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Hmm. Someone is wrong on the internet. I appear to be drifting… - Sally's Journal
June 26th, 2008
03:05 pm

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Hmm. Someone is wrong on the internet. I appear to be drifting rapidly away from my previously held beliefs* without even putting aside any explicit thinking time. How curious.

*I was a big believer in "but men and women are different and it's OK to act on that" a few years ago. I still am, up to a point but my point seems to be shifting further away every time I look at it.

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From:atreic
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
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I used to be very very hardcore on the particular point of maths. I had great insecurities that I'd only got into Cambridge to make up the quota of women, and I hated that idea. I also was a great idealist who really wanted people to be selected for pure academic excellence (ha ha ha, like that is measurable by any system ;-) ) so the very thought that the university might take weaker women than it took men for the maths tripos, or that it should aim to take 50-50 _as a rule_, rather than as a subset of the world giving women and men equal encouragement and teaching at maths, drove me crazy. I do also think that there's good some evidence that the very top of the maths bellcurve of current 18-25 year olds might well have more men than women (although how much of that is nature and nurture I don't think we'll know in my lifetime) and so Cambridge should give men more places.

I'm mellowing in my old age ;-)
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From:badasstronaut
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
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Well, men and women might be different, but men are often also rather different from other men and women are different from other women.

I used to be a hardcore social constructivist re: gender, but I've mellowed a little on that; I've now heard enough people describing diference pre and post taking gender related hormones. However, there's still a big overlap of the curves even though the peaks differ, and it's common for people using statistical studies to support their argument for differences to overstate their case.
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From:despotliz
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
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I don't really see the usefulness in saying "men are like this, but women are like this!" and generalising about 50% of the population, when even if there are differences between the two populations, knowing that difference doesn't tell you how an individual from one of the populations is going to act. If you have to instruct people that for every instance of "men" or "women" in a document you should actually read "some men and some women", what's the point of dividing them along gender lines anyway?

I'm not sure what an ultrafeminist is, anyway.
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From:taimatsu
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
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Yes, that little bit of disclaimer struck me as making the entire screed completely pointless. It's the same as saying 'Some people do this and some people do that' and we knew that anyway.
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From:woodpijn
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC)
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I very much agree with you.

I read his previous post a few days ago and felt a bit cross - it seems to be wrong and inaccurate in the same ways as the post you linked, but more so. But then I saw his disclaimer 'This message was bought [sic] to you by "Toungue [sic] in Cheek Inc."' and so I thought maybe he was being sarcastic, making the opposite point of what he was apparently saying. But that didn't make any sense either, so I gave up in confusion and didn't post anything.
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From:atreic
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC)
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Yes, at the start I really did think that his point was "this looks like sexist crap, but if you replace "men" with "some men and some women" and "women" with "some men and some women" it's actually all true, because it says nothing more than 'people are different, idiots don't read small print and get wound up'" And I felt amused that I'd originally been an idiot who hadn't read the small print and had then spotted it. But then I didn't see why he'd make the same sort of post again, so I started asking questions. I still don't feel he's hung his colours to the mast of what he was actually doing though...
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From:aiwendel
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:36 pm (UTC)
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That person is just a prat spouting nonsense.
Men and women do have different but strongly overlapping strengths. Ie think of two normal distributions, then shift one slightly (in different ways for different things).
From:ex_robhu
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)

Gender equality politics gone mad?

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I'm a bit confused. Surely no one would disagree that men and women differ genetically, that those genetic differences result in phsyiological differences which make men and women different ? Surely no one* would disagree with that? AFAIUT it has been demonstrated that there are differences, and there are very good evolutionary reasons to expect that there would be certain differences.

The useful area of debate seems to me to be in questioning how much of the differences are due to social conditioning, and how useful the recognition of general difference is helpful when dealing with specific individuals?


* then again, this is LJ.
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From:atreic
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Gender equality politics gone mad?

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It's whether the differences are slight differences at a population level, and therefore fairly meaningless when talking about individuals, or real and meaningful predictors of individual behaviour, I think.

