Gender divides in Philosophy and other disciplines

by Kieran Healy on February 4, 2011

Following up on a conversation with a friend in Philosophy, I took a quick look at the Survey of Earned Doctorates to see the breakdown by gender for Ph.Ds awarded in the United States in 2009. Some nice pictures: Percent female by Division (with Philosophy picked out); Percent female for selected disciplines; and a giant percent female for (almost) all disciplines, with Philosophy picked out for emphasis. The links go to PDFs.

US PhDs awarded 2009, by discipline and gender

{ 250 comments }

1

Katrina 02.04.11 at 12:15 pm

Fascinating. I would have guessed history to be 50/50, and am very surprised by the size of the gender divide in Religious Studies. English lit obviously has a very high female representation, I’d be interested to see if other languages skew similarly.

2

Timothy Scriven 02.04.11 at 1:06 pm

Tbh I’m suprised the gap isn’t even bigger based on my experience- it’s pretty appalling. This is something of a discipline wide crisis and it should be treated as such by philosophers. Some of the causes are probably out of our control ( i.e women being socialised to believe that they cannot succeed in mathematics heavy domains like philosophy) but I can’t help but think a lot of the sin is at our end.

3

dsquared 02.04.11 at 1:13 pm

mathematics heavy domains like philosophy

errrm?

Although I agree, if you’re doing worse than economics, it’s clear that the problem isn’t just any more general factor.

(Perhaps more controversially, I think Psychology and English Literature, at those levels, might also benefit from asking if there might be a structural problem with the way they are going about things)

4

Colin Reid 02.04.11 at 1:15 pm

The ‘maths-heavy’ excuse does get trotted out a lot, but what does it say about subjects where women are under-represented *even compared to maths itself*? I’d have thought mathematics is the canonical example of a maths-heavy subject, but perhaps a specific kind of maths is meant (eg statistics, computer-assisted calculation or whatever) that doesn’t predominate in mathematics for its own sake. Or perhaps there is more going on.

5

tomslee 02.04.11 at 1:27 pm

Rates of change would be interesting. I understand that in Computer Science women’s participation has been falling for some years now.

6

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 1:35 pm

@Colin, the math is more a side effect, I think. The observed pattern is probably more about approaches use in those fields, in particular that a sort of sharp reductionism is used a lot and valued a lot. Trying to boil down a part of reality to simple, less fuzzy patterns. Spherical cows and trolley problems, so to speak. After that, maths often becomes a useful tool to work with the models.

I still wouldn’t know why that should lead to gender disparities, to be honest.

7

Matt McIrvin 02.04.11 at 1:40 pm

@Colin: That’s what I’ve always noticed about physics; female representation there is lower than either math or chemistry, and I can think of no reasonable general-factor explanation that would have that result.

And molecular biology is above 50%!

8

CSPhD 02.04.11 at 2:31 pm

“(Perhaps more controversially, I think Psychology and English Literature, at those levels, might also benefit from asking if there might be a structural problem with the way they are going about things)”

Two not completely unrelated questions:

Is it controversial to suggest that gender disparity of this magnitude in a scientific field is problematic?

What would be the goal here? to move the curves to the right a bit? to have every discipline near the 50% line? Or to increase women’s participation in specific fields? (e.g., engineering)?
Why would the latter two choices be preferable socially or be more just than the first?

9

peter 02.04.11 at 2:40 pm

It would be interesting to see the breakdown for topics within Mathematics. Some branches of math have the dog-eat-dog, take-no-prisoners culture also associated with physics and mainstream economics (eg, Applied Math, Analysis). Other branches of pure math (eg, Category Theory, Statistics) do not. IME, it is not only good women who are deterred from doing PhDs or pursuing careers in the macho branches of mathematics.

10

Kieran Healy 02.04.11 at 2:43 pm

It would be interesting to see the breakdown for topics within Mathematics.

See the big chart for some detail on this. Statistics is the most balanced, relatively.

11

MPAVictoria 02.04.11 at 2:48 pm

“Tbh I’m suprised the gap isn’t even bigger based on my experience- it’s pretty appalling. This is something of a discipline wide crisis and it should be treated as such by philosophers. “

Just curious if you feel the same way about English Literature Tim?

12

Sally 02.04.11 at 2:51 pm

I left Philosophy as a major during my Freshman year because it was a bunch of guys arguing with each other. Any statements I made in class were entirely ignored. Women leave fields that don’t want them around.

Psychology emphasizes inclusiveness and explicitly studies gender bias and other forms of bias. There are women who are professors acting as role models. No one in psychology thinks the presence of women is ruing the field, as occurs in other fields. I think psychology is doing something right, not something that needs to be reconsidered.

13

dsquared 02.04.11 at 2:56 pm

Statistics is the most balanced, relatively

I wonder which subject decided on the correct basis to draw up the chart …

14

bianca steele 02.04.11 at 2:58 pm

I wonder whether the breakdown for computer science is as badly skewed in other countries. I have some anecdotal evidence suggesting Asian women aren’t steered away from the “harder” topics in the way American women seem to be (don’t know whether this would have happened at their overseas universities or after they began working either).

I also think some (working class) women who might have been steered into a practical and apparently math-heavy career like IT thirty years ago when there were fewer options aren’t being steered that way anymore, but that is also anecdotal. And there’s also the increasingly entrepreneurial nature of computer science. Then again, I remember there being one other undergraduate woman in my CS classes in the mid-80s (from the liberal arts colleges, engineering school, and affiliated schools combined), but I’m not sure that can be right: the department I worked in right out of college was about 1/3 women. There were two woman professors in the department, one of whom was later the first woman at the university to get tenure in the sciences (on the other hand, she was doing computational linguistics, not a “hard CS” topic).

15

chris 02.04.11 at 3:02 pm

very surprised by the size of the gender divide in Religious Studies

ISTM that that is very likely due to the prominence of religions with male-only clergy (or that are misogynist in general). They’re not very likely to value the opinion of a female theologian, and pursuing religious studies as a course of study isn’t a step in the direction of a clerical career for a woman in one of those religions.

what does it say about subjects where women are under-represented even compared to maths itself?

I think you could make out a plausible case that computer science is more like math (in the relevant sense — women being told they can’t hack it, being more likely to lack interest in the subject matter, or both) than math is.

One thing that seems curi0us to me is the distance between molecular biology, biochemistry, and chemistry. Are the fields themselves really different enough that this distance is plausibly due to societywide effects like the math/CS effect, or is there some kind of social phenomenon steering people in a gender-dependent way into one or another related field?

16

Jan van Leyden 02.04.11 at 3:03 pm

Arrogant assholes don’t like women, women don’t like arrogant assholes.

17

DivGuy 02.04.11 at 3:03 pm

Fascinating. I would have guessed history to be 50/50, and am very surprised by the size of the gender divide in Religious Studies.

I was, too. My program has been 55/45 women every year reaching way back.

Then I realized, “religious studies” almost certainly contains all those Central Georgia Bible College PhDs in Evolution Studies, as well as the doctorates of Catholic and Orthodox priests. Those will run 90% male (more in the priestly case), and skew the numbers.

I would guess that among your liberalish, ecumenicalish religious studies programs, there are more notably more women than men.

18

chris 02.04.11 at 3:04 pm

I wonder which subject decided on the correct basis to draw up the chart …

And also not to count statistics as part of mathematics, in the process pushing the parts of mathematics that *are* counted under the heading “mathematics” in the other direction. Hmm.

19

Kathryn 02.04.11 at 3:09 pm

I just did a lot of research on the presence of women in philosophy, to apply for a grant from my university (for funding as a woman phd student) and I was shocked by how badly represented women are. They’re even more poorly represented amongst faculty than they are amongst phd recipients. Look at the numbers of published papers in top journals, and the numbers are even worse.

It’s hard to understand exactly what could be leading to such underrepresentation.

20

Kieran Healy 02.04.11 at 3:23 pm

I don’t get to choose the categories, which is why I ended up doing some aggregated comparisions (e.g., bundling all of Maths or all of History into one category) and some disaggregated ones. The astonishing proliferation of subdisciplines in Education leads me to wonder whether someone with that background might be responsible for the category choices on the survey.

21

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 3:27 pm

One thing that seems curi0us to me is the distance between molecular biology, biochemistry, and chemistry
Molecular biology has many, many people who wanted to be a doctor first, then turned into a more scientific direction. As a result its gender division tracks that of medical studies.

22

Donald A. Coffin 02.04.11 at 3:44 pm

Being an economist, I had to note three things:

1. Ag econ is included in “Agriculture.” For some strange reason.

2. Within the non-psychology set of social sciences, more PhDs were awarded (in 2009) in economics than in any other field within the social sciences (political science was a distant second).

3. Econ had the smallest percentage of women receiving degrees, considerably lower than geography, which was second-worst.

23

Caroline 02.04.11 at 3:51 pm

What Sally (#11) said. I am a female recipient of a PhD in molecular biology (2010), and the ease (or lack of it) with which women can participate in discussion varies between disciplines, and seems quite relevant to women’s individual pursuit of the doctorate in a given field.

I have noticed that the women who speak up (in cell biology and biochemistry, my areas of study) tend to be the students of female faculty. Typically the faculty member is also present, and also speaks up. I wonder whether women’s participation (& recognition of participation!) is somehow dependent on the fraction of women in the group who are also participating.

This doesn’t explain psychology or English literature, unless the phenomenon of participation being contingent on others-of-same-sex-participation applies to men as well.

24

Armando 02.04.11 at 3:56 pm

It would be really great to get this kind of data for the EU. Preferably broken down by country for lots of fun comparisons.

25

john theibault 02.04.11 at 3:57 pm

I too was surprised by the strong male bias in Religion.

I wonder if the most telling comparison might be between psychology, neuro sciences, and philosophy. All three have “minds” as a central topic. Philosophy has a strong male overrepresentation; psychology has a strong female overrepresentation; neuro sciences seem to exactly reproduce the gender proportions of undergraduate education. Would we tend to find gender convergence in the branches of philosophy and psychology closest to neuro science? Or would the gender division be most pronounced in those fields?

26

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 4:19 pm

This doesn’t explain psychology or English literature, unless the phenomenon of participation being contingent on others-of-same-sex-participation applies to men as well.
Why should it not?

27

Linnaeus 02.04.11 at 4:41 pm

I wonder if the strong representation of women in psychology has something to do with its clinical component; I know that not everyone who gets a Ph.D. does clinical work (it may even be a minority, I’m not sure), but psychology strikes me as being more closely linked to the “helping professions” like teaching and social work whose numbers skew heavily towards women.

28

christian_h 02.04.11 at 4:47 pm

Couple points:

1. I imagine the math/statistics numbers come from the AMS’s annual survey of doctorates awarded in the mathematical sciences. (Preliminary survey for 2010 is here – careful it’s a pfd.) That survey separates out statistics, mostly because statistics departments are separate from math departments in most places.

2. Unfortunately the doctorate numbers strongly underestimate the dominance of males in mathematics. There are a number of reasons for this, but two particular ones are:

(a) Women consistently get less research-oriented jobs than men, by a considerable margin. (See an interesting short article here. More pdf.) As a result, the proportion of female faculty in mathematics research departments is much lower than 30% even in young age cohorts.

(b) The inclusion of math biology in the math PhD’s, it’s the one sub-discipline skewing female.

3. I’d posit that the gender imbalance in some humanities disciplines is a result of the same gendering processes that cause the gender imbalance in mathematics and related fields – and in part it’s most likely a balancing reaction to it as well (with women being pushed into these disciplines by the sexist culture still predominating in math/engineering fields). It might also be useful to take note of the fact that academics in the sciences and engineering are better paid than those in the humanities. (Although that also applies to philosophy I suppose.)

29

Caroline 02.04.11 at 4:54 pm

Zamfir,

I don’t think it’s obvious that the situation of men and women in mixed-sex academic circles is symmetrical. So I should have said ‘women’ rather than ‘same sex’. Nonetheless, if our situations aren’t symmetrical, that would be an interesting finding.

Women are regarded as being in some way trivial compared to men by society at large, so it’s not such a stretch to hypothesize that sex-dimorphic perceptions of status could produce the outcome that a few women in a mixed-sex group are very differently situation than a few men would be.

I don’t believe that this is the only explanation – it may indeed be a symmetrical phenomenon. The sex ratios in psychology etc support the possibility of symmetry. And a symmetrical phenomenon could be more-easily addressed than an ingrained cultural sex-dimorphic social rank may be, so I’d like to hope it’s symmetrical.

30

Sam Penrose 02.04.11 at 5:04 pm

I grew disenchanted with the Greek / German Idealist tradition during the final year of my B.A. Since then I’ve become a parent and read enough to notice the primacy of subsistence agriculture in history. I find the Plato-Descartes-Kant line absurdly irrelevant to the lived experience of raising children or (second-hand) trying to wring enough food from the earth to keep them from going hungry. I see little reason to keep teaching these stupid books.

31

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 5:16 pm

I am sure symmetry isn’t the only thing, but at least anecdotally there are symmetric elements. A story I have heard for example both from women who left a male-dominated field and from men who left a female-dominated field is that they find out some day that the colleagues or fellow students have organized a social thing (like a night out), and didn’t include them or even thought about it. A few things like that are enough to give people the feeling that do not really belong.

32

Colin Reid 02.04.11 at 5:58 pm

@peter (#9): My experience is that pure mathematicians are fairly humble as a rule, and don’t tend to raise their voices much, but there’s a strong tendency in talks and papers to overestimate what the audience/reader understands or can deduce themselves, motivated not so much by machismo as a desire for brevity. (I suppose ‘macho code’ is a similar phenomenon.) This in itself can be quite intimidating, and it may be that men on average feel more able to ask ‘stupid questions’ and admit they don’t understand because there is a less of a threat that they will be judged stupid or ignorant for doing so.

33

hartal 02.04.11 at 6:13 pm

Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender is a great read, and a necessary one if you are raising two daughters!

34

Akshay 02.04.11 at 6:13 pm

Well, I studied physics, the worst field in the survey. These would be my diagnoses (based on observations in Holland, not the US, but ISTM the survey would come out similarly). Going back in time through a female physicists career, so to speak:

1. Sexism is a proven problem in the ‘hard’ sciences; women don’t get the same recognition for similar work. The effect is so significant I think it is mostly subconscious. I never heard a professor actually *say* that women were somehow less intelligent.

2. I noticed the women physics students would mostly have been regarded as ‘tomboys’ in their childhoods, and probably liked doing ‘boyish’ things and hanging out with boys from a young age. The more ‘girlish’ girls (for lack of a better word) don’t fit in and leave the sciences rapidly.

3. Every single one of the physics girls I knew as a student complained about remarks by sexist teachers in high school. “Why study physics, these technical subjects aren’t really for girls.” or “Wow, you’re really good at maths for a girl!”. I was shocked, so I checked that yes, every single one could name at least one sexist teacher.

4. Peer pressure in high schools obviously steers girls away from the sciences. I noticed in school that after a maths class, the girls would all get together for a ritual complaint about how tough the test was. After a literature class, they would get together for a ritual about how well it went. They got the same grade in both classes.

5. Many Dutch women seem to have internalised the idea that evolution on the Savannah predisposed them to dislike science and engineering. Whenever I counter with the much larger number of Polish or Italian female physicists, or Indian women who become chemical engineers and IT professionals, this is diagnosed as due to the utter weirdness of Indian (or Polish or Italian) culture.

6. Just a generation before mine, Dutch parents wouldn’t even allow, or strongly discourage women to study science and engineering due to lack of femininity. This creates obvious role model problems.

FWIW, I think the physics outlier is a combination of physics being both ‘mathy’ (logic) and ‘engineering-like’ (machines), so there are two vectors of prejudice interacting here, i.e. that women can’t think logically or operate machines. (This probably explains the “reductionism/holism” divide, though I don’t like that binary opposition much)

35

Sebastian (2) 02.04.11 at 6:19 pm

As a goal, would reducing the spread of the distribution really be controversial? I think in an ideal world, all disciplines should have above 40% of either gender (or something like that). I don’t think having fields that are completely dominated by women is a good thing, either (though, I wonder how PhDs translate into new faculty gender ratios).

As for reasons for the distribution, I think it’s useful to distinguish between general societal gender norms – boys/men are more likely to be encouraged in “tinkering” and other technical activities, women are taught to be more empathic or things along those line – and tangible gender bias within a discipline itself that deters people from pursuing a PhD – one way to get at this difference might be to compare gender rations in undergraduate majors to those in PhDs?

36

SeanD 02.04.11 at 6:25 pm

Not surprised to see female-skewing in English lit. Surely this is partly explained by gender-differentiated rates of fiction-readership. I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but I’m quite I’ve read that women in the general population read fiction at a much higher rate than men. Unless, as I doubt, this effect totally disappears for those who consider graduate school, we should expect to see this recapitulated in the study of fiction (still, if I’m not mistaken, the central if not exclusive concern of English departments).

37

Akshay 02.04.11 at 6:35 pm

Here are some intuitions on the other outliers, based on even less anecdotal evidence.

I am guessing the dominance of female literature teachers in high school is to blame for boys stopping reading (or moving to SF and comics instead). They assign books they liked themselves as adolescents, making teen boys read Jane Austen. I had a Dutch literature teacher like that. She probably thought, when discussing books, that I had the tastes and concerns of a teen girl. Put me off Dutch reading for good. Thankfully, my English literature teacher was a man, so I actually enjoyed my literature list and still read.

As for psychology, it is about “emotions” right? And about “dealing with emotions”. What self-respecting guy would go study that? (Unless his head is messed up, of course)

The female Phd’s in the ‘human’ sciences probably mirror the males in the ‘machine’ sciences.

So, mysterious nature-nurture interactions in early childhood getting blown out of all proportion by social pressures (or someting)

PS I am both mystified that Astrophysics is somehow not Physics and also by the much larger number of female Phd’s. Is it because basing a career on Astro is impossible?

38

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 6:47 pm

@Akshay, both statistics and anecdotes suggest that the Netherlands have a particularly strong tendency against women in hard “beta” fields. I can’t say I ever understood where that came from. Do you have any ideas?

On your thesis about high school teachers and reading: I don’t think that works. Literature teachers are hardly universally female, especially not some decades ago or in all countries. But women have been the clear majority of fiction readers for as long as their is marketing research, and in many, many countries too. It also starts earlier, in high school years the division is already set. Again, I have no alternative explanation to offer.

39

Paul A'Barge 02.04.11 at 7:27 pm

Katrina: “English lit obviously has a very high female representation, I’d be interested to see if other languages skew similarly.”

English Lit is not the study of a language.

40

Ingrid Robeyns 02.04.11 at 7:31 pm

Akshay @ 32: I never heard a professor actually say that women were somehow less intelligent.

my mathematics professor in my first term at university made a remark to the effect that ‘the boys could after class explain to their girlfriends in case they didn’t understand’. I wish I had kept a notebook, but I do remember that as an undergraduate student (1990-1994) we heard the occasional sexist remark, mostly wrapped as a joke. Actually, I think I became a feminist at university, which is telling about my experiences as a student.

But if you read http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com , you’ll find some accounts of what women experience in philosophy, some of which are just appalling. As long as these things happen in philosophy (or any other discipline), it’s going to result in women going elsewhere to put their talents to use.

However, what I have found really frustrating being in academia (both in economics, less so in political science, and by the time I moved to philosophy I no longer needed it so much) was the lack of female role models. The only women teachers I had in economics were assistants, and then the odd (in the two senses of the word) female professor of whom everyone knew she was not married/partnered and had no children, so the message was: if you are a woman and want to have children, this is not your future workplace. It may sound like a detail to some, but I really wanted more female teachers, and we didn’t have them.

41

Akshay 02.04.11 at 7:42 pm

Zamfir@36: I don’t know why the Dutch are so extreme. It’s weird. There’s also a striking lack of female participation in the workforce for a Northern European country, that is, many women work part-time only. Perhaps its all correlated with the Dutch “mothering ideology”? Machine subjects regarded as un-mother-like? CT host Ingrid might be able to add something on the mothering ideology. (According to Unicef, Dutch children might be the best off in the world, so perhaps the mothering ideal has positive cultural effects too) Too bad about the female teacher idea. Back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, a hypothesis on the effects of “gendering” in psychology: Denny Borsboom complains about the lack of interest in mathematically precise psychometrics in Psychology and how it leads to BAD psychometrics being commonly used. If this lack of interest exists, is it a result of the contrary gendering of math and psychology? (Of course, physicists suck at statistics too, so this is hardly proof. But Borsboom does mention “insufficient mathematical training” in Psych, which is not true for Physics)

What would gendering do to other fields? I’ve read Evelyn Fox Keller, but wasn’t entirely convinced. Whatever I’ve read about Haraway on primate science was painfully convincing though. Ev. Psych. has some stereotype confirming Just So stories too. Are String Theory or Micro-Economic Theory a result of the male mind at work?

I know we can’t know any of the above, or at least I can’t. But somehow this is just fun to speculate about.

42

Akshay 02.04.11 at 7:47 pm

Ingrid @ 38: Yikes! Of course, as a male, I don’t experience most of sexism.

Continuing @39: Would women have given Becker a Nobel for his work on the family?

43

bianca steele 02.04.11 at 7:49 pm

Something that may push women out of technical fields in industry, which might have a parallel in academia, is that once you’re working, there’s pressure to take on “responsibility,” usually moving into management. Since the level of social skills and interest in people is often fairly low among engineers, even not very people-oriented women end up as the most people-oriented individuals in the group. Among mostly-men who make it a point of pride never to compromise, it doesn’t take much to be the one person in the group who’s willing to synthesize different points of view (even just to bring an interminable and pointless argument to an end)–which is seen as a management skill by management, and a sign one might get promoted out of the technical ranks (assuming she has allies in management)–without actually changing the woman who went into engineering because she didn’t feel she was people-oriented. At the same time, willingness to compromise can be seen as not only a sign she doesn’t really care about the subject, but also seen as manipulative by peers and disrespected by them.

