Laura Bates and pervasive misogyny

Laura Bates appears to believe that misogyny permeates society and the framework in which this operates is an invisible one – the patriarchy. The evidence for this is unverified ‘lived experience’ of women and even then, only ‘lived experience’ that conforms with feminist liturgy.

The problems with ‘lived experience’ rather than empirical evidence will be discussed in more detail in a future post. However, the ‘lived experience’ of marginalised groups is central to the ‘Social Justice ‘ project, in general, and feminism in particular. So much so, that when Elizabeth Loftus, an academic with an international reputation, produced evidence that calls into doubt the reliability of our memories, she had to be ‘taken down’ because that is threat to ‘lived experience’ dogma. For a flavour of her research see the YouTube video below. For a sample of the ad-hominem attacks, she has had to endure read this article from Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker –here. Aviv criticises Loftus because her work ‘collides with our traumatised moment’. In other words, it is not ideologically correct. Does Aviv produce empirical data that challenges the research of Elizabeth Loftus? No, she does not.

If you look at empirical evidence rather than the confirmation bias inherent in the ‘Everyday Sexism’ project of Laura Bates, a picture emerges that differs strikingly from her world view.

  1. Moral typecasting: women are assumed to be victims and men perpetrators.

A study by Tania Reynolds et al looked at several scenarios and showed that women were more easily seen as victims(1). For example, a female employee claiming harassment was seen as more of a victim than a male employee making an identical claim. Also, female victims were assumed to experience more pain from an ambiguous joke. Most disturbing to me was that managers were seen as less moral when firing a female employee than a male employee. In short, in studies involving 3,137 participants in four countries, harm evaluations were systematically swayed by the targets’ gender.

1.       Reynolds T, Howard C, Sjåstad H, Zhu L, Okimoto TG, Baumeister RF, et al. Man up and take it: Gender bias in moral typecasting. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process. 2020 Nov;161:120–41

People care more about female underrepresentation in careers

Research by Katherina Block et al, showed that the public is more concerned about gender imbalances in male-dominated professions than it is about imbalances in female-dominated professions(2). In addition, when the career in question comes with a high salary people were more likely to suggest that barriers were blocking the entry of women.

2.         Block K, Croft A, De Souza L, Schmader T. Do people care if men don’t care about caring? The asymmetry in support for changing gender roles. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2019 Jul;83:112–31.

People have more sympathy for female suffering than male suffering.

The footbridge and the trolley problems are used to test behaviour of individuals who are faced with moral dilemmas. In the trolley problem, imagine yourself driving a trolley towards five people tied together on the track in front of you.  If you do nothing, the trolley goes along its normal course and all five people will be killed. However, there is an alternative, you could pull the lever and the train will deviate to one side where a single innocent passer-by will be killed. What do you do?

The footbridge problem is similar. You are standing on a footbridge over a rail track and the train is heading towards 5 people tied together. Again, if you do nothing all five will be killed but you could push an innocent bystander over the bridge into the path of the train. If you do, that will slow the train sufficiently to save the lives of the five people on the track. What do you do?

Both thought experiments measure willingness to sacrifice an innocent bystander to save five other people. Although the utilitarian response in both cases is to sacrifice the innocent bystander you would be responsible for the death of that one person. In practice, people vary in their responses. For example, psychopaths are more willing to sacrifice a bystander for the greater good. Another factor is the gender of the innocent bystander, a male bystander is more likely than a female bystander to be sacrificed to save five lives and this is true for both male and female study participants(3).

Work on the ethical problems of self-driving cars has revealed similar societal biases in favour of women. When deciding how autonomous vehicles should react to choices involving two unavoidable harms; for example saving passengers or pedestrians when a crash imminent, people show a tendency to prioritise saving female lives over male lives(4). 

3.         FeldmanHall O, Dalgleish T, Evans D, Navrady L, Tedeschi E, Mobbs D. Moral Chivalry: Gender and Harm Sensitivity Predict Costly Altruism. Soc Psychol Personal Sci. 2016 Aug;7(6):542–51

4.         Awad E, Bonnefon J-F, Shariff A, Rahwan I. The Thorny Challenge of Making Moral Machines: Ethical Dilemmas with Self-Driving Cars. NIM Mark Intell Rev. 2019 Nov 1;11(2):42–7. 

Those who harm women are punished more severely than those who harm men.

Curry Lee and Rodriguez studied how sentencing varied according to the sex of the victim using data for offenders convicted of three violent crimes. They found that perpetrators either gender who victimised females received longer sentences than those who victimised males. Male offenders who victimised females received the longest sentences of any pairing(5).

5. Curry TR, Lee G, Rodriguez SF. Does Victim Gender Increase Sentence Severity? Further Explorations of Gender Dynamics and Sentencing Outcomes. Crime Delinquency. 2004 Jul;50(3):319–43

Women are punished less severely than men for the same crime.

A meta-analysis of experimental research on mock juror assessments found that it was advantageous if the defendant was female, physically attractive and of high socioeconomic status(11). These data are consistent with ‘real world’ findings from the United Kingdom where men are twice as likely to be imprisoned for a violent first offence whereas women were twice as likely to receive a conditional discharge or suspended sentence (6).

6.       Mazzella R, Feingold A. The Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Gender of Defendants and Victims on Judgments of Mock Jurors: A Meta-Analysis1. J Appl Soc Psychol. 1994 Aug;24(15):1315–38.

Women’s aggression is seen as more acceptable than men’s aggression.

One hundred and seventy-one university students were invited to read vignettes describing acts of violence. The aggressor-target gender combinations were varied. Male and female participants rated women’s aggression as more acceptable(7).

7.       Stewart-Williams S. Gender, The Perception of Aggression, and the Overestimation of Gender Bias. Sex Roles. 2002;46(5/6):177–89.

Women have an advantage in hiring decisions in STEM subjects.

A common trope among feminists is that women have to be twice as good as men to get the same job. So where does the evidence point? As usual, it points in the opposite direction.

A study of hiring faculty in STEM subjects showed a substantial preference for hiring women over identically qualified men and the claim that weaker men were promoted over more able women was not supported(8). Another study found a 2:1 preference for hiring women on a STEM tenure track across 370 universities in the USA(9).

8.       Ceci SJ, Williams WM. Women have substantial advantage in STEM faculty hiring, except when competing against more-accomplished men. Front Psychol. 2015;6:1532.

9.       Williams WM, Ceci SJ. National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2015 Apr 28;112(17):5360–5

This is just a very quick and superficial trawl through my list of academic references and not a systematic review. Nonetheless, the results should be reassuring to anyone who believes that women are oppressed or exist in a system of rigid patriarchy. Does the data even support the idea of pervasive misandry? No, I don’t think so, but the picture is much more nuanced and interesting than posh English Lit graduates would have us believe.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.

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