Thursday, May 03, 2018

Book Review: “The Only Woman In the Room” by Eileen Pollack

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys Club
By Eileen Pollack
Beacon Press (15 Sep 2015)

Eileen Pollack set out to become an astrophysicist but switched to a career in writing after completing her undergraduate degree. In “The Only Woman In The Room” she explores the difficulties she faced that eventually led her to abandon science as a profession.

Pollack’s book is mostly a memoir, and an oddly single-sided one in that. At least for the purpose of the book, she looks at everything from the perspective of gender stereotypes. It’s about the toys she didn’t get, and the teachers who didn’t let her skip a year, and the boys who didn’t like nerdy girls, and the professors who didn’t encourage her, and so on.

I had some difficulties making sense of the book. For one, Pollack is 20 years older than I and has grown up in a different country. In the book she assumes the reader understands the context, but frankly I have no idea whatsoever how American school education looked like in the 1960s. I also missed most of the geographic, religious, and cultural references but wasn’t interested enough to look up every instance.

Leaving aside that Pollack clearly writes for people like her to begin with, the rest of the story didn’t make much sense to me either. The reader learns in a few sentences that Pollack in her youth develops an eating disorder. She also seems to have an anxiety disorder, is told (probably erroneously) that she has too high testosterone levels, and that later she regularly sees a therapist. But these asides never reappear in her narrative. Since it’s exceedingly unlikely her problems just disintegrated, there must have been a lot going on which the reader is not told about.

The story of the book is that Pollack sets out to track down her former teachers, professors, and classmates, and hear what they’ve been up to and what, if anything, changed about the situation for women in physics. Things did change, it turns out: The fraction of female students and faculty has markedly increased and many men have come to see the good in that. Pollack concludes with a somewhat scattered list of suggestions for further improvement.

Pollack does mention some studies on gender disparities, but her sample seems skewed to confirm her beliefs and she does not discuss the literature in any depth. She entirely avoids the more controversial questions, like whether some gender differences in performance are innate, whether it’s reasonable to assume women and men should be equally represented in all professions, or whether affirmative action is compatible with constitutional rights.

Despite this, the book has its uses. It sheds light on the existing problems, and (as Google will tell you) in reaction many women have spoken about and compared their experiences. For me, the value of the book has been to let me see my discipline through somebody else’s eyes.

I found it surprising just how different Pollack’s story is from my own, though my interests seem to be very close to hers. I’ve been told from as early as I can recall that I’m not social enough, that I don’t play with the other kids enough, that I’m too quiet, don’t integrate well, am bad at group work, and “will never make it at the university” unless I “learn to work with others.” I am also the kind of person who doesn’t give a shit what other people think I should do, so I went and got a PhD in physics.

The problem that Pollack blames most for her dropping out – that professors didn’t encourage her to pull through courses she had a hard time with – is a problem I never encountered because I didn’t get bad marks to begin with. I didn’t have friends among the students either, but I was just glad they left me alone. And where I am from, university is tuition-free, so while my money was short, financing my education was never a headache for my family.

Like Pollack, I have a long string of DSM classifiers attached to me and spent several years in therapy, but it never occurred to me to blame my profs for that. When doctors checked my testosterone levels (which has happened several times over the decades) I didn’t conclude I must be a man, but that it’s probably a standard check for certain health problems. And since now you wonder, my hormone levels are perfectly normal. Or at least that’s what I thought until I read that Pollock had a crush on pretty much every one of her profs. Maybe I’m abnormal in that I never fancied my profs. Or that I never worried I might not find a guy if I study physics.

Nevertheless, Pollack is right of course that we have a long way to go. Gender disparities which reinforce stereotypes are still omnipresent, and now that I am mother of two daughters I don’t have to look far to see the problems. The kids’ teachers are all women except for the math teacher. The parents who watch their toddlers at the playground are almost exclusively mothers. And I get constantly told I am supposedly aggressive, sometimes for doing nothing more than looking the way I normally look, that is, mildly dismayed at the bullshit men throw at me. But I’m not quite old enough to write a memoir, so let me leave it at this.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand why some women perceive science and engineering as extremely unwelcoming workplaces.

74 comments:

Phillip Helbig said...

Why do people write books about too few women in physics, but not about too few women in garbage collection, or too few men as school teachers? There is practically no job which has, even with expected uncertainties, equal numbers of men and women. Yes, there could be individual explanations for each case, but it seems to me more likely that there is a generic explanation.

Also, people tend to concentrate on areas they perceive as good where their group is underrepresented. First, most of the other people in their group might disagree, or not care either way. Second, all too often if their own group is disadvantaged it must be discrimination, and if their own group is advantaged, it is because of more and/or better innate ability. Yes, there was and still is too much discrimination, but this does not mean that all imbalance is caused by discrimination.

There are many more men who are criminals, who are mentally retarded. Who cares? But too few women as chess grandmasters (chess is a really macho sport, in case you haven't noticed) must be because of the patriarchate (given to future generations by all the women school teachers).

Why are so few gender crusaders not outraged that male porn actors earn much less than their female counterparts?

Kribaharan V said...

Have you read Dr. Lawrence krauss's book 'The greatest story ever told so far'?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Kribaharan,

No I haven't read it.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip,

I don't know about garbage collectors but I do think there's a fair amount of research on the question why men are more likely to end up in jail, risk their lives, or to develop certain mental problems and so on. So it's not like nobody cares.

Having said that, I greatly suck at comprehending human logic, but it makes a lot of sense to me that members of a certain demographic group try to remove obstacles that puts their group at a disadvantage when it comes to achieving a fulfilled life.

Phillip Helbig said...

" I do think there's a fair amount of research on the question why men are more likely to end up in jail, risk their lives, or to develop certain mental problems and so on"

Yes, of course, and much of it is genetic. There is no real dispute about this among serious scientists. But, as a matter of principle, no group can be at an advantage because of genetics (except women, because they "think differently"). Why not? Just because some group suffered some discrimination doesn't meant that if the discrimination is removed then they will be equally represented everywhere. In other words, it's no problem if there are genetic reasons for people being at the bottom of some distribution, but there is at the top.

Of course, it might very well be that where men are at a disadvantage it is because of genetics and where women are at a disadvantage it is because of discrimination. The issue is that this could be a possible conclusion, but is often assumed at the outset and "research" serves only to confirm prejudices.

Phillip Helbig said...

"it makes a lot of sense to me that members of a certain demographic group try to remove obstacles that puts their group at a disadvantage when it comes to achieving a fulfilled life"

I couldn't agree more. But this works only if one recognizes real obstacles and doesn't automatically assume that all differences must be due to discrimination.

Giles W said...

Isn't there a "not" missing somewhere in the last sentence of the paragraph that ends "so I went and got a PhD in physics"?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giles,

if you wish so, there's your negation.

Matthew Rapaport said...

Good humor there and I'm shocked at the last point, shocked I tell you!:)

Bill said...

"I have no idea whatsoever how American school education looked like in the 1960s."

Dr. Hossenfelder -- I haven't read Pollack's book, but as an American male studying physics and engineering in the late 1960s I can assure you that the few women in my classes were regularly disparaged by professors and others for entering male-dominated fields in which they did not "belong." To be sure, a lot has changed in the last fifty years, but Pollack's reminiscences are most probably spot-on.

Phillip Helbig said...

" I am also the kind of person who doesn’t give a shit what other people think I should do"

Good advice, not only for physicists: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Do_You_Care_What_Other_People_Think%3F

Unknown said...

Oh Philip, this is such classic wrongness. I wish I had more energy.

But yes, the bottom line is that all of the other disparities are also effects of the patriarchy. If patriarchal power structures occasionally do not so great things for men as well, that is A) not surprising, and B) incredibly obnoxious if your concern for that only occurs when attempting to derail other conversations. You may be shocked to learn that the people who do tend to actually get off their butts for the cause of male sex workers or prisoners or such are generally the people who are also vigorous feminists. Folks who only seem to notice the plight of disenfranchised men during a conversation about disenfranchised women are worse than useless.

