Not the sexist pig


Sam Harris has posted his response to objections to his claims about women in atheism.

He doesn’t start well. The title is not propitious.

I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For

Not good. Why assume we’re “looking for” sexism? Why dismiss our objections from the outset by assuming that we wanted to find them, for some evil purpose? And then the pig part is outdated, and dismissive. He’ll be complaining about political correctness next.

Also? He illustrated it.

Sigh.

But onward. What did he say? He recaps what he said and then comments.

“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

Oh look, he actually does talk about political correctness! I thought I was kidding.

He says the reporter pretty much set him up, which may be true. Allowances for that.

Let me be clear about what I was trying to say (and actually do believe):
1. I started by claiming that my readership seems more male than female. And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.

Oh. Right. Exactly what Michael Shermer said, then – he’s not saying the kind of atheists who just passively sit in chairs and listen are mostly men, no no, he’s saying the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men. So that’s way less insulting and patronizing.

2. Although I share the common perception that there is a gender imbalance among active atheists, I don’t actually know whether this is the case. I used to joke that my average “groupie” was a 75-year-old man. Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. I wouldn’t be surprised if the split were 70/30. I would be very surprised if it were 50/50. Again, I am talking about active atheists. I have no idea whether there are more male unbelievers than female.

You know, I can think of an explanation for that that’s nothing to do with Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.

Then he goes on to repeat what he said, at more length, as if we hadn’t understood. Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.

And then he quotes an exchange he had with a woman after the interview.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.
Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.
She: No. You’re just totally unaware of how sexist you are.

Me: Listen, I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.

Etc etc etc.

I remain unconvinced that he’s not at all sexist.

Update

Oh zing.

grot

Retweeted by D.J. Grothe
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 30m
.@OpheliaBenson The problem, Ophelia, is that you seem not to know the difference between being critical and being unfair.

Comments

  1. says

    I write for readers who start from a certain level of informedness. I don’t think it’s a very demanding level; at any rate it’s the one I prefer to start from. I don’t want to explain everything from scratch in every post.

  2. yazikus says

    Why on earth would he include that exchange at the end? It makes him appear even worse, in my opinion. There he condescends to a fan who is calmly and patiently trying to explain why what he said was hurtful, and he tries to shoo her along so that he can get to his other 200 (presumably of which 80% are male) fans. Not well done.

  3. carlie says

    Hint to Sam Harris: When most of what you say could easily and believably have been lines said by Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5, you’re not doing it right.

  4. says

    It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness

    As, yes, it’s “ridiculous” and “paranoid” – not reasonable criticism at all. And it’s not motivated by any real concern, its motives are trivially dismissed as “political correctness”

    She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

    Aaaaaah, Sam Sam Sam Sam…. Have you ever heard the saying “‘Anecdote’ is not the plural of ‘Data'”? But otherwise, I have to applaud the construction of his straw-feminist. The arms are pretty realistic, and it’s clearly female-shaped, though the dialogue is rather stilted – ‘she’ sounds more like a blog commenter than someone in a conversation. Actually, ‘she’ sounds a lot like Sam Harris. Funny, that.

    You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.

    Harris fails to understand that sometimes those ‘tripwires’ trigger perfectly justified annoyance or anger. You know, like if you use the ‘N-word’ around certain people, they have ‘tripwires’ in their minds? That doesn’t change whether their complaints are legitimate or not, in the slightest.

    He’s got to be right about everything, doesn’t he?

  5. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I wonder if he in any way realizes how much he sounds like this racist man I overheard in a donut shop saying, “Why can’t we just call them coloreds anymore? You can’t say anything to those people!”

  6. Oisin says

    “he’s saying the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men. So that’s way less insulting and patronizing”

    You are sarcastically implying here that this is an insulting and patronizing thing to think, am I correct? If so, why? You have not explained this.

    “I can think of an explanation for that that’s nothing to do with Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.”

    Why would anyone think that Harris is an asshole about women? This is the first time the issue has been raised outside of his articles on the treatment of women in Islam, and his pieces on gun control. I genuinely do not know where this stuff has come up before now, so I don’t see how women would have noticed him being sexist anywhere before this controversy.

    “Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.”

    Are you saying that this claim is sexist and misogynistic? Rather than there being some evidence that could reasonably back it up?

    Please don’t dismiss me just because I don’t see your point.

  7. says

    I had been hoping for something along the lines of “What I said didn’t have the nuance to correctly present my views, and I apologize for causing offense thereby. I don’t know entirely why there aren’t more women among my fans, or why there aren’t more women active in atheism generally. While I speculated that there may be something about women’s natural temperaments that leads to this, I think we need to consider the possibility that it’s largely a cultural artifact. After all, I have frequently spoken against religious systems that discourage women from engaging critically with anything, much less with religion, and I recognize that such patriarchal elements may exist in society generally. Regardless of why there appears to be a dearth of active atheist women, I think that situation is a problem, and we need to work to remedy it and be more inclusive.”

    We didn’t really get that. There are hints of it, but only barely. Which is disappointing.

  8. Oisin says

    Ophelia Benson: Ignoring the questions I asked is rude, and not providing evidence supporting your claims is doubly so in a community that is completely centred on values of evidence and reason. For shame.

  9. Johnny Vector says

    From Harris’ article:

    For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea,

    Okay, that’s reasonable. (The not knowing part I mean, not the complete whiff past the fact that the heroic sacrifices being made primarily by women falls pretty firmly in the category of sexism.) But anyway, yeah, I don’t expect you to know everything.

    but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role.

    Ow, my head! (Not to mention my desk.) Whence cometh that confidence, Mr. “I have no idea”? Which is it, confidence in your knowledge, or no idea?

    Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

    You’re supposed to be all skeptical and evidence-centered, aren’t you Mr. Harris? So, did you have any evidence for that assertion? Other than your own sloppy piddlings about the obvious effects of testosterone?

    Y’know, I would be surprised if there weren’t some innate behavioral differences between men and women. The thing is, just crediting the lack of women in X area to innate differences, unless you have extremely strong evidence, is sexist, and is not helping. So if you’ve got strong evidence, whip it out, cause I haven’t yet seen any that reaches or exceeds the level of laughably poor.

  10. Kevin Kehres says

    @7 Oisin:

    First Rule of Holes. Stop digging.

    This isn’t the first time Harris has expressed opinions that were egregiously sexist in nature. In 2010, he expressed the opinion that if given the “magic wand” opportunity, he would much rather abolish religion than rape.

    He was also criticized for using sexist language when he criticized Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice President. And what defense did he come up with when challenged…in 2012? ON HIS OWN BLOG:

    For what it’s worth, the article was vetted by the two women closest to me (wife and mother) and by two female editors at the LA Times.

    Wow. Same ploy as today. His wife and mother think he’s peachy. It’s as if he thinks we don’t have google or something.

  11. says

    Oisin:
    “You are sarcastically implying here that this is an insulting and patronizing thing to think, am I correct? If so, why?”

    First, because it’s not true. As Greta has pointed out, it’s a peculiarly American phenomenon. Secondly, because it ignores the many voices of women who are indeed doing those things; most of those voices are also talking about how women are being ignored, not coincidentally. And thirdly, because it doesn’t adequately explore WHY, if it’s true that women aren’t as active, that state of affairs is the case. “Eh, I guess women just don’t want to do it, because they’re women” isn’t sufficient as an explanation, yet that’s as far as he goes.

    “Are you saying that this claim is sexist and misogynistic? Rather than there being some evidence that could reasonably back it up?”

    Yes, it is sexist. Even if one were to defend it by saying something like “I’m not arguing it should be that way, just observing that it IS that way”, one is then failing to address the problem. We’re atheists in a religious world. We should not be content to just accept that people think what they think, and do what they do, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. If men are expected to be aggressive and critical, and women are expected to be less so, WHY? Why should we accept that? As a man, I don’t WANT people to assume I’m aggressive, and that my aggressiveness drives my atheism. I want people to assess my motivations and my reasoning without regard to my sex or gender, because my sex and gender have nothing to do with the issue.

    And if there is evidence to back up his claim, he has yet to adduce it. He has his own observations of his fan base, but to generalize from that one anecdotal observation to the attitudes of men and women in general, and then to speculate on a biochemical basis for those imagined attitudes, is not what I expect from someone who exalts reason.

  12. says

    It’s especially great how he allows that last back and forth between

    She

    and

    Me

    to stand in for all the criticism he’s received.

    It’s like Fox having Alan Colmes represent “the left”…. very handy. Not at all honest, but handy.

  13. Oisin says

    @Johnny Vector:

    That vast body of evidence exists in the form of evolutionary and neurological explanations for why men are far more aggressive than women (in general) and why men are far more prone to dominance displays and competitive aggression, check out Steven Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ in his chapter on Dominance. The leap is in claiming that these debates of atheism vs. theism can be equated in some way with acts of physical violence. Harris is claiming that men tend to like the aggressive atheists more than women do. I don’t think that making this leap shows any inherent sexism.

    @Kevin Kehres:

    “he expressed the opinion that if given the “magic wand” opportunity, he would much rather abolish religion than rape.”

    Why is this sexist?

    “He was also criticized for using sexist language when he criticized Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice President. And what defense did he come up with when challenged:”

    He came up with quotes, from himself, explaining exactly what he said at the time. The part you quote is an addendum, you ignored his actual explanation. He criticized Palin by attempting to quote her own speech (which is the part people thought was sexist), and he criticized her because she was a fundamentalist Christian.

    @Ophelia:

    Still no reasons forthcoming.

  14. carlie says

    Ophelia Benson: Ignoring the questions I asked is rude, and not providing evidence supporting your claims is doubly so in a community that is completely centred on values of evidence and reason. For shame.

    GOSH, if there were only RECORDS that were WRITTEN DOWN in a form that you could READ FOR YOURSELF, maybe helpfully categorized and tagged and all helpfully encapsulated within a single website that had a search function. WHERE CAN WE FIND SUCH A MAGIC THING???

  15. Oisin says

    Carlie: Rude and unhelpful. Why are people so angry with me here? I’m not pretending to not be emotional right now, and frustrated, but I’m trying to be polite so that I can figure out just what the hell is going on here!

  16. carlie says

    Because NO. She does NOT owe you your own personalized special snowflake explanation, right here and right now that you have demanded it. SHE IS NOT YOUR MOTHER, and she does not owe you anything. She has written hours’ worth of reading material about this very subject, and the fact that you are using the internet means that you ought to know enough about it to understand how to search a blog and find it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be using the internet at all, much less expressing surprise and dismay that it doesn’t function like your own personal tutor who simply spoon-feeds you anything you want without you doing so much as lifting a finger. Learn to be an adult, for crissakes.

  17. carlie says

    so that I can figure out just what the hell is going on here!

    YOU DO THAT BY SEARCHING FOR MORE MATERIAL AND READING IT. Do you understand that it takes time to write things down? That she has spent time doing this already? And even that isn’t good enough for you, you want her to reiterate it all? You’re like a student who skips lecture and then asks for an entire recap of the material so you don’t have to read the textbook.

  18. Oisin says

    No, Carlie, Ophelia wrote things without giving a reason to believe them, so she is acting unreasonably. There is no answer to my questions elsewhere on this site, and to claim that there is, without providing evidence, is a faith claim.

  19. Sili says

    It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

    Sam Harris, afraid of Muslims in the airport, communists under the bed and lesbians.

    A lot easier than facing reality, I guess.

  20. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    There is no answer to my questions elsewhere on this site, and to claim that there is, without providing evidence, is a faith claim.

    This right here? Weapons grade unintentional irony. You’re just certain, are you, that there is nothing anywhere on this blog that would clarify for you what’s sexist about Harris’s comments? This blog right here that you’re commenting on? The one with an archive going back 15 years, a search feature and a tags section which even increases the font size on tags with more posts? This one? carlie hasn’t provided evidence? carlie is making a faith claim? Just…wow…somebody frame that and hang it on the damn wall.

  21. Kevin Kehres says

    @16: Oh good fucking grief. If you don’t know why that’s sexist, then you really are a clueless gobshite. I’m sensing slyminess.

  22. Oisin says

    Joe, if you have faith that the answer to the questions I asked in #7 exists somewhere but you just can’t find it, that’s fine. But to tell me to respect that faith “in other people’s spaces” is in flat contradiction of everything the atheist community represents. There are no answers here, because the opinions expressed here are unreasonable, that is, there is no reason to be found to hold these opinions.

  23. says

    “It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.”

    Do you have any evidence of this beyond last Wednesday’s exchange? I gave up on being Dawkins’ charioteer the moment he signed up for Twitter, but I haven’t seen anything like this from the Sam Harris quarter. I’m honestly curious about what other sexist or misogynist remarks he has made in the past, because I’m not aware of any. Calling someone “kind of an asshole about women” is a very serious allegation that should be defended, and I don’t see any evidence beyond his glib remarks the other night that merit the sexism seal. You certainly didn’t provide any in this brief piece.

    I was actually at Lisner auditorium for this talk and I remember bracing myself when Boorstein posed the question of gender bias in “movement atheism”. I really wanted a reflective, non-flippant answer because this is something I’ve wondered about myself, and, granted, Harris’ off the cuff response was quite off-putting. I kept thinking to myself, “Please qualify that, please qualify that, please end with, ‘I really shouldn’t speculate because I have no idea’. But he didn’t, and there wasn’t.

    I do fault him for these remarks, but I don’t see anything too terribly wrongheaded about his response this morning. And though I disagree with him on several intellectual matters, from what I know about him, I don’t think the sexist label is accurate.

  24. Al says

    “I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    Oh, he’s really done it this time.

  25. Oisin says

    @Kevin Kehres:

    If you can’t explain why you believe something, and say that other people should just know why you believe it, that is a sign you are believing things on faith.

    @Joe:

    I think it’s rude of you to insult me via passive-aggressively talking about me in the third person. I’ll answer your question if you’ll answer mine first.

  26. Johnny Vector says

    Oisin:

    That vast body of evidence exists in the form of evolutionary and neurological explanations for why men are far more aggressive than women

    No it doesn’t. Evolutionary and neurological explanations, if they exist, are, y’know, explanations of data. They are not data. I’m asking for data. Published research, that finds a convincing way to control for cultural effects.

    And you give me…

    check out Steven Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’

    Okay, first of all, that is not a peer-reviewed paper; it is a book. So the best it can do is point me to research. Maybe it does that, but in general I’ve found that people who refer to books when asked for evidence generally don’t have the evidence being asked for.

    Now, I don’t have the book, so maybe it does have a lot of references about innate gender differences. However, the 11-page Wikipedia article on the book does not contain the word “gender”. Nor “sex”, nor “male”. And the only occurrence of “gender” on the first page of Amazon reviews of the book is in a comment taking him to task for ignoring gender with regard to MAOA.

    Given the usual shitstorm that erupts around any mention of gender, and the large sample of Amazon reviews included in the sample I searched, I am inclined to think you are mis-remembering what book you meant to provide as evidence.

