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Women in Science and SF

March 31, 2013

New research reveals our implicit gender bias, with profound results for who runs things in science–and science fiction.
See this thoughtful discussion on Charlie’s Diary.

One Comment
  1. March 31, 2013 8:29 pm

    The comments over there have been remarkably insightful. Here’s an interesting one:

    “The folk who go around thinking that women are an inferior life form are going to have problems. The real problems are with the much more subtle ways biases and behaviours that society hasn’t broken out of yet. Like the PNAS study Joan referred to.

    “I guarantee that the vast majority of the people involved didn’t think “women bad / men good”. It’s very hard to spot and break biases when you don’t think you have ’em.

    “To give a personal example. Back in the 1990’s I helped teach a AI Systems course. It had a fair few female students – probably more than average for that sort of course actually now that I think about it.

    “Part of the work I did was helping in the practical labs. I thought I was doing a pretty good job – until one of the smarter students took me aside and pointed out a rather dumb unconscious behaviour of mine.

    “I was systematically helping the women more.

    “The men I’d help when they asked, or when they’d obviously hit a wall and were making no progress. With the women I’d step in almost as soon as they hit a problem. Anybody who has done teaching will tell you that students progress by solving their own problems – not by having the teacher step in and solve ’em for them.

    “I was hurting those students progress by stepping in too early. I was stopping them learning.

    “I’d love to say that I immediately saw this as a problem… but I didn’t. Because – y’know – despite the 70’s being my first decade I was a pretty right on guy! I wouldn’t be doing sexist things! Uh uh. Not me.

    “Fortunately some vague remnant of intelligence kicked in after about 20m of muttering (backed up by some personal memories of the problems that being helped too much can cause) and I accepted that I had fucked up and started fixing that behaviour. And thanked the student who had pointed it out.

    “To be honest it’s still something I watch myself for when teaching today. A chunk of my social and cultural programming is still trying to tell me that women need to be helped more.

    “And that – to some extent anyway – is the problem I see with some folk when the sexism topic comes up.

    “These days the majority of people I encounter don’t think men are superior to women, or that women are incapable of being in technical fields, etc. Compared to 20 or 30 years back the incidence of “women in the home” or “women don’t do computers” folk I encounter is very small (obviously I’m saying that a fat, white, middle class geek – so I probably miss a bunch that is still out there 😉

    “The problem is with the folk like me. The folk who think behaviour X can’t be sexist – because they’re not a sexist! Because the behaviour is almost – or even entirely – unconscious and shaped by the previous N decades of culture and society.

    “Things do change – but oh so slowly…. and those habits can be a complete sod to break.”

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