Adventures in Ethics and Science

Gender profiling at the wine bar.

Razib tossed off a post expressing amazement that a very attractive wine bar hostess was making science fiction recommendations. The noteworthy feature, apparently, was “the intersection of science fiction & female physical hotitude.”

Predictably, others have commented on this post, worrying about the casual profiling of hot chicks as not into S/F, or perhaps of women who are into S/F as closeted ugly chicks (or closeted boys).

Should I pile on? Maybe just a little.

  • Even if the original claim was restricted to the probability of the intersection of (people who like) science fiction and “female physical hotitude”, it’s not a huge distortion to imagine that this might imply a claim about the intersection of “female physical hotitude” and people who are intelligent in a nerdy/geeky/technologically oriented kind of way. S/F did come up quite frequently during our nerd-off, after all, as did all manner of bragging about braininess. So at least some habitual consumers of S/F take that consumption as indicative of certain qualities of mind — qualities of mind that, apparently, it is a surprise to find lodged in a body deemed worthy of male lust.
  • Males have had, over the past centuries, a pretty good track record of overlooking intelligent women, and/or of making the case that women are primarily of value to the extent that they are deemed worthy of male lust.
  • That crap gets tiresome.
  • Some S/F is very appealing to smart people — male or female — especially some of the stuff that sets out alternative universes with gender relations markedly different from some of the stuff we get to slog through every day. Some S/F, though, seems to glorify certain fanboy ideas about what women are really good for. That stuff is maybe not so appealing to women used to thinking of themselves as fully human.
  • My daughters are totally into the stories of Stanislaw Lem. They are smart as whips and I dress them warmly.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Comments

  1. #1 Nancy
    December 15, 2006

    Well it’s RAZIB talking, what do you expect? The king of the far-right Gene Expression. Totally anti-feminist, totally racist, totally pro ev-psych. Did you not know how extreme Razib is?

    http://www.onepeoplesproject.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=409&Itemid=27

    Razib on race: “right now, we assume that ALL GROUPS HAVE EQUAL APTITUDES. the result is that liberals devise new social programs to “uplift” groups to express their potentional. conservatives excoriate underclass social structures and cultures and encourage their own rival social engineering programs (vouchers, enterprise zones, privating public housing). if some aptitudes were genetic on average between groups, then we have an even harder task: identify the points in the genome that effect “g”-general intelligence, and figure out ways to manipulate these segments of the genome (gene therapy).”
    http://bennett.com/blog/index.php/archives/2003/01/14/is-gene-expression-racist/

    He pals around with John Derbyshire,
    http://www.greenmountaindaily.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=186

    David Horowitz,
    http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=9545

    Steve Sailer
    http://www.vdare.com/letters/reply_-_mexico.htm

    and writes for the American Conservative
    http://www.amconmag.com/09_08_03/article.html

  2. #2 jeffk
    December 16, 2006

    Tell me: what if the comment implied a “claim about the intersection of “female physical hotitude” and people who are intelligent in a nerdy/geeky/technologically oriented kind of way.”? We’re not the Bush administration, we’re scientists, we observe no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient it might be, right?

    Males who don’t go for intelligent women are assholes and morons. Assuming a woman isn’t intelligent because she’s attractive is a mornic, asshole move. But making the above observation (specifically the “nerdy/geeky/technologically oriented” part)? I really don’t think so.

    As for the truth of the observation, I suppose there’s so many variables it’s hard to say, although in the world of physics, I’ve certainly noticed it (though not, of course, without exception). Maybe it’s simply not important and shouldn’t be brought up at all for the better good. But I’m not so sure it’s wrong. Who knows, maybe there’s all sorts of fascinating reasons why.

  3. #3 another female sci-fi reader
    December 16, 2006

    Your daughters have a good taste! Roadside picnic of the Strugatsky brothers was what hooked me on the science fiction when I was a teenager. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadside_Picnic)

  4. #4 albatross
    December 16, 2006

    Does it matter if the stereotype actually agrees with reality? I haven’t tried to look for studies or anything, but it’s certainly not impossible that women with “geeky interests,” or for that matter in the sciences, just average being less attractive than comparable age/education/social class women elsewhere, for whatever reasons. This seems like an empirical question, and you can imagine ways to answer it.

  5. #5 Janet D. Stemwedel
    December 16, 2006

    The practical problem with gendered stereotypes of this sort is that people use ‘em to save themselves from having to do any actual investigation or thinking of their own. For example:

    That female physics grad student is hott, so she must not be that intelligent/must have gotten her slot solely due to preferential treatment/doesn’t have to be taken seriously in seminars or lab meetings.

    That very smart female scientist doesn’t turn me on — it must be that she is not hott (rather than any psychological issue I might have about sharing a traditionally male field with an obviously capable woman).

    I’m less interested in compiling exhaustive statistics here (because it’s not clear that all the boys could even agree on an unproblematic way to quantify teh hott) that I am in suggesting that there are numerous women whose professional and personal lives are made worse by a sloppy reliance on these stereotypes as at least approximately true.

    It’s not an empirical matter so much as a matter of not being an asshole.

  6. #6 jeffk
    December 16, 2006

    I completely agree that these sorts of notions can make the lives of innocent people miserable, and it takes a lot of trust to allow someone to see a pattern and yet not act inappropriately because of it. And I don’t particuarily want to be associated with this Razib prick. But it’s important to realize that statistics and “stereotypes” are not the same thing, and that the initial comment was only about statistics – it got carried further by everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with moving it forward and making the sorts of observations that have been made, except that I didn’t see anyone note the potential statistical truth first, and separate the observation from the effect of the observation.

