Complexity, not Satan, as the real enemy of fundamentalism

Emma has written a thought-provoking post on her brief foray into fundamentalism.

Although most UK fundamentalists are middle-class their theologies do not appear to be influenced by their access to education. Fundamentalist thinking forces every issue, problem, idea, challenge, ideology, and state into a framework in which things are either good or evil. Complexity, not Satan, is the real enemy. “Secular” sources of information and analysis are viewed with extreme caution, and I have witnessed more than one repentant bonfire of “secular” music.

This black and white thinking is taken into the area of gender. I was involved with a particular church that viewed non gender-stereotyped behaviours and clothing as a sign of spiritual immaturity. One particular women was forbidden by the church hierarchy from using tools around the house (masculine behaviour) until she adopted the modest dress they felt befitted a Christian woman.

Clearly this is batshit crazy, but a gender gap was observable in all of the churches I attended. Men filled the spots within the church leadership, except those posts that related to women and children. Women ran the creche, typed up the church newsletter, and provided and cleared up after refreshments. Men taught, women learned. Men led, women followed. Men protected, women obeyed.

I think the most chilling, though unfortunately not unexpected, part of the post came when she talked about some of her actual experiences with the church. Debates over which tea was more holy were fought with more fervor than that of the plight of domestic violence victims. That, and the emphasis on marriage/childbearing being the only acceptable goal for women, is as good an indicator as any for what kind of “morality” those kinds of institutions teach. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing good, right, or moral about treating human beings the way that Emma describes.

Feminist Blogs: Network, Support Group, Way of Life

I know, three posts practically in a row. So unusual for me. But Sour Duck’s post really jumped out at me:

This is why it’s so important to read feminist publications, participate in feminist communities and events, and generally do what men do so well: network. Feminism and feminist actions (like blogging) help fight against the constant assault women live under. Even when—or especially when—you are not consciously aware of it. Even for those who say, “I’m not offended by that. I don’t feel oppressed. And I’m a woman.”

Even for those people.

Blogging, and reading blogs, is a kind of catharsis for me. Just when I look at the world – at all the sexism, racisim, classism, ablism, etc – and look at myself and think, “I just can’t do this anymore. What’s the point? Why should I fight when no one else will?” someone writes on my blog how my article touched them, or I see an article that touches me. And it makes it all worth it. Oppression will still exist, people who perpetuate oppression because of ignorance or malice will still exist, but just knowing that I’m not alone gives me the strength to continue to fight for the right to be who I am.

Nothing Wrong and Everything Right

I’d just like to bring attention to Jenn’s post, Have you hugged a feminist today? She gives a very personal look into the way that “feminism” has been turned into a dirty word and how she overcame that impression.

This part in particular resonated with me:

So, yes, I am a feminist. I am a vocal, activist-y, liberated, free-thinking, insecure, movie-going, comic-book-reading, video-game playing, dietin’ and exercisin’, studious, educated, ignorant, opinionated, long-haired, make-up-wearing, bra-toting, skirt-donning, leg-shavin’, dick-lovin’ feminist of colour. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Damn straight.

In Support of an Empress

This has been in the works for a while, but apparently the cogs of bureaucracy have started moving:

The panel last week recommended revising Japanese law to give an emperor’s first-born child of either sex the right to head the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy.

The revision, if approved, is expected to make Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako’s only child Aiko — who celebrated her 4th birthday Thursday — second in line to the throne, behind her father.


Support for the change is high. A recent poll by the nationwide newspaper Asahi showed 78 percent of the respondents were in favor of a reigning empress.

78% popular support doesn’t suck. It’s not the prime ministry, but the imperial family is a huge part of Japanese culture and, if nothing else, they serve as the cultural and spiritual leaders of the country. And, there’s something to be said of changing sexist laws, even if only because there doesn’t seem to be any other choice.

Via feminist.

Think women have achieved equality? Think again.

