A Question

Let’s imagine a meeting. Convening the meeting is what we can think of as a standard white male administrator type.   He  might be a bank manager, a (real) estate agent or a dean.  Perhaps he is even a senator or the chancellor.  We’ll further suppose the two  other people are unremarkable white people, perhaps two university professors, one woman and one man.  The question is:  will the administrator address his remarks equally to the two or not.  

Since this is a question about whether gender, we’ll hold race a constant.  From everything I’ve read, I’d expect Hispanics or African Americans to fare worse against a white man, unless they are famous in some way.  (If you think this is wrong, please let us know.)

I’m not sure what would happen with someone whose appearance does not conform to standard gender expectations.  Would they be ignored?  Receive uncomfortable attention?  If anyone does have a hypothesis and wants to suggest a poll in comments, that would be terrific.

One important fact is that there is some evidence men and women experience these situations quite differently and may report them differently.  So I’m going to ask you to answer according to your gender, if you identify with either of these two. 





Thanks for taking the time!

12 thoughts on “A Question

  1. Do you think that maybe it is just whoever holds the most social status would, of course, get the most attention? IN this case of 3 white people with great social status I think it is likely that the 1st privileged white man would give more attention to the other privileged white man, but would also pay much attention to the privileged white woman.
    I think that it would vary as the privilege status of the 2 vary. If the white man (even with the privilege of social class) didn’t conform to dominant gender standards then the privileged woman would get the bulk of attention or he would get attention but it would be given with that smirk that they must teach one when they reach a certainincome level.
    I think it would be intersting to take aprivileged white woman, like a university professor and pair her with a deprived white man, like an unemployed factory worker. In that case I am quite sure the woman would get the good attention and the man would get the privilege. For instance I (as a graduate student) had to meet with my cousin (an unemployed factory worker) and a judge, race was constant- all white- but I got the bulk of the attention and my suggestions were taken much more seriously, even if I said the same thing my cousin had just said and got a smirk and dismissal for, i just said it in a different way, bigger words. HOwever, when I pointed this out to the judge it became apparent that he hadn’t really listened to anything my cousin said. I think it just comes down to the fact that there are many inherited social statuses that play in and the attention you get (or don’t get) depends on your place in the social heirarchy. In academia I am low on the status pole because of my inherited economic status, education doesn’t seem to matter at all, an economically privileged black man is taken more seriously than I- even if not famous- and other women at my same education level and same race, are taken more seriously and paid more attention to because of SES, even if I am consistently a better student. In my experience the heirarchy seems to work like this- from most harmful to least
    economic status
    sexual orientation
    I am not saying that gender is not harmful in the way it is used, just that it can’t be separated from the other factors and that it is not the most pertinent factor in social situations unless the other 3 are help constant, so if all are privileged, white heterosexuals the man will get the attention but as the other 3 vary the attention will change.

  2. oops, the deprived white man would get the privileged smirk, not any privilege

  3. I’m curious why “standard white male admin type” is thought to be an acceptable description of anyone. Also, in fact, moreso curious what this survey is meant to test for.

  4. Colin, There’s a lot of concern about whether women are recognized as sources of information and decisions. So the question is getting at whether the responder’s experience is that women tend to be treated equally or not. Whom one looks at is something of an indicator of this, but not entirely. We do have visual biases that might also be operating, for example. But it isn’t all that bad an indicator.

    I wanted to try to hold race and social position constant, since, as the commenter before you points out, a difference in status might influence things. I suppose what I was getting at might also be “professional upper management,” in part because I think a lot of readers might be academics who do get into somewhat formal discussions with administration types.

    Miranda Fricker is a very good source on how women suffer epistemic injustice – e.g., are not recognized as people who know.

    The answers last I looked seemed to be about equally split, and I’m wondering if this is geography. My recent experiences are in the American southwest and are, I think, very shocking.

    For example, I recently went to an ‘upper administrator’ with a research professor I had hired. I’m a full professor. The admin type did not look at me unless I spoke, and I was not able to get through 2 full sentences. I related this somewhere on the blog last year, but there’s a funny follow up which I hope I haven’t told. My young and junior colleague is a rather brilliant scientist from Synria and when I asked him afterward if he noticed he was the focus of attention, he emphatically said yes. So I was writing around to all my friends saying that it’s so bad here even someone from Syria is shocked. But it transpired much later that his take was quite different. He’s had bad experiences in Synria with authorities, so he was very upset at finding himself again the target of this focused attention.