Or even whether they are 'important' differences. Even if all men are aggressive negotiators and all women are fluffy compassionate co-operative workers, does that make them better or worse at given jobs, or just likely to do their jobs well in different styles?
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From:badasstronaut
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
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I think I might be an ultrafeminist, but I'm kind of apathetic about it these days.
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From:beckyc
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
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Hmmmm, each time I read things like that, I am left thinking "So, apparently I am a man who can also manage to be a woman too if the need arises".
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From:atreic
Date:June 26th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
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Join the club ;-)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
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FWIW, and I will likely get flamed for this, my memories of people having trouble with other people's directions in my presence do seem to follow something like the pattern described in the linked post.

However, (a) the plural of anecdote is not data, and (b) my experiences of people having noticeable trouble with other people's directions are memorable because they are exceptional - without meticulous records I cannot know whether there is a common trend for the kinds of directions people give that people *don't* have trouble with and I would not be surprised if the occasions I remember are not significant.
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From:toothycat
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
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Uh, that was me (Serge), sorry; I seem to have become logged out without noticing.
From:yrieithydd
Date:June 26th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
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I've often said that men on the whole are faster runners than women (and this is shown in that the 100m world record for men is faster than that for women) but if you take a female olympic sprinter and a random man on the street, the female sprinter would (almost certainly)* win. Similarly the average height of men may well be taller than for women, but my sister-in-law is taller than my brother (and indeed I'm taller than the two (male) wardens at church).

Mostly this doesn't matter. If a profession (Firefighters?) has a minimum height restriction for entry, it is likely that more men than women will reach that height restriction, but that's not a reason for stopping women who do reach the height from joining.

*Unless your random man happened to be an athlete himself.
From:neonchameleon
Date:June 26th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
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And sometimes those differences are irrelevant anyway. IIRC there was a height restriction for the police that lasted for many years (as in well into either Sally's or my lifetime). And the height restriction was investigated due to the disproportionate impact it was having on men and women for police recruitment. It turned out that the reason for the restriction was that when the original Peelers were founded in the early-mid 19th Century the uniforms only came in a certain range of sizes for the initial pilot and so that was used as a restriction on recruitment. And no one repealed it for 150 years.
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From:taimatsu
Date:June 26th, 2008 04:21 pm (UTC)
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I am entertained by his directions spiel, as I recently wrote out extremely detailed directions/instructions for reaching my house by bus and on foot, in the 'female' style, and received high praise for their helpfulness and accuracy from a *man*.
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From:shreena
Date:June 26th, 2008 04:24 pm (UTC)
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My dad always writes them down in the female style and I can never follow them. "But when I said take the fourth right, I meant the fourth 'significant' right, surely that's obvious?"
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From:shreena
Date:June 26th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
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My main feeling is: so what if more women do X and more men do Y? It still doesn't mean that it's reasonable to assume that every woman will do X and every man will do Y so why bother making these generalisations?

We can't possibly tell whether or not they're true anyway, given socialisation.
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From:robert_jones
Date:June 28th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
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We can't possible tell whether the differences between men and women are innate or conditioned, given socialisation, but that scarcely seems to matter. If the differences exist, it seems reasonable to plan for them, regardless of their origin.

So for instance, if you were a caterer, and knew from experience that men on average drank X amount of alcohol and women on average drank Y amount, and you had all male and all female groups, each containing a hundred people, it would seem reasonable to provide different amounts of alcohol for each group (and probably also different sorts of alcohol).

What I'm not sure about is what difference this is supposed to make in everyday life. Is it seriously being suggested that I should give directions differently to men or women?
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From:alitalf
Date:June 26th, 2008 07:44 pm (UTC)
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I don't suppose we will reach a useful understanding at all easily because the subject is emotionally and politically charged. However {fx:sticks head above parapet} it seems to me, from observation, that there is a mental as well as physical difference on average between men and women.

Of course, "it seems to me" and anecdotal evidence can lead to very wrong conclusions. Still, if you consider two species of animal that had physical construction as different as men and women typically do, if you asked yourself about the structure of the brains of these two creatures, would you consider it most probable that the structure of each would be indistinguishable, or somewhat different?

