Saturday, November 22, 2014

Gender disparity? Yes, please.

[Image Source: Papercards]

Last month, a group of Australian researchers from the life sciences published a paper that breaks down the duration of talks at a 2013 conference by gender. They found that while the overall attendance and number of presentations was almost equally shared between men and women, the women spoke on the average for shorter periods of time. The main reason for this was that the women applied for shorter talks to begin with. You find a brief summary on the Nature website.

The twitter community of women in science was all over this, encouraging women to make the same requests as men, asserting that women “underpromote” themselves by not taking up enough of their colleagues’ time.



Other studies have previously found that while women on the average speak as much as men during the day, they tend to speak less in groups, especially so if the group is predominantly male. So the findings from the conference aren’t very surprising.

Now a lot of what goes around on twitter isn’t really meant seriously, see the smiley in Katie Hinde’s tweet. I remarked one could also interpret the numbers to show that men talk too much and overpromote themselves. I was joking of course to make a point, but after dwelling on this for a while I didn’t find it that funny anymore.

Women are frequently told that to be successful they should do the same as men do. I don’t know how often I have seen advice explaining how women are allegedly belittling themselves by talking, well, like a woman. We are supposed to be assertive and take credit for our achievements. Pull your shoulders back, don’t cross your legs, don’t flip your hair. We’re not supposed to end every sentence as if it was a question. We’re not supposed to start every interjection with an apology. We’re not supposed to be emotional and personal, and so on. Yes, all of these are typically “female” habits. We are told, in essence, there’s something wrong with being what we are.

Here is for example a list with public speaking tips: Don’t speak about yourself, don’t speak in a high pitch, don’t speak too fast because “Talking fast is natural with two of your best friends and a bottle of Mumm, but audiences (especially we slower listening men) can’t take it all in”. Aha. Also, don’t flirt and don’t wear jewelry because the slow men might notice you’re a woman.

Sorry, I got sick at point five and couldn’t continue – must have been the Mumm. Too bad if your anatomy doesn’t support the low pitches. If you believe this guy that is, but listen to me for a moment, I swear I’ll try not to flirt. If your voice sounds unpleasant when you’re giving a talk, it’s not your voice, it’s the microphone and the equalizer, probably set for male voices. And do we really need a man to tell us that if we’re speaking about our research at a conference we shouldn’t talk about our recent hiking trip instead?

There are many reasons why women are underrepresented in some professions and overrepresented in others. Some of it is probably biological, some of it is cultural. If you are raising or have raised a child it is abundantly obvious that our little ones are subjected to gender stereotypes starting at very young age. Part of it is the clothing and the toys, but more importantly it’s simply that they observe the status quo: Childcare is still predominantly female business and I yet have to see a woman on the garbage truck.

Humans are incredibly social animals. It would be surprising if the prevailing stereotypes did not affect us at all. That’s why I am supportive of all initiatives that encourage children to develop their talents regardless of whether these talents are deemed suitable for their gender, race, or social background. Because these stereotypes are thousands of years old and have become hurdles to our selfdevelopment. By and large, I see more encouragements for girls than I see for boys to follow their passion regardless of what society thinks, and I also see that women have more backup fighting unrealistic body images which is what this previous post was about. Ironically, I was criticized on twitter for saying that boys don’t need to have a superhero body to be real men because that supposedly wasn’t fair to the girls.

I am not supportive of hard quotas that aim at prefixed male-female ratios. There is no scientific support for these ratios, and moreover I witnessed repeatedly that these quotas have a big backlash, creating a stigma that “She is just here because” whether or not that is true.

Thus, at the present level women are likely to still be underrepresented from where we would be if we’d manage to ignore social pressure to follow ancient stereotypes. And so I think that we would benefit from more women among the scientists, especially in math-heavy disciplines. Firstly because we are unnecessarily missing out of talent. But also because diversity is beneficial for the successful generation and realization of ideas. The relevant diversity is in the way we think and argue. Again, this is probably partly biological and partly cultural, but whatever the reason, a diversity of thought should be encouraged and this diversity is almost certainly correlated with demographic diversity.

That’s why I disapprove of so-called advice that women should talk and walk and act like men. Because that’s exactly the opposite from what we need. Science stands to benefit from women being different from men. Gender equality doesn’t mean genders should be equal, it means they should have the same opportunities. So women are more likely to volunteer organizing social events? Wtf is wrong with that?

