Delusions of gender, Delusions of difference

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Precis of the book by Cordelia Fine


<ul><li> 1. What this book says, and why it matters Emma Cookson, March 2013 </li> <li> 2. Why have I written this summary?Because I found this book inspiring, thought-provoking andfull of good data, quotes, examplesBecause I know most people wont have time to read it - butI wish they didAnd, most of all, because a lot of nonsense is talked aboutthe so-called innate differences between men and women -and this book starts to de-bunk some of it.... </li> <li> 3. The premise of the book in a nutshellThat male-ness and female-ness are more conditioned than innateSo just because you see evidence of a particular typical behavior by men or women, you dont get to claim that this difference is innate or hard-wired And the same goes for the typical skills/capabilities of men vs women, or even typical male vs female brain patterns. Differences by sex may indeed be there, but theyre not necessarily automatic or immutable Of particular note in a world where we read lots of pop-psychology articles and books about male vs female brains or male vs female thinking....its worth being aware that psychologists are increasingly clear that the human mind is plastic, mutable, responsive to environment. So the notion of an inherently male or female mind - as opposed to one shaped by its socio-cultural environment, including the gender biases of that environment - is improbable. </li> <li> 4. The premise in a nutshell contd..And all of this matters a lot - it isnt just academic argument - because it implies of course that womens current social, cultural and business situation relative to mens is completely open to change If male-ness and female-ness are mostly conditioned phenomena, rather than hard-baked and unchangeable, then you cant claim that what women have achieved so far, relative to men - whether as scientists or mathematicians, as CEOs or politicians, as artists or bread-winners - is in any way representative of their future capacity. </li> <li> 5. A couple of quotes that sum it all up..."When we condently compare the female mind and the male mind, we thinkof something stable inside the head of the person, the product of a female ormale brain. But such a tidily isolated data processor is not the mind that socialand cultural psychologists are getting to know with ever more intimacy. AsHarvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji puts it, there is no bright lineseparating self from culture, and the culture in which we develop and functionenjoys a deep reach into our minds." (Fine)"The existence of sex differences either in means or variances in ability saysnothing about the source or inevitability of such differences or their potential basisin immutable biology" (Johnson, Carothers, &amp; Dreary, 2008) </li> <li> 6. Or, in less scientic terms. The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. IfI was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddlyincompetent I found myself becoming. If a case was thought too heavy for me,inexplicably I found it so myself Jan Morris, male-to-female transsexual, in her autobiography Conundrum </li> <li> 7. "" """Debunk no.1From birth, boys and girls just naturallybehave differently </li> <li> 8. Parental sexism"Sociologist Barbara Rothman asked a group of mothers to describe the movements of their fetuses in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Among the women who didnt know the sex of their baby while they were pregnant, there was no particular pattern to the way that....male and female babies were described. But women who knew the sex of their unborn baby described the movements of sons and daughters differently. All were active but male activity was more likely to be described as vigorous and strong.....Female activity, by contrast, was described in much gentler terms (Rothman, The Tentative Pregnancy, 1988)"Psychologists often nd that parents treat baby girls and boys differently...One study, for example, found that mothers conversed and interacted more with girl babies and young toddlers....[and in another study] Mothers were shown an adjustable sloping walkway, and asked to estimate the steepness of slope their crawling eleven-month-old child could manage and would attempt. Girls and boys differed neither in crawling ability nor risk taking.....but mothers underestimated girls and overestimated boys - both in crawling ability and crawling attempts...." (Mondschein, Adolph &amp; Tamis-LeMonda 2000) </li> <li> 9. Gender conditioning for children"Visit ten childrens clothing stores, and each time approach a salesperson saying that youre looking for a present for a newborn. Count how many times youre asked "Is it a boy or a girl?" Youre likely to have a 100% hit rate" (Fine)"This tagging of gender - especially different conventions for male and female dress, hairstyle, accessories, and use of makeup - may well help children to learn how to divvy up the people around them by sex....At just ten months old, babies have developed the ability to make mental notes regarding what goes along with being male or female.." (Levy &amp; Haaf, 1994)"A recent survey of 19,664 childrens [TV] programs in twenty-four countries found that only 32 percent of main characters are female (....13 percent when it comes to nonhuman creatures like animals, monsters and robots.) And, a survey of the top-grossing G-rated movies from 1990 to 2005 found that less than a third of the speaking roles go to females (Gotz, 2008/Smith &amp; Cook, 2008) </li> <li> 10. Debunk no 2 "Traditional denitions of masculinity arentbetter, just different..... </li> <li> 11. No agenda here. Obviously.write down what, according to cultural lore, males and females are like..One list would probably feature communal personality traits such as compassionate, loves children, dependent, interpersonally sensitive, nurturing. These, you will note, are ideal qualications for someone who wishes to live to serve the needs of others. On the other