Guest post: Once the opportunities are there, women are interested

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey on They can’t see what they can’t see.

I get frustrated with the way this debate gets framed. It’s not that the “ideas” that Damore and his ilk promote are “off limits,” as Coyne would have it. It’s that they are such inferior ideas when it comes to explaining our present reality.

I have no quarrel with the abstract notion that women and men may differ, whether biologically or for culture-driven reasons that we don’t wish to change, in ways that mean that not every profession will end up with a 50/50 split of men and women even when we have achieved complete and utter Gender Equality Utopia. Call this the Gender Differences Hypothesis.

What I do quarrel with is the claim (sometimes explicit, sometimes implied) that all observable deviations from a 50/50 split can be explained by the GDH, and therefore we can declare that discrimination is trivial or non-existent and that we are already in Gender Equality Utopia. Not when virtually all of those deviations from a 50/50 split seem, curiously, to fall in such a way that men are disproportionately represented in those professions that are most powerful, well-compensated, and respected. Not when we have all sorts of scientifically rigorous, peer-reviewed research that show that (e.g.) the same behavior that is perceived as strong leadership from a man is seen as bitchy and pushy from a woman, that women somehow got hired more often for symphonies when auditions were made gender-blind, that women professors are discriminated against on student evaluations.

You know — the sort of hard scientific evidence that critical thinking scientists claim to value over feelings and anecdotes and folk legends. Unless those folk legends involve speculation about how women like pink because their evolutionary forebears handled the berry-picking.

Back when the United States passed Title IX and required that colleges receiving federal funds provide equal access to athletic programs for women, there were many who declared that this was absurd because women just weren’t as interested in sports as men, it was obvious, and trying to force it to be otherwise was an exercise in “social engineering.” Well, it turns out that women and girls were a lot more interested in sports than they were generally given credit for. Once those opportunities were provided, college women were interested. And younger girls, given something to aspire to, got interested, too.

Twenty years ago, if asked about these things, I probably would have agreed with the Damores and Blackfords and Coynes of the world. The reason I changed my mind isn’t because I decided to put feelings or abstract utopian goals ahead of cold hard facts; it was that I looked at the cold hard facts and realized that some of my assumptions were wrong.

To circle back to the original point (finally!): the GDH isn’t “off limits” any more than “God did it” is “off limits” as an explanation of the creation and diversity of life forms on this planet. It just comes up short as an explanation.

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