They’re all amused that I don’t understand biology, as evidence by my criticisms of Boghossian’s blatant biases. Would you believe Jordan Peterson chimed in, too? Oh, how I tremble in terror and shame. I have roused a loud army of dumbasses (get used to it, Trump generation).
Except…I’m reasonably confident in my knowledge, and my opponents seem to be grossly ignorant and pandering to the twin trickster gods of prejudice and common sense. Never trust those guys. So I’ll keep it simple. They don’t understand that distinction between brute fact and social knowledge.
Here’s a brute fact: John produces sperm. Jennifer produces ova, sometimes. There’s no denying these simple, measurable observations. Further, we’ll stipulate that these are healthy eggs and sperm, and that I can extract these cell types in the lab and combine them in a dish and create a healthy, growing diploid zygote, that I could then implant in an individual who has a uterus and grow to adulthood. In fact, if I wanted to engineer a master race, I could go through the population and segregate out the individuals who make sperm and those who make ova and begin doing all kinds of interesting biological experiments.
Now, here are some social facts: John is a man. Jennifer is a woman. And Racist Twitter is saying, “Of course!” Except that that has taken a simple brute fact, the presence of organs that produce gametes, and extrapolated it into the socially loaded gender terms that carry huge amounts of baggage and imply lots of details in our heads that aren’t necessarily true. For example, you might then imagine John is a bit larger and physically stronger than Jennifer, which, on average, is probably true, but not necessarily so.
Or you might assume John would be a better scientist than Jennifer, which is not at all true.
In their study, Moss-Racusin and her colleagues created a fictitious resume of an applicant for a lab manager position. Two versions of the resume were produced that varied in only one, very significant, detail: the name at the top. One applicant was named Jennifer and the other John. Moss-Racusin and her colleagues then asked STEM professors from across the country to assess the resume. Over one hundred biologists, chemists, and physicists at academic institutions agreed to do so. Each scientist was randomly assigned to review either Jennifer or John’s resume.
The results were surprising—they show that the decision makers did not evaluate the resume purely on its merits. Despite having the exact same qualifications and experience as John, Jennifer was perceived as significantly less competent. As a result, Jenifer experienced a number of disadvantages that would have hindered her career advancement if she were a real applicant. Because they perceived the female candidate as less competent, the scientists in the study were less willing to mentor Jennifer or to hire her as a lab manager. They also recommended paying her a lower salary. Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John.
Having functional testes is not a requirement for a lab manager, yet our society as a whole has this mental shortcut that categorizes the suitability of individuals to particular jobs on the basis of a raft of irrelevant, but usually easily detectable, characters. This is a reality that those who want to reduce people to a definition based on sex are ignoring. Even when a social fact is turned into a brute fact by social scientists like Moss-Racusin, they deny. It’s kind of depressing.
Furthermore, I snuck in another social fact in that paragraph introducing John and Jennifer. Did you notice?
Why is the sperm-producing person named “John”, and the ovum-producing person named “Jennifer”? These are arbitrary signifiers that we associate with a gender, and then to their roles in culture, and to traits like their qualities as lab managers. Imagine if I’d started that paragraph “Jennifer produces sperm. John produces ova, sometimes.” Many people would be confused. They’d think I’d made a mistake. I’d created a conflict between their social assumptions and the brute fact of biology. But there are people named John who have ovaries.
Hmm. I wonder how good they are at lab management?
By the way, allow me to introduce Jessie*. Jessie doesn’t produce sperm or ova, or maybe they do, but their behavior intentionally prevents reproduction. They do not dress in a socially conventional way for either gender. They do not engage in any of the standard courtship and mating customs of their culture. They ask you to use the non-gendered plural pronouns when addressing them.
But…but…there are only two sexes! We will struggle internally to fit Jessie into one of the two gender boxes convention allows. We must. We need to find some indication to help us accommodate our stereotypes.
Then we learn that Jessie is employed as a lab manager, and we are relieved. Jessie must be a “man”, then. We’ll be polite and continue to use the non-gendered pronouns, though. Or perhaps we’re an asshole like Jordan Peterson, and we’ll insist on forcing them into our biased pigeonholes.
And thus do we close the loop in our stereotypes and maintain the fiction of a binary reality, despite all the complicating evidence otherwise.
*Note that I snuck in yet another social fact for you to deal with: I chose what we consider a gender-neutral or ambiguous name for this person. But it can also be that someone named Jane or Joe chooses to defy those gender stereotypes, and then what happens? Everyone assumes Jane is female, of course. Even if Jane has testes hidden away under their school uniform. Because the gender binary must be served.
P.S. I forgot to mention the other criticism they’re shouting at me: “Myers is all ideological!” They’re completely oblivious to the fact that their position is blatantly ideological, too.
I admit to it. My ideology is to consider all of the evidence, even the stuff that makes my understanding of a situation more complicated.
Their ideology is to always make the evidence conform to their prior assumptions.