44

jdkbrown 02.04.11 at 8:00 pm

In addition to the blog that Ingrid Robeyns links to, I suggest Sally Haslanger’s paper, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)” as well as the Feminist Philosophers blog. (Both have been linked here before, I know; but they’re still not widely enough read.)

45

Marc 02.04.11 at 8:27 pm

We’re looking at a system with increasingly skewed gender ratios in the US: the proportion of men in universities is well below 50% and dropping significantly. It is even less equal for minorities, especially African-Americans. As an intellectual matter I agree emphatically with Sebastian. We’ve taken the gender disparities seriously in the sciences and not as evidence that the ratios are somehow “justified.” Yet, somehow, whenever something comes up where women are disproportionally represented one sees arguments that it is somehow not a problem, or it’s a problem with men.

My concern comes directly from our experiences in the sciences: the causes for the historically low representation of women were difficult to identify and many years in the making. Problems in early childhood education, for example, take decades to propogate through the system. If we’re now building in biases against male students (ranging from medicating behavior issuesto changes in grading and testing policies with differential gender impacts)….we have to identify those now in order to counter the inertia in the system. A system that blames individual men for systemic issues, while properly treating systemic issues for women, is itself a deeply sexist construct.

46

andthenyoufall 02.04.11 at 8:30 pm

If we are using the fact that women read more fiction than men to explain the predominance of women in English Literature, why can’t we use the fact that men read more non-fiction than women to explain the predominance of men in non-literary fields? Then the question becomes “why does the American academy blatantly favor the fields that men prefer over the fields that women prefer (to the tune of 10% of doctoral funding)?”

For what it’s worth (I await the blistering jokes about anecdata), at the point where my peers and I were being introduced to philosophical ways of thinking, my male peers found it very exciting to assume that, if you hold two plausible beliefs that are inconsistent, one of them must rejected, while my female peers would rather be inconsistent than reject an apparently plausible belief. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the latter approach as a heuristic for getting around in the world, but as it happens it’s a horrible approach to learning philosophy.

47

Ray 02.04.11 at 8:32 pm

I think it would be interesting to see how PhD distributions measure against:
1) Distribution of undergraduate majors.
2) Employment prospects.
3) Expected time to settled job situations post-PhD
a) generally
b) for those who pursue a research academic track.
in each field.

48

Jack Strocchi 02.04.11 at 8:35 pm

Larry Summers would not be surprised by the gender “bias” expressed in this graph’s pronounced slant, from male-dominated hard sciences to female-dominated softer sciences.

[Standby for a flurry of irate comments.]

49

Marc 02.04.11 at 8:44 pm

These ratios have changed dramatically (and in one direction) in a short period of time. Either women have gotten a whole lot smarter (or men much stupider)…or there are cultural factors at work influencing the gender ratios. I’m just noting that these cultural factors don’t just operate in one direction (e.g. boys getting kicked out of school via zero-tolerance policies in the K-12 system will have an impact on gender ratios down the road).

50

zamfir 02.04.11 at 8:55 pm

If we are using the fact that women read more fiction than men to explain the predominance of women in English Literature, why can’t we use the fact that men read more non-fiction than women to explain the predominance of men in non-literary fields?

Is this actually a fact? I thought the case was more that men read much less, not that they read more non-fiction take fior the difference.

51

David 02.04.11 at 9:01 pm

I’m surprised by Astronomy. Historically, it was one of the friendlier disciplines for women to make a mark in.

52

chris 02.04.11 at 9:29 pm

But women have been the clear majority of fiction readers for as long as their is marketing research, and in many, many countries too. It also starts earlier, in high school years the division is already set. Again, I have no alternative explanation to offer.

Girls are discouraged from (or less encouraged toward) other activities such as sports and video games? There’s not as much TV they want to watch?

Anyone who isn’t reading is spending their time on other things, and vice versa. I think it would be useful to see the whole time-budget (or at least leisure time) for both sexes to see why women read more.

53

andthenyoufall 02.04.11 at 9:44 pm

@zamfir: I saw a poll once (I don’t know which country/countries or year, but there was also something about Baby Boomers so I assume U.S.) which found that about 80% of male readers and 75% of female readers had read at least one non-fiction book in the last year, and vice-versa for at least one fiction book. But when they broke down the non-fiction books by category, vastly more men had read at least one book in that category, for all categories except self-help. (The one that sticks in my mind is history – half of men had read a history book in the past year, vs. only a quarter of women.)

I have no idea if the non-fiction gap makes up for the gender gap in novel reading, or even how large the latter gap is. But presumably if this datum explains anything, it explains it via affinity, not gross lbs. of books read; doctoral students would be outliers on that metric anyway.

54

Walt 02.04.11 at 9:48 pm

Let me be the first to say thank God we’ve turned to the problems of men.

55

Harry 02.04.11 at 11:02 pm

The Philosophy figures are simply embarrassing. Shameful. The only conceivable excuse could be that women should be encouraged to do something more valuable. But then why not men too?

The English figures aren’t hard to explain (imho). English teaching in high school is predominantly female, and is a field into which talented women frequently go — in my experience the average female high school teacher is more talented than the average male, and I’d say much more so for English. In American high schools English is (usually) the only department that takes responsibility for teaching writing, and focuses almost exclusively on literature (for reasons that are incomprehensible to me). So smart girls find smart role models in English departments in high school, and learn a subject (literature) that articulates very well to the college version of English — and English departments in selective colleges (which is where future PHDs go to college) have a lock on teaching composition (for reasons that are equally incomprehensible to me). There are lots of women in their classes, its easy for them to talk to one another, and their teachers foster them.

Philosophy has been largely immune to the more irresponsible flights of fancy in the humanities. It has also, in my experience, been much too immune to the most responsible trends of attending to diversity, promoting the understanding that different people learn in different ways, and an understanding that the way you conduct yourself as a teacher in the classroom has effects on who speaks up, how they speak up, and who actually gets to learn.

NOTE that we are in a period of rapid change. Sex ratios in selective colleges (except at the very top) favour women despite considerable affirmative action for men — the ratios of PhDs will change toward women as this plays out. Any subject that in 10 years time does not have a higher proportion of female PHDs than now needs to ask what in the hell its practitioners are doing. (And, the answer for some which are currently high in women might reasonably be that they are working harder to recruit men — I suspect that Education and English probably are losing talented men). If Philosophy hasn’t changed a lot in that time Deans should start considering what sanctions to impose. (They might reasonably begin to do that now).
Read the Haslanger paper linked in #42.

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Omega Centauri 02.04.11 at 11:11 pm

Firstly it is sad that these rations are so badly skewed. When I was in school (in the 70′s) us boys would have loved to have more women in our classes. Although in hindsight, perhaps that didn’t translate well into making them feel welcome. I have been pretty surprised by the numbers for computer science, I had thought of it as having a lot of women in it, at least compared to physics, when I went to school. But I suspect computer science has become more hard-edged, like the other math-heavy sciences. In fact thats my complaint, that even from the favored side of the gender divide, these fields, and the way they are taught are not very nurturing. Its more like, you didn’t rigorously prove something, or you didn’t use the currently blessed method/style (as in software engineering), you are a bad bad bad person and unfit for the field! And who isn’t going to make at least a couple of mistakes of that nature. So I think many of my cohorts saw making it through as largely a case of surviving a very long unfriendly guantlet. I’m guessing the propensity to survive that long process is slightly uneven genderwise, and as the pipeline is a long one, with many many leak points, small differential survival rates produce a highly amplified residue product by the time the end is reached. Perhaps we can make these fields a little less unfriendly for all the aspirants? [Of course we still have the very real problem of many more students entering the pipeline, then jobs on the other end, so maybe the leakiness is planned from the getgo.]

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emptywheel 02.04.11 at 11:37 pm

I’d be interested in seeing Comparative Lit broken out.

At least at U Michigan, Philosophy and CompLit in the late 90s were near mirror images of each other (Comp Lit was more gay and less white too). We’d have parties together and there’d be a decent gender balance.

But that’s all the more interesting given that on some levels the disciplines are not that far apart. And in a lot of schools, you’d go to the CompLit department, not the Philosophy department, to study continental philosophy.

So I suspect these data suggest more about kinds of theoretical approaches than theoretical approaches generally.

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leederick 02.04.11 at 11:50 pm

They don’t quite give all the data I’d like, but it’s pretty clear what’s happening. About 1 in 3 PhD recipients aren’t from the US. Among US residents women got 52% of PhDs. Among visa holders men got 65% of PhD. The percent of visa holders are unequally distributed across fields. So lets look at the boy heavy subjects: maths 46% of PhDs go to visa holder, physics 47%, and economics 59%. Girl heavy subjects: in psychology visa holders get 7%, english lit 10% and anthropology 16%. They don’t give the explicit numbers to nail it down 100%, but you can see what I’m getting at.

Philosophy is interestingly a bit of an exception, I haven’t spend hours looking at the data, but it seems to be about the only boy heavy subject with few (17%) visa holders.

I actually think this is very bad news for feminists. Most male dominated subjects seem to also be foreigner dominated. Unless you want to tell johnny foreigner to piss off, I don’t see how you can attack – say economics – for having skewed ratios if this is just a response to demand from outside the US. That’s unlike say psychology – which has massive gender bias, but can’t blame it on external factors.

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bianca steele 02.05.11 at 12:13 am

Its more like, you didn’t rigorously prove something, or you didn’t use the currently blessed method/style (as in software engineering), you are a bad bad bad person

At the same time, lots of programmers these days are self-taught, and their attitude to method is something like what some self-taught writers’ probably is to creative writing classes. (We had no software engineering course per se, and the blest method to the extent there was one was very “academic” and impracticable without some rework, but still very useful.)

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Cranky Observer 02.05.11 at 12:29 am

> Then again, I remember there being one other undergraduate woman
> in my CS classes in the mid-80s

1984 was the peak year [1] for women enrolled in Computer Science programs in the United States with around 40% of the entering class being female. That was true for both liberal arts- and engineering-based CS programs, which contributed to 1984 and 85 being the peak years for women’s enrollment in engineering programs as well. The percentage dropped after 1985, and the explosion in size of the PC and networking environments created the non-CS technology world which is almost exclusively male.

[1] More correctly, the peak year post-1949; partly as a knock-on to women being shuffled into “computing” work during the Manhattan Project a very large percentage of the _first_ computer scientists were women.

Cranky

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eleemosynary 02.05.11 at 12:49 am

This issue seems to me related to the rather interesting discussions that have been going on about why 85-90% of wikipedia articles are written by men. What’s nice about the wikipedia case is that the usual sort of institutional discrimination explanations can largely be set aside. The NYT had an article recently, full of folks trying to figure out some way that this could possibly be men’s fault, but they largely came up empty. One more plausible theory had it that wikipedia entries are basically ultra-local status competitions, and that men find it somewhat easier to get themselves worked up over these things (e.g. little details that only a dozen other people in the world care about). This seems to me to generalize to philosophy quite easily.

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Timothy Scriven 02.05.11 at 12:53 am

I think that the fields where women are massively overrepresented might be a side effect of the fields where men are massively overepresented, women start off university relatively evenly spread, then they cluster into those disciplines where they feel more comfortable. So responding to what a few people have said, I don’t think that it is as important to encourage males in English lit as it is important to redress gender disparities in philosophy.

I also agree that the mathematics loadedness of philosophy doesn’t explain its gender bias since, if nothing else, we’re actually doing worse than mathematics. I think it explains a portion of it though. Maybe the liteature on countering stereotype threat has some light to cast on how to move forward here?

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andthenyoufall 02.05.11 at 1:56 am

I think Leederick wins the thread.

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andrew_m 02.05.11 at 2:27 am

Agree – Leederick wins the thread. 43% of variation on proportion of females at subfield level is explained by the proportion of temporary visa holders, rising to 71% at field level.

After taking out the covariate (& so more-or-less considering the native-born), philosophy ranks 207 of 213 subfields for proportion of females – indistinguishable from nuclear engineering.

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 2:35 am

Leederick is also wrong. 29% of US citizen 2010 doctoral recipients in mathematics are female, but 32% of total doctoral recipients in mathematics.

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Alison P 02.05.11 at 2:35 am

When I studied philosophy I found there was a lot of talk about violence against women. I mean that rape, torture and so on were used very much as examples and metaphors, and in ‘thought experiments’. My feeling was that this was a way for the profs to prove they were above emotion, both at an overt level – ‘look I am able to talk about horrid things in a dispassionate way’ – and at a lower level, that they were symbolically trashing the female/emotional aspect of themselves.

I think sometimes overt hostility to women is a kind of self-trashing by men. Trashing the weak part of themselves. And the rigidity and fear of softness which leads to self-trashing is stronger in some disciplines and some arenas, and the need to prove you are not weak. But of course as they act out these internal dramas, the girls around them are discouraged and dismissed. So it’s not just some tragic little psycho-drama they are publicising.

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spyder 02.05.11 at 2:56 am

And now some words for what this may mean for the future. May not bode well.

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stubydoo 02.05.11 at 3:12 am

Very simple answer: men like some fields, women like others.

It’s weird that people treat these statistics as something to get worked up over.

The PhD ratios probably very closely track the stats on how many people of each gender read books about the respective subjects as an amateur vocations (e.g. who reads book about physics for entertainment and who reads books about psychology for entertainment – though you’d perhaps have to define both quite broadly to get meaningful numbers). The fact of the matter is that many, many more men have substantial knowledge of e.g. physics, even if you limit your analysis to people who derive no professional or social benefit from their knowledge.

What is the gender ratio of people who know how to fix cars? What causes the imbalance there?

This doesn’t prove that no discrimination occurs in the academy – but it should inform any interpretation of the statistics.

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C.C. Fuss 02.05.11 at 3:21 am

Oh, Alison, you experienced the rape-as-illustration-of-’interesting’-theoretical-point thing too? I once tried to ask, as the only female participant in a discussion group, if they would not please cut it out and find another damn example. Ten male faces turned to me with exasperation, before resuming their conversation.

There is a hell of a lot of machismo bullshit in philosophy. I tried for years to be OK with it, to ‘harden up’. But three years after getting tenure, I finally realized that I was never going to be a full member of the Super Sekrit Menz Club. Right now I am retraining and halfway out of the profession, hoping to be all the way out by the end of this year.

One of the problems, in my view, is that many male philosophers will be happy to admit there’s a problem in the abstract, but will immediately dismiss as self-evidently false any suggestion that they themselves might harbour any kind of sexist attitudes, subconscious or otherwise.

Oh, and btw, philosophy is maths-heavy??? How on earth is that true? Most of the philosophers I know have done at most formal logic to the level of Godel’s Theorems, in graduate school, and promptly forgot it all.

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Vance Maverick 02.05.11 at 3:46 am

Hmm, stubydoo, the answer “revealed preferences! Nothing to see, move along” is not particularly satisfying. It’s an expression of disdain for the conversation, not a contribution to it.

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stubydoo 02.05.11 at 4:00 am

I’ll object to the assertion that my sentiments show disdain for the conversation. However, I readily admit to holding in disdain those who assert that the statistics in an of themselves are probative of anything.

(And I have also gone looking around for better evidence, and so far found the results highly underwhelming. I’m happy enough to listen to some anecdotes, but they’re still just anecdotes.)

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Substance McGravitas 02.05.11 at 4:48 am

I can’t claim expertise in the matter but it’s my impression that well-educated women from the former soviet countries do less well upon moving to the US and Israel, where, say, engineering is largely a men’s game. Those “revealed preferences” reveal something I think.

Minor-league linking for investigation:

http://www.biu.ac.il/faculty/remennick/publ.html

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Britta 02.05.11 at 7:19 am

In what way is philosophy more “mathematics heavy” than linguistics?

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 8:08 am

It’s too bad statistics for MS’s or MA’s aren’t given. And at least in my small pond, the ratio of males to females pursuing MA/MS degrees in math is much more even-handed.

Now, our department is well aware of the imbalance and we’re constantly trying to get more female PhD candidates, starting with those who’ve already earned their Masters. And here’s the thing: the girls don’t find a life in academia doing math research all that thrilling. Odd, I know, but true :-) They want to take the math they’ve learned and put it to work, do the private industry thing. And on that level, the decision not to go for a PhD makes a lot of sense; I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the corporate types say the last thing they need is more maladjusted and over-qualified PhD’s who aren’t “people persons”.

Interestingly enough, the guys who are pursuing PhD’s seem to think pretty much the same way, that is, they want the more advanced degree because they want to remain in academia and do math research. Very, very few of the males want a PhD so they can get a better job in private industry.

So it seems to me that the disparity is not in ability, or cultural or social factors wrt gender that encourage/discourage participation. It’s simply in what (some) girls like to do vs. what (some) boys like to do.

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novakant 02.05.11 at 9:45 am

My rough guess is that 80% of the front page posts and comments on Crooked Timber are made by males – don’t know exactly what that tells us (men like to argue, show off , be right?) but in the absence of institutional discrimination it’s quite telling.

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dbk 02.05.11 at 9:46 am

When I went to college about a century ago, I initially declared Philosophy as my major. My advisor took me aside one day in my sophomore year and told me, “Realistically, what are your chances of becoming a top philosopher, given that you’re a woman? OTOH, your chances are good that you could rise to the top in Classics.” I switched majors.

My daughter is finishing her BA this spring at a small liberal arts college. She’s majoring in Neuroscience and doing a double minor in Psychology and Philosophy. In her last two upper division philosophy courses (aka, “300-level”), she was the only female in her class (at a school where around 53% of the students are female). The Neuroscience program is staffed by women (the co-heads, one in Biology and one in Psychology, are both women), and there are slightly more female majors than male (roughly mirroring the PhD %). Like Molecular Biology, Neuroscience is an undergrad major for many medical school applicants, and I think this may explain why there is also a relatively high % of female PhDs in this field.

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Timothy Scriven 02.05.11 at 11:36 am

Britta

I’m interested in both disciplines, though I have far more experience with philosophy I will admit. Philosophy is a deeply mathematical pursuit, I would say easily more so than any other humanity, even counting psychology and lingustics as humanities. Set theory and formal logic are the two most important branches, but probability theory and the theory of computation would have to be a respectable thirds. Other common concerns are number theory, model theory, geometry & topology and statistics. There are a few “homegrown” forms of mathematics invented in and largely endemic to the field, such as formal mereology. There’s also a lot of subject matters which are not strictly mathematical, but have a lot of the same spirit of formality, such as formal semantics (obviously this is part of lingustics to). Philosophical claims are often stated in a quasi axiomatic fashion, so the reasoning conducted on them is often of a mathematical flavour.

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Adam 02.05.11 at 2:15 pm

What I find special about this debate is how the women are presumed to lack agency. The commentators believe that the women don’t choose to go into psychology – they are somehow pushed or forced into that discipline. Even commentators admitting that women do actively choose psychology over, say, physics, portray that choice as somehow a forced choice. Bizzarely enough, when men make the opposite choice, the choice is presumed to be free and uncoerced.

This simple trick, assuming the men freely choose while the women are passively distributed, nicely establishes a per se case of sexism against predominantly male fields while conveniently allowing predominantly female fields off the hook. What defense is possible? No matter how many Women in Science and Engineering chapters a department might establish, or how many training grant slots it might reserve for women, or how hard they try to recruit female faculty – their sexism is irredeemibly established by the lack of female graduate students. And yet how many psychology departments offer exclusive scholarships, or travel awards, for male students?

What’s so damn ironic is both the importance of gender self-selection and its utter lack of foundation in fact. One of my better friends from graduate school, a mechanical engineer, once described to me how all of her female friends choose biomechanical engineering as their undergraduate major, rather than mechanical engineering. Yet the two majors had exactly the same classes, professors, fellow students, etc., differing only in a few senior year electives. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the prefix “bio” was a better lure for female graduate students than any number of travel awards or dedicated funding. You can’t push on a string.

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Stephen 02.05.11 at 2:37 pm

An unusual pair on this chart is Physics and Astronomy/Astrophysics as these two disciplines are hosted in the same department at least half the time.

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Harry 02.05.11 at 2:52 pm

Adam — just go back and read what Alison, CC Fuss, and dbk said. Yes, they all made free choices about what to do. No-one forced them. But no-one (let alone anyone I thought had reasonable knowledge of the case) told me that however smart I was I was unlikely to rise to the top in Philosophy because I’m a man and encouraged me to go into a different discipline instead. I’ve never been in a conversation in philosophy as the only man in a group of ten women all dispassionately discussing violence toward men, and then being irritated with me when I ask them to pick another example which would be just as good but wouldn’t make me uncomfortable. Etc. Normal people (that is, people who are full agents) are affected by these kind of things — their free choices are shaped by the expectations these experiences reasonably give rise to. I’ve no doubt that some men still avoid nursing, or elementary school teaching, for similar reasons, and I don’t doubt that they are full agents (though, interestingly, it often seems to be the attitudes of other men, rather than women, that they are responding to). It looks as if you didn’t bother to understand what the three of them wrote, which they are all probably sufficiently used to that it doesn’t bother them. Pisses me off though.

CC Fuss — I think there’s something to what you say (well, not something, quite a lot). The problem with it is that I don’t see how you change that directly — my feeling is that fairly determined action needs to be taken both from within the profession and from outside it (Deans holding us to some sort of standard and being serious about it), to get more women into the discipline. The pipeline problem that is actually addressable is graduate admissions — I am absolutely certain that many highly ranked graduate schools reject stronger female candidates in favour of weaker male candidates not through deliberate discrimination but because their attitudes are sexist (even very mild sexism can have a large effect at this level). Admitting graduate students is lower stakes than hiring faculty — it is easier to get colleagues to override their preference for what they perceive to be the absolute best at this level than at the hiring level. Deans could tell us to aim at 50:50, and impose mild sanctions if we drop below 40:60 on a rolling 3 year average. Or we could hold ourselves to those numbers. (I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, but if you look at my department’s graduate student page you will notice a stunningly bad female-to-male ratio; but if you peruse their achievements you will notice that, for example, the women have 1.8 publications for every 1 publication the men have — my impression is that they graduate faster, drop out at a lower rate, and place better, but I haven’t yet got the hard data on those).

