Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are Millennial Men More Sexist Than Their Forebears?

Are millennial men (in the US) as sexist as their dads?  That's what Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris ask in the June Harvard Business Review (HBR).  They begin by setting up the needed tension in the article by proposing that this is not so at all:

Millennials, those Americans now between 16 and 36 years old, are often spoken of as if they’re ushering in a new era of enlightened interpersonal relations. For example, in 2013 Time predicted Millennials would “save us all” because they are “more accepting of differences…in everyone.” That same year, The Atlantic stated that Millennials hold the “historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles in society.” And in 2015 the Huffington Post wrote that Millennial men are “likely to see women as equals.”
They then give us the evidence that the millennial men might  be every bit as sexist as their dads and granddads, maybe even more sexist.

The main bits of evidence are two:

The first is a study published last February which looked at how biology students ranked other students in their class in terms of intelligence and the grasp of the taught material.  The study found that female students ranked other students the way objective measures would rank them, but male students showed a bias which favored other male students as being particularly intelligent and well prepared in the material, even when, say, a female student had the highest grades in that class.  I have written about that study on this blog.

The second bit of evidence is the truly interesting one.  Kramer and Harris:

Millennial men’s views of women’s intelligence and ability even extend to women in senior leadership positions. In a 2014 survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, Harris Poll found that young men were less open to accepting women leaders than older men were. Only 41% of Millennial men were comfortable with women engineers, compared to 65% of men 65 or older. Likewise, only 43% of Millennial men were comfortable with women being U.S. senators, compared to 64% of Americans overall. (The numbers were 39% versus 61% for women being CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and 35% versus 57% for president of the United States.) 

Now that made my hair stand up and my mood plummet!  Back to the patriarchy we go.  Hmm.

I downloaded that 2014 survey, to find out more about it:   How many subjects were interviewed in each age-and-sex category?   Did the survey standardize for other possible demographic differences between the older and the younger men?  How did the millennial and older women compare to each other and the men in their answers those questions?   And exactly what is it the questions asked and exactly how were those questions framed?*

The survey report gives an e-mail address for anyone who wishes to know more about the research methodology, so I gave it a try.  But my e-mail was returned to me with one of those "recipient unknown" messages.  Bitter despair followed, of course, because I couldn't get any answers to those very important questions, so important that they determine how much our hairs should rise and our moods plummet after reading the findings.

But what I did find was this:

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in online surveys. the data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact ..

In ordinary speech, the participants were people who had agreed to participate in online surveys.  That means they were not picked as numbers are in a lottery, which means that they are not a random sample from the general population.   That, in turn, means that we can't use the results to draw statistical conclusions about that general population. All this is hiding behind that 'theoretical sampling error' talk.

Isn't that fun?  Because those who are keen to take online surveys could differ from those who are not keen in other ways, too, we cannot tell if the 2014 Harris poll says something about the millennial men in the US.  All we can tell is that some unknown number of young men in that specific poll answered certain questions, the exact specification of which we are not told, in a certain way.

The two numbers the survey summary gives us is the total sample size, 2047, and the number of full-time or self-employed among those 2047:  889. Both of those apply to people over the age of eighteen.

We could go and look up the statistics for full-time and self-employed people as percentages of all people eighteen and over in the US in the Bureau of Labor Statistics tables, to see if at least the two numbers we are given in the survey seem to match what is going on out there in the bigger population.

I did that for ten minutes.  The data I found was only for full-time employed people and for the groups of those aged sixteen and over or twenty and over.   But even that rough research suggests that the Harris poll people tilt strongly towards those not employed.  It's likely, therefore, that the sample wouldn't look like the population in other ways, too.

None of that means the results can be proved not to apply to the population of young millennial men in the US, just that they cannot be proved to apply to it. 
So where does that leave us?  Asking for a better study, my erudite and sweet readers (all willing to work with female engineers), and restraining ourselves from reading too much into this particular one.

