Friday, October 8, 2010

Women and Objects

Found this interesting paper on philosophy and women. Basically, the goal of this study is to determine some of the factors that may be at play in the gender gap in the study of philosophy. Generally, when I read about gender gaps, it is in the context of business, not academia, and not usually a specific field of study.
One of the things that caught my attention was the experiments that they described. One of the first experiments described details a story about a young man who is reading a book and leaves it and his watch on a table. It says that there was another story about a young woman and two different objects, a fork and a wedding ring. But it doesn't actually give us the full story. I'm curious as to what it was. The female protagonists couldn't have been reading a fork and also leave a wedding ring. So, she was eating? Or maybe cooking?
This probably doesn't affect the results, but it is interesting to note that the stories written here about a man and a woman were gendered. The man is reading, doing something intellectual. The man leaves a watch, something precise and useful. The woman was doing something with a fork, something that involved food, something women traditionally are responsible for within a family. She left a wedding ring, which indicates to the reader she's married; the male character may or may not be married, but a point is made to define her marital status, not his. It's interesting that the story wasn't about a woman reading a book who also leaves a watch, especially since women do read and women do use watches. Or, conversely, men use forks and wear wedding rings. Also: it specified it was a wedding ring. Although some of the readers might assume a woman's ring was a wedding ring, it could also be just a ring. Lots of women, married and unmarried, wear non-wedding rings. The researchers could have written a story about a woman who was wearing a necklace and writing a paper with a pen.
One of the other things the paper mentions, much later on, is that women with high IQs are actually discouraged because they are negatively impacted by confusing problems.  This goes back to something I read years ago in Marie C. Wilson's Closing the Leadership Gap: women only stay in a field if they are truly confident.  My mind is a little blurry on the details, but basically Wilson argued that men stay in a field of study even if they're bad at it.  Women only stay in a field if they are truly good at it.  Apparently this is why there are so few women in certain fields, because they lack the confidence men have to stay with something.  This study is defending the same basic idea that women are unlikely to stay in philosophy because they lack confidence. 
Gender informs so much of our lives, and so much of that informing is subtle. These researchers were right to work on this problem, because, clearly, it affects us all. At the same time, the paper mentioned that there were a lot of experiments where gender apparently didn't affect the results. The paper didn't expound upon those issues, but I would love to read about those experiments as well, because maybe there is information there that would be useful to understanding this gender gap.

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