If you take the strategy I recommend, a supplement has to be aggressively combating the view (among men and women) that women are being treated unduly favouorably. One year we admitted the same number of men and women. The men in the program referred to this as the year of the sorority, and I now know some of the women in that year worried that they had been admitted in an unduly favorable way, assuming that my eminent feminist philosopher colleague had had a hand in it (she hadn’t, though I don’t doubt she was pleased). Only several years later have I become aware of those worries, which I have been able to dispel pretty effectively among the women (it occurs to me that most of our graduate students read CT, and most will read this thread, so I hope I’m not giving too much away, but there it is — comment away anonymously if you want!)

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Kieran Healy 02.05.11 at 2:57 pm

76 and 78 make a useful contrast.

Saying something is a product of “revealed preferences” or “self-selection” does not make the question of the context or external structure of choices go away. Even setting aside the awkward question about the origin of preferences, people exercise their agency by making choices in structured settings. Situations of the sort described in 76 — with a student receiving straightforward “advice” to leave a field, on the one hand, or the presence of a role model that makes it seem plausible to pursue a different course, on the other — can easily weigh in particular decisions in decisive ways, and have strong and self-reinforcing cumulative effects on similar decisions by others over time. It not inaccurate to describe this process as “acting on one’s preferences”, or self-selection. But it would be absurd to pretend that the context is irrelevant to how people weigh their options, make choices, and thereby “self-select” one path or another. Especially if the context is someone authoritatively telling you in one way or another, “Women don’t make it in this field”, or “This is a subject for girls only”.

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Barry 02.05.11 at 3:10 pm

Timothy Scriven:
“Philosophy is a deeply mathematical pursuit, I would say easily more so than any other humanity, even counting psychology and lingustics as humanities.”

However, at a guess, it’s not more deeply mathematical than mathematics, which has a higher female percentage.

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Kieran Healy 02.05.11 at 3:17 pm

Incidentally, asking “Hey, how can it be sexism if Education and English are full of women” thing is similar to asking “How can there be Global Warming if we just got three feet of snow in DC?” Global warming, narrowly construed, is an aspect of climate change, and an explanation of it requires a theory of climate systems. Sexism, narrowly construed, is an aspect of gender relations, and an explanation of it requires a similarly more general theory.

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novakant 02.05.11 at 3:26 pm

Philosophy is a deeply mathematical pursuit

That really depends on what you’re interested in. As a general statement about how philosophy is taught and learned, it’s wrong – a little formal logic and the ability to deal with abstract concepts is all you need in many cases.

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stubydoo 02.05.11 at 3:29 pm

Kieran @80,

But there’s still a limit to how much can be done about that “context or external stucture” if you’re limited only to making interventions within the academy. Plenty of it comes from childhood, and it’s still scientifically reasonable to suggest that at least some of the influence may be purely innate. Plausibly enough, if every university somehow scrupulously enforced policies that ensured women were treated in such a way that they weren’t discouraged any more than men, the e.g. Physics ratio might go up from say 18% to 22%. Then we’d still all get to argue over whether that 22% was revealed preference, or was a serious problem that the universities need to deal with somehow.

For any individual university department operating today, there is exactly one way to get the ratio near 50%, and that is by MASSIVELY discriminating in favor of one gender over the other.

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Matt McIrvin 02.05.11 at 3:40 pm

Larry Summers would not be surprised by the gender “bias” expressed in this graph’s pronounced slant, from male-dominated hard sciences to female-dominated softer sciences.

Of course he wouldn’t be surprised; this situation was exactly what they were all talking about. The disagreement was over the explanation for the slant, and Summers didn’t offer any support for his preferred explanation, he just asserted it.

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Philo 02.05.11 at 4:16 pm

This thread startles me by omitting any discussion of the strong preference (at least in my own field, philosophy) given to women in graduate admissions and hiring. The thought that philosophy departments currently discriminate against women is absurd. Anecdotes that are decades old don’t alter that.

Looking at long-term trends in gender proportions at undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels convinces me that faculty gender proportions at colleges and universities will, in a generation or two, be like those in middle schools and high schools. What will that mean? I don’t know, but I don’t find it comforting.

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 4:23 pm

Ah the “agency” dodge. Also usefully employed to deny the responsibility of colonial and imperial powers (“you are denying agency to the Ruandans/ Congolese etc”).

As for the fact that the vast majority of people commenting on blogs are male, it seems to me one important way privilege (whether gender, race, class or whatever kind) expresses itself is in the way privileged people are more likely to believe they have something interesting to say and less likely to be afraid of embarrassing themselves. And in a non-blog setting – at an assembly of people for example – we would deal with this problem, for example by implementing “step-up, step-back” or a quota for speakers. Doubtlessly Adam believes this denies women or minorities the agency to just shut up.

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 4:29 pm

Harry (79.): I agree it is crucially important to combat the idea that insisting on more equal representation amounts to giving an unfair advantage to women. I urge you all to read the second article I linked to in 28., dealing with this question in the context of math job placement. It is incredibly common to hear male PhD’s say “she only got this postdoc because she is a woman”, and older male colleagues assert “I didn’t get a grant because they all go to women” and similar assertions.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 4:36 pm

Incidentally, asking “Hey, how can it be sexism if Education and English are full of women” thing is similar to asking “How can there be Global Warming if we just got three feet of snow in DC?” Global warming, narrowly construed, is an aspect of climate change, and an explanation of it requires a theory of climate systems. Sexism, narrowly construed, is an aspect of gender relations, and an explanation of it requires a similarly more general theory.

I can’t make any sense of this. Surely if one can say there is discrimination against women in mathematics and point to the skewed ratio of PhDs awarded to males and females as proof one could do the same thing in the other direction for psychology using evidence that’s already been declared both admissible and authoritative.

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dbk 02.05.11 at 4:56 pm

As a follow-up (to dbk@76), I might note that when we were looking at undergraduate programs in Neuroscience for my daughter to attend, we intentionally chose a program headed by female faculty, and which provided a small lab environment with direct and ongoing faculty mentoring.

As Harry@79 noted, the insistence that women self-select out of STEM degree programs doesn’t bother me (yep, we’ve heard it all about 1000 times). But the evidence would suggest that faculty gender plays a significant role in women’s study/career decisions. I wanted to ensure that my daughter was in an environment that could provide as much support as possible, and that meant a science program led by women.

I am not alone in my sense that faculty gender is significant: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14959

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 4:59 pm

The pipeline problem that is actually addressable is graduate admissions—I am absolutely certain that many highly ranked graduate schools reject stronger female candidates in favour of weaker male candidates not through deliberate discrimination but because their attitudes are sexist (even very mild sexism can have a large effect at this level).

I don’t know about highly ranked, but I do know that in the case of at least one mid-western land grant university ongoing and strenuous efforts are made to recruit female PhD candidates . . . to the point that I can comfortably say that what you’ve written is emphatically false. In fact, just the opposite of reality. For so-so ranked public universities at least :-)

Another thought: the guys I know going for their paper usually cite their reason for doing so as a necessary step towards getting an academic job doing research. What goes unsaid is “. . . at a major, highly respected school where the salary is good and the prestige is high.” Uh, people? If you’re going to Illinois, or MU, the odds of you ending up at Cornell or MIT on the tenure track are vanishingly small. In today’s climate especially, but certainly over the last few decades, people from places like mine are more often placed at smaller and less well-regarded institutions, say Fulton Military Academy (The look of disbelief, the realization that years of effort have come to . . . this. Oh my. I’ve seen that look a hundred times.)

The thing is, for all those years, what kept these guys going was their ability to live in denial of these facts. They’d somehow got the idea that things would be different for them personally, whatever the graduation placement stats said. Iow, another possible explanation for the lopsided ratios in the math and physics departments is that women are simply better at assessing and facing reality, more tough-minded and more realistic about their job prospects than their male counterparts.

Certainly I’ve seen very little in my own department to counter that speculation.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 5:13 pm

But the evidence would suggest that faculty gender plays a significant role in women’s study/career decisions. I wanted to ensure that my daughter was in an environment that could provide as much support as possible, and that meant a science program led by women.

Elaborating on my hypothesis that this simply reflects the fact that women are better decision makers than men, one explanation for faculty gender being important is that it gives an inflated sense of prospects after university. That is, if the national hiring stats in a bad economy indicate a ratio of 4:1 in favor of men (especially in desirable positions), say, but the faculty at this school is 2:1 in favor of women, they might conclude that their prospects of landing that plumb job actually go up by a factor of eight. Whether it’s true or not.

Heh. I wonder what Skinner would have said about the whole notion of “revealed preferences”.

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Tim O'Keefe 02.05.11 at 5:21 pm

SoV:

Surely if one can say there is discrimination against women in mathematics and point to the skewed ratio of PhDs awarded to males and females as proof one could do the same thing in the other direction for psychology using evidence that’s already been declared both admissible and authoritative.

I don’t think that the cases are comparable. We live in a sexist culture in which many people hold biases against women, and in which women are often treated in appalling ways because they’re women. But in academia, the prevalence of sexism and the ways in which it expresses itself varies widely from field to field. Some fields are going to be relatively unattractive to women for these reasons, and more difficult for them to enter, and women who wish to pursue academic careers (as opposed to not pursuing that sort of career at all) will opt for fields (like psychology) that are more welcoming. This would explain the over-representation of women in those fields without positing discrimination against men as its cause.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 5:22 pm

As for the fact that the vast majority of people commenting on blogs are male, it seems to me one important way privilege (whether gender, race, class or whatever kind) expresses itself is in the way privileged people are more likely to believe they have something interesting to say and less likely to be afraid of embarrassing themselves.

Or . . . most of us males are pathetic losers who don’t have anything better to do with their time, as opposed to the women in the house who are actually out doing something productive and fulfilling. Something they’ll be able to recall with some satisfaction years hence.

The guys pounding away on their keyboards because Someone On The Internet Is Wrong? Yeah, I’m sure they’ll have a great time telling that story to their peers forty years from now about how they showed that so-and-so what for.

Um, when I put it like that, I think I prefer your explanation :-)

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 5:31 pm

Some fields are going to be relatively unattractive to women for these reasons, and more difficult for them to enter, and women who wish to pursue academic careers (as opposed to not pursuing that sort of career at all) will opt for fields (like psychology) that are more welcoming. This would explain the over-representation of women in those fields without positing discrimination against men as its cause.

Sure. This may well be true. My point is simply that you can’t point to stats like these, the ratios of PhD awarded by gender, as if they’re proof of anything in and of themselves. You want to say that the field is heavily tilted against women in physics based upon this stat? Fine. But then you’ve got to do the same thing for other fields. No fair saying that these ratios are proof dispositive in one discipline but not in another.

Isn’t this a conservative ploy, btw? Based upon ratios, academics welcome liberals but are hostile to conservatives, or so they say. Using the same ratio argument to show that, say, finance or the Air Force or police favor conservatives and are just as hostile to liberals as in converse situation in academia? Why, that’s just plain silly.

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Kieran Healy 02.05.11 at 5:39 pm

and it’s still scientifically reasonable to suggest that at least some of the influence may be purely innate.

Feel free to point out where I’ve denied anything remotely like this claim.

Honestly, you’d think the level of discussion about this stuff would be higher given the strong level of participation from rational, logically-minded individuals.

I can’t make any sense of this.

Maybe you’re not cut out for a career in science.

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djw 02.05.11 at 5:43 pm

I do know that in the case of at least one mid-western land grant university ongoing and strenuous efforts are made to recruit female PhD candidates . . . to the point that I can comfortably say that what you’ve written is emphatically false. In fact, just the opposite of reality.

I certainly hope you’ve protected your anonymity well, ScentofViolets, for the sake of any of your female PhD students who might be reading. My own graduate school experience is recent enough to remember how real and vivid the “impostor syndrome” fears can be, without the fear of being an unqualified AA factor to deal with. Even when it has no basis, as in the case Harry described above, it can be a pervasive and nagging fear.

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buford puser 02.05.11 at 5:47 pm

Am I missing something?
How is it possible to discuss the wildly skewed gender ratios of most academic disciplines as an artifact of sexism before the points made at 58 and 64 are disposed of? The only acknowledgement I see on reading the above twice comes at 65; I’m not sure if one contrary subfield stat entirely does the necessary work of disposing of the foreign-visa-holder issue so that we can get on with discussing the sexism of the academy. There has been no peep of acknowledgement of 64.
Also, the suggestion has been made that deans hold departments rigorously to account for maintaining a 50/50 gender balance. Given the declining numbers of male undergraduates, won’t this also pose major problems for disciplines that skew very heavily female? This point has been made several times; likely, I am unable to discern a convincing response due to gender blinders.
I certainly acknowledge that it can indeed be disconcerting and difficult to be the only one of one’s gender or sexual preference in a discussion or workplace; as a heterosexual male who does some work in public health/epidemiology, I’ve often noticed this. The cited exclusion from social events, because it simply never occurred to anyone to invite you, is something I’m quite familiar with.

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Tim O'Keefe 02.05.11 at 5:49 pm

SoV @ 5:31:

“My point is simply that you can’t point to stats like these, the ratios of PhD awarded by gender, as if they’re proof of anything in and of themselves.”

Sure. But we’re not looking at those stats in and of themselves, nor should we. We have independent information about gender roles and biases in our society, both anecdotal (see many comments above, the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? etc.) and not (e.g., studies about the evaluation of otherwise identical CVs that differ only in the person’s gender, and see other references in e.g., Haslanger’s paper).

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bxg 02.05.11 at 5:56 pm

> “Of course he wouldn’t be surprised; this situation was exactly what they were all talking about. The disagreement was over the explanation for the slant, and Summers didn’t offer any support for his preferred explanation, he just asserted it.

Well, in fairness, he offered _anecdotes_ for his preferred explanation and his overall argument for this explanation argument will seem plausible to many. (His preferred explanation being, as you know, that through much of our recent history more married men than women are willing to give the “near total commitment” to one’s work – 80/hr weeks, mind never off the job – that some “high-powered” careers require at least before on is about 40 years old or so.) Still, anecdotes and “it seems plausible that” are pretty weak support. Not _none_ but not very much better.

His second, less preferred by him, hypothesis seems a bit better argued by him in my opinion. How much it is mere assertion boils down to whether he is just making up the largely citation-free claim “It does appear that on many different human attributes … there is relatively clear evidence … whatever the difference in means … there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not, plausibly, culturally determined.” Not completely uncited of course: he references one particular book and spends a couple of hundred words discussing its results – but his implication is that there’s a lot more evidence out there backing up his variability point. That’s either true in fact, or it’s a bald lie. Accusing this argument of being mere assertion (and I know that’s not what you are doing, since you are talking about his _preferred_ explanation) would be either wrong or in the other direction far too charitable.

(http://president.harvard.edu/speeches/summers_2005/nber.php)

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 5:57 pm

I certainly hope you’ve protected your anonymity well, ScentofViolets, for the sake of any of your female PhD students who might be reading. My own graduate school experience is recent enough to remember how real and vivid the “impostor syndrome” fears can be, without the fear of being an unqualified AA factor to deal with.

Shrug. Having been through the grinder and seen those who’ve passed before and after me, I’d have to say that most people who get an MS/MA in mathematics have the talent to get a PhD. What is much, much more significant, imho, is having the willingness and the sitzfleisch to tough it out over three or four or more years. Iow, having been a smart-aleck punk who thought that it was all about the talent and then a middle-aged verging on old campaigner, I’ll take the hardworking recruit of middling ability over the talented but lazy slacker any day. And in any event, the women I am thinking of don’t have to worry about a supposed lack of talent.

It also strikes me that pressuring impressionable young people into something they really don’t want to do by painting an unreasonable picture of the rewards isn’t in point of fact being very fair to them.

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bianca steele 02.05.11 at 5:58 pm

As an aside, I’m going to concern-troll the academics here for a minute, and suggest that if members of department A suggest that perceived weaker students transfer to department B, A presumably thinks B is less good (maybe a weaker version of itself), and collaboration between A and B may not be as effective as it might be. Though obviously efficiency isn’t everything.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.11 at 6:10 pm

I don’t see philosophers having more power than anthropologists. With this in mind, is it true that ‘societal gender roles’ is always a subspecies of discrimination?

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 6:14 pm

“My point is simply that you can’t point to stats like these, the ratios of PhD awarded by gender, as if they’re proof of anything in and of themselves.”

Sure. But we’re not looking at those stats in and of themselves, nor should we. We have independent information about gender roles and biases in our society, both anecdotal (see many comments above, the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? etc.)

I beg to differ. I see that a few people here seem to have discounted these ratios as evidence of some sort of bias in one field, but say that it is in another. That’s a bit different than taking these stats into account and then saying that the evidence still favors discrimination in one case but not another. In fact, look at the very first comment on the thread to get a sense of what I mean.

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Adam 02.05.11 at 6:18 pm

@Harry

“I’ve no doubt that some men still avoid nursing, or elementary school teaching, for similar reasons, and I don’t doubt that they are full agents (though, interestingly, it often seems to be the attitudes of other men, rather than women, that they are responding to). “

Hardly “some” men, when many of these fields are as devoid of men as physics is apparently devoid of women. Of course, the same peer pressure dynamic could explain the absence of women in STEM fields. It would also be an example of the external context shaping personal preferences.

“It looks as if you didn’t bother to understand what the three of them wrote, which they are all probably sufficiently used to that it doesn’t bother them.”

And you didn’t bother to read or engage what I wrote.

“Pisses me off though.”

Why? Not used to being challenged? Perhaps this cute remark is an example of the macho that drives women out of certain fields?

“I am absolutely certain that many highly ranked graduate schools reject stronger female candidates in favour of weaker male candidates not through deliberate discrimination but because their attitudes are sexist.”

Life is easier when you assume your conclusions. Of course, as ScentOfViolets said, the data provided would argue that similar discriminate exists in female dominated fields. Perhaps a male graduate student would rather not sit in a room with 10 women and a female professor discussing how men’s unconsious sexism degrades women?

The gender of faculty is definitely a factor in student preference. But that doesn’t explain why female enrollment has grown so much faster in the “bio” sciences than in the “dork” sciences, given that the percentage of female faculty started off about the same. It also ignores all of the efforts (training grants, support groups, assigned mentors, etc.) that the STEM departments put in place to support women. But rather than engage that you’d prefer to reach for the unconcious sexism cudgel.

The yutz who brought up colonialism and belgians and accused me of denying minorities a voice needs to grow up. But to the extent that they are a philosopher they definitely provide as a wonderful example of this “macho” that apparently pervades philospohy.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 6:18 pm

I can’t make any sense of this.

Maybe you’re not cut out for a career in science.

Possibly. But I still can’t make any sense out of this and you haven’t clarified what you meant. And – he says drily – I’m not in the habit of throwing out data merely because it goes against what has been previously thought. Pardon me, but that’s what you seem to be saying.

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stubydoo 02.05.11 at 6:30 pm

Regarding “imposter syndrome”: if there are some people insisting that there’s rampant discrimination against women all around, and there are some people (such as ScentofViolets above) saying that institutions have taken specific steps to ease the path for women to make up for underrepresentation, well then that means that EVERYBODY gets to suffer from imposter syndrome.

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jacob 02.05.11 at 6:32 pm

ScentOfViolets at 90: Iow, another possible explanation for the lopsided ratios in the math and physics departments is that women are simply better at assessing and facing reality, more tough-minded and more realistic about their job prospects than their male counterparts.

Surely if this were true, literature and anthropology, where the job market is so bad as to be nearly nonexistent, would not skew so heavily female.

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Aulus Gellius 02.05.11 at 6:57 pm

I’m instinctively pleased to see that Classics is the closest field to parity on this chart[1], but I think it’s sort of misleading. We have the contradictory effects of being a squishy, literature-loving, hippy discipline like English (and perhaps also, dbk @76 suggests, of snapping up some Platonists and such chased out of philosophy), while simultaneously being strongly tied to “The Western Tradition,” and to a bunch of dead-whitish-male primary texts (if they dig up a complete works of Erinna or something at Pompeii, I’ll bet that would push us to the right a bit).

I wonder if this schizophrenia might show up in some more detailed data — e.g., if departments are divided into very-male and very-female ones (though that is not my anecdotal experience).

[1]Of course, on similar charts about race or class, I suspect we’d look a lot worse.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 7:00 pm

Surely if this were true, literature and anthropology, where the job market is so bad as to be nearly nonexistent, would not skew so heavily female.

Certainly . . . if those going into literature and anthropology thought in terms of job-related outcomes and if the female PhD candidates had the same level-headed judgment as their counterparts in mathematics. Maybe women are more likely to delude themselves that they’ll be the next J. K. Rowling than men are.

Understand, I’m not investing anything in actually defending these speculations. My point is that this is all they are – speculations. Maybe some more useful or more tenable than others. But none of them having (to my mind) any great amount of fact to support them. Of course, that’s today. I’ll happily grant that fifty and more years ago there was a great deal more obvious discrimination against women in various professional callings, mathematics among them.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 7:10 pm

A thought occurs. If there is discrimination in varying degrees going on, perhaps we should look at the data concerning the number of men and women attempting advanced degrees vs the number of men and women who actually complete them. I would think that if the discrimination is as subtle as some say it is, prospective female PhD candidates would tend to be somehow “better” than their male counterparts – more gifted or more driven and committed, what have you. So that the ratio attempted/completed would be higher for women than men in the disciplines that discriminate against them. Again, given that the discrimination is not too overt, something that’s rather iffy to measure I know.[1]

Just a thought.

[1] Come to think of it, I tend to “discriminate” for the girls in my freshman classes, and for the most trivial reason I know – their work is easier to grade by virtue of being neater and more legible. I don’t think this is significant in terms of overall grades, in fact, I’m pretty sure, but still . . . ?

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 7:13 pm

Adam (103.): The yutz who brought up colonialism and belgians and accused me of denying minorities a voice needs to grow up. But to the extent that they are a philosopher they definitely provide as a wonderful example of this “macho” that apparently pervades philospohy [sic].