Please do not reproduce this article in full on any other site!

This list is modified every so often to fix broken links, add new points, and otherwise update the material. While I appreciate readers’ support in spreading this through the internet, I request that you post no more than an excerpt onto your own site, and that you include a link back to this specific page so that everyone may have the benefit of seeing the most recent material.

Drawn by the Carnival of Feminists, I visited midlife mama’s article, Second Wave Feminism, Beauvoir, and me, and got into a small conversation about second-wave and third-wave feminism. In her reply, Libby discusses her experiences with the “women are equal already” sentiment that many young people (and some older ones too) hold. I, in my typical fashion, went off on a rant about how much I hate that. And, again in my typical fashion, I want to take the opportunity to elaborate on my point. Disclaimer: This post is Western-centric, with a focus on America/Canada, because that’s where most of my practical experience comes from.

Warning: The following post is a list that links to many examples of why the idea that we Westerners live in a genderblind society, meaning that we have achieved total equality, is a myth. If you are offended by the idea that women may not be content for scraps now that we’ve got the vote, then this is not the list for you. If you are offended by a list about equality that focuses on women, don’t complain about it here. There are many places to discuss men’s issues, this thread is not one of them. This is not a detailed rebuttal or in-depth discussion on the issues presented, although if you take the time to follow the links you may find some those. This is a link list and is aimed at being a launching pad, not the end path, so if you decide to treat it as such then it is your loss, not the list’s fault. And if you are a man who reads this list and thinks that women should stop “whining” about the “small shit” then you are just proving the point that this list is trying to make.

So, without further ado, I present you with some food for thought on equality.

We Can’t Be Equal While:

    Gender Roles

  1. Men are the default and women are the Other (and therefore lesser).
  2. Being called “girly” or a “sissy” or “pussy” are some of the worst insults you can give a man.
  3. When a woman shows confidence in herself, she is said to “have balls”, or conversely she is a “man-eater”, “ball-buster”, or a “bitch” because she was “too” assertive.
  4. Men are beat up, ridiculed, or made fun of for being “effeminate” and women are beat up, ridiculed, or made fun of for being “masculine”.
  5. Many people get angry when a woman questions the intentions behind a “chivalrous” act from a man.
  6. There are men who refuse “chivalrous” acts from a woman, such as refusing to walk through a door that a woman holds open for them, while believing that it is rude for a woman to exercise the same right to refuse.
  7. Women can’t express anger without the very real fear of being accused of “hysterics” or being “shrill”.
  8. Women get scolded for “un-ladylike” behaviour: using coarse language, talking frankly about sex or other “impolite” topics, confidently voicing one’s dissenting opinion, etc.
  9. People continue to believe and perpetuate gender essentialism based on bad science or using actual studies to “prove” the innateness of gender roles when the study itself supports no such thing.
  10. Relationships, Sex, and Sexuality

  11. For different-sex couples, women are expected to take their husband’s name, or at the very least hyphenate, but many men still balk at the idea of even considering adopting their wife’s name. If a woman decides to keep her name, both partners are interrogated and shamed by friends and family.
  12. For same-sex couples, people think it is okay to ask “who’s the woman/man of the couple?”
  13. Women are seen as the “gatekeepers” to morality/sexuality, charged with the duty of fending off the advances of men. If they fail then they were “asking for” it and/or are “damaged goods”. Their clothing/actions will always be questioned to see if they were “leading on” the man at all.
  14. Men are seen as “beasts” who are unable to control their “raging hormones” – which absolves them of guilt for “improper” sex (anything from date rape to sex outside of marriage) but also paints them as uncivilized brutes.
  15. Women are “sluts”, men are “players”.
  16. Women’s worth goes down according to how many sexual partners people think she has had.
  17. Men’s worth goes up according to how many sexual partners people think he has had.
  18. We live in a rape culture where many people continue to blame the victims of rape and domestic violence.
  19. We buy into the myth that all men (even minors) are, at all times, willing to fuck a “gorgeous” woman and any man who would pass up sex with a remotely attractive woman is deserving of ridicule.
  20. Wives/mothers are still expected to do most of the home/childcare, even if they have a job outside the home.
  21. Fathers/husbands are seen as bumbling dolts who are mentally incapable of cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, or any other traditionally feminine task.
  22. There are significantly more stay-at-home moms than there are dads.
  23. Men are expected to pay on a date, and some men expect women to put out for this “service”.
  24. The Public Sphere