*  Those questions would matter more if the sample had been a statistically random one, but they still matter for the understanding of the answers.

To address my questions one by one:

-  How many subjects were interviewed in each age-and-sex category?  

This clearly matters.  If the number of young men in the sample was, say, 25 or 50, we would judge the results differently than if it was 250 or 500.  Note that we cannot guess that sub-sample sized from the overall sample size (which is told to us) by using our knowledge about how many people, in general, are of different ages, because the sample is not a random drawing from the population.

 -  Did the survey standardize for other possible demographic differences between the older and the younger men?

This matters, because the HBR article implicitly compares young men to their fathers, thus assuming that the sample of young men in the Harris poll would differ from the sample of old men in the poll only in age, not in the percentages of, say, different ethnic groups in the sub-samples.

To see why these other demographics matter, suppose that in some country immigration has changed the average makeup of the citizens a lot in the last thirty years or so.  Then any apparent change in values we might see might not be a change over time in the same population, but a reflection of the different values new immigrants have brought with them from their source countries.  Those values could be more progressive or less progressive than the 'native' values, depending on the values of the source countries, but we cannot interpret the apparent change in values as meaning that the long-time citizens of that country have changed their values over time.

-  How did the millennial and older women compare to each other and the men in their answers those questions?

This question matters for checking purposes and for the purposes of interpretation:  The HBR article looks at the more sexist attitudes of young men, compared to older men.  That case would be made stronger if we found that young women are less sexist than older women, and it would be made different, and weaker in one sense, if we found that sexism has apparently increased in the youngest population for both men and women.

It's always good to check what the reported percentages might be in the implicit comparison group in any social science study.  If I tell you a made-up finding that 90% of Italian-origin people eat pasta you are unlikely to assume that 0% of other groups eat pasta, because you know about pasta-eating customs.  But in other contexts it's easy to slip into the alternative assumption that some percentages are 0% in the implicit comparison group.  Think of crime rates by race or ethnicity or literacy rates for girls and boys in some developing countries.

- And exactly what is it the questions asked and exactly how were those questions framed?

The importance of this is fairly obvious.  If I asked you when you stopped flossing your teeth you would find that questions enraging.  The way a question is formulated is crucial for the proper interpretation of the answers.  Were the people asked if they would be comfortable working with a female engineer, say, or were they asked if they thought female engineers were less capable, or if the occupation was less gender-apppropriate?  The exact formulation of the question may carry one or more of these types of associations.

Note, also, that Kramer and Harris suggest that the findings might be because young men haven't had exposure to female engineers, CEOs and presidents (hmm).  A question asking about that would have not cost very much and would have made the survey results more useful.  Pilot studies (tiny pre-studies for methodological and question-setting purposes) are useful for making improvements of these types.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More on Donald Trump's Attack Tactics: He Aims At The Mirror.

If the US presidential elections weren't about a pretty serious business (global survival and shit) I'd so enjoy the macabre humor that keeps cropping up!

Well, I think it's macabre.  Your mileage might vary.

Take Trump's political tactic which is a twisted version of the old Republican strategy:  attack the strength of your opponent. It's a twisted version, because Trump first assigns his own political weaknesses to his opponent, then attacks them.  That makes a weird kind of sense, since the relative absence of those Trumpish weaknesses is, of course, Hillary Clinton's strength.

So Trump has for some time called her "crooked Hillary" on Twitter and elsewhere.  Now compare that to the Trump University scam,  or Trump's contractor's use of undocumented foreign workers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of whom never got fully paid, and the resulting pensions fund lawsuit in the 1990s which Trump settled out of court. 

The Trump University case is, by the way, partly about racketeering charges against Trump.  Racketeering, as in violating the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act sounds a lot like being accused of --- what's the word I'm looking for? --- crookedness.

Now Trump has questioned Hillary Clinton's religious faith:

The video, taken by E.W. Jackson, a minister and former Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia, appeared to show part of Trump's private meeting with evangelical leaders in New York City. Trump went on the attack during the conversation, saying there's no information out there about Clinton's faith.
"Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no — there's nothing out there,” Trump says in the video. “There's like nothing out there."

