Geniuses, stereotypes and underrepresentation

Sarah-Jane Leslie and her co-authors have done some really great work showing that fields which are thought to require genius show the lowest representations of both women and black people. We discussed this a while back, but now it’s get a ton of well-deserved attention after being published in Science.

One thing that’s interesting is the extent to which many of have sensed this as a problem for a field for quite a long time. See, for example, this post from 2010 on Seeming Smart.

Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate. And what do people associate with intelligence? Some things that are good: Poise, confidence (but not defensiveness), giving a moderate amount of detail but not too much, providing some frame and jargon, etc. But also, unfortunately, I suspect: whiteness, maleness, a certain physical bearing, a certain dialect (one American type, one British type), certain patterns of prosody — all of which favor, I suspect, upper- to upper-middle class white men.

I think it’s also notable who insensitive the smartness/genius judgments are to evidence. It makes perfect sense to say “he’s really smart, it just doesn’t come through in his papers”; or ” She’s not that smart, she just works really hard”.

[See also this and this.

It’s fantastic to have people talking about this! Maybe now we can all finally stop talking about who’s smart. (And don’t get me started on genius projects.)

Problem with comments

Jon Cogburn has brought our attention to an issue that seems to be affecting commenters. Some comments are being filtered upstream from our blog by an Askimet meta-filter, so they don’t even arrive in our spam folder. If you’ve tried to comment but your comment hasn’t been published, this might be happening. Jon has instructions on his blog, explaining how to solve this issue. Thanks to him for letting us know about this.

Sexual mores 1

What kind of sexual conduct is appropriate for philosophers within the academy?

Anyone with even half an ear tuned to the outside world will know that there have been some high profile cases of sexual misbehaviour of late. These have been accompanied by a sense from many folks within the discipline that it’s time to get our house in order. This is a good thing. For a long time, all sorts of egregious sexual behaviour has gone unchecked, and people have been harmed as a result. Given this sorry state of affairs (no pun intended), it’s good to see a new resolve to sort things out. However, we’re now faced with this question: how should philosophers behave towards their students and other members of the profession, when it comes to matters of sex and romance?

This is a question that we, as a profession, need to address, and I’m going to start attempting to do that in a series of forthcoming posts. These don’t represent my finished thoughts on the matter, but are, instead, an attempt to come to a view.

Today I’m going to think about consent and sexual relations* with students.

*(I’ve chosen to use this maybe – for those of us who remember a scandal involving a certain US president – slightly comical phrase, because it seems sufficiently broad to encompass both fleeting sexual encounters and much longer-term relationships, as well as sex acts of all sorts.)
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YZ Yseult is a French street artist. She has produced a series of beautiful paintings on walls in Senegal to honour the 19th Century warrior women who defended their country Dahomey (present-day Republic of Benin) against French colonial invaders. They were known as the Dahomey Amazons, which is why she has chosen this title for the series. YZ says: “I want to show warriors from ancient times; revolutionists, anti-colonialists, intellectual women who have written the story of Africa. We need figures to be proud of our roots, to keep fighting for our rights, and to write the story of tomorrow.”

Photo copyright YZ.
Photo copyright YZ.

[The picture shows a large side profile of an African female warrior wearing a helmet, painted on the side of what appears to be an abandoned building in Senegal.]

The Huffington Post has more here.

Sex Education

Apparently, this was used as part of a sex ed class in Ohio.
[The graphic shows a male figure, with the words, ‘You think. You approach and court. You base decisions on fact and experience. You say you like/love her. You state your needs. You have to lead. You want sex. You think sex is primarily physical. You don’t read minds’. It shows a female figure with the words, ‘She feels. She sits back and accepts. She bases decisions on emotion and expectation. She tests to see if you like/love her. She makes you figure out her needs. She gets to follow. She withholds sex. She thinks sex is primarily emotional. She thinks she does [read minds].’]

Boys and girls both received a copy of the same handout (so boys were always addressed as ‘you’ and girls referred to as ‘she’.

Students were also told:

Appreciating Gender Differences: Often there are many stereotypes attached to being male or female. Yet male and female together keep our species alive! Through knowing and appreciating the many differences in brain development and psychological processes of males vs. female one learn to accept and appreciate the differences.”

*face, palm*
You can read more here.

What’s Wrong With Ableist Language?

Just read this excellent article about ableist language.

“The economy has been crippled by debt.”

“You’d have to be insane to want to invade Syria.”

“They’re just blind to the suffering of other people.”

“Only a moron would believe that.”

Disability metaphors abound in our culture, and they exist almost entirely as pejoratives.

You see something wrong? Compare it to a disabled body or mind. Paralyzed. Lame. Crippled. Schizophrenic. Diseased. Sick.

Want to launch an insult? The words are seemingly endless: Deaf. Dumb. Blind. Idiot. Moron. Imbecile. Crazy. Insane. Retard. Lunatic. Psycho. Spaz.

You can carry on reading here.