By Carolita Johnson. Read more at Oscarlita.
A new study led by philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie challenges the idea that women are underrepresented in STEM fields. They first note that there are some STEM fields where women do well (they are 54% of molecular biologists, for example) and some humanities fields where they don’t (they are only 31% of philosophers). Something else, they gathered, must be going on.
They had a hunch. They asked 1,820 U.S. academics what it took to be successful in their field. They were particularly interested in answers that suggested hard work and ones that invoked brilliance.
Their results showed a clear relationship between the presence of women in a field and the assumption that success required brilliance. The downward sloping line represents the proportion of female PhDs in stem fields (top) and social science and humanities fields (bottom) as they become increasingly associated with brilliance:
Interviewed at Huffington Post, Leslie says:
Cultural associations link men, but not women, with raw intellectual brilliance… consider, for example, how difficult it is to think of even a single pop-cultural portrayal of a woman who displays that same special spark of innate, unschooled genius as Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House from the show “House M.D.,” or Will Hunting from the movie “Good Will Hunting.”
In contrast, accomplished women are often portrayed as very hard working (and often having given up on marriage and children, I’ll add). She continues:
In this way, women’s accomplishments are seen as grounded in long hours, poring over books, rather than in some special raw effortless brilliance.
They extended their findings to race, testing whether the relationship held for African Americans, another group often stereotyped as less intelligent, and Asians, a group that attracts the opposite stereotype. As hypothesized, they found the relationship for the first group, but not the second (note the truncated y-axis).
The long term solution to this problem, of course, is to end white and Asian men’s claim on brilliance. In the meantime, the research team suggests, it may be a good idea to stop talking about some fields as if they’re the rightful home of the naturally brilliant and start advocating hard work for everyone.
Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
The D.C. Council’s Committee on Health released a report after surveying high school students about sex education. One of their questions was about the source of sexual health information. The pie chart below shows that students name, in order, their parents or guardians, health workers, teachers, friends, and boyfriends or girlfriends as the most common sources of information.
I asked a similar question in a study I did with college students (full text). The students in my sample rated their friends, secondary school teachers, books, their sexual partners, and the media as their most important sources. Men also included pornography. Very few students counted parents among their most valued sources. (Significance indicators are for sex difference.)
My co-authors and I were interested in how those sources correlated with actual knowledge, specifically knowledge about the clitoris. And so we gave them a “cliteracy test,” we had them answer a set of true/false questions about the clitoris and find it on a diagram of the vulva.
We then compared their scores on the test to their reported sources of knowledge. The table below is a regression showing which sources of knowledge were most predictive of a high score. The findings were interesting: only two sources predicted significantly higher scores on the test: media (for men and women) and self-exploration (for women).
So, only one of the most frequently used sources of information, media, actually translated into real knowledge. And, ironically, the best source of information for women, their own bodies, was among the least often cited source of information for women, beating out only pornography and parents.
In other words, the best source of information about the clitoris is probably the… clitoris, but female college students would rather read books to learn about it.
This puts the D.C. study into some perspective. The high school students in that study reported that their parents or guardians, health workers, teachers, friends, and boyfriends or girlfriends were sources of sexual information, but that doesn’t mean that they are good sources. It could be that they’re giving them misinformation or good information only about certain things.
Originally posted in 2009. You can see a summary of our findings on the correlation (or lack thereof) between knowledge about the clitoris and orgasm for women here.
Not surprisingly, the new interactive chart Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews has been the subject of a lot of conversation among sociologists, especially those of us who study gender. For example, it reminded C.J. of an ongoing conversation she and a former Colorado College colleague repeatedly had about teaching evaluations. Comparing his evaluations to C.J.’s, he noted that students would criticize C.J. for the same teaching practices and behaviors that seemed to earn him praise: being tough, while caring about learning.
We’ve long known that student evaluations of teaching are biased. A recent experiment made headlines when Adam Driscoll and Andrea Hunt found that professors teaching online received dramatically different evaluation scores depending upon whether students thought the professor was a man or a woman; students rated male-identified instructors significantly higher than female identified instructors, regardless of the instructor’s actual gender.
