Kate Bolick, Marriage & Feminism

Kate Bolick’s article on Marriage in the Atlantic is apparently producing quite a bit of buzz. One of her central claims is that “If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new “dating gap,” where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players.” 

Here’s what she had to say in this interview for the Guardian, when asked what Feminism means in 2011…

“In essence, the old-school feminist principles such as equal pay, equal rights, a woman’s right to be in control of her own body and her own life – these things still hold true today for everyone. But because of the way the arguments are sometimes framed, there is a lot of misperception of what feminism is now. People say they’re not feminists but then if you ask them if they agree with equal pay they’ll say yes. I wanted to discuss these ideas in a way that was open and accessible. A lot of feminist discourse can be alienating because it is more polemic.”

I plan to read the article this evening (it’s long), and would love to hear what FP readers think.


Anonymity, Implicit Bias & TurnItIn.com

I recently took up a new post in the USA and was looking forward to using TurnItIn.com’s handy online grading system (as I had in the UK). For those who don’t know, it’s a tool that allows you to go totally paperless in your grading and integrates with your preferred online Learning Management System (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). Thus far, it’s a system my students seem to appreciate, since it saves them a lot of money and hassle with printing, and it has a fairly reassuring interface (you can actually see that your paper has been uploaded to the site – no worries about emails not being sent/arriving, etc.). For those unfamiliar, there’s a promo/instructional video here. (I can’t resist the standard BBC disclaimer: other online grading sites are available!)

The problem is that while TurnItIn UK allows anonymous grading, TurnItIn USA does not. I’m guessing this is due to a lack of demand for it in the USA, although that’s mere speculation on my part. This means I’m only able to preserve anonymity for my students (and combat the effects of implicit bias) using strategically placed sticky notes on my computer screen, which is sort of absurd and definitely not 100% effective. I’ve tried lobbying the company via email to no avail. This morning I got an email soliciting feedback on the service. I used the online survey form to send a plea for anonymous grading, and I realized it might be good to post the link here so that others who use or are interested in using the service can do the same.

So if you have a spare 5 minutes, please consider following this link to their online survey, and specifically request anonymous grading (you’ll need to check ‘Other’ and fill in the box). I also entered a comment under ‘Challenges using GradeMark’ explaining why anonymization is important for preventing implicit bias from shaping our assessment of student work, particularly that of our female and minority students. I figure if we can mobilize enough FP readers to request the service that might prompt some positive action and raise awareness about the problem. I hope so anyway.

Three Little Girls You Wouldn’t Want to Mess With

(or, ‘with whom you wouldn’t want to mess’?). From YouTube Trends

Lately, we’ve seen an interesting “trend” develop with three separate videos drawing blogger attention in the past few weeks that each feature tough young ladies performing some cool — and very unusual — physical feats.

There’s no true link between the videos themselves, the sole connection — aside from the obvious one — seemings to be our own fascination with their unusual, gender-stereotype-defying interests and abilities. Take a look.

Women in Philosophy of Religion

Are women even more poorly represented in philosophy of religion than elsewhere in the discipline?

I ask because I’m currently putting together a syllabus for an upper level metaphysics class. I’m doing my best to ensure women philosophers are well-represented. For the most part I’ve found it quite easy to identify great work by women philosophers on the central topics, but I’m really struggling with philosophy of religion – specifically arguments for and against theism. I’m planning to focus most of my effort on the ontological argument, and it is quite striking how poorly represented women are in most of the reading lists and encyclopedia entries I’ve found. (Although I haven’t checked every single name for gender, it looks like the bibliography of the Stanford entry on the ontological argument might even be exclusively male). Also, the great Women’s Works site doesn’t seem to have a page for religion yet (I just get a blank screen).

Anscombe’s response to Hume’s argument about causes is excellent, but obviously not quite in the right ballpark. If anyone can suggest work by women that’s either specifically about the ontological argument, or bears upon it in a student-friendly sort of way, I’d be very grateful. General information about the state of affairs for women in Phil Religion is also welcome.

“it is the philosophy, not just the policies, that we need to challenge”

Does the UK’s coalition government have some unsettling problem with women? Are they just hopelessly ignorant about the unequal conditions women face, and the role government support plays in ameliorating those conditions? Can anyone explain to a hopeless lefty like myself, how cutting financial support in the form of (e.g.) childcare tax-credit is supposed to make women MORE independent? I cannot get the logic to work here, which is perhaps why this Guardian article insists it’s the underlying philosophy that’s the problem. Then again, it seems a bit generous to suppose there’s ever anything as coherent as an ‘underlying philosophy’ with this government, especially given the muddle and murk of the ‘Big Society’. What do you think?

In Search of Gender Balanced Textbooks

Are there any textbooks out there, suitable for an undergrad course (intro or advanced) in metaphysics, which include a respectable number of papers by women philosophers (i.e. more than a token one or two)? I’ve been hunting around Amazon and other sites for a little while and there’s a depressing consistency to the over-representation of men in all the books I’ve found so far.
Your suggestions, especially if you have experience trying to teach a metaphysics course with a decent gender balance in the reading list, are most welcome. Of course I’ve already had a look at the excellent Women’s Works project, but so far that hasn’t turned up something like an edited collection that could serve as the primary text for an undergrad course.