That is not just true, that there would be "nothing out there" about Hillary Clinton's religious affiliation.  I have been unable to avoid seeing references to it, starting from the 1990s.

But what I have not seen, at all, are public references to Donald Trump's religion, whatever it might be.  Some Playboy mansion version of the Manly Man Christianity, with perhaps occasional polygyny allowed?  I must admit that imagining the evangelical Christians and Trump as political bed-mates is just delicious.

What can we expect next from the Trump camp?  What kind of an attack?

How about complaining that Hillary Clinton's hairdos are unbecoming?

Monday, June 20, 2016

And Here We Go Again: The US Senate Rejects A Series of Gun Control Measures.

This was expected, of course.  If the 2012 massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, got nothing real done in the US Congress about gun control a massacre of adults certainly won't.

Even many massacres of many people don't seem to get access to guns controlled.  This applies to even assault-type, militaristic weapons with the only apparent advantage that they are pretty efficient at killing many people quickly.  And never mind that they have been the guns of choice in fourteen public mass shootings during the last ten years, half of those since last June.

I despair.  Of course I do, and so do many, many Americans.  But the appeal of guns appears tremendous, the political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is huge (huge! I tell you), and no amount of horror seems to make any dent in any of that.  Not vast numbers of people dying in mass shootings, not little children dying because careless availability of loaded guns, nothing makes a dent.

Still, there is something obscene about the re-branding of semi-automatic guns as "modern sporting rifles."  What is sporting about them?  Or are we to assume that hunting humans is now an acceptable form of sports?

I have nothing useful or cheering to say about any of this, and my apologies for that.  But I find it odd that the gun-rights people are so utterly absolutists, so very bent on their need to have open access to truly frightening weapons only good for efficient people-killing, and so very libertarian, given the enormous costs to the society their attitude ultimately causes.

It's as if someone demanded that drivers' licenses should not be required for cars, that any amount of alcohol or drugs is just fine for those driving a car, that people should be allowed to choose whether they drive on the left or on the right and should be allowed to change that choice from day to day or hour to hour, without informing anyone else about that choice, that cars could be routinely left in neutral and running while parked, and when the inevitable deaths of many on the roads would happen, an organization would be created to defend the absolute rights of Drivers Without Restrictions.  And without any insurance for the mayhem they caused.

Given the recalcitrance of the NRA types and the politicians they have acquired, perhaps different approaches are needed.

Remember those enormous social costs the sloppy access to guns causes in the US?  Let's make people who cause them internalize them, the same way obligatory car insurance internalizes some of the costs of poor driving.  Mandatory liability insurance for gun owners is not my idea or a particularly new idea.  But it's a baby step in the right direction, and it could be tailored to the gun one buys so that the buyers of "modern sporting rifles" would face a much heavier insurance bill than the guys of more modest killing weapons.

And what about creating competition for the NRA itself?  A good but apolitical gun owners' organization, one which offers the services gun owners need, might be able to reduce the exorbitant political power of the NRA by pulling away the more reasonable gun people.

Add your own suggestions for things which might work, given the current gridlocked political climate.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Grumpy Thoughts About Weird Political Thinking. Or Down The Rabbit Hole.

Writing about general politics, women's issues and gender politics can be terribly grating*, as if one's skin slowly becomes perforated and all the viciousness and the acid and the hatred seeps in.  That's when I go all grumpy and mean-spirited.

Here are a few of my not-so-nice grumpy thoughts, in no particular order of importance.  They are about the various ways we can fall down the rabbit hole.

1.  Nobody becomes an expert in, say, the UK politics simply by assuming that it all works exactly the same as US politics.  I see far too much American Internet commentary where the assumption is that total understanding of the situation in some European country can be established through an American filter.  That is just not true.  There are similarities, sure, but the details matter, differences in political systems and demographics matter, different histories and cultures matter, and nothing makes local knowledge unimportant.

