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LWN.net Weekly Edition for May 16, 2013
A look at the PyPy 2.0 release
PostgreSQL 9.3 beta: Federated databases and more
LWN.net Weekly Edition for May 9, 2013
(Nearly) full tickless operation in 3.10
Luis (a proud Ada seed funder)
An update on the Ada Initiative
Posted Dec 14, 2011 7:17 UTC (Wed) by k8to (subscriber, #15413)
Posted Dec 14, 2011 12:06 UTC (Wed) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
Posted Dec 15, 2011 22:32 UTC (Thu) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
There is no 'do you consider women to be equal human beings' test to subscribe to LWN, y'know.
I think I know the posts you're talking about, and I don't think you can say the posters consider, to any degree, women not to be equal to other human beings. The most anti-feminist sentiment you can find is believing that women and men are treated equally.
I'm guessing that louie's statement that LWN subscribers would offer different comments and suggestions than other people was meant in the context of the last paragraph of the article, which talks about funding models. LWN subscribers pay for something that they could mostly get for free.
Posted Dec 16, 2011 13:22 UTC (Fri) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
The most anti-feminist sentiment you can find is believing that women and men are treated equally.
Posted Dec 26, 2011 4:34 UTC (Mon) by Arker (guest, #14205)
If it's just about making the events more welcoming and better behaved, why not just say that, without dragging identity politics into it? It may well be that those things are worthy goals, and the outcome of pursuing them would include having more women at these events, and that is great. But I think it's very dangerous, and very poor thinking, to go at it from the group identity angle instead. If we have fun, welcoming events and everyone is well behaved and the turnout is still low on women, what then? The group identity logic would dictate that you keep trying more and more outrageous interventions to somehow get the group numbers you want. That's the danger. It may well turn out that despite all reasonable efforts to welcome women, a lower percentage of women than men are interested in being involved. If that's so, fine. Respecting the right of women to spend their time and effort where they choose is fundamental, even if they choose to spend their time and effort on something else.
Posted Dec 30, 2011 21:22 UTC (Fri) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
However when asked "if people felt that having more women was a good goal or not" I would have to say no, that's not a good goal, or an appropriate one. It's no more a good goal or an appropriate goal than any other discriminatory goal that divides people up into groups and treats them as representatives of their group rather than as individuals.
if someone came along and proposed that 'having more males' or 'having more white people'
Posted Dec 31, 2011 4:18 UTC (Sat) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198)
Posted Dec 31, 2011 5:04 UTC (Sat) by neilbrown (subscriber, #359)
> Ability and drive are not correlated with race, gender or religion
But I think that *interest* does correlate with gender. Girls like playing with doll and boys like playing with trucks. Not exclusively of course and with lots of exceptions. But I think there is a correlation between gender and certain interests.
I'm all for the removal of barriers and for encouraging people to try things they haven't tried before. And if any particular group wants to focus on barrier removal and encouragement in one particular demographic that's fine by me.
But the reality is that people are different and that aiming for uniform participation across any given demographic dimension is simply unrealistic.
> when you see a career with such a mono demographic you know something ain't right somewhere.
What is your justification for calling a demographic "mono". We certainly have > 0% female members. Recent kernel summits have had about 3%. The broader community probably has a lot more. 10%? 15%? What number would you accept as indicating that "something" is now "right"?
Posted Dec 31, 2011 7:49 UTC (Sat) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198)
Posted Dec 31, 2011 8:02 UTC (Sat) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198)
Posted Dec 31, 2011 8:35 UTC (Sat) by neilbrown (subscriber, #359)
Hormones can affect the development and function of various parts of the body including the brain. Thus they could affect perception and interpretation of perceptions.
Perception is a very strong predictor of interest - people are not interested in things that cannot perceive. e.g. I am not motivated to clean the house until long after my wife is because I literally do not see the dust until the concentration passes as sufficient threshold. My wife sees it much sooner - different eyes. When she points it out to me, then I can see it and am motivated to clean.
Some aspects of perception are definitely gender-based. Tetrachomas are (almost) always women. Colour-blind people are much more often men. I'm sure you can imagine that affecting interest in assorted different ways.
I'm sure there are other perception differences that correlate to some extent with genetic or hormonal differences between the genders - unfortunately I don't have a list.
Posted Dec 31, 2011 9:19 UTC (Sat) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
Another thing correlated with gender is brain anatomy. There are a bunch; one I remember is a much larger set of communication paths between the two brain hemispheres. Some of those anatomical differences can even plausibly explain some of the higher level psychological differences that have been observed between men and women through the ages. And some of those might explain women preferring to do other things than contribute to open source.
But I don't think it's necessary to explain differences between male and female interests with biology in order to argue against promoting diversity in open source participation. Interests developed culturally aren't any less valid.
Posted Jan 7, 2012 23:45 UTC (Sat) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
one I remember is a much larger set of communication paths between the two brain hemispheres
It seems likely that if the corpus callosum size varies between sexes it varies in the same way as do most other gender-dependent parameters not directly associated with the reproductive tract and lactation: a variation between the sexes much smaller than the average variation between members of each sex.
It seems to me extremely implausible that a parameter could exist which could cause software development to be 97% male in some countries but >50% female in some others (which is what we see). This is surely cultural.
Posted Jan 8, 2012 4:29 UTC (Sun) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313)
Posted Jan 8, 2012 21:27 UTC (Sun) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
After the experiences of the 20th Century, most people don't dare approach 'scientific' racism as an explanation for the difference between cultural behaviours, but some will still happily have a go at 'scientific' sexism. But the same reasons that we should discredit the former - before any moral objections, just on the basis of complete scientific unsoundness - also apply to why we should reject the latter.
