Posts Tagged ‘sexism’


Angela Saini

With Inferior, Angela Saini counters long-held beliefs that biology stands in the way of parity between the sexes. Now her message is set to reach thousands of schools.

When young men and women come up against sexist stereotypes masquerading as science, Angela Saini wants them to be armed with the facts. “I call my book ammunition,” she says of her 288-page prize-winning work Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science that Shows It. “There are people out there who insist that somehow the inequalities we see in society are not just because of historic discrimination, but also because of biology – the idea that there are factors within us that will cause men or women to be better at some things than others.”

She wrote Inferior to demonstrate that “actually, science doesn’t support that point of view. I think it’s important we understand these scientific facts. We need that ammunition to counter the weird mistruths that are circulating within and outside science about sex difference”.

To female scientists fed up with being treated as though their brains are the odd exceptions among their sex, Inferior is more than just a book. It’s a battle cry – and right now, it is having a galvanising effect on its core fanbase. On 31 July a crowdfunding campaign to send a copy of Inferior to every mixed secondary school in England with more than 1,000 pupils was launched by Dr Jessica Wade, a British physicist who writes 270 Wikipedia pages a year to raise the profile of female scientists. Within two days the campaign had raised £2,000. Yesterday it reached its original £15,000 target and was powering its way towards £20,000 – a figure which would allow the book to be sent to every state school in the country.

“There’s nothing you want more than for people to be inspired by your work,” says Saini, 37, a multiple award-winning science journalist, who first became intrigued by sex difference research when she wrote about the menopause for the Observer. “What Jess is doing means such a lot to me. I hope if my book can empower her, it can empower other young women, and men, too.”

The key message she hopes her readers will take away is that nothing in science suggests equality is not possible. “We are not as different as the inequalities in our society makes us believe we are. Even now, there are people saying we shouldn’t be pushing for gender equality because we’re never going to see it for biological reasons.” For example, many people think there are large psychological differences in spatial awareness, mathematical reasoning or verbal skills between men and women. “Actually, those differences are tiny, a fraction of a standard deviation,” says Saini. “Psychologically, the differences between the sexes are not enough to account for the inequalities we see in our society today.”

Inferior is not a children’s book by any stretch of the imagination. It includes a firsthand account of female genital mutilation and deliberately examines a large number of academic studies in painstaking detail. But, like recent bestselling children’s books Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, it could play a valuable role in breaking down gender stereotypes for the next generation of would-be scientists and mathematicians, and Saini is confident many teenagers will engage with it. “Girls and boys aged 13 or 14 upwards have really responded to the message, and the earlier we can get this message to them, the better.” She was the only girl in science and maths classes at school. “Even if it’s not overtly stated to you, just being in a minority – especially a minority of one – makes you think maybe there are some differences between the sexes.”

Researching and writing the book has totally changed how she feels about herself, destroying her own “subconscious stereotypes” about women. “It made me look at the world differently. That’s the power of science.”

In one of the most shocking chapters, Saini relays a letter written by Charles Darwin in which he argues that women are intellectually inferior to men. “He was looking at society. He saw women weren’t achieving as much and he treated us almost the way you would treat observations of lions or peacocks in the wild. He thought: this reflects the biological facts.”

Even at the time, contemporary female intellectuals pointed out that this theory ignored a lot of obvious historical and cultural factors, but Darwin failed to take on board their arguments. “It was quite lazy of him, which is surprising, because he wasn’t a lazy scientist. He was usually so painstaking and thorough.”

But she still admires him for everything he got right. “Even the best scientists can fall into this trap of looking at the world around them and thinking: things are the way they are because of nature.” After all, she points out, assuming 19th-century scientists could be biased but 21st-century scientists never are makes no sense. “That’s why, in the book, I look not just at the science, but at the scientists.”

These range from Kristen Hawkes, whose research suggesting postmenopausal women played a vital role in increasing the human lifespan has been met with dogged resistance from some male scientists, to Robert Trivers who, Saini shows, used evidence from a flawed 1948 experiment on fruit flies when he famously argued that men are more naturally promiscuous than women. “A lot of people – especially scientists – view science as perfectly objective and rational. But the questions researchers choose to ask, and the answers they come up with, are heavily affected by their prior assumptions.” At times, the book shows a staggering lack of respect from male scientists towards the work of their female contemporaries. “Science won’t improve unless we understand that we all have biases and those biases affect research,” says Saini.

