The Wrong Standards – Arguments against the relevancy of biological differences between men and women as having meaning in society

In my last post I talked about a hoax perpetuated by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, which I argued was not only a bad hoax that didn’t prove what it set out to prove, but seems to be indicative of misogyny in higher academic circles as well.  I’d like to use this as a launching point into two future posts.  This one I am going to address James Lindsay’s claim that gender studies ignores biological differences completely and whether or not this is even important, and then I thought it would be interesting to look in more detail at the gender imbalance that does exist at the higher echelons of intelligence,  and academics.

So let’s begin our investigation into biological differences between men and women with the assumption that such differences exist.  There are clearly some genetic differences and if it’s a collection of genes that go into our various behavioral qualities it’s plausible that there are differences.  But let’s go a step further and say some of the stereotypical ones are true.  An employee at Google reminded us of several of them.  So let’s say men or more aggressive/assertive, more competitive, they are about things, and have a high drive for status, and let’s say, and I hate to even pretend this is the case, that men handle stress better and are less neurotic.  Anybody who’s seen the typical working mother knows that it’s probably more likely that men just don’t have as much stress, but for now let’s assume this is the case.  So conversely this assumes that women are more agreeable, cooperative, don’t have a high drive for status and prefer to have a more balanced lifestyle, are more about people over things (this sort of translates also to the stereotype of women being better nurturers than men), and don’t handle stress as well.

The first thing that matters of course is how different are these things.  In a previous post I talked about some basics about statistics and that any trait is distributed about some mean value.  If the difference between men and women in some trait like aggression is small, there is a lot of overlap.  Meaning there are many women who are as aggressive as men and increased probability that some women will be more aggressive than some men. The main difference is that you will only find men in the hyper-aggressive end of the distribution, and only find women at the far opposite end of the aggression distribution (super timid?).  Whatever metric you might use to measure aggression the closer the averages between men and women the less presumptive you could be about any particular gender having that trait.  It’s arguable though that even if there is more separation if you were interviewing applicants for a job this would not be something you could simply assume and use as a basis for making your decision.  That is still discrimination.  Even if the odds are in your favor there is still a chance you could be unfairly punishing somebody solely based on their gender instead of their individual qualities.

But let’s say the differences were significant enough to have some meaning.  Are any of the traits that women are supposed to have bad for any reason?  Our friend at Google actually doesn’t consider them bad, but simply wants to say that maybe there is just some natural reason for why there aren’t more women in tech and hey who are we to fight nature?

Imagine a society that was built valuing the traits that are so “obviously” female.  What would that world look like?  Could we say it was worse?  Let’s say you were a man going in for a job interview at a corporation.  In this world where the feminine traits were valued, where they are the ones that society was built around you might hear things like this at your interview:

EMPLOYER:  Now you list here on your application that one of your strengths is competitiveness.  How do you think you would fit into the cooperative philosophy we have here at our company?

EMPLOYER:  I’m a bit worried that your aggressiveness might be a problem in a leadership role.  We’re looking for someone who is more thoughtful before making decisions and listens more carefully to ideas that come from their team over making decisions unilaterally.

EMPLOYER:  As a man we know you are more about things, but things are used by people, and so really what we are looking for is a more people focused person.

EMPLOYER:  We think it’s great that as a man you can handle stress really well, but our company has gone to great lengths to creating a stress free environment so that’s not a quality we are looking for.

EMPLOYER:  As you know children are the future and the key to a child’s development is having a parent home in those early times especially.  Given that men aren’t interested in a more balanced lifestyle you’ll simply be expected to take on more responsibilities as your female colleagues go on leave without compensation for those extra duties.  And given that we are playing an important role in our children’s welfare, those extra duties you take aren’t considered as additional experience when being considered for promotion.

A female friend of mine were talking and she just said to me, “I am not exactly sure what life should look like, but if I were to build it all back up from scratch, it wouldn’t look like this.”  I think another thing we have to consider when we are analyzing studies that purport differences between males and females is how much of our society is structured with maleness as the standard.  If women and men have different traits as a result of their biology then much of what we see in society will naturally show women as being disadvantaged as compared to men in a society that is built on traits they on average excel at.  There is nothing inherently better about favoring competitiveness over cooperativeness, there is nothing inherently better about favoring things over people.   Why should assertiveness be more rewarded over being agreeable?  These are all examples of a male standard that women are being forced to meet for no reason other than this is a man’s world.  Even the way we do education could be argued as being structured with male education in mind, given for a long time educating women wasn’t a priority as they weren’t expected to utilize that knowledge in a career.  So if men and women learn differently, maybe we are forcing them to conform to a different style of learning.  Now, I’m not saying that biologic differences don’t exist, but it seriously casts some doubt on any study that is trying to disentangle biological differences between men and women in a world that still uses maleness as the gold standard that everyone must meet.

