Monday, January 02, 2006

Hyping sex differences

It's a frequent complaint that in our politically correct climate, talking about behavioral, psychological, and intellectual differences between men and women has become a taboo, at least in enlightened academic circles (as Larry Summers found out the hard way). I am certainly not even favor of any such taboos. But the truth is that on the popular level -- and also among the anti-PC set -- talk about sex differences often tends to lapse into unwarranted generalizations and rather egregious stereotyping.

Echidne of the Snakes has two good blogposts about it, analyzing a new Pew Research Center report on gender differences in Internet use and its popular coverage. A Reuters headline said, "Men want facts, women seek relations on Web - survey." A Chicago Sun-Times story elaborated:

Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.

In fact, Echidne points out, according to the study:

More men, 30%, than women, 25%, said the internet helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women, 56%, than men, 50%, said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach.

There's a Mars-Venus gap, indeed!

Other Internet behavior differences found in the study:

-seeking health information: women 74%, men 58%
-getting support for health problems: women 66% men 50%
-pursuing religious interests: women 34% men 25%
-checking the weather: women 75% men 82%
-reading the news: women 69% men 75%
-getting DIY information: women 50% men 60%
-checking sports scores: women 27% men 59%
-investigating products: women 75% men 82%
-downloading music: women 20% men 30%

Yes, a lot more men check sports scores. Surprise, surprise. The other gender gaps strike me as ... well, not exactly of Grand Canyon magnitude. Or Mars/Venus magnitude.

There's similar hype from Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings (and, apparently, quite a big of gloating at The Free Republic) over another study telling us that "Boy monkeys like toy cars, and girl monkeys like dolls." So, what's this study? Actually, it's about three years old, and here's how it was reported in 2002:

It’s commonly believed that boys and girls learn what types of toys they should like based solely on society’s expectations, but psychologist Gerianne Alexander’s work with vervet monkeys is challenging that notion.

Alexander, whose research focuses on sex differences in behavior and the biological factors that influence them, examined the monkeys as they interacted with toys. She and her collaborator, Melissa Hines of the University of London, found that the monkeys’ toy preferences were consistent along gender lines with those of human children. The study was published earlier this year in "Evolution and Human Behavior."

Though the monkeys had no concept of a "boy" toy and a "girl" toy, they still showed the same gender preferences in playing with the toys, Alexander says. That is, compared to female monkeys, male monkeys spent more time with "boy" toys, and the female monkeys, compared to their male counterparts, spent more time with "girl" toys, she notes.

The full article in Evolution in Human Behavior is not available online (not for free, at least), but I paid for access to the full text, and here's what I found out.

Of the 88 laboratory-living vervet monkeys in the study, 33 males and 30 females had some contact with one or more of the toys they were offered (playing with a toy or picking it up and examining it).

For the males, about 16% of the contact was with a toy police car. For the females, the corresponding figure was about 8%. Another toy rated as "masculine," an orange ball, was handled by males about 20% of the time and by females about 10%. (The figures are approximate because the article shows them as bars on a diagram, not as specific numbers. The graph can be found here at Obsidian Wings.)

A red pan, also classified as a "girl toy," accounted for about 27% of the females' contact with the toys. And for about 17% of the males'.

The biggest difference was in the handling of a doll. About 22% of the females' toy contact consisted of picking up, handling, and examining the doll. The corresponding figure for males was about 8%. (There were no significant gender differences in monkey interest in a furry dog toy.) It should be noted that among vervets, adult males do not participate in infant care at all, though juvenile males apparently handle infants; the females' behavior toward the doll was rather similar of female vervets' handling of infants.

Let's say that all these differences are solid and related to gender and biology (though I find it hard to believe that female monkeys would perceive a pan as a "feminine" object -- last time I checked, monkeys don't cook). They still clearly show a great deal of intra-gender variation. So why is it that, if male monkeys play with a toy car 16% of the time and female monkeys 8% of the time, this is translated into "boys love trucks"?

Incidentally, there was no overall difference between male and female monkeys in favoring "object toys" versus "animate toys" (the doll and the dog). So much for the notion that females are person-oriented and males are object-oriented.

More: I looked up the leading study on people-versus-object preferences in human infants, as measured by the amount of time infants spent looking at a human face and a mechanical object. The results: 25% of male infants showed a preference for the face, 43% for the object, and 31.8% showed no marked preference. Among female, 36% preferred the face, 17% preferred the object, and 46% preferred neither. To me, these are fairly modest differences -- especially modest against the backdrop of sweeping claims about "men" and "women" as categories. But even those figures don't tell the whole story. How strong are these preferences? On average, it turns out, the male infants spent 45.6 seconds looking at the face and 51.9 seconds looking at the mechanical object. The female infants spent an average of 49.4 seconds looking at the face, 40.6 seconds looking at the object.

The author of the study, Simon Baron-Cohen, proposes a theory that men are more likely to be "systemizers" and women "empathizers," though he stresses that there is a great deal of overlap between the two. In an op-ed in the New York Times last August, Baron-Cohen wrote:

Our research team in Cambridge administered questionnaires on which men and women could report their level of interest in these two aspects of the world - one involving systems, the other involving other people's feelings. Three types of people were revealed through our study: one for whom empathy is stronger than systemizing (Type E brains); another for whom systemizing is stronger than empathy (Type S brains); and a third for whom empathy and systemizing are equally strong (Type B brains). As one might predict, more women (44 percent) have Type E brains than men (17 percent), while more men have Type S brains (54 percent) than women (17 percent).


But how "stronger" is stronger? In fact, on average, men score about 42 and women 47 on the empathy test, while women score about 24 and men about 30 on the systemizing test. Mars and Venus, indeed.

81 comments:

jw said...

Good point Cathy!

I've had a lot of trouble with such studies. As you say, writers seem to make too much of minor differences. So do a lot of non-writers. Why do so many people have such strong feelings on this matter?

With the monkey, if they'd have used Tamarinds instead of Vervets, the sex based difference would have been the opposite as Tamarinds are primarily male raised. Big hairy deal! It tells us nothing. (I hope I got the right species of very small primate with the word Tamarind!)