So please go flip your hair if you feel like it, wear your favorite shirt, put on all the jewelry you like, and generally be yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you to be something you are not. If you need the long slot for your talk go ahead. If you’re confident you can get across your message in 15 minutes, even better, because we all talk too much anyway.


About the video: I mysteriously managed to produce a video in High Definition! Now you can see all my pimples. My husband made a good camera man. My anonymous friend again helped cleaning up the audio file. Enjoy :)

34 comments:

Uncle Al said...

Autistic, obsessive-compulsive, aggressive, asocial, angry, scarred, unwashed, achieving and creating males are common; such females are not. Men are aβholes - a kid grabs another kid's cap, then "saloojee!" Fools demand and enforce ability miss-assignment called "equity," either sex. A king of fools rejects Maria Agnesi, Gertrude Elion, Rosalind Franklin, Hypatia, "Amazing Grace" Hopper, Kathleen Londsdale, Barbara McClintock, Lisa Meitner, Maryam Mirzakhani, Emily Noether, Lisa Randall, Marie Skłodowska, Penelope Smith, Rosalyn Yalow, and, of course, Bee. Get in their faces and they will rip out your lungs. Evolution is a hoot if you are one of the survivors. HOOT!

Giotis said...

I think this exposition proves you have a strong character Sabine; in this “women in science” drama it is often tempting to choose the comfort of self-dramatization via self-victimization.

If you know what I mean...

Henning said...

Having three kids (3, 7 and 9) I am very concerned and annoyed with how early and subversive gender stereotypes are inserted into their lives.

The good news is that some of the better kids TV programming has caught up to the point that you are making, i.e. that girls and women can be successful without having to "... walk and act like a man".

The new installment of "My Little Pony" for instance was made by the same producers who broke new ground for girl superhero characters with the "Powerpuff Girls".

It clearly shows, as the entire show is about diverse female characters who despite the humor are taken quite serious as characters, and excel against many obstacles big and small. (Of course for my youngest Luna it has the additional attraction of featuring a character that goes by the same name.)

For older kids there probably has never been a better girl hero created than Kora. Nothing contrived about her, nor a hint of male emulation, yet she is absolutely kick-ass.

And yes, I probably spend way too much time listening in on what my kids watch on TV ...

(BTW some of the worst stereotyping you'll still find in German kids TV, even the venerable Sendung mit der Maus. It sometimes contains an animation 'Ein Fall für Freunde' that is gag-inducing in how it features female characters.)

HellCombatant said...

http://io9.com/these-lego-instructions-from-1974-are-awesome-and-yes-1662169567

Zephir said...

/* I think this exposition proves you have a strong character Sabine */

? She likes coward censoring instead of arguments in the same way like many others...

Henning said...

@HellCombatant, nice find.

Really have issues with these new special girly LEGO friends products.

My girls are great at building dragons and all sort of other fantastic creatures with regular Lego. No special mini-figs required.

L. Edgar Otto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Zephir: I have told you dozens of times that I delete your crap because you're an annoyance to my readers, not because I am afraid of your overpowering wisdom. Not that I actually believe my words have any chance of finally reaching your brain.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Giotis,

Thanks, yes, I know what you mean. You see significantly less of this in Scandinavia, it's really interesting. I mean there are still gender imbalances here of course, but the interesting thing is the hands-on attitude that people bring here to the topic. Less talk and more walk, if you wish. And the more walk, the less need to talk. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Henning,

Thanks for mentioning these, I'll put them on my list :) Yes, German TV shows can be quite strong on the stereotyping. I must have escaped this message simply because I was really bad at telling boys from girls as a kid. I always thought for example that Vicki the Viking is a girl, and my best sandbox "girlfriend" turned out to be a boy too. The worse really though were the series that were explicitly aimed at girls. You know, the ones with the ponies and so on. Best,

B.

Jonathan said...

Sabine, I read the exchange you linked to on Twitter. I'm sure you're aware that gender issues have become highly polarized, and extremists who will attack anyone viciously if they say something that doesn't fit with their worldview are rampant. It seems you were on the receiving end of this--bullying tactics are quite common.

I appreciate your posts on this and other issues, and hope you continue to generate them.