Also the episode of Parks and Rec where Leslie and Ann become garbage collectors is excellent.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Bill,

I have no reason to doubt that, but that's the one aspect that Pollock does write about. I was more wondering about the context. Like, was school all day, did the kids have uniforms, did they get grade for behavior, how were the parents involved, that kind of thing.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

I have no knowledge of US schools in the 1960s. However, I have a German relative who went to university in Germany in that era. She told me then that she really wanted to study genetics. But she switched to linguistics because she was convinced that, as a woman, her prospects in that field were minimal.

I myself remember Biology profesors at a Dutch university who at the end of the 1970s proclaimed, in front of a class of biology 130 students, that female students were only at the university to find a husband. At that time, there obviously was no University policy to give a different message.

Uncle Al said...

NYC education: 1957, sputnik then military panic. 1958, National Defense Education Act creating the "Gifted Child," kindergarten onward. Brooklyn was hugely populated with Officially one-in-10,000 Asperger autists. Jewish mutant-high IQs abounded. Females were...unusual, but insufficiently grotesque. I took the Graduate record exam mildly stoned and drunk, burned out. 1500/1600, and the Chemistry exam correct. bfd

Pollock is torn between perceived normalcy and being herself. I’ve been with my woman for 27 years. She is a lawyer who bathes in others’ blood. We snuggle.

Embrace baryogenesis, test contingency in a sufficient microwave spectrometer. If correct, derive theory. Fiat sanguis. (The Accountant 2016. The last piece must be important.)

Unknown said...

"Females were...unusual, but insufficiently grotesque."

And this is why you don't skip over Uncle Al's comments. Beautiful.

naivetheorist said...

bee:

"I’ve been told from as early as I can recall that I’m not social enough, that I don’t play with the other kids enough, that I’m too quiet, don’t integrate well, am bad at group work".

this is the same experience that i, and virtually every other theoretical physicist i know, has gone through. i don't think that has anything to do with gender.

the only thing that seems to have changed since i went though high school in the early 60's is the psychological profiling that we're subject to. we're now labelled as having Asperger's which is considered (incorrectly in my view) to be a disability lying along the autism spectrum rather than a personality type. and of course, we're commonly labelled as having OCD due to the intense focus we display when engaged in doing the work we love.

on a personal note: my sister-in-law once told me that she was glad that she wasn't smart because smart people are unhappy. my response was that if we were unhappy, it was only due to having to interact with dumb people like her (that turned out to be our final conversation).

naive theorist

Louis Tagliaferro said...

Again you demonstrate a logical and objective analysis of a topic which some bias is natural and expected. I wish more people had your awareness and discipline.

Phil Bull said...

Phillip, you can do better than this! How can you assert that genetics "seems more likely to you", in the face of so much evidence to the contrary!

Historically women have been barred from a great number of professions, often on invented grounds -- having the wrong disposition, lacking innate "qualities" necessary for the job, being too "delicate" etc. And time again, when they have finally gained access, they have proved to be just as good as the men! How many female doctors, lawyers, corporate managers etc were there 100 years ago, for example? But would you honestly say a male doctor is likely to be better than a female one today?

So it's pretty clear that these arguments about "innate ability" have been used to unfairly disadvantage women in the past. What's so special about physics today compared to these other highly-skilled professions? How is the "genetic disposition" argument different here compared to these cases where it was clearly misapplied in the past?

There's much more evidence that discrimination is the dominant factor in the relatively low number of female physicists though. First, many women have come forward to report numerous instances of discrimination and harassment. Many have been corroborated by multiple people, to paint consistent pictures of gender discrimination, often by the same individual. Some of these people have been doing it for decades and getting away with it. These stories are hardly rare occurrences -- does this sound like a field that has reached a sufficient level of maturity on the gender discrimination issue to be able to conclude that the remaining gender imbalance is innate? I mean, if large numbers of women are saying that they are being driven out by sexism, what are your reasons for discounting their testimony?

Another example that I find very telling is the rise and fall of the gender ratio in computer science (a subject very similar to physics in many ways). Female programmers were in the majority for a couple of decades, back when computing was a really dense, technical subject. But after a while they were driven out, as computing became more mainstream (i.e. more lucrative), and the men stopped seeing it as a "mere" clerical occupation.

So women were competent enough to do the hard assembly language stuff, but men are somehow possessed of an innate aptitude in JavaScript these days?

Many women say they are being discriminated against. There is ample evidence that they are in many situations, and there is lots of historical precedent. There is a consistent picture for how this climate is systematically depressing the gender ratio in physics. So how are you coming to the opposite conclusion? The dominant effect, at least at the moment, and at least in a statistical sense, is discrimination.

rox said...

So the subtitle of the book is "Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club", but the story it tells is like 50 years old?

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I'm not sure how much this tiny sample means, but I'm now taking my third graduate level astrophysics class at the local U and in each of my classes, almost exactly half of my classmates have been female. Things were far different when I was getting my physics PhD.

Unknown said...

Interesting aspects of James Watson watching his own hierarchical drama.

https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/16762/title/Double-helix-double-take/

Double helix double take
It's not often that you get to witness a major scientific figure watch his own theatrical indictment.
Vignettes from the above web site.
" The afternoon opened with a panel discussion on "Good Science in Good Films" in which Watson revealed that he had been "upset" by Jeff Goldblum's depiction of him in the 1987 film The Race for the Double Helix. "I thought he was unpleasant," he said. But he quickly conceded that "a friend of mine did say I was unpleasant at the time. You're bound to seem crazy to most people."

After the performance, Watson's self-preserving reactions jumped from that of the sore winner ("Well, we figured out the structure") to the misunderstood ("I wrote the book as novel") to the almost apologetic ("I might have been wrong about Rosalind"), as the screenplay's author, David Baxter, stood by with placatory words, assuring Watson that the rest of the screenplay would mitigate his concerns. Despite Watson's assertion that he "didn't know Rosalind well," he proffered a psychiatric diagnosis for her: Asperger syndrome, the autistic spectrum disorder, which he insisted is common among women who are talented at science. "She found it very hard to make new acquaintances," Watson says. "Rosalind was very bad at absorbing social cues."

But that idea is "absurd and unfounded," writes Lynne Osman Elkin, who is the film's science advisor and is writing a biography entitled Rosalind Franklin and The Double Helix, in an E-mail. "I never heard a whisper of this suggestion." Ever since The Double Helix was published, of course, critics have pointed out inaccuracies and exaggerations, and what many called Watson's misogynistic treatment of "Rosy." Watson later wrote an epilogue to his book, a syrupy but perfunctory tribute to the late Franklin's scientific acumen, which he also pointed out in his defense.

Watson called the real Sayre "a battleaxe" who was not nearly as attractive as the actress playing her. But in the end, he said, "as far as I know, [there was] no hostility" between himself and Franklin, citing an amicable dinner they shared at Linus Pauling's house shortly before her death. And he conceded that "if Francis had had an hour with her," she would have figured out the structure herself. After all, he said, "the first model we proposed was crappy."

Gregory said...

"I am also the kind of person who doesn’t give a shit what other people think I should do, so I went and got a PhD in physics."
Good career guide. Worked for me!

Phillip Helbig said...

How can you assert that genetics "seems more likely to you", in the face of so much evidence to the contrary!

I didn't write that it seems more likely to me. Where?

I did say that there is no debate that some differences are genetic, namely those which demonstrate a disadvantage for men: crime, mental retardation, lower life expectancy, etc are all areas where men are disadvantaged and there is no problem saying that this is genetically caused to some extent. This doesn't imply that all differences are genetic, or even most; perhaps none other is, but this should be the conclusion, not something assumed at the outset. (Of course, if there were absolutely no differences, we would have no imbalance at all.)

Yes, there is discrimination against women in physics and elsewhere, less than in the past, but it is still there, and even one case is one case too many. I'm sure that we all agree there. But no amount of discrimination justifies the following:

1) Ignoring discrimination of men. Two wrongs don't make a right.

2) Asserting, without good evidence, that all gender imbalance must be due to discrimination.

3) Complaining about discrimination where one's group suffers, but not worrying about discrimination where another group suffers. If each group should fight its own fight, then this is not the best strategy.

4) Claiming that one's own problems must be due to discrimination just because one is a member of a group which, statistically and or historically, has suffered from discrimination.

The second point is the most crucial. There is essentially no field where there is no gender imbalance. Do you really think that every last bit of gender imbalance is due to discrimination?

