Carol Tavris – The Science of Sex and Gender

March 25, 2013

Back in February, Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer made a decision that pushed gender issues and the work/life balance back into the headlines: she mandated that her employees can no longer work from home. It’s a decision that impacts families with children in a big way—and puts a focus on women in the workplace.

Are decisions like Mayer’s related to a broader cultural bias against women? Do biological differences between men and women account for the gender disparity in leadership positions in many industries? What do we even know about gender differences? Does science have answers to any of these questions yet? To find out, we invited Carol Tavris, a noted social psychologist and a pioneer of gender studies, to join us in this week’s episode.

Carol Tavris received a PhD in social psychology from the University of Michigan, and has taught psychology at UCLA and the New School for Social Research. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Center for Inquiry. Her articles, book reviews and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. The themes of Tavris’ work include critical thinking, feminism, and criticism of pseudoscience. Her books include four psychology textbooks, The Mismeasure of Woman, and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), co-authored with Elliot Aronson.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, March 25th, 2013. This week, we talked to Carol Tavaris about the science of sex and gender. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Indre Viskontas point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reasons, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. Back in February, Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Meyer made a decision that pushed gender issues and the work life balance back into the headlines. She mandated that her employees can no longer work from home. It’s a decision that impacts families with children in a big way and puts a focus on women in the workplace. Our decisions, like Miers related to a broader cultural bias against women. Do biological differences between men and women account for the gender disparity in leadership positions in many industries? What do we even know about gender differences? Does science have answers to any of these questions yet? To find out, we invited Carol Tavaris, a noted social psychologist and a pioneer of gender studies, to join us in this week’s episode. Dr. Tavaris received a PGD in social psychology from the University of Michigan and has taught psychology at UCLA and the New School for Social Research. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Center for Inquiry. Her articles, book reviews and op ads have appeared in the New York Times, the L.A. Times and other publications. The themes of Tavaris work include critical thinking, feminism and criticism of pseudoscience. Her books include for psychology textbooks, the miss measure of woman and Mistakes were made but not by me coauthored with Elliot Aronson. Welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Carol Tavaris, I’m very happy to be here talking with you. 

It’s great to have you. And I wanted to start out our conversation by first finding out what was it that first led you to study gender differences in general and even writing about this since the 70s. So what in that era made you interested in the topic living there? 

My believe is the best way to describe this, living them. I when I was in college, my beloved senior professor with whom I had been doing my honors thesis when I told him that I wanted to apply to graduate school to go into sociology or social psychology, said to me, you know, Carol, he said wanting to go into a male field is really quite a noteworthy sign of penis envy. And I’m just wondering if you’ve thought about this. 

Now, he was a Freudian. It’s true. He was a Freudian. And for that matter, I was a Freudian in those days. And it was such a staggering question, sinfulness that he asked me this. In all seriousness, you know, he said, you know, used a smart person penis ending penis envy. This was I don’t have to tell you a cockamamie idea. Even then, it was a cockamamie idea. I still call it a cockamamie idea. But we people talk that way then. OK. So I didn’t, of course, have the courage or the insight to say it’s not penis envy, dear, it’s income envy. But I didn’t know. I didn’t know I was a Freudian. OK. 

So I arrive in graduate school in the late 60s, and this was a time when the world was changing so rapidly. The civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement was just burgeoning everywhere. If you were alive and walking around, you couldn’t miss being a part of it. And so when I say I came to these issues by living them. That’s exactly right. When I was in graduate school, there was no field of the psychology of women or the psychology of gender. Nobody had studied these questions. Typically in psychology, if you did a study, say, on motivation and the women in your study didn’t answer the way the men did, you just threw out the data from the women and concentrated on the men. 

We weren’t we weren’t aware of the pervasiveness of the biases against women until suddenly, as the women was called, the women’s liberation movement, them emerged and suddenly everything was up for question. What did discrimination mean? What was bias? What was prejudice against women? What did this mean? What form did it take? What did we know about women from our science? And in every area of psychology, suddenly there were questions to be asked that had never been asked. Nobody studied menstruation, the physiology and psychology of menstruation, of pregnancy, of childbirth. Nobody looked was looking at questions of, you know, sex differences and abilities. And so suddenly. Suddenly. There was no topic that wasn’t being examined through the lens of feminism and gender bias. It was an exhilarating time. There was a lot of work for us to do. 