  25. Men continue to be a clear majority in the government, prominent positions in businesses, and other public places of power.
  26. There have been so few female leaders in most countries. For instance, in the Group of Eight:
    • America has never had a female president.
    • Canada’s first, and only, female prime minister was Kim Campell [1993].
    • Britain’s first, and only, female prime minister was Margaret Thatcher [1979-1990].
    • France’s first, and only, female prime minister was Edith Cresson [1991-1992].
    • Italy has never had a female prime minister.
    • Japan has never had a female prime minister.
    • Russia has never had a female president.
    • Germany’s first, and only, female Chancellor is Angela Merkel [2005].
  27. Pakistan, which is held up by many Americans as a “backward” country regarding women’s rights, elected a female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, twice while Americans were still debating whether or not America was “ready” for a female president (here are some other female leaders who have been elected while America has been dragging its feet).
  28. There are still areas in our so-called “equal” societies where sex discrimination, sexual harassment and the glass ceiling are alive and kicking.
  29. It’s considered “big news” when articles tell mothers who work outside the home that they “can’t have it all”, but not so much when articles call for work reforms and male responsibility.
  30. Women in the sex trade, even those who have chosen the life, are treated as sub-human on a regular basis.
  31. It is not seen as sex discrimination to include harmful (and expensive!) items such as makeup and high heels in the requirements for a woman’s dress code while having no such constraints on the men’s dress code.
  32. Women are still discouraged from entering the sciences by social stereotypes, lack of job availability, and the continuing belief that women just aren’t smart enough.
  33. It is considered appropriate to attack a female public figure because of her appearance and fashion sense.
  34. One of the first ways to discredit women who speak up in public forums is to threaten sexual violence.
  35. Women are disproportionately affected by fat discrimination in the workforce and other places.
  36. Appearance, Bodily Sovereignty, and Personhood

  37. Men’s bodies belong to no one but themselves; women’s uteri are seen as the property of men, the government, and even strangers.
  38. Women’s place as full-fledged legal and social adults is not assured.
  39. Women are seen first and foremost by their physical attributes and secondly by their relevant qualities.
  40. The double-standard of beauty is camouflaged under myths of empowerment and liberation.
  41. Women feel the need to undergo a potentially dangerous operation on their healthy vaginas in order to please their husbands/boyfriends by striving towards an unrealistic beauty standard set by mainstream porn.
  42. It is seen as appropriate for stranger and friend alike to give unsolicited comments on a woman’s appearance: her weight, fashion, leg/armpit hair, etc.
  43. Eating disorders, caused primarily by our society’s unhealthy obsession with fat, are still rampant among women (significantly more than among men).
  44. There are contests like “Pimp My Ride”.
  45. And many, many other reasons.

Last Updated: February 9, 2008.

Interesting Take on Gender and Feminism

I came across this untitled post in the feminist_rage LJ about anti-feminist misconceptions about feminism (the OP specifically addresses a white, heterosexual male that she is aquainted with for her rage). One commenter’s words just sort of jumped out at me as interesting [emphasis mine]:

“All feminists really want to do these days is make women into men.”

Oh, wow, that’s hilarious! They just don’t get it, do they? Feminism is about making it okay to NOT be a man. It’s about saying, ‘oh, you’re not a man? Well that’s okay, because you’re still a person.’