Sex based differences exist on a curve: There's a lot of overlap. Yet, it seems that people on both sides of the sex-difference debate make too much of the averages and not enough of the overlap. Mean without Standard Deviation tells us nothing.

I raised my kids from babies with no woman around and I now do most of the housework: That in no way implies that I am not a man. Neither does it say anything about my sexual preference (which had better be straight or my wife, who is reading over my shoulder, will having something to say!)

There's a professer at Harvard who's been studying babies for years: She says there is no sex based biological factor in humans; which I do not believe. That said, to say that males are one way and females another is equally daft.

People are people. Small statistical differences are interesting and nothing more.

Jannia said...

Thanks Cathy!

I've been wondering about the monkey results since I read the headlines, but hadn't yet tracked down the study itself. Why am I not surprised that the differences exist but are minor, and equally unsurprised that that's not how it was reported by the media?

I think you've hit on the fundamental reason why some people are so leery of doing research into sex based differences: the differences between individuals are generally more significant than those between groups, but the reporting/groupthink always comes down to Mars/Venus.

More concretely, part of me thinks the research is interesting and worth doing, because expanding knowledge is always useful, even if we can't see why at the time. But another, more frequently invoked, part of me is sick and tired of having to explain to anyone (ok, family) why the fact that most members of group A, to which I belong, like X does not mean that I like X, and yes, that's consistent with the new study you just read about, really.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So looking up sports scores is searching for facts, but searching for health information is seeking connection with others. Uh huh.

These studies are usually problematic in that they're only as good as the interpretations of the people doing them. As you've pointed out, that's a pretty serious limitation indeed.

jw-You got the species right. They're tamarins-and your point is dead-on. If they used tamarins, I guess everything about human society would be wrong. Horrors!
Jeanne

mythago said...

I love the part about the orange ball being a "masculine" toy.

The idea that it's verboten to talk about sex differences is nonsense--as Larry Summers found out. Whatever criticism he got was equally tempered by knee-jerk conservatives screaming about how women really do suck at math.

Revenant said...

Incidentally, there was no overall difference between male and female monkeys in favoring "object toys" versus "animate toys" (the doll and the dog). So much for the notion that females are person-oriented and males are object-oriented.

It is male *humans* that are object-oriented, not males in general. The body of evidence supporting that preference is fairly substantial.

Revenant said...

The idea that it's verboten to talk about sex differences is nonsense--as Larry Summers found out.

Summers was universally condemned throughout academia for daring to suggest that there *might* be a gender-based explanation for the lack of female math professors.

Yes, various pundits applauded him for speaking the truth. But that hardly makes up for the hostile reception academia gives to ideas that run counter to their religious beliefs.

Trey said...

new commenter here... delurking :).

I HATE the way the media and the popular culture take these studies. Even statistically significant differences (and that monkey study is laughable.. a red pan? how in the hell would a monkey think that was a 'female' toy..never saw a monkey cook.. and so few numbers) are for large populations and can't be extrapolated down to individuals.

:/

and great point about the tamarinds jw!

Anonymous said...

I'll never get why people seem to have such a hard time differentiating between "equal" and "identical".

Men and women are different. Spending time with men or women makes it abundantly clear.

Men and women like different things.

Why is it so hard for some hardcore feminists to realize that Summers' comment that women don't, by and large, have a burning desire to be elite scientists is not a criticism of women.

Perhaps men are intrinsically stronger at science. So what? Women outnumber men, by increasing margins, at just about every college in the country. If women do not wish to specialize in science, does that somehow make them inferior? Does a lack of women in the elite areas of science somehow take away their sheer numbers advantage on most campuses (or is it campii)?

When you can't even raise a topic for discussion on a college campus (which is a growing problem), then you have one of the biggest problems a society can ever face: academia that doesn't even bother to question their ideas of what is truth.
-=Mike

Zack M. Davis said...

I'd like to thank Cathy for writing things like this.

I've started keeping a clip file of instances of difference hype in the media. One recent addition: My local paper (Contra Costa Times) ran an AP story on the internet study as the top story on the front page of the buisness section. It wasn't until the ninth paragraph (which was after the jump, incidentally) that it said "In the relatively small number of activities where differences where noticeable, they were often slight." I wondered why that was so low in the story, and why the story was placed so prominently in the first place.

One more thing from my clip file: an ad that ran San Francisco Chronicle on Sept. 29, touting Sony's Bravia, "THE WORLD'S FIRST TELEVISION FOR MEN AND WOMEN". The ad goes on to state: "We had guys in mind when we gave it wider viewing angles and a picture that keeps up with the action. We had women in mind when we gave it a broader color spectrum and a slim, wall-mountable design." I know, it's just a stupid advertisement, but it disturbs me that some people actually think in such terms--that Sony thinks it can sell television sets by claiming that caring about the color spectrum of a TV is "feminine."

I'm just sick (like Jannia above) of sloppy generalizations so many people make about the sexes--about me.

It's wrong to hold rational beings to a double standard. I've been thinking: you can't derive and "ought" from an "is"--not simply, at least. So even if the sexists are right about the general natures of male and female, maybe we should be trying to socialize our children away from their natural tendencies--a little bit. It's not good for anyone to be over-passive or over-agressive. Perhaps the worst parts of human nature are something we should try to trancend with culture.

------

Mike (anonymous post of Jan 02, 07:36:51 PM EST), you wrote: "Men and women are different. Spending time with men or women makes it abundantly clear. Men and women like different things."

That's funny. I've long thought that spending time with men or women makes it abundantly clear that we're not that different.

But in any case, whatever the studies show men and women as groups tend to be like, it says nothing about an individual woman or man. When you say "Men and women like different things" you paint with a broad brush, but no amount of paint will wipe people like me out of existence. Because I do not identify with the collective "men", as it is commonly portrayed; I don't like them; I don't trust them; I am not one of them. My values do extend beyond sex and beer and football games. I do have tender feelings (and they get me into no end of trouble). Why should it be proper to make assumptions about me because of my sex?

Am I lesbian trapped in a man's body? Or does it turn out that you can't write off humanity three billion people at a time as easily as you had hoped?

mythago said...

Why is it so hard for some hardcore feminists to realize that Summers' comment that women don't, by and large, have a burning desire to be elite scientists is not a criticism of women.