And one of the first things that I guess you did is and I don’t mean you personally, but the field is really make a distinction between sex, which I think we think of as sort of the biology of male and female reproductive systems and so on, and the differences and gender, which seems to be more of a psychological phenomenon. 

Yes. The idea was that you want to distinguish these terms because sex would refer to everything biological and anatomical. So you would speak of a sex difference in baldness, for example, and gender would refer to everything that was learned or culturally acquired or shape through socialization and cultural norms. So you would speak of a gender difference in fondness for romance novels? I will say that although this distinction was very useful, perhaps in the early years of in in much of women’s studies, now many women are arguing it’s time to abandon this distinction. It’s caused a lot of unnecessary complexities. And besides which, there are many, many areas of human life in which you can’t really disentangle sex and gender. Don’t even try. It’s it’s not worth the argument. Nonetheless, that was a distinction that was certainly made in the 70s and a very important one. The first book that I wrote with my dear friend Carol Wade was called The Longest War Sex Differences in Perspective. It was one of the first books in women’s studies before there was such a specialty of women’s studies. And we looked at all of the differences, what the what we knew in those early days. What did research show about the differences between men and women? And how did different perspectives from the biological, through the Freudian, through the sociological. Explain the nature of those differences? 

And are there any differences that you noted at that time that were thought to be sort of sex differences that is related to biology that recently had been shown to be more to do with the cultural circumstances and that nowadays would no longer be considered, you know, a biological difference? 

Well, all of this is this is really, in a way, been the theme of my life’s work. It’s so easy to to do a study that finds differences between men and women and infer that there’s something substantial biological built in hard wired about those differences, especially if the differences seem to be persistent and repeated over time. And one of the great contributions of research in women’s studies then to be called gender studies, though, is not to leave the guys out. Quite rightly, I think, is to understand that just because you find a difference doesn’t mean you know, the cause of the difference. And so, you know, and especially now with the kind of brain science that we have in understanding the way that experiences and culture shape and affect the brain all through life, that even something we assumed to be basic, such as I do a study that shows there are sex differences in the brains of men and women on the average when they perform some test. What is it that we think we know when we find this brain? Scientists themselves understand that we don’t know cause and effect. When we do this kind of study, we might find that men’s and women’s brains differ when they’re working on a language task or a math task. But it doesn’t mean that they have different brains that are causing them to do these tasks differently. It can be that they’re different experiences have shaped their brains. So even with something that seems to be as bedrock biological as brain function is always, always a function of learning culture and the situation that a person is in when they’re taking the test. That’s another reason for four wheel smuggling these terms, sex and gender. It’s really hard to unravel them. 

And one of just following up on that point about neuroscience and the brain basis of behavior and perhaps differences in the way that the people of different sexes behave. You know, you’ve talked a little bit about in some of your other public appearances and in your writings about this problem, that when we are looking at these differences, even in the brain, even if we even if we see the differences in, say, a neuro imaging task, different brain activation patterns, that if the behavior on the task itself doesn’t differ, then we really can’t say what those differences mean. So, for example, you see, you know, people doing, say, a language task or a mathematics task. And the brains look different between the men and the women that are accomplishing the task. But their answers don’t look different then. It’s very hard to interpret the brain differences in terms of narrow imaging studies. 

Yes, you got it exactly right. I mean, this is one of these funny things. Here you are. You know, you you wire up women and men and you look and see what they’re doing on this particular verbal task or a math test or whatever it is. And you find that the the more of the women’s brains seem to have lateral ization that is there is on both halves of the brain seem to be lit up, whereas you don’t find this in men when you find a difference. You know, this is true in any kind of research that you might do, researchers. Being human beings get really excited when they get a finding a difference. Oh, my God, look at this difference. Isn’t that interesting, Gary? 