It seems to be emerging that there are teaching styles, and types of academic testing, that tend to favour men or women. Whether that is cultural or biological, assuming it exists, is a separate question.
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From:woodpijn
Date:June 26th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
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It seems to be emerging that there are teaching styles, and types of academic testing, that tend to favour men or women. Whether that is cultural or biological, assuming it exists, is a separate question.
And whether the difference should be acted on is a separate question again. If some people do better in exams and some do better in coursework, then maybe they should offer both and give each student the choice, but they definitely, definitely shouldn't rule that all the boys do exams and all the girls do coursework. (Speaking as a girl who does vastly better in exams than coursework, which I believe is the opposite of the trend that's emerging.)
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From:rustica
Date:June 26th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
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If I'm giving directions I tend to give the unisex version, so "Turn left at the third set of traffic lights, where the Sainsbury's is". This is probably because a) I'm female, so hello landmarks, and b) I'm obsessive-compulsive so counting traffic lights = good too. I also find it's a useful check - I remember the first time I went to Alitalf's house via male directions, only to be completely scuppered because the council had just installed another sodding set of traffic lights where there weren't supposed to be any!

But I also have a secret: I watch the person I'm giving directions to, and if they're following the "male" parts of the directions, I'll concentrate on those and drop the "female" instructions. Or vice versa. Problem solved! Or, if it isn't, I'm a long way away by that time they realise how lost they are.
From:ext_72852
Date:June 27th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
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when I'm giving directions it tends to go like, "and then you go down that road, and ... oh, it's a dead end to cars that way, so, hm, forget that try the next one, can't remember if it's one way or not, and then, oh bother, I'd go through the park, I wonder if you can get around - oh, look, here's a map, look, we're *here*, and you're trying to get *there*... "
From:yrieithydd
Date:June 27th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
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[grins] I've had problems like that when asked for directions by car drivers in Cambridge!

My other problem with directions is I can remember the way I go as I'm going, but can't always remember it in the abstract!
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From:robert_jones
Date:June 28th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
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Ok. I think the following.

1) There plainly are differences between the typical woman and the typical man going beyond the obvious physical differences. For example, they dress differently.

2) The existence of such differences is not negated by the existence of some men who exhibit typically female behaviour and some women who exhibit typically male behaviour. I get really very annoyed that there is always someone in this converation who pops up and says, "Oh, but what about intersex people? Do they blow your tiny mind?" The fact that Paula Radcliffe can run faster than Stephen Hawking does not negate the truth of the assertion that the typical man can run faster than the typical woman. Edge cases are irrelevant to a discussion of typical behaviour.

3) It is unclear to what extent these differences are innate and to what extent they are conditioned. However, given that obvious innate physical differences exist, I would be surprised if there were no innate psychological differences.

4) The within group variation, in almost all cases, exceeds the between group variation.

5) I am not sure whether, for practical purposes, we need concern ourselves with whether the differences are innate or conditioned. On the one hand, the differences exist, so we should take account of them. On the other hand, this may perpetuate an unjust social system (which is commonly referred to as the "patriarchy").

6) I am also not sure how it is supposed to make any practical difference to my life (as opposed to questions of public policy, where the law of large numbers starts to become significant).

7) We do all make assumptions about other people when we meet them and it seems reasonable to take account of all the available data in forming those assumptions, including the other person's apparent sex. On the other hand, I can't actually think of a social assumption which I consciously apply differently to men and women. The giving sympathy versus giving advice example seems a bad one, because it's so easy to do both and gauge which is being more warmly received, so no assumption seems to be necessary. (Although of course one would make the assumption that tea=sympathy, but that has nothing to do with sex.)

8) It's very difficult to get people to talk reasonably about the differences which exist.
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From:robert_jones
Date:June 28th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
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It has also just occured to me that perhaps the Men are from Mars, women are from Venus thing stems from people coming slowly to the realisation that other people are not just like them, in the context of a couple dyad. Since the other half of the dyad is the primary example of an unlike person, and since he or she is characterised by his or her sex, the first person erroneously attributes the differences in attitudes solely to the difference in sex. So a false generalisation (everyone else is just like me) is replaced by a slightly less false generalisation (all men are just like me and all women are just like my wife). I suspect that this sort of belief system may be reinforced by the fact that in certain societies single sex groups exhibit certain bonding behaviour which stresses highly the important of conforming to the sex-norm.
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From:atreic
Date:June 28th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, that's an interesting way of thinking about it.
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