I recommend reading the works of Steven Pinker on this topic for an objective discussion. (By the way, he works in a field where most of his colleagues are women.)

The sad thing is that bogus complaints of discrimination hurt the cases of real discrimination.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Many women say they are being discriminated against. There is ample evidence that they are in many situations, and there is lots of historical precedent. There is a consistent picture for how this climate is systematically depressing the gender ratio in physics. So how are you coming to the opposite conclusion?"

I'm not. I'm just saying that there shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction which claims, without good evidence, that all gender imbalance is due to discrimination. When one looks at all fields, then such a claim is more difficult to make.

Again, one case of discrimination is one too many. But this doesn't mean that any claim, no matter how absurd, must be taken as true just because it contains the word "discrimination".

"The dominant effect, at least at the moment, and at least in a statistical sense, is discrimination."

Perhaps, but certainly not all gender imbalance in all fields is due to discrimination. That's my point, no more, no less---and the fact that false claims hurt those who have valid claims.

pelha said...

I was there, in 1963, the only girl in high school advanced physics class, when the principle announced Kennedy had been shot. I very much enjoyed that class, was never put down or discouraged from going on after high school. (Before then, in grade school I used my allowance money to buy a chemistry set, and played with great uncles' geology sets and microscope.) But I never took another hard science class (college geology back then didn't count, since the instructor swore continental drift was a myth.) Instead I got pregnant and married, and divorced. When I needed to work, I ended up in computers and became a Software Engineer. I was lucky enough to live in Boston at that time when gender didn't matter if you could do the work. And I was always surrounded by MIT and RPI friends. Also my father, a mining engineer, supported my science. The pregnancy & marriage support came from my mother. So I guess I ended up with conflicting motivations, and ended up switching back & forth.

Michael John Sarnowski said...

I work as a registered nurse. In the USA only about six percent are male. Most of the solutions to problems are more tasks and more documenting. I would love to have engineering solutions to fix problems. Men can multitask if we work at it, but I think we would rather fix problems given the choice. Multitasking is not our strong point.

sean s. said...

Philip;

Being an Old White Guy, I can sympathize with your reluctance to ever assume that discrimination is the causes of any gender or racial “imbalance”, but I have to say that it is a safe assumption. There has been too much discrimination over the last bazillion years to presume otherwise.

There is no evidence that discrimination is just a thing of the past, or that other factors have caught up with it. A reasonable person would conclude that discrimination is the most likely explanation for persistent gender “imbalances”.

With regard to “discrimination against men”; that is mostly a canard. It is not discriminatory to make selective, positive efforts to undo the effects of past discrimination. Offering a hand-up to those affected by past injustice does not discriminate against those who were not, or who actually benefited from past injustices. Helping those in need does not discriminate against those who are not.

Justice does not require establishing that “every last bit of gender imbalance is due to discrimination”; it only requires that these imbalances are reasonably attributable to gender discrimination. They are.

I am sure that some men will be harmed in the process righting these wrongs; but that is no excuse for turning a blind eye to what happened and is still happening. “Harmed men” still have more options available to them than women do.

If you have a better solution, please do share it. But doing nothing is unacceptable.

sean s.

Unknown said...

I vaguely recall that in Russia almost all medical doctors are women. And in America almost all nurses are women. I don't think there is anything to these things other than the vagaries of history in each country. I remember as a child (I'm 78) the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper had page after page of Jobs (male), followed by page after page of Jobs (female). Oy!

Unknown said...

Pelha, it is principal, not principle. Sheesh!

Tony Proctor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Bull said...

Hi Phillip, the unfortunate thing is that I've had this argument many times before, and all of your points are commonly raised -- by people who are trying to distract from the main issue, and the one that is most deserving of our urgent attention. Do you not believe that discrimination against women is a real problem? Do you think it's made up? Just a bunch of "complainers" moaning about something that's not a big deal? If not, then why all the negativity and doubt?

Sure, discrimination against men isn't good either. But we're discussing discrimination against women here. Why should a smaller problem get equal attention? It doesn't make sense to demand that all problems are fixed before one (serious one) can be fixed. This sort of "wait until everything is better" argument was used to hold back the American Civil Rights movement for example.

And here I am providing you with some examples from a large base of evidence that women are subject to serious and systematic discrimination, and you're the one throwing out assertions. Again, we're largely talking about interactions between people here. If you need to wait for hard, irrefutable evidence for everything before taking any action, you're never going to take any action! "I'm just saying that there shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction which claims, without good evidence, that all gender imbalance is due to discrimination" -- are multiple decades of complaints about systemic discrimination really a knee-jerk reaction? And no-one is even saying it's all [intentional] discrimination (implicit biases are an important line of research here). It's a *serious* issue though, and it needs action.

For your point (3), this is *exactly* why I'm taking the time to reply to you at some length. Some level of doubt and questioning is perfectly fine, and there are surely interesting problems to be resolved regarding the discrimination vs. innate ability topic. But why do so many people jump directly to an abstract and largely academic discussion point every time discrimination against women is mentioned (not just in physics)? It's because they are trying to find ways to deny the reality of the situation, which is most certainly *not* helping to alleviate the problem (just as allegedly "good faith" criticisms of climate research are often anything but -- and serve to hold back necessary progress on reducing emissions etc).

For point (4), this would be a fair point if we were talking about an individual. But I'm not -- lots of women are saying they are being discriminated against, and providing rather compelling evidence that this is the case, so I can't imagine why we wouldn't listen to them.

Anyway, in the spirit of constructive discourse, have you taken the Harvard Implicit Bias test? It might be an interesting exercise to help you explore your implicit beliefs (or anyone else reading this thread):
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

(N.B. You actually said "Yes, there could be individual explanations for each case, but it seems to me more likely that there is a *generic* explanation" in your first comment, not genetic. My mis-read -- the point stands given the content of your subsequent messages though.)

marten said...

The only woman in my room is my wife and she is empirical evidence for the true existence of at least one superpartner.

Phillip Helbig said...

I can sympathize with your reluctance to ever assume that discrimination is the causes of any gender or racial “imbalance”

Please don't misquote me. I never said that. I merely claimed that not all gender imbalance is due to discrimination.

Phillip Helbig said...

"It is not discriminatory to make selective, positive efforts to undo the effects of past discrimination. Offering a hand-up to those affected by past injustice does not discriminate against those who were not, or who actually benefited from past injustices. Helping those in need does not discriminate against those who are not."

So male porn actors earn less because Lise Meitner had problems in Berlin a century ago. Got it.

Phillip Helbig said...

"are multiple decades of complaints about systemic discrimination really a knee-jerk reaction"

No, and I never claimed otherwise. Please don't caricature my position. It is a knee-jerk reaction to claim that all discrimination must be due to discrimination. Similarly, on another blog I read recently that someone describing someone else's reaction to a news story. A Black person had been shot by a White policeman somewhere in the States. With no more details at all, the reaction was "must be racism". Now, no sensible person, certainly not me, is in any way, shape, or form denying the huge injustice of slavery, racism, etc in the States (and elsewhere). But does such a knee-jerk reaction help or hurt the discussion?

With regard to two wrongs making a right, I once heard a politician argue that male-only conscription is OK since women have children. Apart from this absurd comparison (by the way, the female politician making this claim has no children herself), the problem is that everyone weights things differently. And the idea that some people in one generation should suffer because some other people in another group suffered in the past is absurd (and one of the reasons for the conflict between Israel and Palestine).

People should concentrate on eradicating any and all barriers to equal opportunity. That is both necessary and sufficient.


Phillip Helbig said...

In case anyone thinks I am making up the story about a politician comparing the draft to bearing/raising children, the remark was made by the German politician Irmgard Schwaetzer (formerly Adam-Schwaetzer) in the ZDF talkshow "Live". So it is on record somewhere. I don't know if it is publicly available.

While she is a member of a party I have never voted for, she is generally well respected by all and neither an extremist nor a fringe personality in any way. As member of the federal parliament for 22 years and a minister in the federal government for 7 years, she is not some crazy back-bencher. Since leaving politics she has worked in political foundations and in the organization of the German Lutheran Church, in high positions.

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irmgard_Schwaetzer (for those who don't read German, Wikipedia offers Polish, French, Russian, and Latin as well).

https://www.ekd.de/irmgard-schwaetzer-75-jahre-geburtstag-14873.htm

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

@Philip Helbig
"It is a knee-jerk reaction to claim that all discrimination must be due to discrimination."