[From a post in feminist_rage, comment by nonahs]

I’ve looked at the gender democracy angle from several points of view, but this kind was fresh to me. I’m not sure it would be a useful discourse against an actual anti-feminist, but it’s something to think about at the very least.

Media Girl on How Progressive is not Liberal

In her post, When the straw man misses the reality bus, media girl discusses many things, one of which is the difference between liberals and progressives.

Here’s an excerpt:

The first — and main — mistake here is equating “progressive” with “liberal.” Now I’m one of the first to admit that there’s a lot of overlap. But I feel, at least from my perspective, that there are some important distinctions between the two: progressive means having a dynamic, proactive government that actively participates in the economy and the fabric of our culture, while liberal comes with assumptions about the kinds of programs the government provides. In some ways, liberalism goes beyond progressivism in the manner and approach of such programs, while progressivism goes beyond liberalism in the scope and goals of what a proactive government can achieve. At least that’s how I see it. (For the record, I consider myself a progressive who is sympathetic to the liberal cause.)

I also consider myself a progressive, not a liberal. I would actually go further than media girl did and say that liberals are often conflated with Democrats, although the two aren’t technically synonomous.

Anyway, it’s a great read that I’m too lazy to go through in detail, so if you want to know more you’ll have to go read it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it if you do.

Newsflash: Religion is harmful to society

Finally, people are researching the claim that I’ve observed anecdotally for years: all this “god” stuff hurts more than it helps. An article in The Times reports on a new study recently published examining the assertion that religion is necessary for a healthy society.

The study comes from a US academic journal called the Journal of Religion and Society and was authored by Gregory Paul. From the article, it seems that he took data from several respected research bodies and used them to create correlational data between several social factors and religion. Without the study, I can’t verify for myself how strong of a correlation he would have been able to draw, but before anyone gets too excited, I want to point out that there’s too many variables to be able to prove a causational model in this area.

From the article:

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

I highly recommend reading the entire article. I would love to get my hands on the paper itself, as I’m very interested in this learning more study. (Darn you, UBC library!) Heck, I’m very interested in the journal itself, seeing as the title of it leads me to believe that it focuses on the examination of how religion and society interact. I hope that Paul’s research here leads to a more in-depth examination between the impacts of various belief systems on societies and the people who live in them.

Via Pandagon.

Update: Found the study, it’s available for public viewing on the Journal’s website: Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.

Sidenote: I am so pissed at WordPress right now. I was having some trouble updating this, and it had gone through, so I closed the unsaved file that I was keeping my update in and logged out. Guess what? The entire post went from published to unpublished status and lost the update I had written! ARGH.

Acknowledging Inersections: MRA's, Feminists, and Gender

Hugo posted on MRA’s (Men’s Right’s Activists) and marriage on his thread, Querying the MRAs about marriage. He quoted a few of his resident MRA posters, and I decided to address a (possibly unintentional) implied undertone to one of the quotes about not wanting to be yet another person’s plaything. To which I asked the semi-rhetorical question, “But, somehow, it’s ok for women to go through this?”

For those of you unfamiliar with MRA’s, they’re men belonging to various specific organizations that focus primarily on men’s rights (or lack thereof) in the family court system. On the surface, it seems like a noble goal. And I’m sure for some in their ranks it is just about achieving equal representation in the way the legal system views divorce and child responsibilities. However, where the disconnect happens for me is that most of the MRA’s I’ve come in contact with have wrongfully blamed feminism, and sometimes Western women in general, for their problems.

One of the beliefs that some of them hold that I find to be particularly abhorrent is quoted in Hugo’s post:

As Fenn writes, many men are choosing to pursue immigrant girls from more established cultures who are comfortable in their own less-complex skins and bring their own flourishes of exotica and mystery with them.

First off, calling foreign women (although I’m sure they’d lump the men into a similar category) “less-complex” is insulting and, frankly, wrong. Anyone with a working knowledge of any foreign country would know that people are people, no matter where they live. Coming from a different culture in no way invalidates one’s personhood; it just makes it hard for people ignorant of everything but their own culture to understand the person in question.

