a wealth of data showing how it happens and how it affects women, continues to be depressing.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:56 AM on February 18, 2016 [12 favorites]


Maybe Suzie can rip off Johnny's arm and beat him with it. Then people will know that not only is she as smart as him, but she is at least as strong as him and waaaay more fierce.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:15 AM on February 18, 2016 [18 favorites]


In the lab I worked in as an undergrad, and am still pretty connected to, I get to see this kind of effect form repeatedly first hand because of the lack of stabilizing graduate students making the generations of lab culture run fast, and I find it fascinating. The lab is almost two labs under a single professor working with bacteriophage against two different model organisms, E. coli and Pseudomonas, which need to be kept separated from each other in different rooms because more wild Pseudomonas has a nasty way of killing the shit out of more domesticated lab strains of E. coli and contaminating everything. The 'two' labs are connected, share a professor, share a break room, share a common type of research, share a research community, generally party together, and do everything but infections together; but ever since the 90s when work with the second model organism started they have always both dramatically self segregated by gender and switch every two to four years.

When I started in the lab as a wee little pipette scratcher, I joined the E. coli lab while it was female dominated rather than the Pseudomonas lab, which was male dominated. It was really hard not to get a general sense that everyone sort of internalized how working with Pseudomonas phages was a hardcore medical thing done by future doctors who were doing serious science, while working with E. coli phages was an almost passive thing to do that was just basic research. Then, as the generation who trained me left and I was still there the male students in the generation I trained ended up flocking to me and constructing their own general internalized impression, where the basic research I was doing with E. coli was suddenly the serious science thing done only by people who could handle it while those in the suddenly female Pseudomonas lab were just glorified future nurses. Never mind that female pre-meds were the ones actually going to medical school while male pre-meds pretty exclusively washed out, or that all of the students who fucked up and couldn't handle it (aside from the one female student who turned out to have a serious problem with heroin) were pretty categorically male, or that the cycles seemed to in general correlate with female student generations needing to clean up various kinds of messes with poorly maintained stocks and useless data as well as male generations limping along by building on female efforts, the generalized impression of the worthiness of effort seems to just only follow dudes.

Having now seen the natural experiment play out a third time before one lab shut down, it seems obvious to me that it isn't so much disparaged tasks that women get pushed into, but tasks that women do that get disparaged. Its like the very fact that a woman is doing something makes that something somehow less important, less successful, and less worthy. The task itself is not the dependent factor, but the fact that women are doing it. It is also not like this was some kind of especially sexist environment students are entering into, the professor, who has been working since the 60s as a woman in molecular biology when it was among the worst of boy clubs, works thoughtfully to fight this sort of thing. Indeed, even though it was really me and my work that the impression of the maleness of the E. coli lab was built around, none of my own efforts seemed to do much other than occasionally provoke some thought - like its just this emergent property inherent to how students are raised.

This finding doesn't surprise me at all.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:36 AM on February 18, 2016 [138 favorites]


That's some goddamned sexist bullshit. I'd like to see the day this nonsense is done with.
posted by evilDoug at 6:38 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


This stuff doesn't just generally piss me off as a decent human being who believes in equality, it specifically pisses me off as the father of two daughters.

This article describes the problem. I'm curious about potential solutions (ideally more specific than 'overthrowing patriarchy' which doesn't exact provide action steps). Are there any proven methods of countering or combating this tendency? How, specifically, do we fix it? Does gender segregated schooling help? Does educating boys and girls about gender inequality help?

What has worked?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:49 AM on February 18, 2016


idk, valuing the work of women on a level equal with your male peers? Encouraging other men to value the work of women? It's not rocket science.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:55 AM on February 18, 2016


idk, valuing the work of women on a level equal with your male peers? Encouraging other men to value the work of women? It's not rocket science.

Right, but I bet if you ask the vast majority of men and women they would say they already do that, but they demonstrably don't.