Henning said...

Vicki had me fooled too :-)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Jonathan:

In fact, the recent "shirtgate" made me think. This overreaction has grown to a point where it is actively working against the cause if you ask me. I don't want to be associated with women-in-science who think a man deserves to be publicly stoned for wearing a shirt with cartoon characters. The problem is that the public debate of the existing gender disparity is totally dominated by the (mostly American) voices who scream the loudest. That is really unfortunate. Best,

B.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Last month, a group of Australian researchers from the life sciences published a paper that breaks down the duration of talks at a 2013 conference by gender."

Old statisticians never die. They just get broken down by age and sex.

Phillip Helbig said...

"They found that while the overall attendance and number of presentations was almost equally shared between men and women, the women spoke on the average for shorter periods of time. The main reason for this was that the women applied for shorter talks to begin with."

No, it's just because men are used to bragging "mine's longer". :-)

Phillip Helbig said...

"Too bad if your anatomy doesn’t support the low pitches."

Hasn't hurt Ed Witten's career. :-)

Phillip Helbig said...

"Childcare is still predominantly female business and I yet have to see a woman on the garbage truck."

You are one of the few to mention the latter problem as well as the former. Until all the pundits realize that one can't cherry pick and demand equality only where one's own group suffers (if, indeed, it does actually suffer, which is a different question) from it, then there is no hope of change.

Like you, I see quotas as contraproductive at best and seriously misguided at worst. But it seems to me that anyone demanding a quote but not demanding a 50 per cent quota for men and women in all areas with no exceptions is a hypocrite.

Phillip Helbig said...

"So please go flip your hair if you feel like it"

I used to, but it has become so thin from chemotherapy that I had to cut it short. My avatar shows my 'do from back in the day.

Jonathan said...

Sabine,
I agree, and it's one more U.S. export we're very proud of.

Ironically, U.S. activists are screaming the loudest about such details (when you're worried about what shirt someone wears, you kind of have to admit you're down to details), even as reproductive rights are being rolled back in parts of this country.

But, as you say, it's worse than simply being a distraction. It tends to discredit efforts towards equality on the whole. Not a good development.

What's more, I have very smart nieces who could go into science/technology fields, and don't think outcries over shirts actually help promote such careers to them.

Phillip Helbig said...

Some people had the right idea even quite long ago.

Phillip Helbig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phillip Helbig said...

"Ironically, U.S. activists are screaming the loudest about such details (when you're worried about what shirt someone wears, you kind of have to admit you're down to details), even as reproductive rights are being rolled back in parts of this country."

It's not ironic unless you believe that the entire country should have the same mentality. It would be ironic if it were the same people doing both things, and hypocritical as well, but that is not the case.

On the same note, it is not ironic that the USA, which in general is rather prudish about sexuality, has a large porn industry, since only a negligible number of the population are involved in it. (A non-negligible number might consume it, but even then it would be hypocritical only if the same person consumes and criticizes.) If the majority make laws about public decency etc, then no surprise if they are quite restrictive. This in no way rules out a large minority which might think otherwise.

Jonathan said...

To be clear, I'm not saying that the activists are the ones rolling back reproductive rights. My comment was as regards priorities and seeing the forest for the trees - in my view, the activists in question, who ostensibly support women's rights, are focusing on what appears to be petty things, even while "big picture" issues pass them by.

Of course, it's always possible such activists feel shirts are the important issue and don't care about reproductive rights. In my experience, that doesn't appear to be the case, nor is it consistent with their stated worldview.

At any rate, it really wasn't my intent to start a large debate on this with my observation. My main point, in reply to Sabine's comment, is that I agree it would appear there are counterproductive efforts underway.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Jonathan:

They scream about things like the shirt on Twitter because they feel like it's something that they have an influence on, in constrast to larger matters of politics. At least from my perspective it looks like democracy in the US is basically broken. I know, how ironic that a German would say that, as I largely owe the emphasis on the relevance of democracy in my own education to Americans. It is beyond me how come a supposedly advanced nation like the USA still doesn't have institutionalized parental leave. Now wouldn't that be something to scream about? Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

And don't even get me started on abortions...

Jonathan said...