Finally the onus is on those who purport biological differences in traits between male and female to demonstrate that they are significant and useful in any way.  There a lot of reasons to doubt that this is the case.  In a series of meta-studies and research findings by psychologists by Janet Shibley Hyde, Elizabeth Spelke, and Diane Helpern indicate little to no difference between cognitive abilities in language and mathematics among men and women.  Their results are summarized here.  From this same summary, Spencer (1999) found:

“… that merely telling women that a math test had previously shown gender differences hurt their performance. The researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equal to men.”

In another study by Gneezy et. al (2009) differences in competitiveness between women and men is challenged.  Participants from villages that are matriachal (Khasi) and patriarchal (Maasi) in India were asked to take part in a game of throwing tennis balls into a basket:

“They were given a choice of a simple payment for the task—about 40 US cents—or they could earn three times as much if they beat they the other player. Among the Maasai, half the men chose to compete, while only a quarter of the women chose to. Among the Khasi, not only were the results reversed, but Khasi women were even more competitive than the Maasai men: 54% of the women opted to compete, as did 39% of the Khasi men.”

The clear role that socialized gender roles plays in differences between men and women is highlighted in a paper by Guiso et. al (2008) where employers were asked to make quick decisions about who to hire for a job based on performance on a 4 minute math sprint exam:

“Men and women employers alike revealed their prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical ability. When the only information that the employers had was a photograph of the candidate, men were twice as likely to be hired for the simple math job, no matter whether it was a man or woman doing the hiring, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The hiring bias did not disappear when candidates self-reported their ability on the task, in part because women tended to underestimate their ability while men tended to boast. And even when the employers received accurate information about the actual performance of the candidates, the bias did not fully disappear. The more prejudiced a person was, as measured by the Implicit Association Test, the less likely they were to correct their bias.”

Confirming the findings from this study as well as outlining the difficulty with pointing to biological differences as any sort of major cause for the  presence of women with high levels of cognitive abilities and leadership roles, I strongly recommending reading this article by Halpern et al (2012) published in Scientific American.

The article will make a nice launching point into my next post where I talk about the intersection of feminism and atheism or lack thereof.  What seems clear is that there continue to be strong biases against women in both academia and in the work place.  While such bias still exists in our society it seems more apt for the Boghossians, Lindsays, and Shermers of the world to spend more of their time worrying about that imbalance instead of mocking a field which may not be as bereft of scholarship as they claim, and which may have some valid arguments to make.  And if they are the scientists they claim to be and going to rail against a field which denies biological differences between men and women, they should also make sure that all the findings out there fit that assertion.  It seems far from clear that those differences are significant enough to be meaningful in any gender make up of any corporation, tech company, or university.

It may be that at some point biological differences do give us important information that can help men and women achieve better states of well-being in reaching their full potential, but it seems clear we are far from that stage in our society.  Only once we truly see that there is no career or field that women are less qualified for, and that we live in a world that puts emphasis on good human values, not male values, should biological differences really be part of the discussion.

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What does it all ‘mean’?

I was listening to an interview with Charles Murray recently.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he is the person who wrote, what became a controversial book, The Bell Curve.  Through some careful research he showed that white people had a higher IQ than black people, and had a lower IQ than Asians.  He was labeled a nazi and a racist, and many other things for this research.  Now I don’t want to get into this debate, I think that as a scholar his methodology was sound, but what his book doesn’t answer the reason for such differences.  Is it genetic?  Is it environmental?  I am sure it is more often the latter.  The more important question is, what is the value of such research?  Is it really doing any good, or does it just feed the bias of a racist, while angering others?  If you’d like to listen to the interview, I think you will find him cordial, but it’s not really the main thing I want to talk about, although what I do want to talk about is mentioned several times throughout out the interview, and that is what differences really mean.  How should perceive differences in IQ or any quality for that matter?  There are certain issues that have become very taboo in our society, and things become emotionally charged quickly when one tries to talk about them.  These includes talk about differences between people of different races, different religions, different genders, and different sexual orientation.  A discussion about any statistical differences between different populations along those lines usually doesn’t end well for the person trying to bring them up.  And it’s possible that there is little value in discussing these differences, but I thought a short post to really visualize things from a statistical perspective is important, because I think people often don’t view the statistics properly when these issues come up.  And it’s true not only for these “hot button” issues, but a lot of issues in which scientists discuss differences between populations.