We should be extremely sceptical towards claims founded on what the brain (either in its biological 'design' or neurally-manifest 'behaviour') can 'say' about how we act. The best we can demonstrate is that certain emotions or abilities have a _correlation_ with activity in certain parts of the brain - and _why_ this should even be the case, and how that works, we can only hypothesise and speculate; on the basis of empirical psychological studies, by studying (with caution) how damage to certain parts of the brain has affected behaviour, and by using neural imagery (which is still in its infancy).
This is good enough to help in diagnosing and hopefully developing treatment for brain-related illness or damage (and holds promise when used in this context), but I don't think it at all licenses us to make the exaggerated claims commonly made by pop neuroscience, which are too often scarily similar to those made by Victorian phrenologists (with as little genuinely scientific justification). We simply do not know how the brain works.
Neurodeterminism is far cry from 'explaining' how the brain works, much less the _mind_ which is more than the sum of the neural activities of the brain at any one snapshot in time - or even the sum of the neural activities, were we able to accurately record them in sufficiently high resolution (which we can't), taken across a _period_ of time.
Posted Jan 8, 2012 18:27 UTC (Sun) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
Hmm. I think you need to think again. Look more carefully at the articles you indicated. Differences in gendered behaviour can be entirely explained on a social basis (well, gender itself is a social construct). If you want to look at this in (exhaustive) detail, I'd recommend 'Delusions of Gender' by cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine, which is really a large collection of studies gathered together from a wealth of sources which look at how women and men act according to gender. Fine debunks the flawed studies, including _all_ the ones that make assumptions about behaviour being biological in origin.
The first part of Fine's book is devoted to demonstrating how ideas about, and identification with, gender can be entirely explained as arising from a socially derived basis, with gender identities and associations affecting people even on a subconscious level.
Well, I never had problems with the first idea (socially derived), but until I read Fine's studies I was very sceptical of the degree to which the second (at a subconcious level) could apply.
Having read Fine's studies, and whilst I would disagree with some of the conclusions she comes to, I found it impossible to argue with the logic and sheer volume of many of her arguments.
Subconscious level response is a result of associative memory learning, where one learns about the world around one by building a complex web of associations which include those about gender (e.g. doll = girl, toy truck = boy, housekeeper = woman, breadwinner = man, nurse = woman, physicist = man).
While there are obviously exceptions to these stereotypical associations, because they are based on, in general, real-world social norms they tend to be assimilated without the effort of conscious evaluation regardless of gender (i.e females absorb the female stereotypes as well as the male ones, and vice versa with the male assimilators).
What this means is that women (as well as men) absorb sexist ideas (against themselves) too (and the ideas don't just stop at gender associations).
Fine's arguments display a wealth of research attempting to demonstrate this.
While I think a few of the studies she quotes are of questionable quality and she is not always consistent, the dubious examples she gives and the (few) mistakes I think she makes are not done in such a way that undermine her other studies and discussions, most being well-constructed with totally believable results, and many studies are excellent.
In Fine's words 'Researchers have shown that our implicit representations of social groups are often remarkably reactionary, even when our consciously reported beliefs are modern and progressive.
As for gender, the automatic associations of the categories male and female are not just a few flimsy strands linked to penis and vagina. Measures of implicit associations reveal that men, more than women, are implicitly associated with science, maths, career, heirarchy and high authority. In contrast, women, more than men, are implicitly associated with the liberal arts, family and domesticity, egalitarianism and low authority.'
Fine also argues that our concept of self is malleable, that we have a 'wardrobe' from which we pick a persona depending on who we are interacting with and according to what social context.
This in itself is not particularly surprising, but what is surprising is the degree to which Fine shows a) to what extent we do this subconsciously and b) that we actually subconsciously change our _self-perception and behaviour_ (including absorbing different stereotypes) when we do it, sometimes to our own detriment.
One way which accounts for the appearance of a 'natural' ability deficit for something is via gender priming. This is where people absorb hints about their gender's capabilities at a particular task/role before they carry it out, and this influences their performance.
It is related to, and sometimes works alongside, 'stereotype threat' where people are aware (either subconsciously, consciously or both) that their social group's stereotype implies that they are poor at a specific task/role and this affects their performance.
(these phenomena do not just affect women, also men and members of other socially-contrived identity groups.)
There were some surprising results from Fine's studies:
--- Even ticking a box marked 'male' or 'female' to indicate gender before a questionnaire is started can reduce a candidate's confidence on 'gender conflicting' tasks, i.e. women tend to rate themselves worse at maths but better at verbal skills in a questionnaire than men do (and men do the opposite), compared to control groups where the 'male' or 'female' box is not included (i.e. the control group is not gender primed).
--- Changing the way a question is presented _actually changes that person's performance/ability_ at a task. There are a number of more detailed examples Fine gives, but here's a couple of the shorter ones (the longer ones are more convincing but clearly I am limited as to time and space on an lwn post :-):
(on mental rotation, a 'men-are-better' task:)
'Another...approach was recently devised by Italian researcher Angela Moe.
She described the mental rotation test to her Italian high school participants as a test of spatial abilities and told one group that "men perform bettter than women in this test, probably for genetic reasons".
'The control group was given no information about gender. But a third group was presented with a downright lie. The group was told that "women perform better than men in this test, probably for genetic reasons".
...In both the men-are-better and the control group, men out-performed women with the usual size of gender difference.
But women in the women-are-better group, the recipients of the little white lie, performed just as well as the men.'
'When, in one study, participants were told that performance on mental rotation is probably linked with success on such tasks as "in-flight and carrier-based aviation engineering...nuclear propulsion engineering, undersea approach and evasion, [and] navigation", the men came out well ahead.
'Yet when the same test was described as predicting facility for "clothing and dress design, interior decoration and interior design...decorative creative needlepoint, creative sewing and knitting, crocheting [and] flower arrangement", this emasculating list of activities had a draining effect on male performance.'
