Etikettarkiv: Gender

Women, Maths and Careers – an Unholy Trinity?

It is perhaps not strange that gender theory and feminism never really made it big in countries like Somalia and Colombia, where laws, norms and culture unequivocally suggests harsh control of women’s behavior and exertion of power. But to witness a conservatively driven anti-feminist movement in places like Sweden, Denmark and USA, where political changes in the law as well as in social norms have clearly made it easier to express oneself regardless of sexuality, puzzles me.

To be critical of the different ways in which government money is spent is both healthy and democratically necessary; To be critical of research findings, for example within Gender Studies, is equally important and healthy. But to condemn the very existence of it to the same hell as phrenology and other atrocities is just mind-boggling. Have we really achieved a perfect, power-balanced, sexually free, non-racist, non-discriminatory society today?? No, we have not, and the dissent spilling out from blogs and conservative philosophers and op-ed writers is of course deeply rooted in ideology – not a rational consideration of gender studies and science.

One topic that always stirs up freakish debate is women, gender and mathematics. A basic look at the number of professor of mathematics show that around 10 % of professor posts in the US are occupied by women, a staggering number for anyone wishing to propose the relative cognitive similarities between men and women. Psychologist Stephen Ceci writes at Psychology Today about his new book “The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls” about some basic findings of the great gender gap in maths. What they find is that ” The imbalance in math-intensive careers can not be accounted for by sex differences in mathematical and spatial ability that have been reported between male and females (to the extent that this is a factor, it is a minor one), nor can they be attributed to current biases, though past cohort discrepancies may be explained in such terms, because women are hired for tenure-track positions at rates roughly comparable to their proportions in the scientific Ph.D. pools–and often at rates slightly above their proportions.”

His explanation is far more complex further on: by looking at how society expects women to make a unproportonatly large sacrifice for family and children during their thirties right after the completion of the PhD. The presupposition that women always must take a unproportnatly large responsibility of children permeates society in general, and is to no help for women but of course gives licence to men not to be forced into such sacrifice and thus keeping their carriers flawless at the expense of their wifes and girlfriends.

When Steve Pinker and Elisabeth Spelke went at each other by means of evolutionary psychology and sociology, they were arguing from two different standpoints and research outlooks: The study of men’s and women’s relationships and individual choices is far more complex than just reducing their performance to either social skills or innate faculties. Once more the million-dollar question to be asking ourselves is: who is gaining from either side? I myself would like to see justice and freedom of choice for women, children and men, but in order to get there we must keep refining our analyses and meta-analyses of research concerning all aspects of life. Feminist analysis of things cannot stop at some time, just because a few of us find the struggle meaningless. It is a perpetual analysis required at all times to make sure we do not fall into any structural or neurological fallacies.

For more on this enjoy some research of the male and female brain.

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Dishonesty and Misreadings is the Way of the Gender-Haters

So now the desperate offspring of the Swedish christian democratic party KDU has issued a propaganda campaign that has the aim of abolishing the  rational debate around gender and politics. The aim seems to be to lämna det genuskonsensus som samtliga andra partier anslutit sig till och formulera en borgerlig jämställdhetspolitik. So they want to leave the commonplace knowledge of gender and social science (who the hell needs a bunch of people smarter than you are and with more strange ideas of change than a normal christian democrat can handle?). As DN writes, the KD are trying to reconnect with the senior citizens of Sweden, putting their hope to people who grew up in an enviroment where segregated schools, universities and hatred for (homosexual) people where commonplace. Well, I somehow see why they need things like theme songs to support their struggle.

Many bloggers and a few editorials have shown support for abolishing the ‘gender-frenzy’ that they claim started with appointment of the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research and some of their recent activity like gender branding courses and universities. The KD and KDU are pursuing the same line of though that the Swedish Democrats whose agenda is far darker than KD’s but nonetheless hostile toward any view of politics that moves too far and too fast ahead of ”the real people of the world”. Political scientists Marie Demker and Andreas Johansson Heinö have interestingly pointed out that idea. The fact alone that the Swedish Democrats and the KD are now the only major political parties in Sweden that are not outspokenly feminist, is worth looking into.

