Baumeister on gender differences
#1
Starting this thread to discuss a paper shared in another thread.

Paper in question - Is There Anything Good About Men?

I haven't fully read the paper, but my initial impression is that the author is repeating some tired old tropes about feminism. I noticed a couple:

Straw feminist:

Quote:Hence this is not about the “battle of the sexes,” and in fact I think one unfortunate legacy of feminism has been the idea that men and women are basically enemies.

Quote:Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

A flawed understanding of patriarchy:

Quote:But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.

Though the author claims that "I don’t want to be on anybody’s side. Gender warriors please go home.", he has already picked a side by misrepresenting feminism.
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#2
Lije,

I dont think the author seeks to provide comprehensive definitions of either feminism or patriarchy. The article's key thrusts lie elsewhere and I believe that is where a focus would be more useful. Without prejudice to our positions on whether the author mischaracterizes some aspects of feminist theory or patriarchy - something I am open to discussing later in this thread - I welcome a critique of the article's key explanations.
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#3
(22-Jan-2013, 06:52 AM)Cityboy Wrote: I dont think the author seeks to provide comprehensive definitions of either feminism or patriarchy. The article's key thrusts lie elsewhere and I believe that is where a focus would be more useful. Without prejudice to our positions on whether the author mischaracterizes some aspects of feminist theory or patriarchy - something I am open to discussing later in this thread - I welcome a critique of the article's key explanations.

Given the glut of misinformation on feminism, which is motivated at most times, it is important to point it out. I don't think that takes away from other points in an argument.

Before I point what I find objectionable about the author's key points, a few more problems with how the author portrays feminism:

Quote:One can imagine an ancient battle in which the enemy was driven off and the city saved, and the returning soldiers are showered with gold coins. An early feminist might protest that hey, all those men are getting gold coins, half of those coins should go to women. In principle, I agree. But remember, while the men you see are getting gold coins, there are other men you don't see, who are still bleeding to death on the battlefield from spear wounds.

A feminist would argue for equal representation for women in the army. They would then find how the ways in which patriarchy actively prevents from doing so. They would then try to fight it, which would invariably be translated into general perception as angry feminists itching to make it a battle of the sexes.

Quote:The surprising thing to me is that it took little more than a decade to go from one view to its opposite, that is, from thinking men are better than women to thinking women are better than men. How is this possible?

There simply isn't enough evidence to make a generalized statement that today women are perceived to be better than men.

Quote: Gender inequality seems to have increased with early civilization, including agriculture. Why? The feminist explanation has been that the men banded together to create patriarchy. This is essentially a conspiracy theory, and there is little or no evidence that it is true. Some argue that the men erased it from the history books in order to safeguard their newly won power. Still, the lack of evidence should be worrisome, especially since this same kind of conspiracy would have had to happen over and over, in group after group, all over the world.

Again, an extremely flawed understanding of patriarchy. Flawed enough to call it a strawman argument.

--

Now coming to key points, they seem to be relying heavily on psychology and evolutionary psychology, fields that are beset with problems. As forum member unsorted notes in another thread:

Quote:And so psychology is largely conducted inside theoretical frameworks, which ought to be arrived at via deductive reasoning. But the reasoning some of these frameworks are not sound, and therefore this leads to plenty of bad science

So before coming to conclusions like men are hardwired to behave one way and women another, cultural factors should be considered first. Only after eliminating them, can we give more weight to psychology or EP. Some of the examples the author uses illustrate the dangers of not considering cultural effects:

Quote:One test of what's meaningfully real is the marketplace. It's hard to find anybody making money out of gender differences in abilities. But in motivation, there are plenty. Look at the magazine industry: men's magazines cover different stuff from women's magazines, because men and women like and enjoy and are interested in different things. Look at the difference in films between the men's and women's cable channels. Look at the difference in commercials for men or for women.

Now how much of that is due to culture and how much is due to hard wiring? Another example is when he cites survival rate of men and women on the Titanic to say that women are protected more because it is they who are responsible for population growth. Men on the other hand are expendable:

Quote:And I think most men know that in an emergency, if there are women and children present, he will be expected to lay down his life without argument or complaint so that the others can survive. On the Titanic, the richest men had a lower survival rate (34%) than the poorest women (46%) (though that’s not how it looked in the movie).

Looking at more data suggests that there are other factors at play.
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#4
Lije,

Thank you for your views. I will likely respond to different components of your post in separate instalments.