For many studies, particularly in the social sciences and biological sciences you will find data is distributed.  For any two variables that you are trying to find a relationship with, you will find the outcomes range across a particular set of values.  For instance, if we were trying to determine how depression influences someone’s eating habits, even in a perfect experiment we would likely find that most people eat more to comfort themselves.  Perhaps a large majority would say take in 50% more calories than they normally would.  But a small minority would take less calories, perhaps -20%, and another small minority would take in twice as many calories.  This is called a frequency distribution.  We plot the range of outcomes versus the amount of time those outcomes occur.  There are several types of distributions.  There are skewed distributions, bimodal distributions, and then there is the normal distribution.  This is generally the most common one and the easiest to say something about statistically.  As our sample size increases, a relationship between two variables that are related to each other should get closer to a normal distribution.  I realize that I am simplifying here, but my goal is not to get deep into statistical theory, but simply to illustrate why differences between populations might be more or less meaningful.

In a normal distribution the most common occurrence (the mode of the distribution) is the mean, and it is the value you get at the middle and tallest part of the curve.  First let’s ask how useful is this to begin with?  By definition of the mean is the middle value, half of the people lie above and half of the people lie below.  So when we look at the means of two different populations we might see an overlap as illustrated here:

Despite the different averages we can see that much of the populations span the same range of values.  The source for this graph discusses the meaning of overlapping means in more detail. A more specific example is here:

This graph comes from an interesting discussion about differences between populations of men and women.  In this example we can see that the average height of women and men are different, but of course no one would say that any given man will be taller than any given woman. What this means is that if we are talking about people there is very little we can assume a priori meeting any individual member of a group.  We can only say this is how things are on average and we can decide if anything should be done about it or anything can be done about it if we desire those averages to be the same.

Averages are talked about far more than perhaps they should.  While it is a good summary of data, frequently the devil is in the details and we can say little concrete on averages alone.  Rarely do researchers themselves so narrowly focus on the statistical analysis they do, but I think much gets lost when a journalist tries to report on the findings.  The average, being the easiest to understand, is thus the easiest to report on and that’s when people start making assumptions about what the data are actually saying.  Read an actual paper and you will find all sorts of other statistics discussed.  Averages are all too common though.  We get them in school, they are reported in sports statistics, the news.  But one has to be put it in context of the entire set of data.  Let’s not define people by an average.  What is equally relevant is the variance among the population as well.

People are often easily fooled by statistics because they don’t understand them adequately.  Statistics also deals with probabilities.  Something we are terrible at from an intuitive level.  If you are interested in having a better understanding of basic statistics, I found this website to be quite helpful.   I believe that by having a better understanding of statistics we can have more meaningful reactions to the findings of data analysis, and thus have more meaningful discussions about what we can really conclude from those data.

Female Future Leaders

In response to bloggers who say I don’t talk about women’s issues very much I thought I’d capitulate and see if I can come up with something that they would like.  Of course if I were to be honest, I’d say the real reason is because the inspiration I felt from the women’s march on inauguration day gave me so much strength.  It was a great way to begin what are likely going to be 4 hard years.

An article that I thought was very well written was a response to post that made its rounds on inauguration day that was no in support of the women’s march.  That response is titled “You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.”

Not surprisingly this article elicited a response and I’ve chosen to critique this response for two reasons.  One this article was posted on a website called Future Female Leaders – America’s leading social movement for young conservative women. They have merchandise by the way, and all future female leaders are apparently thin, white, and pretty (and also apparently only two women), but I digress.  I also wanted to critique this article because I found the rhetoric in the article to be full of the very things that tend to harm women.  There are Christian undertones without actually talking about Christianity, there are weak and fallacious arguments that do nothing to demonstrate that there are strong intelligent women out there, and then there is also the beginning sprouts of the Republican establishment philosophy which I am sure will make the author quite popular with the patriarchy and those who wish to be complicit with it.  So feel free to check it out for yourself, it’s called: “Yes, I Am Equal. I’m Sorry You Are Offended By Us Women Who Lack A Victim Mindset”.