  5. Just for the record: right now the two polls have somewhat different results:

    2/3 of the women put 30% or under, while just over half the men do.

    Overall that gives us 60% that put 30% or under.

  6. is the woman attractive? or unattractive? this makes a huge difference in the amount of eye contact made* between the admin and the woman. whether or not he believes in her authority/expertise is not reflected in the amount of visual attention she receives. i’ve sat in enough meetings with women of mixed ages and appearances, along with men, to see this as a trend–the younger, more attractive women are not ignored, but not necessarily treated as “in the know” either. *i use eye contact as synonymous with having the remarks addressed to the woman.

  7. lolisa, I agree. One difficult consequence is that discrimination is less visible to many young women. It can then be a shock to find that while her male colleagues transition to being distinguished members of the profession, she just becomes less important.

    I had a great discussion about this at the last Pacific American Philosophical Association Meeting, as the few women gathered around to discussion the exclusions at the meeting. The woman taking the lead is someone with a quite wonderfully full career in philosophy, despite the fact that there she seemed a person of little consequence.

    And now it all starts again next week! O joy!

  8. Like Colin, I’m confused about what the point of the poll is supposed to be. The post kind of sounds like you’re interested in differences of perception or sensitivity — how likely women vs. men are to say that both participants are being treated equally. A relevant hypothesis here would be that women are more perceptive of sexism than men — that women `see’ sexism more often than men.

    But you need a much more detailed description of the scenario to test for that, and you aren’t asking whether or not the woman participant has been treated equally in the scenario as described. The poll just seems to ask the reader to guess how likely or how extreme unequal treatment is. That makes it seem like you’re testing for something like beliefs about the general prevalence of sexism, not whether people perceive sexism in this particular scenario.

    But then, why not just ask that question directly? `How prevalent is sexism in contemporary US (or UK or wherever you’re interested in) society?’ Answers 1-5, from 1 (not prevalent at all) to 5 (extremely prevalent, in almost all areas of life), or something like that.

  9. nuomena, i can think of one reason why asking it this way might be better: it’s easier to think about concrete situations than it is to think about wide, vague issues like ‘how much sexism’. don’t you think? (don’t know if that speaks entirely to your concern, but it’s a thought i had…)

  10. I’m not really getting the problem, noumena. I didn’t ask people to perceive sexism in a scenario, but rather I asked about in effect expectations. What will he do?

    The response “well, there’s a question it would have been better for you to ask” is always tricky to make. This is not a scientific survey; if there was a specific intention, it was to draw attention to a behavior that not everyone may think about very much. I separated the responders because I thought the answers would vary somewhat and it would be more interesting to keep them separate.

    I don’t think there are general conclusion that can be securely drawn, but there’s something to consider. The women who responded in general report low expectations, and ones lower than the men. Roughly 75% of the women say “30 or under”, while 50% of the men give that answer.

    In fact, I was also reacting to yet again a very bad situation, in which I had been positioned as AT BEST a background observer in a discussion among the men of what to do with a program I had spent about two years creating. One of the worst aspects of the situation was that most of them are clueless about such behavior and what its significance is. And I was left with some major problems to deal with.

  11. I think it would be perfectly acceptable for people to respond to this poll by imagining the last time there were in a meeting of this sort.

    I agree that it might largely depend on what a woman looks like/age etc. and also, just to stick in my two cents, whether they conform to gender expectations. I have had some strange behaviour directed towards me because I am a young attractive woman with a grade 4 haircut. I also wear no makeup, have short occasionally raggy nails and always always wear trousers.

    I haven’t voted in the poll though because I work in the UK library service. My current Local Authority actually has the most mixed age/gender working group I’ve ever found in libraries but it is still dominated by women, many of whom are older women. We had a male admin type come to talk to us and the one other man in the room did *not* get all the attention, not with eight extremely experienced and vocal female Library Supervisors around the table!

    If you want to know what a female-dominated office environment is like (top and bottom – our head of libraries is a woman), the library service would make a good study.

  12. What I think is missing in the scenario is the perceived hierarchy by the people in question. I have been in meetings described in the scenario where I was either the senior or the junior or a peer, this makes a lot of difference to the relevance of the answers.

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