How about you learn to read first? I did not, of course, claim that you “deny minorities a voice” (I also for that matter did not mention Belgians I believe). I lampooned your assertion that pointing out the influence gendering of society has on the choices made by individuals is a denial of the agency of these individuals – by pointing out that this “argument” is also employed in order to absolve colonial and imperial powers from their responsibility for anything that might be happening in their current or former domains.

There is, and it’s sad this even needs to be mentioned, a mountain of research on the influence of sexism and gender norms have at all stages of a possible academic career. It is your choice to ignore all this and instead claim erroneously that gender divides in PhD numbers are presented as sole and prima facie evidence of sexism.

And then there is the “making stuff up” component, like here:

Perhaps a male graduate student would rather not sit in a room with 10 women and a female professor discussing how men’s unconsious sexism degrades women?

Please point to a single male academic who has made this experience – that is, being in a room with a collection of caricatures of radical feminists. On the other hand, almost every female mathematics PhD I know has experienced sexist attitudes during the course of her career. numerous examples from various disciplines have been given in this thread, mnore have been linked to.

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leederick 02.05.11 at 7:14 pm

‘Incidentally, asking “Hey, how can it be sexism if Education and English are full of women” thing is similar to asking “How can there be Global Warming if we just got three feet of snow in DC?”’

But it’s arguable what the general trend is. Your graph is labelled up % female and has women getting 46.8% of PhDs. A-ha I thought – a general bias against women and the list of shame presented of the worst offenders. Then I looked at the data, if you cut out foreign students that datum jumps 5.2 percentage points to the right and 52.0% of PhDs go to women. It’s debatable what the trend is, and whether Education and English are the exception or if Maths and Physics are.

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Hume 02.05.11 at 7:14 pm

I think it is due to two things. First, philosophy is very abstract, and I think many women are not interested in high flying abstractions. This doesn’t mean they are unable to think about them – just that they are not as interesting. Second, philosophy is mostly – especially at the undergraduate level – focused on deconstruction (I don’t mean that in the technical sense) and is as such negative. It focuses on pointing to commonly held intuitions/arguments and then showing why they are wrong. I think that on a fundamental level, many women do not feel comfortable in that environment, likely because of gender stereotypical upbringings. Put the two together, and philosophy is a net loser with women.

If this is right, the question is: how do you change these two very fundamental aspects of philosophy to make it more attractive to women? I realize we can all do more to “accept that people learn/think differently” and all that, but at the end of the day, philosophy seems like it is going to remain highly abstract and, in practice, highly argumentative.

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jacob 02.05.11 at 7:24 pm

In my anecdotal experience, people who go into English lit and anthro PhD programs are equally desirous of landing academic jobs as those who go into philosophy departments–if not more so. (Remember, English lit is not the same thing as creative writing.) This blog post fairly reeks with disdain and anger at those who deign to go to English grad school for any other reason.

This conversation has tended toward the typical (and important) question of “why are some fields so unbalanced by gender?” To me, the more interesting question is, “what philosophy special? That is, what makes philosophy so different from its adjacent disciplines in the humanities?” I have no doubt–indeed, I have seen–that there is rampant sexism throughout the academy, including in my field, history. I don’t think other humanities could sustain a blog like What’s It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy, generate the number of equivalent comments in this thread–and, of course, have different numbers, as demonstrated in the original post. So what makes philosophy so much worse?

I am quite unconvinced by the suggestion that philosophy is math heavy, both for the reasons articulated by others that only certain fields are mathy, and also because obviously more quanty disciplines like sociology and stats and psych do so much better in the proportion of PhDs granted to women. (I see looking again at this thread that someone else made this argument already, citing linguistics.) I’m struck by the comment of emptywheel, above in the 50s somewhere, that at some universities continental philosophy became the preserve of comp lit departments. It seems quite plausible–likely, even–that the rise of humanistic Theory in departments other than philosophy helps account somewhat for philosophy’s apparently retrograde status. Of course, I say this as someone outside both philosophy and Theory. Does it make sense to others?

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 7:26 pm

It’s not arguable what the general trend is, unless you do what people here have been wrongly accused of doing and take PhD rates as your only data point. There is simply no doubt that sexism – the oppression of women – is real in society, and academia is part of it (to pick on my own institution, UCLA, at least 75% of all ladder ( = tenure stream) faculty are male; 54% are, in fact, white male). And ‘reverse sexism’ is no more real than ‘reverse racism’. Both are weak attempts to undermine the struggle for equality by suggesting it has already succeeded – in fact “gone too far”.

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jacob 02.05.11 at 7:26 pm

I realize, too late, that my too-long post immediately above could be summarized as, “Why are there so many more sexist assholes in philosophy than in other disciplines? Is it because the rise of Theory siphoned philosophically minded people who aren’t as big assholes into other departments?”

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Consumatopia 02.05.11 at 7:26 pm

Maybe women, on average, don’t like abstract disciplines.

Or maybe people attracted to abstract disciplines, on average, are bad at dealing with people unlike themselves.

But if we want an explanation for why some disciplines are skewed male while others are balanced or skewed female (after accounting for the foreigners), that explanation is probably going to have something to do with the nature of the disciplines themselves.

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Bob Sharak 02.05.11 at 7:43 pm

I’m not sure I see a real problem here. The latest statistics show that females are more likely to attend college, graduate from college and have taken advanced mathematics in high school than their male counterparts (see below). Moreover, in the 2007-2008 academic year, females earned 61% of all master’s and 51% of all doctoral, and first-professional degrees (US DoEd Condition of Education 2010). Lastly, there are literally dozens of programs promoting female participation in STEM subjects in the primary and secondary grades, which has boosted female representation in these subjects – to a point.

The issue is that the disciplines in which males and females receive their degrees tend to be different. This could be the result of rampant sexism or personal choice. Can someone please show me data supporting the idea that TODAY it is the former and not the latter? Past bias and anecdotal evidence do not count. Moreover, if such gender gaps are a problem, where is the outrage that females receive far more of the health, education, pharmacy, vet and psychology master’s and PhDs (among other disciplines)?

Percentage distribution of high school seniors, by highest mathematics course taken and selected student, family, and high school characteristics: 2004
Pre-alg. or below Alg. I /Geo. Alg. II Trig/Anal Geo/Stats Pre-Calc/Calc
Male 8.5% 22.7% 24.2% 15.6% 29.0%
Female 5.2% 19.6% 25.9% 18.2% 31.1%

US DoEd, Academic Preparation for College in the High School Senior Class of 2003−04 (January 2010), NCES 2010-169

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stubydoo 02.05.11 at 7:48 pm

christian_h @113: but your evidence from your own institution is still entirely consistent with the “revealed preferences” hypothesis. So you aren’t really distinguishing yourself from people who take PhD rates as the only data point. The objections that have been raised still survive your data.

Evidence which specifically confronts the “revealed preference” idea (and/or its cousin the “innate ability” idea) is more on point – e.g. the stuff on that women in philosophy blog, which though anecdotal (and subjective), as has been pointed out the quantity there is impressive.

This thread was my first encounter with the “philosophy is special” hypothesis, and after taking a look at the evidence cited here it is starting to look to me like it might have some merit. Some of the commenters have been trying to make more general points about gender discrimination in broader contexts, but less persuasively (they basically assume it rather than produce evidence).

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buford puser 02.05.11 at 7:50 pm

christian_h: “Please point to a single male academic who has made this experience – that is, being in a room with a collection of caricatures of radical feminists. On the other hand, almost every female mathematics PhD I know has experienced sexist attitudes during the course of her career. numerous examples from various disciplines have been given in this thread, mnore have been linked to.”
Given the existence of Title IX officers on American campuses, I would have thought that expressions of sexism or misogyny that rose to the level of “caricature” would be a fast ticket out the door of a great part-time job, at least in the US; as christian_h correctly points out in the next sentence, what we’re actually talking about here is sexist attitudes posited as unconscious.
However, your belief that no male academic has ever experienced such things on a sub-caricature level may be a bit optimistic: minus the cartoon element, the posited impossible situation is a not-inapt description of the average senior staff meeting at the research institute where I used to work. Feeling marginalized by virtue of being male was certainly a factor in my decision to leave.
There may be a tipping point factor at work: my own field of criminology, at about 2/3 women, does not “feel” overwhelmingly female-dominated, whereas the public health/epi field at about 3/4 female certainly does. For obvious reasons, a great many of the few men in public health/epi are gay-identified MSM; this may be another factor in this “feel”.

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Aulus Gellius 02.05.11 at 8:08 pm

“Some of the commenters have been trying to make more general points about gender discrimination in broader contexts, but less persuasively (they basically assume it rather than produce evidence).”

Well, a lot of us are “assuming” that there is widespread gender discrimination (of particular kinds) in society in general and academia in particular, in the sense that we are basing our beliefs on evidence not raised in this post or thread. The idea is, many CT readers shared a pretty similar set of confidently held beliefs on this even before reading this blog post. So we’re not particularly interested in discussing the evidence for those things: if you start with different beliefs, you will find that this thread, on the whole, is not primarily aimed at convincing you to change your mind. Fortunately for you, though, there are many other texts, on the internet and elsewhere, discussing evidence for and against the existence of widespread gender discrimination.

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Adam 02.05.11 at 8:10 pm

@christian_h

You claim that skewed gender ratios in STEM fields demonstrates pervasive sexism in those fields. You cite evidence for your theory in the form of gender ratios broken out by discipline (and anecdote, lots of anecdote). But yet, the skewed gender ratios in the STEM fields are matched by skewed gender ratios in the humanities and social sciences.

The question presented is: If the skewed gender ratios in the STEM fields are evidence of sexism in those fields then why aren’t the skewed gender ratios in the humanities and social sciences evidence of sexism in those fields?

So far your answer has been a combination of asserting that you have other evidence that the STEM fields are full of sexists (which doesn’t address the question. Maybe all of the fields – STEM and humanities alike – are full of sexists and the graph merely represents that sad fact) and asserting that my arguments about agency are invalid because they are like other arguments you also dislike (not a particularly convincing line of argument).

So what’s next?

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 8:12 pm

It’s not arguable what the general trend is, unless you do what people here have been wrongly accused of doing and take PhD rates as your only data point.

Assuming I’m numbered among the accused, go back and look at what they’re saying. Keiran, for example seems to think females being under-represented in, say, physics is evidence of discrimination because there is other evidence for discrimination apart from those ratios. But then examples where females are over-represented, say psychology, aren’t evidence that they’ve received preferential treatment because there is other data indicating that males aren’t discriminated against in those fields.

What?!?!?! You can certainly say that taking all evidence into shows a preponderance one way or the other. But you can’t simply discount contrary data. Especially when this table has been linked to as some sort of gotcha!

There is simply no doubt that sexism – the oppression of women – is real in society, and academia is part of it (to pick on my own institution, UCLA, at least 75% of all ladder ( = tenure stream) faculty are male; 54% are, in fact, white male). And ‘reverse sexism’ is no more real than ‘reverse racism’. Both are weak attempts to undermine the struggle for equality by suggesting it has already succeeded – in fact “gone too far”.

Well, again assuming I’m one of those your addressing, no that’s not what I’m trying to suggest nor is it my intent to undermine anything. I’m simply pointing out that you can’t manhandle data that way. To go back to my earlier example, is it sound reasoning to suggest that because “liberals” are over-represented in academia that conservatives are discriminated against there, but that the over-representation of conservatives in finance in no way indicates that liberals are being discriminated against in those professions?

Seriously. I’m kind of surprised that this is even a point of contention. So much so that I’ve got to think there’s some sort of miscommunication going on. At least, I hope that’s all it is.

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buford puser 02.05.11 at 8:12 pm

Also, assuming we don’t hear a convincing rebuttal of leederick’s point, which he/she, perhaps annoyed at having been so totally ignored for raising the inconvenient fact that the phenomenon under discussion doesn’t appear in these data, has now repeated:
Isn’t the solution to the male skew of STEM fields obvious (limiting visas for STEM grad students; though some spoilsports would say this might hurt our chances of “winning the future”)?
It is perhaps less obvious how one would go about dealing with the overall female bias of the academy (52% of non-foreign visa PhDs), given that IIRC that’s also the percentage of female undergraduate degrees; likely this task may be rendered less easy if one is preoccupied with remedying the opposite trend, despite its failure to appear in the available data.

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Norwegian Guy 02.05.11 at 8:28 pm

emptywheel and jacob raise interesting points regarding different branches of philosophy. The strong position of analytical philosophy in the US might make this field more similar to the more male-dominated harder sciences compared to the other humanities. But not all branches of philosophy are like this. Are the gender balance in philosophy similar in continental Europe?

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JDL 02.05.11 at 8:57 pm

It seems that some people commenting take the accusation of sexism to be something like: women are underrepresented in certain fields ergo men are sexist, whereas the underrepresentation of men in certain fields does not indicate sexism (and therefore men in the former fields are assholes – or bad people or something). It may be the case that some people do in fact think along these lines, however, I think this is a misconception of the (feminist) critique. The accusation of sexism is a criticism of culture, not a criticism of men. There is both implicit and explicit bias regarding gender roles in and outside of academia (frankly, this claim ought to be uncontroversial at this point). Men and women are both to blame for sustaining these biases. It very well may be that the very same biases encourage men to certain fields and women to others (and I would think this is probably the case).

This is not to say, however, that there is not a difference in the way these biases affect different genders. The traditional gender roles have placed men in a position of power, and disadvantaged women, especially in the public sphere. This fact is a non-arbitrary reason to treat the underrepresentation of women very differently than the underrepresentation of men. But it is not because men are sexist pigs and women have to put up with them. Both genders are biased in ways that perpetuate the problem. Both genders need to work on solutions.

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Aulus Gellius 02.05.11 at 9:01 pm

“But you can’t simply discount contrary data. Especially when this table has been linked to as some sort of gotcha!”

I don’t think anybody (on this thread at least, as far as I’ve noticed) is using this chart as a “gotcha,” if I’m understanding you right. Nobody, I hope, is saying, “Maybe you didn’t believe in sexism in academia before, but having seen this chart, you must!” Rather, it goes something like this:

1. Most commenters independently believe that there’s a lot of gender discrimination, limiting women’s choices in a lot of ways, and men’s choices in far fewer ways, in society at large and in academia in particular.

2. It is noted, in a blog post on a site called Crooked Timber, that gender ratios are different in different academic fields, and in particular that philosophy has very few women.

3. Commenters suggest explanations that sound plausible to them. To most commenters, the most plausible-sounding explanations involve some particular operation of gender discrimination against women. Explanations like “rampant sexism against men in psychology departments” are considered less plausible, not because of the data presented in this table, but for other reasons: such sexism is pretty rare in our society, psychology does not have a long tradition of keeping men out, etc. (By contrast, most of us, I think, are certainly willing to entertain the idea that stigma against male nurses, for example, is affecting the gender ratios in nursing schools.)

4. A minority of commenters have significantly different assumptions (=/ no assumptions at all) about sexism in modern society/academia.

5. As a result, those commenters don’t find the most widely accepted (here) explanations as plausible as the rest of us do, and their own explanations are not widely accepted (here).

6. Sucks to be them.

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Harry 02.05.11 at 9:14 pm

Adam
If you didn’t see that what I was saying was a direct engagement with your “assuming lack of agency” comment, I don’t know how to make it any clearer. Kieran did the same. I daresay most readers can see it.

My certainty is, of course, not based in science. Just a great deal of experience both on the admissions side and on the watching students apply side, and a lot of conversations with other people involved on the decision-making end of the process. You can dismiss that if you want; I was reporting my certainty, and assuming that in context it was clear that I have quite a bit of experience in a very small world (the size of the discipline relative to the big beasts like English, History, and Education, has not been remarked upon). Anyway, it is certainty grounded in experience, not an a priori assumption. Probably obvious to most other readers.

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Sally 02.05.11 at 9:18 pm

Psychology benefitted from the influx of German psychologists fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany, especially at the University of Berlin. They could not all find jobs in the USA at places like Cornell so some wound up at the New School for Social Research in NYC (then a univ for nontraditional adult students), single-sex women’s colleges like Smith, Radcliffe and Vasser, and the historically black colleges in the South. Some of the finest Gestalt psychologists (including Koffka, Kohler, Wertheimer & Lewin wound up at such schools. This resulted in excellent training for a generation of female and African American grad students and undergrads who then trained their own students and entered the discipline. Thus psychology has had a route to success that didn’t depend on male privilege and we have perhaps become used to having important female and minority voices in our discipline. This so-called lost generation of German psychologists were trained by Wundt, Stumpf, Ebbinhaus, Brentano, and Kulpe but wound up not at Harvard where Titchener (Wundt’s structuralist student) could not tolerate dissenting voices, but in places where they broadened both thinking and access for new generations of women and African American college students. This is an accident of history that perhaps didn’t work out the same way in other disciplines? I am not suggesting gender discrimination but instead a positive force that may have gone a long way toward combatting the gender discrimination of the times (embodied by people like Munsterberg at Harvard suggesting that women don’t have the brains to do jury duty).

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Harry 02.05.11 at 9:20 pm

No one has commented on the differing sex ratios within Philosophy among fields. Without data, Id imagine that phil of science skews more male than philosophy as a whole, and ethics skews much less male than philosophy as a whole (my sister is a philosopher of physics, I’m an ethicist of sorts). Ethics never used to skew less male than other fields (ie, when women were hardly in Philosophy at all). My guess is there is a lot of path dependency in such a small discipline — Foot and Anscombe as the people who revived the field and then Rawls (in a top department) training lots of women (I don’t know the story behind that, but I assume we have female readers who were trained by Rawls and can say something about it) could have had a considerable effect which compounds over time.

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bianca steele 02.05.11 at 9:25 pm

Aulus Gellius @ 121
It doesn’t have to be the case that men’s options are not limited. But w/r/t gender discrimination (in a broad sense), there are two possibilities: (1) it is accounted for and expected, everybody knows it is there, maybe it is a matter of revealed preferences, it is not a problem unless you have a prior belief that everything has to be numerically equal; and (2) it is unexpected, causes friction, causes waste, makes nonsense of the expectations of people at every level. SoV is correct that the chart alone can’t distinguish between these two possibilities.

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Tracy 02.05.11 at 9:48 pm

I’d be really interested to know the breakdown of philosophy by sub-discipline. My guess would be that far more of the women are in ethics and social and political philosophy than, say, logic or language.

As for the significant gender disparity in the discipline: one doesn’t have to look far to see why there aren’t many female students actually completing their PhD. You’d be hard-pressed to find any female student in philosophy who hasn’t experienced some degree of sexual harassment from her professors. And, in this job market, not to mention an institutional climate in which it is endemic and typically laughed off, laying any kind of complaint (formal or informal) is basically to commit professional suicide.

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Sally 02.05.11 at 9:48 pm

Also, an irony is that a lot of the statistics now taught in math depts and widely used in other disciplines originated to address problems in psychology. Helmholtz gave up on studying human psychophysics because of variability. People like Galton, Pearson, Spearman, Fisher and more recent statisticians developed stats now used in economics and biology but were originally concerned with problems of human individual differences and how a scientific study of behavior might be approached mathematically (see the line that goes from Weber to Festinger to S.S. Stevens to Duncan to Luce to Louis Narens in measurement theory, something with as much applicability in physics as in any human science. Those of you who are thinking that psychology is non-mathematical, non-rigorous or somehow soft do not clearly understand what psychology is about on the graduate and professional level. Look up computational modeling of cognitive processing or visit the Journal of Mathematical Psychology for examples. Our undergrads do two lower division methods courses in experimental design, take statistics in the math dept, then take an upper division stats class as a requirement for all majors. We don’t do mathematical statistics or calculus, but some grad programs in psychology do (see UCI for example). You cannto publish in psychology without some mathematical sophistication, especially in psychophysics, memory and cognition. Stereotypes about psychology are unhelpful to this discussion, just as stereotypes about women are.

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Margaret Atherton 02.05.11 at 10:31 pm

This is a very small point, relating to the question, why aren’t the smaller percentages of male PhDs in fields like English evidence of discrimination against males in such fields. I think it is relevant to remember that the high percentage of women graduating with PhDs in a field like English is a relatively recent phenomenon and that most major PhD granting departments of English still have faculty which is much more male than female. (I have no idea what are the top departments in English but a quick glance at the departments at Harvard and Yale reveal that there are roughly twice as many men as women in the department.) Given this history it is hard to know what kind of story to tell that would result in their being widespread prejudice against men, chilly climates for men, etc., in such departments.

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C.C. Fuss 02.05.11 at 10:43 pm

CC Fuss—I think there’s something to what you say (well, not something, quite a lot). The problem with it is that I don’t see how you change that directly—my feeling is that fairly determined action needs to be taken both from within the profession and from outside it (Deans holding us to some sort of standard and being serious about it), to get more women into the discipline. The pipeline problem that is actually addressable is graduate admissions.

I agree. Those interested might want to look at the Australasian Association of Philosophy’s work on improving the participation of women in philosophy, where they found that, while women tend to drop out disproportionately at all levels, the biggest problem appeared to be at the point of entry into graduate programs.

However. The problem I mentioned, that philosophers are quite happy to admit the general existence of the problem, but not the possibility of their personally contributing to it, means that there is inevitably strong resistance to any suggestion of ‘affirmative action’.

If you take the strategy I recommend, a supplement has to be aggressively combating the view (among men and women) that women are being treated unduly favourably

This is another huge problem, and it inevitably arises in the context of any concrete action to get more women into the profession, or even in the context of any discussion of wanting to get more women into the profession. (I know that some of my ex-grad-school-fellows said this about me when I landed a job for which several of us applied – of course the only reason I would be hired over them was because the department wanted to be ‘PC’ and discriminate in favour of women).

Something which I have noticed is that things appear to be worse in the younger generation. I would not have come as far as I have in philosophy, were it not for the support and encouragement of several older male philosophers who (a) never treated me as being less capable than the men, and (b) genuinely did care about trying to get more women into the profession. I was lucky enough to be an undergraduate in a department where there was at least one great female role model, and where the men were absolutely sincere in their anti-sexism. Things since then have only gone downhill, I’m afraid, resulting in my ‘free choice’ to leave the profession.

