Math, Stereotypes and the Gender Wars Mess

Why Pretty Girls Can’t Do Math is an article that appeared on the Psychology Today website about a study that seems to indicate that when women think about romance they can’t think subsequently think about math.

The subjects were shown some imagery and conversation that had either to do with romance or intelligence and were further asked to keep journals or do tasks. Only the women who received the stimulus related to romance temporarily lost some interest in math and related subjects.

I saw this study noted in a couple of places and finally at one of those places left a comment about it , which I want to amplify a bit.

I’m sure there are some things that some men could be exposed to that would cause them to lose their interest in math as well. Ask a male football or hockey fan to divide the length of the field or rink by the width and express it as a decimal fraction while the Superbowl or Stanley Cup finals are on. Or to discuss the angle of incidence as it pertains to the angle of reflection on the mirrored ceiling of their favorite porno movie. (bonus points if you can also account for the refractive properties of an 8 mm. thickness of the mirror glass)  Here is some study help if you need it. No its not a porn site but a physics site.

Try this during or after pretty much any other enculturated dopamine inducing activity. We are taught from a young age not only “gender-appropriate” activities which include heavy emotional content (dolls, war toys), but also we receive positive reinforcement, which is a dopamine (among other neurochemicals) boost, for engaging in those activities.

Girls play princess and hear “You are so pretty.”  or “When is your prince coming?” Boys often receive praise, particularly if they go on to become university students, for good grades particularly in traditionally male dominated fields like math or the sciences.

There is no reason then for men to respond to the romantic stimuli in the same way as women. they have not been conditioned to that as children. The women who received the stimuli related to intellectual topics fared the same as men.

So basically the study proves that women are conditioned to respond to attention to their attractiveness and partnering ability. Pretty old news.

That some would try to make this study into a verification of biological determinism, meaning “Pretty girls can’t do math” as the title suggests is really bogus.

The same old problems exist with this study as with most psychological studies;limited sample size, lack of diversity in sample size, and so on. These romantic images would not generally translate cross-culturally. So any conclusions have to be limited to a subset of a subset. The study is highly gender and culture and class bound. There is a correlation but that is not definitively or necessarily even demonstrably causative.

In general if someone is distracted they are not going to focus on another activity that is of lower priority and especially if they have not been conditioned to it. So the researchers should have first done some investigation into what the participants considered their personal priorities or preferences and set up the experiment using that.

Beyond this the same author who wrote this article mentioning this study wrote another one only a couple of months back about the Japanese women’s soccer team beating the American women’s soccer team at the World Cup. Now I didn’t care for the first article I cite here but it is not based on the author’s own field of specialization.

In How Japan Captured the World Cup Title the author does rely on her own area of expertise to put forward a theory as to the reason why the Japanese women, despite just having been through a devastating earthquake and nuclear reactor melt down went on to win.

It had to do with simultaneous multiple identities. The women were less stressed because they were not only focused on winning a match. It would not be the end of the world if they didn’t win. The other team were there for one purpose only hence their expectations were heightened and the pressure for that particular match was extreme.

She writes:

The mere act of realizing you aren’t just defined by one dimension – your SAT score or your ability to make a penalty shot – can be enough to help curtail those worries and negative thoughts that sometimes interfere with your ability to perform at your best. In essence, thinking about yourself from multiple perspectives can help relieve some pressure that you feel to excel in one area of your life.

Suppose we apply that to areas of traditional gender roles and the gender conditioning children go through.

I have a friend with a young son. Her husband has insisted on training the boy in hockey since he was old enough to walk. He was determined that the kid would be the next Wayne Gretzky. The kid doesn’t really like hockey. The mother enrolled the boy at age 4 into Hip Hop dance class. He loves it and he’s really good at it. He, now at age 6, wants to learn music and singing so he can be a performer. They are fortunate enough that they can afford all of this although I suspect that in the next year or two hockey is going to fade away.

The child could have been kept within a narrow conditioned path and maybe he would have become some kind of athlete. Or maybe he would have become rebellious. No one can say for sure but with a broader range of options the likelihood of him finding something that really gives him a good quality of life, a great deal of pleasure and not just a big paycheck, later in life is substantially increased.

The point is social conditioning has an effect that we can only overcome if we are conscious of it. If we have to spend a good deal of our time thinking about or enacting a particular gender performance (masculine/feminine) and that becomes our priority especially if we feel some element of insecurity in that area, then it will become magnified in terms of priorities. That puts other elements…oh like rational thought, coherent analysis and linguistic ability somewhere out of the ballpark. This is pretty evident if you follow the so-called “Gender Wars” debates. The extremists at both ends can’t manage to see much beyond the genitals of the various situations and take facts into account.

Nathan had a good post today on his 21st Century Relationships blog called “Men Want to Feel Manly” which was a quote from a comment someone had left. The quote he took issue with was:

I think what it boils down to is men wanting to feel manly but still appreciated. I would always offer, but any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested. When guys like you, they want to impress you. They do that by proving they can provide for you. It’s an instinctual thing.