And another, this time performed by 'more than 100 university students enrolled in a fast and difficult calculus class that was a pipeline to the hard sciences':
'...The test packet handed out to each student included some information about the test. Students in the stereotype threat condition were told that the test was designed to measure their maths ability, to try to better understand what makes some people better at maths than others. This kind of statement can on its own create stereotype threat for women, who are well aware of their own stereotyped inferiority in mathematics.
'But added to this, in the non-threat condition, was the information that despite testing on thousands of students no gender difference had ever been found. So what was the effect of this extra information?
'The men and women in the two groups had, on average, all received much the same course grades. You'd expect then, given their apparently equivalent ability, that males and females in the threat and non-threat condition would perform at about the same level on the test.
'Instead, the researchers found that females performed better in the non-threat condition, and this was particularly striking among Anglo-American participants, who generally show the greatest sex difference in maths performance. Among these participants, men and women in the threat condition, as well as men in the non-threat condition, all scored about 19 percent on this very difficult test.
'But women in the non-threat group scored an average of 30 percent correct, thus out-performing every other group - including both groups of men.
In other words, the standard presentation of a test seemed to supress women's ability, but when the same test was presented to women as equally hard for men and women, it "unleashed their mathematics potential".'
--- the more men there are taking a maths test in the same room with a solo woman, the lower women's performance becomes
--- 'Stereotype threat hits hardest those who actually care about their maths skills and how they do on tests, and thus have the most to lose by doing badly, compared with women who don't much identify with maths.'
The reason Fine gives for this is that stereoytpe threat exaggerates performance anxiety in women who are particularly keen to do well - the most productive parts of their thought processes get 'used up' trying to manage the anxiety and stress, and they keep getting distracted trying to manage negative thoughts. Of course this is a phenomenum that can affect anyone in a high pressure situation (regardless of gender), but in the woman's case it is more extreme, and the examples Fine gives point to it having worse consequences for women the 'higher up' they are with their (male stereotyped) specialism.
I've only included one or two study examples herei. Fine has _loads_ more examples, much more thoroughly-treated, pithy ones, to illustrate her points. She goes on to present more and more detailed cases which combine together to overwhelmingly demonstrate that the difference, not just in competence, but even for inclination for gender roles and gendered occupations is _entirely_ socially constructed.
(you can read the book or you can take it from me that Fine's treatment of her subjects is highly detailed, comprehensive, exhaustively sourced and extremely well-referenced)
Included in Fine's studies are some CS related examples but sadly these are amongst the longer ones.
Interestingly she refers to some studies that indicate that the male to female ratio of computer science participants _varies_ geographically from one country to another and is related to that country's society and societal values. It tends to be Western, developed countries that have a very low female percentage of participants, but this does not hold true for, example, the Republic of Armenia:
'In the 1980's and 90's, the percentage of women in the largest computer science department in the country did not fall below 75 percent. Today, thanks to its increasing popularity among men (rather than declining popularity among women), Armenian women still make up close to half of computer science majors (and, anecdotally, their numbers appear to be high in many other former Soviet Republics).'
(In a note in one of her references, as an aside, she also states that a 2002 study showed that 'Computer science is not male dominated in Singapore or Malaysia either' giving the reference for this too.)
Fine suggests (from an interview of young Armenians of both genders) that the comparative gender difference in CS in Armenia is down to a much lower cultural emphasis on one's career as personal fulfillment, a profession instead being seen as a source of financial stability and a good living, and happiness being instead derived from 'their family and friendships'.
This is a further demonstration that participation in computer science is not biologically determined according to sex.
Fine uses many of these studies in conjunction with tests made incorporating sex-related biological factors (e.g. genetic/hormonal/neurological determinants - she gives a whole range of studies carried out not just on adults but also on children, even including young babies, which are really interesting) to clearly demonstrate that these biological factors are completely irrelevant.
Posted Jan 12, 2012 18:16 UTC (Thu) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
well, gender itself is a social construct
(But everything else you say is completely to point. Given our sad history to the contrary, for the avoidance of error one should surely assume that any given behaviour is not gender-dependent until faced with very strong evidence to the contrary. That 0% of men in human history have ever got pregnant, and that the machinery is missing, is strong evidence of a difference. Employment levels are not.)
Posted Jan 13, 2012 22:43 UTC (Fri) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
Well, of course, there are biological differences between the sexes ;-)
But you're talking about sex, not gender. Gender is, according to wikipedia:
"A socio-cultural phenomenon that divides people into various categories such as "male" and "female," with each having associated dress, roles, stereotypes, etc."
In very early human primitive societies engaged in the day-to-day struggle to survive, roles were doubtlessly more restricted according to one's sex for practical reasons; child-bearing (with no contraception available - a tool developed later by humans to allow us to control our own _biological_ behaviour) would naturally dictate a more sedentary role for women.
But social behaviour is not governed by biology; it is shaped explicitly by our conscious self-awareness. Sometimes this has a subconscious undertow (which can be consciously counteractable once it has been identified), but this too is socially shaped (see my long post in response to giraffedata).
All our actions (even the most basic, think about eating food for example: animal feeding compared to human dining, with all its intricate rules, meanings and varied contexts) take place in another dimension when we carry them out compared to our closest primate 'relatives'.
Chimps and gorillas probably get very close to the self-conscious border and may temporarily pass over it; passing, for example, the 'mirror test' (although not without 'practice'), and a gorilla was spotted in the wild  taking 'measurements' in water using a stick, indicating perhaps a sense of 'I', wondering whether the water was too deep to wade into.