  27. chigau (違う) says

    That vast body of evidence exists in the form of evolutionary and neurological explanations for why men are far more aggressive than women (in general) …

    [citations needed ]

    …Steven Pinker…

  28. newenlightenment says

    To be fair to Harris these comments pale in comparison to Dawkins’ recent belittling of Allison Granted. However, it would seem there are few lines he hasn’t crossed now. In the End of Faith, not only did he infamously defend torture, and declare that ‘there are some people whose beliefs are so dangerous we may have to kill them’ he also described democracy as ‘problematic’. He has repeatedly argued that democracy is unsuitable for Muslim nations as the supposed extremism of their populations renders them a liability; a perspective which utterly ignores the fact that in repressive, western-backed dictatorships such as Egypt and pre-revolutionary Iran, Islamists were the only people with the organization and ruthlessness capable of defying the state, which may account for their popularity in the first place.

    Harris’ attacks on Palin also carried a heavy undercurrent of intellectual snobbery, not merely attacking Palin’s ignorant views (which would have been fair enough) but attacking the concept that anyone has the right to become president of the United States, and a contempt for the electorate who support such politicians, rather than the media that manipulates them; views also expressed in the End of Faith.

    Harris’ worldview is eerily similar to H.G Wells’, a progressive stance on such matters as church-state relations, science and some aspects of personal liberty (drug use for instance); but an extraordinarily naive assumption that power vested in an intellectual elite will be used for good, and a total disregard for inalienable human rights or human equality. Those who do not conform to Harris’ view of what a morally upright person should be are thus regarded as disposable, hence his support for torture, and callous attitude to the killing of Muslims. (Witness his recent blog on Palestine)

    All this has a personal impact for me. In an otherwise fairly on the ball dissection of Ayn Rand, Harris refers to Objectivism as ‘glorified autism’. This was followed by an attack of the Christian apologetics of Francis Collins, in which Harris refers to ‘the profound defects in moral reasoning of autistic people’ and most recently a critique of conventional moral philosophy which condemned utilitarianism as producing ‘the sort of crude body count morality only someone with Aspergers’ could support’. Initially I thought the remarks might have been made in ignorance, until I remembered Harris is a qualified neuroscientist, who put Simon Baron Cohen on his website’s reading list. In other words, Sam Harris, a man whose profession should certainly teach him to know better, considers Autism and Aspergers’ to be synonymous with moral blindness. Coming from a man who has shown total contempt for the lives of those who fail to conform to his standards of ethics, this is worrying to say the least.

    And then they came for me

  29. doublereed says

    I was really confused, because his claim was that the sexist remark was a joke taken out of context. Specifically the “estrogen vibe” line which is just a bizarre thing to say. I’m certainly willing to believe that was taken out of context.

    Er… but then he goes on to defend it. So I’m confused.

    Sam Harris seems to like making ridiculous statements and then defend them in vague, theoretical ways that abdicate responsibility from himself. It reminds me strongly of how libertarians talk. That CEO line is great example of how people veil sexism.

  30. Oisin says

    @Johnny Vector and chigau (違う):

    To slightly alter a quote of what I have been told earlier in this conversation from Carrie: “I do NOT owe you your own personalized special snowflake explanation, right here and right now that you have demanded it. I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER, and I do not owe you anything.”

    From Joe: “No one is required to fill in the massive gaps in your knowledge. That’s entirely up to you, and you should really be more respectful in other people’s spaces than to demand to be spoon-fed. Take some responsibility for your vast ignorance.”

    I have the book right beside me, and would be happy to go through the arguments and references (with quotations!), but first you have to acknowledge that the type of response above is simply unacceptable. If you accept that, I presume you will join me in my quest for answers to the questions I asked in question 7?

  31. chigau (違う) says

    PSA
    Doing this
    <blockquote>paste copied text here</blockquote>
    Results in this

    paste copied text here

    It makes comments with quotes easier to read.

  32. Oisin says

    @gormanator:

    Went through the links there, none of which answered my questions from comment #7. This is getting tedious.

    Everyone:

    Can you see where I’m coming from, at all? Do you accede that I genuinely do not see your collective point, that I’m not trolling or trying to annoy you etc.? Do you accept that I genuinely believe that I am being polite, and reasonable, and have factual grounding for claiming that these claims are faith claims?

  33. Oisin says

    @chigau (違う):

    I will use that quoting style from now on, thank you. No to which question, all of them? Do you believe that I am lying about my intentions?

  34. doubtthat says

    Oisin. I do see where you’re coming from, that’s why I find your arguments so detestable. Do you honestly believe you are the first person to run through these tired, trite arguments?

    I’m bored at work today, so I will give you the benefit of engagement. Starting with your comment at #7:

    You are sarcastically implying here that this is an insulting and patronizing thing to think, am I correct? If so, why? You have not explained this.

    I will give you a partial list:

    1) This EXACT same point was made by sexist asshole Michael Shermer a year or so ago. You are ignorant of this history, but get all huffy and demand that Ophelia basically recreate a discussion that has already been had. In a very unbecoming way, you are throwing a tantrum and holding your breath until people indulge your ignorance.

    2) Harris looks at his fan base, notices it’s mostly male, and then starts making up reasons for the imbalance that all (coincidentally, I’m sure) involve something inherently faulty with women.

    3) He is literally saying that active atheism is for men because it requires thinking and arguing. If you cannot see how this is sexist and patronizing you are being willfully dense.

    Why would anyone think that Harris is an asshole about women?

    Because he believes that thinking and arguing about atheism are inherently male activities.

    Are you saying that this claim is sexist and misogynistic? Rather than there being some evidence that could reasonably back it up?

    Yes, it’s sexist and misogynistic. The words in the second question are not placed in an order that generates any coherent meaning. Guessing at your meaning, no, there is not evidence to back up his point.

    Even if you show that there are more men involved in active atheism, this does not prove that it’s due to some essential gender difference. The same was true of college attendance in the 40’s. Just like it was ignorant and stupid to argue that universities and academic work were fundamentally male activities, it’s ignorant and stupid to pretend, absent any evidence, that gender differentials in atheist groups are due to men’s advanced capacity to think and argue.

    Do you accept that I genuinely believe that I am being polite, and reasonable, and have factual grounding for claiming that these claims are faith claims?

    That was funny. Yes, I do accept that you believe that you’re polite and you believe that you’re making sense and you believe that you aren’t just vomiting up tired, old arguments that everyone here has read a thousand times. This, of course, is meaningless, because you are obviously quite ignorant on this topic.

    Rather than telling us that you have factual grounding, you could, you know, just share your facts.

  35. carlie says

    How do we know Oisin isn’t just trolling? He’s asking us to take his questions as legit purely on faith.

  36. aziraphale says

    @Oisin

    Pinker’s Chapter 8, “Inner Demons”, which contains a section on dominance, has 298 notes. It is, I think, discourteous of you to suggest that we follow them all up to see which refer to peer-reviewed papers and which support your thesis. Since you presumably have the references, why not just give them?

  37. Morgan says

    yaziuks @ 3: No kidding! Does he not realize the exchange as he quotes it shows him being a defensive asshole in response to a very reasonable-seeming person attending his book signing, which is to say, probably a fan?

    It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried…

    “They tried to make me actually think about the words coming out of my mouth, but I beat them! I vanquished the demon of self-reflection!”

  38. A Masked Avenger says

    Oisin, #21:

    No, Carlie, Ophelia wrote things without giving a reason to believe them, so she is acting unreasonably…

    That’s a remarkably narcissistic statement: you mean that YOU didn’t understand the context of her statements, and concluded that SHE was lacking in her presentation. Did you consider the possibility that she, and her readers, have a foundation of shared understanding that you lack, and that it’s not their job to get you up to speed.

    If you walked up to a bunch of men talking about cricket, you wouldn’t accuse them of failing to express themselves clearly. Hopefully, you wouldn’t derail the conversation by demanding that they get you up to speed on all things cricket, either. Rather, you would (one hopes) either listen politely, trying to glean what you could, or else go educate yourself about cricket so you could then understand what they were talking about.

    If IRL you met a group of friends in any setting, and tried to thrust yourself upon them in this way, you would find yourself rebuffed completely. Before long, you’d find yourself isolated and friendless.

    If online you visited a cricket blog and loudly demanded everyone explain cricket to you, you wouldn’t last long. If you visited an evolution blog and loudly demanded to be told “why there are still monkeys,” likewise. Yet here you show up at a feminist blog and demand that they educate you on what is or isn’t sexist? Really?

    You’re probably not interested in understanding anything; you’re probably just trolling in defense of your boy Sam Harris. But if you are interested in learning something, then that’s your starting point: Google “feminism 101,” and start there.

  39. says

    Oisin @ 10 (and passim) – it’s what carlie said, but I’ll add a bit more. Of course it’s not “rude” for me to fail to answer your every question. If you’ll notice, there are quite a few comments here – if I answered every one of them I’d get nothing else done, including eating and sleeping.

  40. says

    “Can you see where I’m coming from, at all?”

    Yes. That’s why I responded to a couple of your more relevant items with more in-depth explanations. That you haven’t replied to more in-depth responses indicates that where you’re coming from is not, in fact, a failure to grasp Ophelia’s point, but from a studied position of refusal to consider that she might be right.

  41. The Giant Grape says

    Gawd. Just for once, couldn’t one of these bozos simply say ‘You know what – my comments weren’t thought through properly. Sorry – I’ll try to do better in future.”

    That’s not hard, and would earn so much more respect than trotting out ‘Well, I have a mother and daughters, therefore I CANNOT BE SEXIST!”

  42. drken says

    Once again we see a total lack of self awareness and introspection from the “leaders” of atheism. Let’s assume he’s right. How is he going to use this knowledge to increase the number of women in organized atheism? He’s admitting that organized atheism hasn’t been successful in recruiting women and his response is to throw up his hands and give up. What sort of piss-poor leadership is that? Recruitment should be his number one goal, but he’s going to write off half the population without a fight rather than admit he’s doing something wrong. He’s tried nothing and he’s all out of ideas. I’m glad I don’t give him money, he’s incompetent.

  43. karmacat says

    Harris is right that he is not a pig. Pigs are much cuter and don’t get caught up in their own cognitive biases

  44. dshetty says

    believe that these quotations are accurate, but they are also incomplete and misleading. Boorstein seemed to anticipate that they would spark a little controversy, and they have.
    I can’t make out whether he is acknowledging that , atleast, the remarks as presented by Boorstein , are infact sexist.

  45. Katherine Woo says

    …Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.

    This is just dishonest and grasping. Harris is doing nothing more than acknowledging that there are often bi-modal distributions of certain interests and behaviors among men and women. Only to certain feminists is this considered an outrageous assertion. Besides if you were sincere in your criticism, rather than manufacturing outrage, you would note his alleged sexism (as your characterize it) applies just as much to men, but you don’t, for obvious reasons..

    “kind of an asshole about women” == doesn’t espouse your narrow A+/gnu/’social justice’ brand of feminist politics.

    Seriously I applied your standard to Oprah, she would be deemed “kind of an asshole about women” because from watching her, O certainly believes in gender differences and would probably assert that her approach appeals more to women than men for he exact reverse of Harris’ generalization.

  46. carlie says

    Oisin – if the beliefs that critical thinking is a male trait and that women are a monolithic group who are more nurturing and don’t like to argue aren’t sexist beliefs, then what, pray tell, do you think sexism is?

  47. carlie says

    Harris is doing nothing more than acknowledging that there are often bi-modal distributions of certain interests and behaviors among men and women.

    No, he also ascribed a cause to that bimodal distribution, and that cause was that women don’t think critically and don’t like argument and need a nurturing environment. In what world is that not a sexist belief?

  48. Oisin says

    Ophelia Benson says “Katherine Woo, don’t call me dishonest.”

    That is a double standard if I ever saw one. And an evasion of this person’s point.

  49. Katherine Woo says

    the beliefs that critical thinking is a male trait and that women are a monolithic group who are more nurturing and don’t like to argue aren’t sexist beliefs,

    Just stop with this nonsense. Harris clearly states that he is discussing certain gender differences as over-lapping, bi-modal distributions. The scientific inquiry into gender differences, both biological and socialized, support his view. Harris also said nothing about “critical thinking,” he spoke about the relative appeal of a certain writing style. The “monolithic” strawman that many of you are raging against is just a sign of your inability to honestly engage his views. It is immature and indicative of why ‘feminism’ is so overwhlemingly rejected by a public that otherwise embraces the notion of gender equality:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html

  50. doubtthat says

    This is just dishonest and grasping. Harris is doing nothing more than acknowledging that there are often bi-modal distributions of certain interests and behaviors among men and women.

    Haha. These two sentences following one after the other generate a great deal of humor.

    And, of course, that isn’t remotely “all” that he’s doing. It’s dishonest and grasping to ignore Harris’ explanation for observed difference:

    But just as we can say that men are generally taller than women, without denying that some women are taller than most men, there are psychological differences between men and women which, considered in the aggregate, might explain why “angry atheism” attracts more of the former. Some of these differences are innate; some are surely the product of culture. Nothing in my remarks was meant to suggest that women can’t think as critically as men…

    Some are culture, some are innate. Really? Which ones? He mentions estrogen. He then goes back to hormonal argument in the ridiculous dialog at the end, “But if you think there are no differences, in the aggregate, between people who have Y chromosomes and people who don’t; if you think testosterone has no psychological effects on human minds in general…”

    Break that one down, oh brave honest thinker.

    If you want to defend Harris, please explain how his statements about the nature of women are any different than saying in 1945 the following: “Sure, there are some women who can study and read, but just like men are taller than women on average, mean are better academics than women…”

  51. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Katherine Woo @ 57

    Seriously I applied your standard to Oprah, she would be deemed “kind of an asshole about women” because from watching her, O certainly believes in gender differences and would probably assert that her approach appeals more to women than men for he exact reverse of Harris’ generalization.

    Um? And?

    Oisin @ 54

    Is absence of evidence ever evidence of absence?

    Really? Yes, absence of evidence can be evidence of absence if you a) know what you’re looking for and b) it isn’t where it ought to be. What’s your point?

  52. Oisin says

    Katherine Woo, you had the courage to say outright what I was thinking, except in much more eloquent and well thought-out terms than I would’ve put it in. That link has been bookmarked, my thanks.

    To everyone else here: To anyone outside your echo chamber, you look like nothing more than faitheists. You provide no evidence for your claims, you use ad hominems on your interlocutors and call them liars rather than engaging with them. I am ashamed to share the label “Skeptic” with you. Goodbye.

  53. drken says

    @ Katherine Woo (57): So, if you agree that men and women are different, what do you think of Sam Harris’ refusal to even try to attract more women? He’s not Oprah who can be satisfied with a targeted demographic. Nobody expects her to get more men to watch her shows, buy her magazine, etc because she’s a billionaire despite a lack of male customers. His job is to make everybody in the US an atheist. He doesn’t have the luxury of looking out over the audience, seeing almost all white male faces and being satisfied with it. He’s supposed to say how can I get more people of color? How can I get more women? But he doesn’t. He throws up his hands and chalks it up to gender essentialism. Flying spaghetti monster forbid he think he might have to change his strategy. It couldn’t possibly be something he’s doing wrong. So fine, he’s not a sexist. He’s just incompetent. Or is that too politically correct as well?