The impression I get (fwiw) is that the culture of philosophy is not only pushing women out; it’s also pulling in certain kinds of men who like the idea of being in a little enclave consisting entirely of others like themselves. So there’s a feedback loop: the more philosophy is perceived by undergraduates as being ‘for’ certain kinds of people, the more those kinds of people are attracted to it, and the more other kinds of people see it as unwelcoming, which results in the culture becoming more strongly entrenched as time goes by.

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christian_h 02.05.11 at 10:44 pm

Nobody on this thread has claimed that the chart posted standing on its own is evidence of gender discrimination. So repeatedly denying that it is isn’t really an argument against anything raised by anyone. As has been pointed out, the data presented has to be interpreted within a broader context of gender discrimination, a context the majority of commenters here share without being willing to rehash that broader argument again… and again… and again.

As for “revealed preferences” that is simply a tautology. If A puts a gun to the head of B and says “your money or your life” it will likely reveal B’s preference for giving up their money. The tautology only becomes an argument if you believe the preferences revealed are due to some essential female- or male-ness; in which case you have to explain why these revealed preferences have changed with time, for example.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 10:48 pm

Our undergrads do two lower division methods courses in experimental design, take statistics in the math dept, then take an upper division stats class as a requirement for all majors. We don’t do mathematical statistics or calculus, but some grad programs in psychology do (see UCI for example). You cannto publish in psychology without some mathematical sophistication, especially in psychophysics, memory and cognition. Stereotypes about psychology are unhelpful to this discussion, just as stereotypes about women are.

Off Topic:

Speaking as a math guy, that’s fantastic! I really wish they’d drop the algebra requirement and replace it with a basic statistics credit instead. You don’t need what is called “College Algebra” in the real world for the most part; otoh, statistics (and probability) are quite relevant.[1] And in a time when all the computations can be done essentially by machine (in a class I’m teaching now, we do just about everything directly with higher-end calculators), this leaves the students free to think about what the results mean and to actually get in some practice in logical reasoning. That elusive quality we’re supposed to be inculcating in them :-) Btw, even as a math guy, about the only time I do calculus is when I’m teaching a class; I have to relearn all the tricks from the bottom up if enough time as passed. Iow, calculus is over-rated as the sin qua non of Deep Math for the average man.

Anyway, this is a rambling prelude to asking how much emphasis Bayesian stats are given in Pschology these days. Myself, I teach what could be vaguely called the Frequentist approach both because of my formal math background (sigma algebras, measure theory, that sort of thing) and because that’s how I was taught many years ago, when we actually had to look up z-stats and t-stats in – shudder – tables. Now, I think happen to think that the Bayesian approach is way over-hyped, and by precisely the wrong people to boot, but, well, . . . I’m old. Out of touch. Maybe there’s something I’m missing that I should be including. I should add that the stats I teach is strictly undergraduate stuff; we don’t even talk about, say, moment-generating functions.

[1]Joy! Last semester one of my students mentioned in class that the writers got the science wrong in the “House” episode that aired the previous night; apparently a plot point that a test that was “99% accurate” was taken by the team to mean that the probability of a correct diagnoses was 99%. Needless to say, this being “House”, the condition being tested for was extremely rare and tricky.

Who knows? Maybe one of these days this student will be sitting in a jury and recall this bit of lore and use it to keep an innocent man off Death Row. A teacher can dream :-)

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Harry 02.05.11 at 11:01 pm

CC Fuss

Yes, these are all big problems. Dare I say that relatively high status male professors have a role to play here, making it absolutely clear what they think is going on, and making it absolutely clear in particular that they do not believe that women are getting any special treatment, and more generally making it clear that they understand the problem. Both to the male and the female graduate students. I don’t mean they have more of a role to play than women in philosophy, just that more skeptical corners of the graduate student population are more likely to listen to relatively high status professors, and male professors; and that it can be helpful to women to know that it is not just their female professors that have confidence in them. The recent discovery that the year of the sorority had been assumed by at least some of the women admitted in it to be the work of my excellent colleague who is identified as a feminist enabled me to make it clear that, no, it was the work of an all-male committee the other members (other than me) of which are not in anyway associated with feminist views or attitudes (wrongly not associated with such in my opinion, but that’s that). I wish I had made the membership of the committee clear to all admitted students in the first place, rather than 6 years later. I do not believe that there was any compromise on quality in that year, indeed I suspect that, even though the men in that cohort are excellent, we still underestimated the capability of one or two female candidates.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 11:13 pm

Nobody on this thread has claimed that the chart posted standing on its own is evidence of gender discrimination. So repeatedly denying that it is isn’t really an argument against anything raised by anyone. As has been pointed out, the data presented has to be interpreted within a broader context of gender discrimination, a context the majority of commenters here share without being willing to rehash that broader argument again… and again… and again.

I’m not sure that we’re not just talking past each. I certainly hope that’s what it is. Let me try this again: is the lopsided gender ratio of granted PhD’s evidence that there is discrimination against women in physics? Yes or no? Now, is the lopsided gender ratio of granted PhD’s evidence that there is discrimination against men in psychology? Yes or no?

Let me be very clear here, since I suspect this is the source of confusion. I am not asking whether given all the available evidence one can infer whether there is or is not discrimination against women (or men) in a given discipline. I am also quite willing to stipulate for the point I am trying to make that the preponderance of evidence strongly indicates that there is discrimination against women in physics but not against men in psychology. That is in fact irrelevant to what I am getting at (iow you characterization of re-re-rehashing is so far off it’s not even wrong.) I simply want to know whether you consider this table evidence for both cases, or neither case, or for one but not the other.

Because the first two options are defensible to some degree. But I have a hard time understanding how anyone one think that the third option is plausible for even a second. Why would the table be evidence for discrimination in one case, but not the other, whatever the overall state of the evidence in toto suggests? That just doesn’t seem . . . right.

And if you this is really what you think, I’d be very interested in hearing why you think this is the case.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 11:32 pm

This is a very small point, relating to the question, why aren’t the smaller percentages of male PhDs in fields like English evidence of discrimination against males in such fields.

See what I’ve just posted above. Are you saying that these while these percentages are in accordance with the hypothesis that males are discriminated against in English, they are not, in and of themselves, sufficient evidence, especially given the much larger amount of data to the contrary?

Or are you saying that the much larger body of contrary data is enough to completely disqualify the ratios in those instances as evidence at all?[1]

Because the former I can live with; the latter just seems to be so much crazy talk.

[1]My own sense, of course, is that this table of ratios doesn’t say anything one way or the other – it doesn’t discriminate between a series alternate explanations that fit the data just as well. At best, all it could do is eliminate some hypotheses . . . which apparently is not up for discussion right now.

And as to my own personal sense, regardless of this table and from my own experiences? Let’s just say I’m much more skeptical of the idea that currently there isn’t any discrimination than I am of the idea that there is. And as for fifty years ago? Of course there was rampant discrimination against women in those subjects. All of them.

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ScentOfViolets 02.05.11 at 11:55 pm

The impression I get (fwiw) is that the culture of philosophy is not only pushing women out; it’s also pulling in certain kinds of men who like the idea of being in a little enclave consisting entirely of others like themselves.

My impression is that where discrimination exists, and where it’s not of the old school variety by men in their 60′s and older, it’s of a much more pernicious kind. And that is the kind where the younger guys engaging in it don’t think they’re being sexist at all. In fact, they fervently believe – and will tell you so – that discrimination based on race, or color, or creed, or sex is not just wrong, it’s offensively wrong.

And then they go on and behave in an extremely sexist, extremely offensive manner. They literally can’t see that their behaviour reeks of exclusion.

Yes, this is what a lot of us like to think applies only to a certain sort of clueless libertarian geek, usually giving themselves props for being “smart” and “knowing a lot about computers”. But this sort of thing is actually much more pervasive than that. I put a lot of it down to simply age and lack of maturity – they may understand, intellectually, that women as a rule don’t appreciate working in an office where screensavers of disrobed centerfold models don’t bear remarking upon, save for favorable comments about certain bits of anatomy. But they don’t really get it. Some of the more suicidal males will even say out loud that they don’t understand what the big deal is, and they would have no problems with the girls putting up beefcake screensavers ;-/

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Omega Centauri 02.06.11 at 12:24 am

SoV’s last post got me thinking. What if a good part of the gender-biased action is coming not from the institutions or faculty, but from the students cohorts? My guess is that peer group pressure is probably even more important in influencing path choosing, than mentor behavior. At least in America, students have been heavily indoctrinated in political correctness, but does this really work? Don’t many of them want to demonstrate their independence from (and irritation against indoctrination), by demonstrating that they don’t buy it? In extreme cases, perhaps it is even backfiring? I say that because of the widespread comments above which indicate the problem is getting worse. If it is getting worse (that does need to be demonstrated), perhaps we need to rethink our methods, for I don’t think the problem persists because of a lack of desire to change it.

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Kieran Healy 02.06.11 at 1:56 am

Assuming I’m numbered among the accused, go back and look at what they’re saying. Keiran, for example seems to think females being under-represented in, say, physics is evidence of discrimination because there is other evidence for discrimination apart from those ratios. But then examples where females are over-represented, say psychology, aren’t evidence that they’ve received preferential treatment because there is other data indicating that males aren’t discriminated against in those fields. What?! You can certainly say that taking all evidence into shows a preponderance one way or the other. But you can’t simply discount contrary data.

What? “Discount contrary data”? I’m the one who presented the full spectrum of disciplinary data in first place, FFS.

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John Quiggin 02.06.11 at 2:21 am

Perhaps not surprisingly, I wasn’t alert to the specifically gendered aspect, but I’ve been complaining for years about gratuitously violent and bloodthirsty examples in philosophy. Once it’s been pointed out, it’s obvious that this is likely to put women off the field, even where the violence in the examples isn’t specifically directed against them.

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C.C. Fuss 02.06.11 at 2:38 am

Harry:

Yes, these are all big problems. Dare I say that relatively high status male professors have a role to play here, making it absolutely clear what they think is going on, and making it absolutely clear in particular that they do not believe that women are getting any special treatment, and more generally making it clear that they understand the problem. Both to the male and the female graduate students.

Absolutely. I think it’s great that you set things straight regarding your ‘year of the sorority’ (in many departments, noone would have bothered). And to their credit, I have seen some high-status male philosophers put a lot of effort into raising awareness in general. Several senior male philosophers, along with senior female philosophers, played a major part in the AAP’s ‘Improving the Status of Women’ project.

However, this just isn’t translating very well into action in philosophy departments, where future graduate students are created and where female faculty are working. Along with the problem of individual philosophers not seeing their own biases, there is also a disconnect between acknowledging the difficulties for women in philosophy generally and the experience of any individual woman in philosophy. It’s too easy to say that such-and-such is having trouble, not because she has to deal with pervasive negative attitudes, but rather because she’s simply not very good. And the thing is, as that individual woman, you have to admit that this might be true, no matter that the objective evidence seems to indicate otherwise.

SoV:

My impression is that where discrimination exists, and where it’s not of the old school variety by men in their 60’s and older, it’s of a much more pernicious kind. And that is the kind where the younger guys engaging in it don’t think they’re being sexist at all. In fact, they fervently believe – and will tell you so – that discrimination based on race, or color, or creed, or sex is not just wrong, it’s offensively wrong.

And then they go on and behave in an extremely sexist, extremely offensive manner. They literally can’t see that their behaviour reeks of exclusion.

YES. This is what I’ve experienced. Which makes it much harder to address, of course.

…Btw, this is one of the few calm and respectful conversations I’ve ever been able to have about this issue. It’s a little disconcerting (but in a good way!) to have people listen and take you seriously. So, thanks!

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stubydoo 02.06.11 at 3:07 am

Aulus Gellius @121:

I agree with your post (except perhaps point #6). You have succeeded admirably in giving a fair description of those who disagree with you.

Although you’re entitled to be unappreciative of having the people who have different priors from yours (or no priors) intruding into this particular thread (such is the internet), the fact remains that success in achieving change is likely to require convincing at least some such people – especially if you want to make changes that are more broad than just in academic philosophy.

You might find it encouraging that I don’t think anybody in this thread has defended academic philosophy in particular against the charge of discrimination (i.e. everyone on the side going against yours has been in the more general realm). Accordingly you might conclude that efforts to make changes in Philosophy are in better shape if they are kept distinct from similar efforts in other fields.

I’m also inclined to recommend that people should have a little more respect for the “revealed preferences” hypothesis than has been shown here, but I would say that, since it’s a favorite of mine (as with all my posts here, I’m not insisting that it applies to academic philosophy specifically – it isn’t my field anyway).

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bread and roses 02.06.11 at 4:28 am

I’m surprised no one has brought up the treatment of children and family life as optional as a factor here (maybe obliquely by referring to Larry Summers). In a country with entrenched gender roles, and an economic structure that requires two working parents for economic comfort, an institution will be de-facto discriminating against women if it doesn’t have flexible work structures, reasonable work hours, and easy and flexible child care. That is one thing that philosophy departments (or any department) could work towards that isn’t related to affirmative action and preferences. If the local work ethic is to work 80-hour weeks, those who have power can change that. And if they don’t, they’ll be discriminating against women.

How do psychology and english literature deal with children and family issues? (not as academic subjects, but as workplace subjects?) Do those departments to a better job of accommodating family needs as a regular course of action?

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Lee A. Arnold 02.06.11 at 4:29 am

If I were asked to name the most important fields in the present day of the top of my head, in addition to earth science (climate), I would name the biologies: molecular, neuro, biochem, even conservation biology etc, — where it would appear that women have already begun to predominate! How canny is that? Of course, it is often said that women are smarter than men; indeed I have heard it from women themselves, though they remained unable to account for why so many of their sex should marry fools.

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Seriouslyguys(andladies) 02.06.11 at 4:54 am

I think what many people are ignoring is not the actual subject studied, but the societal roles and jobs that can be acquired afterward. For example, someone mentioned how chemistry is more female-dominated than physics and math… A cursory look at what one would do in these fields seems obvious: chemistry allows you to take on any sort of medical or scientific field, whereas math and physics pidgeon-hole you into an engineering or technical track.

Also, as a student of psychology, there is TONS of literature on this issue done by psychologists… in developmental psychology, social psychology, etc. While dialogue is great, I encourage everyone to do some research in journal articles on this topic. It is my personal conviction that other factors are at play beyond social constructivism, though that does not excuse any type of sexism or purposeful stereotyping.

But what would the ideal be? A 50/50 split is impossible. I’m as frustrated by the overly female psychology department I am a part of, as I am by philosophy being seen as a male voice, which is needed to be deconstructed by other “philosophers.” Both men and women lose credibility when there are assumptions of which agendas are trying to subvert, like one would see in much of feminist philosophy (though it is so important)… less bickering, less posturing, more doing philosophy!

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Seriouslyguys(andladies) 02.06.11 at 5:20 am


The psychological data actually has shown that men are just as perturbed by the over abundance of women in social environments, but they are not as verbal about it as women are… studies measuring EEG levels of arousal have shown when fights happen, though the man is silent, he is as or more physiologically aroused as the female… Something for feminist philosophers that think that men are not hearing them should possibly take into serious consideration.

This is probably a double standard of the whole battle of the sexes that this blog caricatures and perhaps evidence itself for gender differentiation. Girls, in infancy, are wont to use communication to reunite with parents, whereas boys are more likely to mess with the kiddie gate, in order to reunite themselves. This obviously sounds biased to a male perspective but the ability to communicate is clearly distinguishable as a difference in almost all levels of development.

That being said, I just wanted to (again) remark that men also do not like to be surrounded by only women all day–contrary to popular myth that makes all men out to be promiscuous sex fiends. Moreover, men are not as likely to say anything about these environments (because feminism is the trend these days, not masculinism).
An aside..

On “masculinism,” the idea that men living honest lives–caring, good men– are oppressed by Humean terrorists of feminista prejudice (and by oppression, I mean the totalizing that Levinas speaks of):

I honestly believe that this could switch in the near future, for the health of both men and women… perhaps there will be a time when being politically correct no longer means that only those who are historically marginalized can speak their minds, speak honestly. Only through honesty can we see what we have chosen as agents and what society has wanted us to conform to through social effects. Feminism is oppression in the form of the entitlement it claims to overcome.

As a white male, I am forced to my typewriter; when I’m in public, I must take the abuse of whatever female students wish to say to me, to destroy my ego, to claim that I am keeping them down, that I am a white male and have power…yet all she has to do is claim that I leered in a sexual manner, and I will be charged with a lawsuit. I know of no such law for women against the things that they can do to men, beyond obvious violence.

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christian_h 02.06.11 at 5:29 am

SoV (133.): And if this is really what you think, I’d be very interested in hearing why you think this is the case.

Because you cannot take a collection of data out of its context. I am really baffled that this should be unclear to anyone. “Evidence” of social relations isn’t some collection of “pieces of evidence” that are independent of each other or for that matter the discourse in which they are presented. The table presented here without its context is completely meaningless. Maybe that’s what you mean by “evidence of neither” (I disagree since a context does, after all, exist), but then I can only repeat that nobody here has claimed otherwise.

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sean 02.06.11 at 9:05 am

“Oh, and btw, philosophy is maths-heavy??? How on earth is that true? Most of the philosophers I know have done at most formal logic to the level of Godel’s Theorems, in graduate school, and promptly forgot it all.”

I’ve got to agree. One required logic paper is not “maths-heavy”.

Yes, there are people doing Philosophy of Physics with interesting views on Quantum Logic that take a lot of maths. But they’re very much the exception. Likewise geeks like me doing a PhD because of an interest in Logic and Philosophy of Computing who go hard on logics and recursion theory. But honestly we mostly drop out and get a MSc in Comp Sci instead because logic is severely out of fashion and anyone with the mindset to write a dissertation about AI and computing can get a much better job in industry cutting code.

Interestingly, the number of women grad students I was working with went up when I moved from doing logic in the Philosophy dept to doing logic in the Comp Sci dept. And Comp Sci grad programmes are such happy places compared to Philosophy – there’s oodles of research money and everyone there knows there’s a good job for them at the end of it, either in the academy or out of it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.06.11 at 9:32 am

Christian_h, 130: The tautology only becomes an argument if you believe the preferences revealed are due to some essential female- or male-ness; in which case you have to explain why these revealed preferences have changed with time, for example.

I have no data, but intuitively, couldn’t the preferences also be a consequence of social phenomena of the non-oppressive variety? Fads, people in the news becoming role-models, that sort of thing.

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dbk 02.06.11 at 11:12 am

At the risk of flogging the proverbial here, I returned to the original chart posted by Professor Healy. As a traditional humanities discipline, I think most laypeople would estimate that the % of PhDs awarded in the field would be comparable to those offered in other traditional humanities disciplines, e.g. history and philology. But it’s not. And the question most responders were indirectly posing (and directly trying to answer) was “Why should this be so?”

I wonder if part of the answer might lie in the type of academic discourse (the rhetorical mode) for which academic philosophy is so well known: the adversarial/confrontative approach. This would be a feature of the discipline itself – pervasive and diffuse, more challenging to address effectively than gender quotos for PhD admissions.

The linguist Deborah Tannen has a good article available online on this subject:
http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/pdfs/agonism_in_academic_discourse.pdf

Tannen traces the origins of this mode of discourse back to (surprise surprise) the Greek philosophical tradition, although she is careful to distinguish it from the original Socratic method, which was heuristic rather than purely antagonistic.

Her bibliography cites a chapter by Carol Moulton on academic discourse in philosophy, specifically: “A Paradigm of Philosophy: The Adversary Method,” Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, Philosophy of Science S. G. Harding, M. P. Hintikka (eds.), Synthese Library of D Riedel, Inc. Dordrecht, Holland, 1983; Second Edition, 2003:149-164.

Having read every single comment on this thread, I would be interested to know how the responses broke down by gender.

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Guido Nius 02.06.11 at 11:24 am

My hypothesis would be that under-representation of certain groups in certain domains is just correlated with the levels of aggression common in ‘the leaders’ of these domains.

Philosophy just has a tradition of very abrasive leadership. It has nothing to do with philosophy as such, it is just a by-product of what dbk said in 145, although I do not think Socrates needs to get so easily off the hook: the Socratic methos is to the mind what testosterone is to the body.

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sg 02.06.11 at 11:39 am

Regarding maths and stats… traditionally mathematics was seen as one of only two academic subjects to which women were suited, the other being biology. The idea that maths drives women away from study, and that they prefer squishy “soft” studies like literature is not reflected in the history of western science. Read The Mind Has No Sex for a detailed description of women’s integral role in mathematics over the last 3 centuries. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that maths and stats have a high proportion of female PhDs, and I suspect SoV is right in observing that women are even more likely to choose the Masters-work route.

Regarding the overseas student analysis… I teach at a university where half of the student body is “foreign” (we have 98 nationalities at our university), taught in two languages (Japanese and English). Almost all the students end up studying in a language that is not their native language. In my experience, students studying outside of their own language do much better in the technical than the philosophical subjects, because the language used is simpler and the non-language (graphical or formulaic) representation of information much more prevalent. This is also my experience of studying in Japanese – maths is vastly easier than philosophy if you aren’t completely brilliant in the language of presentation.

So it’s no surprise that overseas students are over represented in technical fields, or in that most bullshit of fields, economics. Unsurprisingly, you can’t study English lit if your English isn’t really really good.

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Marc 02.06.11 at 2:33 pm

Kieran – I’m disappointed by your comments here. I take seriously the barriers in the sciences which have historically left women under-represented. I look at the statistics as evidence, and I take that evidence seriously. However, this argument has been utterly fossilized. We now have an undergraduate population which is becoming overwhelmingly female and a number of disciplines with gender ratios skewed as strongly against men as the sciences were against women. And there is no sign that these trends are abating; a 90% female psychology profession is entirely in the realm of the possible.