Second of all, this whole Othering of (foreign) women is so 1950s. “Exotica and mystery”? Come on. All that is just a pretty way to saying that they don’t want to be bothered with someone they have to see as a human being. Far better for them to do the mail-order bride thing (a term that by its very nature calls up the idea of buying and shipping property rather than a human being) than actually have to build a relationship with someone who they see as their equal.

While I hope that the whole “mail-order bride” idea is an extreme example of their ideals, it does illustrate a notion that I’ve found expressed in one way or another in all of the MRA posts that I’ve read. All MRA’s seem to support a gender caste system and, indeed, for many of them it is a very strict gender caste system. In general, they want their men and women to subscribe to the cult of masculinity and the cult of femininity respectively, meaning breadwinning patriarchs supported by submissive housewives.

They rage on and on about court systems that support just that notion (female as “natural” mother, male as monetary provider) but refuse to acknowledge that a gender democracy is needed for those systems to change.

In Hugo’s thread I accused them of hypocrisy:

I just don’t understand how someone could be more than willing to see their own oppression while being unwilling (unable?) to see how their exact circumstances apply to women – indeed how their exact circumstances have applied to women for centuries.

Now, after all my discussion on how the MRA movement supports a gender caste, how it blames feminism/Western women for their woes, and how it wants its advocates to be the sole victims of the system, I’m going to turn around and apply my quoted statement to feminism.

I have been witness to several feminists denying that sexism against men (both institutionalized and individual) exists. Indeed, while feminism is in general a movement that focuses on not only female oppression, but also the way that many different oppressions (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) intersect, many feminists have a hard time acknowledging links between one or more of these oppressions. Heck, if I dug deep enough I’m sure I would have a hard time linking at least one oppression to feminism.

To be fair to the feminists I’m referring to, their statements were always in reference to men coming into their spaces and trying to de-rail their discussions by whining about how they were hurt by x, too. It wasn’t about these men’s experiences, though, it was about monopolizing the conversation and taking the emphasis off of the issues at hand. This, understandably, made the replies angry and harsh. To be further fair to the discussion, the valid concerns that occasionally popped up lead a few of the feminists to create an offshoot community called Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too. The fact that it’s not a very active community is likely a testimony to how many of those “but men are hurt by x, too” debates weren’t real comments to foster discussion, but rather hurtful attempts to halt meaningful examination of topics.

But, for all my fairness, the reality exists: some feminists either refuse to acknowledge that the way the patriarchy oppresses men directly relates to the oppression of women, or even that the patriarchy can oppress men at all.

Of course, the most obvious expression of the patriarchy oppressing men is already given in my MRA primer: gender caste. The cult of masculinity operates on the principle that a man must be “masculine” because being “feminine” is beneath him. I challenge any reader, feminist or no, to demonstrate how that isn’t 1) male oppression by the patriarchy, and/or 2) directly linked to the oppression of women.

The governing principle of a gender caste system is to force all people to worship at the altar of its gender cults. That means that while the cult of masculinity affords men many more privileges than the cult of femininity affords women, it takes away men’s choices in self-expression as readily as it takes away women’s choices. Indeed, living in a society where second-wave feminism has gained me the right to enter the male sphere, I’d say that ostensibly that the cult of masculinity was more rigid than its sister cult. Of course, being the gender that is seen as “lesser”, I’d say that women are still getting the short end of the stick. I just acknowledge that the goal of freeing women from oppression will also free men: in a gender democracy I won’t be the second sex and, therefore, all men will be free to explore their “feminine” sides without fear of being seen as inferior.

On the MRA’s end, that means that equality will be achieved in family court because relationships will be seen as partnerships instead of hierarchies. Of course, equality will come at a high cost for those who believe in gender caste; in order to get equal representation, they must first accept equal responsibility: in the relationship, in and outside the home, and in raising the children.