Because that was not, in fact, Summers' comment. He made a long speech, which he stated was meant to "provoke". Why is it so hard for some die-hard genderists to realize that it's both offensive and incorrect to tell a group of women scientists that, hey, they've only really been held back by their female brains and their desire for babies? And why the rush to coddle somebody who tried to 'provoke' and actually succeeded?

It would be interesting to see if men and women were all that different in a world where we didn't expend so much energy insisting that they are.

Anonymous said...

Mythago, here's the speech, in full:

http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html

You can wish to argue that many women do not choose to not pursue the highest level of works because they deem family to be more important, but your argument falls flat on its face when one looks at the actual evidence.

Are you going to argue that universities all decide, together, to not hire female faculty? That is illogical, at best. Quite a few schools actively recruit female faculty (they, by all measures, need to the same for male students, but that is another topic for another time). They hire who is there.

Heck, he didn't even say biology was the major reason behind it. He said it was one of several reasons, which is an eminently obvious conclusion.

In fact, the exact thing Summers discussed has been discussed in scientific circles for years now. It is a major topic in genetic research, as well it should be.

Again, different does not mean unequal. It just means different.

The "firestorm" over his comments was laughable and the most widely quoted women who complained about his comments, to be quite honest, lived up to every negative stereotype of women that there has ever been.

But in any case, whatever the studies show men and women as groups tend to be like, it says nothing about an individual woman or man.

Which is why nobody is arguing that ALL women and ALL men are doing anything. They argue general trends, which is both accurate and honest. To argue that general discussions are, actually, focusing on specific cases is intellectually dishonest.

My values do extend beyond sex and beer and football games. I do have tender feelings (and they get me into no end of trouble). Why should it be proper to make assumptions about me because of my sex?

Am I lesbian trapped in a man's body? Or does it turn out that you can't write off humanity three billion people at a time as easily as you had hoped?


Again, learn the concept of the general v the specific. General trends do not necssarily correlate with every specific person.

Life spans are generally increasing --- that doesn't mean that nobody dies young.

The standard of living worldwide is generally improving --- doesn't mean squalid poverty does not exist.

Using YOUR logic, arguing that life spans are increasing or that the standard of living worldwide is improving (as compared to, say, the 1400's) is not true because, in certain cases, it is not. It's myopic and dishonest.

It's an intellectual cop-out to simply ignore general trends because they don't fit in for every single individual person out there, especially when nobody is arguing that they do or that they are meant to.

But, hey, throwing up straw men (sorry, straw PEOPLE) is much easier than actually having a discussion, so have a blast.
-=Mike

Zack M. Davis said...

Mike, you make a point. I did throw up some strawmen [sic] there. I should have known better than to post in anger.

Joan said...

About the only thing that could've made your post stronger, Cathy, would have been a discussion of the margin of error of all those so-important (and not so different) numbers. I'd bet that the margins of error were so fuzzy that all those numbers that purport to demonstrate the huge gaping differences between the genders basically wash out when the margins are considered as they should be.

Ann Althouse has discussed the issue of gender studies several times on her blog, too. Your post makes a nice addition to the saner commentary out there.

prettylady said...

But, darlings, women are different from men. Obviously. Do you not know any men, personally? Their precious minds are linear, non-relational, and object-oriented. Poor dears, they are nearly incapable of functioning in polite society, and need all the help they can get from us. Certainly not cavilling at their foolish little 'scientific' studies.

Zack M. Davis said...

I'm going back to lurking. I serve the antisexist cause best by shutting up until I learn how to write.

Cathy Young said...

Zack, please don't go back to lurking, because I think you were making an excellent point, and I think that the way Mike's post was phrased definitely tended toward overgeneralizing. "Men and women like different things" definitely implies that all men are one way and all women another, and it does totally disregard women and men who don't conform to the norm.

Mike -- I understand your point that we make generalizations and use shorthand all the time. For instance, when we say "People are living longer" it's obviously shorthand for "on average, people live longer than they used to," and no one says "Well, what about so-and-so who died at 40? Is he a non-person?"

However, I believe that such generalizations in the area of group differences are actively harmful to individuals, polarize groups and stigmatize those who are different.

I think that a person has every right to feel insulted by a "Men are like this, women are like that" statement if it does not accuately describe them as a man or a woman.

By the way, I seriously doubt that most men have a burning desire to be elite scientists, either. I don't have a problem with the statement that more men than women may have such a desire. I definitely have a problem with the statmeent "Men like science and women don't."

Anonymous said...

Cathy, at no point did I say all are this or all are that. I said, judging by the data, women, by and large, do not wish to be elite scientists.

Not they can't. That, by and large, they don't want to.

I state that because it is illogical to assume any institution would intentionally discriminate against hiring them, since somebody else would hire them. If Harvard refuses to hire you, guess what, Princeton would hire you. Or Yale. Or Brown. Or even a solid state school.

I did not say men like science and women do not. I said both sexes have different interests that are, by and large, complimentary. There aren't a wealth of women who want to work 80+ hours a week, judging by every single poll ever taken on the subject. Most want a home life.

Why? It's not just socialization because the stay-at-home mom has hardly been championed for the better part of 20 years. There is something deeper at play.

Do some women want to work that long? Sure. But, clearly, more men than women are willing to do that. That is simple biology. It is the way the brains are hard-wired.

Again, this is not to say women can't do it. It's saying that women, for a large variety of reasons (including biology and genetics) do not tend to head towards certain fields than men DO tend to head towards to and that women do not.

Now again, yes, you can find isolated examples where it is not the case. But if you look at any statistical measurement, you can't really dispute that statement.

Cathy, it is simple reality that men and women tend to like different things. You can base it on audience samples, sales figures, or what have you. You can prove my point far more easily, readily, and definitively than you can prove that men and women DON'T like dissimilar things.

The audience for pro football is predominantly male. Why? Because women, by and large, just don't like it. Some do, but many do not. So, it is quite valid to say men tend to like football and women tend to not like it, because it is reality. It is fact. If I were to argue that the audience for soap operas is female dominated, that is simple statistical reality. It does not mean every woman loves them or that every man hates them. It just states that, as a whole, women like it more than men. A factual statement.