(Assuming their physiological make up allows it, the fact that gorillas, and many 'higher' primates, with a few rare examples, can't learn to swim is a pertinent example of the inflexibility of their behaviour - even when such a simple skill is involved - compared to ours, btw. Many other 'stupider' non-primates can swim, presumably as a result of, in their case, a genuine biologically 'hard-wired' 'instinct'.)
But apes (and indeed all other animals) are characterised by their inability to stay in the self-conscious realm _permanently_ like we do; there is a fundamental passivity in the behaviour of other primates, behaviour which has not altered over millions of years, and which, without our intervention to teach them tricks and 'sign language', speaks of a lack of sustained, conscious, self-awareness - a lack of any intentionality which might allow them to understand and shape the world around them. While they exist through their lives, our lives are narrated through an explicit interaction with others and the world around us within a baroque, many-layered social framework of our own meaningfully-interpreted invention. No behaviour that arises out of this can be realistically compared to that of even the most intelligent chimp, who cannot be capable of grasping a socially-determined concept such as gendered behaviour, with its 'associated dress, roles, stereotypes, etc.'. Nor can the way we live our lives at all be crudely accounted for by any biologically-determined features, like the comparative size of areas of the brain.
Posted Jan 16, 2012 14:47 UTC (Mon) by blujay (guest, #39961)
The very fact that WP puts "male" and "female" in quotes, as if society or culture assigns people to one category or the other, demonstrates the absurdity of the argument. Whether a person is male or female depends on exactly one thing: their chromosomes.
Whether a person acts like a typical male or female relative to their culture is another matter. We're all aware of the ages-old nature vs. nurture argument. It will NEVER be settled because we cannot ever REALLY KNOW all the factors that influence a particular person. It's pointless to try to assign a ratio--the point is that both nature and nurture, biology and society, affect people's personalities. It's foolish to say that it's either one or the other.
Finally, I'm not going to go through this post and your previous one bit-by-bit, but suffice it to say that the examples you cited do not prove that biology has no effect--they prove that society does. (Which is obvious, anyway.) To claim otherwise is arguing from the false premises that 1) we can ever know what the ratio is for anyone, and 2) that it could possibly be one or the other instead of both.
P.S. It seems that we disagree on this, but I was pleased by your first post in which you agreed that attempting to increase women's participation is no different in principle than attempting to increase men's. I guess we agree on that. Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of which group it's applied to. We should be encouraging all people to participate and we should be advocating freedom for all people. We should not be attempting to manipulate anyone, whether groups of people or individual people.
Posted Jan 16, 2012 15:39 UTC (Mon) by nybble41 (subscriber, #55106)
That is (mostly) true, but "male" and "female" are sexes, not genders. One's gender is more correctly referred to as "masculine" or "feminine", and while there is a general correlation, the two categories do not always correspond. One's sex is a biological concept, but gender is a social/cultural phenomenon. Quite a few things which do not have a biological sex--and perhaps are not even biological in origin--are still considered either masculine or feminine. Just look at languages like French and Spanish, where all nouns are assigned a specific gender. Even in English there are a few cases like that; ships are always treated as feminine, for example.
Posted Jan 17, 2012 10:33 UTC (Tue) by dgm (subscriber, #49227)
Posted Jan 17, 2012 16:40 UTC (Tue) by nybble41 (subscriber, #55106)
No, they're not. Even when speaking of people, there are feminine males and masculine females--people who are biologically male, but express more than the average/expected degree of feminine gender traits, and visa-versa.
Of course, it's generally not an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather a continuum. Most people display at least some gender traits contrary to their sex, while in a few rare cases sex and gender are completely at odds with each other.
"Male" and "female" are biological traits (though even at this level not all cases are perfectly clear-cut). "Masculine" and "feminine" are derived classifications based on physiological traits, behaviors, psychology, and perhaps other factors. There is a strong correlation, to be sure, but they are far from being synonyms.
Posted Jan 17, 2012 18:45 UTC (Tue) by dgm (subscriber, #49227)
Masculine and feminine are adjectives, while male and female are usually nouns. And that's all.
Posted Jan 17, 2012 20:00 UTC (Tue) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
Male and female are primarily adjectives. I believe it is a recent invention to use them as nouns; we used to say "man" and "woman" where we say "male" and "female" now. I even heard once that calling a man a male is special to American English.
I never heard a distinction between gender and sex before now, but I like it. There are two things to discuss and two words; it makes sense to use one for each. The history and common usage also matter of course; I don't know much about that.
There is a world of difference between masculine and male. I've never heard of a masculine connector or a feminine hamster.
Posted Jan 13, 2012 2:28 UTC (Fri) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523)
ex-USSR countries often have high percentages of women in hard science. And that's not just a fluke, but a result of deliberate policy of attracting women to scientific and engineering disciplines.
For all its faults, the USSR had been extremely egalitarian.
Russia is my home country and I'm a mathematician by education. About a half of my classmates in university were women. And they were definitely as good as men in all classes.
So yes, I'm sure that this initiative could be successful. Even though it alone is unlikely to change much :(
Posted Jan 13, 2012 23:22 UTC (Fri) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
I disagree about the biological part - (see my reply to Nix above, along with a definition for gender) and the psychological can be explained as learned behaviour too.
Regarding the 'very real gender differences in gender-related behavior that start before the age of 3', I would want to look very carefully indeed at these studies if they are trying to demonstrate that the behaviour arises from a biologically-determined origin.
As I mentioned in my previous post in response to giraffedata (which is very long, so I am not surprised if you have not read it ;-) cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine has analysed quite a few studies involving young children and found them to be flawed, and unfortunately the lack of challenge over these flaws by the scientific community, combined with an uncritical and naive uptake of the studies by pop science magazines and forums taking their claims at face value, has led to researchers getting away with claims that range from highly questionable to downright daft .