  54. Oisin says

    drken:

    If this were about his incompetence at spreading atheism you wouldn’t have anyone arguing with you.

  55. carlie says

    Oisin – I asked you a question in good faith. What do you think sexism is?

    Just stop with this nonsense.

    Oh, stuff and bother!

    There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said.

    In your world, that isn’t saying that critical thinking is “more of a guy thing”?

    “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

    In your world, that isn’t saying that women like nurturing?

    Do you realize that one can say the same thing in more than one way?

  56. Oisin says

    Go do your own research carlie, I don’t owe you an answer to anything because you are unbearably rude and have burned a bridge in this conversation.

  57. says

    Oisin @ 66 –

    You provide no evidence for your claims, you use ad hominems on your interlocutors and call them liars rather than engaging with them.

    And yet – the word “liar” does not appear on this page except in…that comment of yours. So it turns out that you were lying when you said we were calling people liars! How ironic.

    Mind you, Katherine Woo did call me dishonest in that comment you liked so much. Maybe that’s what you meant.

  58. says

    Some are culture, some are innate. Really? Which ones?

    This scoffing is really just indicative of your ignorance or wilful refusal to consider both biological and social science research on the subject. Harris’ sin is acknowledging innate gender differences at all, which as I noted in another thread, some feminists still resist to the point of hatefully delegitimizing trans people’s experience.

    Break that one down, oh brave honest thinker.

    Instead why don’t you go read about the subject from a variety of researchers instead of just cherry-picking someone who agrees with your worldview a priori.

    If you want to defend Harris, please explain how his statements about the nature of women are any different than saying in 1945 the following: “Sure, there are some women who can study and read, but just like men are taller than women on average, mean are better academics than women…”

    This is just more dishonest strawman tactics. Saying a given style of argumentation may appeal to men and women at different rates is hardly like saying one sex is inherently better in a specific professional class than another.

    You people cannot even engage what he actual says.

  59. says

    Seriously I applied your standard to Oprah, she would be deemed “kind of an asshole about women” because from watching her, O certainly believes in gender differences and would probably assert that her approach appeals more to women than men for he exact reverse of Harris’ generalization.

    Well damn… that tears it.
    Now I’m going to have to burn my copy of “The Secret.”

  60. carlie says

    Go do your own research carlie,

    How cute, you’re trying to parrot the words without understanding what they mean.

    I’m asking for your opinion, your own definition, trying to ascertain if the problem is that you have some weird definition of sexism that doesn’t fit the generally accepted one, and that’s where your lack of understanding is coming from. That is not something I can do “research” on except to ask you what you think you are saying.

  61. karmacat says

    So let’s look at Harris’ statements objectively, before making any conclusions about sexism.
    1. He is questioned about his audience but then he extrapolates his audience to all the audience for atheism. This is his first mistake.
    2. Then he makes generalizations and assumptions about the character traits of women and men.
    3. Then he assumes these characteristics are biologically based.
    4. Then he makes a connection between women’s characteristics and estrogen (this is so wrong, such simplistic thinking, I don’t know where to start.)
    5. Then he implies that a person has a deficit or a characterological problem for not accepting the criticism that comes with his writing and also with atheism. So when he states women don’t like criticism or aggression, he is implying they can’t be a part of an atheism movement, crowd, whatever…
    6. Also, with his statements about atheism, he is making more assumptions about what attracts people to atheism.
    7. He also assumes the people don’t like his writing because they don’t like criticism. There is no consideration on his part, that maybe his writing is not so great that he can’t attract equal no. of men and women.
    I could write more, but I need to finish up at work

  62. carlie says

    You people cannot even engage what he actual says.

    Katherine – very slowly now, WHAT… DO…. YOU…THINK…THIS…MEANS?

    The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

  63. says

    Katherine Woo @ 64 –

    Your failure to respond to my actual argument is noted. Instead you commandingly tell me how I may speak of you.

    That’s right, I do, because this is my blog.

  64. karmacat says

    My point is whether or not he is sexist (and there are some good arguments in the comments about why Harris’ comments are sexist), he is displaying very poor logical skills

  65. carlie says

    The big problem I have with people like Oisin is that s/he makes the unspeakably rude demand of being personally educated, but refuses to understand how rude that is. It is an absolute determination that his/her time is MORE VALUABLE than that of anyone else, and that everyone should drop their conversation to bring him/her up to speed from the very beginning, because his/her opinion is so valuable that everyone should spend awhile helping them along so that they can speak their words of wisdom. And people like that never realize how stunningly egotistical that mindset is, or how rude it is to devalue everyone else like that.

  66. says

    In your world, that isn’t saying that women like nurturing?

    Yes and no. Harris is obviously talking about normative trends in gender behavior, but hardly meaning it as the monolithic interpretation people like you insist upon in fuelling your outrage. Besides, as I pointed out to Ophelia, by your standard of what constitutes “sexism,” Oprah is a horrible sexist monster. In fact most women are, because we believe in differences between men and women. It is clear that Ophelia and the A+ crowd are still stuck in the 1970’s.

  67. doubtthat says

    @72 Katherine Woo

    his scoffing is really just indicative of your ignorance or wilful refusal to consider both biological and social science research on the subject. Harris’ sin is acknowledging innate gender differences at all, which as I noted in another thread, some feminists still resist to the point of hatefully delegitimizing trans people’s experience.

    You’re making the argument, let’s see the relevant data. Harris basically acknowledges that he has no fucking clue what he’s talking about:

    How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role.

    I fail to see how you’ve given a different answer. No one here has failed to acknowledge “differences,” but you’re essentially relying on this black box to justify all your half-assed guessing and just-so stories. Yes, men have more testosterone on average. And? What impact does this have on anything?

    Instead why don’t you go read about the subject from a variety of researchers instead of just cherry-picking someone who agrees with your worldview a priori.

    The hell are you talking about? I’m challenging you and Harris to substantiate your claims. I have cherry-picked nothing. You folks are making the claim that Harris’ audience make-up is due to some combination of inherent differences between men and women. Show your work. You have failed to do this and sought to gap this lacuna with vapid, sneering nonsense.

    This is just more dishonest strawman tactics. Saying a given style of argumentation may appeal to men and women at different rates is hardly like saying one sex is inherently better in a specific professional class than another.

    Whoa, did you just discover the concept of analogies? Yes, two things can be similar in some capacities while being different in others. Pointing out a difference in diet, for example, is a fairly poor way of dealing with someone pointing out that like cattle, lions have three middle ear bones.

    First, what is similar between those examples is the act of pointing to a gender differential and then claiming that it’s somehow innate. People made this argument about women in school, women in the workplace, African Americans in school, African Americans in the military…etc. Each time it turned out that societal bias was completely responsible. What evidence do you have that the same is not true here? That the appeal of “nurturing” arguments vs. “critical” arguments has something to do with estrogen?

    You have all your work ahead of you. You’re just musing about the reasons for a gender imbalance. It’s so typical and so pathetic.

  68. Radioactive Elephant says

    Katherine Woo:

    This scoffing is really just indicative of your ignorance or wilful refusal to consider both biological and social science research on the subject. Harris’ sin is acknowledging innate gender differences at all, which as I noted in another thread, some feminists still resist to the point of hatefully delegitimizing trans people’s experience.

    Nobody is denying the possibility of gender differences, but until you you can control for culture and prove something is specifically a gender difference, why assume? Can you prove X is a gender difference and not a culturally influenced difference? Until a few hundred years ago it was mostly men who were teachers. It was a profession women were allowed to do, but still men were generally the educated ones. But with more families in an emerging middle class, more educated women became available. As one of the few careers women were allowed, and educated men having more opportunities and seeking better paying jobs not open to women, the teaching profession started getting more and more and more women. So now elementary school is mostly women… Not because of a more nurturing desire, but because a a few centuries ago women were funneled into it. Now it’s seen as a “woman’s job.” Women are encouraged into it. Because of culture.

    So I will ask, why assume something is the result of a specific gender difference when we have no way at the moment of controlling for culture, but we have all of history of culture to look back on. People are trying to give a reason for why pink is girly when it is a very new thing.

  69. John Horstman says

    I gave this a more thorough fisking than it probably deserves on his Facebook post of the article. Harris has been on my Prominent Atheists to Ignore list for a little while now, and this reaffirms the classification. The worst bit was the incessant, NOTED, but still somehow self-unaware mansplaining.

    I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

    He literally goes right from saying that he actually doesn’t know any information about the subject to rendering a judgement anyway – “I am confident that each of these factors plays a role” – and then denigrating anyone who disagrees with him (despite some of us knowing a metric ton more about the subject in question). Also, all of his several factors are actually functions of structural sexism, so he’s actually arguing against his own premise here. The entire article is laughably bad (that last paragraph is a total mess), but the utter lack of self-reflection in this bit really makes it stand out. It’s absurdly ironic that this man makes a living studying brains and cognition.

  70. doubtthat says

    Any time you find yourself writing a version of, “I have no idea, but I am confident…” you may want to take a step back and consider what necessitated that construction.

  71. =8)-DX says

    @Oisin

    Went through the links there, none of which answered my questions from comment #7. This is getting tedious.

    I’ll try:

    the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men.

    You are sarcastically implying here that this is an insulting and patronizing thing to think, am I correct? If so, why? You have not explained this.

    Insulting because it ignores the very topical and long-lasting debate about barriers to entry, time, money, visibility of active women in atheism, the problems of misogyny and lack of representation at atheist conferences. It assumes women don’t participate, aren’t active because of some (odd, hormonal? innate!) womanly nature that leads to less women choosing this. In a climate where public, active female atheists are routinely harassed, stalked, sent death threats, even assaulted, often ignored (American Women anyone?) and demeaned it is ihnerantly patronising to say, like the boy in the sand-pit to the girls who’ve had their sand-castles knocked down all day “why wont the girls come play with me?”

    “Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.”

    Are you saying that this claim is sexist and misogynistic? Rather than there being some evidence that could reasonably back it up?

    One point is that discussing women, in the aggregate as a group with certain tendencies and emphasizing that fact is sexist, because it assumes that those aggregate values are causally related to the label you are using, namely “woman”. Of course, feminists often also talk about statistics and the aggregate, but if you really think women are fully equal human beings, focussing on aggregate statistics above actual causal factors is obfuscating the significant issues and says nothing. To illustrate it better, consider you are an author, faced with: “my audience is 30/70 women to men”. Now consider your possible reactions: “women just don’t understand my work, they don’t have the right hormones to enjoy my testosterone-filled romances!” or “I must be writing unknowingly offensive or off-putting things for sensitive women, I must avoid that.” or “Oh no! I should ask some women why they don’t like my books, maybe they can help me fix any bias I might have so I can appeal to a broader audience!” All of these reactions are rational and driven by self-interest, but the first two include dollops of extra sexism – the first says: *The problem is with women and how they are, not with me (and how I think).* The second says “Women are odd, different, oversensitive. I have to play to their wiles.” Only the last approach is treating your women readers with basic respect, the same one should treat people of different cultures, races, religions, whatever: one shouldn’t automatically grab at a stereotype explain differences, one should assume that the differences we see between groups are based first of all on our ignorance of the other group, their realities and experiences. Are you equally human to a Danish spinster, an Czech lesbian singing talent, an Italian rent boy or a US millionaire? If so then don’t assume *they* are odd and different from you, the norm. *You* are different from them. And if they don’t like you, look first in a mirror to see why.

    Nuff. Said.

  72. dshetty says

    @Katherine
    This scoffing is really just indicative of your ignorance or wilful refusal to consider both biological and social science research on the subject.
    Hmm? Harris hasn’t presented any case – he has something that’s probably anecdotally true – that a majority of his audience (not necessarily activist atheists ) are male. Everything after that is conjecture, assumptions , suppositions . Perhaps I missed the study cited which identifies the biological difference accounts for the difference in reception of critical arguments.

  73. Hj Hornbeck says

    Oisin @37:

    Do you accept that I genuinely believe that I am being polite, and reasonable, and have factual grounding for claiming that these claims are faith claims?

    No, because as luck would have it I once did a lecture on gender differences which looked heavily into the scientific evidence. The “clear” difference in aggression between men and women was first called into question thirty years ago.

    In conclusion, it appears that gender differences in aggression, like cognitive gender differences (Hyde, 1981), are not so large as one might assume from the conclusion that they are “well-established” (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). Within-gender variation is far larger than between-gender variation.
    Hyde, Janet S. “How large are gender differences in aggression? A developmental meta-analysis.” Developmental Psychology 20.4 (1984): 722. pg. 732

    Want a second opinion? Fair enough.

    There are good reasons to doubt whether it is meaningful at all to debate whether one sex is more or less aggressive than another. One has to take into account the type of conflict. Firstly, is it a matter of aggression benveen groups, or of interpersonal aggression within a group, or within a family. Seconaty, the sex of the opponent is of critical inportance: male’ male, female-female, and male-female encounters should clearly be distinguished from each other. With respect to interpersonal aggression, same Sex encounters are, for instance much m6re frequent than between-Sex encounters (Bjorkqvist and Niemeld, 1992; Burbank, 1987). If we limit aggression to physical strategies only, then it is certainly true that males are more aggressive than females, at least in Western societies. But, as anthropological studies have shown, such as research by Fry (1988, 1990, 1992) and Cook (1992), it is not a universal truth. It does not hold for all cultures. As far as domestic violence is concerned, the well-known study by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1974) found no sex difference in the amount of violence by husband and wife, in a North American study.
    Björkqvist, Kaj. “Sex differences in physical, verbal, and indirect aggression: A review of recent research.” Sex roles 30.3-4 (1994): 177-188.

    Prefer to hear from evolutionary psychologists? Some of the best refutations of a correlation between sex and aggression have come from them, or at least from John Archer. He did a meta-analysis on partner violence, and backed up the findings of no difference in aggression. He’s also done multiple meta-analyses of the research on testosterone and aggression, and the last fond that it explains roughly 4% of the other.

    Archer, John. “Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: a meta-analytic review.” Psychological bulletin 126.5 (2000): 651.
    Archer, John. “The influence of testosterone on human aggression.” British Journal of Psychology 82.1 (1991): 1-28.
    Archer, John, Surinder S. Birring, and Frederick CW Wu. “The association between testosterone and aggression among young men: Empirical findings and a meta‐analysis.” Aggressive Behavior 24.6 (1998): 411-420.
    Archer, John, Nicola Graham-Kevan, and Michelle Davies. “Testosterone and aggression: A reanalysis of Book, Starzyk, and Quinsey’s (2001) study.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 10.2 (2005): 241-261.

    The science is against both you and Harris; we have yet a find any noteworthy personality differences between men and women, and as shown above this includes aggressiveness.

    Now quit fucking tone-trolling.

  74. Katherine Woo says

    @Hj Hornbeck

    Some of the best refutations of a correlation between sex and aggression have come from them, or at least from John Archer.