Schmidt’s interactive chart provides a bit more information about exactly what students are saying when evaluating their professors in gendered ways. Thus far, most commentaries have focused on the fact that men are more likely to be seen as “geniuses,” “brilliant,” and “funny,” while women, as C.J. discovered, are more likely to be seen as “bossy,” “mean,” “pushy.”
These discrepancies are important, but in this post, we’ve used the tool to shed light on some forms of gendered workplace inequality that have received less attention: (1) comments concerning physical appearance, (2) comments related to messiness and organization, and (3) comments related to emotional (as opposed to intellectual) work performed by professors.
The results from Schmidt’s chart are not universally “bad” or “worse” for women. For instance, the results for students referring to professors as “hot” and “attractive” are actually mixed. Further, in some fields of study, women are more likely to receive “positive” appearance-based evaluations while, in other fields, men are more likely to receive these evaluations.
A closer examination, however, reveals an interesting pattern. Here is a list of the fields in which women are more likely to be referred to as “hot” or “attractive”: Criminal Justice, Engineering, Political Science, Business, Computer Science, Physics, Economics, and Accounting. And here is a list of fields in which men are more likely to receive these evaluations: Philosophy, English, Anthropology, Fine Arts, Languages, and Sociology.
Notice anything suspicious? Men are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “femininity” and women are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “masculinity.”
Part of this is certainly due to gender segregation in fields of study. There are simply more men in engineering and physics courses. Assuming most students are heterosexual, women teaching in these fields might be more likely to be objectified. Similarly, men teaching in female-dominated fields have a higher likelihood of being evaluated as “hot” because there are more women there to evaluate them. (For more on this, see Philip Cohen’s breakdown of gender segregation in college majors.)
Nonetheless, it is important to note that sexual objectification works differently when it’s aimed at men versus women. Women, but not men, are systematically sexualized in ways that work to symbolically undermine their authority. (This is why “mothers,” “mature,” “boss,” and “teacher” are among men’s top category searches on many online pornography sites.) And, women are more harshly criticized for failing to meet normative appearance expectations. Schmidt’s chart lends support to this interpretation as women professors are also almost universally more likely to be referred to as “ugly,” “hideous,” and “nasty.”
Level of (Dis)Organization
Christin and Kjerstin are beginning a new research project designed to evaluate whether students assess disorganized or “absent-minded” professors (e.g., messy offices, chalk on their clothing, disheveled appearances) differently depending on gender. Schmidt’s interactive chart foreshadows what they might find. Consider the following: women are more likely to be described as “unprepared,” “late,” and “scattered.” These are characteristics we teach little girls to avoid, while urging them to be prepared, organized, and neat. (Case in point: Karin Martin’s research on gender and bodies in preschool shows that boys’ bodies are less disciplined than girls’.)
In short, we hold men and women to different organizational and self-presentation standards. Consequently, women, but not men, are held accountable when they are perceived to be unprepared or messy. Emphasizing this greater scrutiny of women’s organization and professionalism is the finding that women are more likely than men to be described as either “professional” or “unprofessional,” and either “organized” or “disorganized.”
Finally, emotional (rather than intellectual) terms are used more often in women’s evaluations than men’s. Whether mean, kind, caring or rude, students are more likely to comment on these qualities when women are the ones doing the teaching. When women professors receive praise for being “caring,” “compassionate,” “nice,” and “understanding,” this is also a not-so-subtle way of telling them that they should exhibit these qualities. Thus, men may receive fewer comments related to this type of emotion work because students do not expect them to be doing it in the first place. But this emotional work isn’t just “more” work, it’s impossible work because of the competence/likeability tradeoff women face.
There are all sorts of things that are left out of this quick and dirty analysis (race, class, course topic, type of institution, etc.), but it does suggest we begin to question the ways teaching evaluations may systematically advantage some over others. Moreover, if certain groups—for instance, women and scholars of color (and female scholars of color)—are more likely to be in jobs at which teaching evaluations matter more for tenure and promotion, then unfair and biased evaluations may exacerbate inequality within the academy.
Cross-posted at Girl w/ Pen.
The day I defended my dissertation I watched Chaotic, the Britney Spears/Kevin Federline reality show, from beginning to end. True story. The next day I pulled all of the paperback classic novels from my bookshelves and donated them to Goodwill. They were mostly tattered Penguin copies of things like The Sun Also Rises and The Stranger. I was done with them.
