Sex, Gender, and Survey Practices

There’s a great new post up over at SWS’s Gender and Society page describing a recent study of the deployment of sex and gender categories in U.S. surveys. The results are troubling and illuminating. Here’s a taste:

One surprising finding is that when these surveys are conducted face-to-face or by telephone Americans are not asked to self-identify their sex or gender at all. Instead, the survey interviewer determines the category for the people they interview. The box for “male” or “female” gets checked off based on an unstated set of criteria that could include anything from their name, their voice, their dress or physical appearance, or their relationship to other people in their household. Occasionally, interviewers are instructed to ask a direct question, but only if the person’s sex or gender “is not obvious.” Even then, it is often presumed that asking someone this question will be awkward, likely because of the belief that a person’s sex or gender should be obvious.

H/t DF.

Welcome to the blogosphere, DailyNous!

There’s a new kid on the virtual block, DailyNous.

It’s very early days for this new blog, but its comments policy is already a welcome contribution to the philosophy blogosphere:

9. Is there a comments policy? Yes. The comments policy is this: before you comment, imagine the following. You are seated in a comfortable chair at a table with all of the other commentators. You have gathered to discuss an issue of mutual concern, and you are aiming to learn something from the conversation. Take off your shoes if you’d like. Wriggle your toes. Appreciate the wonders of everyday life in the twenty-first century. On the table in front of you is your favorite beverage. Through the window is your favorite view. And seated next to you is a child, who you brought with you for a lesson on how to discuss controversial issues with strangers. Are you imagining all of that? Okay, now try commenting.

I might just make this the policy for the next grad seminar I teach too. It’s kind of awesome.

(h/t AM)

So suppose you do lose that weight …

I mentioned recently that I had been given a prescription for medicine that has for many a welcome side-effect: weight loss. One of the interesting things about experiencing the loss is that you can be left with your obviously untenable old beliefs, along with some scary beliefs in something like magic that become more visible. I think that if I mentioned them all, I might sketch a picture of myself that I’d soon regret putting on the web. So I’ll mention a few, and invite others to join in with their own examples, if they want.

One I knew about, but I saw again how clearly false it is. This is the belief that if I just lost five pounds, I’d be happy. According to quite a few women at the central APA, this is a very common belief, and all of us with it know it is false. There I was, two weeks and five pounds after I started, not feeling any happier at all.

I have wondered if we do really believe that. Perhaps we believe instead that our body shape is really bad, and any loss would be good. But I don’t really think so. I think we tend to believe the false version. That seems to leave us in the paradoxical position of admitting a belief of the form “I believe that P though it is not true.” In fact, the belief may not be as paradoxical as it seems. It may be that we have mistakenly thought of our minds on the model of the revisable essay, with assertions that are eventually integrated into a consistent whole. But in fact, our minds might be more like an old sewing basket, with bits of fabric saved though they are probably useless. (What do you think?)

Then there are the magical beliefs, as I think of them. At least there are out of touch with the way the world actually works. One might be, “after a weekend in New Orleans, I will have gained the whole 15 pounds back.” Or even, it could happen that the weight comes back some night when I’m asleep.

The thing that is remarkable about these magical beliefs it that they probably don’t exist inert in some hidden recess of the mind. They are probably tied in with some behavior and some other beliefs. But it is hard to see how believing that one’s body is so vulnerable to mysterious workings of a magical world would be a very good thing. They may in fact mount up to a not very rational tendency to blame oneself. Clearly, if these changes can happen just out of the blue, one should try to figure out how to avoid them, perhaps by being especially good and forgoing desert. Or whatever.

Another big category of magical beliefs for me concerns clothes. But I’m going to stop now and see if anyone else wants to add some examples.

TIME/CNN make the point:

There may be too much to say about the piece below, but it’s going to percolate through some of our culture. So let’s consider the floor open for questions and comments.

And I’ll start. I’m pretty sure she’s wrong to say mass murder is a young man’s crime. I saw something – probably in the NYTimes – that shows this false. Secondly, the idea that initiation ceremonies are ways to deal with young men’s supposedly violent tendencies is a fairly questionable interpretation, I would have thought.

The silence around the gendering of violence is as inexplicable as it is indefensible. Sex differences in other medical and social conditions — such as anorexia nervosa, lupus, migraines, depression and learning disabilities — are routinely analyzed along these lines….

For millennia, human society has struggled with what to do with young men’s violent tendencies. Many cultures stage elaborate initiation ceremonies, presided over by older men, which help channel youthful aggression into productive social roles. But in contemporary society, we have trouble talking about the obvious: The transition from boy to man is a risky endeavor, and there can be a lot of collateral damage…

Our refusal to talk about violence as a public health problem with known (or knowable) risk factors keeps us from helping the young men who are at most risk and, of course, their potential victims. When we view terrible events as random, we lose the ability to identify and treat potential problems, for example by finding better ways to intervene with young men during their vulnerable years. There is so much more we need to learn about how to prevent violence, but we could start with the sex difference that is staring us in the face.

Another “What Is It Like”

Feminist Philosophers’ sister blogs What Is It Like to Be A Woman in Philosophy and This is What a Philosopher Looks Like are the latest targets of a fauxphilnews parody. The spoof site reports that another marginalized group of philosophers, zombies, have created their own “What Is It Like” blog to educate readers about obstacles faced by zombie philosophers.


“I think the expansion from women to other marginalized groups is the natural next step,” says Noam Chompsky, the site’s unfortunately named creator. “Zombies typically rank somewhere between pedophiles and atheists in terms of the general level of distrust among the public, and I think some of that distrust finds its way into the discipline.”

But are there good news stories for zombie philosophers? Can we look forward to a What We’re Doing About What It’s Like to Be a Zombie in Philosophy blog?

The Sunday Cat’s place on the web is recognized.

Via our friend, KW: Ethan Zuckerman, one of the early web developers, talks about the original purpose of the web, in The Cute Cat Theory Talk at etech:

Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers.

Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.


I had a front-row seat for this transition, working with Tripod. We sincerely believed that the purpose of the web was to give college graduates helpful information about renting apartments, applying for jobs and investing their money. Our users rapidly told us that what the web was really about was publishing their own information… which left us with the difficult challenge of figuring out how to make money off of people’s collections of cat pictures.

His twin themes of cats and activism produced the wonderful chart: 


Another piece of evidence against the crazy cat lady hypothesis!

Zuckman is also a co-founder of the astonishing Global Voices.  For a wonderful example, see Blangladesh from Our View, which KW founded and directs.