    Is that the same John Archer who wrote in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2009):

    “I argue that the magnitude and nature of sex differences in aggression, their development, causation, and variability, can be better explained by sexual selection than by the alternative biosocial version of social role theory. Thus, sex differences in physical aggression increase with the degree of risk, occur early in life, peak in young adulthood, and are likely to be mediated by greater male impulsiveness, and greater female fear of physical danger. Male variability in physical aggression is consistent with an alternative life history perspective, and context-dependent variability with responses to reproductive competition, although some variability follows the internal and external influences of social roles. Other sex differences, in variance in reproductive output, threat displays, size and strength, maturation rates, and mortality and conception rates, all indicate that male aggression is part of a sexually selected adaptive complex. ”

    You do not seem capable of even fairly characterizing his research, which clearly does acknowledge a correlation between sex and aggression. In fact I am surprised he is not being derided as a mansplaining sexist for comments like “greater female fear of physical danger.” Get the torches and pitchforks A+ers.

    You also dishonestly shift from the specific issue of “partner violence” to aggression in general, all while snarling at another poster to “quit fucking tone-trolling.” It reads like farce.

  75. Hj Hornbeck says

    DEAR GORD, I walk away from the comment section for a few hours, and fifty comments drop in! Right, here’s a bonus one:

    Katherine Woo @57:

    The scientific inquiry into gender differences, both biological and socialized, support his view.

    No, it does not. The most comprehensive analysis of personality traits I’m aware of found that 78% of them were either nonexistent or small, including many we consider large; these include logical ability, speech patterns, self-esteem, and cheating behavior. J.S. Hyde only finds some evidence for difference in three categories: physiological metrics such as throwing ability; a small subset of sexual metrics, primarily masturbation frequency; and aggression. I disagree with her on that last one, obviously, as she divides aggression into categories and finds evidence of difference there, ignoring the verbal difficulties (“aggression” without qualifiers should refer to all forms of aggression, not just the type you’d prefer) and secondary data (we’d expect a gender bias in domestic violence frequency, for instance, which isn’t there).

    Hyde, Janet Shibley. “The gender similarities hypothesis.” American psychologist 60.6 (2005): 581.

  76. says

    Katherine Woo @ 93 – yes, I’m moderating you now, because you’re being highly combative toward everyone. It’s not necessarily permanent, but today I don’t want you commenting unless I check it first.

  77. Susan Lepkowski says

    It seems as though there is something else at play here. I’ve read the original comments attributed to sexism, in context, and find it a stretch to be construed as sexist. Though misunderstandings and miscommunications occur. But I’ve also read the clarifying blog post–three times now. I am not seeing any trace of anything that could remotely justify continuing the “sexist” accusation. I’ve also read the twitter threads for possible additional context or clarification.

    This is actually, in some ways, hard to watch. Ms. Benson, with the greatest of respect, I’m not following your line of umbrage here.

  78. carlie says

    My “line of umbrage”? That’s a thing?

    “Now, I want you to write “I must not tell lies.” ”

    “It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.”

    “As I told you, Mr. Potter, naughty children deserve to be punished. ”

    Those are the only lines of Umbrage I can think of.

  79. leni says

    Harris’ sin is acknowledging innate gender differences at all…

    No, his statements were problematic (as opposed to sinful) because they were uncritical handwaving that look more like excuses, stereotypes, and assumptions than reasonable answers.

    He actually said estrogen vibes. What does that even mean? Tasteful pink accents on everything? Free Coach handbags stuffed under the seats? Cupcakes? More strategic use of Georgia O’Keefe art?

    So, if he had been asked about the overwhelming whiteness of American atheism and invoked a lack of ambient “Asian vibes”, that really would have seemed like a reasonable answer to you?

  80. leni says

    God, you are a thin-skinned joke.

    Funny, I had that same thought about you :) Hey, I bet our estrogen vibes are in sync!

  81. Stacy says

    @Katherine Woo

    Besides, as I pointed out to Ophelia, by your standard of what constitutes “sexism,” Oprah is a horrible sexist monster.

    As a matter of fact, I think Oprah is quite sexist. “Horrible” and “monster” are hyperbolic words you inserted in order to try and make Ophelia’s claims look ridiculous.

    When are people going to get over this “How DARE you call me/him/her sexist harumph!” bullshit? Do you really believe you/he/she has magically grown up without internalizing the culture’s implicit biases? Talk about thin-skinned, jeez.

  82. HappyNat says

    Susan,

    If you read his original quote and then read his #logicfail of a rebuttal today and don’t see something deeply wrong . . . I’m not sure what to tell ya. Maybe your estrogen vibe is in the weak vibing phase?

  83. Henry Fitzgerald says

    Call me dense, but I completely fail to see what kind of response Harris could have given to the journalist’s original question that wouldn’t have been equally subject to attack.

    The data to be explained was that his work had more male readers than female readers. Since – presumably – nobody is forcing men to read his work, or forcibly preventing women from doing so, the explanation must lie in some overall average difference between men and women in our tastes and inclinations – otherwise it wouldn’t be sufficient to explain what Harris was asked to explain. The particular off-the-cuff explanation Harris came up with, as spelled out in more detail in his recent reply, is hardly a crazy one, and I confess I am unable to see why it’s so insulting, unless it’s willfully misinterpreted. And in any event, what possible explanation could not be seen as insulting – by members of one sex or the other, or both – with at least equal justification?

    The journalist here knew her stuff, though – it seems she picked an almost foolproof poisoned chalice question, to which there was no possible correct response.

  84. leni says

    Call me dense, but I completely fail to see what kind of response Harris could have given to the journalist’s original question that wouldn’t have been equally subject to attack.

    He could have said “I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. I do know that now might be an unwise time to invoke “estrogen vibes” as a reason. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we can definitively answer that.”

    But instead he went full asshole and mentioned vibes. Nuturing fucking estrogen vibes.

  85. leni says

    Since – presumably – nobody is forcing men to read his work, or forcibly preventing women from doing so.

    Well, now that you mention it, no one but Sam Harris and his arguments about torture and Muslims are what made me stop reading him.

    The “estrogen vibe” thing was more like an icing on the bullshit cake.

  86. Brony says

    First the SH quoting himself part.

    “I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

    It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

    Emphasis and underline mine.
    SH is portraying people criticizing him as not actually criticizing. This is useless without examples. An unsupported assertion and cowardly in someone who claims to speak with authority in our community.
    This guy is a neuroscientist right? Last time I checked we have not demonstrated that beyond simple reproductive plumbing that ANY particular behaviors having to do with criticism (and a gigantic range of other things) were somehow different between the sexes. Or that estrogen has anything to do with criticism.
    A joke? AS A FUCKING NEUROSCIENTIST you straight up say that criticism is a male thing, imply that because estrogen is related nurturance* women are not good at criticism, while being criticized by a group of people including women. That’s right everyone. In a feat of scientific malpractice SH is saying that his critics are not really critics, because women are probably not good at criticism, because of estrogen.
    And he’s not the sexist.
    *Maybe true, maybe not. It still does not save him from spraying bullshit everywhere.

    Let me be clear about what I was trying to say (and actually do believe):
    1. I started by claiming that my readership seems more male than female. And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.

    SH started by saying that his critics were not really critics, because women are probably not good at criticism, because of estrogen. SH was talking about critics, but now has shifted to active atheists. Since SH is the one switching categories and referring to his points I think I can safely assume that he does not think that atheist women “…go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity.”
    And he’s not the sexist.

    2. Although I share the common perception that there is a gender imbalance among active atheists, I don’t actually know whether this is the case. I used to joke that my average “groupie” was a 75-year-old man. Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. I wouldn’t be surprised if the split were 70/30. I would be very surprised if it were 50/50. Again, I am talking about active atheists. I have no idea whether there are more male unbelievers than female.

    SH, you said that your critics were not really critics, because women are probably not good at criticism, because of estrogen. That and any actions taken with those beliefs are why you might be perceiving a gender imbalance. And why you don’t encounter as many women. You are probably treating women as if they are children like you are here. And interacting with a bunch of others doing the same.

    She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.
    Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.
    She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.
    Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.
    She: No. You’re just totally unaware of how sexist you are.
    Me: Listen, I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.

    I think it’s more likely he has no time to get into it because he treats women like children not worth listening to. She appears to be offended for very good reason. That trip wire is very accurate actually, and I honestly hope his daughters get better treatment than this.

    blockquote cite=””>The problem, Ophelia, is that you seem not to know the difference between being critical and being unfair.
    Pure projection at the minimum. This is a neuroscientist everyone.

  87. Silentbob says

    For those who are asking what’s sexist or problematic about Sam Harris assuming differences between men and women to be the explanation for gender disparity among atheist activists, I’d like to remind people that Neil deGrasse Tyson fielded a similar question (why women are less interested in science) and gave a much more insightful response. (On video, the relevant bit goes for about three minutes.)

    The punchline:

    So before we start talking about genetic differences we’ve got to come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity, then we can have that conversation.

  88. rorschach says

    I’m more baffled by this part of his reply than by the strawfeminist drivel:

    Many liberal blogs erupted in scorn, which eventually led to a private email exchange with a well-known feminist-atheist blogger. This conversation was every bit as hopeless and dispiriting as my encounter at my book signing in D.C. Here was a woman who imagined herself to be bettering the world by fighting for gender equality, and yet she appeared far more concerned that I had “co-opted” Malala and “denied her agency” by ignoring her religious beliefs than that a Taliban thug had put a bullet in her brain. I’m tempted to name this person—so pure and smug and sanctimonious and incorrigible was her moral blindness. But I’ll resist that combative impulse in the interests of maintaining harmony in the atheist community. #EstrogenVibe

    What did I miss? And also, the smug and sanctimonious way he wrote this blew my ironymeter. As to “harmony in the atheist community”, LOL.

  89. Hj Hornbeck says

    Katherine Woo @92:

    You do not seem capable of even fairly characterizing his research, which clearly does acknowledge a correlation between sex and aggression.

    No, I was quite fair. Emphasis mine:

    A critique is presented of the meta-analysis of testosterone and aggression by Book, Starzyk, and Quinsey [Aggression and Violent Behaviour 6 (2001) 579], and the results of a reanalysis of their data are reported. We identified the following problems with their analysis: Secondary, rather than primary, sources were used in the initial literature review; 15 studies were included that should have been omitted; there were no decision rules for calculating effect sizes, leading to inaccuracies in most of these; the statistical test used to compare categories was of low power; the coding of study characteristics was inaccurate. A reanalysis that corrected these problems produced a lower mean weighted correlation (r=.08 instead of the reported r=.14).

    It might be that you’re missing a key piece of background knowledge, though. EvoPsych researchers generally frown on hormonal explanations, because there’s strong evidence for environmental and societal influences on them.

    Later versions of social role theory (Eagly et al. 2004, p. 280; Wood & Eagly 2002, pp. 701– 702) also included neuroendocrine mechanisms. It is known that a range of hormones, principally those concerned with reproduction, and with stress reactions, are responsive to inputs from the social environment. For example, testosterone levels respond to sexual stimuli, the outcomes of competition, and fatherhood (Archer 2006b). Wood and Eagly (2002) interpreted these as reactions to the demands of social roles.

    Archer, John. “Does sexual selection explain human sex differences in aggression?.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32.3-4 (2009): 249-266.

    There’s also the embarrassing finding that children tend to be more aggressive before puberty, before the hormone rush hits.[1] Because of all that, EvoPsych researchers will downplay or argue against hormones as an influencing factor, instead pointing to unspecified genetic mechanisms.

    The general public hasn’t gotten the memo, though, and still loves to argue for hormonal influences. Hence why I invoked Archer’s work on hormones.

    Embarrassingly enough, he’s still got a strong argument against aggression as a “male” trait despite his belief in a sex difference there, via his own study on domestic abuse. I alluded to why already, in fact:

    I disagree with her on that last one, obviously, as she divides aggression into categories and finds evidence of difference there, ignoring the verbal difficulties (“aggression” without qualifiers should refer to all forms of aggression, not just the type you’d prefer) and secondary data (we’d expect a gender bias in domestic violence frequency, for instance, which isn’t there).

    If men were inherently more aggressive, you’d expect them to exhibit that aggression everywhere to some degree. You don’t, which means that Archer is arguing against himself in that case. I even quoted another researcher who used the same line of reasoning (emphasis mine):

    If we limit aggression to physical strategies only, then it is certainly true that males are more aggressive than females, at least in Western societies. But, as anthropological studies have shown, such as research by Fry (1988, 1990, 1992) and Cook (1992), it is not a universal truth. It does not hold for all cultures. As far as domestic violence is concerned, the well-known study by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz (1974) found no sex difference in the amount of violence by husband and wife, in a North American study.

    I’ll admit I didn’t phrase my original comment as well as I could, but I dashed off the comment during a break. You might want to be a bit less aggressive there, Katherine, and consider the possibility that I might know what I’m talking about.

    [1] Maccoby, Eleanor Emmons, and Carol Nagy Jacklin, eds. The psychology of sex differences. Vol. 1. Stanford University Press, 1974. pg. 352, I think.

  90. Hj Hornbeck says

    Oh, and while I think of it, there’s a major unstated premise on both sides.

    P1. There are fundamental differences between men and women.
    P2. The skeptic/atheist community is a representative sample of the entire human population.
    C1. Ergo, we should expect skeptics/atheists to exhibit differences between the sexes.

    P2 is a bit dodgy, no? We attract people who can think clearly and concisely, who have a greater-than-average knowledge base. Even if there is a fundamental difference on the whole, we might just be skimming off the “best and brightest” and therefore we should expect less gender disparity than we see in the greater society, not equal amounts or more.

    Of course, this sampling bias works the other way. If the skeptic/atheist community is a biased sample of the greater population, then even if there is no fundamental difference overall we would expect to see a difference within the community. This could be used to deflate all my arguments… except for one critical thing: no-one is arguing we should exclude or be explicitly biased. The argument is over whether we’re biased or not, with Harris and others arguing not, while me and quite a few others are saying we’re exclusionary when we shouldn’t be.

    So I get off scot-free, while Harris and company are left arguing there’s nothing special about skeptics or atheists, relative to the greater population.

  91. Lee Page says

    I arrived here via Sam Harris’ website and read the entire comments exchange so far. With a few exceptions, you guys are all so angry! And so certain of yourselves. Have you noticed this? It’s wild.

  92. Brony says

    @ mildlymagnificent

    I’ve got dibs on the band name.

    Can it be synthesized in a garage? My habit getting expensive…

  93. Henry Fitzgerald says

    I asked what Harris could have said in response to the journalist’s question, and Leni replied…

    He could have said “I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers.

    Well, that’s close to my point – the only acceptible response is no response at all – assuming he wouldn’t be further pressed, on a question beginning, “Why do you think that…” in an interview where there is an implied contract that the subject honestly try to come up with responses – if I were in the audience, “I don’t know for sure, so I won’t speculate” would have gotten tedious after a while.

    But the point is, there must be some explanation for the sex imbalance in Harris’s readership (assuming we’re sure there is one…?) This explanation, whatever it is, is one we should find no less insulting than the explanation he gave. It would no less deserve the label “sexist”; and it would – with no extra effort beyond that already displayed here – be just as easily deemed insulting by men, or women, or both.