We have unequivocal evidence from past centuries that document consistent, widespread, and systematic discrimination on birth sex in each and every part of society and on each and every aspect of life. We have tenuous and equivocal suggestions that there might be cases where there might be a biological ground for some difference in average preferences or average talents.

Why, in the absence of substantial evidence, should I even mention biological causes? What research supports biology as the main cause of gender imbalances in professional careers beyond the very obvious? And if you could find any such non-obvious careers, which careers does it target?

To get back to topic. There is no evidence other than pure discrimination for the current gender imbalances in STEM studies and Humanities. We can speculate that there might be biological based differences in preferences that might contribute to such imbalances. But currently, any such biological effect would be drowned out by cultural prejudices.

The best way to see this is to note how the gender balances differ in different cultures/countries and over history. We are still so far from a "biological equilibrium" that biology is simply irrelevant.

As to your example of "garbage collectors", that topic does have the interest of employers:
https://foresternetwork.com/msw-management-magazine/ms-waste/ms-waste-collection/women-in-waste/

Gender balances in waste collection also varies widely in the world. For instance, there are all female teams in Harare.
http://www.dw.com/en/all-women-garbage-collection-team-cleans-up-harare/a-19148073

Phillip Helbig said...

"What research supports biology as the main cause of gender imbalances in professional careers beyond the very obvious? And if you could find any such non-obvious careers, which careers does it target?"

I haven't claimed here that biology is the main cause. You are attacking a strawman (who is not me, but a caricature of me which has grown out of these comments).

"To get back to topic. There is no evidence other than pure discrimination for the current gender imbalances in STEM studies and Humanities. We can speculate that there might be biological based differences in preferences that might contribute to such imbalances. But currently, any such biological effect would be drowned out by cultural prejudices."

But if it is never looked for, it will never be found. I'm not saying that it must be there, and it is a possible (perhaps probable) conclusion that it is not, but this should be the conclusion, not something which must be cast in stone from the outset.

Take gravitational waves. The signal is almost negligible compared to the noise, but nevertheless it was worth looking for. :-D

"The best way to see this is to note how the gender balances differ in different cultures/countries and over history. We are still so far from a "biological equilibrium" that biology is simply irrelevant."

Probably so, in most cases. Simply irrelevant on the large scale, perhaps. Say it is at the level of one in a million. That means that there are few thousand cases where it plays a role (assuming it exists at all).

I think that people should step back and stop thinking about only STEM and/or other jobs which are considered desirable. Look at the balance elsewhere. In many cases, the balance is different, due to different culture, history, etc. (As someone else noted, in some countries the medical professions---generally highly respected and relatively well paid everywhere---are mainly female.) But in some cases a) there is a clear imbalance and b) it is not---in these cases---immediately obvious that it is due to discrimination. I'm not saying that it is a big deal, or that there are not other problems---including discrimination---which are much more pressing. I'm just saying that conclusions should be based on evidence.

While I'm at it, let me throw another spanner into the works. For decades many in the feminist and/or LGB communities (I consider myself to be a feminist by any sensible definition, and no-one is less prejudiced concerning LGBPQWERTY folks than I am) have claimed that there is essentially no difference between male and female brains; men and women differ primarily with regard to plumbing and so on. Now the LGBT community includes T, but the whole concept of transsexualism doesn't work unless there is such a thing as a male brain and a female brain, otherwise the idea of "being trapped inside the wrong body" doesn't work. (I don't want to take sides here, merely point out a possible inconsistency, which might be mainly concerned with rhetoric.)

sean s. said...

Phillip;

“So male porn actors earn less because Lise Meitner had problems in Berlin a century ago. Got it.”

I never said anything like that. As you wrote to Phil Bull, “Please don't caricature my position.” I do find it interesting that when others are writing about women in STEM and the Humanities, you write about male porn actors.

“It is a knee-jerk reaction to claim that all discrimination must be due to discrimination.”

I think you miswrote this. All discrimination IS discrimination.

Not all “gender imbalances” are due to discrimination; BUT -- barring evidence to the contrary -- that presumption is fair; there has been and still is too much gender discrimination to regard it as unlikely.

As Rob van Son wrote, “There is no evidence other than pure discrimination for the current gender imbalances in STEM studies and Humanities.

Dismissing claims of gender or racial discrimination as “knee-jerk” reactions is itself, a knee-jerk reaction. Again I get to quote your words back at you: “But does such a knee-jerk reaction help or hurt the discussion?” Or does it merely represent an effort to change the topic?

“People should concentrate on eradicating any and all barriers to equal opportunity. That is both necessary and sufficient.”

We agree on that.

However; some of those “barriers to equal opportunity” consist of the effects of past discrimination against others. Sub-par education, lack of role-models, and systemic biases are barriers to opportunity originating in past discrimination. Wishing those barriers away is not sufficient. Eradicating those barriers (which you say is both necessary and sufficient) require taking steps to help those who are affected by those barriers; steps that need not be taken for those unaffected by those barriers.

sean s.

Unknown said...

The evidence that prejudicial discrimination is an important cause of differing gender composition in U.S. academic fields is weak. The category-killer review article about STEM is here:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1529100614541236

Topher said...

As a male physics professor I've thought a lot about the fact that girls start out at least equal to the boys in math & science early on. But as you progress through school, college, and grad school the representation of women drops dramatically. Many studies (one example) show this. There are many factors at work here, but teachers seem to be a significant term in the equation. And the theory that there are natural gender preferences is not well supported by data.

Some people like Bee have a strong internal compass and are less influenced by the opinions of others. But most people are strongly influenced, and especially younger students by their teachers. This makes sense because kids are actively working out what they feel they are good at. If a respected authority figure gives them a lot of positive feedback that yes, they are good at this, that will make a difference in both their interests and (I believe) their performance.

So I'd be really interested in this book if it contains some insights on what specifically can be driving this gender gap at various stages, and what changes have been partially successful in recent years. It sounds from this review that the book is primarily anecdotal, and while that's helpful I would also be interested in some well-explained research.

Slightly off-topic perhaps, but there is also a related issue that is less gender-specific which is recognizing different kinds of intelligence and some factors that make a lot of brilliant students fall under the radar and fail to get an optimal education. The classic gifted kid outperforms their peers in every way, skips grades, is fast at mental computation, and gets straight A's. But often the more highly gifted kid struggles with emotional issues, may be slow to process information in certain ways, finds simple assignments more difficult than complex ones, gets bad-to-mediocre grades, and is likely to drop out of school and/or not go to college. School admins love the "classic" or moderately gifted kids because they boost the school's performance numbers and hence funding levels. They do not love the other kinds because they are harder to accommodate and appear to perform at a lower level.

In the case of giftedness, positive feedback from teachers and even the school system as a whole (grades and all) is still important but often is lacking or more strongly negative. Students are typically punished for being clever and creative. This has a negative impact and must have an effect equally severe to the gender-bias effects we see.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

"The evidence that prejudicial discrimination is an important cause of differing gender composition in U.S. academic fields is weak."

That conclusion was based on what happens after students enter the university (post-college). There, they do not find much evidence for gender discriminations. But that is how it is now.

The authors write that there are few if any non-environmental (biological) differences found between the genders:
"The results of our myriad analyses reveal that early sex differences in spatial and mathematical reasoning need not stem from biological bases, that the gap between average female and male math ability is narrowing (suggesting strong environmental influences), and that sex differences in math ability at the right tail show variation over time and across nationalities, ethnicities, and other factors, indicating that the ratio of males to females at the right tail can and does change."

However, they do find large differences in attitudes, which would be very sensitive to cultural influences:
"We find that gender differences in attitudes toward and expectations about math careers and ability (controlling for actual ability) are evident by kindergarten and increase thereafter, leading to lower female propensities to major in math-intensive subjects in college but higher female propensities to major in non-math-intensive sciences, with overall science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors at 50% female for more than a decade."

sean s. said...