    In fact, assuming there was some truth to the statement for the sake of argument, there’s probably a great jumping off point for studying sexism… eg, are “attractive” females being steered away from science? Why? Are they seen as more “feminine” and therefore more threatening? Do the doors of equality open to less attractive females first? If we don’t knee-jerk and yell “unfair stereotyping!!” immediately, all sorts of fascinating questions emerge. We just have to be adult enough to ask them respectfully.

    it’s not clear that all the boys could even agree on an unproblematic way to quantify teh hott
    This would be challenging but not impossible. I’m sure there’s strong correlations, and I bet that plenty of studies have been done where physical attractiveness was a variable.

  7. #7 Ebenezer Screwge
    December 17, 2006

    “That very smart female scientist doesn’t turn me on — it must be that she is not hott (rather than any psychological issue I might have about sharing a traditionally male field with an obviously capable woman,” JDS

    Or perhaps I’m tired of working with hypersensitive vindictive shrews in this wonderful field.

  8. #8 p-ter
    December 18, 2006

    Well it’s RAZIB talking, what do you expect? The king of the far-right Gene Expression

    fyi, most gnxp regulars voted for kerry in 2004
    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002904.html

    and as a poster on gnxp, I can tell you I tend more left-of-center in my politics. dealing honestly with statistics and genetics rubs up against some assumptions that well-educated people have, and while questioning those assumptions may change how we view some issues, it’s not quite as simple as the left-right dichotomy some would like.

  9. #9 p-ter
    December 18, 2006

    Well it’s RAZIB talking, what do you expect? The king of the far-right Gene Expression.Totally anti-feminist, totally racist, totally pro ev-psych

    an earlier comment on this got held up in moderation because it had a link in it, but the more I think about this, the less I want to just let it pass like I do most personal insults (and I do consider this a personal insult, as someone who posts on GNXP).

    1. it’s inaccurate. none of the posters on gnxp is “far-right”. some (including myself) would actually consider themselves “liberal”.

    2. the imputation that one who reaches certain scientific conclusions must have a certain political stance (or the reverse, that in order to hold a certain political stance, one must reach certain scientific conclusions) is absurd and mildly frightening.

    yes, discoveries from science have possible political ramifications, and sometimes statisics and genetics tell people things they don’t like to hear (not all people are the same, nor are all groups of people. sorry). How to respond as a society to such facts is an open question (one possibility is to ignore them, of course. that’s not a joke; I seriously consider it a valid option) but to talk about these things (differences between men and women, differences between races) should not be taboo. And to be smeared as “far-right” for even bringing it up is not encouraging.

    it is to be expected, though. people use sterotypes on a daily basis — Razib assumed a woman talking about science fiction was less likely to be attractive, Nancy assumed a person talking about race was a right-wing nutjob. But just like Razib was surprised and pleased to find a counter-example to his sterotype, so should Nancy be surprised and pleased to find a counter-example to hers.

  10. #10 etbnc
    December 18, 2006

    “we’re scientists, we observe no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient it might be, right?”

    Observation is fine.

    It’s the behaviors demonstrated afterward that create conflict.

  11. #11 p-ter
    December 18, 2006

    Observation is fine. It’s the behaviors demonstrated afterward that create conflict.

    like, say, writing a blog post about an observation? are you serious that Razib’s observation didn’t bother you, but the action of writing a post about it did? I don’t buy it.

  12. #12 etbnc
    December 19, 2006

    It’s been my experience that we evaluate each other by the behaviors we witness — by the effects of those behaviors that we experience when we interact. I don’t think I’m going far out on a limb to note that we humans are social creatures. The ability to function within a group, the ability to interact without causing injury, that ability appears to be fundamental to our lives. So it doesn’t surprise me that we seem to assess each other by the ways we demonstrate that ability.

    Part of that ability, it seems to me, is a capacity to predict likely consequences of future decisions and future behaviors. Another part of that social ability is the capacity to process feedback about the effects of previous decisions and previous behaviors.

    We make lots of seemingly small decisions every day. What to say, what not to say, to whom we say things, when and where… Every day we create numerous opportunities for others to assess our decision-making skills and our behaviors.

    It seems to me the culture of science tries to downplay, or even to eliminate this fundamental aspect of the lives of its participants. The social norms of science culture seem to allow remarkably harmful behaviors as long as they’re packaged and labeled as impersonal abstract ideas.

    That doesn’t work for me. My life involves interaction outside the culture of science. Neither I nor the people I know outside the culture of science find such behavior authentic, credible or persuasive.
     

  13. #13 w. ginder
    December 20, 2006

    Did I misunderstand something here?
    The original comment was about one data point?
    It was “taken” in a wine bar from a waitress. (a server)
    from that Razib was amazed that a hot female was recommending of si/fi?
    a wine bar is not a random location nor would one expect a “average” normal random population.
    where was the bar? who goes there?
    is the server reading sci/fi or recommending it to serve the costumer and get a bigger tip?
    I would be a little more surprised if it was a Hooters but not that surprised. Bar work can be well paid and is easier to get than some other jobs I could thunk of and does have a high turn over (temporary?)
    it does show the level of thinking of Razib or not thinking very much in this case. His observation seems meaningless to me. There are always people like that in bars!

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!