Friday, August 26, 2005

Women's Equality Day

Glenn Reynolds posted this today(Update: on Women's Equality Day, Nice timing guys.). This article discusses the differences between men and women blacks and whites. It is very interesting, but unsurprisingly I have a problem with it.

The intent of this post is not to attempt to prove that women are just as good as men at everything. Personally I'd rather be able to put on matching shoes in the morning than to do quantum physics. Maybe that's because I'm a girl, or maybe that is common sense.

The point I would actually like to make at this point is that there is a reason one does not go around proclaiming from the rooftops that Germans are better drinkers than Irishmen based on their genetic code, or that men are better at math. The reason is in fact that all men are NOT created equal.

When I read this paper, I understand that on average men are better at some things than women, but that these averages are merely representations of a distribution. I know that there will still be extraordinary women who can kick 99% of men's asses at tennis, or who can do quantum physics better faster stronger. But when I was tested in highschool I was in the 95th percentile on everything, so this means that 95% of the population tested lower than me. So at what point do people start being smart enough to understand these things? My generous estimate is that the 70%ile and above understand distributions and outliers and such, and that the rest of the country would read this and go, "Huh? So what is Britney naming her baby again?"

So why is this important, well, it is important because if you say to Mr. Average Joe American guy, "Hey, the average woman is worse at math than the average man", this turns into, "Hey, Women aren't as good at math". It doesn't leave room for understanding that there are still some women who are better at math than most men. Maybe if they thought really hard about it would, but probably not, thinking.... haaard..... Og no like.... Where Grand Theft Auto? Og want shoot things and have sex with hookers.

It is crucial that guard against these conclusions because it is this sort of thinking that leads to prejudice. Understanding the differences between the genders and the races could be very interesting. But it also has potential to re-create the kind of racism and sexism that we fought so hard against in the 20th century. It is generally a bad idea to give people any kind of scientific proof that they are in any way superior to others. Does anyone besides me remember slavery? Or how white conquerors assumed their superiority over other races and slaughtered many of them? (Maybe what white men really have that other races don't is the intrinsic belief that they are better than everyone else? I digress)

Though you and I understand the science, that these are averages, and that there are still girls who want to play sports, Og does not. And if research that proves women are better or worse at some things becomes common knowledge I could eventually lose my job to a guy not because he is better at math than me but because men are better at math than women. And I'd make a really crummy housewife.

What I find interesting is the disdain in the paper and in Mr. Reynold's post for being politically correct, and ignoring supposed differences between demographic groups. Personally I think it must be very easy for white men to look around at people who are struggling and point out that they must not be as smart, or that their ancestors weren't as good at hunting. Where is the intellectual challenge in pointing out that people make less money than you and have one fewer Nobel peace prizes as a group.

It is, in my opinion, much more difficult to show empathy for those in whose shoes we have never walked, and attempt to understand WHY the races or the genders are not equal, if in fact they are not. But while we conduct this research we have to be sensitive to the stupidity of the average person. We have to keep in mind that the average person would LOVE to believe that he/she/it is in some way superior to women, or blacks, or Asians, or white guys, and that arming these people in any way with science is extremely dangerous to the current semi-egalitarian state of affairs.

Meanwhile: John Cole Links to Another Study that will Piss Everyone Off. I'm not pissed, if the men want to be convinced they are smarter than us, I'm okay with that, as long as they don't expect me to go home and start making babies (shudder). This could be fun. I'm moving on wednesday and, well, I'm just so dumb I can't figure out how to carry boxes and drive a U-Haul, are there any big smart men that could help me out?

But seriously, maybe men are just better at IQ tests. Duh.


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Easily Pleased said...

Great post. I have been thinking about this issue since the Harvard debacle. I forwarded a link to your post to a bunch of people, since we had a heated dinner-party argument about the issue. Had I been able to articulate as well as you did, I would not have been so mad in the car!