From the very start we have one logical fallacy.  The title contains a strawman argument.  If you’re a feminist who believes that women should be equal to men in society, and apparently disagree with her, then you must have a victim mindset.  Apparently that’s what feminists are.

  1. The first point here begins with a misquote and demonstrate that this future female leader is someone who is unable to research well and is willing to take things out of context to argue her points.  Here is a well-researched article from politifact about Sanger’s quote.

“Those who think Sanger wanted black genocide cite the Negro Project. But even their strongest evidence, a passage from a letter she wrote advocating that organizers recruit black ministers for the project, does not come close to proving a genocidal plot.

Sanger wrote that “We don’t want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.”

But her correspondence shows this sentence advocates for black doctors and ministers to play leadership roles in the Negro Project to avoid misunderstandings. Lynchings and Jim Crow laws gave blacks good reason to be wary of attempts to limit the number of children they bore. In Harlem, she hired a black doctor and social worker to quell those fears.”

This should be enough to not take this writer seriously, but since she might be a future female leader let’s move on.

  1. It’s true that we have laws set up that give women equal pay for equal work. But this isn’t at the heart of gender gap in pay.  The wage gap is based not on a straight calculation of pay, but other factors that impact the careers options women have in society. Most jobs if they do give parental leave, it’s only for the women.  What the pay gap is about is demonstrating that we still live in a society where women are the ones expected to shoulder a larger share of the parenting duties in favor of their career.  This impacts the careers they choose, and the fact that they often choose flexibility over pay as a result of this as well.  Women also face difficulties where their assertiveness is not valued, even though for men it would be.  They are seen as a bitch or abrasive.  Asking for raises is such a behavior and is often not looked kindly on in the workplace.
  1. Scientifically speaking, a fetus also isn’t a tenant in a woman’s body who can come and go if it pleases and compensates each month with rent. Also a fetus is NOT the very definition of a human being, which makes me wonder if this future leader has picked up the dictionary.  Look, I know the debate about personhood may never be resolved.  But the fact remains that the fetus takes from the mother in order to live.  It’s not even a symbiotic relationship, it’s closer to parasitic.  Now you can chide me for being unromantic about the most beautiful experience ever, and, believe me, when my son was born it was a beautiful thing.  But I also saw my wife go through pregnancy and I am aware of how taxing it can be, how delicate her life becomes for a mother when something is trying to feed off of her in order to survive.  My wife had very high blood pressure near the end, and was essentially on bed rest.  In the end it is her body, and her right to decide what happens to it. A fetus is not a human being, and if you want to call it that, fine, but consider the woman’s humanity too.  That seems to always get lost on so many pro-lifers.
  1. Not sure what her argument is here. There is an issue about the Tampon Tax.  I could find no evidence of it being taxed more than other items, but there has been lots of research that women pay more for identical products than men.  Whether this is sexism, or price gouging, or both, we can debate, but certainly points to the emphasis in society of female appearance.
  1. She thinks rape and sexual assault is because society lack of morals. And apparently the way to deal with a lack of morals is to carry a gun.  She’s a regular Republican talking point there.  Whether you carry mace or a gun isn’t the point, and it does nothing to solve the moral problem.  People are getting raped.  That’s the problem.  Also why is it society’s lack of morals?  Isn’t a rapist’s lack of morals?  Which as it turns out, tend to be men.
  1. Yes both men and women are objectified. But I think we might be a bit confusion on the issue of proportion as well as the attitudes such things generate toward the different genders. I think there is pretty clear evidence that women are objectified more than men.  An interesting study here demonstrates why that might be.
  1. While it’s true that men are also victims of domestic violence, the one place where this future female leader decided to post a link in support of her argument is irrelevant at demonstrating the women have little to fear, but seems aimed to try to demonstrate that women are more dangerous than men. Overall statistics that look at violence against women demonstrate that women are most often victims (in the U.S. it’s better than in many other countries in the world), and when you factor in things like stalking, and rape, the level of fear that women experience is far greater than what men go through.
  1. Talk about a reductionist argument here. This is about how girls are raised, and treated by others, not meeting them on the street.
  1. Legally guaranteed rights doesn’t mean that oppression goes away. I mean the same laws exist to protect African-Americans but racism still exists.  Of course I suppose since she a future female conservative leader she probably disagrees.  I mean we had a black president right?!  The constitution has guaranteed equal rights for all citizens of India, so the caste system is gone as well!  Millennia of oppression is always instantly wiped out with laws!  Sorry for the sarcasm here, but I couldn’t help it.
  1. Well she doesn’t think that women are less than equal here in the U.S. So not much to say here.  But it’s insulting.  And apparently if you’re a feminist if you’re fighting for the right to legislate your own body you aren’t a real feminist.
  1. Feminism is about empowering women. I know many who have been empowered by the ideals of feminism.  I am not sure where you are getting your definition.  Perhaps you are getting it from the most extreme in the particular group.  Every group has it.  There are those that call themselves feminists who are not after equality but dominance.  These are small amount.  Just as there are small amount of Christians who are the Westboro Baptist Church.  Thus your argument is a fallacy of composition.  And it may be true that many women are afraid to label themselves feminist.  Because labels carry with them complications.  But maybe they are afraid of the label because of people like you who misunderstand feminism.  I consider myself a feminist and am unafraid of that label, because I know what the movement is really about.