Since it was published in 2017, her book has sold 20,000 copies, won Physics World Book of the Year and triggered a worldwide “STEMinist” book club movement among feminist scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Saini says she has even had positive feedback about it from James Damore, a Google software engineer who made headlines last year when he wrote an internal memo arguing biological differences were the reason behind the low number of women in tech. “We need scientific arguments to counter those politically motivated statements,” she says. “These arguments matter personally, in terms of how we think about ourselves, but also politically. We cannot afford to be complacent. There are movements around the world that are trying to take back the rights of women – rights our mothers and grandmothers fought so hard for. We can take anything for granted.”

Wade says the book gave her “all this power. You read it and you have evidence. You can debate it”. She set up the crowdfunding campaign because she suspected private girls’ schools would be buying it for their libraries, and wanted state school students to have the same access. “Reading this book when doing your GCSEs or A levels is the perfect time, because you’re making decisions that will impact your entire career. I want girls to recognise they can do anything.”

The actor Daniel Radcliffe, a childhood friend of Wade, is planning to release a video in support of the crowdfunding campaign this week. He describes Inferior as “a truly mind-blowing book”, which has made him completely reevaluate his understanding of the world.“As many people as possible should have access to this book, and I am certain Jessie – who has always been the smartest person I know – is going to make that happen,” he says.

Saini, a Londoner with Indian parentage, is working on her next book on the science of race. “Race science is more taboo, but the way prejudice plays out within the research illuminates similar issues as those of Inferior.”

Despite the sexism and racism she has documented in science, she feels positive about the future. “If we catch children early, we can achieve enormous change. I don’t think anyone is born with prejudices. I’m optimistic.” She points out that, historically, male scientists gained their power by excluding women from clubs, societies and institutes. “Now women are forming their own networks. And there’s no limit to what we can achieve.”

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/11/women-equal-to-men-science-fact-book-angela-saini

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woman-t-shirt

By Lindsey Bever

In 1933, Ann Moliver Ruben said her cousin, Irwin, told her that a girl could never be president.

Decades later, corporate America, it seemed, was trying to tell her the same thing. Ruben, a psychologist from Pittsburgh, had been studying children’s perceptions of women leaders in the 1990s when she stumbled upon a “Dennis the Menace” comic strip in a Sunday newspaper — an episode in which a young, curly-haired feminist named Margaret told him: “Someday a woman will be president!”

Ruben put the slogan on T-shirts and sold them to a Walmart store in Florida, which pulled them from the shelves in the ’90s. According to Ruben, Walmart said that “the message went against their philosophy of family values.”

Walmart did not confirm that the message went against its philosophy of family values, but said it went against its policy of philosophy of political neutrality, according to the Miami Herald.

Following a nationwide uproar, Walmart put them back — and, Ruben said, she later created a new version with a second message on the back: “Someday is now.”

Ruben, a 91-year-old women’s rights advocate, said that “someday” came Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention when Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee for a major party.

“I’ve been waiting 83 years to see what happened yesterday,” she told The Washington Post on Wednesday in a phone interview. “This is a wonderful time in our history, and I thank God I’ve lived to see it happen.”

Clinton is scheduled to formally accept the nomination on Thursday, but in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, she addressed the crowd at the Democratic National Convention at an unprecedented moment in history.

Photos flashed across a jumbotron, showing each of the nation’s 44 presidents — all men and all but one of them white. Then it showed Clinton, breaking through glass.

“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” Clinton said, adding: “If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say: I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”

Breaking glass ceilings

Over the decades, Ruben has broken her own glass ceilings. During World War II, she was starting a family and praying for her husband’s safe return from battles overseas while earning a college education at a time when most women did not do that. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh — then a master’s in counseling and psychology, and a doctorate in higher education and psychology, according to her website.

“My father told me, ‘Annie, you’re very smart, and whatever you decide to do in your life, you’re going to be successful. So don’t ever give up, Annie,'” she told The Post. “I heard him loud and clear, and that gave me the incentive.”

For years, Ruben was a psychology professor in Florida before she went into private practice, where she said she focused on providing family therapy.