This is a problem too. In fact, it’s a serious one because there are a lot of people invested in dismissing it as any sort of problem at all. There are all sorts of ways in which the current system filters men out – for example, emphasizing homework (which girls have always done better at) over tests; emphasizing collective projects over individual effort; labeling common behaviors in boys as mental illness and medicating them; zero-tolerance policies which disproportionally expel boys over girls. I think that we need to reassess a lot of our methods in K-12 education, and do so using precisely the same tools that we used to encourage the full inclusion of women into the sciences. Not because there wasn’t a real issue – there was, and in some cases is. But the elephant in the room is now clearly the widespread reversal of which is the problem (or, yes, disadvantaged) gender.

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christian_h 02.06.11 at 3:07 pm

Henri (144.): Yes, you’re correct. I should have said “the tautology only becomes an argument if you specify the underlying reasons for the preferences revealed”.

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Thomas Jørgensen 02.06.11 at 3:21 pm

hmm.. So I did the obvious thing and googled “percentage of female physics PHD’s in”, to see how much of this is a quirk of the anglosphere. It appears that France about twice as high a percentage of women physics phd’s as the US does, second highest percentage is Poland – this is almost certainly due to Marie Curies status as a national heroine in those countries reducing stereotype threat and generating interest among young women at preuniversity levels. (It would be quite difficult for a a french professor, student or student advisor to even subconsiously think that women are somehow unsuited for the profession)

.. my googling for comparative stats in philosphy is failing miserably. Hasnt anyone counted?

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leederick 02.06.11 at 3:50 pm

I think that’s very unfair on Keiran, Marc. It’s very easy for me or you to say these things, but if I worked in academia I’d be a bit more circumspect. A lot of the non-anonymous people in this thread would be putting themselves in a very difficult position if they flat out said we need to get more men doing PhDs and named certain liberal arts and soft science fields as having particular problems.

That’s why they have to stick to the line that gender disparities are only a problem if they’re the result of sexism. So women’s participation in philosophy, physics and maths is a problem because there’s a hostile environment created for them in these fields. But the preponderance of women doing PhDs and their large majorities in some disciplines isn’t a problem as that’s merely due to a lack of enthusiasm and/or poor decision making by men. We all know the left is a bit more concerned with equity than that, but some people’s careers depend on them not saying so in public.

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Sally 02.06.11 at 4:00 pm

To Scent of Violets at 131:

I teach Bayes theorem as part of my upper division Cognition couse because it illustrates the failure to account for the base rate in human thinking. Otherwise, Bayesian approaches are not used much or taught. I’ve never seen it in a grad or undergrad psych course, and very rarely in a paper. Grad courses today include advanced ANOVA topics, multiple regression and multivariate techniques (principle component analysis, cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling). Psychometrics is taught only to those with an interest in testing. Prior probabilities are used in item response theory without an answer key. Modeling is more important now. Undergrads typically learn some basic probability as a foundation for hypothesis testing (using t and ANOVAs), correlation and regression, Chi Square and some non-parametric methods, with emphasis on when to use what.

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Sally 02.06.11 at 4:11 pm

Paradoxically, some studies have shown that when women do have female role models they are less likely to pursue difficult career paths because they look at their mentors and decide it isn’t worth the sacrifice. So female mentors need to be combined with a supportive environment.

Psychology is no better than any other discipline when it comes to being family friendly. Policies come from the university, not the dept. There isn’t much sympathy if a person seems to be using their kids as an excuse to slack off and I don’t think the requirements for tenure are any easier, especially given the competition these days. The main difference is that people try to treat each other respectfully and generally have the social skills to achieve that goal, in my opinion.

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bianca steele 02.06.11 at 7:10 pm

@145
I’m not a huge fan of Tannen’s. IIRC she has argued that women who don’t perceive themselves as following the pattern she’s described as “female” are–not suffering from false consciousness, strictly speaking–but are actually wrong about the obvious fact. She seems to have taken her data from a small subset of humanity.

And there are lots of men who don’t like agon either. Some of them especially don’t like it from women. I wonder how far a person could get, in an apparently “agonistic” environment, not by arguing with people who come across as agonistic to him, but simply by ignoring or insulting them. (If he’s insulting them for being improperly agonistic, he’s not arguing himself, right?)

Re. the 80 hour week, I think it is worse when people are expected to act as staff for their superiors (as in lab situations). The person at the top spends 80 hours a week organizing the work of half a dozen people, who then spend all their time on service for him or her, and need their staff in turn to do their own work. This can leave the people at the next level down completely shut out unless someone has mercy on them. A small amount of discrimination could have huge effects.

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Anonymous 02.06.11 at 7:13 pm

Harry @55 you say:

“Philosophy has been largely immune to the more irresponsible flights of fancy in the humanities. It has also, in my experience, been much too immune to the most responsible trends of attending to diversity, promoting the understanding that different people learn in different ways, and an understanding that the way you conduct yourself as a teacher in the classroom has effects on who speaks up, how they speak up, and who actually gets to learn.”

Many philosophers pride themselves on rejecting an interest in the social that would consider questions about diversity, race, gender, oppression or other such topics in philosophical inquiry. Racism or sexism is, in their mind, at best a red herring, even when it comes to politics. (You might think they’d say ‘leave it to the sociologists’ but in fact, there are some who have contempt for social science fields. I wonder sometimes if they’d prefer these questions not be studied at all because it might lead to those flights of fancy you mention.) It’s very difficult to get to the top of the hierarchy in philosophy if concerns about race, gender, etc. are too present in your work. (There are a few exceptions.) I think the philosophy culture itself is hostile to paying real attention to diversity or letting it pollute or corrupt philosophy–philosophical talent being innate and all that. Many targets of diversity find philosophy a hostile and difficult culture and *say* they find it so but when discussions of this come up on the internet there are are always long thread trying to solve the ‘mystery’ of these statistics. Inference to the best explanation. Let’s try that sometime. In the past, people were discriminated against thus we have underrepresentation. Powerful white people acted in sexist and racist ways and shut many women and people of color out of their profession. We accept these as explanations of past disparities. Why are these not on the table now?

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sbk 02.06.11 at 7:29 pm

I wasn’t sure whether to comment here, but I think I’ll go ahead. I am a doctoral student (indeed, female) in literature. I entered a program in which I was happy to see a good gender balance the year I began; since then the cohorts admitted have been overwhelmingly female. I have mostly negative feelings about this as such (certainly not about my colleagues as individuals); I prefer gender-balanced professional environments, and given the choice I mildly prefer majority-male environments, which I’m sure is due to internalized sexism (I’m not just being self-flagellating — n years of self-knowledge have made this pretty clear). The curious thing about my program in particular is the lack of female faculty and the lack of interest, on the part of both faculty and (majority-female!) students, in gender or literature by women as a topic of study. Most female students in this program have male advisors or entirely male committees. Why do the mostly-male admissions committees choose so many women, year after year? Aside from the obvious explanation that we’re all ass-kicking geniuses, or the dirty-magazine explanations (you know those literature professors…), I’ve never had any idea. I have a pretty hard time believing that there’s *that* great a shortage of qualified men, however.

But the trouble with trying to re-diversify fields where the ratio skews heavily female (“feminized” is the horrible term of art, I believe) is that it’s hard to find a plausible mechanism. I can only offer crazy speculation. Currently, socially, any form of “affirmative action for guys” would be considered, you know, feminizing. It would have to be a stealth operation, and that’s probably impossible. I feel like there would somehow, inevitably, have to be some kind of covert appeal to sexist thinking: calls for “more rigor” or research lines opened up for subjects not just appealing to men, but unfriendly to women. How else could you cast a net that catches only men? The range of interests, commitments, and beliefs of female grad students is pretty wide: some of us are pretty quant-y, aggressive in argument, skeptical about difference feminism, uncuddly and uninterested in having families; those people would respond positively to more quanty, argument-based, theory-heavy outreach efforts, I would think. (I’m not describing myself, but certainly these *are* traits present in the group I belong to. I realize the silliness of the caricatures too, but I’m having a hard time even imagining how you would do some kind of substance-based outreach to male students. Maybe it’s just impossible.) In a lot of discussions of the gender ratio in philosophy I’ve seen women show up and say “Oh FFS, if you did all these warm-and-friendly girlifying things to philosophy, I would never have stayed in the field— I like cutthroat argument and have no patience for feminist bullshit and I’m good at this stuff.” I really don’t know what an effective “masculinizing” strategy would be for the disciplines on the right side of the chart. I think suggestions would be a lot more welcome than it might seem, though. For the guys (I assume) who think anti-male sexism in the right-side fields is a major problem, I’m curious: do you think affirmative action would work, or would it be off-putting?

I thought I would share my experience specifically because I don’t think anything about my department except the gender of the students makes it a less welcoming place for men. It’s not like having more male faculty members or less emphasis on feminism would do the trick: those are already at pre-1965 levels. It really would just be a matter of having same-sex social spaces for men, wouldn’t it?

Oh, and lastly: the idea that literature skews female because everyone studies Jane Austen is quite amazing. I mean, it is amazing that Austen, and the 19th century in general, has become a synecdoche for English literature in the popular imagination. Other periods (20th century American, trust me) have a lot more testosterone in general. People really do write papers about Chuck Palahniuk. I don’t know why.

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Sally 02.06.11 at 11:10 pm

Here is what it is like in a gender-biased lab. I regularly attended a lab meeting at Harvard. There were several female grad students but mostly males. The eminent professor brought his young daughter who sat at the lab table coloring. That made me acutely aware of the models we female researchers were offering her (although I think she was pretty oblivious). First, none of the women present said a word except me. Second, the women brought refreshments, something they were expected to organized among themselves (without the men). Third, I argued at length with the young man presenting his work about an obvious confound and he never did acknowledge what I was talking about in his data (though it was pretty obvious). Why do males continue to argue with women even when the men are clearly wrong? The eminent professor said nothing at all, not even weighing in on the dispute over the data presented. I twisted in the wind.

A similar experience happened just a few weeks ago. I made a statement about statistics and two male faculty (both with considerably less stats training, one brand new out of grad school) disagreed. They insisted that I look up the point in question and prove to them that I was right. Women are required to do that, even when they have more credentials and should be presumed more knowledgeable. After a while you get tired of having to “prove” stuff to people with less qualifications and less knowledge, simply because they are male. I would never ask a more experienced professor to prove something to me — I would go look it up myself. Men don’t seem to accept that responsibility.

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jacob 02.06.11 at 11:50 pm

That’s why they have to stick to the line that gender disparities are only a problem if they’re the result of sexism.

Who is to say that the preponderance of women in the feminized discipline isn’t also the result of sexism? Feminized disciplines are accorded less respect and less pay. Just look at the dismissive way people have talked about literature in this thread (all it is is talking about Jane Austen; people go into it because they dream of being the next J.K. Rowling). All of a sudden, men don’t want to be in that field, and so the field becomes even more heavily women. Thus as sociology becomes feminized, it’s dismissed and denigrated, and male social scientists decide to go into econ instead. It’s a well known phenomenon in medicine, too, where feminized fields rapidly swing from being male to female. It’s no surprise that pediatrics, a long-feminized field, is also among the worst paying. Emergency medicine–which women have recently preferred because it’s shift work–very quickly shifted from male to female, and we should expect to see a decline in status and pay too.

In other words, the feminization of fields is also caused by misogyny.

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Harry 02.07.11 at 1:05 am

Well, I’ll take leederick’s bait. I don’t think any discipline needs to strive for 50/50. Frankly, if women really, authentically, want to be doing other things, there are better thingss than being an academic and that is fine. When it is easy to identify sexism, individual or institutional (and I really think that it is easy in my discipline), that is a barrier to women who authentically want or would want to pursue a career in a discipline, that is a justice/fairness problem, and those of us in the discipline have to take responsibility for it. I’m skeptical that there is a reverse sexist dynamic in any of the disciplines mentioned. But, for some of them (nursing, education, but not english or philosophy in my opinion) it really matters that we eliminate barriers of whatever kind, justice based or not, to talented people entering. So, yes, I think it is a serious problem that there are not more men in nursing or elementary education as professions, or as academic disciplines, if, as I suspect, there are barriers (in the form of gendered norms) to talented men entering those professions and disciplines. Its probably not a justice issue but a productivity issue. English and Philosophy — well, frankly, they just don’t matter much, so whereas I care about injustice to women (and if there were justice issues to men) who want to enter, I just don’t care much about getting the talent pool up (as a matter of social policy — by contrast I do care personally about my department and my profession getting talented graduate students, and I think we fail to optimize the talent level of our grad student population by overlooking talented women).

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Harry 02.07.11 at 1:08 am

Oh, and sbk — its not really true that affirmative action for guys is a problem. Nearly every single selective college uses it in undergraduate admissions, and without it the sex-ratios of undergraduate populations would skew even more female than they do.

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sbk 02.07.11 at 2:27 am

In other words, the feminization of fields is also caused by misogyny.

Hell yes. The question is to what extent. Compensation (i.e. pay, not psychological compensation) does have a whole lot of explanatory power as a mechanism, I think.

It’s true about affirmative action for men in college admissions, which doesn’t seem (to my knowledge) to trouble or offend the male students involved. Then again, the real issue is recruiting students to majors as undergrads, which is not (usually) a formal, selection-based process. At the grad admissions level, you usually have the populations who chose physics and English in college: your pool of qualified men and women is set at whatever ratios came out of the colleges. There’s not a lot of leverage between college admissions and grad school admissions at a population level. That said, I don’t know what the “pipeline” figures are for each of these disciplines— how they mirror the gender ratios in undergraduate programs.

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buford puser 02.07.11 at 3:54 am

Sally: certainly a horrifying description of illegal-in-the-US behavior, thus puts anything I’m experienced in the shade.
A question (assuming your story takes place in the US): is it actually true that the culture of labs & departments in this discipline is so utterly corrupt that everyone is afraid to report such blatant Title IX violations? Boy, if NIH, or other Fed funders found out! I’ve seen armed agents from NIH DoI enter a research facility; it ain’t pretty. Those women should contact POs at the funding agency, believe me they’d be interested & careers would end.

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buford puser 02.07.11 at 4:04 am

Sorry, sloppy reading. You say this goes on at Harvard?
I guess an endowment makes a big difference; the university where I work certainly spends a great deal of time ensuring I will not do this sort of thing to staff, because they’re afraid of losing all that Federal money.
Much of this discussion here concerns a world very far from my experience, for which I am thankful. STEM and philosophy seem like unpleasant fields; thankfully these dinosaurs just aren’t going to be able to maintain this in the face of the declining number and quality of male undergraduates.

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andthenyoufall 02.07.11 at 6:51 am

Sally @ 160: Geez louise, people disagree with me in workshops all the time. Sometimes they argue that I’m wrong, not just about the specific conclusion I want to draw, but the methodological point I’m making! And more often than not, my advisor agrees with them, not me. Damn. I guess my field is totally sexist too.

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sg 02.07.11 at 7:33 am

andthenyoufall, are you a grad student?

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Walt 02.07.11 at 8:08 am

andthenyoufall makes a compelling point. Someone disagreed with me once too, which conclusively proves that sexism is all made up.

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bansheephd 02.07.11 at 4:27 pm

I’ve been an instructor in philosophy for thirteen years. I am an excellent teacher, colleague, service, lots of community service but I am also the single mother of two childen. Philosophers need a lotof quiet time to think about philosophy. A single mother living paycheck to paycheck (and working second jobs to by gas) with no assistance cannot keep up with her male colleague who’s wife handles his entire life so he can wandere around and wonder. I would love that luxury. I do not have it. I will have it, but it will take some time. In the meantime, I am doing something incredibly significant for human civilization, I am raising two smart, compassionate engaged human beings. Because the burden for this falls so heavily on the female but both male and female are evaluated at the same time in their lives (when women are having children and when men are focusing on their specialties while their wives take over all the other duties), the female ends up getting a ‘glad you’re around, your students love you, you add a lot to the university, but we can’t grant you tenure (so no job security, lower pay) because you haven’t published’.

I know that many European societies do not accept this inequity. Women during child bearing years are expected that they will be expected to spend more time with childcare and hence less at work. However, the cost to the work force is more than equalled out by the addition of human life. And, when women do return to the work force, they are evaluated from their on.

This is not the case in philosophy. During my experience, (let’s not even mention the male profs who won’t answer your questions, who tell you ‘you don’t look like a phlilosopher (meaning you’re not a white male)), male colleagues had their personal lives taken care of so they were free to philosophize. The women, the few that I’ve seen, are lower ranked (my philosophy department has not had a tenured female in fifteen years), paid less and exhausted, do not have time to serve the needs of the students (which lets face it, students come to mothers to talk about their problems and female profs are the closest things they have to moms on campus) and just can not get time to publish.

It is a rigged game. Philosophy is the last bastion of white male dominance. It is the guardian of knowledge and in truth, that is for white males.

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Doug K 02.07.11 at 6:50 pm

On computer science, anecdotally: for undergraduate courses in the late 70s, about half my class in Computer Science was female. For post-grad in the late 80s, it was down to about 30%, though fully half the department including the head were women. I dug out some of my textbooks from then and noticed all of them are either written by women or have women co-authors. The theory of decline which I find persuasive, is that with the advent of PCs, the adolescent-boy-gamer weltanschauung came to dominate the field.

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matthias 02.07.11 at 7:43 pm

There are all sorts of ways in which the current system filters men out – for example, emphasizing homework (which girls have always done better at) over tests; emphasizing collective projects over individual effort; labeling common behaviors in boys as mental illness and medicating them; zero-tolerance policies which disproportionally expel boys over girls.

Many of these things may be (are) worthy of examination. But how is medicating problematic behaviors a disadvantageous to boys? It seems instead to be a straightforward way of addressing pre-existing disadvantages. If in fact we could do more to address stereotypically puerile behavior both boys and girls would be better off – note the greater demands that boys make on teacher time, both positive and negative, and the correlation between having more girls in your class and learning more, &c.

If in fact boys are more rambunctious and so on purely due to innate maleness, then medication is probably the only feasible answer anyway. If it’s due to socialization, then we really are doing boys an injustice and should remedy whatever’s causing it (which I strongly suspect to be tied in with the same gender ideology that does injustice to women,) but medication seems to be a very reasonable response on the margin.

Of course this may depend on your intuitions about treating things with medication in general. ADHD may or may not be a “real” “illness” – this strikes me as a useless metphysical question – but I know that when I take dextroamphetamines I’m much more productive than I am otherwise, so my intuitions are pro.

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Zamfir 02.07.11 at 8:06 pm

Matthias, I never thought about as gendered thing. But apart from that aspect, I am deeply uncomfortable with a statement like “if I take my pills I am more productive”. At some point, society should adapt to how people are, not the other way round.

Adults can at least make such decisions for themselves, but for children?

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matthias 02.07.11 at 8:22 pm

Adults can at least make such decisions for themselves, but for children?

How could it ever be that adults would not make decisions for children?

Maybe a different example: if I have a lot of protein in my breakfast, I’ll be more productive than if I have a lot of carbohydrates. Are you deeply uncomfortable with this? Why or why not?

If by “[a]t some point, society should adapt to how people are, not the other way round” you mean that we often have to look at things through the lens of social relations rather than individual characteristics, and presumably moreso than we already do, I agree 1000%, of course (though I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so if I’m interpreting you incorrectly, please let me know.)

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Marc 02.07.11 at 9:18 pm

There was a copious literature developed on self-esteem for women. In particular, we saw a lot of ink spilled – and effort placed – on boosting self-esteem for girls because of documented issues for them in benchmarks relative to boys. What sort of message does it send to boys that there is something wrong with them requiring medication?

These medications have side effects. They send a clear negative message to boys (as above). Boys who get them prescribed have much worse outcomes than boys who don’t (this may be a chicken/egg issue, of course.) And the rate at which they are prescribed screams “fad” : factor of 10 differences in diagnosis rates district to district in the US, factor of 100 differences between diagnosis rates in developed nations. And this is not a trivial fraction of children: 5.2% of all kids 1-18 in the US are being prescribed some medication for some mental condition. Factor in that this is rarely done for 1-6 year olds, and far more often in boys than in girls, and we’re looking at 10-15% of school-aged boys getting medicated.

If you’re looking for examples of gendered outcomes this is a good one: it impacts boys much more than girls, it’s dramatic, and it’s recent. As our long experience with reducing gender disparities for girls indicates, this is precisely the sort of thing that causes differences to emerge much later – without anyone having any consciousness at all that there was any gender bias involved in the process.

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Omega Centauri 02.07.11 at 11:08 pm

There are all sorts of ways in which the current system filters men out – for example, emphasizing homework …

When I read that, I thought, but those boys getting filtered out were a priori already preselected to be unlikely to be future PhD candidates. I.E., that these commonly described anti-male filters are working largely on the less academically inclined part of the spectrum, and hence probably don’t have much impact at the PhD level, which predominately come from the academically gifted part of the spectrum.

I’m also suspicious of taking statistics from rarified domains such as PhD candidates, or CEOs (glass ceiling …), which are clearly composed only of several sigma individuals in terms of the metric of success, and making general conclusions about the wider society from them.

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christian_h 02.07.11 at 11:20 pm

Look I don’t think anyone doubts that our current methods of schooling blow as does the medication of behaviour (which is of course not at all new, although it now is targeted at types of behaviour traditionally regarded as masculine and hence ‘normal’). But all this is due to the changing demands capitalism makes of its labour supply, not any anti-male sexism or ‘feminism gone too far’. It so happens that traditionally feminine gendered behavioural norms are closer to what the bosses want from their office drones.

On the other hand I’d think that the demands capitalism makes of its managerial and organizing class are still oriented towards traditionally masculine types of behaviour – I’d be surprised if the success girls have in school compared to boys translate into anything approaching equality (let alone female dominance) in the places where the power lies.

So still only one solution – revolution.

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adam 02.08.11 at 12:09 am

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ScentOfViolets 02.08.11 at 12:35 am

There are all sorts of ways in which the current system filters men out – for example, emphasizing homework …

When I read that, I thought, but those boys getting filtered out were a priori already preselected to be unlikely to be future PhD candidates. I.E., that these commonly described anti-male filters are working largely on the less academically inclined part of the spectrum, and hence probably don’t have much impact at the PhD level, which predominately come from the academically gifted part of the spectrum.