He made some very good points about the kinds of assumptions that are wrapped up in this comment. It denies people’s true natures and it turns dating into a capitalist activity. Read the whole thing.

I agreed but went a bit further in the comments:

You didn’t rant so I will.

That biological determinism trope has got to end. We are not our biology, men or women. It all fits so very neatly into the complimentarian scheme of things which basically states "For every manly man there is a womanly woman."

Cut and dried little boxes.

Even though my relationships have primarily been with men, including a long marriage, I’ve begun over the years to adopt the label of gender-queer in terms of the way I think, behave and live. I can’t "think like a woman" whatever that is supposed to mean, nor can I "think like a man" or behave stereotypically as either comfortably. That has always been the case. I can only think and behave as myself, which is not consulting my physiology every time a thought comes in my head to see if it is appropriate for my particular physical configuration. What a load of bollocks.

It annoys me to no end that social structures [and roles] are built based on genitals and what they are "supposed" to symbolize.

I have as many reservations about that comment you quoted as you do. It infantilizes women by suggesting we cannot care for ourselves adequately, turns sex into a commodity to be bargained for by the highest bidder and turns men into johns who are only shopping for a glorified prostitute and whose only worth is measured by their wallet.

Some day maybe more people will see through all this than don’t. I look forward to that tipping point.

I’ve been reading a lot of nonsense over the past week or so about appropriate roles or activities for women and men and the alleged “fact” of male dominance.

I don’t know any men who have such things as their priority nor do I know any women who strive to be “taken care of” as if they were children. I guess I’m just lucky because there seems to be a significant number of people who think and behave as if that were some evolutionary fact.

No doubt evolutionary psychology, which is something I’d call a new form of eugenics, with equally shaky theoretical foundations, has something to do with this as well as the advertising world which continually bombards us with “gender appropriate” propaganda because it’s easier to make a profit if they can convince everyone to buy into the same grand sociological narrative.

And that’s all it is–this sorry story of gender, dominance and the pitiful rationalizations that psychology, religion, society and culture put forward to excuse all manner of atrocity, degradation, abuse, unfairness and injustice.

Unfortunately, until most people realize that these kinds of battles have the stink of brain wash all over them they will keep recurring.

Perfect Women in Chilly Climates

There was an article today titled Is It Cold in Here? By Jennifer Ouellette on the Scientific American website. She wrote about working at CERN and the chilly social climate she encountered there as a woman in a man’s world. She then discusses a situation that has exploded all over the atheist/skeptic blogosphere regarding a man’s proposition to a woman at 4 AM.

I began to write a post about this situation a few weeks ago when all the hoopla started but got caught up in other things.

But with today’s article, the mention of it on P.Z.Myers blog Pharyngula and the same dim-witted responses pouring in as last time, I’m going to say my piece on this topic after all.

The Original Post I Started

There’s been a big uproar among the atheists regarding a fairly minor incident at one of their conferences.  A bunch of the posts appear at the bottom of this one if you wish to dig deeper into specifics.

A woman speaker who had been giving talks about feminism, female objectification and getting more women to join the movement was approached and mildly propositioned. Sounds rather innocuous, and it would be if that was all that occurred.

The problem was the circumstances.

She had been talking on these subjects for several days. She keeps a blog on that and related subjects. She is well known for her opinion on these matters.

As the conference was going on a group had gathered in the venue’s bar. It was getting late and she announced that she was tired and was going to get some sleep.

She proceeded to the hotel elevator and got in. She was followed in there by a man she didn’t know but who had apparently been in the bar with her group when she was in there. Either he hadn’t introduced himself at that time, or previously, or had not participated in the conversation at all so that any introduction went unnoticed.

While in the elevator he proceeded to ask her to come to his room for coffee because he found her viewpoint interesting and wanted to continue the conversation.

What’s wrong with that scenario?

If you don’t know here’s a list.

  1. It’s 4AM and you suggest coffee?
  2. She said she was tired and was going to bed indicating that the conversation portion of the night was over. That he wanted to continue it indicates either some kind of hearing problem or completely ignoring her explicitly stated wishes.
  3. She was in a foreign country, in a strange hotel, in an elevator alone. She was in unfamiliar surroundings. She had no backup and everyone she had been with assumed she would go to her room so no one was going to come looking for her until the next day at the earliest.
  4. She had just spent several days outlining how offensive it was to be objectified. Is coffee in a hotel room in the middle of the night a euphemism?
  5. She did not know this man who followed her. Even if he had been an acquaintance it would have been fairly insensitive and pushy. Can you say date rape?
  6. He did not suggest some alternative time or place such as breakfast or during the next day’s break or even something vague like tomorrow. It had to be now and it had to be there. On his terms. That’s rather presumptuous and yes, privileged.
  7. They had been in a bar and depending upon the number of drinks imbibed she might not have been able to fully consent to anything, coffee or otherwise. And since he was also in the bar he was aware of this. This is really taking advantage of a situation.

