Gawd, that line annoys me. I’m sure you’ve heard it or some variation of it: “feminism is a religion,” “feminism destroys science,” “feminism is opposed to science,” and so on. Yet if you take a dip in the social sciences literature, you realise there’s quite a bit of science behind feminist perspectives. While reading up on sexual assault and trauma, for instance, I came across this delightful passage in one paper:

In conjunction with the SES and similar measures, scholars have argued that feminist perspectives have had a profound impact on the sexual assault literature (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004). For example, Brownmiller (1975) emphasized the role of patriarchy and helped shift attention further away from internal pathology to systemic and social issues. Advancements such as the SES and the development of Burt’s (1980) instruments to assess rape-supportive beliefs added weight to feminist perspectives of sexual assault by demonstrating that many men did not label specific sexual encounters against a woman’s will as rape, and even held favorable attitudes toward rape (e.g., Burt, 1980; Malamuth, 1981). Feminist perspectives emphasizing systemic devaluation of women and gender inequality as major contributors to college men’s sexual assault perpetration continue to be widely embraced in the literature.

Feminist perspectives also appear to be a driving force in different approaches to studying men and masculinities in relation to sexual assault perpetration. For instance, our narrative review identified several distinct areas of research, such as general descriptive studies of college sexual assault perpetration rates (e.g., Koss et al., 1987), characteristics of sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Krebs et al., 2007), and key features of sexual assault offenders (e.g., Abbey & McAuslan, 2004). Consistent with previous systematic reviews (e.g., Tharp et al., 2013), findings across each of these domains indicate that, although there are several avenues that may lead a man toward sexual assault perpetration, certain factors are associated with increased risk, such as living in a fraternity (e.g., Murnen & Kohlman, 2007), viewing violent pornography (e.g., Carr & VanDeusen, 2004), using alcohol on dates or believing alcohol increases the chances for sexual access (Abbey, 2011), endorsing violence toward women or accepting rape myths (e.g., Murnen, Wright, & Kaluzny, 2002), engaging in past sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Loh, Gidycz, Lobo, & Luthra, 2005), feeling entitled to sex (e.g., Widman & McNulty, 2010), associating with men who endorse rape-supportive ideologies (Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001; Swartout, 2013), and perceiving that peers endorse rape myths (e.g., Swartout, 2013). In general, investigators emphasized men’s socialization (i.e., masculinities) as a driving force behind each of these risk factors.

McDermott, Ryon C., et al. “College male sexual assault of women and the psychology of men: Past, present, and future directions for research.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity16.4 (2015): 355-366.

That last paragraph is greatly amusing, to me. MRAs love to bring up all the problems men face, but don’t seem to realise that feminists were the first to recognise and study those problems, using frameworks they’d created. Many don’t realise how big a debt they owe. (#notallmen!)

Stephanie Zvan on Recovered Memories

I’ve been hoping for a good second opinion on this topic, and Zvan easily delivers. She has some training in psychology (unlike me), has been dealing with this topic for longer than I have, and by waiting longer to weigh in she’s had more time to craft her arguments. I place high weight on her words, so if you liked what I had to say be sure to read her take as well.

When we look more generally at how memory works, it quickly becomes apparent that focusing exclusively on the recovery of false memories produces lessons that aren’t generally applicable for evaluating memories of traumatic events. We need to continue to be on our guard for the circumstances that produce induced memories, and we have skeptics to thank for very important work on that topic.

However, it’s equally important that we, as skeptics, don’t fall into thinking every memory that people haven’t been shouting from the rooftops from the moment of trauma is induced. Recovered false memories are unusual events that happen under unusual circumstances. Abuse is a common occurrence, typically subject to normal rules of memory.

She also takes a slightly different path than I did. As weird as it may sound, I didn’t cover recovered memories very much in an argument supposedly centred around them; between the science on trauma, the obvious bias of Pendergrast and Crews, the evidence for bias from Loftus, the signs of anomaly hunting, and those court transcripts, I didn’t need to. I could blindly accept their assumptions of how those memories worked, and still have a credible counter-argument. Zvan’s greater familiarity with psychology allows her to take on that angle directly, and it adds much to the conversation. A taste:

Not everyone is susceptible to [false recovered memories]. Brewin and Andrews, writing for The British Psychological Society, characterize the situation thus: “Rather than childhood memories being easy to implant, therefore, a more reasonable conclusion is that they can be implanted in a minority of people given sufficient effort.” Estimates in the studies they look at (including Elizabeth Loftus’s work) show an effect in, on average, 15% of study participants, though they caution actual belief in those memories may be lower.