Why would you think that? It doesn’t make sense. And yes, all other things being equal (in math at least), girls do tend to do better on homework than boys. This gap does close with increasing age, but I would have to say that in my experience that doesn’t happen until sometime late in their junior year or sometime in their senior year.

So what to do? No matter what, I’m going to be favoring some group over the others at least some of the time. And while it won’t be because of gender, there will be a correlation between those groups and gender, at least some of the time it will be the case.

An excellent point, Marc.

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sg 02.08.11 at 1:23 am

Doug K, when I did my first computer science course in 1991 there were virtually no women in the class, pr0n was being openly accessed in the labs, the computer-game-boy wankers were taking up valuable computers during tutorial times to compare swimsuit models, and anyone who hadn’t used a computer since they were 12 was fair game for sneering and insults. There were no female faculty. The dotcom crash brought me a certain sense of schadenfreude.

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stubydoo 02.08.11 at 1:48 am

Looking over the thread, a solution has become apparent.

I think there’s likely to be a reasonable amount of scientific support for the notion that educational practitioners who compel students to partake in pointless busywork will find a higher rate of compliance from female students than from male ones. So if you want more female participation in a discipline (relative to males), then just load it up with additional busywork.

(Do we call this discrimination? Bearing in mind that such behaviour is presently rampant in the education business)

(A couple notes regarding my observations/experience: – busywork is rampant these days at every level except graduate school. – male non-compliance with busywork is very widely distributed across the ability spectrum, though it probably peaks in the early teenage years – must be hormones?)

(Of course, since busywork is a term not amenable to precise definition, discrimination along these lines will always be argued about vociferously. My teachers will presumably dispute my claims about my own experience).

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adam 02.08.11 at 2:53 am

Wow. Lets try this again.

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/02/02/1014871108.abstract

New paper, not behind firewall, reveiws 20 years of studies on bias in the “math-sciences” and finds little if any evidence of bias. Instead finds that differences in faculty achievement are largely due to differences in resources, which in turn are due to structure factors such as the significantly higher percentage of women working part time.

Perhaps efforts to increase female representation in the sciences should focus on addressing these factors? Like the provision of affordable childcare, or flexible hours, or mandatory paternity leave. Not on anecdotal allegations of pervasive bias?

We would like to solve this problem – right? So we should focus on what the data suggests IS the problem.

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sg 02.08.11 at 3:31 am

stubydoo, are you suggesting that “busywork” includes “homework”? Perhaps since you have raised this “explanation” you could attempt to define this “busywork” that you claim is not amenable to precise definition, lest people think you are just trying to slur female students and academics.

192

CMG 02.08.11 at 3:40 am

Sapna Cheryan (http://faculty.washington.edu/scheryan/research.htm) writes the following:

Why do women consider a future in computer science to a lesser extent than men (Dryburgh, 2000; National Science Foundation, 2009)? Might this be because the powerful image of the male “computer geek” makes women feel like they do not belong in the field? With colleagues, I found was that there was a clear stereotype of computer science students as people who, for example, “stay up late coding and drinking energy drinks” and have “no social life”. In several behavioral experiments conducted at Stanford University and the University of Washington (Cheryan, Plaut, Davies, & Steele, JPSP, 2009), we found that women were less interested in working in companies that contained objects stereotypically associated with CS (e.g., Star Trek poster, video games) compared to identical companies that had non-stereotypical objects (e.g., nature poster, general interest books). The stereotypical cues evoked a masculinity that made women feel that they did not fit with the people in these environments. These results held even when the proportion of women in the environment was equal across the two types of companies. Attracting more women into computer science may therefore depend on broadening the image of who belongs in computer science.

Might, indeed, culture be part of the “problem”?

193

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 3:44 am

sg,

You can write off my post as just bitterness if you wish. And if a legitimate goal of education is to instill conscientiousness rather than just understanding of material, then all of it is legitimate (an idea I can appreciate now, but unfortunately not when I was twelve). But anywhere that practices have a differential effect by gender, it’s legitimate to use the word discrimination (at least many feminists seem to think so).

Adam,

I’m sympathetic to the explanation in your link, but based on some first hand accounts within this thread, it doesn’t account well for the very wide differences between fields.

194

sg 02.08.11 at 3:55 am

Yeah it shits me that I have to turn up to work on time. I think punctuality discriminates against the lazy.

Maybe you need to define the difference between “selection” and “discrimination” in your definition of busywork (which I note you’re avoiding).

195

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 4:10 am

sg,

Since you seem to be interested: Were you ever in your life assigned homework consisting of repeated drills of material you already fully learned multiple years prior? Did you fail to exercise full diligence in completing it? Did you end up with disappointing grades?

Though your laziness explanation could perhaps be valid.

196

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 4:21 am

Come to think of it, when I was in middle school the teacher who taught the gifted math section used to like telling the class that being lazy was the key to being really good at math (i.e. because being lazy motivates you to search for the simplest and most general solutions). He repeatedly praised me for my laziness.

197

Omega Centauri 02.08.11 at 4:48 am

SoV, Why do you think that my contention that most of the boys being filtered out, didn’t have good prospects for academic success? The behaviors being singled out are those that don’t lead to success. The vast bulk of boys that become academically successful will come from the eighty percent of so that aren’t vulnerable to todays ‘filtering”, even if such filering ddn’t happen.

Stubydo; because practice makes perfect, and repetition is important for wiring understanding into the brain, it is not so easy to distinguish, busywork from beneficial practice. But, I do agree, that males are more likely to rebel against it. I also agree with the point about the right kind of laziness. There is one sort who follows the straight and narrow path, and another that thinks about the process of making the work easier. The former usually get the better grades, but the later obtain a broader understanding.

I worked in supercomputing (making computations fast), and an important meme of effective performance computing is “crime pays”. In this case crime, being the use of clever computational shortcuts, rather than doing everything by-the-book. Of course the real key was to have a good understanding of what “crimes” would not be likely to lead be being caught.

198

sg 02.08.11 at 5:16 am

stubydoo, not work from years ago, but yes I solved a lot more differential equations than was strictly necessary to learn the principles. But this repetition is essential for solving more difficult problems, and indeed as a basis for the intuitive leaps that you seem to think makes maths discovery possible. If a student rebels against this “busywork” then sometime down the road they’re going to misunderstand the fundamentals they need to be completely familiar with in order to build the proper solution to a problem.

Being lazy is not the key to being really good at maths. Knowing your fundamentals backwards and being willing to work a problem from multiple angles until it comes together are, however.

199

kristin 02.08.11 at 5:20 am

Marc’s comment at 159 reminds me: I could swear I once read that the “achievement gap” data between boys and girls in K-12 education is heavily distorted by race. While it’s true that girls generally do better than boys, there’s actually no significant difference between white boys and white girls, and black boys do significantly worse than both. I haven’t had much success finding this online–does anyone have information about this?

200

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 6:02 am

sg,

If I want to use the word “busywork” to justify my own poor schooling performance at various times, I guess it has to be a purely subjective definition – some of the stuff quenched my thirst for learning, some did not (though since I was young, my judgement on such things was imperfect).

I speculatively suggest that females less frequently have such sharp variation in their schooling experience (either in their motivations or their responses). Might be something there that someone has measured.

And you may certainly be right about the long term benefits, regardless of any gender implications or lack thereof (my own long-term results probably aren’t informative, as my “rebellion” turned out to be mostly temporary).

201

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 6:27 am

…(though if I hadn’t been spectacularly good at math, the system might’ve in the meantime tagged me as a garden-variety juvenile delinquent).

202

Anonymous 02.08.11 at 7:42 am

I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying: How much data is there on this? Are boys really worse at homework? Are they more aggressive?

You may think it obvious–but I spend a lot of time with kids and this isn’t obvious to me. How much of a role is gender bias playing in these studies I wonder. We constantly hear how incredibly, astoundingly different boys and girls are. I think we may be making them different. And they often aren’t all that different.

203

Mike Otsuka 02.08.11 at 12:08 pm

John Quiggin writes:

“I’ve been complaining for years about gratuitously violent and bloodthirsty examples in philosophy. Once it’s been pointed out, it’s obvious that this is likely to put women off the field, even where the violence in the examples isn’t specifically directed against them.”

The violent examples (e.g., transplant, trolley) tend to occur in ethics rather than, say, philosophy of language or epistemology. But, as Harry notes, the proportion of women in ethics is higher than in other sub-fields of philosophy such as language or epistemology. The trolley/transplant problem was invented by a woman — Philippa Foot. And the two most influential commentators on this problem are women — Judith Jarvis Thomson and Frances Kamm.

204

Margaret Atherton 02.08.11 at 2:50 pm

So what are we going to say about the study described in today’s NY Times:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08tier.html?_r=1&ref=science

which claims that women in academic science have fared as well as comparable men?

205

Marc 02.08.11 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful answers. In brief, I’d note that there is a level of homework that is useful for retention and a level that is rote and excessive. The linkage between the latter and performance is not obvious (and may even be negative.)

206

Alison P 02.08.11 at 4:04 pm

My suggestion – I probably didn’t explain it fully – was not that lurid examples put off women, so much as they illustrate a common attitude by male philosophers of distaste and hostility for weakness-femaleness- irrationality which attributes are somehow lumped together in a way that is not well examined. And I also suggested the hostility to women is really misdirected hostility to repressed aspects of themselves. I am not claiming I can prove this, I am just asserting it.

207

christian_h 02.08.11 at 4:23 pm

Margaret (201.): That article is by Tierney. There is simply no reason to take anything in it seriously.

208

chris 02.08.11 at 4:49 pm

If in fact boys are more rambunctious and so on purely due to innate maleness, then medication is probably the only feasible answer anyway.

Because God forbid we restructure eight-year-olds’ school days so that they can act like eight-year-olds instead of sitting silently in rows listening to one adult talk for long periods of time. No, we need to reach for the pill bottle the moment the kids’ behavior becomes inconvenient to their minders — because any other solution would require more staff for the educational institution, therefore more funding, therefore more taxes, which is politically unthinkable.

If educational systems aren’t adapted to the kinds of behavior that are natural to small children, ISTM that medicating the kids that fit the worst is not the only, nor even necessarily the best, answer to the resulting problem of “rambunctiousness”, regardless of whether it occurs primarily in boys or in both sexes. (And of course if societywide sexism weakens in the future so that girls are no longer more strongly taught to be quiet and obedient before they even arrive at school, we may find that it *will* occur in both sexes.)

209

novakant 02.08.11 at 4:49 pm

a common attitude by male philosophers of distaste and hostility for weakness-femaleness- irrationality which attributes are somehow lumped together in a way that is not well examined.

This often becomes quite apparent when the more narrow-minded proponents of “analytical philosophy” start going on about “continental philosophy”, literary theory or aesthetics.

210

chris 02.08.11 at 4:55 pm

In other words, the feminization of fields is also caused by misogyny.

Hell yes. The question is to what extent. Compensation (i.e. pay, not psychological compensation) does have a whole lot of explanatory power as a mechanism, I think.

I disagree so strongly I suspect you accidentally left a “not” out of this sentence. I think the social stigma attached to men in feminized fields is overwhelmingly stronger than the pay differential (even though there probably is some). Most people are just not as focused on money as economists like to think. I think a quite considerable number of men would rather be a janitor than a nurse even if the nurse is paid better — because of how other people in their social circles will react to them.

211

chris 02.08.11 at 4:55 pm

Damn formatting mangling — second paragraph above should also be a quote.

212

sbk 02.08.11 at 5:51 pm

@207: No, I do think pay explains differentials in the choice of medical specialties, the choice of econ or engineering over “soft majors,” and quite possibly even the desire of many men to seek high-paying jobs that don’t require a lot of college or grad school (I am thinking of my entrepreneur brother-in-law). Higher salaries are masculinized. (It’s just like height! — you want to be, oh, 10-15% above the women in financial stature. That feels right, natural.) Nursing and janitorial work are relatively unusual— is there any other predominantly female profession that pays as comparatively well as nursing? The continued participation of men in professional fields in large numbers, once they’ve begun to skew slightly female, will *partially* depend on their being able to make more money than their female colleagues, either by working vastly more hours, by maintaining majorities in certain high-dollar specialties, or by aggressively changing the rules of their organization (forming new partnerships or spinoff orgs, whatever) to maximize compensation. I do think more men will do that than women, at least for a while. I think that the tradeoff where men will choose a lower-paid masculinized profession over a higher-paid feminized profession will remain rare— or, if it happens, eventually that wage gap might narrow. Anyway, kind of a tiresome subject, sorry.

@stubydoo: I have a really hard time not reading your comments as implying that insofar as women do better at homework, they are not as talented, because how could a truly talented person tolerate stupid rote exercises? Not that you would be alone in believing this. Do you in fact think that boys do poorly on homework because they’re too smart for it, and that girls do well because it’s “just right” for their peaceable, orderly, detail-obsessed little housekeeping minds? If so, you should spit it out. (Full disclosure: I am not a math genius, but I never did my homework, and a lot of it did seem tiresome. This seems like a more general how-to-educate-”gifted”-kids problem, to use another horrible word, than a gender problem, however— again, unless you posit that boys are naturally more gifted.)

213

Mark Stocket 02.08.11 at 5:52 pm

Jumping into this endless thread will probably be unhelpful, but I don’t think the situation with “psychology” has been made clear.

Unfortunately, a statistic about gender and doctorates based on the category “Psychology” is deeply meaningless. It includes people getting PhDs and Psy.Ds in clinical psychology and a number of other varieties that are heavily trafficked, such as degrees in educational psychology. The bulk of these are reasonably characterized as being in the “helping professions.”

On the other hand, scientific psychology is what populates most of academic departments in universities today, and much or most of that would be better characterized nowadays as cognitive science, neuroscience, human factors, etc. Some universities have even eliminated the label “Psychology” and call their departments “Cognitive and Brain Sciences” or something similar. These disciplines are often highly mathematical (with variations across specialties of course). It would be odd for someone to receive a Ph.D. without having advanced work in more than one of the above: advanced statistics, Bayesian modeling, neural networks, signal detection theory, signal processing (e.g., wavelets), information theory, nonlinear dynamics, and of course, ordinary vector calculus, linear algebra, etc.

The good news is that when one can break out cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, psychobiology, etc., the current gender participation suggests neither a strong bias nor, given the formal / quantitative content of these fields, any avoidance of math by women. Here’s a fresh link with some numbers:
http://cogphil.blogspot.com/2011/02/female-phds-in-psychology.html

Of course, this does leave the question of why males are becoming less well represented among therapists and counselors. Unfortunately, as a person in a “Psychology” Department who works in the science of the mind and has nothing to do with such things, I really haven’t the first clue about that.

214

ScentOfViolets 02.08.11 at 6:03 pm

When I read that, I thought, but those boys getting filtered out were a priori already preselected to be unlikely to be future PhD candidates. I.E., that these commonly described anti-male filters are working largely on the less academically inclined part of the spectrum, and hence probably don’t have much impact at the PhD level, which predominately come from the academically gifted part of the spectrum.

Why would you think that? It doesn’t make sense. And yes, all other things being equal (in math at least), girls do tend to do better on homework than boys. This gap does close with increasing age, but I would have to say that in my experience that doesn’t happen until sometime late in their junior year or sometime in their senior year.

SoV, Why do you think that my contention that most of the boys being filtered out, didn’t have good prospects for academic success?

Please read what I wrote; I included it above. I repeat: your comment doesn’t make sense. The closest interpretation that does is that you think that behaviour is immutable and doesn’t change with, say, age. Since that isn’t true and I give you enough credit to know this, I’m at a loss to interpret what you wrote.

215

ScentOfViolets 02.08.11 at 6:06 pm

If in fact boys are more rambunctious and so on purely due to innate maleness, then medication is probably the only feasible answer anyway.

Reminds me of a bit of Auden:

Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.

Just Sayin :-)

216

bianca steele 02.08.11 at 6:28 pm

Our gifted classroom in middle school was filled with posters about famous people who’d been thought to be mentally retarded until as adults they suddenly invented the light bulb or something. I have no idea what the point of that was supposed to be.

217

Margaret Atherton 02.08.11 at 6:34 pm

Chris at 204: I know the article is by Tierney–so we shouldn’t, even out of curiosity take a look at the study mentioned in the article?

218

sbk 02.08.11 at 6:40 pm

@stubydoo, from 209: I retract my baiting questions. To everyone: I apologize for lowering the tone.

219

ScentOfViolets 02.08.11 at 6:41 pm

Our gifted classroom in middle school was filled with posters about famous people who’d been thought to be mentally retarded until as adults they suddenly invented the light bulb or something.

Please tell me this doesn’t mean I can date you. Would this be sometime in the 70′s? Did your classroom also have those posters of cats posed in varying degrees of ridiculousness with the caption “Hang in there baby” ? Or have those lame motivational tools been around forever?

I’ll date myself by saying that my high school counselor was partial to Jonathon Livingston Seagull as a decor[1] and urged the little blue book upon all of us supposedly “gifted” kids – apparently 90% of the students under her purview.

[1]She also visited classrooms and told stories about witches, warm fuzzies, and cold pricklies.

220

JanieM 02.08.11 at 6:54 pm

Because God forbid we restructure eight-year-olds’ school days so that they can act like eight-year-olds instead of sitting silently in rows listening to one adult talk for long periods of time.

Yes.

When my son was about that age, his insatiable curiosity and his need to be physically active would have made some in a carpentry shop each week a great fit. He loved woodworking and was already an intelligent helper on projects we were doing around the property and, under the supervision of a knowledgeable adult, surprisingly responsible. I even talked with the cabinet-maker up the road about maybe having my son there a few hours a week. But insurance issues (if nothing else) made it impossible for him to have someone else’s kid in his shop. (All of this shed a little light on old-style apprenticeships for me. Not that I wanted my kid to be a semi-slave, or work a full-time job. But any constructive activity soaking up some of his energy was always a plus.)

Luckily (in some ways), my kids were homeschooled, 100% in the early years, partially in later years. In those early years I was grateful that I didn’t have to put my son in a classroom where one adult was trying to meet the needs of 15 or 20 “rambunctious” kids. My son could have soaked up the attention of 15 or 20 adults all by himself, no problem.

221

ScentOfViolets 02.08.11 at 7:00 pm

@207: No, I do think pay explains differentials in the choice of medical specialties, the choice of econ or engineering over “soft majors,” and quite possibly even the desire of many men to seek high-paying jobs that don’t require a lot of college or grad school (I am thinking of my entrepreneur brother-in-law).

Here’s a true story: my first (reluctantly) declared major was English (or Lit as they sometimes say.) I was actively steered away from this degree path by an advisor who suggested that given present-day economic realities, there wasn’t much money in majors like that, and given my obvious aptitude for numbers a bright young man like myself should go for something like engineering. Which I hated, btw.

The relevance here is that a lot of people seem to think that the problem is almost entirely about females being steered away from certain career paths as opposed to males being steered towards the same. I don’t know if this is true or happens in large enough numbers to be relevant. I do know that at that age, I was relatively up front about being an English major because not only did I like it, but because that’s what the chicks were into and where the sort of guys they really dug were[1], so at least my advisor had some excuse for their direction. Otoh, I also know a woman of long acquaintance who was an English major as well, and was also relatively up front about being there because that’s where the sort of guys she liked were. Needless to say, she was not encouraged to go into something with a bit more perceived utility :-(

[1]The received wisdom among the guys in my set back in the 70′s and 80′s was that it was the kiss of death to admit to the girls that you were majoring in something like chemistry or EE, who would then invariably reply with something along the lines of “you must be really smart” – code for “FOAD for wasting my time, a_le”. Far better to nonchalantly shrug and say something along the lines that what you were in school for was unimportant, what you were really into was “your music”. Or “your writing”. At any rate, something “artistic”. Sexism cuts both ways.

222

chris 02.08.11 at 7:28 pm

I was actively steered away from this degree path by an advisor who suggested that given present-day economic realities, there wasn’t much money in majors like that, and given my obvious aptitude for numbers a bright young man like myself should go for something like engineering. Which I hated, btw.

Presumably, because it’s your duty as a man to support a family (read: stay-at-home homemaker and one or more children), which means you’re going to have to go into something that makes pretty good money if you don’t want your kids to have to go to school with black poor kids. And while college girls may go for arty boys now, when you grow up and want to start a family, you’ll find that grown women will want a reliable man with a reliable paycheck. Clearly, it’s your adviser’s duty to set you on that path regardless of what you, in the folly of youth, think you want.

That said, I don’t think that even in those circles, a man is *really* judged by his paycheck, but by the prestige of his occupation; and while there’s certainly a strong correlation, it is broken by feminized professions such as nursing.

And from these numbers, psychology may be in that category in a generation. It’ll still be a profession that requires postgraduate education and so will probably still pay better than stereotypically masculine blue-collar jobs like truck driving or construction, but by the middle of the century male psychologists may be viewed with the same kind of prejudice as male nurses are now. What kind of real man would want to spend all day talking to other people about their feelings? (Hmm, maybe it’s started already.)

On the other hand, it could be argued that nursing is sui generis because it’s both subordinate — to doctors — and caretaking, and thus would be in some sense feminized, relative to currently-existing gender roles, whether there happened to be a lot of women in it or not, and in fact that’s what allowed women to take it over *before* the feminist revolution (or, arguably, as the leading edge thereof) even though it’s a profession requiring advanced training.

223

leederick 02.08.11 at 9:08 pm

‘Unfortunately, a statistic about gender and doctorates based on the category “Psychology” is deeply meaningless. It includes people getting PhDs and Psy.Ds in clinical psychology and a number of other varieties that are heavily trafficked, such as degrees in educational psychology. The bulk of these are reasonably characterized as being in the “helping professions.”’

I can completely understand why you’d assume this, I did too, but it’s wrong. The survey only looks at research doctorates; professional doctorates are specifically excluded. Ed.Ds, Psy.Ds, etc aren’t included; and things would probably look even worse if they were. You can say that therapy isn’t real science of the mind – I don’t know enough to argue – but these are all proper academic research degrees being counted.