Rooting out entrenched (often unconscious) bias, be it race or gender, is really really hard. People don't see themselves as acting in a biased manner. I'm sure the kids in the study didn't think they were being unfair. Dismissing this as 'not rocket science' both misses the point and, more importantly, fails to work towards solving the problem.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:08 AM on February 18, 2016 [14 favorites]


the cycles seemed to in general correlate with female student generations needing to clean up various kinds of messes with poorly maintained stocks and useless data as well as male generations limping along by building on female efforts, the generalized impression of the worthiness of effort seems to just only follow dudes.

You know, it just occurred to me that every lab manager in every lab I've worked with (that was large enough to need a lab manager - you don't really need one when it's two postdocs) has been female. Every de facto lab manager (where no one really has that title but one person does the work because it has to be done) has been female. The emergency contacts in case the freezers go skew-whiff are female.

And I've noticed the same thing as blaisdelb in research support - if a job is held by a woman, it's not respected and it's fiddly and it's lower paid. When the woman leaves, if the replacement is a man, the job suddenly pays more (have to meet his salary requirements) and the expectations go way down. This was particularly evident in a particular senior accounting position - everyone loved the woman who retired from that job, but I knew (because part of my work involves salary knowledge) that she didn't actually make dramatically more than me - nowhere near what I would have expected a highly skilled, vital person to be making at the height of her career. A few years on, I am literally making almost as much, as a senior secretary, as she made at 65 as possibly the Most Important Research Accountant. And while I'm good at my job, she was better at hers and her job was harder.). She worked her ass off in that job, and everything was always just so. She was replaced by a man, who started off at about 130% of her ending salary and who just doesn't do as much as she did. He's perfectly good at his job, but he doesn't do the extras she did or track as much data, and people have noticed but no one asks him to start....because he's a guy, I can only assume, and bonded-servant-like levels of labor are normal from a woman but excessive if asked of a man.
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on February 18, 2016 [25 favorites]


What's frightening for me as a male lecturer is that it has been found that there results also affect male teachers assessing male and female students. Another cognitive bias for me to worry about ameliorating...

Encouraging other men to value the work of women?


That's an extremely dangerous idea. Past research has shown that even people who think of themselves as fair - people who WANT to be fair and who are aware that patriarchy exists - can still be unconsciously biased. Telling male profs to try to be value students equally spreads the false belief that any male Prof can assume they are not part of the problem.

What has worked?

Blindness. If you care about fairness, make it impossible for the evaluator to know the gender of the person they are evaluating. Unfortunately participation assessment cannot be blinded.

One trick I've already been using is quantification and record keeping. Rather than relying on memory to assess how much a student has been participating in lectures, I keep a day-by-day record of who was asking questions at all. So I don't have to worry about biased remembering, and bias in assessing who contributed AT ALL would seem to be minimal.

I'd appreciate further advice about how to ameliorate unconscious biases that I don't want to have.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:10 AM on February 18, 2016 [16 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is "We've just gotta try harder," by itself, has never solved a single problem in the history of the world.

Encouraging other men to value the work of women?

That's an extremely dangerous idea. Past research has shown that even people who think of themselves as fair - people who WANT to be fair and who are aware that patriarchy exists - can still be unconsciously biased. Telling male profs to try to be value students equally spreads the false belief that any male Prof can assume they are not part of the problem.


Exactly.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:12 AM on February 18, 2016


I think the biggest hurdle, as with so many other things, is that people really don't like unpacking their own internal bullshit. Defenses quickly shoot up. So they never are that person doing that thing. It's always someone else and how awful that is and how can we stop it?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:12 AM on February 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


It can be tiring for women (or any group that is victim of bias) to hear this discussed in a detached way. Personally it really makes me mad to hear people are being so damn sexist and all I want to do about it is tell them to stop being sexist. Sorry for 'not being helpful' in that context. It is not our responsibility as women to help men be less sexist.
posted by The Toad at 7:13 AM on February 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


...positive discrimination seems like a pretty obvious (if blunt) way to immediately compensate for unconscious and concious bias in a society.