I would be very interested if you could point me to the research that you are referring to that backs up what you are saying, but from what I have seen already I am not confident that it will be capable of swaying my opinion.
Behaviour is so utterly transformed in adults compared to anything that might be hinted at from an early age that it is silly to try and crudely extrapolate an elaborate social concept like gendered behaviour in adults from a few primitive behavioural traits apparently displayed in very young children (particularly when the design of tests trying to demonstrate these traits is fraught with conceptual and structural problems ). By the time children are even 10 years old they have necessarily been subject to such an immense amount of inescapable cultural conditioning and social learning that it is simply inappropriate to put down their behaviour to having a biological origin anymore - if this ever _had been_ the case, it would have long since been overwritten during the upbringing of the child.
"ex-USSR countries often have high percentages of women in hard science. And that's not just a fluke, but a result of deliberate policy of attracting women to scientific and engineering disciplines.
Russia is my home country and I'm a mathematician by education. About a half of my classmates in university were women. And they were definitely as good as men in all classes."
Which just goes to demonstrate what I am saying, right? The power of social and cultural determinants rather than biological ones, combined with the (explicitly human and deliberately-designed) factor of education. ;-)
 This goes for studies that try and 'prove' a biological determinant for specific socially-derived human behaviours or socially-determined concepts (e.g. 'morality') in general, not just for studies that examine gender.
 Like, for example, getting children of both sexes to play with various toys and then deducing from the choice of toys that they are being chosen by the children on a sex-derived basis. So (to give a couple of examples from studies quoted by Fine) researchers think they can seriously suggest that when a girl chooses to dress up as a witch, and a boy chooses to dress up as an alien, this is a choice they make according to a biologically-predetermined basis.
This of course is nonsense: children are not born knowing what a witch and alien are, they learn the meaning of these (fantasy cultural) inventions as they grow - along with, necessarily, their gender associations at the same time.
Or, for the second example, researchers define a pan as a 'girl' toy. Why on earth should that be the case when children are not born into the world knowing how to cook? You might as well identify it as a 'boy' toy because it looks like a helmet.
What is inevitably happening here is that researchers are projecting their _own_ idea of what constitutes a 'male' or 'female' toy onto the toys, and this is undermining the entire objective basis of their experiment (a flaw which they completely ignore when reporting the results of their studies).
And this is at the heart of the problem of trying to prove sex-determined behaviour exists in young children.
Also, as Fine successfully argues and demonstrates in her chosen studies - you may well find gender associations made by children younger than 3 - because children start to absorb these associations before the age of 3.
The very definition of gendered behaviour is a social one, gender associations are acquired via social interaction and observation, so it is hard to see how 'associated dress, roles, stereotypes, etc.' can be 'proved' to be determined on a genetic, neurological or biological basis.
Posted Jan 14, 2012 6:30 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523)
Not in all cases. At least incidences of homosexual behavior in _animals_ are pretty constant throughout all populations. In human societies they are fairly stable as well.
>Regarding the 'very real gender differences in gender-related behavior that start before the age of 3', I would want to look very carefully indeed at these studies if they are trying to demonstrate that the behaviour arises from a biologically-determined origin.
There are several well-known medical cases, like transgendered children ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer - the most famous one) and children with delayed puberty and androgin/estroegen insensitivity.
I'd been reading a lot about it last year, here are some references: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20358272 and http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=1... So I think that biological gender-related differences are very real.
However, brain is very malleable especially regarding high-level abstract thought. So there's no real significant difference in the _ability_ of women to be good at math/science.
I think what _might_ be somewhat biologically driven is inclination of women to study hard science/math. And since we're talking about inclination, and not ability, it can be effectively influenced by social environment.
Biological factors in gender behaviour
Posted Jan 15, 2012 18:56 UTC (Sun) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
I'm confused. What has homosexual behaviour got to do with social roles, identification with gender stereotypes, choice of career, participation in a FOSS conference etc?
(So we are digressing here, but, in any case, are you talking about the proportion of the population that express homosexual preference? live as homosexuals? live as married homosexuals, or have multiple partners? live according to homosexual stereotypes, in which case, which ones, referring to males or females? What about bisexual people? What about people who start out with one sexual preference and move to another during the course of their lives?
Just this simple list of different behavioural possibilities provides a pretty good indication that we are profoundly different from, and much more complicated than, animals in our sexual preferences and behaviour, btw, and that our preferences can hardly be biologically predetermined. What would the determinant be?
Peter Tatchell, the well-known gay rights activist, has the following to say :
'If genes determine our sexual orientation we would expect that in cases of identical twins where one was gay the other would be gay too – in every case. But, in fact, in only just over half the cases are both twins gay. The same lack of complete concordance is found in hormone-associated physical attributes. Not all gay men, for example, have a larger than average penis.
'My conclusion? While genes and hormones predispose a person to a particular sexual orientation, they do not determine it. They are significant influences, not the sole cause. Other factors are also at work. Social expectation, cultural values and peer pressure, for instance, push us towards heterosexuality. Without these pro-straight influences, more people might be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
'Wilson’s and Rahman’s biological determinist thesis has another major flaw. If we are all born either gay or straight, how do they explain people who switch in mid-life from happy heterosexuality to happy homosexuality (and vice versa)?'
I would certainly agree with his views here, although, like I said, without any proven determinant, I wouldn't be inclined to suggest that genes and hormones, or any 'wiring' of the brain, 'predispose a person to a particular sexual orientation'. Maybe they really do; but while there is not concrete evidence that they do, there is a wealth of societal evidence to suggest that they do _not_, expressed via the malleability of people's sexual behaviour.)