(23-Jan-2013, 04:20 AM)Lije Wrote: Now coming to key points, they seem to be relying heavily on psychology and evolutionary psychology, fields that are beset with problems. As forum member unsorted notes in

another thread:

Quote:And so psychology is largely conducted inside theoretical frameworks, which ought to be arrived at via deductive reasoning. But the reasoning some of these frameworks are not sound, and therefore this leads to plenty of bad science

So before coming to conclusions like men are hardwired to behave one way and women another, cultural factors should be considered first. Only after eliminating them, can we give more weight to psychology or EP.

That a field or body of work has problems means that it is not an authoritative source of knowledge. However that a body of work or a field has problems is not ground for rejection of claims made by it. Let me elaborate.

Vedas are not an authoritative source of knowledge. So it is not reasonable to say "X is true because Vedas claim X". At the same time it is also unreasonable to say "Y can be rejected because the Vedas claim Y".

Whether X or Y is true or not is not dependent on the source. Reasonable evaluation calls for a claim from a discipline or a person to be evaluated on the merits of the claim - and not based on whether the person is a prostitute ( as an aside, I support consensual sex between adults, even for a fee, and do not like laws that prohibit these transactions, but that may be the topic of another thread) and or a criminal or whether the discipline has some problems.

I do not understand why cultural factors need to be considered first, though I agree they ought to be considered. The differences we observe can be the result of multiple factors operating simultaneously, and it is not clear to me why Factor C has to be eliminated before Factor G is given some weight, though I see why Factor C has to be controlled/accounted for.
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#5
(23-Jan-2013, 04:20 AM)Lije Wrote:
Quote:One test of what's meaningfully real is the marketplace. It's hard to find anybody making money out of gender differences in abilities. But in motivation, there are plenty. Look at the magazine industry: men's magazines cover different stuff from women's magazines, because men and women like and enjoy and are interested in different things. Look at the difference in films between the men's and women's cable channels. Look at the difference in commercials for men or for women.

Now how much of that is due to culture and how much is due to hard wiring?

Good question. Is the hypothesis that the difference quoted above is entirely due to culture a falsfiable one? If so, how?


(23-Jan-2013, 04:20 AM)Lije Wrote: Another example is when he cites survival rate of men and women on the Titanic to say that women are protected more because it is they who are responsible for population growth. Men on the other hand are expendable:

Quote:And I think most men know that in an emergency, if there are women and children present, he will be expected to lay down his life without argument or complaint so that the others can survive. On the Titanic, the richest men had a lower survival rate (34%) than the poorest women (46%) (though that’s not how it looked in the movie).

Looking at more data suggests that there are other factors at play.

Thank you for the link that shows that the Titanic story does not apply to most maritime disasters. So the Titanic is not a reasonable evidence for the hypothesis that men have been expendable. What about other evidence that the article refers to?
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#6
It appears to me that there are two possible explanations (hypotheses) for why we observe a higher proportion of men (than women) in some highly selective groups e.g. Harvard tenured professors in math:

(a) Genetic or innate differences between men and women in talent or motivation
(b) Cultural factors that inhibit development of talent in women more than they do in men

The two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. I see many cultural practices that inhibit development of talent in women more than they do in men and see a role for (b). The question in my mind is whether (a) also has a role in explaining what we observe or no role at all.

I see (a) and (b) as exhaustive, though not mutually exclusive. If someone has a third reasonable explanation, I would be all ears and eyes.

(a) above is not necessarily about difference in means. It can be about difference in variances. That it can be about variances, I have learnt later, is an idea that is more than 100 years old - but it is novel to me, :-) and it was the article that is the subject of this thread that brought it to my attention.

It is not clear to me how (b) would contribute to higher variance among men, compared to women.

Also, if (b) were the dominant factor, I would expect the women that gained entry to a select group (in spite of inhibiting cultural factors) to be on average better performers than the men that gained entry to the same select group. Does anyone see anything that I am missing here?
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#7
Cityboy,

Can you please elaborate the reasoning for the following.


* Also, if (b) were the dominant factor, I would expect the women that gained entry to a select group (in spite of inhibiting cultural factors) to be on average better performers than the men that gained entry to the same select group.*
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#8
(23-Jan-2013, 11:58 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote: Cityboy,

Can you please elaborate the reasoning for the following.

* Also, if (b) were the dominant factor, I would expect the women that gained entry to a select group (in spite of inhibiting cultural factors) to be on average better performers than the men that gained entry to the same select group.*

Sure. Here is what I had in mind. For a formal treatment, let me start off with some notation. Let:

T be a random variable that denotes the intrinsic talent of an individual, where intrinsic talent is not observable.