Of course, when it's suggested either some groups realise they're going to be disadvantaged and suddenly see this as unfair, or we get the suggestion that this might make things worse, somehow, perhaps because it's 'artificially' solving the consequence of a problem rather than getting at the root of it.

So, I guess women, and minorities, and transgender people, etc, will just have to keep on being paid less, respected less, yadda, until society is fixed some other, less deliberate, way.
posted by AFII at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2016 [10 favorites]


Stuff I do as a male computer scientist graduate student to support women in my field:
- I actively start conversations with my peers on sexism, and point out specific examples of where I see it occurring.
- For projects and collaborations, I actively solicit women who I know will be interested in what I'm looking to do.
- When dudes are taking up too much air in the room or interrupting people, I try to redirect the conversation back to women: "hey, I think you should let X finish her point", "what are your thoughts on ____, X?"
- I record who did stuff and give credit where due, even for small things - like, if someone gave me some feedback or whatever, I make sure that's acknowledged in a paper.
- I speak positively and highly of the accomplishments of women whenever I can

I mean, I know it's not doing much overall, but the point is that there are small things you can do beyond the abstract at any level.
posted by Conspire at 7:39 AM on February 18, 2016 [18 favorites]


tasks that women do that get disparaged

Case in point: veterinarians. When was the last time you took your cat or dog to a general vet who wasn't a woman? All the staff at my vet's office is female. 90% of the staff at the specialty vet clinic 20 miles away is female. I don't remember the last time I saw a male vet.

As a result, despite the fact that veterinarian training requires learning all the biology of at least four separate species (unlike medicine, where you only learn one), it has much less status than human medicine. And less pay, of course. I have to assume that's because it's mostly women doing it now.

Also case in point: competitive events with dogs and horses. As soon as women began to participate in significant numbers, men pretty much stopped. And yet the men who do participate, seem to win in disproportionate numbers. Much like male nurses, who get promoted faster and higher than their female colleagues.
posted by suelac at 7:40 AM on February 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


Right, but I bet if you ask the vast majority of men and women they would say they already do that, but they demonstrably don't.

I am not telling you to ask if they do. I am suggesting that you consider your own internal prejudices and encourage your fellow men to do the same. You're asking how we fix this, I am offering a suggestion.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:47 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Case in point: veterinarians. When was the last time you took your cat or dog to a general vet who wasn't a woman? All the staff at my vet's office is female. 90% of the staff at the specialty vet clinic 20 miles away is female. I don't remember the last time I saw a male vet.

As a result, despite the fact that veterinarian training requires learning all the biology of at least four separate species (unlike medicine, where you only learn one), it has much less status than human medicine. And less pay, of course. I have to assume that's because it's mostly women doing it now.


I think that's only part of it. Another problem is the attractiveness of the profession going in. Big corporate practices are swooping in and buying up animal hospitals. Vets get paid less and have less decision-making authority as a result. That means less men are bothering to apply to vet school. The same is true with pharmacists, who are also losing prestige and autonomy. As the job begins to become less attractive, you see a greater percentage of women entering it.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:51 AM on February 18, 2016


Interesting semi-related experiment from India: Communities are randomly assigned a quota of women in village leadership roles. After the first session with female leaders, "the relative explicit preference for male leaders was actually strengthened in villages that had experienced a quota".

I read about that study a few years ago, and was about to post it as such, but it turns out there's a more hopeful second round of the study:
In contrast, in twice-reserved villages, evaluations of female pradhans were indistinguishable from those of pradhans in never-reserved villages. Reservation also reversed the bias in male villagers' ratings of the effectiveness of a hypothetical female pradhan: men in villages that had been reserved actually rated the effectiveness of a hypothetical female pradhan above that of a male pradhan.
So I guess all that I can say is... if at first you don't succeed?
posted by clawsoon at 7:53 AM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have experienced this time and time again in the workplace. And while it has made me work harder and get better at what I do, it also really, really grinds you down after awhile. It's so demoralizing.