Dear Unknown;

The category-killer review article about STEM is here: [link omitted]”

There is no “category-killer”; even the abstract for the article you linked to casts doubt on that:

"[the] literature is contradictory. Many analyses have revealed a level playing field, with men and women faring equally, whereas other analyses have suggested numerous areas in which the playing field is not level. The only widely-agreed-upon conclusion is that women are underrepresented in college majors, graduate school programs, and the professoriate in those fields that are the most mathematically intensive, such as geoscience, engineering, economics, mathematics/computer science, and the physical sciences. In other scientific fields (psychology, life science, social science), women are found in much higher percentages. ... The results of our myriad analyses reveal that early sex differences in spatial and mathematical reasoning need not stem from biological bases, that the gap between average female and male math ability is narrowing (suggesting strong environmental influences), ...". (emphasis added)

The differences appear to not have a biological basis and do appear to have “strong environmental influences”; discrimination is a “strong environmental influence”.

A google search for your link brings up many, many articles; many about reported experiences with gender bias. There simply are too many reported discriminatory acts to write them off, especially on the basis of a single review article.

I need to read more than just the abstract, of course, but the early signs are not good for your claim; your review article appears to be much more ambiguous in its results than you realize.

sean s.

Unknown said...

"the whole concept of transsexualism doesn't work unless there is such a thing as a male brain and a female brain"
You haven't had a lot of conversations with transgender folks, have you?

Topher said...

@unknown
That article is a good one on this subject -- thanks! And as you said they do not find evidence for gender discrimination in STEM, and they may even see (inconclusively?) reverse-discrimination in professor positions. But the article also highlights the trend of women avoiding math-intensive fields that increases as they get older, and find of course that "society" is to blame. So in short they blame the difference in representation to expectations and attitudes, and not to employer discrimination.

Quoting the abstract:
"The results of our myriad analyses reveal that early sex differences in spatial and mathematical reasoning need not stem from biological bases, that the gap between average female and male math ability is narrowing (suggesting strong environmental influences), and that sex differences in math ability at the right tail show variation over time and across nationalities, ethnicities, and other factors, indicating that the ratio of males to females at the right tail can and does change. We find that gender differences in attitudes toward and expectations about math careers and ability (controlling for actual ability) are evident by kindergarten and increase thereafter, leading to lower female propensities to major in math-intensive subjects in college but higher female propensities to major in non-math-intensive sciences, with overall science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors at 50% female for more than a decade."

If there is some reverse-discrimination going on in tenure-track professorships, that seems entirely appropriate to me because that may be the best way to correct current expectation-biases in society. I would not expect to see reverse-discrimination in professional research positions.

Unknown said...

"Category-killer" is a retail term for a store containing so many different items in a particular area (at good prices) that shoppers would always go there first if they wanted something in that area. It was a metaphor. The linked article synthesizes research reviews from psychology, sociology, and economics, and covers every stage of the "pipeline" into STEM academia.

sean s. said...

It was a metaphor. The linked article synthesizes research reviews from psychology, sociology, and economics, and covers every stage of the "pipeline" into STEM academia.

OK, then. That does not change the result; the linked article does not support your claims.

sean s.

Phillip Helbig said...

"There simply are too many reported discriminatory acts to write them off"

No-one in the comments here has suggesting that any reported discriminatory act should be written off. You are attacking a straw man. Do you really think that that helps your cause?

As to my use of male porn actors as an example, it is a real example and in my experience it is a useful one. Some people, who otherwise are in the "all differences are due to discrimination" category, claim that "it is obvious why women earn more than men in porn". Asking them to explain this reveals a wealth of prejudice as well as the fact that, at least in this case, they believe in biological differences, rather than discrimination or socialization. Go figure.

Phillip Helbig said...

"If there is some reverse-discrimination going on in tenure-track professorships, that seems entirely appropriate to me because that may be the best way to correct current expectation-biases in society."

The best way? What about putting the people who practice illegal discrimination behind bars? That would be better. So at institute A some macho dude doesn't like hiring girls, and the consequence is that institute B is supposed to pick up the slack by hiring less-qualified women as opposed to more-qualified men? Really? the best way?

"I would not expect to see reverse-discrimination in professional research positions."

It probably happens here more than lower down.

I was once at a conference where there was an intentional effort to have things balanced, e.g. 50/50 male/female in all committees, panels, etc (the audience was approximately 50/50). In one case, it was obvious to everyone, including herself, that one woman was there because she was a woman and for no other reason. Do you really think that that helps anything at all? (The silly thing here was that it was not necessary. Attendees were about 50/50, the two "accompanying persons" I spotted were both men, one with a small baby, who gave it to the mother when it was hungry (no, a man giving a bottle to a baby is not an equal-opportunity thing since it is a well known fact that breast feeding is better and this was not a problem at all for anyone).)

Phillip Helbig said...

"You haven't had a lot of conversations with transgender folks, have you?"

No.

However, are you suggesting that my statement is wrong in some way? If so, how, precisely?

But, why should I? I seriously doubt that most transgender people are interested in discussing this with me. (If they are, they can say so.) On those few occasions where I have met some, any conversation was about other topics. In general, I don't talk to strangers about how they perceive their sexuality. I usually don't talk about sex at all, as a matter of fact, except in situations where that is the reason for being there. (In my case, this is not at conferences, etc.) It might not even be obvious that the person is transgender. (No, I don't guess/judge, and if I did, it wouldn't be based on superficial appearance, which is not a good indicator of gender/sexual orientation/whatever anyway. I'm very non-trans ("cis") and heterosexual, but (until it was thinned out by chemotherapy) had hair down to my waist, which some people at some times and places see as feminine (though the full beard usually sets the record straight). Right now I am wearing sandals marketed as "women's". I simply don't care what other people think about such superficial things and don't care myself unless I am sexually interested in someone.)

Phillip Helbig said...

"You haven't had a lot of conversations with transgender folks, have you?"

No.

However, are you suggesting that my statement is wrong in some way? If so, how, precisely?

But, why should I? I seriously doubt that most transgender people are interested in discussing this with me. (If they are, they can say so.) On those few occasions where I have met some, any conversation was about other topics. In general, I don't talk to strangers about how they perceive their sexuality. I usually don't talk about sex at all, as a matter of fact, except in situations where that is the reason for being there. (In my case, this is not at conferences, etc.) It might not even be obvious that the person is transgender. (No, I don't guess/judge, and if I did, it wouldn't be based on superficial appearance, which is not a good indicator of gender/sexual orientation/whatever anyway. I'm very non-trans ("cis") and heterosexual, but (until it was thinned out by chemotherapy) had hair down to my waist, which some people at some times and places see as feminine (though the full beard usually sets the record straight). Right now I am wearing sandals marketed as "women's". I simply don't care what other people think about such superficial things and don't care myself unless I am sexually interested in someone.)

sean s. said...

For decades many in the feminist and/or LGB communities … have claimed that there is essentially no difference between male and female brains; men and women differ primarily with regard to plumbing and so on. Now the LGBT community includes T, but the whole concept of transsexualism doesn't work unless there is such a thing as a male brain and a female brain, otherwise the idea of ‘being trapped inside the wrong body’ doesn't work.

Phillip; There is a flaw in your comment perhaps too subtle to matter here for the moment. What does matter is that information about transgenderism has changed a great deal in the last couple of decades. Even members of the “feminist and/or LGB communities” have struggled to get their heads around what’s going on in transgenderism. Their outdated claims are not significant because, even if “male and female brains” have essential differences, that would not undercut feminist or LGB interests; so on that point, these outdated claims are moot.

Given that male and female bodies and biological needs are different, it is not at all surprising that the brains of each are typically fitted to their gender, just as their skeletons are. The evidence strongly supports the idea that this “fitting” is more than just minor adjustments to an otherwise default brain. Read up on gender reassignment of infants and the often-unpleasant outcomes. Male and female bodies (including brains) begin to differentiate before birth.

Given natural variability, it is also not surprising that occasionally the brain is not fitted to the body in the typical way; transgenderism is only one of many situations in which this appears.

I realize that your comment was mean as an aside, I see nothing transphobic in your comments. I stand ready to be corrected on that.

sean s.

sean s. said...

”No-one in the comments here has suggesting that any reported discriminatory act should be written off. You are attacking a straw man. Do you really think that that helps your cause?”

I think your reply does help my cause, yes.

If you agree that we should not write-off reports of discrimination, then that means we need to do something about them and their invidious effects. Good! We agree.

