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Do Biological Differences Explain why Women are More Religious than Men?

Grace Davie has argued that women feel closer to God because they are involved in the creation of life through pregnancy and childbirth.

It is possible that being pregnant, and carrying a new life around for several months, makes women reflect more on spiritual matters such as the meaning of life, and ethical considerations of child rearing, even before the the child is born, and religion is one place where women can find answers to such questions.

It is also the case that child birth is a very intense, emotionally charged, experience, so it could be that the event itself makes women seek out religion more.

HOWEVER, is it possible to isolate the biological fact that women give birth from the traditional gender norm of ‘primary child carer’ that women still adopt in most countries?

It could just be that it is conformity to the role of primary carer is what ‘makes’ women more religious, rather than the biological fact of women being the child bearers: caring and nurturing make people think more about others, and thus more about ethical issues, which is the domain of religion.

However (again) there could be something in this: The New Age Movement (primarily made up of women) celebrates biological aspects of femininity, such as ‘motherhood’ for example.

 

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Is Google Sexist?

In a memo published in August 2017 a (male) Google engineer suggested that gender inequality in the technology industry in general and Google in particular is not due to sexism, but due largely to biological differences between men and women.

The memo was called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” and the guy who wrote it was James Danmore. His short answer to the question ‘is Google sexist’ would be ‘no, in fact quite the opposite – Google subscribes to a leftist ideology and actually practices unfair authoritarian discrimination in favor of women over men’.

Google's Ideological Echo Chamber

This memo is a great example of a New Right view on gender inequality – basically that men are naturally (biologically and psychologically) better suited to the demanding, analytical type of jobs that exist necessarily?) in a highly competitive tech industry.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying that the memo suggested harmful gender stereotypes and sacked Danmore. Needless to say this whole incident has provoked a strong response from both the left and the right.

All I’m doing for now in this post is to summarise the key points of the work, to make it more accessible to students, as it’s an excellent example of a New Right point of view on gender roles. At some point I’ll get round to adding in some of the responses and criticisms of Danmore’s work.

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber – A Summary of the Main Points

(Full Text – Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber)

Danmore starts off the article by outlining (crudely) the difference between left and right ideologies, before suggesting that his list of possible biological causes of the gender gap (below) are ‘’non-biased”

 It’s also worth mentioning that Danmore does qualify a lot of what he says, stating more than once that he doesn’t deny that sexism exists, he also states that there is considerable ‘biological overlap’ between men and women, so there are plenty of women who are biologically predisposed (as he would put it) towards techy jobs and leadership.

I’ve cut out quite a lot of the text, so as to just include the main arguments and evidence (there’s not much evidence cited) – anything in normal text is word for word from the original, anything italicised are my additions.

 Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech:

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.

Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Danmore includes the following diagrams to make his point:

Googles Ideological Echo Chamber

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more (this heading is linked to a Wikipedia article on sex differences in psychology)

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.
  • Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness. This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance) – This may contribute to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

In this section Danmore cites two journal articles (all other links are not academic so I haven’t included them) to back up his views:

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs.

These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.

Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

  • Danmore doesn’t cite any authoritative evidence to back up the views in this section. 

The rest of the document

There are four further sections in the document in which Danmore covers:

  • Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap – actually he makes some pretty sensible suggestions here IMO, such as making work more collaborative.
  • A section on the harm of Google’s biases
  • A section on ‘why we’re blind’ – i.e. why we’re blind to the apparent ‘objective truth’ of the fact that men are leaders because they’re less neurotic etc.
  • A final section of suggestions – in which he basically suggests that we should be more tolerant of conservative views and not discriminate in ‘authoritarian ways’.

 

 

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An Introduction to Sex, Gender and Gender Identity

The aim of this post is to provide a very brief introduction to the very complex topic of sex, gender and gender identity. 

Sex, gender and gender identity: basic definitions

  • Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women
  • Gender refers to the cultural differences between – it is to do with social norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.
  • Gender Identity is an individual’s own sense of their own gender. Their private sense of whether they feel masculine, feminine, both or neither, irrespective of their biological sex.

Biological differences between men and women

At first glance, there appears to be some fairly obvious biological differences between men and women – most obviously:

  • Reproductive organs – women have eggs and wombs and men produce sperm which fertilizes eggs – no need to go into the joys of exactly how this is done at this stage, suffice to say that in terms of the physical reproduction of the species men have a fairly easy time of it, women are the ones who have to carry the babies inside of them, and suffer the physical trauma of childbirth.
  • Women can lactate, men can’t, meaning women are the only sex who can produce food for their young offspring.
  • On average men are physically stronger, and can run faster than women.
  • Women typically cannot reproduce over the age of 50, while men can perform the reproductive function until much later on in their lives.
  • On average, women live longer than men
  • There are also hormonal differences – most obviously men have higher testosterone levels – which some scientific studies have linked to their higher levels of aggression.

Traditional Gender Roles and Norms

In the 1950s Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons argued that these biological differences meant there were ‘natural’ social roles that men and women should fulfill in society –

  • women should perform the expressive role, or caring and nurturing role.
  • men should perform the instrumental role, or the ‘breadwinner’ role – going out and earning money.

Such ideas formed part of the common sense’ way of viewing relations through much of the 20th century, with most people seeing maleness and masculinity and femaleness and femininity as a binary relationship – with men being seen as the opposite of women.

Criticisms of the male-female gender divide

Successive Feminists movements have spearheaded criticisms of traditional gender roles in society, arguing that stereotypical ideas about the roles men and women should occupy, and the norms they should subscribe to, have systematically disadvantaged women.

One of the key Feminist ideas is that gender is socially constructed, that gender roles and norms are not determined by biology, but are shaped by society, and some of the best evidence of this fact lies in the enormous variation in gender roles between different cultures – simply put, if you can find just a handful of examples of men and women occupying different roles, having different amounts of power, and acting differently in different cultures, then this disproves the theory that there is some kind of ‘natural’ link between biological sex and gender.

Feminists have effectively spearheaded campaigns for greater gender equality and diversity of gender roles, and the last century has seen a blurring of boundaries between male and female roles and norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.

And, of course, the fact that gender roles and norms have changed so much so rapidly adds further weight to the fact that gender is socially constructed rather than biologically determined.

Criticisms of the binary opposition between male/ masculine and female/ feminine

Contemporary Feminism has criticized the binary opposition between male and female, arguing that every aspect of sex and gender are in fact sliding scales rather than opposites – as illustrated by the Genderbread person:

Genderbread-Person.jpg

The genderbread person was developed by Sam Killerman, who argues that gender identity incorporates not only one’s biological sex, but also one’s sexuality, one’s sense of social-identity and how one feels about one’s self – gender identity is thus fluid and complex, rather than static and binary binary, as explored further by Sam Killerman in the TED talk below.

Hegemonic masculinity and femininity in contemporary society  

Of course just because we are more accepting of gender diversity in contemporary society, this doesn’t mean that the old stereotypes have disappeared –  biological males are still ‘called upon’ to act in a typically masculine way, and biological females are still called upon to act in typically feminine ways, which at least in part explains why there are still clear gender inequalities in society today.