    In any event, the goalposts are being shifted if we’re now being told that of Harris’s crime is merely that he was speculating too freely. Not long ago, when I went to an audience-meets-author thing, the author in question was asked questions along the lines of why she thought Scandinavian crime thrillers were so popular at the moment, why hers in particular were popular, etc. Her response, which I did not mind listening to in the least, struck me as much more tendentious and unlikely than Harris’s strikes me now – and now that I come to think of it contained its own generalisations (how Swedes thought, attitudes of English-speaking readers, etc.) which I’m sure someone could have discerned bigotry in if they’d tried hard enough. I didn’t think much of her answer as a likely explanation. But I don’t fault her for venturing a guess.

  94. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Henry Fitzgerald @ 117

    Well, that’s close to my point – the only acceptible response is no response at all – assuming he wouldn’t be further pressed, on a question beginning, “Why do you think that…” in an interview where there is an implied contract that the subject honestly try to come up with responses – if I were in the audience, “I don’t know for sure, so I won’t speculate” would have gotten tedious after a while.

    Really. You find it tedious when people are honest about what they know and don’t know. That’s very interesting.

    But the point is, there must be some explanation for the sex imbalance in Harris’s readership (assuming we’re sure there is one…?) This explanation, whatever it is, is one we should find no less insulting than the explanation he gave. It would no less deserve the label “sexist”; and it would – with no extra effort beyond that already displayed here – be just as easily deemed insulting by men, or women, or both.

    There must be some explanation, yes. Falling back to biotruths though? You can’t control for cultural influences and socialization. You can’t do it. It’s not possible. If you’re talking about biotruths, you’re full of shit. Of necessity. There’s no way to talk about biotruths with regard to behavior and not be talking out of your ass.

    In any event, the goalposts are being shifted if we’re now being told that of Harris’s crime is merely that he was speculating too freely.

    Now as compared to when? Nobody has really claimed anything different. People have strawmanned that we’re asserting that the gender distribution in absolutely everything must be exactly 50/50 or else someone is being horribly oppressed but…that’s a strawman. That’s never been the claim. The problem, is that he is asked a question which has been and is being answered, by women. Women talk about why they’re turned off by the atheist movement. PoC talk about why they’re turned off by the atheist movement. People of gender/sexual minorities talk about it. Everyone talks about it. And then people like Sam Harris ignore it all in favor of stroking their beard (real or imaginary) and saying “well I think it must be [insert biotruth based upon cultural bias here]” That’s the problem. The actual evidence for why these disparities exist is being ignored.

  95. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Sorry, the line beginning “in any event” should be a blockquote from Henry Fitzgerald’s 117

  96. Hj Hornbeck says

    Hang on here, we’re discussing nurturing and I never tossed out any studies on the topic? Tsk, I must be off my game.

    Surprisingly, there haven’t been a lot of studies on nurturing ability. I suspect the problem is that no-one can define “nurturing;” are we talking something like empathy?

    Sex differences in empathic responding and social sensitivity were first systematically examined by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974). They reviewed 29 papers (including 31 samples) related to “empathy,” and concluded that there was no evidence of a sex difference. In most of the studies examined, there were no significant differences in the responses of the two sexes; the sex differences that were found in the remaining studies were divided nearly equally in favor of males and females.
    Eisenberg, Nancy; Lennon, Randy. “Sex differences in empathy and related capacities.” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 94(1), Jul 1983, 100-131.

    That’s not nearly the final word, though; Eisenberg and Lennon argue that Maccoby/Jacklin had a poor definition of “empathy,” and by mixing studies with very different definitions they muddied up any evidence of difference. But after doing their own, much more careful analysis, they stumble on an odd inconsistency:

    It is clear from the review of the empirical literature that the data regarding sex differences in empathy are inconsistent, and that this inconsistency is a function of the method used to measure empathy. Sex differences in empathy favoring females are most evident when individuals have been asked to rate themselves on behaviors or affective responses related to the concept of empathy and/or sympathy. Somewhat weaker sex differences favoring females have been found when subjects have been asked to rate their emotional responses in contrived situations or in response to hypothetical picture/story measures. In contrast, few consistent sex differences in empathy have been noted in research in which empathy was assessed with physiological measures and/or facial/gestural measures (except when the child was being tested with a picture/story measure at the same time he or she was being observed).

    So when using subjective measures that were easily biased by cultural factors, there’s a clear sex difference; when using physiological measures that cannot be biased, there was no clear difference. Interesting.

    There have been other definitions of “nurturing,” though.

    The 1982 publication of Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice marked one of those rare moments when social science research breaches the ivied walls of academia and captures the public’s imagination. Gilligan’s assertion that females and males speak in different moral voices – a care voice characterized by the desire to maintain relationships and to respond to others’ needs and a justice voice characterized by considerations of fairness and equity – resonated with readers’ experience (Mednick, 1989). Ms. magazine named Gilligan its 1984 Woman of the Year, lauding her for research that “created a new appreciation for a previously uncatalogued female sensibility, as well as possibilities for new understanding between the genders” (Van Gelder, 1984, p. 37). In 1996, Time magazine included Gilligan among its “Time 25”–25 innovative Americans with the ability “to show us the world anew, to educate and entertain us, to change the way we think about ourselves and others” (“Time 25,” 1996, p. 54).

    Jaffee, Sara, and Janet Shibley Hyde. “Gender differences in moral orientation: a meta-analysis.” Psychological bulletin 126.5 (2000): 703.

    Wow, that’s quite the impact! No doubt it’s based on sound research.

    Second, she argued that Kohlberg’s Moral Judgment Interview (MJI; Colby et al., 1987)–the most widely used measure of moral reasoning – was gender biased because it was validated on an all-male sample and because its scoring scheme characterized considerations of care and response as less sophisticated than considerations of justice and fairness. […]

    Gilligan’s claim that the MJI is gender biased has been convincingly debunked. Critical reviews of the moral development literature have failed to find evidence that Kohlberg-based measures yield gender differences in moral reasoning scores. Instead, these reviews have found that gender differences in moral reasoning are small to nonexistent (Rest, 1979; Thoma, 1986; Walker, 1984, 1991, 1995). Rest (1979) conducted a critical review of 17 studies with 20 independent comparisons of male and female participants on the Defining Issues Test (DIT; Rest, 1979) and found only two significant gender differences, both favoring females.

    Walker’s (1984) critical review and meta-analysis of 79 studies that measured moral reasoning with the MJI found small gender differences favoring males only in adulthood. Sex accounted for only one twentieth of one percent of the variability in moral reasoning development. Walker noted that gender differences appeared most frequently in studies that confounded gender with education or occupational status and in studies that used the earlier, less reliable versions of the Kohlberg scoring manual (see Baumrind, 1986, for a critique of Walker and Walker, 1986b, for a reply; see also Walker, 1991, 1995). Walker (1991) updated this review and obtained similar results.

    Jaffee and Hyde spend several pages quoting other research that pokes holes in nearly all of Gilligan’s assertions, showing for instance that people tend to fluidly switch between moral reasoning styles; that her proposed set of development levels don’t have much basis in reality, and that Gilligan herself even abandoned that claim; and that some of her concepts like “moral maturity” are ill-defined or conflicting. So the results shouldn’t be surprising.

    The magnitude of the effect size for gender differences in care reasoning was -.28, indicating a small difference favoring females. The magnitude of the effect size for gender differences in justice reasoning was. 19, indicating a small difference favoring males. The small magnitude of these effects, combined with the finding that 73% of the studies that measured care reasoning and 72% of the studies that measured justice reasoning failed to find significant gender differences, leads us to conclude that, although distinct moral orientations may exist, these orientations are not strongly associated with gender.

    And that’s the best research I’m aware of. I think it’s fair to say that if there’s a sex difference in nurturing ability, it’s either small or nonexistent.

  97. Hj Hornbeck says

    =8)-DX @96:

    HJ Hornbeck, you go! Better than muggles like me in the late European hours..

    Aww, thanks! But technically I’m just a muggle with university access, who happened to do a few months worth of research on this very topic.

  98. Henry Fitzgerald says

    Seven of Mine @118:

    Really. You find it tedious when people are honest about what they know and don’t know. That’s very interesting.

    No – I said I would find it very tedious to attend a book launch where an author is being grilled about his or her opinions, only to have her refuse to give them in unless they fell into the category of further knowledge. If someone asks a question like “Why do you think your books are popular in Australia”? I would view an answer like “I’m not an ethnographer and so I’ll keep my guesses to myself” as a cop-out. And an answer like “I have no idea” would in this case be a lie. Harris did have an idea.

    There must be some explanation, yes. Falling back to biotruths though? You can’t control for cultural influences and socialization. You can’t do it. It’s not possible. If you’re talking about biotruths, you’re full of shit. Of necessity.

    What’s this “biotruths” thing? All I’m saying is that when a difference between the sexes in something like habits of is to be explained, then a difference in tastes and explanations between the sexes is what we’ll ultimately have to appeal to. Whether this is a “biotruth” or some other kind of truth, or whether this label is even particularly meaningful, is a separate question.

    You can’t do it. It’s not possible. If you’re talking about biotruths, you’re full of shit. Of necessity.

    Well, I’m not talking about biotruths, but I don’t accept your absurd claim that we can’t. The above-quoted research, for instance, shows a finding against biotruths in a particular domain, but also shows how the evidence could have been different and gone the other way (and in other domains, surely does go the other way).

    Me: In any event, the goalposts are being shifted if we’re now being told that of Harris’s crime is merely that he was speculating too freely.

    You: Now as compared to when? Nobody has really claimed anything different. People have strawmanned that we’re asserting that…

    …Well, never mind what you think I’m asserting you’re assering. I thought what Harris was being accused of was being a “sexist pig”. (I don’t think I’m strawmanning in attributing this position to Benson.) He’s due an apology, though, if all he can really be shown to be guilty of is “speculating too freely” – in the kind of interview setting where even this charge is dubious.

    The problem, is that he is asked a question which has been and is being answered, by women.

    And good luck to rival theories, I say. But it was Harris’s book launch and he was the one being grilled.

  99. Ethan says

    If feminists aren’t taken seriously it’s because their agenda is not the truth, it is to convince everyone that they are victims. How much would Napoleon, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Alexander, or Jesus, etc have achieved if they expended all of their time and energy complaining about how they’re being discriminated against? They wouldn’t have achieved anything. Either prove Harris’ comments about women wrong or be be quiet.

  100. Silentbob says

    (off topic)

    @ 112 rorschach

    What did I miss?

    I don’t know who the “well-known feminist-atheist blogger” is, but I know what it’s about.

    (/off topic)

  101. Silentbob says

    @ 123 Ethan

    How much would Napoleon, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Alexander, or Jesus, etc have achieved if they expended all of their time and energy complaining about how they’re being discriminated against? They wouldn’t have achieved anything.

    Right! Or Martin Luther King for that matter. Oh, wait!

    Either prove Harris’ comments about women wrong or be be [sic] quiet.

    Either prove blacks aren’t intended by god to be slaves or be quiet. Damned uppity negroes.
    (/sarcasm)

  102. rorschach says

    Thanks Silentbob, that helps to clarify it !

    Ethan @123,

    If feminists aren’t taken seriously it’s because their agenda is not the truth

    Is English not your first language? An agenda is an agenda, like say getting shopping done before it rains, it is nonsensical to assign to this a truth value.

    How much would Napoleon, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Alexander, or Jesus, etc have achieved if they expended all of their time and energy complaining about how they’re being discriminated against?

    Oh dear. You might want to think that one through just one more time quietly…

    Either prove Harris’ comments about women wrong or be be quiet.

    Be specific Ethan, which comment would you like proven wrong in particular? That is, what’s left after HJ Hornbeck provided about 27 references to parts of his comment that were wrong just now. And another thing, you don’t get to tell people to be quiet, snowflake.

  103. Ethan says

    @ Rorschach 126

    Is English not your first language? An agenda is an agenda, like say getting shopping done before it rains, it is nonsensical to assign to this a truth value.

    Agenda: “The underlying intentions or motives of a particular person or group” (source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/agenda). That is to say there motives are not to find out what is true, but to complain about things being sexist. I suspect you did understand what I meant and you were just being petty.

    Be specific Ethan, which comment would you like proven wrong in particular? That is, what’s left after HJ Hornbeck provided about 27 references to parts of his comment that were wrong just now. And another thing, you don’t get to tell people to be quiet, snowflake.

    The comment which stated the whole controversy.

    And here are some references:

    Behavioral genetics studies on identical twins put up for adoption have indicated “strong genetic influences on personal characteristics such as IQ, alcoholism, gender identity, and other traits.” Identical twins raised in different environments were shown to share more similarities than fraternal twins raised in the same home (source: http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/understanding-nature-nurture-twins; and: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ff0616S.pdf).

    There are cases of males whose penises have been destroyed in circumcision or who were born with micro penises and were gender reassigned and raised as girls without their knowledge or consent. If they’re raised as girls they should identify as girls, right? No. In the most famous of these cases (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer) the “girl” had failed to identify as female by the age of 9, started living as a male by 15, and had committed suicide by the age of 38.

    Here’s a cross-cultural study showing that there are “huge differences in personality between men and women”: http://dienekes.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/huge-differences-in-personality-between.html.

    Reading accounts of sex differences from different time periods and cultures we can see that in essence the behavior of each gender has been quite consistent throughout recorded human history. The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans, artists from Shakespeare to Flaubert to Tolstoy have all shown women (and men) behaving and acting in a stereotypical fashion (too much to link but if you’re interested the sources won’t be hard to find).

    Here’s a study entitled “Sex Hormones and Womanly Passions”: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/200907/sex-hormones-and-womanly-passions. It’s mainly about the influence of testosterone, but obviously still relevant. Here’s the most important part: “Women with high testosterone levels describe themselves as being action-oriented, resourceful and powerful. Effects on physical aggression are unclear. Research shows that high-testosterone women are more competitive and more verbally aggressive, however. In experiments, women administered testosterone respond more strongly to angry faces. They also take bigger risks in a game of chance. Women who had been exposed to more testosterone early in development (as inferred from the relative length of the ring finger compared to the index finger) are more competitive, more assertive, and more socially dominant. Testosterone affects sexual behavior in women as well as men.” Basically testosterone is what makes males masculine, and estrogen is what makes females feminine (huge oversimplification but not inaccurate).

  104. Ichthyic says

    Ophelia Benson: Ignoring the questions I asked is rude, and not providing evidence supporting your claims is doubly so in a community that is completely centred on values of evidence and reason. For shame.

    late reaction but…

    ROFLMAO!

    for shaaaammeee!

    *wags finger*

  105. Ichthyic says

    How much would Napoleon, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Alexander, or Jesus, etc have achieved if they expended all of their time and energy complaining about how they’re being discriminated against?

    Jesus:

    “Take this cup from lips…”

    he was a big whiner, ‘ol Jesus.

    well, in the story anyway.

  106. carlie says

    If someone asks a question like “Why do you think your books are popular in Australia”? I would view an answer like “I’m not an ethnographer and so I’ll keep my guesses to myself” as a cop-out. And an answer like “I have no idea” would in this case be a lie. Harris did have an idea.

    I would view any answer not based on “Interesting question, I/my publisher noticed that, and based on the research I/they have done…” as being rank speculation.