2.  Europe is not one country with one major language and one shared history.  Americans shouldn't treat Europe that way, or assume that all countries in Europe participated in the genocide of Jews or in colonizing other parts of the world.  Or that all European countries are, say, places where gender equality is far advanced and the social safety net strong and firm.

Both of the above points apply even more strongly to countries elsewhere on this planet.  I chose to focus on Europe because the superficial similarities between, say, the UK and the US can be deceptive, leading many not-so-informed Americans to believe that they know more about the events in Europe than they actually do.  The reverse also applies:  Many Europeans have views about the US which are largely based on television series and movies and various stereotypes.

3.  Nuance.  In general.  Oh how I wish it were back in fashion.  Not because I would be a cucumber-sandwiches-and-tea type of goddess, but because reality truly is nuanced.  For example, the motives of the Orlando butcher can be many.  We don't have to insist on finding one single motive for what he did.

And while I'm criticizing the quality of political Internet debates, I also want to notice that snark** isn't really the same as refuting someone's arguments.  It can be fun and it can be deserved, but it's not a refutation. Reasoned arguments take effort, and following (and checking) them can also be hard work.  But the results from them can be greater information and better solutions.

4.  There's a tremendous (and invisible) bias in much of political writing of treating one side in a conflict as being without any agency at all.  It's strongest in political propaganda which wishes to paint some group or country as the evil one and so focuses on the deeds of only those 'demonic' forces, but it's also common in more balanced articles.

For instance, victims are often treated as passive objects of the horrible things which happen to them.  Sometimes this is just the truth, as in drone strikes or terrorist attacks,  but more generally even victims may have some agency, some way of resisting, some way of expressing what they think or believe.  That this is frequently ignored is because it doesn't go with the unconscious plot the writer has in her or his mind or with the way which maximizes the impact of the piece.  I have done that myself, so I know.

But it's lamentable because it twists reality, even if the intention behind that is good.

5.  Linked to that grumbling is this one:  People to whom bad things happen are not necessarily all saints, people who are oppressed may themselves also be oppressors in different relationships or would love that opportunity, and yet we should criticize the bad things which have happened to them.  In short, the goals and desires of various oppressed groups are not necessarily in alignment.  Sometimes those groups fight for the same crumbs off the table of the powerful.  And no, not all powerful people are evil just because they are powerful.

6.  What I wrote in 5. can result in the most exquisite contortions for those social justice activists (say, feminists) who base their activism on supporting the simultaneous total rights of many groups and suddenly find that one of those groups might not support the rights of another one of those groups***.

What to do? I've seen some people just cover their eyes and ears and refuse to engage with the dilemma, though some take sides, ranking one group as the more deserving one, even if it's the  group deemed overall most deserving which happens to be violating some progressive values.  Hence the contortions.

These are avoidable.  The way one does that is by holding onto those progressive values in each case, never mind who violates them, while not dropping the support of equal rights of the violating group to all the other good things.  And to be fair, many writers and activists do exactly this.

For an example of what I'm writing about, consider this:

Some (or many) white working class people in the US**** might be racist, and when they are their behavior should be condemned.  But this doesn't mean that they wouldn't be suffering because of their lower social class and because of the increasing income inequality in the US.  When it comes to those aspects their case should be supported.

It's like blowing bubbles with the chewing gum while riding the tricycle.  Doable, right?  At least if we start from the principles-end and not the victim-end.

7.  Something doesn't have to be true just because it is re-tweeted a thousand times.  I've seen two recent Twitter examples of joyful mass dissemination of terrible data.  Lies, in fact, though not intentional lies in either case, just seriously bad interpretations of the sources the initial tweeters used.  A bit like thinking that the page number in a book has something quantitative to say about what's written on the page it refers to.

Always verify.  That is my motto and I follow it 98 times out of each hundred.  The other two times I get caught by you, my very erudite readers.