And this young lady’s response of course ignores many of the statistics in the first article, and so there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty here, whether purposeful or not.  Look I’m not going to make assumptions about her back ground but if this is the attitude behind our future female leaders, I am going to say no thanks for now.  The fact that you can even have a dream of being a future female leaders is because of this feminist movement that you are denigrating.  Elisa is still young, just a college student.  I hope in that time she will learn more, and most importantly get to know more women.  Not just ones like her.  Really understand what women go through and realize that there are many strong women who don’t consider themselves victims but would steadily oppose her views as I do.  And for her to put down this march is really insulting to so many women.  We have a president right now who is very much a misogynist.  It’s not just about abortion.  It’s about having a leader who normalized sexual assault, and the objectification of women in the way he speaks.  And how that wasn’t enough to prevent over 60 million people to vote for him.  Most of them men.  Women have cause for concern, and the millions of women who marched for the purposes of saying their freedom, their autonomy, their equality, and their humanity should not be belittled.  Especially from a future female leader, who hasn’t done her homework.

Double Binds

As always the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain had my mind churning today (Episode 48*).  This one was talking about the double bind women find themselves in when they strive for leadership positions.  I am sure any woman reading this doesn’t need much explaining.  The basic idea is that if you’re nice (as you are stereotypically supposed to be) you’re weak, and if you’re a competent strong leader you’re unlikable. The lack of representation of women in government and as CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is pretty good evidence of this.  And I know professional women experience shades of this regardless of whether or not they are vying for top leadership positions.  Just asserting yourself can have you seen as bossy, bitchy, abrasive.  Attributes that rarely get prescribed to men when they are assertive.  And there are other double binds beyond the scope of the podcast such as additional judgments that go along with their appearance that men often don’t have to face.  The expectation to maintain the home, and take a lead role in parenting in addition to their own personal ambitions.  For many women it seems like there are consequences no matter what they choose.

What my mind started to think about, in addition to the challenges women face, is why would we consider a “nice” woman a “weak” woman?  In terms of leadership attributes studies are showing the importance of empathy in a leader.  Another episode from the same podcast (Episode 43) reported that people who were empathetic inspired more people to follow them than those that were authoritarian.

research-women-frenemies-friends-390x285One thing that has always bothered me about the oppression of women and I feel doesn’t get talked about as much is the devaluing of those qualities that we typically associate with women.  Why is kind, nurturing, or emotional a bad thing?  In a fascinating story (also in podcast form, but written about here) a new method for improving safety on oil rigs was employed where employees (all male) were trained to become more openly emotional.  To be vulnerable.  The results were astounding with an 84% drop in the accident rate.  Many of the workers also forged more meaningful relationships with their spouses and children as a result of being more emotionally open.  Today we see how many of the stereotypes that men face, as a consequence of those feminine characteristics that we devalue, are equally harmful and dehumanizing to them as well.  The key difference between these gender stereotypes is that one is valued and one is not.   Maleness is the standard.  I wrote about this in one of my earliest blog posts concerning a biologist who talked about how the male of every species is the one usually depicted in textbooks and used as the star in major animated features.  Feminism is a fight for gender equality and important one.  But I worry sometimes that too often the fight is women trying to achieve that standard of maleness, as opposed to celebrating those feminine qualities and seeing them as having value, seeing those a strengths, and not weaknesses.  I’ve always gotten along with women better than men, because I have always been drawn to that dialogue that is open emotionally.  It has helped me grow, become wiser, become stronger, and in my opinion is a superior way to be human.