Thanks very much for all your trouble supplying me with the links, the case of David Reimer was especially interesting :-)
I think all the David Reimer case can really tell us about Reimer's preference is that he did not 'identify as a girl' after having had his physical sex determining attributes interfered with when he was a child, and that attempts to force a female identity onto him by treating him like a girl were unsuccessful. It does not demonstrate that identification with gendered _behaviour_ is biologically derived.
(To be honest, considering the appalling, distressing way Reimer was treated as a child by his psychologist, I would hesitate before drawing _any_ conclusions about what is 'normal' for human behaviour from how he subsequently turned out. I'm hardly surprised he was suffering from suicidal depression by the time he was 13.)
The passage about Reimer not identifying as a girl is interesting;
'He was ostracized and bullied by peers, and neither frilly dresses (which he was forced to wear during frigid Winnipeg winters) nor female hormones made him feel female.'
Here we have an indication of a presumed biological determinant _not_ working - the female hormones did not make Reimer 'feel female'. I.e., if female hormones (rather than one's highly personal, complex, identification of self) are all it takes to 'feel female' - whatever that means - we would have expected their introduction to have had that effect on Reimer.
That being forced to wear a frilly dress does not lead to one feeling innately 'female' against one's identity inclinations is hardly surprising, as the 'girliness' of frills is something that many 'normally'-brought-up girls pick up very early on (along with other gendered cues) as they grow up, assimilating frills into their developing 'female' personal identity (assuming they aren't already dressed up in frills by their parents from infancy). (Incidentally, it's a preference that can easily be discarded when girls get older, and learn that there's more to 'female' than frills. Boot-cut jeans, for example. Or - as in my case - girls may simply not like frills, even from an early age, for a reason that is as unclear as the one that links 'female' with 'frills' in the first place.)
There is, in other words, nothing that biologically predetermines a human child to choose to wear a frilly dress. In fact there is nothing that biologically predetermines humans to choose wear clothes of any type at all; no genetic, hormonal or neural pre-'wiring' for 'clothes'; it is a cultural phenomenon. When it is not done for pragmatic reasons (to protect us from cold) it is done for cultural ones.
But it appears not even a simple identification with your birth sex (let alone culturally-derived ideas about gender) is necessarily biologically predetermined in humans. What about people who develop 'normally' as one sex, but go on to choose to change sex via surgical intervention later in life? This is surely a choice driven by someone's conscious sense of an elaborate, personal self-identity, actually working _against_ all biological predisposition.
With regards to the pubmed study, I didn't find this especially helpful because of too-vague definitions. I can't find a link to the full article there (maybe I am not looking in the right place?) but at least in the abstract the link points to, while there are references to 'male gender identity' this is not elaborated; in psychotherapy, did the patient just keep expressing a desire to be physically male? Did the psychotherapists infer that the patient wanted to be male because they were behaving in a 'male-stereotypical' way, and if so, what way? Did they express a disinclination to wear a frilly dress, or express an inclination to become a particle physicist?
And what was the 'childhood-onset cross gender behavior' noticed since the age of 3? Who had noticed it, the patient's parents? How and why did they report it? In other words, I think we need to know if, how, and to what extent the report subject's gender identity might have been projected on to them by outside forces.
Fine looks at some studies dealing with CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia) in her book which examine whether girls with this condition are likely to be drawn to a male gender identity. The studies she looks at certainly seem to indicate that they do; they prefer playing with 'male' toys and are less interested in 'girlish' pastimes.
However she also urges caution when deriving any assumptions from the results of these studies.
Amongst other points she makes are the following;
- The high prenatal testosterone levels of CAH are not demonstrated to improve mathematical performance, rather it has been suggested that they impair it. Someone's future potential and personal or occupational choices cannot be determined by whether they have CAH.
- There has been no attempt to work out whether 'girls with CAH are drawn to some particular _quality_ in boyish toys and activities or whether they are drawn to them simply by virtue of the fact that they are associated with males'. I.e., the girls with CAH may be looking at what boys are playing with and then making their choices accordingly, rather than having some sort of hormonal predisposition to play with a truck instead of a doll (and why would that happen anyway?).
This is highly relevant to biologically deterministic arguments, and the case for this is strengthened when we see that CAH girls are less interested in activities that are certainly cultural, not biological, inventions, such as dressing up in girlish clothes and pretending to be a female character.
- The definition of toys as 'girlish' and 'boyish' often says more about the researcher's assumptions and preoccupations than it does about a child's choice of the toys. As Fine says, 'What form of brain masculinisation could lead to ... an interest in fishing over needlepoint ... or masculine costumes over feminine ones?'
In other words, while CAH girls may have a predisposition to identify with males to a greater extent than non-CAH girls, their subsequent behaviour is governed by _cultural_ norms. This is a lot more complex a picture than the one which attempts to draw a crude and direct correlation between girls choosing dolls/boys choosing trucks and hormonal predisposition, and it is only likely to become far more complex as the child grows up and elaborates a more detailed sense of 'self'.
Oh, and, of course, there are lots of girls that prefer 'male' pastimes to 'female' ones that don't have CAH :-)
- A reference note given by Fine makes the following point:
'As Bleier pointed out in her critique of earlier studies in this area, 'authors and subsequent scientists accept at face value the idea of tomboyism [such as play preferences, clothing preferences, career interests, and so on] as an index of a characteristic called "masculinity", presumed to be as objective and innate a human feature as height and eye colour. Yet "masculinity" is a gender characteristic and, as such, culturally, not biologically, constructed'.
From what I could deduce from looking at the abstract of the article from the APA, there was nothing implied there that contradicts my view that gender identity is learned. Indeed one sentence states:
'Because of the centrality of early gender development to the cognitive perspective, the latest research is reviewed on how infants and toddlers discriminate the sexes and learn the attributes correlated with sex.'
(There is an option to purchase this article, but I keep getting timed out when I try to do this, so maybe I will try another time. In any case this looks like an interesting source of references, thanks for the link.)