And that verification is even more urgent if what is asserted pleases your political side.  That's when you might re-tweet something inane and end up with egg on your face.

Most folks will not verify, sadly, and so the lie still careens around the world while the truth tries to figure out a way to refute it in 140 characters and without getting squished in a Twitter war.

That's an oversimplification, of course.  There are cases where the truth isn't that clear, but that's no excuse for not trying for maximal truthfulness in our political communications.

*  As in "make America grate again," which misquotes Donald Trump.  But he certainly has raised the level of viciousness in Internet commentary.

**  And neither is hate speech.  That should go without saying.

***  Two fairly recent examples of the kinds of conflicts which might cause those contortions, but don't have to:

1.   African-Americans, especially African-American Protestants, are less likely to support gay and Lesbian rights than white Americans.  In 2016, 57% of whites and 42% of African-Americans support same sex marriage. This average (though shrinking) difference in opinions affected the passing of California's Proposition 8 in 2008, which banned same-sex marriage in California.  The proposition was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, but the majority of both African-Americans and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics, voted for it:

African American voters, who were overwhelmingly in favor of banning same sex marriage (70 percent supported Proposition 8) even as they supported Obama even more heavily (94 percent).  And, to a lesser degree, Hispanic voters followed that same trend -- backing Prop. 8 by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin while giving President Obama 74 percent.

2.    Last New Year's eve's mass sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany,  by men of mostly North African origin, many of them asylum seekers, put quite a few feminists writers between the rock and the hard place:  How does one write about a form of sexual assault which truly is a new one in Europe and which is almost impossible for women to defend themselves against, without inciting more anti-Muslim, anti-refugee and racist bigotry?

It looked to me as if several writers felt that they had to choose which group to support, in some overall sense.  Thus I read, repeatedly, that there was nothing new  in these assaults (not true), and that there's something very fishy when suddenly the European right wing is concerned about sexual assaults and women's rights (exceedingly true). 

That the events in Cologne were used by the right-wing nationalists and racists (a group which is not exactly known for its feminism) for their own purposes counted more in the final feminist scale of things for some writers (not necessarily those I linked to above) than what happened to hundreds of women in Cologne.

Yet it should have been possible to note that the vast majority of refugees or migrants in Europe did not participate in these assaults or others of the same type,  that, indeed sexual harassment and assaults are not exactly unknown in European countries, but that it still is very important to nip mass sexual harassment in its bud.  And none of this matters at all when it comes to defending the general rights and welfare of refugees in Europe or when it comes to fighting against racism in general.

I'm sure there are many other similar examples, even recent ones, but those two are the ones I had jotted down in some detail.

More generally, being a feminist, say, doesn't preclude the possibility that one is also a racist or bigoted about trans-people.

People who do anti-racists work can be sexists (by, say, treating African-American women as invisible while focusing on the treatment of African-American men or just by being the ordinary type of sexists) and a few trans people believe in gender-essentialist arguments (about which types of behaviors should go with which gender identities) which in my opinion are sexist.

Progressives can be bigoted about poor whites in the US South.   In all these cases the trick is to disapprove of the bad behavior and to interrogate any iffy arguments, but not to drop some group from those who are deemed good enough to deserve fair treatment overall.  We all deserve fair treatment.

I'm not exploring these examples from some high-and-mighty pure goddess perch, by the way.  I identify lots of unpleasant bottom mud in my own thinking, including the fact that when I took the Implicit Associations Test my results suggested slight sexism in my own views!  How's that for something to think about? 

Though the associations actually measure stuff we are accustomed to quickly correlating with some other stuff, not necessarily our agreement with those associations.  But still.  All the various -isms are in the air we breathe, in our upbringing, in the religious values we are being taught.  So we should have some small amount of compassion mixed with the stern condemnation when we find others failing the value tests.

****  I picked this example and not one about the white middle class people who can also be racist, because I want the group in my example to be low on the totem pole in some other respect.