People like Tanja Bergkvist will certainly stop at nothing to prove that there is a major flaw with the gender analysis of the worlds universities, think tanks and political board rooms. She and her bunch keeps on trying to undermine the idea that today’s society is somehow slanted towards a certain group of people that for most of the last 5000 years have had the world privilege to choose, rule and decide over every human institution we know – men.

Bergkvist and others (oftentimes mathematicians or people with none or scarce knowledge of social and political science) have been scared by gender theory because it aims to level the field of knowledge (and therefore power), and introduce a sensibility toward groups or individuals that normally are shut out of ‘rationally’ based institutions and fields of knowledge. One great example of this struggle is by pedagogy professor Moira von Wright whose report Gender and Text discusses the possibility of developing text books for schoolchildren as to make them more friendly to how girls perceive knowledge in a specific context. Now, misreading this report (which is not a scientific paper, folks, it is a politically issued report with scientific methods and discussions) as Bergkvist does when she thinks that von Wright presents a slanted way of looking at the entire field of Physics is exactly why things are going in a circle.

Although the report has some flaws the discussion of trying to create a book with a radically different way of thinking about physics in an early age is a nobel cause. I, for one, do not think men should be overrepresented in the field of physics and maths per se, although I am also aware of research confirming difference in male and female brains and developmental stages. But people like Bergkvist that have already made it to the mathematics department at Stockholm University does not think anyone else should have any problems with that achievement, and so the rational thinking that guides her life should not be pampered with, even if that makes schools and other institutions more prone to speak to boys in general. But what gender-haters must realize is that there is a difference between teaching and presenting ideas (of, say physics) and actually pursuing them. Gender theory has only one agenda – to unpack and decipher the power struggle that is immanent between the sexes, or between societal roles of gender, that are always constructed, regardless if it is based in biology, norms or tradition. Sign my up for that anytime.

Natalia K in Expressen

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Gender Wars in Academia – Oh, But My Government Made Me Do It!

Ever since the President of Harvard Larry Summers on a sunny day in April 22, 2005 commented on sex differences between men and women and how they may relate to the careers of women in science the Heat has been On. Summers was forced to resign over the heat he drew upon himself. But the seminar at Harvard University was about the research on mind, brain, and behavior relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes. The Edge reports on one of the most vivid debates between Elisabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker – nurture vs nature in a battle between two great psychologists.

Further reading on the brain and gender

In Sweden gender troubles have been illuminated in many different fields and in general all large state organizations have equality plans to help facilitate a discussion and move toward less discrimination. But now the backlash is a fact: the universities of Lund and Göteborg have both in recent cases been the targets of policies implemented from above in order to secure a gender perspective on all research fields. People like Steven Sampson have raged against the idea of a gender certificate stating that it is a way of the feminist forces to issue their influence upon the rest of the university. And yes, surely it is an idea that is using the worst of leftist paternalistic strategies, but there is nothing principally bad with the idea of letting a power perspective influence research in various fields of the university.

But the question of the female brain and the strategies of erasing bias from our public sphere must be held at a reasonable distance from each other. You cannot make swift inference from a few MRI’s and connect it to an immediate policy decision where teachers at universities are forced to give equal time in the class room to males and females, as is the case in a recent report in Sweden. My view, as always, is that the cognitive research in this field must be expanded and the humanities must come closer to scientific knowledge. Science in turn must start a discussion of political bias in Academia in order to stop the slanted and patriarchal structuring in all forms of knowledge production and development.

An important point made by neuroscientist Melissa Hines when discussing gender/sex in the brain is that the once-established dichotomy between sex and gender is really impossible to sanction. Mainly because the supposition that certain aspects should be analyzed biologically (sex) and others socially (gender) is from a brain perspective wrong, the social brain and the physical brain cannot be separated.

Further reading to recommend:

Annica Dahlström one of the leading proponents of the nature assumption of gender says it all.

The sexual brain by Simon LeVay

Brain Gender by Melissa Hines

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