Where (literally) the gender gap is in maths performance

Turns out that boys only outperform girls in maths in rich white districts. Girls out perform boys in poor and black districts. And in the rest they’er about the same. Also interesting:

The gender achievement gap in math reflects a paradox of high-earning parents. They are more likely to say they hold egalitarian views about gender roles. But they are also more likely to act in traditional ways – father as breadwinner, mother as caregiver.

Read the whole thing. (Thanks, S!)

Whatever Happened to Understanding the Authors we Cite?

James Baldwin understood moral complexity, but James Baldwin also understood power and privilege. This New York Times article (asking Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor) purportedly holds up Baldwin as a thinker in whose footsteps we ought to follow. But it also uses him to criticise recent trends associated with things like the #MeToo movement, which seems to fly in the fact of the fact that so much of what Baldwin wrote had to do with injustice and inequality. It seems insulting to use a person who made great contributions to the literature on racial justice, in the service of a cause that most feminists are painfully familiar with: asking “what about the men?” Lee Siegel bemoans what he sees as our rush to moral condemnation and our relatively recent lack of willingness to suspend moral judgement in many cases (and of course the cases he considers are those of sexual harassment/assault, and racial profiling). He takes this as a sign of a collective decline in moral rigour and a general social unwillingness to engage with genuine moral complexity. In his article, Siegel writes,

If, in a spirit of free intellectual and imaginative inquiry, you dared to suggest that a man who masturbated in front of a woman he barely knew without her consent might have been acting out, in an attitude of aggressive contempt, his own shame and emasculation — if you tried to understand his actions, without justifying them — you would be shouted down and vilified.

Imagine the outcry if you went further and speculated about why Harvey Weinstein allegedly manipulated some actresses dependent on his power into watching him while he was naked. Could it be that Mr. Weinstein, who reportedly had often been mocked for his appearance, wanted to dehumanize these women as well, while at the same time turning himself into a person who is watched and admired, like a person of beauty?

The problem is, plenty of feminists do this kind of speculation. Plenty of feminists, and philosophers who write about oppression more generally, talk about the reasons why oppression exists, and why people are treated poorly as a result of it. And plenty of feminists even write about the problems that patriarchy causes for men. bell hooks, in her Feminism is for Everybody, writes (in a chapter about feminist masculinity!) that

what is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis for identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.

This sounds an awful lot like an explanation of why patriarchal masculinity might result in people like Harvey Weinstein acting in the way that they do. But guess what? It’s perfectly compatible to say that there are social factors that result in people becoming sexual predators while at the very same time condemning that predatory behaviour. I’m not sure what made that bit of logical complexity go unnoticed in this article, but it seems like quite the oversight.

The point is that a lack of empathy for men (see also: Kate Manne’s concept of himpathy) is not the driving and urgent problem facing us today. In a society in which assault victims are regularly disbelieved, and people tend to be very sympathetic to perpetrators, especially those who are young and white, what we need is more justice, and more ways to dismantle the oppressive social structures that enable and exonerate predatory behaviour. Doing that without condemning that behaviour seems quite difficult, and really, why would we want to refrain from condemning it? It’s possible to condemn things like sexual assault and simultaneously argue against seeing perpetrators as some kind of moral monster (at least I happen to think so).

Just to close this rant with a bit more Baldwin, though. I think Baldwin did understand disagreement and moral complexity, but he also understood ways in which one might come to view one’s oppressors as terrible people.

Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color. And this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst. The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it. In the beginning—and neither can this be overstated—a Negro just cannot believe that white people are treating him as they do; he does not know what he has done to merit it. And when he realizes that the treatment accorded him has nothing to do with anything he has done, that the attempt of white people to destroy him—for that is what it is—is utterly gratuitous, it is not hard for him to think of white people as devils.

Maybe there’ll be a bit more room for more moral complexity after we’ve made room for believing BIPOC, women, disabled people, and all the rest of us. I’ll look forward to that.

Wikipedia activism in science

Jess Wade is a scientist on a mission. She wants every woman who has achieved something impressive in science to get the prominence and recognition they deserve – starting with a Wikipedia entry.

“I’ve done about 270 in the past year,” says Wade, a postdoctoral researcher in the field of plastic electronics at Imperial College London’s Blackett Laboratory. “I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.”

Read more.

“But I wasn’t being bigoted.”

Who’s a bigot?

I may have seen bias or prejudice defined many times in terms of an individual’s inclinations, beliefs, actions, etc. But recently I tried to explain to someone why I thought his views manifested sexism, and I ended up fairly surprised at the result.