This is my life, but I find it infuriating and stupid. If people with good ideas are appreciated, those good ideas have a chance to grow and benefit everyone.

But it is not just in science. Communications is just as bad. A woman with a good idea is dismissed, and a man is seen as a visionary with gravitas, but point it out and people think you are a delud d egomaniac, but I don't back down, not just because I want to thrive, but I demand a world where every woman doesn't have to be bogged down by misdirection and sabotage.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:55 AM on February 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


Thinking more about that India study: If scientists are so scientific, why aren't they doing the same kind of randomized control studies on scientists and lab groups?
posted by clawsoon at 8:03 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


If scientists are so scientific, why aren't they doing the same kind of randomized control studies on scientists and lab groups?

Because they are scientists not mad scientists.
posted by srboisvert at 8:19 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are several problems here, and it might help to disentangle them.

1) Male evaluators who give women bad scores because they believe that women are objectively bad at X - bigots.

2) Male evaluators who believe that men and women are equal but think that being a person of good will makes them capable of making fair assessments. Problem: this ain't so.

3) Male evaluators who are aware that good intentions are not good enough to ensure fair evaluation.

Solutions:

3) It's a matter of technique. Male educators in this category need to consult/contribute to the educational/psychological literatures on best practices for ameliorating unconscious bias.

2) Argh - how to make people aware that patriarchy is the sea in which we swim? Why do we need to keep having this conversation?

1) Nuke 'em from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:21 AM on February 18, 2016


This stuff doesn't just generally piss me off as a decent human being who believes in equality, it specifically pisses me off as the father of two daughters.


This might also be part of the reason why. So if you were a father of sons you wouldn't be specifically pissed off? For the mother of your sons? Your mother and/or sisters? Female friends? Female coworkers? Women in general?

I'm really tired of men only being really pissed about this stuff when they have daughters. That's probably helping to perpetuate ideas that women aren't important unless they are connected to a man. That women are valued inherently less than. That women's work is less than. Unless it's your daughter, of course. Then she's worth every bit as much if not more than.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:25 AM on February 18, 2016 [39 favorites]


This is, depressingly, part of why I’m still finishing my PhD even though I’m no longer in academia proper— my first name is gender neutral, and I don’t want to use “Dr.” for pretentious reasons. I want to use it because it will make my gender invisible in written communication, which is 90% of my job.

It’s funny*— a lot of the people who email me offer great respect and deference until they discover I’m a female version of my name, which is when they start treating me like a secretary, demanding favors, second-guessing my answers.

This one guy sent me an email inquiry, but he didn’t like my answer. So he started emailing other people in my department. However, since I am literally the only person in my department who can answer that inquiry, every one of his subsequent emails was just forwarded to me by my coworkers, and I would respond every time with my original response, verbatim. He tried it about five times before figuring out that going over my head or trying to rout around me was not going to be met with success.


*no, not really.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:39 AM on February 18, 2016 [20 favorites]


Being willing to examine your own internal bias is a very good first step. I try to do that every day on an ongoing basis. We all have biases, even against people within our own group.

Awareness of the subtle ways bias presents itself is a good start, because then you can look for it (in yourself and other people). I do this by reading things that marginalized groups might say about their own experience and what they have to deal with every day – there are plenty of articles and news stories that come out daily about this. Seek out diverse news sources.

If you are a teacher who reads that boys tend to get called on more in class and then tend to be praised more for what they say, you can 1) make an effort to call on boys and girls equally, and 2) make sure you give their input the same consideration. It’s also important to account for how the socialization and experiences of boys and girls shape how they act, so it’s not just that people may be subconsciously favoring boys over girls, with all else being equal. Some people might call on boys and girls equally but then don’t take the other factors into consideration and then think that the boys really are doing better, when objectively, they may be. But that misses the whole gulf of understanding that girls are socialized to not speak up and they quickly learn that when they do, they are treated differently. So when you call on a boy, he may seem much more confident and self-assured in his answer while the girl might seem more timid, halting and less confident. You, the teacher, might be limited in how much you can do to help girls overcome that hurdle, but understanding why that is and maybe giving the girls a little bit of a handicap goes a long way.