Any one of these might be sluffed off but combined they place the woman in a situation of extreme vulnerability. Some men don’t understand what it is like to feel that. Some men think it is OK to behave this way because they themselves are not predators and rapists. Good. I’m glad they’re not. Unfortunately other men are. Unless those who are wear a sign around their necks stating that fact it’s not possible to tell the difference.

Here’s a list of some of the high points found in the comments on those posts. I’ll just grab a bunch out of the various comments to illustrate a few points.

  1. …he made a totally appropriate request. He wanted to get to know her. [Ignoring what she stated she wanted.]
  2. …she was out at 4AM. What does she expect? [Blame the victim. Enforce good girl/slut stereotypes. ]
  3. …she could have just ignored him. [In a confined space? It’s hard enough to ignore in a public space. Even Dawkins would have a hard time ignoring someone doing something obnoxious in an elevator.]
  4. …it was just awkward or maybe rude but certainly not sexist. [His personal issues should be used to excuse behavior. Let’s minimalize.]
  5. …he was just shy so had to wait until he could get her alone. [His problem becomes her problem to which she must accommodate.]
  6. …she over reacted by getting upset or even bothered.[Her feelings/reaction is irrelevant. Dismissive]
  7. …because she writes about women’s issues she hates men. [basic non sequitur]
  8. …because she’s a feminist nothing a man could do would please her.[Overgeneralization, ad hominem, non sequitur…]
  9. …she only complained to get attention. [The issue requires attention but is dismissed. Ad hominem speculation on her motivation/character traits]
  10. …she abuses the feminist label to get out of arguments [Misdirection. Ad hominem. Everything she says can then be dismissed because it’s said under the banner of “feminism” which she is allegedly misusing. ]
  11. …if she didn’t write these kinds of things we wouldn’t have to get angry. [Blame shifting. See Skepchick’s post called Why I Deserved to be Called an Offensive Bitch for more on this type of situation.]

Not hard to note all the fallacies, logical and otherwise, distorted thinking and cognitive dissonance that are woven into those.  [I’ve put in brackets some of those to make it quite easy to note. There’s more that could be listed.] They’re all forms of derailing.

Here’s a whole bunch of posts on the elevator incident starting with her original statement, which was brief and only requested that men not do that kind of thing.

Rebecca Watson has a new video contains the video in question. Her point about the incident takes place at 4:31 in the video and lasts for approximately 72 seconds. She is not rude, belittling or abusive, just straightforward. “Don’t do that.” and then she gives some very sound reasons why not.

The comments came fast and furious, many from men who seemed to feel abused because someone asked them to mind their behavior a little bit.

Always name names! from Pharyngula blog P.Z.Myers takes Rebecca’s point to heart.

Richard Dawkins jumps into the comments there and makes a big fool out of himself, several times over. Rebecca responds with another post.

The Privilege Delusion which is a take off on Dawkins book title The God Delusion. The original poster responds to Dawkins dismissals.

Many more posts followed including

Dear Richard Dawkins… which includes a number of letters to the clueless skeptic regarding his foggy comments

And Gawker picked up the story online as well

Richard Dawkins Torn Limb From Limb—By Atheists

As did The New Statesman Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins and The Atlantic Wire Richard Dawkins Gets into a Comments War with Feminists.

Each of these has dozens of links to other posts with opinions. The vast majority support not only Rebecca’s viewpoint but her right to hold a viewpoint of her own. Many of the commenters support neither and make outlandish accusations about the original post contents and motivations of Rebecca. Many of the latter complainants are also anonymous.

Here’s an interesting aside.

Female-Name Chat Users Get 25 Times More Malicious Messages

Back to the Present Post

…that’s where I ended. But there seems to be more to come. The chilly climate article is an example. It needs to continue to be brought up until there’s no more need for it to continue to be brought up. That’s pretty simple.

When I read those types of abusive comments the female posters received I often wonder what is expected of women by those who cannot hear their voices or acknowledge their arguments. I note the men who agreed with the women were rarely or ever attacked in the same way, or at all – that’s telling. The stamina that is required to address these kinds of comments leaves one unbelievably tired. And it’s often wasted energy.

Trying to answer these types of complaints often only works the complainant up into a further froth. Interestingly when left without response the froth seems to increase anyways, as do the comments, until the real agenda shows up.

It strikes me that the only response that would satisfy these misogynist trolls is silence. The perfect woman would be a silent one. It seems that the entire purpose of that kind of commentary is to stifle an opinion that is disagreeable and uncomfortable. Often by any means possible. The ad hominem is especially popular for that purpose. That is bringing up completely unrelated personal, and often fictitious, statements in an abusive manner in order to try to make someone retract their opinion, agree with the misogynist, appear to be contradicted, refrain from future opinions or just be silent.

But as we all know silence is often equated with consent.

Non-consent needs to be loud and clear.

And frequent.