Again, to attack a general conclusion by using a specific example is intellectually dishonest.

Using specifics to attack general conclusions, such things as, say, evolution falls apart because there are certain areas that evolution cannot explain well (such as how the eye ended up designed as it is).

Is evolution a very good, very solid theory? Yup. Is it correct? As best as can possibly be determined, yes. Can it explain every intricacy in nature? Nope. Doesn't suddenly make it false or useless.

It means it's a general theory that cannot be used to explain every possible circumstance. There are always exceptions to rules.

Why anybody would be stigmatized is beyond me. Am I upset that men have shorter life spans than women? Nope, even though I know women who have died at a younger age. I'm not going to protest that sentiment because it's not reality in my specific circumstance. I recognize that, in general, it is true.
-=Mike

Darleen said...

Cathy

You make excellent points and yes, I agree the study using primates is screwy more ways than one.

However, I think the generalized difference between males and females may be subtle, but it is significant. And we ignore those differences at our own peril.

Again generally I will point out how grade schools have geared themselves to teaching styles that favor female learning traits and the rise of routine use of Ritalin on males to get them to conform to the female paradigm.

I do not believe that individual preferences in hobbies, reading topics, etc is sex-related. The differences are observable on the how of approaching such things as communication, learning and what I would deem "task oriented behavior". How we approach, follow through and accomplish all manner of tasks.

Anecdotally, I've raised four daughters, each with their own unique personalities and talents. I'm also very involved with my 3 yearold twin grandsons.

Boys and Girls are different. I was taken a bit aback because I believed that the differences were mostly "nurture", but these little guys were different from their first breath. There is a "nature" component to sex differences and not accepting that and moving beyond it to individual fulfillment is at best, silly. At worst, demeaning to both sexes.

Anonymous said...

"Why? It's not just socialization because the stay-at-home mom has hardly been championed for the better part of 20 years."

Even if that is true (which I don't necessarily believe - I think there's been a massive resurgence over the past five years pushing women to become "only" housewives, and I don't think the idea that a woman is better if she stays at home has ever gone away), 20 years hardly compares to the last 400 years in America, where staying at home was idealized for upper and middle class white women. Massive societal change doesn't come about over 20 years.


"Do some women want to work that long? Sure. But, clearly, more men than women are willing to do that. That is simple biology. It is the way the brains are hard-wired."

But we don't know that. We know so little about the brain it's laughable to make any conclusions about exactly how hard-wired *anything* is. The concept of "men and women likely in general have some brain differences and maybe they account for a small percentage of what's going on now" isn't going to make many people freak out. I have no trouble believing that, because I see no more evidence for everything being nurture than I do for everything being nature. "Men and women are hard-wired to be different from the moment of birth and that's the reason women have lower/'different' statuses than men in almost every field imaginable," on the other hand, is. There's very little to support something so specific, and quite often what data we discover about brains is quickly disproven by another contradictory study.

And again, we also know that in the US, we've practiced an attempt at gender equality in many fields for 20-30 years - after practicing massive gender inequality for the past 400 years. More than half the population in the US remembers living before the feminist movement of the 70s. If in 400 more years, all else being equal, men & women still aren't roughly, well, equal, I'd be a lot more inclined to believe in the enormous gender differences that you suggest. And yes, they are enormous - remember, we've never had a female president and only a small percentage of elected officials are female, which means that if you don't believe we live in a society that holds women back in some way, you believe that 100% of all women are biologically incapable of becoming the leader of a country, and additionally that only 1/5 of women are as good as men are at holding public office in general.


-T

jw said...

I no particular order:

1) I wish more people had taken basic statistics in school! The ideas/generalizations presented are shown as percentages without any of the spread & error numbers which are crucial to understanding what the percentage means. An average without the standard deviation means next to nothing. Percentages should be presented as odds, then they mean something. Same goes for the error data.

2) Years ago a generalization about females would have high odds of being wrong. Today, a generalization about males has high odds of being wrong. Does either mean a change in the sexes? Of course not. Culture changed and with it, social prejudice. That's the thing about generalizations, they are culturally sensitive. There are going to be statistical differences between males and females. What those differences really are is also going to be hard to define as we live in our culture: Our cultural nonsense distorts the data.

3) Women being held back in politics? No. Not at all. All of the parties want more female candidates: All try to get more women to run for office. Trouble is, there are not enough women willing to stand for office. That probably means something. One thing it does not at all mean is that women are being held back. Why so few women want to stand for office would be an interesting study. We do harm to women (and men) by stating the lack of women in public office as a function of women being held back.

4) Monkey's preferences in toys show a great deal about the thinking of the people doing the study. The preferences show nothing about monkeys.

jw said...

ooops, forgot to add:

On systemizing/empathizing. What few ever bother to mention is the standard deviation of these number sets. Because the SD for men in empathy is higher than for women the group empaths is mostly male (as is the group psychopaths). I'm not as positive about systemizing, but I think the group "most systemizing people" is mostly female due to the higher SD for females there.

That is NOT how people want to think.

Without the SD you cannot understand what the numbers really mean.

Kage said...

The audience for pro football is predominantly male. Why? Because women, by and large, just don't like it. Some do, but many do not. So, it is quite valid to say men tend to like football and women tend to not like it, because it is reality. It is fact.

I wonder, really, what the reason for this divide is. I live in Aust. the national football code (AFL) attracts a even male/female split in attendees to games. Women also own about a third of all club memberships. I know the AFL has concentrated on marketing to women and 'families'.

Perhaps it's less about gender and more about what's considered acceptable female behaviour. I know there's no shame here in being a fanatical female fan.

Anonymous said...

Do some women want to work that long? Sure. But, clearly, more men than women are willing to do that. That is simple biology. It is the way the brains are hard-wired."

::yawn:: I DO wish people would learn some history before spouting off such nonesense...throughout most of human history women worked just as hard as men. Until the 18th century (in Europe) the basic economic unit was husband-and-wife. In fact, some medieval guilds only allowed Masters to hire apprentices if they were not married, since it was assumed that a married man already had a working assistant - his wife. Children were raised as they have been throughout most of history - by extended families, by elder siblings, and by the Universe at large (which helps to explain high infant mortality).

