I am in a super secret book club. We are reading The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. It is about how “our unconscious minds, elect presidents, control markets, wage wars, and save our lives” (Subtitle) I will post a response after each chapter because, let’s face it: I love pretending I’m still in college. If you feel like being difficult, please do not comment. If you have an insightful thought, please comment.
Chapter 5 focuses on gender bias. Here are some facts…
*Researchers told two separate groups about a potential boss. Group 1 heard “Subordinates have often described Andrea as someone who is tough, yet outgoing and personable. She is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximize employees’ creativity.” Group 2 heard “Subordinates have often described James as someone who is tough, yet outgoing and personable. He is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximize employees’ creativity.” 75% of the people in the groups thought James was more personable than Andrea.
*Women make $.79 to every man’s dollar. And, if you control for maternity leave, asking for more time off because of children etc. woman make $.89 to every man’s dollar.
The fact that gender bias occurs all around us is not news. But, it’s hard to translate these facts to specific cases, because we can’t have people relive their lives as the other gender and say, “Ah…this lack of a raise was due to my inferiority as an employee, but that insult was due to the fact that I was a woman…”
But, according to Vedantam, we can get close by examining the lives of transgender people. According to Kristen Schilt, who tracks the changes in prestige, income, and professional life that comes from gender reassignment, transmen overwhelmingly report being treated better than when they were women.
Here’s another fact:
*Men who become women can expect a decrease of 12% in their income. Women who become men can expect a 7.5% increase in their earners
Ben Barres, a professor at Stanford, who used to be Barbara Barres before gender reassignment surgery gave a presentation. Afterwards, someone in the audience told a friend of Bens that he “gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is so much better than his sister’s” Ben does not have a sister. And we know that Ben did not become a better researcher after a surgeon sewed a penis onto him.
The difference was in people’s perception of his intellect and authority.
I’ve known this a long time, and have taken several classes that address this issue head-on as it relates to creating non-biased educational environments. But I have one personal story that I think is worth sharing.
Our first year in college, Jack and I were in his dorm room. I was doing work for my educational psychology class and Jack was working with another physics student. I was telling Jack’s friend that I was in elementary education, and I really liked teaching math and science. His friend said
If you weren’t dating Jack, I would have thought you were a sweet, stupid person
I was stunned. Jack was stunned. I don’t think this friend realized that he was being sexist. I think he thought that he was complimenting me. He acknowledged that I wasn’t stupid despite the fact that I am an elementary school teacher. The thing about elementary school teachers, and secretaries, and nurses, I believe is this: These professions do not need less intellect, and are therefore populated by women. I believe it is the reverse: because they are populated by mostly women, society assumes they require less intellect.
And UT has many programs like “Women in Medicine” and “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with these programs, and I think they should continue (so don’t yell at me in the comments!) but I think that in a subtle, sneaky way they reinforce in girls’ minds: you’re different.