The Gender Similarities Hypothesis

Janet Shibley Hyde is my hero. No, seriously. You may have read about her in the BBC, The Times, or The Guardian. I did (via Mind the Gap) and, for once, the coverage didn’t make me want to beat my head against the wall. But, pop-science is pop-science, no matter how good the reporting may be; if I’m ever in doubt of that all I need to do is read the uninformed opinion espoused by David Schmitt that The Times thought was worthy of printing. Suffice it to say, in order to learn about the article I had to go to the source.

What follows is part summary of Hyde’s paper, part critique of the pop-science articles. I hope to give a better understanding of Hyde’s work while showing how inadequate even good reporting can be when conveying complex ideas such as the gender similarities hypothesis. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations come from Hyde (2005)1.

Before I go into the study itself, I’d like to explain the term “meta-analysis” that’s been thrown around and vaguely defined in the articles.

From the published study itself:

Meta-analysis is a statistical method for aggregating research findings across many studies of the same question (Hedges & Becker, 1986). It is ideal for synthesizing research on gender differences, an area which often dozens or even hundreds of studies of a particular question have been conducted.

Basically, this method uses the findings of a bunch of studies and runs them through a size effect equation (to measure the magnitude of an effect). These individual effects are averaged to obtain overall effect sizes that reflect the magnitude across all of the studies. I’m neither a psychologist nor particularly up on my math, but logically meta-analysis seems to be a fairly reliable measuring system. However, keep in mind that it is only as accurate as the studies it relies on.

The Hypothesis:

The gender similarities hypothesis holds that males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables. That is, men and women, as well as boys and girls, are more alike than they are different.

See, I told you science was on my side when it comes to supporting a gender democracy. Hyde goes on to say that most psychological gender differences are negligible (close-to-zero and small), while some fall into the moderate range, and very few into large/very large in the (roughly) six categories she studied. Those categories are cognitive variables, verbal/nonverbal communication, social/personality variables, psychological well-being, motor behaviors, and miscellaneous constructs.

In the paper, Hyde gives data for 128 effect sizes, 4 of which were unable to be classified due to the wide range for the estimate. In support of her hypothesis, 30% of the effect sizes were close-to-zero and 48% were small. In essence, 78% of the data shows little to no support for gender differences, while the remaining 22% shows moderate to large. Again, this is the raw data without any interpretation; variables such as context have not been taken into account at this stage.

Hyde devotes a small section to discussing the moderate to high differences. The areas she addresses are motor performance, sexuality, and aggression. I’d like to take this opportunity to point out where The Times is misleading in its reporting.

First, they said of the gender differences that, “in aggression – men were more prone to anger.” Having read the study, I did not see any evidence or conclusion to that effect. Hyde says that “the evidence is ambiguous regarding the magnitude of the gender difference in relational aggression.” She cites differences in effect sizes between physical and verbal, as well as significant differences between direct observation, peer ratings, and self-reported aggression. Later on, in her discussion of context, she cites a significant difference in individuated (ie. highly personal environments) studies of aggression, but in the deindividuated ones (ie. anonymous environments) that difference disappeared. According to Hyde’s research: “In short, the significant gender difference in aggression disappeared when gender norms were removed.” The BBC, it should be noted, picked up on this study and portrayed it in a way accurate to the text.

Second, The Times claimed: “Men were also, the psychologists found, better at skills involving co-ordination such as throwing.” While it is true that one of the moderate to high differences was motor performance, particularly throwing distances, claiming that men are “better at skills involving co-ordination” is misleading. Indeed, since age was definitely a factor (the sizes significantly changed “after puberty, when the gender gap in muscle mass and bone size widens”), it is necessary to note that the physical differences between the genders is as, if not more, important a contributor to this difference as the psychological ones. None of the three news sites pointed out age and physical differences as a significant factor in the throwing example, but The Times is the only one that used different language than the one in Hyde’s paper to describe the difference in throwing distance.