Z be a random variable that denotes measurement noise that is independent of T.

Let M denote observed performance or talent i.e. M = T + Z

For the sake of argument, lets assume the distributions of T and Z are not different across men and women, thus ruling out hypothesis (a) of my prior post.

However lets give a role for hypothesis (b) of my prior post. Say a resource that helps develop talent/skill is allocated (by culture) to males more generously than to females, based on observation of a person's gender. Specifically, a resource is given to a female when her M exceeds a threshold X, whereas the same resource is given to a male when his M exceeds a threshold Y, where X > Y. In other words, a female has to be extra good before she is provided a resource that adds value to her development.

Now lets compare males and females who received the resouce i.e. were successful in beating their respective thresholds. I would expect the average female in this subgroup to be better than the average male in this subgroup.
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#9
(23-Jan-2013, 10:00 AM)Cityboy Wrote: That a field or body of work has problems means that it is not an authoritative source of knowledge. However that a body of work or a field has problems is not ground for rejection of claims made by it. Let me elaborate.

I’m not rejecting EP entirely. But since it is a problematic field, its claims need to be supported by a preponderance of evidence. I'm not saying that X is false because Vedas claim it is true, I'm saying since it is the Vedas which are claiming something, the evidence presented should be proportional to the problematic nature of the Vedas.

(23-Jan-2013, 10:00 AM)Cityboy Wrote: I do not understand why cultural factors need to be considered first, though I agree they ought to be considered. The differences we observe can be the result of multiple factors operating simultaneously, and it is not clear to me why Factor C has to be eliminated before Factor G is given some weight, though I see why Factor C has to be controlled/accounted for.

The reason I said cultural factors need to be considered first is that EP tends to take the existing situation as is and tries to find what evolutionary reason led to it. Once you acknowledge that cultural factors can play a big role, you wouldn’t resort to reasoning like "look at the magazines men and women read. There should be some innate difference". You would rather say, "let’s first eliminate cultural factors. After all we do know that the beauty standards sold in magazines today is not the same it was a few decades/centuries ago. And yet people aspire to these standards".

(23-Jan-2013, 10:09 AM)Cityboy Wrote: Good question. Is the hypothesis that the difference quoted above is entirely due to culture a falsfiable one? If so, how?

I didn't mean to say that it is entirely cultural (more on that later, below). So given that culture plays an important role, I would say that it is falsifiable, but is difficult to prove. Gender roles are enforced right from the moment of birth and you would need a society that doesn’t enforce such roles to do any falsification. But we could still infer to an extent from observing how gender roles are changing. For example, coming out of the manbox. It would also be interesting to observe Sweden.

(23-Jan-2013, 10:09 AM)Cityboy Wrote: Thank you for the link that shows that the Titanic story does not apply to most maritime disasters. So the Titanic is not a reasonable evidence for the hypothesis that men have been expendable. What about other evidence that the article refers to?

The other examples don’t provide reasonable evidence for the reasons mentioned above. The cultural factors need to be taken into account. Again, consider the varnashrama system. Are individuals really replaceable in that? Can you take a guild and say that almost all people in it can be replaced? Corporations where people are replaceable are a result of an economic system. Unless there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that such economic systems arise from the tendency of men to create social networks where individuals are replaceable, I would remain skeptical.

(23-Jan-2013, 10:33 AM)Cityboy Wrote: It appears to me that there are two possible explanations (hypotheses) for why we observe a higher proportion of men (than women) in some highly selective groups e.g. Harvard tenured professors in math:

(a) Genetic or innate differences between men and women in talent or motivation
(b) Cultural factors that inhibit development of talent in women more than they do in men

The two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. I see many cultural practices that inhibit development of talent in women more than they do in men and see a role for (b). The question in my mind is whether (a) also has a role in explaining what we observe or no role at all.

I agree that the two hypothesis are not mutually exclusive. I also agree that (a) has a role. But how much of a role depends on how reliable the evidence is. That is what I’m getting at. If I see a claim made by physicists, I’m more likely to trust it than a claim made by psychologists. I would accept the claims made by Baumeister if they are backed by solid evidence. However given the examples he cited, and his eagerness to pin it all on hard wiring, I find it hard to accept them.

(23-Jan-2013, 10:33 AM)Cityboy Wrote: Also, if (b) were the dominant factor, I would expect the women that gained entry to a select group (in spite of inhibiting cultural factors) to be on average better performers than the men that gained entry to the same select group. Does anyone see anything that I am missing here?