Here is a great post on women in tech. The principals on how to help women in the workplace apply pretty universally.

Here's another article on specific things that people can do to combat both gender and racial bias.

A few other (women-specific) suggestions based on my own experiences:

- Women are often talked over in meetings. Don’t do this and watch for other people doing it. If someone does, bring attention back to the woman, i.e. “Susan started to make a great point a minute ago and I’d like to hear the rest of what she was saying”
- Actively solicit input from women and do it in front of other people.
- Publicly praise women when appropriate
- Women often will offer a suggestion in a group, get ignored, and watch a man say the exact same thing a few minutes later to great acclaim from everyone. If you see this happen, give the woman credit – “oh yeah, that’s like what Jane was just saying a few minutes ago – I think it’s a great idea”
- Don't always ask women to make the coffee/take notes/make copies/schedule meetings/clean the office kitchen and don't assume they will.
- Be careful of gendered language. A kind of mild example would be saying "hey guys", instead of "hey everyone". This also applies to adjectives applied to women. Think about if the same adjective would also be applied to a man. Personally, I've rarely (if ever) heard a man described as "bossy" or "strident". The language we use when we talk about other people matters a lot because it reinforces biased assumptions.
- Don’t explain things to women unless they ask you for an explanation.
- Don't ask to speak to a woman's manager over some issue unless you would absolutely do the same thing if you were speaking to a man. Understand that women can have authority.
- Don't nitpick a woman's performance or treatment of something unless you would also do the same if it were a man.
- Don’t act surprised when a woman has knowledge in something, and, don’t assume that she doesn’t. This requires a lot of vigilance on your part, see this answer on a recent askme.
- If you’re feeling a preference for a man for any reason, always stop and consider why that might be. It might be totally valid and legitimate, but it’s important that you examine it to make sure that it’s not because he’s like you (people have biases for people of their own race/gender/class); and that the preference is based on something objective, e.g. women are often not preferred for promotion, because people have a vague dislike for them that they can’t articulate, but is often based on her seeming “mean”, “bitchy”, “strident”, etc. Consider how we are socialized to want women to be pleasant, kind, nurturing and quiet and then ask yourself if she’s really objectively bitchy or if she just rubs you the wrong way because she doesn’t offer you a big smile with sunshine in her eyes while she sings “Good morning!” to you every day. Basically, ask yourself if the things she does would bother you if a man did the exact same things, all else being equal. This is almost always a good measuring stick – if a man did this, would I react the same way? If so, your preference may be legit, but it’s super important to really honestly examine it.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:58 AM on February 18, 2016 [17 favorites]


Are there any proven methods of countering or combating this tendency? How, specifically, do we fix it?

Blindness. If you care about fairness, make it impossible for the evaluator to know the gender of the person they are evaluating. Unfortunately participation assessment cannot be blinded.

I've thought this same thing for employment equality. If you don't know the applicant's name, race or gender, but you know that 8af6b3441 is far more qualified than 4f5d723d0, that would go a long way in helping, even if the grossest discrimination comes at interview time. As for the interview, I'm out of practical ideas. On the impractical side, with the amazing speed and flexibility of modern CGI, why not just apply a genericizing mask to the candidate and have the in-person interview be done remotely? Of course, I'm the crazy loon that thinks that political candidates need to be chosen by sortition from a prequalifying pool, so consider the source...

As for actually changing the culture to address rampant sexism - yeah, I'm fresh out of ideas on that front, too. Sometimes it feels as if the best I can do is actually just screaming 'Don't Be Sexist'.
posted by eclectist at 8:59 AM on February 18, 2016


It's overdetermined, I mean where do you start? (I do think representation [media tropes etc] matters a good deal...)