It can be hepful to look at negative assertions.   When we consider the claim that someone is not being sexist or racist something surprising – to me at least – emerges.  Innocence in the land of bigots may be harder than we thought; it isn’t just a matter of having a pure heart.

My friend had tended to see aggressive women on the attack where I saw assertive women attempting to give explanations.  More importantly, I thought “she’s being aggressive and so she’s attacking’ as a sexist interpretation of an assertive women trying to explain something.

I ended up considering another example/inference; namely, “He’s an undocumented immigrant and so should be deported.” It seemed to me that there were a number of places where the question of racism may be appropriate.   I try to capture some of these at the end.  But what also seemed to me now revealing is whether the main interlocutor said he shouldn’t be considered racist. After all, he might say, he was just dealing with matters of fact and law.

In contrast, I thought, as I considered it, that in bringing to bear a mechanism arguably racist in origin and common use, the main interlocutor is really not innocent of racism. What matters is what he is doing with social forms of bigotry.

One upshot is that I think I’m clearer about why I think the murder of Treyvon Martin was racist even if the murderer was not acting out of racist animus.  And so with so much else happening now.

The possibly revealing questions:

  1. Why is the question of documentation being raised?
  2. Is the action just being mentioned or is it closer to being proposed?
  3. Taking action: In the real-life situation where people don’t bother to find anything else about the suspected immigrant, and just call to report the person, then we’ve got the possibility of racism. (If nothing else, causing such unpleasantness in someone’s life is pretty negative.)
  4. What is the status of the questioner? Is the questioner a white person, or is it a person from a minority group?





APSA Hackathon

Of possible interest to readers (either to participate in this event or as a model for their own professional associations), the APSA is holding a “hackathon” next month to help men support women’s equality in political science. The hackathon is being organized by Jessica Preece and Macartan Humphreys and being held as part of the APSA’s 2018 annual meeting, Democracy and its Discontents.

Here is a partial description of the hackathon from the conference website:

Hackathons are events where communities of scholars, activists, programmers, and others come together to exchange ideas about and work collaboratively to provide solutions to a common problem. Hackathons may produce multiple outcomes, including the analysis and visualization of new data, websites, apps, research designs, consensus documents, policy proposals, and plans for social interventions. […] Our main goal to build on past and present efforts by APSA and its component organizations to promote diversity and inclusion by creating a collaborative, diverse, and inclusive space for annual meeting participants to come together. At the hackathon, teams will develop strategies that address key challenges facing the profession, build partnerships, and plans to move forward.

In preparation for the hackathon, organizers conducted an open-ended survey of women in the profession, which resulted in this list of suggestions.

Read more about the hackathon here.

(Thanks to JW for the heads up.)


UK prosecutions for “false rape accusations”

Quite unlike other jurisdictions, the UK has a habit of prosecuting women for “false rape accusations” (and then wondering why women won’t report the crime). Buzzfeed has an important expose out that finds (among other things):

At least 200 women in the UK have been prosecuted for lying about being raped in the past decade, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of press reports. Most of these women were sent to prison, dozens of them with sentences of two or more years.

Prosecutors went after teenagers, and women who reportedly had mental health issues, had experienced past physical and sexual assault, or were grappling with drug and alcohol addiction.

Women were prosecuted even when they reportedly went to police only under pressure, quickly recanted, or never named their attacker at all.

The CPS has prosecuted women who police were not sure had lied. In one instance detectives declined to charge the woman for making a false complaint. Prosecutors went ahead anyway.

Read more here.

On Aid Programmes Aimed at Women

Feminist philosopher Serene Khader brings some much-needed complexity to the discussions.

According to Dr Khader, men have traditionally been enabled to work because their wives take care of children, the house and the garden.

“Many of the women would ostensibly be empowered through work are women who already get up at 4:00am to fetch 20 kilos of water from a well that is miles away; who spend hours cooking, shopping for food, and tending to fields, children in tow, and can only go to sleep after an evening meal is cleaned up after at 10:00 or 11:00pm,” Dr Khader said….

But Dr Khader warns that, in some cases, the extra workload benefits children at the expense of their mothers’ wellbeing.

She calls for a new approach to tackling social issues in the Global South — one that involves men…”Women’s empowerment irreducibly means that men will have to change.”

Read the whole thing.

Latest Free Speech Controversy

“Personally, I find the tiger’s views abhorrent,” read a New York Times op-ed column published just after the tiger got onto a school bus filled with third-graders. “But it’s far worse that left-wing groups are protesting by carrying fire and boarding up all their tiger-sized windows.”

“Let’s not forget; there’s plenty of people who find Bernie Sanders’ views offensive, too. It goes both ways.”