Reading Delusions of Gender. Great stuff.
On p 4 Cordelia Fine (hey I just realized we have something in common) tells us about implicit associations. We can’t avoid stereotypes just by not believing in them – they stick anyway, down below where we’re not aware of them and can’t root them out.
The principle behind learning in associative memory is simple: as its name suggests, what is picked up are associations in the environment. Place a woman behind almost every vacuum cleaner being pushed around a carpet and, by Jove, associative memory will pick up the pattern…Unlike explicitly held knowledge, where you can be reflective and picky about what you believe, associative memory seems to be fairly indiscriminate in what it takes on board. [p 5]
This is horrendously depressing.
In chapter 3 she talks about stereotypes and stereotype threat. I knew about this – remember the doll study? Remember Thurgood Marshall and the “colored doll”? I did a post about it shortly after Obama’s inauguration. Researchers had found an Obama effect. You know about this: remind people that they’re members of a group stereotyped as stupid or bad at math or bad at empathy, and then test them, and they will live up to the stereotype. Do something with an opposite effect and they will live up to that. It’s horribly easy to get the bad effect.
Stereotype threat effects have been seen in women who: record their sex at the beginning of a quantitative test (which is standard practice for many tests); are in the minority as they take the test; have just watched women acting in air-headed ways in commercials, or have instructors or peers who hold – consciously or otherwise – sexist attitudes. [pp 31-2]
Have just watched women acting in air-headed ways in commercials. Think about that. Think about tv and movies. One, women are mostly not there at all, and two, the women who are there are mostly acting in air-headed ways. Stereotype threat is everywhere. And it’s no good thinking well you can just resist it, because resisting it itself is bad for performance – it takes up cognitive space that can’t be used for better things. Frankly this makes me even more pissed off than I already was at all the smug gits who put so much energy into talking sexist shit on the intertubes. They’re doing real damage. It’s not just a matter of bruised fee-fees, it’s a matter of creating real obstacles.
Think about it.