I don't know what granular workplace dynamics were like, but women of communist/socialist Central and Eastern European countries, at least at a certain time, seemed (on the surface at least, and from what I've understood from the women doctors and engineers and lawyers I've known with that background) to benefit from a more equal playing field, in the professional realm. (If not necessarily in other spheres of life.) I don't know, but don't think the value of their male peers' work was diminished as a result.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:01 AM on February 18, 2016


Obviously not an easily replicable scenario, though.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:03 AM on February 18, 2016


women of communist/socialist Central and Eastern European countries, at least at a certain time, seemed (on the surface at least, and from what I've understood from the women doctors and engineers and lawyers I've known with that background) to benefit from a more equal playing field, in the professional realm

Oddly, I've noticed that women in my industry with Communist-background associations (i.e. Russian or Chinese with an accent) seem to be accepted more easily as competent professionals in strongly male fields like computer programming or IT. It's as if - and I am half-baking here - people assume, "Well of course they were given the time and space as children to explore math and logic and problem-solving, because they come from Communist countries, so therefore they'll make good adult programmers. But in North America only boys are given that opportunity, so there's no way North American women could be as good at those things."
posted by clawsoon at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's probably helping to perpetuate ideas that women aren't important unless they are connected to a man.

Word. It was here on MeFi that I learned just how damaging the "They are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our partners" approach to equality trumpeted by so many well-intentioned men ends up being.

Overcoming unconscious biases is a hell of a thing to do in our society in part because not only do we all want to think of ourselves as basically good and decent people, we are told over and over that "dynamic self-starters" -- which we should all aspire to be or at least describe ourselves as such in interviews and reviews -- are at all times fully aware of everything they think and do. Most people don't realize just how much time we spend in what is more or less autopilot.

Which is why more harm ends up being done by people who are "moderate" and "certainly in no way sexist/racist/homophobic/anti-Muslim/etc" than by the people who are acknowledged hateful a-holes.

Anyway, I feel like there are about twenty FPPs in the last month or so that I want to send to people who are like "Women actually have it easier in society than men do!!1!!11!!"
posted by lord_wolf at 9:19 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


It is not our responsibility as women to help men be less sexist.

No truth about sexism is more fundamental than this one. I want to scream it into a well-aimed megaphone every time we're presented with yet another instance of rank male supremacist bullshit and men start rushing out of the wings to carp about how sexism is everyone's problem to solve, because fighting patriarchy is everyone's duty, and besides, they're not sexist, so what can they even do?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Like OK, you know the burden of the emotional labor of the world is being constantly and quietly shifted onto the shoulders, backs, hearts, and spirits of female humans ALREADY, right? But now you wanna make us responsible for eliminating the factors that feed into our own ongoing subjugation, too? (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by amnesia and magnets at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2016 [13 favorites]


My field is internationally male-dominated, and so was my workplace until very recently. I've written on the blue about rape-culture and obviously idiotic favoritism etc. And then we got a female dean. Woah. Everything has completely changed across every single part of our institution: research, teaching, admin and service. She's not perfect at all, and we have other problems which are serious, but sexism died on day one, and it hasn't had a chance since then. In my section, the men seem to be enjoying the changes as much as us women. I guess macho culture is only for the alpha-alphas, and no-one liked them anyway.
To me that shows that good leadership can lead radical changes, and if your management is making excuses: call them on it.
posted by mumimor at 9:34 AM on February 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


[One comment deleted. This isn't a referendum on anyone in this thread's parenting or feelings about their own kids, and we're not going to take it in that unnecessarily personally-charged direction.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:07 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Which is why more harm ends up being done by people who are "moderate" and "certainly in no way sexist/racist/homophobic/anti-Muslim/etc" than by the people who are acknowledged hateful a-holes.