I’d also like to point out that Hyde misses the connection between measures of sexuality (masturbation and attitudes about casual sex) and context. While I have no doubt that the reporting of such attitudes reflected a moderate to high gender difference, there are large bodies of research devoted to examining how socialization affects such attitudes. From research, as well as my own experiences as a woman, I am confident that the gender differences noted in sexuality are largely, if not completely, due to socialization rather than an innate difference. I would be surprised if we were to achieve a gender democracy and not see sexuality become another area that supported the gender similarities hypothesis.

Going back to the news articles, I found it disappointing that all three of them chose to ignore one of the big parts of Hyde’s research: her section on developmental trends. Her findings are key to understanding the problems inherent in our educational system. In addressing the stereotypes surrounding girls and math (in this case, males being better at high-level computations and girls being better at low-level ones), it was found that there was a slight gender difference in favor of the girls for low-level calculations until high school, when no difference in computation was found. For complex calculations, the opposite was found; up until high school no disparity existed, but after that a slight difference in favor of the boys emerged. Clearly, age difference was the driving factor in the magnitude of the gender effect.

She also examines a disparity that forms before high school with girls and computer self-efficacy:

This dramatic trend leads to questions about what forces are at work transforming girls from feeling as effective with computers as boys do to showing a large difference in self-efficacy by high school.

Hyde concludes this section by stating that the fluctuations seen at different ages does not fit with the differences model nor the idea that gender differences are large and stable. Again, this section is an important one for interpreting the data provided by the meta-analysis method, especially with application to education and socialization.

Another important factor in interpreting the data is context. Hyde gives the aggression example (described above), as well as further deconstructing the girls-are-bad-at-math stereotype, examining the impact of socialization using the social-role theory, gender-based interruptions of conversations, and looking at smiling differences. I won’t go into detail about every one of them, but I would like to highlight her findings on women and mathematics.

In one experiment, male and female college students with equivalent math backgrounds were tested (Spencer et al., 1999). In one condition, participants were told that the math test had shown gender differences in the past, and in the other condition, they were told that the test had been shown to be gender fair – that men and women had performed equally on it. In the condition in which participants had been told that the math test was gender fair, there were no gender differences on the test. In the condition in which participants expected gender differences, women underperformed compared with men. This simple manipulation of context was capable of creating or erasing gender differences in math performance.

Proof that one doesn’t have to hold a gun to your head in order to influence you. Though not particularly surprising or novel, it is nonetheless disturbing to see such a visible example of how deeply affected we can be by our socialization.

As if the above weren’t a good enough example alone to prove the “costs of inflated claims of gender differences”, Hyde devotes an entire section to it. Citing, job discrimination, the girls and math stereotype, problems in heterosexual relationships, and lack of recognition of male self-esteem problems, she does a pretty thorough job of proving her assertion that gender essentialism does, indeed, have a high cost. I won’t go into detail here either, The Guardian article did a good summary of her points, but I can’t resist quoting one part: “Meta-analyses… indicate a pattern of gender similarities for math performance.” In your face, Larry Summers!

I am, obviously, in support of the gender similarities hypothesis. However, I dare any naysayer to find as convincing a body of evidence, supported by previous meta-analyses as this one is, that shows the opposite. No matter what one may want to believe about gender, this is not one woman’s lonely study being touted as The End All, Be All. This is a compilation of 46 different meta-analyses (covering many studies each) over the past 20 years. That’s huge.

All I can say is that I hope Hyde’s study continues to be elaborated on and that the media takes a hint from her warnings and stops printing pop-science crap. Okay, I shouldn’t hold my breath on the latter, but I firmly believe that the former is a sign of progress towards a true gender democracy. And, really, progress is really all that matters in the end.

1. Hyde, Janet Shibley. September 2005. ‘The Gender Similarities Hypothesis’. American Psychologist 60 No. 6: 581-592.