"Hardwired" my pert bottom.

- Butterfingers

AprilPNW said...

Butterfingers:

I think your example of husband/wife guild teams is very interesting in the context of this discussion. I've long held that the existence of the unemployed, stay at home mom is an historical "blip".

However, back then, was working long hours really a choice for women? Wouldn't your very survival depend on your working those long hours? Wasn't there a much stronger link between not working, and starvation or other deprivation?

Anyhow, I do want to thank everyone for putting so much into these discussions - I wish I had more concrete facts/data to offer. Discussions like this are why I keep coming back to this blog.

Finally - DAMN, just gotta say how happy I am that I decided at an early age I did not want children, thus never had to make these choices!

Darleen said...

I don't think the idea that a woman is better if she stays at home has ever gone away.

Better for her? The only time women are encouraged/discouraged from "stay at home" is due to children and that it is better for them.

Anonymous said...

::yawn:: I DO wish people would learn some history before spouting off such nonesense...throughout most of human history women worked just as hard as men. Until the 18th century (in Europe) the basic economic unit was husband-and-wife. In fact, some medieval guilds only allowed Masters to hire apprentices if they were not married, since it was assumed that a married man already had a working assistant - his wife. Children were raised as they have been throughout most of history - by extended families, by elder siblings, and by the Universe at large (which helps to explain high infant mortality).

"Hardwired" my pert bottom.


And nobody is saying women don't work. Women are, usually, not willing to put in 80 hours in an office to advance their career. Women, by and large, don't want to do that.

Some do, but many more do not.

Why? Until a better explanation becomes available --- and it won't, since even discussing this topic is verboten as Summers learned --- biology is the only plausible explanation.

Do not argue against points nobody is making.
-=Mike

Revenant said...

20 years hardly compares to the last 400 years in America

You're correct, but not in the way you think. It is, indeed, absurd to compare the two, but only because the last 400 years are of trivial importance compared to the last 20.

What matters is the attitude of the society you grew up in. Every native-born American woman of child-bearing age grew up in a country that respected the right of women to pursue a career instead of a family if they so choose. That previous generations lacked that choice is of little importance.

Massive societal change doesn't come about over 20 years.

You wouldn't say that if you'd lived in the South. The 1980s were radically different from the 1960s.

That's somewhat moot, of course, since the shift from "stay at home mom" to "working woman" took place over the last 60 years, not the last 20. The last 20 years was just the period in which that shift was accepted throughout our culture.

Revenant said...

throughout most of human history women worked just as hard as men. Until the 18th century (in Europe) the basic economic unit was husband-and-wife.

Try to keep in mind that human history stretches back 200,000 years, with many hundreds of thousands of years of earlier tool-using species preceding it. Agriculture wasn't invented until around 12,000 years ago. So our evolution consisted of tens of thousands of generations of hunter-gatherer prehumans, followed by 9000 or so generations of human hunter-gatherers, capped off by 600 years of agriculture, relative stability, and economic complexity. So looking at how humans behaved in the society of the last few thousand years doesn't necessarily tell us much, because most of our evolution took place under radically different circumstances. We might not have evolved to take account of it yet -- indeed, research suggests that our inborn instincts are still aimed at pre-economic decision making. So it wouldn't be surprising if our genes were still optimized for the "men hunt, women have babies" lifestyle that most of the last couple of ten thousand generations of our ancestry took part in.

You're also missing the *kind* of economic activity that women participated in during the last few thousand years -- namely, economic activity based out of the home, such as farming and craftwork. Women have never, until relatively recently, played a major part in professions that involved extensive work outside of the home. They participated in economic activities that could coexist with their role as primary caregivers and homemakers. Plus, of course, most women spent much of their adult lives pregnant; staying near home was a practical necessity

Children were raised as they have been throughout most of history - by extended families, by elder siblings, and by the Universe at large (which helps to explain high infant mortality).

Close, but not quite. Children were primarily raised by the women of the extended families and by elder sisters. Children were not, and are not, commonly raised by men in human society.

Anonymous said...

"Women being held back in politics? No. Not at all. All of the parties want more female candidates: All try to get more women to run for office. Trouble is, there are not enough women willing to stand for office. That probably means something. One thing it does not at all mean is that women are being held back. Why so few women want to stand for office would be an interesting study. We do harm to women (and men) by stating the lack of women in public office as a function of women being held back."

Here's a survey done several months ago:

Question Wording: If the Democratic/Republican Party nominates a woman for president in 2008, are you very likely, likely, not very likely, or not likely at all to vote for her?

26% Very Likely or Likely if Democrat or Republican
25% Very Likely or Likely Only if Democrat
21% Very Likely or Likely Only if Republican
28% Not Likely Regardless if Democrat or Republican

That is 28% of people who say that they absolutely would not vote for a woman regardless of who she was and what she believed in. 28%. Almost a third of the population, but if we imagine that maybe 8% of the people who outright admit that they don't consider a woman qualified for the job just because she's a woman could be won over by an extraordinarily impressive woman, that'd be only... 1/5 of the population. Does 20% of the population being opposed to a candidate before they even know anything about the candidate, as well as 21-25% opposed based on party affect someone's chances of being elected?


"You're correct, but not in the way you think. It is, indeed, absurd to compare the two, but only because the last 400 years are of trivial importance compared to the last 20.

What matters is the attitude of the society you grew up in. Every native-born American woman of child-bearing age grew up in a country that respected the right of women to pursue a career instead of a family if they so choose. That previous generations lacked that choice is of little importance."

Technically, I grew up in a society, in a very liberal state, where I knew that many, perhaps even most people in theory respected the right of women to choose many careers, the right to choose abortion, and the right to practice birth control.

I also grew up in a society where women who took jobs in certain careers were considered inferior on the basis of their sex alone and where certain careers were considered inferior because they were primarily practiced by women, where I was surrounded by women who had not had the right to choose abortion or birth control or careers and I saw the effects of that on their lives, by religions that insisted that women were meant to be housewives alone no matter what "liberals" said, a society where abortion was a taboo subject unless the procedure was done on a 15-year-old-virgin-raped-by-a-relative and horrifying even then, where a woman who perfroemd the simple act of not spending hours removing body hair and burning all fat from her body was enough to make most people consider her physically repulsive - and have no qualms about bringing that to her attention.