"However, brain is very malleable especially regarding high-level abstract thought. So there's no real significant difference in the _ability_ of women to be good at math/science."
Very true. Well, 'high-level abstract thought', and our explicit self-awareness and consciousness of which that is an expression, is what liberates us from the diktat of our biology (and is why I think it is so very misleading to compare human behaviour to that of animals).
"I think what _might_ be somewhat biologically driven is inclination of women to study hard science/math."
Surely that must be a very big 'might'. I think people develop inclinations to do things for all sorts of (complicated personal) reasons, which makes identifying a biological prompt for them pretty much impossible. How would the link be proved? Again, you have the problem that people move from one inclination to another over the course of their lives, or change from one occupation to a completely different one, while their biological constitution remains static.
Posted Jan 15, 2012 20:21 UTC (Sun) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
You seem to have departed from our discussion of whether biology influences X behavior to discuss whether biology absolutely predetermines X behavior. I don't think the latter is worth discussing; nobody here believes it requires a Y chromosome to like FOSS.
Posted Jan 15, 2012 20:32 UTC (Sun) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
What about people who develop 'normally' as one sex, but go on to choose to change sex via surgical intervention later in life? This is surely a choice driven by someone's conscious sense of an elaborate, personal self-identity, actually working _against_ all biological predisposition.
No, not so surely. A person going from A to B surgically typically says biology predisposed the person to be A in some ways but B in others, and the B ones (neurological ones affecting that conscious sense of self-identity) are more important, hence the corrective surgery.
I know you'll argue that the person is wrong; no need to repeat the argument. We just need to recognize that the question is there. Maybe biology isn't as simple as X-X vs X-Y.
Posted Jan 15, 2012 22:28 UTC (Sun) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523)
It's just yet another example of gender-related behavior. It'd be actually nice to have stats on FOSS participation for LGBTs.
>If genes determine our sexual orientation we would expect that in cases of identical twins where one was gay the other would be gay too – in every case
No, that's incorrect - genes rarely work as an on/off switch. Mostly they influence the probability of a certain phenotypic attribute.
However twins (even separated twins!) do have a high level of correlation for LGBT behavior ( http://borngay.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000019 ). As far as I remember, about 60% of gender-related variability can be attributed to genetic factors.
So genetic factors do influence behavior. Is it too far-fetched to think that they influence preference for science/math?
Stats don't matter
Posted Jan 16, 2012 15:23 UTC (Mon) by blujay (guest, #39961)
No, it wouldn't. It's totally irrelevant to FOSS. We don't need surveys of white/black/latino, or male/female, or Christian/Buddhist/Muslim, or anything else! None of those should have any bearing on ANYTHING in FOSS.
The only thing that I can think of that might have any relevance is location, because different conditions in different places obviously will affect the number of people exposed to and participating in FOSS. But even that doesn't matter.
What matters are individual people, and for FOSS, the FOSS projects they are participants in. What matters is how people treat one another and the code (and non-code contributions) they contribute. That's all.
You know why it seems like racism and sexism won't die? It's because people won't let them go. People want to belong to something, and the easiest things to belong to are sex and race, because we're all born with them. But they don't matter--or they shouldn't. What matters is that we are all human beings, created by the same God. But it's hard for people to let go of their identities, like sex and race, etc, and be content with being part of the only identity that truly matters.
Posted Jan 17, 2012 18:59 UTC (Tue) by nix (subscriber, #2304)
No, it wouldn't. It's totally irrelevant to FOSS. We don't need surveys of white/black/latino, or male/female, or Christian/Buddhist/Muslim, or anything else! None of those should have any bearing on ANYTHING in FOSS.
Is that really what you're saying? Doubling developer numbers is not something worth doing?
Posted Dec 31, 2011 9:02 UTC (Sat) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
Given that the differences between individuals is far more significant than between genders as a group I would guess that in an ideal society the ratio would be much closer to 50%
The fact that intra-gender differences are more significant has no bearing on what inter-gender difference we should see. And I can't tell what ideal you're thinking of. Do you mean a society in which women like open source as much a men? A society in which women work in open source as much as men? A society in which women are allowed to work in open source as much as men?
Traits are distributed randomly so unless you can show a reason why the traits are correlated with gender I am going to assume it is anomalous
Maybe you're just using the word "trait" wrongly, but this doesn't make sense. Whatever trait you're talking about, if you assert that it is distributed randomly, then it is not correlated with gender. That's just simple semantics. If the trait is correlated with gender, even anomalously so, the trait is not distributed randomly.
So while you seem to have a point to make, I can't tell what it is.
Posted Dec 31, 2011 23:24 UTC (Sat) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198)
The fact that intra-gender differences are more significant has no bearing on what inter-gender difference we should see.
Maybe we can visualize this a different way, if you had two venn diagrams of interest/ability in males and females they would have two different centers separated by the difference in average interest/ability but would be largely overlapping. That would lead to an expected outcome of maybe 60/40% if 90% of the area overlapped.
Whatever trait you're talking about, if you assert that it is distributed randomly, then it is not correlated with gender. That's just simple semantics. If the trait is correlated with gender, even anomalously so, the trait is not distributed randomly.
The trait I am talking about is interest/ability in science, math, engineering, and software. I am arguing that interest/ability in these areas is not correlated with gender (ie. women are _not_ inherently bad at math and science) and is distributed evenly in the population. The fact that we see only small single-digit numbers of females participating in software development would seem to indicate a serious problem, something is discouraging a large number of people from doing what they like and are good at. I think we should find out what is preventing people from doing what they like and are good at and systematically remove roadblocks preventing them from being successful. When those roadblocks are cultural then the culture which allows people to reach their full potential is going to have superior outcomes to one that is more caste driven and does not allow people to achieve based on non-relevant traits such as their gender, religion, color, etc.