But enough from me, go read her.

Intriguing Theory on the Pay Gap

I’ve heard a number of solid hypotheses to explain the gendered pay gap: unpaid care work,[1][2] the motherhood penalty,[3] or just straight-up discrimination.[4] This one is new to me, though.

Sexual harassment is well documented across many fields but women who work in men-dominated occupations and industries experience higher rates (Fitzgerald et al. 1997; Gruber 1998; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). The likelihood of harassment also increases with exposure to a wider range of employees (Chamberlain et al. 2008; De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and is higher among single women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999; Rosenberg, Perlstadt, and Phillips 1993), highly educated women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and women in positions of authority (Chamberlain et al. 2008; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). Because sexual harassment forces some women out of jobs, it likely influences their career attainment (Blackstone, Uggen, and McLaughlin 2009; Lopez, Hodson, and Roscigno 2009). Numerous studies link voluntary and involuntary career interruptions to significant earnings losses (Brand 2015; Couch and Placzek 2010; Theunissen et al. 2011).[5]

I hope you see where they’re going with this. Sexual harassment causes women to switch jobs or leave the workforce, but pay is usually linked to how long you’ve stayed in your job. Professions where women dominate have less of a sexual harassment problem, but are also viewed as “feminized” and thus worth less.[6] Even within a profession approaching gender parity, like lawyers in the UK, women can be marginalized.

However, optimistic prognoses of gender emancipation are somewhat challenged when considering that the mass entry of women to this profession has been characterized by patterns of vertical stratification and horizontal segmentation (Hagan and Kay, 1995; Sommerlad, 2002; Stake et al., 2007). Women solicitors are more likely to be in subordinate salaried positions, to work part–time, to practise in less prestigious and remunerative firms and legal specialisms and, more generally, to attract lesser terms and conditions. There is a clear pattern of vertical stratification whereby a growing cohort of predominantly female subordinates are confined to ‘a (frequently transient) proletarian role’ (Sommerlad, 2002: 217) and deployed to support the earnings and privileges of a relatively prosperous and autonomous elite of predominately male partners. Women, despite representing a growing majority of salaried solicitors (over 55 per cent of associate and assistant solicitors) and new entries to the profession, still constitute less than a quarter (23.2 per cent) of partners and the average female solicitor enjoys markedly less than half the chances of a male colleague to progress to partnership (17.6 per cent of women solicitors are partners against 39.5 per cent of their male peers) (SRU, 2006c).[7]

So if women switch to a career where they’re less likely to face harassment, or even start off there, they’re paid less than men for the same amount of work. It’s a brilliant theory, and that paper does find evidence in support of it.

In bivariate analyses, women who experienced unwanted touching or multiple harassing behaviors in 2003 reported significantly greater financial stress in 2005 (t = –2.664, p ≤ .01). Some of this strain may be due to career disruption, as harassment targets were especially likely to change jobs. As shown in Figure 1, 79 percent of targets as compared to 54 percent of other working women started a new primary job in either 2004 or 2005 (χ2 = 9.53, p ≤ .01). […]
In Model 2 of Table 2, we test whether the increased financial stress reported by harassment targets can be attributed to their greater likelihood of changing jobs. Analyzing consecutive waves of YDS data, we can establish clear temporal order between sexual harassment (2003), job change (2004–2005), and financial stress (2005). In addition to having a strong direct effect on financial stress (β = .582, p ≤ .01), job change reduces the effect of harassment below standard significance levels. Following Baron and Kenny (1986), we calculate that 35 percent of the total effect of sexual harassment on financial stress is mediated through job change (…). Targets of sexual harassment were 6.5 times as likely as nontargets to change jobs in 2004–2005, net of the other variables in our model (…).[5]

They caution that their data source is from a single cohort, thus it may not generalize, but I think the theoretical axioms are strong enough that it probably will. A similar effect could be happening with non-binary and transgender/transsexual people, too.

It’s also worth underlining that it’s foolish to think the gendered pay gap has one and only one cause; an economy with millions or even billions of actors is a highly complex system, so it’s unlikely to have simple explanations for patterns on that scale. A combination of the above factors is likely driving the gendered pay gap, and we’ll need complex solutions to solve it.

[1] Ferrant, Gaëlle, Luca Maria Pesando, and Keiko Nowacka. Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Gender Gaps in Labour Outcomes. OECD Development Centre Issues Paper, 2014.

[2] Budlender, Debbie. The Statistical Evidence on Care and Non-Care Work across Six Countries. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Geneva, 2008.