Earlier you also wrote that we should “concentrate on eradicating any and all barriers to equal opportunity.” We agree on that.

So the question comes back to what to do?

Vague platitudes are not enough; they are no better than sending generic sympathy cards.

Your interest in male porn actors presents an idea. Let’s mandate that all porn actors be paid – at least on average – the same regardless of gender. That would fix the problem.

In fact, let’s follow Iceland’s lead and require that – at least on average – men and women be paid exactly the same in every company or industry. We don’t need to tell companies or industries what to pay, just that they pay males and females the same on average.

Of course, females will be the big winners here; they are (in the US) paid less than males, so their incomes will go up.

Or male incomes will go down. But that wouldn’t be the fault of females; would it?

But what do we do about careers from which females have been systematically excluded? Do we write-off their situation? Send sympathy cards? Or do we eradicate “any and all barriers” to their chosen careers?

sean s.

ps. The obvious explanation for wage differences between male and female porn actors is simple economics; there’s probably more money in porn directed at typical males than at anyone else; creating a higher demand for female porn actors than for males. Supply and demand. ss.

Topher said...

"So at institute A some macho dude doesn't like hiring girls, and the consequence is that institute B is supposed to pick up the slack by hiring less-qualified women as opposed to more-qualified men?"

I used the term "reverse discrimination" above incorrectly. I guess I'm asking if, all else being equal, a female candidate for a professor position could be considered better qualified because of gender alone? In the U.S. I think that runs afoul of the Equality Act of 2010 where gender is a protected characteristic.

When I was in grad school there were 50 physics professors and I think 4 or 5 were women. I worked only a little with one of the female faculty, a brilliant elementary particle theorist working on lattice gauge calculations. But when one does studies of fundamental skills and interests relevant to physics and similar fields, one finds little if any gender differences. So where is the 90/10 split coming from? According to most of the research cited above, it comes from attitudes and expectations. Apparently we don't see discrimination much today but there certainly was in the past, which is how we got where we are today. University faculty are in a way the public face of science and research, and if you're in high school and college and you see such a strong gender divide as we do, that observation alone is likely to affect what you see in yourself and what you expect from others. In addition to the simple demographics of course you have all the subconscious subtleties of human interaction that reinforces incorrect stereotypes.

So if I were a university/college administrator and I had two equally qualified applicants for a physics professorship, male and female, I would at least want to hire the woman on the grounds that they are more likely to help correct these societal biases. And as an administrator I would, correctly, feel to a large degree responsible for those biases in the first place. Would that be an appropriate factor in a hiring decision?

Phillip Helbig said...

"There is a flaw in your comment perhaps too subtle to matter here for the moment. "

Thanks for the sensible reply. I merely wanted to point out an inconsistency. One cannot argue both that male and female brains are essentially the same and also believe that transgenderism is "real". (Your description of it jibes well with my impression of it.) Of course, "different" does not imply that one is better than the other.

You are right that this question is essentially orthogonal to the LGB agenda, which is essentially an equal-rights agenda (and as such includes trans people and, indeed, everyone). Historically, the "no difference" was probably an overboard reaction to historical prejudice which claimed that there was too much difference, with some people not realizing that it essentially conflicts with the very concept of transgenderism.

You mentioned sex-assignment surgery. Yes, there are a small number of people whose sex is not clear, with genes, hormones, internal organs, external organs, and, perhaps, perceived identity not always agreeing. This is of course a real issue but largely orthogonal to most transgender issues (since most transgender people are otherwise not intersex).


Phillip Helbig said...

"In fact, let’s follow Iceland’s lead and require that – at least on average – men and women be paid exactly the same in every company or industry. We don’t need to tell companies or industries what to pay, just that they pay males and females the same on average."

This is probably largely the case already in many places, especially in Scandinavia, where salaries are public knowledge, leading to much less inequality (not just between men and women). The gender pay gap is largely due to two issues. First, if one just divides the total earned by the total number of people, women will earn less on average because more work part-time. Sometimes this is by necessity, but it also includes millionaires' wives who neither need to work nor have to work. (The situation is not symmetric, since a higher fraction of female millionaires' husbands are themselves millionaires. This is due at least in part to the fact that many women avoid "dating down". The male surgeon often marries a female nurse, but the female surgeon marries at least another surgeon. I suspect that this is one reason men earn more in some cases even for the same work: they negotiate a higher salary because they have to earn money for their wife and children, whereas their female colleagues are often earning "extra" money since their husbands earn even more. So, if more women would "date down", there would be less pressure on men to bargain for more money. Of course, in many countries most jobs are covered by contracts with labour unions etc and there is no difference between male and female salaries; the difference comes from negotiable salaries.) Second, women tend to choose---voluntarily, as far as one can tell---lower-paid jobs. Whether they are lower-paid because they are done primarily by women is another question.

Some people say that there should be the same number of men in women on boards of directors, governments/administrations (i.e. ministers in a cabinet), and so on. I don't think it does more good than harm to legislate this unless such legislation applies to all jobs.

Phillip Helbig said...

But what do we do about careers from which females have been systematically excluded? Do we write-off their situation? Send sympathy cards? Or do we eradicate “any and all barriers” to their chosen careers?

Of course eradicate the barriers. This doesn't help those who have already been disadvantaged. However, if it is clear that they have been, someone is responsible, and should be liable for compensation.

One must avoid the impression (which I got from Sabine's book review, but I might be wrong; I have also not read the book) that the author was saying, essentially, "well, I didn't have such a career, and I'm a woman, so it must have been discrimination". This is obviously going too far.

Phillip Helbig said...

"The obvious explanation for wage differences between male and female porn actors is simple economics; there’s probably more money in porn directed at typical males than at anyone else; creating a higher demand for female porn actors than for males. Supply and demand."

I'm not so sure. Some studies show that women consume more porn than men. However, even if not, most porn directed at (heterosexual) men includes male actors as well, often outnumbering the female actresses. :-)

Yes, it is probably supply and demand, in that fewer women are willing to act in porn films (though I think that this has changed dramatically in recent years, at least in the area of amateur porn). But why is this the case? Innate differences, conditioning by society, or some of both? Some people who argue that the fact that there are fewer female than male Nobel-Prize winners must be due entirely to discrimination with innate differences playing absolutely no role at all have little problem with explaining the porn pay gab by innate differences. This probably reveals more about themselves than they realize. (To be clear: I am merely pointing out the inconsistency here, not arguing about the Nobel-Prize statistics.)


Phillip Helbig said...

I used the term "reverse discrimination" above incorrectly. I guess I'm asking if, all else being equal, a female candidate for a professor position could be considered better qualified because of gender alone? In the U.S. I think that runs afoul of the Equality Act of 2010 where gender is a protected characteristic.

Right, and rightly so. Obviously, if one argues for equal opportunity, one cannot argue that one's sex is itself a qualification (not even if this is to balance out previous wrongs at other times and places).

I think that the rest of your reply is quite sensible, but I think that it goes a bit too far. I think that it would be sufficient to hire the best candidate (leaving aside for the moment that "identical qualifications" never occurs in practice). This might correct the imbalance slightly more slowly, but would do so without adding more injustice.

Of course, the pool of female candidates might be smaller due to previous problems lower down the career path. But it is these problems which should be addressed. If one addresses them by hiring disproportionally many female candidates of lower average qualification, this doesn't really help. The young researchers (by the way, I'm not sure that role models play such a large, errm, role) will see less qualified female role models and/or have the impression that they don't have to be as good; being female is enough. It doesn't help those who get hired despite lower qualifications, because it will be obvious why they are hired.

It would be interesting to compare not all the fractions of men and women in various jobs to that in the general population, but also the fractions of race, eye colour, hair colour, height (many studies suggest that tall folks get promoted more often), sexual orientation, etc. I doubt that the fractions would be the same in most jobs as in the general population. (Whether that is a problem and if so how to solve it are different questions.)

naivetheorist said...

bee:

this is totally off-track but they just announced that the U.S. - N Korea summit meeting will be taking place on the same day, June 12, as the release date of your book.

we have to open that the hoopla over your book doesn't drown out notice of the summit meeting. i know i'll be too busyv reading the book to follow it.

best,

naive theorist

sean s. said...

Sorry for the length of this, but—wow!