"You wouldn't say that if you'd lived in the South. The 1980s were radically different from the 1960s."

I am certain they were different - but was all prejudice gone, or even most of it? Black men still on average had (and still do) significantly lower salaries than white men (oddly enough, nobody tries to explain those away by claiming that black men are biologically inferior).

Likewise, I am certain that the 50s were quite different for women than the 70s were than the 90s were, but I don't believe that things have changed enough that we can start saying "Okay, any choices women and men make now are purely based on biology since we've eliminated all or most social sexism." We haven't come that far socially, and we don't know enough about brains to use them as a convenient excuse.

-T

Revenant said...

That is 28% of people who say that they absolutely would not vote for a woman regardless of who she was and what she believed in.

Whoa, time out. Go read your own poll. The results said 28% were not LIKELY to vote for a woman. Surely you realize that "not likely to vote for" does not mean the same thing as "absolutely will not vote for"?

Also keep in mind that people seldom treat such political polls as entirely hypothetical. A person who can't think of a real-life female politician they would want to see become President might mistakenly answer "not likely" even if they in no way prefer one gender to the other. If, for example, you ask a person "would you vote for a woman if the Democrats nominated one in 2008", a lot of people are going to assume you mean Hillary Clinton. If you ask the same question about Republicans, they'll assume you mean Condi Rice or someone similar.

I also grew up in a society where women who took jobs in certain careers were considered inferior on the basis of their sex alone and where certain careers were considered inferior because they were primarily practiced by women

You're over forty, in other words. Women choosing between career and children are in their 20s and early 30s -- they don't remember a time when society thought the way you describe, because that was before most of them were born and before the rest of them hit puberty.

"You wouldn't say that if you'd lived in the South. The 1980s were radically different from the 1960s."

I am certain they were different - but was all prejudice gone, or even most of it?

Yes, almost all of it was gone. I'm not sure you understand just how pathologically racist Southern culture WAS in the 1960s.

Black men still on average had (and still do) significantly lower salaries than white men

Black men do not have much lower salaries than white men with equivalent intelligence, education and experience. Also note that the oldest black members of the workforce entered it in the 1960s and therefore had to deal with racism during the earlier, most-important years of their career. A black man who was denied a management-track position in the 1960s obviously isn't going to magically transform into a potential CEO in 1980, even if the company he works for no longer racially discriminates in any manner -- he missed out on the relevant experience. People entering the workforce in the 80s, on the other hand, didn't face that problem.

(oddly enough, nobody tries to explain those away by claiming that black men are biologically inferior).

It isn't politically safe for any scientist to suggest that there might be differences in, say, average inherent intelligence, that correlate with any sort of identifiable group genetic background. That's why you don't hear it. It is, however, an open question, scientifically speaking. Probably we'll learn the answer inadvertantly as we master the human genome in the coming years.

We haven't come that far socially, and we don't know enough about brains to use them as a convenient excuse.

But, strangely, in spite of the fact that our scientific understanding of sociology is as near-nonexistant as our understanding of the brain is, it is perfectly fine to offer up the convenient excuse of "it is due to sexism or racism"? I'm not sure I follow your reasoning.

Sure, maybe women are generally predisposed towards being homemakers because of cultural conditioning and sexual discrimination and nothing else. And maybe, one day, somebody will actually demonstrate that that is true. But as of today, they haven't. So claiming that as the default "truth" and sneeringly dismissing alternative explanations as "convenient excuses" is unscientific and irrational.

Anonymous said...

(no time to answer all, in a rush)

"Whoa, time out. Go read your own poll. The results said 28% were not LIKELY to vote for a woman. Surely you realize that "not likely to vote for" does not mean the same thing as "absolutely will not vote for"?

Also keep in mind that people seldom treat such political polls as entirely hypothetical. A person who can't think of a real-life female politician they would want to see become President might mistakenly answer "not likely" even if they in no way prefer one gender to the other. If, for example, you ask a person "would you vote for a woman if the Democrats nominated one in 2008", a lot of people are going to assume you mean Hillary Clinton. If you ask the same question about Republicans, they'll assume you mean Condi Rice or someone similar."


I realize they aren't the exact same things, which was why I allowed for a margin of error if people happened to come across the perfect female candidate. But do you really think the fact that 28% of people cannot even IMAGINE a woman they'd vote for means there's no bias against women? They may be making assumptions, they may change their mind somewhat - but I can't imagine that more than .1% of the population would say that they'd "maybe" vote for a man, knowing nothing else about him.



"You're over forty, in other words. Women choosing between career and children are in their 20s and early 30s -- they don't remember a time when society thought the way you describe, because that was before most of them were born and before the rest of them hit puberty."

Under 25, actually, and I and most of my friends - many of them not feminists in the least, and several of whom desire to be homemakers - received the same impressions that I did. I'm puzzled by your assurance that women don't remember a time like that, because, well, we do.



"It isn't politically safe for any scientist to suggest that there might be differences in, say, average inherent intelligence, that correlate with any sort of identifiable group genetic background. That's why you don't hear it. It is, however, an open question, scientifically speaking. Probably we'll learn the answer inadvertantly as we master the human genome in the coming years."

PC or not, it's immensely more allowable in the US to suggest that women are genetically intelligently inferior when they don't perform as "well" as men do on certain tests or tasks than it is to suggest that Hispanics & African-Americans are less intelligent - even when they all receive roughly the same scores. I have *never* seen as much support for the authors of the Bell Curve as I have seen for Larry Summers - and the former actually claimed some sort of "data" to back their claims up.


"But, strangely, in spite of the fact that our scientific understanding of sociology is as near-nonexistant as our understanding of the brain is, it is perfectly fine to offer up the convenient excuse of "it is due to sexism or racism"? I'm not sure I follow your reasoning."

Sociology is a human-developed system based on observation and many other factors, genetics and neurology are supposed to be based purely on biology. They're not comparable except in the way they're revealed to the public and the way the public responds. In the case of gender, they may be complementary and there's certainly some overlap, but they're very very very different fields.