[3] Benard, Stephen, and Shelley J. Correll. “Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty.” Gender & Society 24, no. 5 (2010): 616–646.

[4] Murphy, Emily, and Daniel Oesch. “The Feminization of Occupations and Change in Wages: A Panel Analysis of Britain, Germany and Switzerland,” 2015.

[5] McLaughlin, Heather, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women.” Gender & Society 31, no. 3 (2017): 333–358.

[6] England, Paula, Michelle Budig, and Nancy Folbre. “Wages of Virtue: The Relative Pay of Care Work,” 2001.

[7] Sharon Bolton, and Daniel Muzio. “The Paradoxical Processes of Feminization in the Professions: The Case of Established, Aspiring and Semi-Professions.” Work, Employment and Society 22, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 281–99. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017008089105.

Women’s Work

[I know, I’m a good three months late on this. It’s too good for the trash bin, though, and knowing CompSci it’ll be relevant again within the next year.]

This swells my heart.

LAURIE SEGALL: Computer science, it hasn’t always been dominated by men. It wasn’t until 1984 that the number of women studying computer science started falling. So how does that fit into your argument as to why there aren’t more women in tech?

JAMES DAMORE: So there are several reasons for why it was like that. Partly, women weren’t allowed to work other jobs so there was less freedom for people; and, also… it was simply different kinds of work. It was more like accounting rather than modern-day computer programming. And it wasn’t as lucrative, so part of the reason so many men give go into tech is because it’s high paying. I know of many people at Google that- they weren’t necessarily passionate about it, but it was what would provide for their family, and so they still worked there.

SEGALL: You say those jobs are more like accounting. I mean, look at Grace Hopper who pioneered computer programming; Margaret Hamilton, who created the first ever software which was responsible for landing humans on the moon; Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, they were responsible for John Glenn accurately making his trajectory to the moon. Those aren’t accounting-type jobs?

DAMORE: Yeah, so, there were select positions that weren’t, and women are definitely capable of being confident programmers.

SEGALL: Do you believe those women were outliers?

DAMORE: … No, I’m just saying that there are confident women programmers. There are many at Google, and the women at Google aren’t any worse than the men at Google.

Segall deserves kudos for getting Damore to reverse himself. Even he admits there’s no evidence women are worse coders than men, in line with the current scientific evidence. I’m also fond of the people who make solid logical arguments against Damore’s views. We even have good research on why computing went from being dominated by women to dominated by men, and how occupations flip between male- and female-dominated as their social standing changes.

But there’s something lacking in Segall’s presentation of the history of women in computing. She isn’t alone, I’ve been reading a tonne of stories about the history of women in computing, and all of them suffer from the same omission: why did women dominate computing, at first? We think of math and logic as being “a guy thing,” so this is terribly strange. [Read more…]

Words Still Have Meanings

It’s a bit amusing to sit down to write something, only to realize you’ve said it better before.

But, rolling back to the start….

Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday blasted coverage of her support for the GOP tax bill as “extremely discouraging” and “unbelievably sexist.” […]

“I believe that the coverage has been unbelievably sexist, and I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped. How am I duped when all your amendments get accepted?”

Having dug into the details, there might be a faint glimmer of truth in there.

Collins also singled out a report that she said included a line about how she “didn’t cry” during a recent meeting with protesters, many of whom suffer from grave medical conditions. That line was later removed after Collins complained, but not before the story posted online.

And sure enough, if you read an archived copy of that New York Times article:

As a group of progressive activists and constituents prepared for a 15-minute meeting on Wednesday with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, they sat in the lobby of her office and developed a last-ditch strategy to persuade her to vote against the $1.5 trillion tax bill barreling through Congress: tears.

“If Senator Collins actually saw you as a human, saw me as a human, then she wouldn’t pass any of this,” said Ady Barkan, a member of the Center for Popular Democracy, who recently learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., and uses a wheelchair. […]

After her meeting at her office, it did not appear that Ms. Collins was ready to change her vote, or that she had been brought to tears.

This fits into a common sexist stereotype.

One of the most persistent ideas about the differences between men and women is that women are more emotional than men. Research on stereotypes has shown emotionality to be one of the general dimensions of sex stereotypes: women are said to be more expressive, excitable, and easily hurt than men. They are also supposed to be more sensitive to the emotions of others […]. Not surprisingly then, when we think of an emotional person, a woman most quickly comes to our minds […].