character inventory we would see agentic descriptions like leader, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, competitive, dominant, independent, and individualism. These are the perfect traits for bending the world to your command...... (Fine) ".....When a child clings on to a highly desirable toy and claims that his companion "doesnt want to play with it", I have found that it is wise to be suspicious. The same skepticism can be usefully applied here" (Fine) </li> <li> 12. Debunk no 3"Women may not be so logical, but everyoneknows they have great intuition..... </li> <li> 13. That womans intuition thing?Fine cites various studies which apparently prove that - when asked to self-rate (my italics) on questions relating to empathy and intuitive understanding of others thoughts/feelings - women do indeed perform better than men. But she then goes on to question how reliable such self-rating really is. (cf the data weve all seen in other contexts about how vast majorities of the population rate themselves as having an above-average sense of humor, being a great driver, being more intelligent than average etc).It seems that self-rating as empathetic/non-empathetic is next to useless..."When psychologists Mark Davis and Linda Kraus analyzed all the then-relevant literature in search of an answer to the question, what makes for a good empathizer?.....They found that peoples ratings of their own social sensitivity, empathy, femininity, and thoughtfulness are virtually useless when it comes to predicting actual interpersonal accuracy" (Davis &amp; Kraus, Personality and empathic accuracy, 1997) </li> <li> 14. It turns out that the less people realize that what theyre being tested for is empathy/intuition (ie the less they are primed actively to think of themselves as male/female and to act accordingly) then the less likely women are to out- perform men. In other words, were just seeing a social/cultural effect."In other words, women and men may differ not so much in actual empathy but in how empathetic they would like to appear to others (and, perhaps, to themselves" as Eisenberg [psychologist Nancy Eisenberg] put it to Schaffer [Slate journalist, Amanda Schaffer]" (Fine, quoting from Slate, The Sex Difference Evangelists, July 1st 2008)Fine then goes on to describe the work of psychologist Willam Ickes who in the 1990s developed a new, particularly stringent test of actual empathy:-"He [Ickes]concludes from his labs research that "although women, on average, do not appear to have more empathetic ability than men, there is compelling evidence that women will display great accuracy than men when their empathetic motivation is engaged by situational cues that remind them that they, as women, are expected to excel at empathy-related tasks." (Ickes &amp; Graham, Gender differences in empathic accuracy, 2000) </li> <li> 15. Debunk no 4"Boys are just naturally better at mathand science </li> <li> 16. If different mathematical ability is genetic,how come this speed of change is possible? "In 1976, only 8 percent of Ph.D.s in biology went to women; by 2004, 44 percent did. Today, half of M.D.s go to women. Even in engineering, physics, chemistry, and math, the number of women receiving doctorates tripled or quadrupled between 1976 and 2001. Why assume that we have just now reached some natural limit?" Amanda Schaffer, Slate, July 2008 "...the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) the quantitative section of the ......SAT to kids who, theoretically, are way too young to take it. Children who score at least 700 (on a 200 to 800 scale) are dened as highly gifted. In the early 1980s, highly gifted boys identied by the SMPY outnumbered girls 13 to 1. by 2005, this ratio had plummeted to 2.8 to 1." (Andreescu et al, 2008) </li> <li> 17. "Im think Im bad at math = I will be badat math"Apparently mental rotation performance is the test which regularly shows the largest and most reliable gender difference in cognition. (The typical test involves being shown a 3D shape and having to match its pair in a set of options which have all been rotated into different positions). But Fine quotes multiple examples of how male-female results on this test can nevertheless be dramatically affected by modulating social context eg a study by Italian researcher Angelica Moe......"Moe gave the mental rotation test to Italian high school students, telling one group that men perform better on it probably for genetic reasons, telling a second group nothing about results, and telling a third group the lie that women perform better - again probably for genetic reasons. "In both the men-are-better and the control group, men outperformed women with the usual size of gender difference. But women in the women-are-better group, the recipients of the little white lie, performed just as well as the men" (A Moe, 2009) </li> <li> 18. CUNY psychologist Catherine Good set up a similar test relating to a very hard GRE (Graduate Record Examination) Math test. There were two samples - the stereotype threat sample (primed to be wary of genetic difference by being told the test was designed to understand what makes some people better at math) - and a non-threat sample who were explicitly told that despite testing on thousands of students, no gender difference had ever been found."Among these participants, men and women, as well as men in the nonthreat condition, all scored about 19 percent on this very difcult test. But women in the non-threat group scored an average of 30 percent, thus outperforming every other group....In other words, the standard presentation of a test seemed to suppress womens ability but when the same test was presented to women as equally hard for men and women it unleashed their mathematics potential (Good, Aronson &amp; Harder, 2008) </li> <li> 19. Fine goes on to explain: "Research suggests that the deadly combination of knowing-and-being (women are bad at math and I am a woman) can lower expectations, as well as trigger performance anxiety and other negative emotions" - later...</li></ul>