First ... if one just divides the total earned by the total number of people, women will earn less on average because more work part-time.

That certainly is true, but that’s not how wage disparities are measured.

I suspect that this is one reason men earn more in some cases even for the same work: they negotiate a higher salary because they have to earn money for their wife and children, whereas their female colleagues are often earning ‘extra’ money since their husbands earn even more.

This assumes that females treat their work and wages as discretionary. I don’t think you can substantiate that; good luck. Women married to millionaires are relatively rare (because millionaires are relatively rare); those who are millionaires in their own right are even rarer. There simply are too few in this category to shift the averages much.

Most women who work outside the home do so because they need to economically or psychologically—just like most men who work outside the home. They are all entitled to be compensated fairly.

If employers decide to pay females (even married ones) less on the basis of your comment, that would be an example of a discriminatory practice, and justifies intervention.

So, if more women would ‘date down’, there would be less pressure on men to bargain for more money.

OK – that is wrong on so many levels, it deserves to be burned and buried quickly. It is predicated on the unlikely logic that started your first point and shifts the blame onto women who force all these poor guys to bargain under pressure to support their lazy wives.

In what sense is that kind of comment consistent with your claim to be a feminist “by any sensible definition?

Second, women tend to choose---voluntarily, as far as one can tell---lower-paid jobs. Whether they are lower-paid because they are done primarily by women is another question.

I’d love to see the evidence supporting this. As far as I can tell, most people doing low-wage jobs do so out of pure necessity; and those jobs are low-wage largely BECAUSE those workers have little or no negotiating power. Those workers tend to be very young; to be women, or minorities, or uneducated poor.

sean s.

sean s. said...

Some people say that there should be the same number of men in women on boards of directors, governments/administrations (i.e. ministers in a cabinet), and so on. I don't think it does more good than harm to legislate this unless such legislation applies to all jobs.

I think such a mandate is far more likely to do good than harm. If women are common in management, many of the barriers to non-management jobs become unsustainable. Management positions typically go to those who’ve worked in non-management positions first. The career pipeline cannot produce even numbers of management-qualified men and women unless there are even numbers coming into the pipeline.

Of course eradicate the barriers. This doesn't help those who have already been disadvantaged.

Sure it will; many who were disadvantaged are still trying; they can still be helped. You seem to want to just give-up on those already disadvantaged.

However, if it is clear that they have been [disadvantaged], someone is responsible, and should be liable for compensation.”

That someone is likely a nameless person. It’s not always clear who is actually responsible; structural and cultural discrimination is effective in large part because everyone participates.

Some studies show that women consume more porn than men.

Some studies show whatever you want. Experience says otherwise. Economics does a good job explaining disparities in porn actor wages; I am not aware of an economic basis for hiring fewer females in academia or the sciences. The “plight” of male porn actors is a red herring.

I think that it would be sufficient to hire the best candidate ... . This might correct the imbalance slightly more slowly, but would do so without adding more injustice.

Unfortunately, “best” is often quite subjective. In a work-place full of men, isn’t a male candidate “best” all other things being equal? Male candidates will fit in more easily with the existing male work force. Sorry, ladies, he was “better”; a better fit with the other guys.

Since a candidate who precisely fits a job’s posted requirements is rare, some judgement is always exercised over who comes “closest”; and that is where gender bias comes into play.

And, of course, giving a hand-up to those who are affected by past and on-going injustices is notadding more injustice”. I realize your instinct is to throw your hands up and do essentially nothing, but that’s why, after all these years this is still a problem. Really, this problem should have been fixed long ago. I am an old guy, and this problem has been a thing my ENTIRE life.

If one addresses them by hiring disproportionally many female candidates of lower average qualification, this doesn't really help.

This appears to assume that male candidates are, on average, of higher quality. Sigh ...

sean s.

Phillip Helbig said...

"That certainly is true, but that’s not how wage disparities are measured."

It depends. I'm sure all that all possible metrics have been used at least once.

"This assumes that females treat their work and wages as discretionary. I don’t think you can substantiate that; good luck."

My claim is that, statistically speaking, discretionary work and wages are more common among women than among men. Again, just an observation, not a judgement.

"Women married to millionaires are relatively rare (because millionaires are relatively rare); those who are millionaires in their own right are even rarer. There simply are too few in this category to shift the averages much."

Note that even a few millionaires will greatly increase the mean. Using the media would avoid this bias, but introduce another.

"Most women who work outside the home do so because they need to economically or psychologically—just like most men who work outside the home. They are all entitled to be compensated fairly."

Few disagree with that; I certainly don't.

"If employers decide to pay females (even married ones) less on the basis of your comment, that would be an example of a discriminatory practice, and justifies intervention."

Yes, but this is hard to pin down when the salary is negotiable. At least in some countries, negotiable salaries are the exception, and for the vast majority of people it is of course equal pay for equal work. There are many studies which indicate that at least part of the gender pay gap is due to different outcomes of negotiations. This isn't just bosses deciding that they won't pay women as much. The bloke with five mouths to feed isn't bluffing when he says he'll go elsewhere if his demand isn't met. Someone (more often a woman) without this pressure might be happy with less pay, for example, because the job is otherwise more attractive. Of course, this is a symptom of another disparity, but it is usually better to treat the cause and not the symptom.

"OK – that is wrong on so many levels, it deserves to be burned and buried quickly. It is predicated on the unlikely logic that started your first point and shifts the blame onto women who force all these poor guys to bargain under pressure to support their lazy wives."

Again, just an observation, not a judgement.

"As far as I can tell, most people doing low-wage jobs do so out of pure necessity; and those jobs are low-wage largely BECAUSE those workers have little or no negotiating power. Those workers tend to be very young; to be women, or minorities, or uneducated poor."

It probably varies from place to place. In many places, comparatively badly paid jobs are preschool teachers and nurses. In many places, there are more women than men in such jobs. However, my impression is not that these people do their jobs more reluctantly than people who earn more. In many cases, while of course more money would be nice, they would rather to such a job than something better paid which has no other reward. A (male) schoolteacher I know well has told me this very explicitly, and I see no reason why the same should not be true of his female colleagues when otherwise I have the same impression. Money isn't everything. Certainly most teachers in most countries are not poor nor minorities. The lower wages are not necessarily due to worse negotiation. Any job which involves direct interaction with a few people tends to be badly paid. Either the people are paying the workers themselves, so obviously the employee has to earn less than the employer, or, as in the schoolteacher case, a modest rise in wages would mean a corresponding rise in taxes (most government expenses are wages). So this is essentially a political problem, not one due to bad negotiation.

Phillip Helbig said...

"I think such a mandate is far more likely to do good than harm."

Which mandate. Requiring it for all jobs or just high-level ones? An additional problem in requiring it just for some is that this means that these jobs are deemed desirable.

"Unfortunately, “best” is often quite subjective. In a work-place full of men, isn’t a male candidate “best” all other things being equal?"

Is this suppose to be cynical? If anything, the pendulum is swinging the other way, with being the only female on the shortlist practically a shortcut to getting the job. At least one very well known female astronomer has stated quite clearly in an interview that being a woman has helped her throughout her career, which is not the answer the interviewer expected.

Maybe I'm lucky, but I don't know any men who would prefer male candidates because they are male.

"Since a candidate who precisely fits a job’s posted requirements is rare, some judgement is always exercised over who comes “closest”; and that is where gender bias comes into play."

That has certainly happened often in the past, and probably continues to happen today. But switching the bias is not the answer.

"This appears to assume that male candidates are, on average, of higher quality."

No, it doesn't. The people hired are the extremes of the distribution. If the pool is larger, it is more likely that it will contain an extremely good candidate. This says nothing about the mean qualification. Simple maths.


Liralen said...

In response to your comment: "I have no idea whatsoever how American school education looked like in the 1960s." and subsequent questions (your "school all day? etc. post).

Here's my take. I'm 63 and female, raised in Bible belt America, and that distinction makes a difference, since the patriarchy is stronger there, and still is. But I was raised in a small area within the Bible belt that's more progressive than typical (Lexington, Kentucky).