    Or, you know, given that he’s called “one of the Four Horsemen” of the atheist movement, one might think that he might have some inkling of what has become the biggest issue in said “movement” for the last three years, and might have read something here or there or listened to a talk at any one of the numerous conferences on it, and might have referred to some of that, somehow, rather than pulling an answer out of his ass that is contrary to the hundreds and hundreds of discussions that have taken place about it in said movement, including by people he personally knows.

  107. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Henry Fitzgerald @ 122

    If someone asks a question like “Why do you think your books are popular in Australia”? I would view an answer like “I’m not an ethnographer and so I’ll keep my guesses to myself” as a cop-out. And an answer like “I have no idea” would in this case be a lie. Harris did have an idea.

    And if the answer given was “well everyone knows that Aussies ride kangaroos to school and wrestle crocodiles in their spare time so I expect that’s why my book about some wild, outdoorsy adventure is popular here” the audience would rightly object to that. And, like carlie said, if the answer was anything other than “well we noticed that and polled people who bought the book and asked them why they like it so much” I’d view that as the author talking out of their ass.

    What’s this “biotruths” thing?

    A biotruth is the assumption that behavioral differences can be explained biologically. Men and women do XYZ differently because biology.

    All I’m saying is that when a difference between the sexes in something like habits of is to be explained, then a difference in tastes and explanations between the sexes is what we’ll ultimately have to appeal to.

    No. It isn’t. Because culture and socialization are a thing. They are confounding factors. You have to control for them before you can talk about biology being the cause of any behavior in any living thing.

    Well, I’m not talking about biotruths

    A second ago you didn’t know what a biotruth was. Now you’re baldly asserting that’s not what you’re talking about. You sound like Sam Harris “I have no idea….but I’m certain.”

    but I don’t accept your absurd claim that we can’t.

    Oh you don’t? Then how do you control for culture and socialization? Nobody exists in a vacuum. Even if it was ethical to breed a population of humans and raise them in isolation from the rest of our culture, they’d still develop their own which would influence their behaviors. Again, this is controlling for confounding factors. This is study methodology 101. This is entry level, fundamental shit that you and Sam Harris both are trying to do an end run around.

    The above-quoted research, for instance, shows a finding against biotruths in a particular domain, but also shows how the evidence could have been different and gone the other way (and in other domains, surely does go the other way).

    The above quoted research shows that there’s maybe not as great a disparity in numbers as we thought. It’s not speaking to why the numbers are what they are. You clearly didn’t understand what I meant by “biotruth” as evidenced by you asking what it meant. But then you carry on apparently with your own made up definition instead of waiting for clarification. And yet you think you’re going to educate us on how to reason correctly about this.

  108. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    ack, bad block quoting in 131 the part after my first paragraph should look like this:

    What’s this “biotruths” thing?

    A biotruth is the assumption that behavioral differences can be explained biologically. Men and women do XYZ differently because biology.

    All I’m saying is that when a difference between the sexes in something like habits of is to be explained, then a difference in tastes and explanations between the sexes is what we’ll ultimately have to appeal to.

    No. It isn’t. Because culture and socialization are a thing. They are confounding factors. You have to control for them before you can talk about biology being the cause of any behavior in any living thing.

  109. says

    Ophelia,

    Thanks for moderating Katharine Woo. It’s gotten to the point that I expect her to come raging in here, seething with hostility, anytime the issue of feminism arises. I keep wondering if she’s really Christina Hoff Sommers in disguise. I like reading the comments here, but was about ready to give up. Her line has become utterly predictable. In all my time of reading FTB blogs, she’s one of the most blatantly hostile trolls I’ve ever come across.

  110. Tethys says

    Henry Fitzgerald

    …Well, never mind what you think I’m asserting you’re assering. I thought what Harris was being accused of was being a “sexist pig”. (I don’t think I’m strawmanning in attributing this position to Benson.)

    Does your opinion change when I inform you that it was Sam Harris who called himself a sexist pig? It’s the title of his latest post. Ophelia is quoting him, so yes, somebody is owed an apology and it is not Sam Harris..

  111. Anthony K says

    It’s gotten to the point that I expect her to come raging in here, seething with hostility, anytime the issue of feminism arises.

    Or anytime there’s an opportunity to rage at leftists, real or imagined.

    (My favourite: asking “where do we draw the line” at refugees from Latin American countries, when she herself has claimed she learned to hate leftists at her parent(s)’ knee, because they’d fled ‘leftist violence’ to come to great and glorious America.)

  112. brucegorton says

    So Sam Harris is trying to pull a Jedi mind trick? “This is not the sexist pig you are looking for.”

    Something I have learned from reading posters here (and in fact feminists in general) is this – if I find myself writing “I am not a sexist pig” it is time to take a very, very serious look at what I have written.

    Sometimes it is that I am not communicating what I mean very clearly, sometimes it is that I am making some seriously sexist assumptions and sometimes it is me reading something into a criticism that isn’t actually there, but in every instance whenever I have felt the urge to write “I am not a sexist pig” it has generally been an alarm bell that I am getting something wrong.

  113. Henry Fitzgerald says

    I believe Seven of Mine’s responses to me were generally misrepresentative and uncharitable (not as much so as the attacks on Harris have been, thankfully), and frankly, I don’t have the heart, or energy, or something, to reply to every one of them. But the following is what I think is closest to the heart of the disagreement:
    .
    Me: All I’m saying is that when a difference between the sexes in something like habits of is to be explained, then a difference in tastes and explanations between the sexes is what we’ll ultimately have to appeal to.

    Seven: No. It isn’t. Because culture and socialization are a thing. They are confounding factors. You have to control for them before you can talk about biology being the cause of any behavior in any living thing.
    .
    What I said still stands: If you want to explain why men and women choose different things, you’ll have to appeal to men and women having different tastes and inclinations. “Ultimately” on reflection was the wrong word. The “ultimate” cause of the difference in tastes and inclinations might be biology, might be “culture and socialization”, might be other things, will most likely be a mixture of all of these. (I deliberately made no comment, which is why I’m so puzzled at your continuing to raise the “biofacts” red herring.) But differences in tastes and inclinations will have to be postulated here, however you account for them.
    .
    Now it’s true my hunches probably tend more towards biological explanations than yours do (with the caveat that all explanations will have to make some appeal to biology and some appeal to culture socialisation). But why should this matter? It’s no more insulting to suppose that my tastes or yours have biological roots than to suppose they have cultural roots.
    .
    And – here I admit I’m going further afield from the main brief – your “confounding factors” talk is itself confounding. Why do you think we should have to completely control (I presume you mean “completely” based on your earlier post, but correct me if I’m wrong) for cultural influences before we can begin to postulate biological influences? It makes exactly as much sense to say the reverse: we should have to completely control for biological influences before we can begin to postulate cultural influences, and we can’t do that, either.

  114. Crimson Clupeidae says

    When someone tells me I’m being :
    – insensitive
    – racist
    – sexist
    – ableist
    ….etc. While I recognize the natural (I think) reaction to want to be defensive, I really try to avoid that. It’s much easier to do so in writing, where one has time to consider the words more carefully. I try to be introspective, and (again, especially in writing) re-examine my words from the perspective of the reader/critic, and try to grok their experience or point of view.

    I know it’s hard to act like a grownup, Mr. Harris, but you should give it a try sometimes….

  115. says

    Ethan, 128

    There are cases of males whose penises have been destroyed in circumcision or who were born with micro penises and were gender reassigned and raised as girls without their knowledge or consent. If they’re raised as girls they should identify as girls, right? No. In the most famous of these cases (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer) the “girl” had failed to identify as female by the age of 9, started living as a male by 15, and had committed suicide by the age of 38.

    You’ve committed a major bit of conflation here, and I’m not even sure if you’re aware of the basic dishonesty of that: male-assigned infants who’ve had botched circumcisions are a distinct population from children born with intersex genitalia: concerning the latter you have provided no evidence for the assertion that they “were gender reassigned and raised as girls without their knowledge or consent”. Gender assignment is an extremely vexed topic for intersex people, but strikingly there isn’t a uniform process of assignment across all subtypes of intersex conditions: your flat assertion that “If they’re raised as girls they should identify as girls, right? No.” also erases the experience of many intersex people who find themselves needing to socially transition later in life by providing an example of n=1, David Reimer.
    To take one constellation of related intersex disorders affecting people with a 46,XY karyotype, androgen insensivity syndrome (AIS), there are three major subtypes:
    Complete (CAIS): almost always raised as girls, almost always identify as women as adults (transgenderism is rare, but possibly greater than the equivalent rate for non-intersex people).
    Partial (PAIS): infants usually present with ambiguous genitalia, clinical practice tends to favour raising children with PAIS as boys, but about 25% identify as women as adults.
    Mild (MAIS): almost always raised as boys, usually identify as men as adults (however, there are a significant number of trans-feminine people with MAIS, which suggests a higher rate of cross-gender identification that for non-intersex male-assigned people).
    TL,DR — your presentation of this material is incomplete and wrong, which is no better than the glib remarks about “estrogen vibes” that set this whole farce in motion. Please inform yourself better.

  116. noxiousnan says

    Late as usual. Only at comment 68, Oisin, but what a gas!

    If this were about his incompetence at spreading atheism you wouldn’t have anyone arguing with you.

    My first thought was Sam, is that you, over lord of all things atheist? You have to admit, if nothing else, Oisin is a very loyal Samfan, amirite?

  117. Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally says

    uncharitable

    Is this the meme of the day or something?

  118. noxiousnan says

    Oisin, can I just say that if anyone recognizes me here at all, it’s most likely due to my late commentary. You can probably see an example of that right above this comment. There are a few factors for the lateness, but two are most prevalent. First, I feel impassioned (pushy?) about things large and small, and it drives me to comment even knowing that others have moved on. Second, and pertinent to your comments here, is that I want to know what’s going on, at least on some basic level, before I bust in with my opinions. That can be very time consuming, but you know, it’s better to be informed when arguing or even agreeing with a point.

    Just sayin’

  119. Hj Hornbeck says

    Ethan @128:

    And here are some references:

    Excellent, thank you! People tend to run away when I start toss out papers, so it’s great to have a nice, solid counter-argument for once. The twin studies are new to me, so I’ll defer on them until I can sit down and give’m a good solid read and research. Reimer and Del Giudice’s paper are old hat, so I’ll start with each in turn, and while I haven’t seen that blog post specifically I’ve encountered similar.

    Xanthë @141 beat me to my main point on Reimer. I’d also like to add another counterexample: genderqueer people.

    The term genderqueer covers a range of gender identities/expressions that do not conform to the binary understanding of gender as exclusively female or male. The term seems to have emerged some time between 1995 and 2000, and is a combination of the words ‘gender’ and ‘queer’. People who may identify as genderqueer include those whose gender expression involves a combination of female and male; those who alternate between female and male; those who identify with a third gender; those who express no gender; and those who question the concept of gender altogether. Though the meaning of the term is contested, generally it can be said that people who embrace the term reject the “two-and-only-two” paradigm of gender in favour of an intensely personal and individualistic engagement with a more fluid, multiple and unstable figuring of gender identity […]

    It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of genderqueer-identifying people. A 2009 survey of people attending an International Lesbian Day event in Brisbane, Australia, found 8% identified as genderqueer, either exclusively or in hybrids such as female-genderqueer-intersex, ranging in age from 26 to 55. Preliminary data from a survey of older LGBTI people in New South Wales, has found 4% identifying as genderqueer, again including hybrids such as male-genderqueer, and genderqueer-androgynous (n=246). Ages range from 50 to 79.

    So while some people do view there as being two distinct sexes, others do not. There’s even a famous skeptic/atheist who (I think) would identify as genderqueer, Debbie Goddard.

    I also happen to know a fair bit about the David Reimer case. It’s much more complicated than you portray it; there are allegations that John Money sexually abused Reimer, for instance, so it’s possible that Reimer rejected a female identity because he associated it with Money’s actions. Reimer’s parents also forced her to wear dresses during freezing Canadian winters, and don’t seem to have been a happy couple, which could have further driven Reimer to reject being female. I think the case is way too messy to conclude anything, except perhaps that you shouldn’t force people to conform to a gender role.

    The Wikipedia page has a fairly good summary of the details, but my favorite reference for the case is:

    Warnke, Georgia. Debating sex and gender. Oxford University Press, 2011. pg. 13-17

    It’s a small and thin book, and the first few chapters make a excellent entry point into said debate.

  120. Hj Hornbeck says

    Ethan @128:
    Let’s pull out the paper that blog post is based on.

    Del Giudice M, Booth T, Irwing P (2012) The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029265

    There are two key arguments in that paper: sex differences in personality are best explained by what’s known as the <a href="http://www.ipat.com/16PFQuestionnaire/Pages/default.aspx, or 16PF, which does what it says on the tin: analyzes a person’s personality along sixteen different axis such as “Warmth,” “Reasoning,” “Vigiilance,” and “Tension.” This contrasts with the “Big Five,” which divides personality along a mere five: “extraversion,” “agreeableness,” “conscientiousness,” “neurticism,” and “openness.”

    Taken together, these findings make it apparent that measuring personality at the level of the Big Five hides some important differences between the sexes. Thus, in order to get the most accurate picture of sex differences, researchers need to measure personality with a higher resolution than that afforded by the Big Five (or other traits at the same hierarchical level). A corollary is that, when investigating sex and personality as predictors of a given outcome (such as health, self-esteem, and so forth), cleaner and more meaningful results are likely to obtain if personality is measured at the level that yields the most clearly sex-differentiated profiles.

    Emphasis mine. Hold on here, in order to properly determine whether or not there are sex differences, we have to pick the division that creates the largest sex difference?! That’s putting the hypothesis before the evidence, and effectively a call to engage in data mining.

    Since personality is a multidimensional construct, the question of how to quantify the overall magnitude of sex differences in personality is far from trivial. A common way of dealing with multiple effect sizes is to simply average them. For Big Five traits, the average absolute effect size across studies is = .16 to .19, corresponding to an overlap of about 87% between the male and female distributions. […]

    The problem with this approach is that it fails to provide an accurate estimate of overall sex differences; in fact, average effect sizes grossly underestimate the true extent to which the sexes differ. When two groups differ on more than one variable, many comparatively small differences may add up to a large overall effect; in addition, the pattern of correlations between variables can substantially affect the end result. As a simple illustrative example, consider two fictional towns, Lowtown and Hightown. The distance between the two towns can be measured on three (orthogonal) dimensions: longitude, latitude, and altitude. Hightown is 3,000 feet higher than Lowtown, and they are located 3 miles apart in the north-south direction and 3 miles apart in the east-west direction. What is the overall distance between Hightown and Lowtown? The average of the three measures is 2.2 miles, but it is easy to see that this is the wrong answer. The actual distance is the Euclidean distance, i.e., 4.3 miles – almost twice the “average” value.

    Ok, fair enough. But there’s a subtle problem here: the Euclidean distance is correlated with the number of dimensions. Earlier in the paper, Del Giudice gives the average Cohen’s d of the sex differences on the 16PF as 0.26. So I whipped up a quick program that calculated the Euclidean distance of 1, 2, 3, and so on dimensions-worth of vectors that long.