The large and uncontested consensus about women’s greater emotionality not only characterizes common sense. The assumption that men and women fundamentally differ in their emotional lives can be found through the history of Western academic thought: whereas maleness stands for reason, femaleness is characterized by another mood of understanding, in which taste, sensibility, practical sense and feeling are more important […]. From the 19th century onwards, rationality and emotionality have largely become associated with the supposedly different natures of men and women, the former fitted for productive labor and the latter for household and emotional labor.

Fischer, Agneta H. “Sex differences in emotionality: Fact or stereotype?.” Feminism & Psychology 3.3 (1993): 303-318.

By using tears as a theme in that article, it was indirectly reinforcing the stereotype that women are driven more by emotion than logic and reason. That is sexist.

Except that’s not all the article said.

Ms. Collins remained respectful and strained to convince the room of about a dozen skeptics that the promises that had been made to her were ironclad. She defended her decision in the face of the group’s challenges that previous Republican promises for the tax bill had been broken, including a commitment to not add to the deficit and to not benefit the rich, and that written agreements are not law.

“I do not believe that I’ve given up leverage,” Ms. Collins said. “I’ve used my leverage to negotiate agreements that are promises to me.” She added, “I’m sorry that you don’t believe in the agreements.”

The deals that Ms. Collins struck that extend beyond the tax bill have been the subject of much speculation and doubt in Washington, because they would require the backing of House Republicans and some Democrats.

Alan Rappeport’s article primarily presents Collins as a rational, autonomous agent. The Senator claims she has negotiated for bipartisan health legislation and against automatic Medicare cuts. It puts that front and centre, focusing on the debate over how secure those pledges to Collins have been, and leaves the call to emotion as a background theme. At the other end, emotion is a strong tool in the activists’ toolkit. Appeals to emotion are not automatically sexist, they only become that way when generalized across a sex. Rappeport’s article was not directly sexist, as it did not explicitly state women are more driven by emotion; at best, it indirectly contributed to existing sexist stereotypes. That’s not a good thing, but that has to be weighed against the large portions where it indirectly challenges those stereotypes as well.

Note as well that the Senator claimed her coverage was “unbelievably sexist.” Yet when pressed, the best example she could give is the indirect, conflicting example above. It’s a pretty safe bet that Collins is conflating “criticizing women” with “sexism,” possibly in an attempt to defend herself from people critiquing the strength of her concessions. She might also legitimately misunderstand what “sexism” means, a terribly common problem.

I was going to transition to talking about how Status Quo Warriors rely on ignorance of terms to support their views, but I realized past-me already did an excellent job on that subject. So please accept this brief meditation on sexism instead, and follow the link for more interesting reading.

Faux Calls for Debate

Much has been written about that (sadly too common) “manifesto” from a Google employee. I’d chip in with a dissection of their claims about the biological capabilities of women, but I’ve already done so, multiple times. I also haven’t seen anyone bring up that women were essential to early computation, but again I’ve touched on that angle already.

So instead, I’ll settle for boosting one of the more interesting takes. Take it away, Dr. NerdLove.

This isn’t really about the memo itself but more in how people treat others, esp. other people who they fundamentally oppose.

First: the positioning oneself as being rational. In cases like this? It’s enshrining “This doesn’t affect me” as “value-neutral”.

It’s easy to say “This is is a topic that should be debated” when it’s not something that will touch you at all.

The superiority of Genesis vs Super Nintendo is a debate. EMACS vs [Vim] is a debate. Virtue of flat currency vs. fiat currency: debate.

“Your gender means that you’re biologically incapable of doing this job and should never have been hired” isn’t a fucking debate.

(Especially when it’s someone who doesn’t understand biology, gender roles, etc. saying this)

It’s easy for someone who has no skin in the game to say it should be “debated” because the outcome doesn’t affect them at *all*.

Let us also be real: this person doesn’t actually mean “debate”. Just as when eggs demand debate on Twitter, they don’t mean debate.

They aren’t asking for a structured discussion about whether someone has the biological capability to write code. They want to gish-gallop.

This isn’t going to be about changing minds or opinions. This is about playing to an audience and making enough noise to shut the others up.

This is why it’s so often framed as “if you won’t discuss this with me, your ideas are weak”. It’s about endurance and frustration.

In this case “whomever quits participating first” is framed as the “loser”. Not “there’s no point b/c this isn’t in good faith”.

These “debates” inevitably turn into goal-post shifts and fire-hose torrents of bullshit (gish-galloping) until the other person leaves.

Dr. NerdLove has more detail, but you get the basic gist: that manifesto isn’t calling for debate, any more than the creationists who make the same maneuver. This is about legitimizing a viewpoint that is illegit on its face, and hounding you until you pack up and leave. Don’t fall for it.