No. That is a religious belief.
posted by smidgen at 10:21 AM on February 18, 2016


There are a lot of hateful assholes out there, and they do a lot of damage.
posted by smidgen at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2016


On the one hand, this is depressing.

On the other, we are dealing with thousands of years of cultural bullshit. We have to keep pressing on, and not be surprised or throw up our hands because the roots go deep and take a while to pull up.
posted by emjaybee at 11:04 AM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


Let's face it, if we ever eliminated the cultural bullshit, women would be paid MORE than men because they deserve it, and men subconsciously just don't want that to ever happen.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


women would be paid MORE than men because they deserve it, and men subconsciously just don't want that to ever happen

Yep. One of the few ways to stay consistently overpaid and/or profitable is knowing how to keep the money in the family. Old Boys' Clubs, both formal and informal, have instinctually known this for a long time. And if you're starting in a position of relative power, as the typical person-like-me is, it makes the process that much easier.
posted by clawsoon at 11:41 AM on February 18, 2016


Blasdelb, thank you for that amazing anecdote. It is particularly cutting that the labs end up cycling as one can coast for a while and the other needs rebuilding, and the women always do the rebuilding work. I am curious: have any of the other people connected to that lab noticed the pattern?
posted by brainwane at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


It was my old professor who blew my mind when she first pointed it out to me. To be fair, what there had been in terms of real tangible rewards like authorships, posters at conferences, and leadership opportunities were always pretty fairly distributed, at least by gender, but its the distribution of grunt work ended up being pretty dramatically unfairly distributed.

On my to do list is writing a short 1,000 word article on it to publish in the peer-reviewed literature somewhere. However, stopping me at the moment is a lack of access to data on all the students who've been in the lab over the relevant decade indexed by gender and lab to make a graph I'd want to demonstrate the effect - along with all the time I don't have. Next time I'm in town at my alma mater I'll get around to twisting my old professor's arm into generating the data and get on it.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:36 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought it was really interesting that unlike many similar studies, this study found a perception bias only in male students. Since male and female students are exposed to the same cultural norms and typically show similar biases as a result, there must be a more specific explanation in this case than simply devaluing women.

I suspect that the main culprit here is the overwhelming portrayal of the "default" person (and especially the protagonist) as male, which forces women to identify with men but allows or even encourages men to see women as universally and utterly different from themselves. When this cultural context is combined with the consistent human tendency to rate people we identify with more positively*, we would logically get outcomes like this. "Default" humans view other "default" humans more positively, but "non-default" humans have little or none of this bias because they've learned to identify with both "default" and "non-default" humans. This is almost certainly true for race as well, and probably other factors. What's interesting about this explanation is that, if true, it implies a straightforward (albeit difficult) method for eliminating this bias: radically diversifying our cultural ideas of the "default" human.

It's very difficult to change nebulous factors like cultural views on gender, which is probably the main reason why far more studies attempt to quantify bias rather than attempting to solve it. Still, trying to nail down specific causes for these biases would provide support for focused, evidence-based cultural initiatives. For example, maybe some kind of intervention study could be done to see whether forcing (or even just encouraging) "default" humans to identify more with "non-default" humans could reduce their perception bias in the future. Descriptive studies are still helpful to show that yep, bias still exists...but they aren't enough. Experimental studies are badly needed if we actually want to fix the problem someday.

*an interesting and apparently very ingrained tendency, maybe related to the biases like the fundamental attribution error, which cause us to judge ourselves more positively than others. This phenomenon has obvious real-life consequences when the majority of people in positions of power are white men and hiring, salary, promotions etc. are almost entirely based on how those white men view your competence!
posted by randomnity at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb, thanks for that, and I wish you well in your writeup!

randomnity, have you already read Shweta Narayan's essay on cognitive science, category structure, and erasure, relatability, and so on? Because yeah, the idea of the default human -- and how to expand and change that -- is very much in there.
posted by brainwane at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2016


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