     1: 0.2600
     2: 0.3677
     3: 0.4503
     4: 0.5200
     5: 0.5814
     6: 0.6369
     7: 0.6879
     8: 0.7354
     9: 0.7800
    10: 0.8222
    11: 0.8623
    12: 0.9007
    13: 0.9374
    14: 0.9728
    15: 1.0070
    16: 1.0400

    So even though every vector falls within a 0.26 radius of the origin, in every case, the Euclidean distance suggests the entire collection gets further and further apart. This is especially misleading when you equivocate between one-dimensional and multidimensional data.

    Multivariate effect sizes can make a big difference in the study of sex differences. Del Giudice reanalyzed a dataset collected by Noftle and Shaver in an undergraduate sample. On the Big Five, univariate effect sizes (corrected for unreliability) ranged from d = −.57 to +.11, and the average absolute effect size was a “small” = .30, corresponding to a 79% overlap between the male and female distributions. However, the multivariate effect size was D = .98, a “large” effect corresponding to a multivariate overlap of 45%.

    Emphasis mine. Even their diagrams get this wrong. Now, we could forgive all this if Del Giudice and Booth gave a good reason why higher dimensions are more representative. They don’t.

    We provisionally suggest that the best compromise may be reached by describing personality with about 10–20 traits, i.e., at the hierarchical level immediately below that of the Big Five.

    And that’s the best you’ll get. This paper’s problems don’t end there, though, and I already hinted at one without realizing it.

    Hj Hornbeck @121:

    So when using subjective measures that were easily biased by cultural factors, there’s a clear sex difference; when using physiological measures that cannot be biased, there was no clear difference. Interesting.

    Care to guess what the dataset consisted of?

    The current study utilized the 1993 US standardization sample of the 16PF, 5th Edition (N = 10,261), which has been previously analyzed by Booth and Irwing. The sample is structured to be demographically representative of the general population of the USA. Participants were 50.1% female (N = 5,137) and 49.9% male (N = 5,124). The sample is primarily white (77.9%; N = 7,994), is proportionally geographically distributed and on average, the educational level and years in education of the sample is greater than that of the US population.

    That’s right, subjective self-reports, which we already know tend to reflect our cultural biases instead of actual behavior. Note as well the sample pool was from a single, wealthy country, and was more educated than average. Hello, WEIRD.

    But don’t worry, the authors have anticipated my objections.

    First of all, it could be argued that the guidelines used to interpret the magnitude of univariate effect sizes (d) do not apply to multivariate effect sizes (D). However, this objection is invalid, because the substantive interpretation of D is exactly the same as that of d. Indeed, a given value of D or d indicates precisely the same statistical overlap between distributions, and statistical overlap is commonly used to substantiate the interpretation of effect sizes.

    Um, but I just demonstrated the multidimensional Euclidean metric exaggerates difference in proportion to the number of dimensions used. Sure, D and d both measure distribution overlap in a similar manner, but the dimension issue means it’s still an apples-to-oranges comparison.

    Another possible objection is that our findings are based on self-reported personality, and may be inflated by gender-stereotypical or socially desirable responding. Of course, the same objection would apply to virtually all of the published literature onn sex differences in personality, including Hyde’s meta-analysis.

    Except Hyde includes a large number of non-self-reported measures, such as verbal test scores, spatial tasks, and even smiling frequency. That meta-analysis I mentioned earlier, the one that pointed out the issue of self-reporting was over thirty years old, and I’ve seen multiple studies of that vintage try to compensate for self-reporting bias. Del Guide and Booth are greatly exaggerating the extent of the problem.

    You don’t need to take my word for it, either. J.S. Hyde’s “Gender Similarities Hypothesis” made her the target of many social scientists, especially EvoPsych researchers. This paper specifically calls her out, too, and as luck would have it she’s responded back.

    Del Giudice and colleagues (2012) introduced the use of Mahalanobis D to the measurement of the magnitude of gender differences in personality and concluded that the gender similarities hypothesis is incorrect and that there are very large gender differences. A staple of multivariate statistics for decades, D in this application measures the distance between two centroids in multivariate space. It is a multivariate generalization of the d statistic. What was not made clear in the Del Giudice paper is that D is computed by taking the linear combination of the original variables (scores on emotional stability, dominance, vigilance, and so on) that maximizes the difference between groups. What they showed, then, is that, if one takes a large enough set of psychological measures and then takes a linear combination to maximize differences, one can get a big gender difference. Moreover, this difference or distance is along a dimension in multivariate space that is a linear combination of the original variables, but this dimension is uninterpretable. What does it mean to say that there are large differences in personality, lumping together distinct aspects such as emotional stability, dominance, and vigilance? Certainly contemporary personality theorists do not argue that there is a single dimension to personality. Overall, then, this application of Mahalanobis D produces results that are biased toward finding a large difference because of taking a linear combination that maximizes group differences, and it appears to yield results that are uninterpretable.
    Hyde, Janet Shibley. “Gender similarities and differences.” Annual review of psychology 65 (2014): pg. 379-380.

  121. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Henry Fitzgerald @ 139

    What I said still stands: If you want to explain why men and women choose different things, you’ll have to appeal to men and women having different tastes and inclinations. […]
    But differences in tastes and inclinations will have to be postulated here, however you account for them.

    Nobody disagrees with this. We just think you can’t stop there. We think you then have to ask why those differences exist.

    Now it’s true my hunches probably tend more towards biological explanations than yours do

    Nobody gives a shit about your hunches or mine. Your hunch is just your presupposition that the way everything already is is the way it has to be. I’m not talking about hunches. I’m talking about historical facts. What we consider to be “girly” or “boyish” changes with the times.

    Teaching used to be a man thing. Women weren’t excluded but it was overwhelmingly male. As time passed, the more men left teaching for other fields which required them to be more educated themselves, and teaching children became a woman thing. It had nothing to do with women being better with young kids. It had to do with women being funneled into that field.

    People think of pink as a girly color when the reality is that up til maybe 150 years ago, pink was a boy color and blue was a girl color. Pink is light red, you see, and red represents courage and bravery, while blue represents water and serenity.

    Computer science was a predominantly female industry until it became less of a niche, fringe thing and actually became a good way to make a living. Now it’s predominantly male and most people don’t even know the names of the women it owes its existence to.

    These are facts. These differences in behavior are 100% certainly the product of culture and socialization. This is not me expressing a hunch. This is me not being completely fucking ignorant of history.

    (with the caveat that all explanations will have to make some appeal to biology and some appeal to culture socialisation).

    Not necessarily. If you control for culture and socialization and find no differences left, there’s nothing more to explain.

    But why should this matter? It’s no more insulting to suppose that my tastes or yours have biological roots than to suppose they have cultural roots.

    Are you fucking kidding me? If I’ve been discouraged from doing things that I’m perfectly capable of and would enjoy because of what’s between my legs? If I’ve been told my whole life that I’m less capable, less intelligent, etc. because I have an inny instead of an outie? You don’t see what’s insulting about that? If half the population of the world is being conditioned to avoid certain activities, careers, hobbies, etc. they are being discriminated against. That whole life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness thing? Funneling half your population away from certain pursuits isn’t exactly consistent with that, now is it?

    And – here I admit I’m going further afield from the main brief – your “confounding factors” talk is itself confounding. Why do you think we should have to completely control (I presume you mean “completely” based on your earlier post, but correct me if I’m wrong) for cultural influences before we can begin to postulate biological influences?

    1) Lol @ “confounding factor” in scare quotes as if it’s something I just fucking made up.

    2) Because that’s how science fucking works. You can postulate that X causes Y, sure. But if you want to actually prove it, you have to make sure you’re testing it in an environment were A, B, C and D aren’t also at play. If you don’t, then you haven’t shown that X is the cause and not A, B, C, or D. If you don’t get that, I don’t even know what the fuck to tell you.

    It makes exactly as much sense to say the reverse: we should have to completely control for biological influences before we can begin to postulate cultural influences, and we can’t do that, either.

    We don’t have to simply postulate cultural influences because culture is all around us. We have history books. We have the actual testimony of the actual people who aren’t participating in active atheism and aren’t buying Sam Fucking Harris’s fucking books. We know, for a fact that culture and socialization are at work. We’re only just barely getting to a point where we can test the biology with things like fMRI. But even if we’d perfected that, even if we knew everything there was to know about how biology affects behavior, we’d still have to account for culture and socialization. Because they’re there. They exist, we know they exist, we’ve observed their effects.

  122. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    geez, I’m sorry. I apparently just can’t blockquote anymore. :(

    The lines next to the little quotation marks are all Henry Fitzgerald from #139

  123. Cassanders says

    @Oisin and Kathrine Woo ..and others?
    The development of this debate (and previously other debates on related themes) is just another reminder of why I have stopped regularily reading, enjoying and widely reccomending B&W. Sad, really.
    Cassanders (in Norway)

  124. Sinead says

    Hooray! After 10 years in the public spotlight, hundreds of speaking engagements, interviews, articles, and a half dozen books, we finally have the evidence to support what we suspected all along: Sam Harris is a sexist!

    Well, we did have the “rape or religion” magic wand quote of 2006. Go ask Bethany Saltman of the Sun (who elicited the quote) whether he was being intentionally provocative (yes, at the expense of being boorish) to highlight the danger of organized religion or if he struck her as a true sexist.

    “Sexism is as sexism does”, is a possible response. However, I do believe that provocative, inflammatory language IS an effective way to get people to think of the dangers of organized religion. Just go ask a co-author of “Does God Hate Women?”

    I’d really rather we redirect our energies back to that; the dangers of organized religion. On that front, Sam Harris and Ophelia have made significant contributions. I will not turn my back to Sam as if this gaffe negated all of his other brave work (which continues and evolves into new territories, see his most recent work). Similarly, it would take some serious undoing on Ophelia’s part to negate all her brave work.

    Call me intolerably tolerant if you like.

  125. s3m3rs says

    re: Sinead at 150 –
    Fundamental extremists aside, the sexist community seems a lot bigger of a problem than my local big-ass lutheran church.

    When I attend church on a sunday, lately I hear a pastor:
    – address domestic violence, and call for support systems to be developed in the secular as well as faith community
    – indicate that ‘border bullies’ who shut down personal growth (by keeping people – esp. women -‘in their place’) cause more damage than someone who makes an effort to connect with stereotypical ‘undesirables’ (addicts, homeless, divorced, etc.)
    – expound on empathy and human frailty rather than condemning the weak. Except the Green Bay Packers – we condemn them ALL the time.

    When i come to FTB to understand how far feminism has to go, to understand where organized religion outsteps the bounds of church and state, and where it goes wrong instead of well, I am dumbfounded to hear the outrage AGAINST pointing out the mis-steps and mistakes that Dawkins/Harris/Shermer make.

    SWEET. FANCY. MOSES.

    People don’t BLINK when it’s pointed out Mother Teresa made some horrendous decisions in India. No blinking when bishops are ridiculed and castigated for head in the sand and enabling behavior. WHY OH FRICKIN’ WHY are observations of sexism – JUST SEXISM – this upsetting??? NO ONE said they (Dawkins, Shermer, Harris) are murderers. Their sexist behavior being called out – and they are public figures the media goes to on atheist/skeptical issues – should make sense.

    Instead, Staunch defenders launch tirades (ok, the alliteration is a little extreme here! sorry!) about why they can’t actually be sexist. I know I am guilty of sexist behavior – most people do fall into it from time to time – maybe just words, but words have meaning and impact. Why the hell would these prominent figures be different in screwing up?? Are they better than human? What am I missing here?

  126. Tethys says

    I’d really rather we redirect our energies back to that; the dangers of organized religion.

    This is a very shallow understanding of the aims of the atheist movement. One of it’s aims is to teach people to apply logic and reasoning to all areas of human endeavor, and to not blindly follow what you have heard or rely on only your own intuitions. It also demands that you understand the concept of bias, and always be willing to examine your own biases.

    continues and evolves into new territories

    Yes, cast the blinders from your eyes, supposed atheist leader dudes. We would all like to stop having these battles, but that’s not going to happen unless people like Sam and Richard stop shitting on the feminist concepts and the actual real live feminists that interfere with the more comfy aspects of their boy’s club. Just because you have gained some authority on the subject of Atheism, does not make you an expert on human rights and especially not any minorities rights issue like racism or feminism. If you are getting significant push back about something you said from people who you generally find to be reasonable , the correct answer is never to proclaim that you are infallible by writing a long screed entitled “I am not the sexist pig you are looking for.” Remember that when you fight against the sillyness of gods, their is no actual god that is going to take offense at hearing that they do not exist. This is not true of feminists. If you say sexist things like “inherent male posture” and “estrogen vibe” and then go into attack mode and loudly and publicly proclaim our inferiority at understanding your sophisticated theology and understanding of feminism when called on it, you are in fact fighting to keep us at a standstill in the quest for true equality. Once again, all that was asked of Sam was Guys, don’t do this. It’s so infuriating that three years after one simple request, these men are still far more invested in maintaining their own authority rather than allow that they too are capable of unintentionally behaving in a sexist manner. Basic respect shouldn’t be this hard.

  127. Sinead says

    @151:
    “Fundamental extremists aside…” –that’s a pretty big thing to be set to the side. That and the comparison of sexism to happenings in your local church could lead a reader to see your views as parochial.

    “Staunch defenders launch tirades […] about why they can’t actually be sexist.” — You reference my post in your opening. Do I appear to fall into this group to you? My apologies if this was your take-away. My point was that while Sam made a sexist gaffe, it is not part of a pattern of his many writings or live appearances. For others to pretend that it is diminishes his considerable efforts and contributions and is quite frankly a distraction from his main, important messages.

    Note that I did not say SEXISM is a distraction, just the assignment of it as a pattern in Sam Harris’ discourse. Sexism in general and sexism in the new atheist movement are important topics that deserve frank discussion. As a result, I’m afraid I don’t agree with your it’s “JUST SEXISM” point of view.

    And I do suggest you pick up a copy of “Does God Hate Women?” It could help you to see the link between religion and sexism.

  128. A Masked Avenger says

    @Sinead, #153:

    I’m not having the easiest time figuring out your point, and I suspect it’s not correctly summed up by, “Let’s give a pass to sexist atheists, and get back to crusading against religion.” However, that is rather what it sounds like, so I’d appreciate if you made your point clearer. Forgive me if I’m simply dense.

    I certainly see no reason to “give a pass to sexist atheists.” If anything, I’d expect a higher standard of them, not a lower one. I’d expect them, at bare minimum, to bring as much critical thinking to bear on the sexism they’ve inherited from the ambient culture, as they do on the religion that others inherit, also from their ambient culture.

    “Hurr, durr, wimmins is nurturing, because they evolved to nurse babies in the cave and tend the fire, while we menfolks went out and hunted the mammoth and fought off the enemy hordes,” is at least on par with tales of sky fairies and demigods in floating zoos.

    If the best we can do is attack other people’s fairy tales, while clinging mindlessly to our own, then I’d rather have a nagila and a couple of brews: theists of the Hebrew persuasion throw some of the best parties. They can be sexist as fuck, sure–but how is that different from attending TAM again? Or any party to which these atheist dudebros are invited?