I was the first person in my family to get a traditional college degree and those books meant a lot to me for a long time. I was an insecure student; a sufferer of the famous imposter syndrome. The books were a signal to myself — and perhaps others, too — that I was a Smart, Educated Person with Intelligent Tastes. They were what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would call cultural capital, objects that indicate my membership in a particular class. Both Chaotic and the purging of the books were part of the same cathartic expression: relief, incredible relief, at having not-failed. I had a new form of cultural capital now, a more powerful version of that message. I had a PhD. I could afford to toss the paperbacks.
Today, as someone who has officially “made it” in academia, I need those books even less than I did on that transitional day. And, as I’ve made the journey from nervous graduate student to tenured professor, I’ve slowly come to understand what an incredible privilege it is to carry the institutional capital that I do.
Every time I have the opportunity to admit I was wrong or confess a lack of knowledge, for example, I can do so without fear that anyone will think that I’m generally stupid or ignorant. Others assume I’m smart and knowledgeable because of the pedigree, whether I am or not. People who aren’t as lucky as I — who have the wrong accent, the wrong teeth, or the wrong clothes, and who don’t have the right degrees, jobs, and colleagues — they are at risk of being labeled as generally stupid or ignorant whenever they make an intellectual misstep, whether they are or not.
To them, that used Penguin copy of The Stranger may be more valuable than the $0.03 it costs on Amazon. In another part of the social strata, it might be worth it to pay $46 for that subscription to The New Yorker. The subscriber may only read the cartoons, but they don’t mind because, after all, that’s not really what they’re paying for.
At Junk Charts, Kaiser Fung drew my attention to a graph released by Reuters. It is so deeply misleading that I loathe to expose your eyeballs to it. So, I offer you this:
The original figure is on the left. It counts the number of gun deaths in Florida. A line rises, bounces a little, reaches a 2nd highest peak labeled “2005, Florida enacted its ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” and falls precipitously.
What do you see?
Most people see a huge fall-off in the number of gun deaths after Stand Your Ground was passed. But that’s not what the graph shows. A quick look at the vertical axis reveals that the gun deaths are counted from top (0) to bottom (800). The highest peaks are the fewest gun deaths and the lowest ones are the most. A rise in the line, in other words, reveals a reduction in gun deaths. The graph on the right — flipped both horizontally and vertically — is more intuitive to most: a rising line reflects a rise in the number of gun deaths and a dropping a drop.
The proper conclusion, then, is that gun deaths skyrocketed after Stand Your Ground was enacted.
This example is a great reminder that we bring our own assumptions to our reading of any illustration of data. The original graph may have broken convention, making the intuitive read of the image incorrect, but the data is, presumably, sound. It’s our responsibility, then, to always do our due diligence in absorbing information. The alternative is to be duped.
Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
A new study finds that people with high “justice sensitivity” are using logic, not emotions. Subjects were put in a fMRI machine, one that measures ongoing brain activity and shown videos of people acting kindly or cruelly toward a homeless person.
Some respondents reacted more strongly than others — hence the high versus low justice sensitivity — and an analysis of the high sensitivity individuals’ brain activity showed that they were processing the images in the parts of the brain where logic and rationality live. “Individuals who are sensitive to justice and fairness do not seem to be emotionally driven,” explained one of the scientists, “Rather, they are cognitively driven.”
Activists aren’t angry, they reasonably object to unjust circumstances that they understand all too well.
Image borrowed from Jamie Keiles at Teenagerie, who is a high sensitivity individual.
In a great book, The Averaged American, sociologist Sarah Igo uses case studies to tell the intellectual history of statistics, polling, and sampling. The premise is fascinating: Today we’re bombarded with statistics about the U.S. population, but this is a new development. Before the science developed, the concept was elusive and the knowledge was impossible. In other words, before statistics, there was no “average American.”
The implication here is, of course, that Black Americans aren’t “real” Americans and that including them in opinion poll data is literally skewing the results.
Scientists designed the famous Middletown study with exactly this mentality. Trying to determine who the average American was, scientists excluded Black Americans out of hand. Of course, that was in the 1920s and ’30s. How wild to see the same mentality in the 2000s.
Originally posted in 2009.