Sabine,
I don't disagree that the U.S. is in serious trouble, politically speaking. It is an interesting lesson in how the political process of a liberal democracy can be subverted, such that representatives can be repeatedly elected who overtly represent policies at odds with what most people ostensibly want.

In part, I think that's a consequence of both U.S. cultural history and flaws in the political/legal framework, and in part, it's the result of a deliberate effort (of course). It must be both amazing, and depressing, for much of the rest of the world to see, just as it is here. So much unfulfilled potential.

Uncle Al said...

Re "rights." When buying and selling are regulated, the first things to be bought and sold are the regulators.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9pD_UK6vGU
The US social advocacy solution to content-based qualification. This is its Federally-imposed mechanism,

http://www.podcastled.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/lorem_ipsum_fish_poskot.jpg

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Jonathan:

Yes, you say it very aptly, so much unfulfilled potential :/ It is quite painful sometimes to hear what my American colleagues have to struggle with. The two main issues seem to me that

a) Wealth buys too much influence (eg in the media, campaigns, and lobbyism) and there are very few restrictions on this. Small surprise that the public opinion isn't well represented. These problems exist in other countries too of course, but not to such extremes.

b) It has become de facto a two party system, which leads to an extreme polarization and a total lack of moderate alternatives.

Best,

B.

wereatheist said...

I yet have to see a woman on the garbage truck.
So you have not seen the movie "Willkommen in Deutschland", featuring turkish women (in Turkey) on a garbage truck?

Eric said...

"Jonathan:

Yes, you say it very aptly, so much unfulfilled potential :/ It is quite painful sometimes to hear what my American colleagues have to struggle with. The two main issues seem to me that

a) Wealth buys too much influence (eg in the media, campaigns, and lobbyism) and there are very few restrictions on this. Small surprise that the public opinion isn't well represented. These problems exist in other countries too of course, but not to such extremes.

b) It has become de facto a two party system, which leads to an extreme polarization and a total lack of moderate alternatives."

People as a whole have not changed in the USA but the representation of them has. I'm not talking cyclical changes as have happened in the past, but long term changes. This has mostly occurred because of a radical supreme court majority that has ruled that corporations are people and should be given the same rights as individuals. It is hard to believe that could happen except in a book, like Orwell's 1984, but it has.

Because the supreme court justices generally don't step down, but simply die, there are long term consequences when an extreme group hold the majority.

Remember, these are the same justices, except perhaps for one, that overturned a presidential election in favor of George Bush. The way these anomalies happen in which the general public is no longer well represented is through simple random events.

The two most recent random events that caused this calamitous situation:

1. The 9/11 event happened during George Bushes' presidency.

2. A very large number of supreme court justices have been replaced recently during Republican presidential administrations and very few, if any during Democratic administrations.

In many ways it seems like we have just been extremely unlucky. That is not to say that the other party in power is not reprehensible in its own way. They are. The multiverse and an infinite universe is just made for a situation like this. It gives everyone scientific cover for their guilt by saying that somewhere else the opposite is happening.

It simply isn't true. If people understood the nature of unfairness the unfairness to the ordinary person in this country would have never gotten to this point. So maybe scientific beliefs (not facts) actually can have detrimental societal effects by stopping the self correction forces that would normally come into effect?

Eric said...

I'll add just one more nail in the coffin of this worthless idea of infinite energy in the universe. Though is might be completely different in theoretical basis, it has the same results as believing in an all powerful God supervising events. If you believe in an infinite energy universe you might as well say after a particularly tragic event, "It was God's will." Belief in both things results in the same behavior.

L. Edgar Otto said...

Eric,

What then is it we are seeking or imagine we are looking for?

Someone asked who was the person looking at the idea of pennies or ever more distant galaxies on an expanding balloon... If things are equal and opposite in the sense of it the answer could be "That Girl" as well.

You sparked a poem although it can be seen a little gloomy for a holiday time- (now on my fb notes) that and the important line "puffed up the warrior's colors, damsel painted" evolution and all that, love and cosmology : Sniffing Love's Real and Artificial Flowers is the title.

DocG said...

Cute. Does writing on a blog count as talking?

Sophie said...

Love all your music videos especially thos one! They are very creative & unique. This video in particular made me smile. Yes people talk too much about nothing. Hope you are planning to produce more songs & videos. Yours are so much better than all these popular crap music out there. :-)