Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why care about gender?

Q: Your point of view seems too gendered. Why do you waste your time with this crap instead of becoming more competent so people respect you more (or something like that)?
A: Because it is usually the case that people (not just white males) do not question the white male cultural standards by which much of our society is evaluated. Ignoring gender issues hurts non-males the way ignoring cultural differences hurts non-whites.

For instance, consider the differences in self-presentation between Chinese and American culture. An American might get the impression that his Chinese colleague is not so bright because the Chinese colleague prefaces everything with "I do not know what I am talking about, but..." (If people believe John McCain for repeating lies while there is much reason to not believe him, then how do you expect to not be influenced by what your colleague says?) What the American may not know is that the Chinese are quite influenced by the ancient intellectual philosopher that the dumber you appear to be, the more you can learn from others. As a result, Chinese schoolchildren (and adults) are taught to be humble and to be good students. This does not involve posturing, showing off knowledge gratuitously, and all kinds of other things that are often over-valued (imnsho) in American society.

Q: The "male" standards to which you refer seem to be "objective" standards. Isn't this a good thing?
A: You are absolutely right that "male" standards are "objective"... if you mean that males like to think such standards are objective. I have a proof that these standards are not objective. Suppose we take male standards to be objective, and suppose males value competence, which is measured by outward display of competence. Oh, and suppose by objective, we mean based on some absolute scale and not influenced by emotions, how much we like the person, or anything else bad like that. Given any two people, we will place them on some objective competence scale based on their Outward Display of Competence (ODC). WLOG, the presenter of competence encodes the ODC as English sentences which are sent through some channel and processed by the evaluator of competence. But oh wait, the brain is not a dependable processor and goes around filling in the blanks (and replacing things) left and right. (Psychologist and neuroscientists have shown this as much as anyone can show anything.) So even if there existed a semantic encoding that the presenter and evaluator could share, the evaluator's brain just added a bunch of layers of noise--noise dependent on the evaluator's background, which includes gender, culture, what s/he ate for lunch, and a bunch of oher things. So much for that. =><=

You seem to want to view male and female as different cultures. Is this specific to American culture?
A: I have evidence that this is not specific to American culture. As I stated in my previous post, Deborah Tannen talks about how in cultures where men have indirect patterns of speech and women are direct, the indirect manner is valued more highly. I will state without much empirical evidence, however, that American culture is quite behind in gender equality issues. If we consider the differences between typically male and typically female modes of interaction and compare this to what is valued. I do not believe this difference is as great in, say, Israeli culture, where women join the army and are treated more like men.

Q: It seems that going to an all-girls school ruined you because not only did it cause you to view everything in terms of gender, but you seem to have had terribly difficulty dealing with a gender balanced environment upon arriving at college.
A: First of all, I don't view everything in terms of gender, but I do think it's important to not ignore the gender completely when considering interactions with people. How I deal with gender differences is similar to how I deal with cultural differences: when I interact with people, I interact with them according to my default set of assumptions on how they are supposed to behave. If I develop negative impressions ("Gee, this person is really an idiot;" "This kid is a total goon") I will back off and reevaluate based on gender and cultural information. Could I be evaluating this person as an idiot because they are not showing off their knowledge enough, or because they are showing off so much that I think they must not know anything? Do I think this person is a goon because they come from a background that values different things than what I value? (For instance, I may think someone is a total goon if when I try to talk about computer science all they talk about to me is "partying," "cute boys," or some other topic I find insipid, but this may be a result of their socialization.)

Secondly, I would like to point out that I have not done so badly as a woman in computer science. I mean, I continued doing computer science after I became somewhat unhappy with various aspects of it, including issues I had with the gender imbalance. I believe that I stuck with computer science perhaps because I had the all-female environment for many years for the following reasons:
  1. Look at the facts? Many women drop computer science for various vague reasons like they feel like they can't handle it (which is often false) and other things. I am still doing computer science, I am still doing computer science as a graduate student, and I am still doing computer science at Big Bad MIT, which has not know to be particularly friendly to women.
  2. From my high school experience I gained the confidence that I was not an idiot (like some fellow computer scientists often try to make me--and other peers--believe).
  3. I did fine (and some may even say, excelled) academically, socially, and generally in my mostly male summer programs whiel attending my all-female high school. Therefore I do not believe my high school prevented me from learning to interact with males in an academic setting.


Jesse A. Tov said...

". . . where women join the army and are treated more like men."

Are you possibly implying here that how men are treated is the standard that women should aspire to? Is that what you intend?

Jean said...

Good point. I did not mean to imply that women should imply to be just like men. I meant "treated more like men" in the sense that women get the respect and independence that men do.