And that’s what it really boils down to:  defining what qualities make for a healthy human.  I don’t mean to be binary here in my discussion because there are so many qualities that are beneficial to us as human beings. Distributing those qualities among men and women and automatically assigning value to one because it belongs to a certain gender isn’t really what we should be after.  To put it another way, is gender equality about having more female Donald Trumps, or is it about having more female Bernie Sanders?  Maybe it’s both, but I’d certainly like a world with less Donald Trumps.

I don’t mean to criticize feminism here, because in the end I believe in the value of a woman’s right for self-determination.  If she wants to be a power-hungry authoritarian leader then so be it.  I simply have never found much to like in such an individual.  Man or woman.  My friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes has told me that I am a man who is in touch with my feminine side.  I take that as a compliment, but I’d rather think that I have gained a better understanding of how to be human.  Women, at least the ones I have known, have always represented the best in humanity to me.  As a man I have often felt that I would be better off to try and reach their standard as opposed to what the patriarchy has decided as the standard.

Women have and still do bear so much in this world at the hands of men.  Maybe it’s because they’ve been given the freedom to be more human that has helped them survive through so much unspeakable dehumanization by men.  Those emotional, empathetic creatures who are great at listening and nurturing.  Maybe true gender equality is only reached when we recognize what qualities put humanity at their best and that these qualities are ones we all should strive for.  This is why feminism, to me, is not just a plight for women, but something that we all should see as important.

*Note:  The Hidden Brain Podcast on Women and Leadership challenged each listener to share it with one man and one woman.  I thought it was worth it for more to hear it.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

The Long Silencing of Women

Sometimes I think about this world, and all the problems we have and begin to wonder what kind of world it would be if women were considered truly equal to men.  Imagine all those gifted females throughout history who would have made amazing leaders, who would have made amazing scientists, scholars, inventors, who would have made amazing artists, performers, musicians and who were instead suppressed, killed, treated as property, relegated to one role only.  A society thrives on its intellectual capital.  How much have we lost?  We will never know.

And how much are we still losing?  Here are some important things to note about the state of women around the world:

Women are still very much treated like property.  It has only been in recent history that the dowry system has gone away in many parts of Europe and North America, but it is still quite prevalent in many countries.  The idea that a daughter’s family should have to pay, just to have their daughter become the property of a man, and that failure to give an adequate dowry ends in violence against the woman is deplorable.

If this was not dark enough, when it comes to women being treated as property one only has to look to human traffickingWomen make up 98% of all humans sold for bonded sex or labor.

When women are seen as objects or property rape is even more common place.  These rape statistics are truly horrible to read.  And if you want to get all picky on how hard it is to collect rape statistics and you don’t trust these numbers you can factor in a liberal margin of error and still be see some devastating numbers.  And the difficulty in ascertaining how common rape is, should give you more cause for alarm than less.  Darkness is much more successful remaining hidden than exposed.  Some highlights from the linked article (which is well referenced) is that somewhere between 60-99% of all rapes are committed by men, and 91% of rape victims are female.  Also 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and to those who think there is a large amount of false rapes reported, this number ranges only between 0.7% and 8%.  So even by your most liberal margin of error the raping of women is far too common.  Especially given that it is estimated that only 40% of rapes are reported to authorities.  These statistics are largely just from North America where rape statistics are easier to gather. A U.N. study found that “worldwide, a whopping 25% of men (1 in 4) had raped someone in their lives. 1 in 10 (10%) had raped someone who wasn’t their partner.”

Not unrelated to the points above is the greater crime of outright killing of our daughters, both in the womb and without.  In countries where women have limited opportunities for employment, where women will cost their family great financial burden from having to pay dowries, females are aborted or killed as babies disproportionately.  While this number favors countries of India and China, it estimated that about 200 million females are aborted or killed as infants every year.  That is 1/35th of the world population.  In other words 3 out of every 100 pregnancies end in death for that fetus or child solely on the basis of gender.  As I’ve argue before there is a strong correlation between abortion and infanticide and what the cost of that child is to the family.  A woman is a cost and a burden to many families.  There is logic or rationale for why this must be so.

