Could feminists believe women are inferior?

In looking at recent comments on posts put up some time ago, I came across the following remark, (which is in the fifth comment):

It seems to me to be an admirable goal to try and get more men interested in and working in feminist philosophy. In some ways, it’s more important that men be feminists than it is that women be. (For the same reasons that the people you’d *really* like to convince that blacks aren’t inferior to whites are white supremicists, not black people who most likely believe that anyway.)

Do blacks reject the idea that they are inferior to whites?  Could a real feminist believe women can’t do as well as men in, say, science?

I was reminded immediately of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s comment that he came out as biased against his own race on the implicit attitude test on race (Blink, pp. 81ff).  There are versions for a number of different subjects, including race, women in science and hetereo-homosexuality. 

What becomes clear is that many, many of us have picked up biased attitudes  in our society and consequently have automatic associations that favor one group over another.   It is controversial just what the associations result in, but, as Gladwell says in Blink, the differences hit you on the head as you take the test.

I tried it on race (European vs. African American) and women in science. On both these, I have pretty strong conscious beliefs about equality, and so I was very pleased when I took my first one to find out that the submerged associations I have were in line with my beliefs. I suspected, though, that it might be just that I was very good at taking tests. So I’m glad I took the second one. It hurt my head! And I came out biased against what I believe.

Please consider taking some of the tests, if you haven’t already.  They are short.  When you’ve had a chance to do so, I’ll confess in the comments to what I found out.

11 thoughts on “Could feminists believe women are inferior?

  1. I haven’t taken the tests yet. (I think I may be afraid to– I’ve heard about them before, and have yet to “find the time” to do one!) But it’s just what would be predicted by Sandra Bartky’s work on psychological oppression– a key component of which is an internalised belief in one’s own inferiority. Also fits well with Virginia Valian’s work on gender schemas– she argues that men and women are equally affected by these unconscious schemas about what men and women are like.

  2. OK, JJ, I’ve done it now– and I’ve a strong association between men and science and women and liberal arts. Not sure what to make of it. Do I subconsciously believe women are bad at science? I hope not, but I might. But it could equally well be that I know men are in fact scientists in much larger numbers. Or that I’ve been steeped in feminist literature discussing the maleness of science! Now you fess up.

  3. The good, the bad and the ugly:

    The good: I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to come out as equally valuing African Americans and those from European stock. I think that was the product of a lot of effort over at least 25 years.

    The bad: I’ve recently spent a lot of effort on issues about the equality of women in science. For various reasons, I got involved in committees that work on faculty rights. Equality for women in science is a huge issue, largely dealt with ineptly in universities, I am sad to say. But I still suspect I would clang with women in science. And I did. I remember vividly when it came to associating “grandmother” with some science term – maybe “physics” – that my brain seemed to cry out, “but that doesn’t make sense.”

    In fact, I think the association between men and science wasn’t VERY strong, but it was certainly there.

    Now the ugly: I’m inclined to go for Valian’s idea that there are these deep schemas. My guess is that one place they show up is in the evaluating of contributions by women in heavily male fields. And one conclusion may be that it’s very hard for women to say something new. That is, given the deep associations, when women say something that goes against the accepted grain, the explanation that they’re just wrong and don’t understand seems the more compelling one.

  4. Well, my test said I showed little or no association for women-liberal arts and men-science. But I don’t know how good that test is: I think it’s more a test of learning/memory/finger-to-brain coordination than an actual test of association. (How do I know this? Because honestly, I’m a victim of inculcated stereotypical thinking myself… not TOO much, but I catch myself at it often enough.) If you had a hard time remembering the sides had been switched, chances are you got a “BIG HONKING SEXIST!!!!” bumper sticker. :P

    IMHO, a test for such subconcious association would be something along the lines of classifying words based on your opinion of whether they sound “male” or “female” to you. But I suppose that though more accurate, that test is harder to scientifically quantify. (HAH. I found an example where subjectivity is intrinsically more accurate than hard numbers, howzzat!)

  5. I’m disappointed. I expected a strong association of male with science, but only got a slight one. Actually I took three tests and got a slight association for each one. My disappointment does not stem from the results, but the protocol: I made many mistakes because I have a strong association between “left” and “liberal arts”, and “right” and “science”. I didn’t know that, but that’s not interesting at all.

  6. Let me explain: The system has identified various comments of mine as spam. This time it not only identified my comment as spam, but it then hid the spam, so I couldn’t get it out.

    This was during the time the insane software system my university has installed decided to send all my email to my husband.

    It makes one wonder!

    Anyway, my comment is above, at least dated properly.

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