Isn't the assumption here that once you gain entry into a group, the cultural factors cease to be a problem? Is that a valid assumption?
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#10
(23-Jan-2013, 10:36 PM)Lije Wrote:
(23-Jan-2013, 10:33 AM)Cityboy Wrote: Also, if (b) were the dominant factor, I would expect the women that gained entry to a select group (in spite of inhibiting cultural factors) to be on average better performers than the men that gained entry to the same select group. Does anyone see anything that I am missing here?

Isn't the assumption here that once you gain entry into a group, the cultural factors cease to be a problem? Is that a valid assumption?

Lets explore your queries/concern.

Prose has its limitations when it comes to precision and clarity - so I have taken the liberty to somewhat formal in my response in Post #8 to Captain Mandrake's query - I am open to modifying the formalism in Post # 8 to incorporate what you have in mind, and then see where that takes us, in terms of observable implications.

In Post # 8, I have refered to a helpful resource that culture allocates less generously to females. It can also be viewed as a prescription that hampers performance and that culture allocates more generously to females. As I see it, your query brings up two issues:

(i) the negative prescription may have a persistent effect through one's life.
(ii) During an individual's lifetime, there is a series of such sequential resource / negative prescription allocations, not just one.

Regarding (i), the formulation in Post #8 assumes persistence.

Regarding (ii), while the formulation in Post # 8 talks about one resource allocation / negative prescription, it does not preclude a series of these events in an individual's lifetime.
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#11
(24-Jan-2013, 10:01 PM)Cityboy Wrote:
(23-Jan-2013, 10:36 PM)Lije Wrote: Isn't the assumption here that once you gain entry into a group, the cultural factors cease to be a problem? Is that a valid assumption?

Lets explore your queries/concern.

When I posted my reply, I haven't read your formal treatment (I composed and replied within a few minutes of your post). But if we have to get formal, I think we should put all of our assumptions on the table. My assumption is that talent of function of environment and hard wiring. This is important because the implication is that the role environment plays is substantial in how one turns out to be. And culture is environment.

The Baumesiter paper cites Alice Eagly's research on the "Women are wonderful" stereotype. Here's what she has to say about the obstacles women face:

Quote:The glass ceiling has been with us for awhile and is a very popular metaphor still, so you’ll read that in journalism in particular, but also in the social science literature the metaphor used. I think that it is not a good metaphor. We certainly still have prejudice against women in leadership roles in various ways, so... you could say well glass ceiling is a metaphor for prejudice. But if you look at it in a more precise or detailed way at that notion of a glass ceiling I think we can see how misleading it is.

For one thing it suggests that the barriers are way up there in the hierarchy so that a woman would of course have a career in the same way as a man, but then she gets near the top. She thinks she is going to become executive vice president or maybe CEO and then, whoops, she finds out she can’t. She didn’t realize that before, according to this notion, but she hits her head on the glass ceiling. So... that is profoundly misleading because the challenges that women face in having successful careers are not just at the top. They are all the way along the career from step one through step two, step three, all the way through the career. So the reason you have so few women at the top of some hierarchies—such as being a chief executive officer in the Fortune 500—is that there are few women at that level right before that, so women progressively drop out of the hierarchy. It isn’t that the women are there in great numbers and then can’t get to that upper level. It’s a progressive drop out that occurs for many different reasons, so it is a rather odd metaphor actually in terms of not capturing the phenomenon.

I agree with that. Though the concept of a glass ceiling is valid, I think it is important to view it not some discrete threshold, but as an analog interference that attenuates your strength throughout your journey (Pardon the electronics & communications analogy).

Here is another paper I link to often. Though it talks about the criminal justice system, it argues for the role environment has to play in how an individual turns out, which I think is relevant here.

So I would add another step to your formal argument:

Talent T = E + H

Where

E = The environment component
H = The hardwired component

Do you agree?

PS: I am introducing new arguments with each of my comments. I think this isn't unfair as we seem to be having sort of an open ended discussion where we are examining our positions in depth. Let us state explicitly if we disagree with a new argument that has been introduced by the other.
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#12
Lije,

I am fine with all you have stated and am interested in pursuing the implications - the obvious implication is that fewer women will make it to the top. What is less obvious is the implication on average observed performance of women (compared to that of men), conditional on crossing any threshold. I recognize that there are multiple (a series of) thresholds in a lifetime.

The three keys are - intrinsic talent, adverse effect of culture/environment on women's talent development that is persistent over a lifetime and stochasticity or randomness - that any reasonable formulation has to incorporate.

Will incorporate the above in the next post and make the formulation in my prior post more clear.
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