In 1993, Ruben began studying children’s attitudes toward women leaders, surveying 1,500 elementary school students in Miami. She found that nearly half of them believed that only men could be president, according to an article in the Miami Herald the next year.

“The girls who finished the survey were sad,” she told the newspaper at the time. “It was clear that if they’re going to do anything, they’ll have to do it themselves. They can’t count on boys who grow up to be men to help them.”

Ruben created a company called Women are Wonderful Inc., and started selling T-shirts to raise girls’ self-esteem, according to a 1995 report in the Herald.

“I don’t want girls to believe what I grew up believing — that a girl can never be president,” she told the newspaper.

Indeed, more than 20 years ago, it was Ruben’s inspirational T-shirts, based on a cartoon, that created a flap, exposing tension between competing ideals.

‘No girls allowed’

The 1993 “Dennis the Menace” comic showed Dennis building a clubhouse. No girls were allowed. Margaret attempted to school him on all the things girls could do, including growing up to become president.

Ruben said she called the cartoon’s creator, Hank Ketcham, and then got permission from King Features Syndicate to use the frame for a T-shirt.

She sold several dozen to a Walmart store in Miramar, a city in South Florida, but the company pulled the shirts after some customers complained that the message was too political.

“It was determined the T-shirt was offensive to some people and so the decision was made to pull it from the sales floor,” Walmart spokeswoman Jane Bockholt told the Associated Press in September 1995.

Ruben told the news agency at the time that she saw it as a sign that “promoting females as leaders is still a very threatening concept in this country.”

“It’s a tragedy,” she told the Miami Herald at the time. “I think it’s a barometer of the prejudices against females in our society.”

‘We overreacted’

Ruben told The Washington Post on Wednesday that she put one of the T-shirts on her 8-month-old grandson, boosted him atop her shoulders and went to see an Associated Press reporter to get out her story.

The wire version went into newspapers across the country, Ruben said, and women were soon flooding Walmart’s phone lines to voice their concerns.

Ruben said women with the Miami chapter of the American Association of University Women, of which she was a member, marched in protest. Jackie DeFazio, who was AAUW president at the time, wrote a letter to the company’s CEO, saying, “Believing in girls’ potential is neither offensive to the public nor adverse to the family values,” according to an article from the group’s membership magazine.

Almost immediately, Walmart representatives admitted they “made a mistake.”

“A few customers complained about the political nature of the shirts, and we overreacted,” Jay Allen, a spokesman for Walmart, told the Miami Herald in 1995. “That’s what we tend to do when it comes to customers’ concerns. We overreact.

“We should have never pulled the shirts from the shelves in the first place.”

Ruben told the Miami Herald in December 1995 that since the incident, she had received 50,000 orders from women’s groups and other companies, and another 30,000 orders from Walmart, which said it heard customers “loud and clear” and stocked more than 2,000 stores.

“Wow, it still pains us that we made this mistake 20 years ago,” Danit Marquardt, director of corporate communications for Walmart, told The Post on Wednesday in a statement. “We’re proud of the fact that our country — and our company — has made so much progress in advancing women in the workplace, and in society.”

Ruben, it seems, is still a “Dennis the Menace” fan, especially when it comes to illustrating politics.

In March, she penned a letter to the editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, asking fellow readers, “Would Dennis vote for Donald Trump?”

She wrote:

My husband, of blessed memory, loved the cartoon created by Hank Ketcham called “Dennis the Menace.” Never did a Sunday go by that reading Dennis didn’t give him a laugh. But I wonder if my Gershon Ruben were living today, would he laugh and see how much his 5-year-old Dennis resembles the guy who wants to be president today, Donald Trump?

I see so many similarities that it truly makes me want to laugh, but instead I cry. That Donald, acting like Dennis, is the Republican front-runner in the polls this election year makes me feel that a lot of us are nuts.

As for Clinton, Ruben told The Post, “when she’s sworn in in D.C. in January, I’m going to be there and I’m going to be wearing my T-shirt.”

Ruben said if she could pass along one message to young girls today, it would be one similar to what her father told her many years ago.

“You’re smart. Get educated. Don’t ever give up on your dream and you’ll make it,” she said. “Hillary made it. She never gave up on her dream.

“We now have a wonderful role model.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/27/that-time-walmart-banned-a-t-shirt-saying-a-woman-will-be-president/