A Long Comment On Roberts and Gender

Alastair Roberts has written a compelling conservative christian interrogation of popular cultural gender atrophy here: http://mereorthodoxy.com/why-we-should-jettison-the-strong-female-character/

This is a comment I left on the post about how we can sometimes confuse ourselves and use “differences” as cover for inequality. In hindsight it wasn’t exactly a “quick caveat”:

“Just a quick concern/caveat:

“Women’s greater natural orientation towards relational and caring activities leads to their underrepresentation within the more lucrative and powerful professions. Women are drawn to subjects and occupations that are more personal, artistic, and relational, while men to those that are more realistic, investigative, and thing-based. Despite the expense of considerable money and effort to change male and female preferences, they are surprisingly resistant to change in many respects.”

When we talk about being “drawn” we’ve left the biological for the intellectual and the application of the will. Even if there is a biological component (as speculated based on the gender demographics in different types of intellectual labor), it’s negligible when it can be overridden by the will which is not less than gendered but encompasses much more than a rote determinism.

There is a position that if an “average man” can’t read, he has simply not had enough schooling/enough resources to focus time on that. If an “average woman” can’t read, it’s her own fault? Absolutely not. It follows to other areas of intellectual labor as well.

That position is pretty close to the, until recently, rampant and enforced inaccurate belief about women and math. Math, like reading, is just a matter of language, syntax, logic and practice.

Then there is the problem of “money and effort to change” preferences. These very recent dollars with modest aims (usually subordinating getting girls involved with actual programs to mere awareness or buying tools/toys/resources in pink that already exist for boys) have nothing on the concentrated government spending on the educational prospects of soldiers and the informal culture shaping dollars that come from hours of popular science fiction for boys and not having to do as much housework as girls. Tinkering is commendable in boys but damnable as spinsterly in girls. Many STEM female empowerment programs are simply trying to achieve empowerment parity. The question is not empowerment at the expense of men but if women are even allowed into this technical informal social culture of men.

At my software internship, without any prompting from me, another employee in the office of dozens where only one woman worked started talking openly and frankly about octopus based anime pornography. Keep in mind that I was working in a conservative, middle american firm with many many Christians there. If at the most moral places this kind of thing happens, can you imagine what it’s like for women in less regulated spaces that are even more informal and cultural like the university. In my entire college software program there was less than half a dozen women, all undergrad students. Those demographics for any minority group with less pronounced differences than gender would provoke a “wait why?” question about systemic correctives.

The study you cite says that a major mediating factor in education tract choice/college major is interest and that interest divides in gender haven’t changed in the last 85 years. It also says that the number of women in STEM fields has gone up. So there is at least some artificial barrier for interest becoming reality for a number of women over those decades.

All this to say, I am very sensitive to anything that suggests different than the notion that the life of the mind is BUILT. Math, like literacy, is a built apparatus for flourishing and neither is tied to domesticity but both can be done from home.

Further, in places where there is no formal ‘building’ whatsoever in younger people, the capacity for integrating math/coding/ingenuity into greater humanities type projects/goals (ostensibly the natural domain of women) is impossible. These require a basic technical literacy. These projects that can be done in the home are simply not on the table. This is the most compelling place for empowering women, regardless if you agree with me that boys are informally conditioned more than girls to enjoy “deep play” with computers/math, because it’s at that level of basic understanding. Getting what’s in the book before seeing the cover.

Too many women have simply not tried these things, because they are not given a rudimentary mandatory technical grammar in elementary, middle and high-school. When it comes a time to choose, cultural shortcuts can take precedence to lived experience. Math, Science, Engineering, Software etc are not hard. Like every subject, they are built. They are the result of the applied will + time + resources + support. We can make the first element easier by providing the other three elements.

Given those things, anyone can do this. Whatever biological differences women have, they don’t necessitate inability or disprove discouragement, hostility or failures in educational systems’ preparedness.”

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