  129. Sinead says

    @154:
    Sorry, won’t take the bait. Want to know how this fish figured out there was a hook under the worm?

    “Any party to which these atheist dudebros are invited [is sexist as fuck]”

    Can’t give oxygen to that sort of thing. Sorry.

  130. s3m3rs says

    Re:153 – – i agree there is a massive link between religion and sexism. The congregation I am a part of is not fundamentalist, that is one of the driving reasons I do come to FTB. Religion comes from a tradition of non-equal treatment of the genders. Reading solid critique of how religion harms (even seemingly benign congregations like mine) forces me to keep my eyes open for opportunities to better it. And not excuse it.

    Harris/Shermer/Dawkins, and the more outspoken defenders also seem to have a strong link to sexism, and it’s disappointingly blatant to me. I came from a family steeped in everyday bigotry – my science teacher told every chemistry class he had that the girls were only in class to get to college for their ‘MRS’ degree. I have to dismantle culturally ingrained sexism for my kids about 5 times per week.

    * JUST SEXISM* – I reconsidered that one for a moment, and realised it was an actually an unintentional flip on Dawkins ‘Dear Muslima’ screed. Sexism is a pretty big damn deal or this post wouldn’t even be necessary. Sexism is a driving factor of the harassment Ophelia and Numerous others are getting – minimizing sexism’s impact is not my aim, and I apologize for that. What is SHOULD HAVE said, is referring to a person’s comments as sexist is NOT shocking. It’s a bit like (in my eyes) people being referred to as privileged. I know I am privileged, and I try to use that as a filter on how I react or UNDER react to things. If someone were to say to me ‘check your privilege’ I would NOT want my friends to jump on their case. I would be a bit embarassed (sp?????!) and ask them to knock it off, in fact, while I checked my privilege.

    Yesterday my son stood up on the bus and intervened when another kid said some racist bs to another girl on the bus. Her parents decided to talk to the offending boys parents. Their first response was “are you sure he said this to you?” When they spoke to other witnesses, and realized their son actually lied to them about his bullying behavior, they went back with no small amount of humility and apologized. They also asked the girls parents for resources on talking to kids about racism. Harris doesn’t owe people a personal apology, but I have a hard time thinking it would be asking so much of him to demonstrate some re-thinking of his position.

    Why that is hard for any of these prominent skeptics remains a mystery, but I am having a damned hard time seeing the over the top hatred and misogyny aimed at feminists by other atheists, and believing religion is the genesis.

  131. A Masked Avenger says

    @Sinead, #155:

    Sorry, won’t take the bait. Want to know how this fish figured out there was a hook under the worm?

    Apologies, the phrase “these atheist dudebros” is too vague as to my meaning. It would have been clearer if “these” were left off completely: a party at which any dudebros are present is going to be sexist as fuck, by definition of the term “dudebro.” In other words, “a party thrown by members of a patriarchal religion is going to furnish lots of examples of sexism–but so is any party at which sexists are welcome.”

    In any case, I don’t see why you would refuse to answer the original question: what are you actually trying to say in #153? I assume you are NOT saying that sexist atheists should be given a pass for their sexism because at least they’re good on that religion issue–but it sounds to me like that’s exactly what you said. I told you before, and am telling you again, that I assume I’m misunderstanding you, and want to be set straight. Please set me straight. What are you actually saying?

  132. Tethys says

    Sinead

    Hooray! After 10 years in the public spotlight, hundreds of speaking engagements, interviews, articles, and a half dozen books, we finally have the evidence to support what we suspected all along: Sam Harris is a sexist!

    There are a couple of misunderstandings going on in this. Firstly, the implication that the feminists as monolith have somehow been waiting for years to spring the horrible deathtrap of being called sexist on him is a wee bit over dramatic. Secondly, nobody is free of sexist bias. Telling feminists at great boring lengths that the sexist words you used weren’t really sexist and claiming to be the victim of a witch hunt are just adding insult to injury.

  133. Ysidro says

    I know this is a couple days late, but Ophelia Benson sold a line of umbrage, I would totally buy some! How does one store umbrage anyway?

  134. Hj Hornbeck says

    (Addendum: If anyone’s puzzled why I was talking about Euclidean distance when both Del Giudice and Hyde referred to Mahalanobis distance, it’s because if every metric’s standard deviations is one, and the variance is distributed uniformly, the two distance metrics are equivalent. That’s handy for a toy dataset that demonstrates the way dimensionality can puff out distance metrics.)

  135. Henry Fitzgerald says

    I say this:
    .
    Me:It’s no more insulting to suppose that my tastes or yours have biological roots than to suppose they have cultural roots.
    .
    …and get an intemperant rant in response beginning like this:
    .
    Seven:Are you fucking kidding me? If I’ve been discouraged from doing things that I’m perfectly capable of and would enjoy because of what’s between my legs? If I’ve been told my whole life that I’m less capable, less intelligent, etc. because I have an inny instead of an outie? You don’t see what’s insulting about that?
    .
    Let me pass over the completely unmotivated slide from talk about preferences and inclinations, into talk about capabilities and intelligence – except to note that it illustrates the kind of certainly-looks-like-it’s-deliberate misrepresentation which made Benson’s reply to Harris so distasteful. The thing is that Seven’s response doesn’t answer the question on an even deeper level.
    .
    My preferences are what they are. I know that – for instance – I dislike cauliflower, I like cheese, am sexually attracted to women rather than men, I would rather cycle than drive, and can’t stand modern architecture. Why is it worse to be told, or to discover, that I have these inclinations because I am egenetically disposed to have them, than to be told, or discover, that I have these inclinations because I was trained or conditioned into having them? I have them equally in either case. And finding out that men generally (or women generally, or people generally) happen to share these properties because of shared biology, is no more or less a bitter pill – it’s hard to see why it should be a bitter pill at all – than finding out the properties are shared because of shared culture.
    .
    Or to take this further (into territory Seven, not I, opened up), suppose someone said to me: “You’re stupid – all men are stupid”. This would be insulting, but surely no more or less insulting if they went on to say to tell me that men are stupid because of something in their Y chromosome, or something in the water supply, or something in their upbringing. The insult lies in the “stupid” part, and the pre-judging, not in the precise causal details.
    .
    Seven, just so you know: I’ll receive any reply you may choose to make, but I won’t be actively visiting these boards again – the general spite, wilful misunderstandings and manufactured outrage are not my cup of tea. Just thought it polite to let you know in advance why your next post (if there is one) will be unanswered.

  136. chigau (違う) says

    Henry Fitzgerald
    Bless Your Heart

    Seven of Mine
    Do you think you’ll be OK?
    Can I get you a cup of tea?

  137. Hj Hornbeck says

    Ethan @128:

    On second thought, let’s consider the identical twin studies. Mainly because I don’t have to.

    Behavioral genetics studies on identical twins put up for adoption have indicated “strong genetic influences on personal characteristics such as IQ, alcoholism, gender identity, and other traits.” Identical twins raised in different environments were shown to share more similarities than fraternal twins raised in the same home (source: http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/understanding-nature-nurture-twins; and: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ff0616S.pdf).

    Cool cool, I’ll just accept your references straight up (even though one is an opinion piece and the other is a blog post, neither of which present any hard data). Congrats, you’ve just proven personality traits are inherited.

    How does that show there’s a difference between sexes?

    If anything, our genetics argues against sex differences. The Y chromosome contains about 17 genes; here’s a quick run-down of what some of those genes do:

    AZF: Sperm production.
    BPY2: Sperm production.
    DAZ1/2: Sperm production.
    PRKY: Sex determination, very similar to an X chromosome gene.
    RBMY1A1: Sperm production.
    TDF (aka SRY): Sex determination, via upregulating SOX9 and others.
    TSPY1: Sperm production.
    USP9Y: Sperm production.
    UTY: Histone demethylase, used to undo epigenetic downregulation.
    ZFY: Transcription factor of unknown function, very similar to an X chromosome gene.

    If there’s any difference between the sexes due to genes, it’s gotta be in there. Yet, almost all of the Y-only genes are responsible for sperm production, save two acting as “master switches” that drastically alter physiology and two regulating other genes. There’s no aggression gene, no testosterone-producing gene, no penis gene, no muscle gene, no height gene…. all of those must be elsewhere on the genome.

    And there’s a lot of other genome, roughly 20,700 genes worth.

    About 1,100 of those are on the X chromosome. Many people incorrectly think of that as the “female” chromosome, but in actual fact every single human being has at least one. It contains genes necessary to make almost every part of you, and even contains more genes related to testicle formation than the Y. That’s not to detract from the rest of the genome; for instance, there are at least as many sex-determining genes on chromosome 1 as there are on the Y (specifically, WNT4 and RSPO1). Think about it: no matter what sex you are, you contain every instruction necessary to build and regulate a uterus, to form ovaries and release eggs. If there are any behaviors linked to genes, you contain them too.

    So what’s stopping you from expressing those genes, and grabbing the same benefits? Or “benefits,” come to think of it; the cartoon version of evolution in most of our heads asserts that beneficial adaptations are the primary force behind it, yet the theory most biologists subscribe to not only argues that neutral mutations have much more influence, it also states that mildly harmful mutations can persist and even thrive. So if expressing some of those genes would harm someone of a certain sex, it doesn’t automatically follow that they’d be selected against for that sex.

    The fact that we differ by 17-ish genes out of a pool of 20,700 is an argument for similarity, not difference. You would expect genetically-inherited traits to affect all sexes by default, and only when confronted with evidence to the contrary would we be justified in saying otherwise.

    You have not presented that evidence.

  138. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Henry Fitzgerald @ 164

    Let me pass over the completely unmotivated slide from talk about preferences and inclinations, into talk about capabilities and intelligence

    What the fuck difference does it make if we’re talking about preferences or abilities? I mean leaving aside that nothing about what I said excludes preferences. And other than because you want to frame it as being something as inconsequential as whether you like cauliflower or not. If the direction you’re being pushed in is one where you earn less money and have fewer opportunities and are generally less respected than some other group because you’re being fed a bunch of bullshit about innate gender differences, that is discrimination. It doesn’t matter if the lie is about your capabilities or your preferences. They’re still lies and they still have the effect of denying you opportunity.

    Why is it worse to be told, or to discover, that I have these inclinations because I am egenetically disposed to have them, than to be told, or discover, that I have these inclinations because I was trained or conditioned into having them?

    Culture exists and will always exist and it’s not inherently bad and nobody said it is. But if the culture is lying to you about what you’re capable of or will enjoy, is leaving you with fewer choices than some other group because of some accident of birth, that is discriminatory. What do you not understand about that? If you spend your entire life being told that, as a girl, you’re supposed to not be interested in math or the sciences, not interested in sports, dislike confrontation, etc, you are being denied opportunities. You’re being discouraged from even trying at math, science, sport etc. You’re being discouraged from standing up for yourself. Even if nobody ever mentions your capabilities at any of those things and strictly limits themselves to filling your head with a bunch of horseshit about what you prefer. And then Sam Fucking Harris gets on a stage and goes “well I think that critical posture is just intrinciscally male”. So you have a culture designed to drive women away from these pursuits by filling their heads with a bunch of lies about innate gender differences and then pompous white dudes point to the fact that women don’t get involved in these pursuits as proof of innate gender differences. It’s fucking circular.

    Or to take this further (into territory Seven, not I, opened up), suppose someone said to me: “You’re stupid – all men are stupid”. This would be insulting, but surely no more or less insulting if they went on to say to tell me that men are stupid because of something in their Y chromosome, or something in the water supply, or something in their upbringing. The insult lies in the “stupid” part, and the pre-judging, not in the precise causal details.

    This is so wide of the point it’s kind of amazing. If the people telling you you’re stupid are LYING TO YOU, for the purpose of denying you opportunities, that is discrimination. And I don’t believe for a second that you don’t understand this.

    Seven, just so you know: I’ll receive any reply you may choose to make, but I won’t be actively visiting these boards again – the general spite, wilful misunderstandings and manufactured outrage are not my cup of tea. Just thought it polite to let you know in advance why your next post (if there is one) will be unanswered.

    Oh for fuck’s sake.

    @ chigau

    It’s a real blow to be dismissed by the likes of Henry Fitzgerald but I think I’ll be alright if I just lie down for a bit.

  139. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Also @ Henry Fitzgerald

    Don’t think I didn’t notice that you dismissed all but 4 sentences of my response to you as an “intemperate rant.” I don’t owe you temperance or civility. If you’re distracted from the content of my post because I used some language you consider vulgar, that’s your problem and it reflects far worse on you than it does on me. You have the audacity to accuse me of willful misunderstanding when the entirety of your latest response relies on the elision of the bulk of what I said.

  140. smhll says

    Ah, damn, I wrote a really careful comment, but hit the wrong key in preview and lost everything.

    I loathe gender essentialism, but if I had to chose, would tend to choose “yay, women are great” essentialism over “boo, women are inferior” statements. (Pteryxx wrote a great comment about the harm of the positive stereotype about women being better nurturers. Everyone should read it. And I should probably read it twice.)

    Let me see if I can make Harris’ ‘positive’ gender essentialism more relatable and forgivable.

    So, I was raised by a single mother after my parents’ divorce. I think Sam Harris commented about being raised by a single mom. I don’t know if his father died or just departed. (Statistically divorce and breakups are more common than widowhood in the child raising years.)

    For someone like me whose father was mostly absent and mostly voluntarily, it’s easy as a child to form the idea that since women in single parent homes do the vast majority of the care-giving work thus they must care more. There’s a bias that gets built in because we experience our own homelife nearly continuously while having much more limited exposure to the lives of other people.

    I’m starting to get a glimmer that someone could strongly internalize the idea that women are better at being caring people than men and have that idea come from positive ideation about women. (Yes, it includes negative ideation about men.) I think it’s possible to feel this idea very strongly and not feel it with the intention of oppressing women or disrespecting men. (But, oops, it does.)

    I can imagine a stick-figure drawing of Sam Harris saying “Yes, I’m insisting on gender essentialism, and maybe I need to think this through more, but this is not coming from a place of wanting to hold women down and keep them in the domestic sphere.”

    (Compared to the shit Dawkins is spewing on Twitter, Harris is making a less terrible than Dawkins impression on me. He might be just as bad but his comments don’t seem to be spreading far and wide and fueling the flames to the extent that I can see them.)

  141. A Masked Avenger says

    @smhill:

    Let me see if I can make Harris’ ‘positive’ gender essentialism more relatable and forgivable.

    Why do you want to do that?

    Compared to the shit Dawkins is spewing on Twitter, Harris is making a less terrible than Dawkins impression on me.

    The question is, what kind of impression is he making on women? Do they agree that, “If he’s going to stereotype us, at least it’s a positive stereotype as nurturing, motherly people”?

    I’ma go out on a limb here and tell you that they won’t say that at all. In fact, that’s the most common stereotype they get, and they’re bloody sick to death of it. They’ve heard “you’re too sweet and delicate,” and they’ve heard, “you’re not logical enough,” and they’d appreciate never having to hear either of those things ever again.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *