Tag Archives: gender

Re-post: Transgender experiences of gender bias

The following is an excerpt from Jessica Nordell’s article “Why Aren’t Women Advancing at Work?: Ask a Transgender Person.”

Ben Barres is a biologist at Stanford who lived and worked as Barbara Barres until he was in his forties. For most of his career, he experienced bias, but didn’t give much weight to itseeing incidents as discrete events. (When he solved a tough math problem, for example, a professor said, “You must have had your boyfriend solve it.”) When he became Ben, however, he immediately noticed a difference in his everyday experience: “People who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect,” he says. He was more carefully listened to and his authority less frequently questioned. He stopped being interrupted in meetings. At one conference, another scientist said, “Ben gave a great seminar todaybut then his work is so much better than his sister’s.” (The scientist didn’t know Ben and Barbara were the same person.) “This is why women are not breaking into academic jobs at any appreciable rate,” he wrote in response to Larry Summers’s famous gaffe implying women were less innately capable at the hard sciences. “Not childcare. Not family responsibilities,” he says. “I have had the thought a million times: I am taken more seriously.”

Read the whole article.

 

 

Conversation dominance and gender

When I was teaching my internship course on feminisms and technical rhetorics, I asked my supervisor to come watch a class meeting. I don’t remember now if I asked him to to do this or if he was just that savvy, but he kept track of how much discussion time was spent with males talking and how much time was spent with females talking. He also noted how often I called on students of each sex. Since I’m a feminist teacher and I was teaching about feminism, I was pretty certain the women talked the most and that I called on women more often.

Neither was true.

The discrepancy was significant. I definitely called on men more often AND those men ultimately spent more time talking. Given that this was in a feminist-led classroom, on the topic of feminism, AND in a class where there were significantly more women than men, I found this pretty astonishing. After that incident, I realized that my own sense of how rhetorical space was divided is deeply influenced by a culture that tells us men should speak and women should listen. The only way to be sure I was calling on female and male students equally was to actually keep a tally sheet.

So, I was both pleased (not to be alone) and saddened (that this is so widespread) to discover this recent post on Gender, Conversation Dominance, and Listener Bias. It has some really awesome links/references, and the author offers some great advice for how to avoid gender-based conversation dominance. I’m copying and pasting those below, but you should read the whole post here: http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2014/07/stop-interrupting-me-gender.html?m=1

1) Examine your implicit biases; Stop interrupting women and girls. Parents and teachers (both males and females) interrupt girls twice as often as boys. This teaches girls that their words and thoughts are not as important or valued.  If you don’t believe you are doing this in your classroombe scientific about ithave someone come in and observe you or tape your classroom. The most powerful illustration of the effects of gender on perceptions of importance, competence and speech are the experiences of people who undergo sex changes. Scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his female-to-male transition experience. After transitioning, he gave a well-received scientific speech and overheard a member of the audience explain that “his work is much better than his sister’s,” referring to when he was Barbara Barres. Notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”
2) Stop telling girls to be “little ladies” and “good girls” who help with chores, wait their turns, do not display pride, express anger or be demanding.  Politeness and taking turns, two highly-ranked lessons we teach girls in particular, are not virtues in the public sphere. Conversely, nip American male “boys will be boys” entitlements in the bud by holding boys and girls to the same standards of self-regulation as children.
3) Stop promoting the idea that masculinized expression is superior and that women have to emulate it to be successful. The expectation that women be gender bi-lingual, or code switch, is a function of being part of a muted group. The kind of confidence that many people advocate just means a woman has to work very hard to overcome sexist gender incongruities in order to succeed.  Telling women to operate more like men in the public sphere: change their speech, change their hair, change their clothes and change their style of expression will only amplify androcentric norms. If we want to close the confidence gap, of course it helps to talk to women about self-doubt, but really closing this gap, as with all the otherspay, safety, rightsrequires structural changes in every institution within which we live.
4) Create spaces for those who have trouble being heard or breaking into conversations.  Structure meetings so that everyone is given a chance to speak, and limit durations so that everyone gets a fair representation in the meeting.  If you notice a member of your team is not participating or not being heard, discuss the issue with them privately and try to come up with a solution that feels comfortable to this person.
5) When you notice that someone is interrupting or talking over someone else, say “Excuse me, XXX was speaking, please let him/her finish before you continue your thought.”  This is especially important if you are in a more powerful position (because of status, age, race, gender, or seniority) and the person being interrupted is in a less powerful position.
6) When you notice someone repeating an idea that you had already brought up say: “I am glad that XXX agrees with my previous suggestion … ” If you notice this happening to someone else, try to find a way to attribute the idea to the original speaker: “XXX said that 10 minutes ago!” may not be as effective as something like, “Yes, as XXX previously suggested … “
7) Create classroom and workplace environments which are conscious of these gender dynamics and put in place methods which help you overcome the unconscious biases (we all have) towards allowing white men to disproportionately dominate the discussion.

 

 

Re-post: What is a woman?

I recently read an interesting New Yorker piece that sets up a debate between radical feminists and transgender women. The arguments basically go like this: Transgender women say they have a right to be whatever gender they want, while radical feminists say that someone who has reaped male privilege for years (and perhaps continues to do so in some contexts) can’t just suddenly decide to take on the title of “woman.”

The radical feminist position here made sense to me at first. Men presume to speak for women in a lot of contexts; it seems there may be danger of that here. “Trying on” womanhood could be seen as a form of extended male entitlement. But the more I think about this, the more I’m not sure how welcoming a transgender woman to the fold in any way decreases my own claim to the term “woman.” Having additional voices doesn’t mean mine will be covered over. In fact, ostracizing trans women on the basis that we don’t have shared oppressions implicitly makes the case that all people born as women DO have shared oppressions. As a very privileged, white, Western woman, I am keenly aware that that is not true.

Obviously, the positions represented in this post are generalizations. However, article author Michelle Goldberg does a really nice job of providing more complexity and illustrating how this debate has played out over years, as well as what it means to consider intersectionality in this context. Perhaps my favorite line is this clever little shift: “In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position.” Whoa.

Read the full article here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2

 

Mapping gender

Map of cultures that recognize more than two genders. The map shows abou 40 markers.

This map of cultures that recognize more than two genders is a great way to start thinking about why gender dimorphism should not be thought of as a default situation. See the original PBS page

 

Feminist Dads

A friend just sent me a link to a Time article, and it’s a really fantastic piece. Here are some highlights:

“Whether one calls oneself a feminist, it is undeniable that feminism and feminists have made the modern dad possible.”

“If you believe that dads are capable of diapering, feeding and raising children as well as women can, you might be a feminist.”

And, my very favorite, which gives me lots to think about:

“While I don’t insist that anyone label themselves, and I understand it’s easier to not use a label that comes with a lot of baggage and misconception, it’s obvious to me that the only reason “feminist” remains a bad word is that women (and anything associated with them) are still discriminated against. And, the fact that stereotypes of man-hating feminists persist (not to mention the visceral anger the word inspires) proves the point. Feminist is the only appropriate word for those that believe in the radical notion that women should be equal to men, and who understand that we live in a world of historically and culturally inscribed female disadvantage.”

Read the full piece here.

Silent Invaders

book coverI’ve been doing some research into women’s healthcare lately, and some of my best finds have been from old-school shopping the stacks at the library. Here are some (lightly organized) notes on the edited collection Silent Invaders: Pesticides, Livelihoods and Women’s Health. This text gives a nuanced history of conversations about pesticides and health, with a special focus on women’s health and much attention to a variety of contexts throughout the world. Many chapters reference the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which are good places to start in understanding the regulation of pesticide use.

Marion Moses says the book’s focus is largely on toxicology and epidemiology, (as well as endocrine disruptors). She gives a useful history of the use of pesticides, with significant discussion of the process of resistance and secondary outbreaks. She references Carson’s Silent Spring as the first time the pesticide industry faced any significant criticsm. Further, she argues that “A ‘risk assessment’ ritual language emerged with predictable and stereotypical views” pointing to beliefs in objective science (p. 4). Contextual information like whether workers could afford protective clothing were largely ignored.

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Digital Activism & Social Justice

From the Guest Editors of a recent special issue of Harlot:

“As Angela Haas has argued, the concept of digital refers as much to the work of the human hand as it does binary code. Even when digital tools enable activists to collaborate across great distances, the body remains a powerful force in the activist scene. After all, we must remember that the web is not and has not ever been a democratic, egalitarian space; power inequalities of sexuality, race, class, gender, ability, and nation persist—and are often reinforced—in online spaces.”

“[T]he body is one of the most important activist media that we have.”

Read the guest editors’ introduction to the special issue.