Friday, March 22, 2019

Short Posts on Women's Issues, March 22, 2019

1.  The first woman has won the coveted Abel prize in mathematics:

Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck, a mathematician and professor at the University of Texas, has become the first woman in history to receive the Abel Prize, one of the most prestigious mathematics awards in the world.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced that Uhlenbeck was the award’s newest recipient on Tuesday.
I report on it, despite how I know the MRAs interpret any advances in gender equality (as encroachments to areas they deem as rightly theirs), because the harmful stereotype of women not being able to do well in mathematics is still very much alive in most cultures.  So it's worthwhile to report on the various "firsts."

2.  For the same reason I note that Afghanistan's first female orchestra has recently visited the UK.

3.   The US economics profession is not exactly a HerlandA recent survey, answered by 9000 current and past members of the American Economic Association, makes for dismal reading on sexism and racism:

The results, compiled by the American Economic Association, also reveal deep evidence of gender and racial discrimination within the field. Half of the women who responded to the survey said they had been treated unfairly because of their sex, compared with 3 percent of men. Nearly half of women said they had avoided speaking at a conference or a seminar to guard against possible harassment or “disrespectful treatment.” Seven in 10 women said they felt their colleagues’ work was taken more seriously than their own.


The alienation is not limited to women. Among black economists surveyed, only 14 percent agreed with the statement that “people of my race/ethnicity are respected within the field.”
Gay and lesbian economists — and others who do not identify as heterosexual — were far more likely to report discrimination and disrespect in the field than heterosexual economists. Only 25 percent agreed that “people of my sexual orientation are respected within the field.” Twenty percent said they had been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.

The usual caveat applies to the interpretation of these findings when answering the survey depends on the respondents own willingness to do so.  Those who take the time to answer may be different from those who do not bother answering it.  In particular, the former may have believed that they had experienced more discrimination.  This makes generalizing from the findings something that must be done with great care.

Still, the initial evidence suggests that the economics profession may have to start addressing these kinds of questions more seriously.**

4.  Testing rape kits which have stayed untested for years is yielding important results:

By February 2017, Maisha Sudbeck had made peace with the idea she would never get justice. It had been five years since she was raped in Tucson by a man she had met online. The police had brushed the case off as a he-said-she-said standoff. For years, her rape evidence kit had sat untested. With two children and a new marriage, she had moved on with her life.
Then a detective knocked on her door.
The detective said a grant from the Manhattan district attorney’s office had helped the Tucson authorities clear a backlog of untested rape kits, which preserve the DNA evidence left by an attacker. After five years, Ms. Sudbeck’s kit had finally been tested, the detective said. And the police had found a match in a database of people with criminal records: a man named Nathan Loebe.
“My chapter was reopened,” Ms. Sudbeck said. “Having my kit finally tested was a catalyst for hope.”
In February, Mr. Loebe was convicted of sexually assaulting Ms. Sudbeck and six other women. Ms. Sudbeck testified against him at trial.

Bolds are mine, and they are important.  Getting through the backlog of untested rape kits can not only bring closure to the victims but also capture serial rapists and even murderers.   Indeed, in some cases it can prevent future acts of violence. 

The question, then, is why untested kits were allowed to pile up.  The quick answer might be about the lack of resources which testing requires. But other explanations are also possible:

“I believe fundamentally there was a gender bias at issue,” Mr. Vance said Tuesday, when asked about the backlog. “A crime mostly involving women was simply not viewed as important to solve.”


*Can you spot the erroneous treatment of the categories in the last quote?  Black economists are not only black male economists, and lesbian economists are women.  The various demographic groups analyzed in that quote are not mutually exclusive.  

So beginning the paragraph by stating that "the alienation is not limited to women" is an awkward statement to make when the rest of the paragraph actually still includes women among the possibly alienated groups.

A better way to make that case would have been to say that the discrimination people say they face may not be only based on their sex, but also on their race and on their sexuality.

**  In particular, that half the women and only 3% of the men in the survey stated that they had been treated unfairly because of their sex.

As an aside,  I have a lot of experience with the economics profession, given that it's my profession, so I'm going to give my own impressions on the state of the profession here:

While I have met and have gotten to know many wonderful men, good mentors, good human beings and good colleagues in economics, the percentage of truly nasty sexist men, even if fairly small,  does seem to me to be higher in economics departments than in most academic departments. 

And even a few sexists with power over you can ruin your whole day.