"Sure, maybe women are generally predisposed towards being homemakers because of cultural conditioning and sexual discrimination and nothing else. And maybe, one day, somebody will actually demonstrate that that is true. But as of today, they haven't. So claiming that as the default "truth" and sneeringly dismissing alternative explanations as "convenient excuses" is unscientific and irrational."

In the exact same way, nobody has demonstrated that women are predisposed towards being homemakers because of genetics and nothing else. I never have and never will sneer at claims that perhaps women are to some degree more biologically oriented towards staying at home and raising children, but to pretend that culture has no effect on anyone is just as "unscientific and irrational" as claiming that culture accounts for 100% of all human behavior. The latter, which, by the way, nobody has done here.

Revenant said...

I realize they aren't the exact same things, which was why I allowed for a margin of error if people happened to come across the perfect female candidate. But do you really think the fact that 28% of people cannot even IMAGINE a woman they'd vote for means there's no bias against women?

The question wasn't "is there any woman in America you'd vote for for President". The poll asked what the pollee would do if the Democrats or Republicans nominated a woman in 2008. That means "Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice", not "the brilliant female politician of your choice".

Other problems with the poll:

(1): Over 20% of those polled weren't registered voters. In other words, 20% of those polled would have answered "not likely" to the question "are you likely to vote for a male candidate in 2008", too, because 20% of those polled are not likely to vote at all!

(2): The poll also did nothing to filter out people who disdain Democrats and Republicas and vote for third-party candidates instead. A few percent of Americans fall into that category, and thus would answer "not likely" to the poll simply because it specified that the candidate would be a Democrat or Republican.

In the end, all this poll "proved" is that badly-worded polls yield ambiguous results.

I can't imagine that more than .1% of the population would say that they'd "maybe" vote for a man, knowing nothing else about him.

The truth is not determined by your imagination. The proper way of getting at the truth would be to look at the relative performance of male vs. female politicians. Do male Democrats routinely win by much larger margins than female ones, for example?

It is true, though, that humans do have biases that could work against female politicians. One significant one is that people (like most primates) favor larger, stronger leaders over shorter, weaker (or less-physically-fit) ones. That's why Presidential debate podiums are rigged to make the candidates appear to be of equal height; no campaign manager wants his candidate looking short on camera. So all things being equal, men might have an edge over women just because we are on average taller and stronger. But there are countless factors at work, so who knows if that advantage is significant, or is cancelled out by some corresponding advantage possessed by women, or what.

I'm puzzled by your assurance that women don't remember a time like that, because, well, we do.

"Remember" and "imagine" are not synonyms. Modern America bears no resemblance to the description you gave, and hasn't for decades. You may think it does, but, seriously -- get a grip.

PC or not, it's immensely more allowable in the US to suggest that women are genetically intelligently inferior when they don't perform as "well" as men do on certain tests or tasks than it is to suggest that Hispanics & African-Americans are less intelligent

I could be fired and sued for saying either of the above in my place of business. Any academic who said either of the above would risk denial of tenure, and any tenured academic would risk being hounded from his job. So pretending that one is acceptable and the other isn't is intellectually dishonest on your part.

Besides, "inherent mental differences in men and women" doesn't imply "one is better than the other". It is well-documented, for example, that the bell curve for male intelligence is flatter than the female one -- in other words, men are overrepresented among both idiots and geniuses, and underrepresented among people of average intelligence. So any field that tries to recruit the smartest candidates possible is likely to end up with more men than women, just as areas that "recruit" the dumbest people -- crime, dropping out of school, etc -- end up with more men than women as well.

Sociology is a human-developed system based on observation and many other factors, genetics and neurology are supposed to be based purely on biology. They're not comparable except in the way they're revealed to the public and the way the public responds. In the case of gender, they may be complementary and there's certainly some overlap, but they're very very very different fields.

Inasmuch as neurology, genetics, and biology are sciences, while sociology is little more than a collection of untested and untestable personal opinions. But my point stands -- our understanding of both social AND genetic influences on human behavior is still in its infancy.

In the exact same way, nobody has demonstrated that women are predisposed towards being homemakers because of genetics and nothing else.

Nobody's claiming that, though. My point is that our best evidence indicates that biology is at least partly to blame. Might there be culture factors? Sure, there might be. But you're claiming that it is an obvious truth that there are significant culture influences encouraging women to stay home and have kids, and you're wrong to do so. Indeed, given that the current birthrate for native-born Americans is less than the replacement rate, it is pretty obvious that there IS a cultural influence at work here, and its net effect is to reduce emphasis on having and raising children below the biological default level. If biology is telling women to stay home and have babies, and culture is telling women to stay home and have babies, what's up with the lack of babies?

Anonymous said...

Okay. You've told me to "get a grip" and claimed that things I've experienced exist only in my head when I've been consistently polite and insulted nobody. Since neither of us has supplied much evidence aside from personal experiences and observations so far, there's no need to be nasty and claim that your subjective experience is true and that mine... simply doesn't exist.

If we wanted to move up a bit, I could toss potentially faulty studies and surveys supporting my position at you and you could toss potentially faulty studies and surveys supporting yours right back all day. However, I was looking for reasoned discussion, not insults, and one the former can't exist when the latter is popping up. Sorry for wasting your time.


-T

AprilPNW said...

"Under 25, actually, and I and most of my friends - many of them not feminists in the least, and several of whom desire to be homemakers - received the same impressions that I did. I'm puzzled by your assurance that women don't remember a time like that, because, well, we do."

Hmmm...I'm 44, and well remember that when I was young the want ads in the newspapers were divided into Want Ads: Women & Want Ads: Men. This was in the 70's, when I was about 13-14. I got the message then that I could not even APPLY for a job if it wasn't listed under "Women".

When you were 13-14, it was the late 80's early 90's. Want ads such as I described were deemed illegal by that time, which I would say is a pretty concrete sign of progress. Therefore, I'd be really interested in what kinds of things you were referring to, when you say you and your friends "remember a time like that". I'm having difficulty coming up with any late 80's early 90's examples that compare for sheer, blantant sexism.

Revenant said...

Okay. You've told me to "get a grip" and claimed that things I've experienced exist only in my head when I've been consistently polite and insulted nobody.