Sex Around the World

Oh, Jerry Coyne. I’m amused with his defense of a sex binary

In Drosophila and humans, the two species with which I’m most familiar, the behavior, appearance, and primary and secondary sex characteristics are determined almost completely by whether the chromosomal constitution is male (XY) or female (XX).

… since, like most such “scientific” defenses, he immediately turns around and shoots it in the foot.

Yes, there are a few exceptions, like AIS, but the various forms of that syndrome occur between 1 in every 20,000 to 1 in only 130,000 births.  Is that “too many examples” to all0w us to say that biological sex is not connected with chromosomes? If you look at all cases of intersexuality that occur in people with XX or XY chromosomes (we’re not counting XOs or XXYs or other cases of abnormal chromosomal number), the frequency of exceptions is far less than 1%. That means that, in humans as in flies, there is almost a complete correlation between primary/secondary sex characteristics and chromosome constitution.

Ah yes, chromosomes determine human sex except in the 0.05% to 1.7% of cases where they don’t. Brilliant logic, that.

But it’s easy to get trapped by your filter bubble. The internet is a lot bigger than North America, after all, and other places have their own view of sex. Take Sweden, for instance, where it’s  government policy to avoid teaching gender stereotypes. One kindergarten made headlines not too long ago by declaring itself “gender-neutral.” As the founder put it,

00:10:10,909 –> 00:11:03,329
I’m going to show you what we call the “whole life spectra.” We tend to divide this life spectra into two pieces, one for boys and one for girls. More often pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. When we call a boy “cool” and “strong,” and to girls we more often say that they should be “helpful,” “nice,” “cute,” we have different expectations [for how they behave]. We take away this border, and we don’t separate into “boyish” and “girlish,”  we give the whole life spectra to everyone. So we are not limiting, we are just adding. We are not changing the children, we are changing our own thoughts.

That video is worth watching, as it follows around two gender non-conforming kids with an intersex “ma-pa.” The few bigots on screen seem right out of 1984, claiming that expanding or eliminating gender stereotypes somehow constrains kids in some mysterious fashion. Every kid, in contrast, is either at ease with gender role fluidity or made uncomfortable when asked to label their gender.

But even Sweden appears behind the curve when contrasted with the Khawaja Sira of South Asia.

For centuries, South Asia has had its own Khawaja Sira or third gender culture. The community, identifying as neither male nor female, are believed by many to be “God’s chosen people,” with special powers to bless and curse anyone they choose. The acceptance of Khawaja Sira people in Pakistan has been held up internationally as a symbol of tolerance, established long before Europe and America had even the slightest semblance of a transgender rights movement.

But the acceptance of people defining their own gender in Pakistan is much more complicated. The term transgender refers to someone whose gender identify differs from their birth sex. This notion is yet to take root in Pakistan and the transgender rights movement is only beginning to assert itself formally. Now, some third gender people in Pakistan say the modern transgender identity is threatening their ancient third gender culture.

The problem is that the Khawaja Sira are allowed to exist within South Asian culture because they renounce both male and female gender roles, thus don’t challenge either. Trans* people, on the other hand, reject the role assigned to the Khawaja Sira and invoke the male or female one instead. This upsets every gender’s apple cart. It doesn’t help either that the Khawaja Sira in Pakistan have recently fallen onto hard times, facing increasing bigotry and hate; the increasing number of trans* people feels like an invasion of “Western” ideals, at a time when their community is ill-equipped to cope.

But do you remember hearing about Oyasiqur Rhaman, the atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh? His murderers were outed by a courageous “hijra,” which is similar in meaning to “Khawaja Sira” but not quite the same.

Transgender people occupy an unusual social stratum in South Asia, where conservative societies still consider same-sex intercourse to be a crime but also allow the existence of a third gender — a well-established category that dates back to the age of the “Kama Sutra.” Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have all legally recognized the existence of a third gender, including on passports and other official documents.

In India, in fact, “kinnar” freely mixes gender identity with non-binary sex. Compare and contrast this with Mexico’s “muxes,” who are called a third gender but in practice act more like trans* women, and Balkan sworn virgins who are more like trans* men. There’s no intersex component to the latter two, so lumping everybody under the banner of “third gender” or “transgender” is quite misleading.

Our binary view of sex and gender seem terribly archaic (which is ironic, as it may be a recent invention). It should not be controversial in North America to have a non-conforming parent or be raised in a genderless environment, yet it is. We could learn a thing or two from the rest of the world, especially when it comes to sex.