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Re: new member presentation



Monique Y. Mudama wrote:
On 2008-11-04, Helen Faulkner penned:
Ooh, can I play devil's advocate here? <grin>

I'd like to play, too!  And I hope I do not sound confrontational ...
just trying to express some thoughts / starting points for discussion.

Me too :)

And I was waiting for someone to hit on my guns/dolls thing as being way too
simplistic, which it is.

I've snipped throughout ... if I've oversnipped, I apologize.  It was
all good stuff, but I didn't want to quote your entire post.

No problems at all.  I'll snip too.

Why would skills not have an innate gender bias?*  Good question.  But
I don't put much faith in these studies and anecdotes, because it's
hard to control for known bias in our culture, let alone be able to
recognize it in all of its possible forms.  From inside our cultures,
we may be able to see certain patterns, but others will elude us
because they're as invisible as air.

I think that some of the studies are surely not free from societal bias.  Maybe
all of them, though you have to wonder whether the studies about the differences
between male and female brains at birth could possibly have that problem - do
male and female babies have different experiences in utero because of our
unspoken expectations of them, or more because of the physiological differences
they have already experienced in their development.  Me, I'd believe the latter
every time, especially as lots of people don't even know the sex of their baby
until it is born.

I am sure that there are cases of parents having the intention of
raising children without gender bias, but that's not the same as
bringing up children without gender bias.  Guns and dolls are only the
extreme tip of the iceberg.  It's the subconscious things that will
get you every time, and even if somehow parents managed to be
miraculously completely free of any societal bias, they certainly
can't ensure that everyone the child interacts with is free of these
biases.  There are grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors,
teachers, random people on the street.  Kids are good at picking up
subtle signals; it's how they survive and learn to function in
society.

I agree with all of this.  It is the flaw in my example.  But I think it would
be equally naive to assume that all of the studies, across all cultures,
throuought all known history could be wrong.  There is a reason why there tend
to be very specific differences between men's and women's behaviour, across all
of these cultures, and it comes down to our different physiology.  And that
comes down to the fact that about half of us bear children (potentially) and
about half of us don't.

I believe that many more women have the potential to be excellent at technology stuff than currently are. And that there are also areas where more men have the potential to be excellent than currently are. I believe that societal rules, customs, programming and expectations are a problem for all of this. But I don't for a moment think that in an "ideal" society where all those customs and expectations were not acting, that you'd end up with a 50:50 split between men and women in any field.

I suspect you're right, but I don't think we can possibly verify that
opinion with the data we currently have available (ie, people who
exist within the current societal structures).

I think we can make some assumptions about it based on the way biologists study
any species, not just humans.  For example:

Men and women make a very different investment in bearing children.  Basically,
it takes a man about 5 minutes to produce a baby.  It takes a woman 9 months of
hard work to produce a baby.  This difference in investment required means that
it is in the interests of women to find a life-long partner who will protect and
provide for her during those 9 months, and for her pathetically weak offspring
when they are born.  However it is in the evolutionary interests of men (on
average!) to have a great many different partners and to not actually end up
having to provide for any of them (with luck some other guy will do the hard
part, and he can go on spreading his seed around and winning the natural
selection battle).

This essential differences has made some differences in in our physiology.
Because men have more partners, on average, they tend to range over a wider area
than the women, who are more likely to be pretty much tied to one spot raising
their ofspring.  (We're thinking very early humans here - no cars involved, not
even ponies!).  So, and here's the cool bit, there is a basic biological reason
for men to be, on average, better at navigation, and at holding a mental map in
their head.  They have needed to be, whereas women, on average, have not needed
that skill so much.

So here we have one example of a skill that shows up in everyday life, where we
know that on average studies show that yep, men are actually better at this than
woman.  And there is a reason for it based on the differences in our physiology,
that you'd also find in any other animal with similar sexual dimorphism.  How
cool is that! :)

Now in my mind, the skill at map-making isn't so different to the skill of
holding in one's head the structure of a piece of software one is going to
write.  And I'm not for a moment suggesting that all guys are good at this and
all women bad, just that, on average, you'd expect there to be a difference
between men and women.  So here's one skill that I'd say is related to
technology, that I'd expect men, on average, to be better at.

FWIW, there are other skills that are important to development of technology,
such as some of the communication skills, that I'd expect women to be better at
than men.  Maybe these average out to an overall eveness of skill at tech?  But
I don't see why they would do so - nothing in nature is that even, why should
this be.

By the way, I've taken this example from The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker.  It's
an interesting book that looks at the reasons for the assumptions and belief,
over the last century or so, that we are entirely shaped by our society, and
that each of us is essentially a "blank slate" waiting to be written on by our
experiences.  And it debunks some of these assumptions, explaining the extent to
which we are still shaped by our biology and our evolutionary history.  It's an
interesting read for anyone who wants to learn more about the topic.

Thanks for the discussion :)  Please continue, if anyone wishes to.

Helen


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