On how much money can a daughter bring to a family if she is uneducated? In a not too terrible statistic 53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls, however, 2/3 of the illiterate people in the world are women.  Indicating a different quality of education for women, or different amount of time girls are allowed to stay in school.  Educated women make better choices about their health and pregnancy.  For example in Mali, women with a secondary education or higher has an average of 3 children, whereas those with no education have 7.  Women without education tend to not use birth control or even know about it, thus uneducated people, who can provide less successfully for their children have more of them.  In Pakistan the difference between gender in education is an astounding nearly 700,000 less girls being educated instead of boys (although to be fair an even more astounding statistic is that over 5.5 million children are without education in Pakistan).

What do the statistics say about women and politics?  Here is a list of major countries that have only within the last 125 years or so have even given women the power to vote.  For much of “civilized” history women have had little or no say in choosing who governs them.  And how do we stand right now on the role of women in actually governing?  This link shows the incredible disparity in representation in government around the world between men and women.  Perhaps the most telling statistics from this article is that what is considered a successful benchmark for women in government is 30%.  Women make up 50% of the population and yet a goal of 30% is considered admirable. Few countries have reached that benchmark.  Currently only 22% of all national parliamentarians were women.

In science trends are more promising.  Women still only make up 42% of all science careers in the U.S.  A great international study that looks at the role of women when it comes to published scientific papers, finds that males outnumber females as lead authors in every country.  The authors admit that this may be due to the predominance of senior scientists that are men and this may hopefully change in the future, but currently women are still under-represented in science.  The study also notes “despite more than a decade of policies aimed at levelling the playing field. UNESCO data show that in 17% of countries an equal number of men and women are scientists. Yet we found a grimmer picture: fewer than 6% of countries represented in the Web of Science come close to achieving gender parity in terms of papers published.”

I won’t even pretend to have even listed all issues women face.  There are of course many others, a lot of them ripples of the deep impact from the even greater patriarchy of the past.  Even those ripples will take time to calm, and return us to equilibrium.

I am not insensitive also to issues that men face, some are very harmful and perpetuate the very serious realities that women face also.  Men have their burdens, but it is clear than women have the heavier load.  A burden they never chose to carry, a burden that men have given them.  This is not the oppression of a minority; this is the oppression of half of the human population.  Oppression so deep and ingrained that many women are even complicit to their own oppression, thinking that the extra burden they carry is normal and deserved.  I don’t care to point out how religion plays a role in all of this, although gender bias is deeply ingrained in many religious doctrines, and denying many women a place in the religious hierarchy.  The point is, there is zero moral justification for the way so many women are treated in this world.

To all the women who weren’t able or aren’t able to be all they could, I just want you to know that as someone who continues to strive towards being a better feminist, I hear your voices.  It may do no good to wonder what could have been, but we all should be in the business of wondering what could be.

 

*I dedicate this post by my friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes.  A more intelligent and compassionate woman you will not meet.

Equality, I Spoke The Word As If A Wedding Vow

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “equality” and what it really means. I always think that when you are thinking about word and are unsure what it means a good place to start is the dictionary.  But that didn’t help much because the major definition simply says “the state of being equal” or defines equality in terms of mathematics. I think most of who think equality is important would define it in terms of equal status, equal rights, and equal opportunities.  Such equality might be easy to legislate, but it is not easily found.

The interesting question to me is why equality is something that some people thing is important and others don’t. Part of the reason is that many simply don’t see other people as equal.  And most troubling are those who see someone as inherently unequal simply due gender or race.  It seems to me that those who fight for equality and who believe that equality is important in a society don’t see inequality as inherent, but rather a product of environment.

Equality, like freedom may be a difficult ideal to obtain, but it seems to me the true inequality in this world is between those who think we can attain it and those who think inequality is inherent for whatever reason. And so I wonder, what is the common bond between people in both those groups of people?  Since race and gender have nothing to do with how smart you are, your physical abilities, your potential to be successful, or your ability to show love and kindness, why are there people who think that race and gender automatically pre-determines such things?  Children carry no inherent sense of inequality in regards to race and gender, so where does it come from?  What trait oh of humanity leads people to adopt the idea that one person is less than another?  When does it start to develop?  Is it a desire for power? A fear that in balancing the equation that for one group of people to rise up, that we must then relinquish some power and come down?  Maybe equality isn’t something we can attain, but maybe we can at least see everybody as valuable if not equal.  To be honest, the fact that we are all equal regardless of race or gender seems so obvious to me that I find it vexing that anybody should think any other way, so I am interested in hearing thoughts from others.