Does my point make more sense now or am I still explaining badly?
Posted Jan 1, 2012 19:02 UTC (Sun) by fuhchee (subscriber, #40059)
It sounds like you are assuming, not arguing. What data do you have that substantiates such homogeneity assumptions?
"(ie. women are _not_ inherently bad at math and science)"
That "ie." is not an "ie.". Correlations or differently shaped bell curves do not translate to a simplistic summaries like "women are inherently bad at XYZ".
Posted Jan 2, 2012 6:58 UTC (Mon) by speedster1 (subscriber, #8143)
Math skills have only recently reached parity in the US, over 40 years after widespread discrimination started being seriously addressed
'Three years after the president of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers, got into trouble for questioning women’s “intrinsic aptitude” for science and engineering — and 16 years after the talking Barbie doll proclaimed that “math class is tough” — a study paid for by the National Science Foundation has found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests.'
'The researchers looked at the average of the test scores of all students, the performance of the most gifted children and the ability to solve complex math problems. They found, in every category, that girls did as well as boys.'
'On the ACT, another college entrance test, the study said, the gender gap in math scores disappeared in Colorado and Illinois after the states began requiring all students to take the test.'
I think it could well take some more generations of students before programming interest levels catch up with the math skills, unless there is a big movement among CS/engineering fathers to start making up the difference by getting their daughters involved early with programming. If there were more fathers like Bdale Garbee, there would naturally be more girls getting involved in Free Software without having to run any special campaigns to attract them.
Posted Jan 16, 2012 11:27 UTC (Mon) by ekj (guest, #1524)
Thus, biology could only exaplain a 90/10 split if either the difference in average skill was very large, or the standard-deviance was very small. It seems exceedingly unlikely that either is the case for general math-aptitude or related technical skills.
Freedom: no more, no less.
Posted Jan 16, 2012 15:37 UTC (Mon) by blujay (guest, #39961)
That is completely flawed reasoning. As was pointed out, you are working from an unsubstantiated assumption. Not only do you assume that you know what people (in general) are good at--but you believe that you know what they should like? Wow.
It's just as bad to tell people what they should do or what they should like as it is to tell them what they shouldn't do or shouldn't like. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination. Affirmative Action is hypocritical and wrong.
> I think we should find out what is preventing people from doing what they like and are good at and systematically remove roadblocks preventing them from being successful. When those roadblocks are cultural then the culture which allows people to reach their full potential is going to have superior outcomes to one that is more caste driven and does not allow people to achieve based on non-relevant traits such as their gender, religion, color, etc.
I think you should advocate freedom for all people and let people do what they want. I think you should not try to manipulate any people. I think you should not assume that you know what people do want or should want. I think that you should not decide whether other people are "successful". You know, "pursuit of happiness" and all that.
To even insinuate that the "imbalance" of the sexes in FOSS is in any way like a caste system is an insult to the millions of people who actually have to live in one.
If you're trying to get any person or any group of people to do a certain thing, you're trying to manipulate them. Free Software is about FREEDOM. Advocate freedom and leave it at that.
Posted Jan 17, 2012 0:50 UTC (Tue) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198)
Posted Jan 17, 2012 2:53 UTC (Tue) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
Affirmative Action is hypocritical and wrong.
Affirmative action is not hypocritical. The proponents of affirmative action are pressing consistent values: they want equality. They believe some immediate inequality is necessary to gain a broader long term equality. I'm not an expert on the sociology myself, and you may very well believe it doesn't work, or even that long term equality isn't valuable enough to forsake immediate case-by-case equality, but if you think support of affirmative action is hypocritical, you probably just haven't listened to what supporters are saying.
Is a doctor hypocritical when he says he wants to ease suffering and then goes and gives a patient a painful lumbar puncture?
Incidentally, I don't hear much argument for affirmative action any more. Affirmative action is about fairness, and the racial etc. preferences being pushed these days are instead about diversity. Diversity is the idea that you get women (or whatever) into your company not to be fair to women, but because your company is better off with a mix.
Posted Jan 19, 2012 21:27 UTC (Thu) by fuhchee (subscriber, #40059)
Or perhaps "diversity" is a new politically correct term to replace the old "affirmative action" one.
Posted Jan 19, 2012 21:48 UTC (Thu) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
It may be a more politically correct concept to justify the same actions, but it is anything but a drop-in replacement term. If you listen to the reasons people give for pursuing "diversity," you hear entirely different words from what you heard to explain "equal opportunity" and "affirmative action."
Posted Jan 2, 2012 8:40 UTC (Mon) by Arker (guest, #14205)
Actually, males are in the minority worldwide, as are "white people" however defined. I worked for several years in a field that is heavily dominated by women myself, and I can just imagine the responses I would have gotten had a I tried to start an initiative to make our conferences more testosterone friendly.
Ultimately I think we should get away from analysing these final outcomes and looking for problems there - look instead at individual liberty. If people are being actively kept out of a field because of their gender, that is wrong, but if there are no barriers like that and one group is just less interested than the other, then that outcome is perfect.
Posted Jan 2, 2012 8:46 UTC (Mon) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313)
Posted Jan 8, 2012 18:56 UTC (Sun) by Julie (✭ supporter ✭, #66693)
Hmm? Either you are misunderstanding me or I am misunderstanding you - I thought we were talking about men and women's participation in FOSS?
If you really think males are in the minority, I would encourage you to go to a conference :-) I went to LinuxCon Europe last year and from what I could see the number of (predominantly) white males outnumbered the females (either white or not) by quite a lot. From personal observation, I would say a less than 10 percent (female) estimate would be roughly right here.
No doubt this would vary according to the country the conference was in and what its focus was though.
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