I apologize for saying "get a grip", but the truth is that your description of America was not an honest one. You can't plead subjectivity; you made objective claims, and false ones at that.

Abortion is not a taboo subject and hasn't been since before you were born (hello, it gets talked to death on prime-time TV constantly!). Women with some body fat aren't considered "repulsive" -- morbidly obsese women (and men) are, and even then it is considered extremely impolite to say so. No significant religious organization in America teaches that women should be housewives and nothing else, so there's no way you were "surrounded" by such people in a liberal society in a liberal state. Nobody under the age of around 30 the year you were born had finished puberty yet when birth control was made universally legal. Finally, no career is considered inferior because it is associated with women, although some careers are considered inferior for independent reasons and became associated with women because women were for years forced to take inferior careers (e.g., office assistants, wait staff, and prostitutes).

colagirl said...

My best friend (my age, late twenties) was raised in a fairly traditional home and after she finished undergrad, had her grandfather tell her flat out, in so many words, "Well, now that you're done wasting your time with that education crap, it's time for you to get married." While the rest of her family is not that bad, there's still a strong feeling there that it's only acceptable for women to be teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and even then, their primary job is supposed to be wife and mother. She's very close to her family and they have put immense psychological pressure on her, both overt and subtle, to find a man, get married, and start having kids (her parents even asked her a couple years ago if she was a lesbian--she's not--because they couldn't think of any other explanation for why my friend was not trying to marry the first man she could find and start a family.) And although my friend has demonstrated a strong commitment to her education and career, the pressure from her family really gets to her sometimes, especially because her sister (who works at a business she and her husband own and operate jointly) has three children and is sort of held up as a model for her to emulate.

I'm certainly not trying to argue that my friend's family represents mainstream opinion any more--I myself was quite surprised by her grandfather's attitude; having come from a fairly progressive home, I had never experienced anything like that. But based on watching my friend and her family, I think that such attitudes have not entirely disappeared from society and may perhaps be more prevalent than one would think at first. I suspect that on the margin, there are a certain number of women who choose to focus on starting a family over pursuing a career at least in part due to this sort of pressure. Of course it's impossible to say how large this effect is.

jw said...

revenant said "Children were primarily raised by the women of the extended families and by elder sisters. Children were not, and are not, commonly raised by men in human society."

Uhm, NO. Children are quite commonly raised by men. The standard throught recorded history has been that 1 in 10 primary caregivers is a male. Now, we're running at about 20% and growing. That is very common.

Also, in non-industrial cultures it is extremely common for the mother & father to split childcare evenly. We've got a lot of Amish in my town and that is how they split child care: It was how most of your farm based ancestors split child care.

It is a great pitty that so very few people ever bother to look at what is really happening.

I'm helping to transcribe the 1911 Census of Canada. Finding a single dad is easy! There are a lot of them. Then like now, society was in a high part of the maternal abandonment cycle. Many women were running away creating the most common form of lone father.

Revenant said...

Uhm, NO. Children are quite commonly raised by men. The standard throught recorded history has been that 1 in 10 primary caregivers is a male.

I think we're just using different definitions of "commonly", because I basically agree with the historicity of that ratio and I think it is quite clearly deserving of the phrase "men were not commonly the primary caregivers". As you note, the current ratio is 20% -- twice the typical average -- and most people still wouldn't agree with the statement "men commonly do the primary child-raising". We wouldn't say "female Senators are common", even though 14% of the Senate is female. Female Senators are rare! That's why people complain that women are scarce in politics.

In any case, whether you think that frequency is "common" or "uncommon" it is most definitely lopsided enough to factor into human evolution. Hundreds or thousands of generations of women doing something nine times more frequently than men do will almost certainly result in women being, on average, far more inherently interested in doing that thing than men are.

Also, in non-industrial cultures it is extremely common for the mother & father to split childcare evenly. We've got a lot of Amish in my town and that is how they split child care

What's "extremely common" -- eleven percent? :)

Seriously, though, I don't think the Amish can be held as a typical example of human society, non-industrial or otherwise. Also, as I noted earlier, you can't just look at agricultural society versus modern industrial society; you have to look at the pre-agricultural society that virtually all of our genetic ancestry took part in.

mythago said...

Perhaps it's less about gender and more about what's considered acceptable female behaviour.

Bingo. Everyone remembers the "chocolate study", right?

but your argument falls flat on its face when one looks at the actual evidence

None of which you bother to present. By the way, it's rather odd that you present this 'choice' in a vacuum--as though women just take it into their pretty little heads to drop out of their careers for no apparent reason. Do you think that, perhaps, there might be pressures to make that choice that are not the same pressures placed on men?

I have read the full text of the speech, thanks. I have also read full text of remarks made by his critics, and the fact that you believe they fulfil 'every negative stereotype' about women says volumes about your bias as well as your grasp of sexism. (The critics...fainted at the sight of blood? Screamed when a mouse ran into the room? Were driven to witchcraft by their carnal urges? There are a lot of stereotypes out there, y'know.

al fin said...

Women make up almost 60% of college graduates, 70% of graduate level psychologists, and virtually 50% of new physicians and attorneys. In every other traditionally male dominated area, women are surging to the front, often dominating.

Not at the higher levels of the more mathematical sciences. There is a way to get them there. Expose female fetuses to higher levels of male hormones in the second trimester of gestation. You will produce more women mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and mechanics. Also more lesbians.

Sex differences matter. But they can be manipulated with the judicious use of hormones at the right times.

Men presently make up the very top of mathematics, physics, and the more mathematical divisions of chemistry, engineering, and computer science. That is not debatable among scientists familiar with very real sex differences.

M. Simon said...

I have been object oriented ever sice I got into FORTH.

Way before the C guys even thought about it. FORTH objects are way more elegant too.

Em said...

"You can wish to argue that many women do not choose to not pursue the highest level of works because they deem family to be more important..."

Gorgeous writing, buddy. My quantum mechanics homework begins to look easy compared to the challenge of parsing that sentence... :-)

Anonymous said...

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Oh ya, they can also start by not making me feel like I'm a naive shoe-shopping, chick flick watching flower too...

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