My father was Catholic (he passed two years ago), my mother is Japanese, both of whom are relevant to the "discrimination" issue, as both subjected me to patriarchal methods of raising children, for my own good as they were raised to view "good", and so with much love (as an aside, it's very interesting how Japanese values were so similar to the American patriarchy, although derived quite differently). Despite that they were not typical for the area, with respect to gender roles, they were (and later came to regret it, once they understood it didn't work for me).

I entered first grade in 1961, in a public school, which is significant. They were and are, far more egalitarian than a parochial (religious/private) school.

American public school is typically 8 AM to 3 PM. My strongest memories were about being isolated for reading, since I was far above grade level. As a child, I resented being alone in a room not much larger than a broom closet to read things that weren't trivial for me, but as an adult, I recognize it was intended to not hold me back. As an adult, I see it was unnecessary. I read books regardless if it's required, and still do. But they meant well.

I was indifferent about math, since elementary school (age 6-11) math is all about memorization, which was boring. I didn't become interested in math until 5th or 6th grade (age 11 or so), when I was chosen to participate in the "New Math" program, which wiki has this to say about it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Math, i.e. algebra, functions taught earlier than usual in the Us at that time.

I loved it.

Then at age 12, I transferred to what we called "Junior High School", where algebra was only taught early to males, and even to them, at age 13. It wasn't offered to me until I was 14 or 15, by which time I was heartedly bored and started skipping school.

They weren't teaching me anything I didn't already know.

I'd show up for tests, and made nearly perfect scores, but got bad grades since I didn't show up for classes or do the homework.

I remember taking an aptitude test where my pattern matching ability translated to a recommendation that I was suited for clerical work. That made me roll my eyes, at age 14 or 15.

At age 16, I got pregnant and adamantly refused to abort, although I was an atheist and so had no religious objection. At that time, abortions were not performed in Kentucky, but my parents desperately wanted to me to go to New York to have one, as did my obstetrician and high school advisors.

I married the father instead, who also wanted the child. And it's now horrific to all concerned who advised abortion. Not only is he wonderful, but he was the only child I was ever able to have. And now have a beautiful grandchild.

I dropped out of school, my husband joined the Army, and after training, was sent to Remlingen, Germany. We lived here: https://goo.gl/maps/R3YPQGDWhwp.

While there, my mother-in-law sent me a newspaper clipping about me named being a National Merit Semi-finalist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Merit_Scholarship_Program

It made me think I should go back to school. Although I knew I couldn’t qualify for finalist, it suggested to me that I had better potential than I thought. (Hit the 4096 limit, continued later.)

Liralen said...

(Part 2)

I applied to the Wuerzberg American High school and had to undergo an interview to establish that I would not be a bad influence on the other students. They accepted me, and while there, they did a wonderful job about allowing me to study independently, with supervised testing. It was great.

I took the ACT and maxed the math, despite never having trig and had never even heard of Calculus. I had taken Geometry independently, just took the tests under supervision. My lowest score was in English, at the 96th percentile.

I received a small scholarship from the Wuerzberg American HS Alumni Association, for which I am forever grateful. Based upon my ACT scores, I received lots of letters from prestigious American colleges, but my duties as wife and mother precluded me from applying.

And so I took classes when I could, finally graduating with a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering 12 years after what would have been my normal high school graduation.

I could have had a dual major in Physics if I had gone another semester. It just wasn't financially feasible, considering that a Ph.D is necessary to make a career in physics, while only a BS is necessary in engineering. I was already 30 years old as it was.

I don't regret that choice at all, despite my love of physics. I started in chemical engineering, and it might have been alchemy for all the sense it made to me. Electrical engineering is so much more beautiful. Maxwell's equations were like an epiphany, they are so beautiful.

Generally, my engineering peers (as well as professors) were delighted to have me in their company, whereas I doubt that holds true in physics, even now. My first physics professor (Dr. Pepper!! - an American soft drink) did talk me out of dropping his class. Vectors were involved from the beginning, and not having had trig, I had no clue. He told me it was easy, just pick up a trig book, and he was right.

In response to questions you raised that weren't answered above:

No uniforms were required in public schools. Some parochial schools required them. While I was required to wear a dress in elementary school, that changed when I was about 9 or 10. I actually think I had more latitude in my dress after that than American kids are allowed now. That was during the Woodstock era. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodstock

Yes, public schools graded for behavior.

sean s. said...

Liralen;

Thank you for your story. We must be about the same age; though from different places (I grew up in the Dakotas). I survived New Math also (beginning in fourth grade); my parents both taught me the right way to do math, so I escaped it unharmed.

Take care.

sean s.

Liralen said...

@sean s

Thank you for your response. However, there is no right way to do math - it differs from person to person, and from what I've found is the best way to teach it, from those I've taught (not professionally, but since I'm good at it, have been requested to help from time to time) is to help them link the abstract to the practical. Math is a language, and anyone who can acquire language skills can learn math, as taught in American high schools or below.

Interpretation separates the brilliant from the ordinary in both disciplines, but in American High public high schools, the teaching is for the ordinary.

While I now know the politics behind the New Math was ugly, the result for me was learning algebra early, so I don't understand your comment about harm. The only harm to me was when it was dropped. I spent the next five years literally bored out of my mind in math classes.

I hope you understand that as a girl, I was not in the same math classes as boys with similar abilities. Except during the New Math years, and 5 or 6 years later, when I left the US and was allowed to take math classes independently.



sean s. said...

Liralen;

Perhaps you are an outlier; a person gifted with greater interest and ability in math than the rest of us. For me and my peers, New Math not only failed to provide us a path to algebra, it failed to teach us basic math.

I agree that linking the abstract to the practical is important; but I think you may have it backwards: for most of us, the best approach is to link the practical to the abstract. That is, I think, what most of us need; a practical purpose before we dig into the abstract.

I do not intend to spark a debate on math pedagogy; it is a big error to assume there’s one right way for everyone. If anything, that is where most schools fail: treating students as if they were fungible.


My “right-way” comment about math was too much tongue-in-cheek I suppose. There are efficient ways to do math, and those ways that are not. The methods taught us by New Math were inefficient, IMHO.

Perhaps the New Math I was exposed to was different from the New Math you saw, or perhaps my teachers didn’t comprehend it’s purpose any better than I did it third grade.

That you, as a girl, were not allowed int the same math classes as boys was reprehensible. To even discourage anyone from trying is wrong.

Take care;

sean s.

Liralen said...

@sean s.

I agree with linking the practical to the abstract. However, I think the reason that some kids don't get math at first is because it seems abstract to them. They need to be shown how it relates to the "real world", and so that is what I meant by stating it in reverse of how you did. For example, with something as basic as a number line), I've found that kids sometimes don't get it right off until I've shown them how they can use them to add and subtract, by simply counting. So it's possible that what we view as abstract could be different.

I wasn't involved in the New Math until 5th grade, two years later than you, by which time I had all the basics I could stand. I agree that in 3rd grade, kids probably didn't know the basics well enough for algebra and beyond.

Given the topic, I do need to emphasize, after having just recently retired as an electrical engineer, I have felt very welcomed since college (1985 graduate and hence also the Only Woman in the Room). Male engineers are the best men on the planet in my book.

I doubt if I would say the same about physicists if I had majored in physics though, if I had chosen that path. Opinions matter more than performance in physics than in engineering.

To be fair, that's the nature of the beast. There are more objective measures of performance in engineering than physics.

So I would advise young women to choose engineering instead of either physics or IT as an undergrad (even my husband wishes he had chosen electrical engineering instead of computer engineering/IT, which is also heavily subjective.) You could go either way after getting a BSEE, and if it doesn't work out, a BSEE is still nice to have.





sean s. said...

Another recent article on this topic...

Why it’s hard to prove gender discrimination in science

sean s.

sean s. said...

Here’s an interesting twist on this issue:

Countries with Less Gender Equity Have More Women in STEM

sean s.

Liralen said...

@sean s.

Thanks for the links. Both were interesting.

Your first article supports my advice to women to avoid careers where there is no objective measure of your performance. Thanks much for that!

However, with respect to your second link, about countries with less gender equality having better results with women in STEM, I have some qualms. What drove me to get a higher education degree was that without it, the jobs I could get without more education than a man, paid much less, way below poverty level. I’ve often joked (but was really serious) that I only got an engineering degree because I sucked at typing and hence would starve if I hadn’t.

A man in those days with only a high school degree earned much more than I did then.