Beauty, CVs & Job Applications

This New York Times piece (inexplicably filed in the ‘Health’ section) concerns a study about the effect of sending photographs along with your CV when applying for jobs. I was under the impression that this was a pretty unusual thing to do, but the study’s abstract begins by stating: “Job applicants in Europe and in Israel increasingly embed a headshot of themselves in the top corner of their CVs.” Disappointingly, the authors do not cite any evidence for this claim. Other anecdotal evidence comes from this rather messy blog post (which led me to the study in the first place), where the author reports that a student of her’s was advised to attach a photo to CVs by some sort of visiting careers consultant.

If there is any such trend, then it is a worrying and potentially pernicious one, for reasons those of us familiar with the literature on implicit bias can easily guess. Indeed, the findings of the study seem to yield pretty much the conclusions you’d expect given that literature.

Here’s the NYT on how the study works:

The study, conducted by economists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, sent 5,312 résumés to more than 2,600 employers who had advertised job openings. Two applications were sent to employers, each with virtually identical résumés. The only real difference was that one of the résumés included a photograph of the applicant. Sometimes the applicant was an attractive man or woman, and sometimes the photo showed a more plain-looking man or woman. (While sending a photograph with a résumé isn’t typical in the United States, it’s not uncommon in Israel, the researchers noted.)

Given what we know about implicit bias, we’d expect most people to have very weak associations between attractive women and intelligence or competence (and a variety of strong associations that are even more sexist). Thus, unlike the blogger Jourdemayne, the results of the study didn’t strike me as particularly surprising, I quote here from her post, which summarises the conclusions about women thus:

The interesting results come when we get to ‘potential employers’ and ‘women’.

Ready for this ladies?

‘No piccie’ does best of all. Tagging slightly behind – so slightly that the results could come out differently in repeated study – is the ‘plain’. And nearly 6% behind ‘plain’ is … ‘attractive’.

So if you are stunning and female, don’t send a picture to a potential employer, no matter what the one-day consultant twerp at uni. says.

Unsurprisingly the study also shows that attractive men actually benefit from sending photos at 19.9% invited for interview (whereas ‘plain’ men – you have to love the euphemism – do worse at 13.7%). Interestingly though, the men who didn’t send photos did worst of all at 9.2% (which makes me wonder if I should start enclosing photos in future).

Seriously though… Has anyone ever been advised to enclose a photo? Has anyone ever received a CV with a photo? And assuming one is aware of the effects this can have on one’s judgement of a candidate’s merit, isn’t the only rational thing to do to have them removed before sifting through them?


Beating Implicit Bias

As a teacher of philosophy I’ve been eagerly awaiting some research on how to compensate for (or if possible eliminate) the negative effects of implicit gender and other biases in the classroom. I’ll be teaching introductory logic next semester, so the timing of this potentially exciting piece of research from University of Colorado at Boulder could hardly be better. The claim is bold and striking – that it is possible completely to close the gender gap in the physics classroom by setting simple 15-minute writing exercises. From Discover magazine’s helpful summary:

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences aboutwhy they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

In a piece on EurkAlert! the authors sound a slightly more cautious note:

Steven Pollock, professor of physics and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar, noted that the study funded by the National Science Foundation is a “small piece” of a large puzzle, and he and his colleagues stressed that the results are no silver bullet in STEM education.

While concurring, Noah Finkelstein, a co-author and associate professor in physics, added, “This is a really exciting finding. It bears further exploration. These results hold significant promise for addressing differential performance and the significant disparity of recruitment and retention of women in STEM disciplines.”

I’d love to hear what readers think of the research. Would an exercise like this be as effective in the philosophy classroom? Are people tempted to try it out? (Thanks to Rob)

UPDATE: Thanks also to Mark who sent a link to a podcast on the study from Scientific American.

Stephen Fry & Deborah Cameron on gender & language

Today’s edition of  Stephen Fry’s “Fry’s Delight” on BBC Radio 4 is a discussion of “whether men and women really use and understand language differently.” It features a very interesting interview with Prof. Deborah Cameron of Oxford University. There is even an extended (18 minute) version of the interview half way down this page. I noticed that today’s Woman’s Hour also deals with gender issues, specifically, the same research mentioned in jj’s earlier post by Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot about gender behaviour not being genetically pre-determined. It’s been heartening to read and hear so much about feminist issues in the UK media lately, though it is a shame it’s all happening in the so-called ‘silly season’ (i.e. August is always a slow news month because parliament isn’t in session and most people are on holiday). Then again, perhaps it’s easier to get people’s attention when you’re not competing with the Con-Dems. (Apologies if, as I suspect is the case, all this is only accessible to readers in the UK.)