224

stubydoo 02.08.11 at 11:25 pm

sbk @217, not to worry – since I’ve laid down some speculative stuff here without evidence, and made it personal to myself, I should expect personal criticism in response.

225

matthias 02.09.11 at 2:25 am

Personally I’m pretty happy that, as an eight-year-old, I was coerced into not acting like one.

I wonder if this might not actually point to an important difference in moral intuitions that underlies ideological differences. It seems self-evident to me that there are a range of things we can mould children (and humans generally) into without resorting to cruel methods, and that we should mould them into the best thing thereof (for whatever metric of “best” we happen to hold.) But it seems self-evident to others that there’s, say, a natural eight-year-old-ness, and that it’s an injustice to an eight-year-old not to allow her to enjoy a flourishing eight-year-old-ness. (With respect to children this is a relatively historically novel notion, but most notions worth a damn are fairly recent, so that’s hardly a point against it.) And it would be easy to draw an analogy with how different people conceive of gender.

How much this difference in moral intuitions is a matter of terminal values is an open question. It may reduce to how natural one thinks differences are, how much baseline coercion you see existing in society, and so on.

226

Barry Lillie 02.09.11 at 4:07 am

I notice that women are generally highest in subjects that deal with people, other living things and language. They appear to be lowest in subjects that deal with non-living things or the physical universe. Maybe women just find some subjects more interesting on average. Maybe there is no systematic bias to overcome, at least on a wide-spread basis. I have known many bright, self-directed women and most, but not all, seem drawn to the the social sciences and humanities over the basic sciences. The important thing to remember is that the variance within men and women’s preferences is greater than the variance between the two groups mean’s.

227

ScentOfViolets 02.09.11 at 4:10 am

YAT: I’m fairly certain that males outnumber females by some largish amount when it comes to rates of incarceration.

The question then is, is this predominantly because of some innate difference between males and females or alternatively, are males being discriminated against when it comes to the criminal justice machinery?

Maybe if someone could get a handle on what was happening there, gender disparities elsewhere might be more explicable.

228

chris 02.09.11 at 2:20 pm

The question then is, is this predominantly because of some innate difference between males and females or alternatively, are males being discriminated against when it comes to the criminal justice machinery?

I don’t think those are the only possible explanations. ISTM that males are incarcerated more (at least in part) because they actually do commit more, and more serious, crimes; but that, in turn, may be related to being less strongly socialized toward obedience and rule-following. (Although a hormonal explanation is also possible, especially since crime is concentrated in *young* men.)

It could also be that they’re more likely to be incarcerated for a given crime because they are stereotypically perceived as more dangerous and in need of incarceration, too. Real-world causation is often complex.

Personally I’m pretty happy that, as an eight-year-old, I was coerced into not acting like one.

Sure; but if you hadn’t been, you’d be equally happy about *that*. I forget the name for this kind of after-the-fact justification, but it’s extremely common. Hazing and child abuse are perpetuated that way, too (not that making an eight-year-old sit down and shut up is actual child abuse, well, depending on the methods used).

229

Doug K 02.09.11 at 4:16 pm

sg, I’m sorry to hear your experience of CS was so signally unpleasant..
When I started in CS it was about as glamourous as accountancy and the population tended to be smart thoughtful introverts of both sexes. I miss that.
A geophysicist once told me the Anita Hill case saved her career. The sysadmin moved his stash of pr0n off the company server, the ‘teasing’ displays and comparisons of her with what was on the screens, all stopped: so it became possible to actually do the job instead of wasting time evading and otherwise coping with harassment.

230

ScentOfViolets 02.09.11 at 4:44 pm

The question then is, is this predominantly because of some innate difference between males and females or alternatively, are males being discriminated against when it comes to the criminal justice machinery?

I don’t think those are the only possible explanations.

BINGO!! So why are so many people here seem to be assuming that those are the only possible explanations . . . and rather selectively at that? Really not cool.

231

chris 02.09.11 at 6:23 pm

@228: Wait, what? There’s considerable direct evidence in this thread of discrimination at the graduate-program and actual workplace levels in any number of fields. Nobody has to assume it.

Maybe this thread is just too long and I’m getting the subthreads crossed, but I’d like to know who you think is making such an assumption in regards to what field.

232

` 02.09.11 at 8:29 pm

Please tell me this doesn’t mean I can date you. Would this be sometime in the 70’s?

Sorry, I’m married. But yes, and yes on the kitty posters, and the JLS. Your guidance counselor sounds annoying, especially to boys.

@sg, DougK
I started working in ’87 with a huge number of fellow college hires of both sexes, in a large corporation. There was no problem at the time with girlie pinups from anybody under 35, or for that matter from anyone in development, with one exception. It was usually accepted gossip that it was the personalities of the older guys were at fault for giving the younger ones the idea work should be like a boys’ club. The point being that it seems “PC” worked for a little while, and I don’t remember anybody complaining about anything except that they couldn’t use the c word. But I’ve almost always worked in hardware manufacturing companies–the kind that don’t live long unless they’re IBM or Cisco–and I prefer it to a software company.

The only actual pron I encountered was from an English undergraduate intern who left a large explicit picture up for the cleaner to find, and that wasn’t until 1990.

233

bianca steele 02.09.11 at 8:29 pm

oops. “`” is me.

234

bianca steele 02.09.11 at 8:30 pm

reposting

Please tell me this doesn’t mean I can date you. Would this be sometime in the 70’s?

Sorry, I’m married. But yes, and yes on the kitty posters, and the JLS. Your guidance counselor sounds annoying, especially to boys.

@sg, DougK
I started working in ’87 with a huge number of fellow college hires of both sexes, in a large corporation. There was no problem at the time with girlie pinups from anybody under 35, or for that matter from anyone in development, with one exception. It was usually accepted gossip that it was the personalities of the older guys were at fault for giving the younger ones the idea work should be like a boys’ club. The point being that it seems “PC” worked for a little while, and I don’t remember anybody complaining about anything except that they couldn’t use the c word. But I’ve almost always worked in hardware manufacturing companies–the kind that don’t live long unless they’re IBM or Cisco–and I prefer it to a software company.

The only actual pron I encountered was from an English undergraduate intern who left a large explicit picture up for the cleaner to find, and that wasn’t until 1990.

235

ScentOfViolets 02.09.11 at 9:47 pm

Please tell me this doesn’t mean I can date you. Would this be sometime in the 70’s?.

Sorry, I’m married. But yes, and yes on the kitty posters, and the JLS. Your guidance counselor sounds annoying, especially to boys.

That would be dating as in determining your decade of origin of course; my daughter would probably make some sort of unkind remark about carbon dating, but . . . her time will come ;-)

@28:

I think you need to go back and look at what sort of evidence has been posted. For some areas where the ratios are skewed towards men? Definitely. But for just about every area that skews towards men and which seems to be the default assumption? Most certainly not. At least, not the sort of discrimination that is traditionally associated with that word as opposed to a second or third-order effect.

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PhilLeaver 02.11.11 at 2:26 am

I’m a little late coming into this discussion. I’m a female leaver of phil. and I thought my comments, anecdotes as they may be, might be helpful.

I have worked on some “hot topics” that could possibly, if I kept it up, get me where every academic in philosophy wants to go. I mention this only so the skeptics (yes, I know they are out there) will know it’s not just untalented women/people who leave. (And, no, I didn’t get any special treatment because I’m female, contrary to what all my male peers may believe.)

For me, it wasn’t the “blood sport” aspect of philosophy or the “math-y-ness” that made me want to leave.

I mean, look folks, it shouldn’t be hard to see that the student peer group isn’t the best of people to be around. Anyone familiar with the phil blog world, for instance, will have seen perhaps billions of disturbing comments on the Phil Smoker and elsewhere. For some reason, in their attempt to pretend they are wholly insulated from humanly concerns and are entirely objective, some guys in phil actively display distain for political issues and, moreover, display an openness to sexist positions that, in other departments I’ve been in, are hardly even to be considered anymore. Contrary to what they think, that doesn’t make them look smart. It makes them look uninformed and ignorant.

In philosophy, you’d think none of the male students ever read On the Subjection of Women. (Seriously, we’re having *this* discussion and how old is that work?)

Somewhere above, Harry suggests that philosophy has been less open to certain moves toward inclusiveness. I think he’s absolutely right.

Someone else mentioned that philosophy may be a unique case compared to other disciplines. I think that should be seriously considered.

The reason that undergrads in philosophy can get away with positing this-or-that sexist position or thought experiment is because we are supposed to be open to any position, even ones that seem unpalatable. Further, quite a few students in philosophy tend toward the a priori model; who needs to look at years of evidence that suggests they could possbly be wrong?

Moreover, there seems to be a certain type of guy attracted to philosophy–one that is really good at solving little logic problems (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but totally lacks wisdom and life experience. They, I honestly think, literally can’t yet comprehend the texture–in all is best and worst–of human existence.

Sucks to be them, because I’ve lived a life before coming to philosophy. I’ve had responsibilities, struggles, triumphs. And, on top of that, I can solve little logic problems, too.

I absolutely consider myself excercising agency. I consider myself rational for leaving philsophy.

In light of the fact that we absolutely do not know the impact of biological differences when it comes to sex and intellectual capacities, I think the prudent thing to do is to assume the best of female students. Who knows what women are capable of if they have barely been given a chance yet–and in philosophy, it’s true that we’ve only recently been given a chance.

Lastly, I’ve noticed that people start talking about how women are socialized and brought up when these discussions come up. That’s great. But the guys should think about that, too. You don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed sexists attitudes coming from guys in philosophy that are probably due to their culture/raising. But while I reflect on how I was raised (being a feminist and all) and make changes in myself, they take their interestes, likes, and so on, as totally free of those things and not really worth reflecting on. And, perhaps worse, when I’ve brought it up to them, they act like I’m a rigid meany-feminazi, when, in my experience, I’ve been more flexible and self-critical than they have.

There comes a time in which the discussion, questions and doubts must stop, and we should act. I’ve been tracking these discussions on women in phil for years now.

People in phil, especially the males and people in top departments: it’s time to put a plan in place. It’s pretty easy. Like engineering. We know where we are. Figure out where we want to be. Then put together and institute a plan that will most likely bring that about with the most efficiency and effectiveness.

Keep it up, Harry, you are on the right track.

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bxg 02.11.11 at 3:53 am

I’d like to get this straight. You tell us… You’ve got the raw talent to get where every academic philosopher wants to go… no doubt in your mind. But what you ALSO have, unlike many of your colleagues [*] the ability to “literally … comprehend the texture … of human existence”. You are more flexible and self critical, and they don’t even see it – quite the opposite! You don’t pretend – unlike some monsters out there – to be “wholly insulated from human concerns”. Maybe it’s because you “lives a life” before coming to philosophy .. gee, wouldn’t “suck to be them”.
Got it, y0u are a genius saint. And y0u left academic philosophy since your talents were so much more significantly applies elsewhere. And of course you were smart enough to see on this and act on it. Points granted.

But here’s the important question. Why is it so many of your inferiors are male? What about the woman who is smart but cannot be sure of finding herself in the _best_ position academic philosophy has to offer; who _hasn’t_ had a full and rich life prior to entering the graduate program? (Maybe a similar college experience to her male peer?) Why is there still the gender disparity among the less-than-perfect? The “blood-sport” and “math-y ness” trap may be important for them, but you are dismissive of them as relevant to your own genius world.

If you wish to claim that the men entering academic philosophy programs are systematically different/worse/better/more-preferred/whatever than equivalent women please state so more crisply, rather than a vague rhetoric about the cohort
of (hint, hint, mostly male) colleagues who could not live up to insights of the chosen one.

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sg 02.11.11 at 5:33 am

Why is it so many of your inferiors are male?

Look at the graph in the OP, bxg.

When I started in undergrad at the University of Adelaide all students got given a fairly solid (written) introduction to the basic concepts of sexism in academic behaviour, with particular pointers for men on how to behave in tutorials, some of the common mistakes that men make in thinking about gender relations at work, etc. I see all of those silly myths from 25 years ago being reproduced by many people here. How little academia has changed in that time…

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PhilLeaver 02.11.11 at 5:58 am

bxg,

You have attributed to me positions I never said and don’t believe. For example, I don’t actually believe I have some special “raw talent.” I’m a hard worker. That’s all. And my work is better appreciated, in many ways, outside of philosophy.

I don’t actually have much of a stake in this anymore, having left and everything….

I just thought I’d let people know the perspective of a female leaver of philosophy.

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Harry 02.11.11 at 8:25 pm

Thanks PhilLeaver (and I admire your restraint in 239!) Basically there’s nothing you say that I disagree with (except that you’re probably to kind to me!). This whole thread’s given me a lot to think about, and I assume that lots of non-commenters feel the same.

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PhilLeaver 02.12.11 at 12:49 am

Excellent.

Two things I wanted to add.

1. I certainly don’t want to ignore the women who’ve been working on these issues for years, or the men who’ve been part of it.

2. Women may be in ethics, eg, more than phil of logic, but it may not be because they are more caring or interested in people-y things. I could certainly name names, but I’m too nice for that. In any case, I’ve avoided discussions about mereology, for instance, with some guys only because of the openly sexist attitudes toward basically any woman, including female instructors. (I get to hear what they say about them when they aren’t in the room.) I’m not just making things up here. I have experiences to go on.

Good luck, philosophers, and keep it up.

Peace out.

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bxg 02.12.11 at 5:22 am

PhilLeaver,

I would somewhat like to apologize for the tone of my first reply to you. Let me try less cynically. You are at pains to assert your agency, and that some of the issues have raised against female participation (“blood sport”/”math-y-ness”) were not at all responsible. You seem fairly clear in saying you had the ability to succeed had you kept it up. So the question in my mind is: what does this have to do with the gender divide; aren’t you just talking about one talented, experienced, person’s situation?

Because merely by sharing your story in this thread, unless you assert otherwise (and you don’t), the implication is that your experience is relevant to the gender question. And frankly, it’s clear that the gist of your story is to be critical of your former philosophy colleagues. Perhaps “contemptuous” is a bit too strong a word, but you come across as close to this (one quote among several such: “Sucks to be them, because I’ve lived a life before coming to philosophy”) .

So I request you tie this more explicitly to the gender divide. Are the people who stayed, those who – this just seems clear from your writing – you don’t think that highly of mostly male for some reason you can state? Or are there many women among them? Your story in my mind leaves this hanging. Do you think that as many men would escape for the same reasons you did? Do you think as many women would stay in the program? I’m sure there are some men who could give a similar history showing their similar disillusionment. I just don’t see how or even whether you intend to tie your own to the question at hand. You _are_ (likely you disagree, but try to read it objectively) stating a somewhat insulting picture of PhilStayers. Maybe right, but if it’s in service to this discussion I think could be clearer as to why, and more specifically, why you think there is gender divide in the PhilStayers picture.

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Marc 02.12.11 at 2:21 pm

On the contrary bxg, I think that your initial reaction was the proper one. The entire underlying tone of PhilLeavers message is a string of broad insults directed at an entire profession and gender. It comes across mainly as concentrated bitterness. I’ve seen words like these before, usually directed by reactionaries against academics, with conservatives as the victims. That probably accounts for some of the “rubbed the wrong way” feeling. When I get angry at others I step back and try to imagine what they’re doing from a sympathetic perspective, rather than assuming the worst of them and their intentions. So I’ll ascribe her anger as a product of bad experiences in graduate school and unpleasant personal interactions with colleagues; these do tell us something important about a corner of the profession and how some old issues may remain unsettled.

But one word does a lot of work in her piece: sexism. There are places where sexism would be recognized as such by everyone. There are things that some call sexist which most others would not. And there are cases where someone is abrasive and then pegs the resulting reaction as sexist. The key sentence in there to me was the one about how, apparently, some of the men she accused of sexist behavior did not respond well to the accusation. Maybe it’s because they really were a pack of cavemen. But maybe PhilLeaver was looking to get offended and picked a fight too. Or perhaps they really were being inappropriate at some level – but things escalated poorly. We don’t know, and it takes a degree of self-examination to be able to step back and think about these things even when you’re a participant.

I do know that people take accusations of bigotry very personally – although of course it’s important to challenge such behavior when it occurs. The key is to respond in a way which will create understanding rather than defensiveness and anger. Include the possibility of misunderstanding rather than bad intentions as a cause. I saw enough destructive interactions of that sort in the 80s and 90s to appreciate that well-intentioned consciousness-raising can backfire, and assumptions of bad intent colored most of them.

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Margaret 02.12.11 at 3:51 pm

There are two things that any participant in a discussion like this one about gender disparities in disciplines, professions etc. needs to keep in mind:

1) Any explanation in terms of characteristics of the discipline that many members of the discipline feel relatively comfortable with, such as “mathyness”, its “agressiveness” etc are to be explored ad nauseam.
2) Any explanation that imputes a character flaw to the dominant gender of the discipline is to be swiftly condemned and equal or greater character flaws are to be imputed to the source of the original explanation.

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EMG 02.12.11 at 10:10 pm

I left grad school at a top phil department because I couldn’t stand the culture of unrelenting verbal ruthlessness. Because I don’t have the personality to dish it out in turn, people often thought I was stupid, greatly compounded by the fact that I would often get flustered and underperform when under attack. It didn’t seem, at the time, to be particularly gendered; most of the meanies were male, but then most of the people were male anyway. The meanies were in the majority, in any case. The handful of women were divided between genuinely nice people and those who would lash out just as bad as any man when they got the chance. Often at me, since I made an easy target; sometimes even on “feminist” pretexts, like mocking the conservatism of my cultural origins. (I’d gone to a little-known, highly conservative sectarian college, and people of both sexes got tons of yuks out of that.)

Male senior faculty told me to my face, repeatedly, that I was admitted on affirmative action. At first, that seemed relatively trivial, because I knew how talented I was, and even at the age of 22 I had some hint of the dynamics in philosophy that make any female admit, however qualified, seem like AA. But I soon realized that the majority of people I encountered thought that about me, especially as I began to fold under the pressures of the meanness culture. The last straw came when a famous professor whose work I worshiped deliberately reduced me to tears at our first private meeting by viciously sniping at every word that came out of my mouth. I entered with two other women; only one of us ever finished. But I also know several men who didn’t finish, or who took an unreasonably long amount of time to finish because of difficulty adjusting to the culture.

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bxg 02.13.11 at 12:05 am

> 2) Any explanation that imputes a character flaw to the dominant gender of the discipline is to be swiftly condemned and equal or greater character flaws are to be imputed to the source of the original explanation.

There’s _some_ truth in this. But the weaker form of it which I think a certain number of commenters are more in line with is “you either think there are valid gender-relevant differences or you don’t”. There’s a mighty lot of resistance to this point, which some of us see as a tautology.

Someone can claim men of being on average more more a-social, obsessive, quasi-autistic, etc, than women. (Me, I think this is true, but so what?) But if you think this you may expect it would make men overrepresented in math … well, that’s hat 1. But these faults of masculinity also tend to (even if inadvertently/subconciously) create a women-oppressive atmosphere where-ever they work, and that’s hat 2. A lot of people like hat 2 but seem angry even at the suggestion hat 1 exists.

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Harry 02.13.11 at 7:09 pm

Can I collect some of these stories into a single post (EMG, Philleaver, others)? None of them seem at all unlikely.

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PhilLeaver 02.14.11 at 10:11 am

The reason my tone was so angry, I guess you could say, is because I’ve seen good arguments from women and people of color for years, but their work has been, I’d say, systematically devalued. I’ve seen a lot of smart people, who I look up to, be calm and reasonble. In a lot of ways that great. The feminist philosophers blog is good for being a pretty nice blog in term of tone, for example, and I think that’s good for a variety of reasons.

But beyond my training in philosophy, I also have training in domentic violence, emergency situations, and related issues. I don’t tolerate being treated badly very well. I also don’t tolerate other people being treated badly very well. If that means I’m not making a great argument at the time, so be it. I’ve removed women from homes where aruments were useless and I’ve participated in social activites for people of color where arguments were useless.

The arguments are already out there. I’m just popping a flare. I personally have tried to retain other women and minorities. I promise I’m not an evil person. And I do appreciate honest efforts to change beliefs, behaviors, culture, systems.

Harry, you can use my story if you want. I’d just like to stay anon.

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EMG 02.14.11 at 11:29 pm

Harry, feel free in my case as well. (Though I am also concerned about anonymity – those are my real initials. Maybe switch them up?) It’s bound to make me feel a bit uncomfortable – women’s complaints are bound to draw at least one or two unkind, trollish skeptics, even in a venue like this – but if it’s for the cause, that’s fine.

I guess I should add, by way of anticipating objections, that yes, I am a bit more sensitive than average to social aggression/bullying/agonism/etc. At the time, and for a long while after, I was inclined to blame myself on that score. But is it really wise to write whole personality types out of the discipline? What made me a good student of philosophy was a talent for questioning and picking apart everything; I find that difficult to separate from the psychological tendency to doubt my own position, and willingness to take criticism to heart, which made me such a poor competitor in an environment that prized day-to-day verbal one-upmanship over close reading and careful writing. Do high self-regard, eagerness to be heard, and readiness to quickly fend off objections by any means necessary (a.k.a. sophistry) really equal philosophical talent?

It’s also possible that in some instances, I overestimated the seriousness of the intent behind verbal aggression (though given the overarching context of undeniable bullying, it was understandable that I did so). I’ve often wondered if part of the problem in philosophy is that women are socialized to become compliant in the face of criticism or aggression, while men are expected to take it as a challenge; so that when they get into a philosophy department, for women to do what society normally expects of them looks like an admission of defeat.

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PhilLeaver 02.15.11 at 5:54 pm

EMG,

I just wanted to say I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. Despite what looks like meanness on my part, above, I absolutely know what you are talking about wrt being attacked for conservatism of background and other things. I know exactly what that looks like, because I saw it, too. And one of the other women I tried (but failed) to help graduate was one from a religious minority background who was quiet and sensitive, but a HARD worker and careful reader.

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