What do you suppose this means then? If you get so excited about the difference that you don’t stop and say, wait a second, the men and women are actually not differing in the thing we’re studying in chemistry, we’re measuring like how they did on this verbal test. So what does it mean if we see a difference in their brains? What the world does that mean? Maybe it just means, you know, people’s brains differ. And in in my textbook with Carol Wade, we say, well, you know what? There’s lots of roads that lead to Rome. 

And people’s brains may have different ways of getting to Rome, but they all get to Roswell itself. 

So it’s just a very interesting issue that people are so eager to find these sex differences in the brain that even when there’s no differences that really seem to matter. They just love knowing that somehow this stuff is going on in the brain. I would like to say and in regard to this, though, because this is this is worth science and politics really get entwined here. Very good scientists, very good psychological scientists are distressed at what they regard as the political correctness of the view that you shouldn’t even be looking for sex differences in brains, that there’s something somehow know. This is just that they’re sexist pigs. If they ask these questions or are interested in these questions and is good, good scientists are entitled to ask this question, where are their sex differences in the brain? My thing. Have some reason, some explanation, for example, for why women might recover from a stroke in the language faculties more quickly than men might or might be. Many interesting applications of this. And of course, we know that men’s and women’s brains have dozens upon dozens of anatomical differences related to reproductive function and so forth. So it’s not us. It’s not a preposterous question to ask. Are there sex differences in men’s and women’s brains? The reason, of course, that everybody is concerned about that question is the oversimplifying, popularizing impulse to assume that there is a female brain and a male brain and they can barely communicate with each other and that these basic bedrock differences in our brains explain something about how men and women do or don’t get along. That’s the leap. That is not warranted by the science. 

Yeah. And I think that that’s that’s exactly where a lot of neuroscientists get worried about when they do do these kinds of studies that have possible political implications like that. 

You know, how are they going to be interpreted by the mainstream media, etc., who are looking for a really good headline? And I you know, I think in particular, a lot of these neuroimaging of cognitive and emotional and other sort of more complex behavioral tasks are really at risk at being oversimplified, because, of course, there are so many variables there that we don’t quite understand even what the brain functional differences would mean if we do see them, even if there is a change in behavior, there are a lot of variables that we still are sorting out. And one way or another. 

Yes, exactly. And, you know, the one benefit of. Having been at this business for a very long time, as I have starting in the 70s, when there was suddenly all this research being done, you know, everywhere on sex differences. If you look back even over the merely over the last few decades, when you see the dizzying, dizzying changes in roles of women and the status of women and changes in men’s lives. What men value. How men live. Men’s involvement with their children. Men’s involvement in housework. Men’s fondness for their families. Women’s love of work. And being successful at what they do. The the how to. Should I say this? The shrinking of the differences between men and women over the last two decades and how they want to live their lives and what they value in the kinds of trades that they considered desirable in their love and care for children. The differences that were once so extreme between men and women because men and women lived different lives, had different roles. When we see how quickly men’s and women’s lives have changed in these last decades and this is around the world, the rise of women going into universities, becoming educated, delaying marriage, controlling the number of children, we are living at a time of enormous social changes in the roles and status of women and of men. And so to assume that it’s somehow some built in hardwired difference in the brains of women and men that have been constant right along here is itself, it seems to me, begs the question if all of these men and women really had such different brains. What accounts for this incredible speed of change? And that’s the problem with essentialist biological theories of sex differences. We look at men and women now and we say, gee, you know, the reason they’re not getting along is that there’s something hardwired in the brain or whatever it might be. And we aren’t thinking of how much men and women have changed. 

And it’s not just that many women aren’t getting along. But I think this has been a topic that is really touched. Science in particular in the last, say, decade, with people like Larry Summers coming out and saying that he really believes that that women and men differ in terms of their innate ability to be tenure track professors. And, you know, he had a lot of people who agreed with him who were at very prestigious institutions. 

And so, you know, how do we how do we combat that view that there are innate differences that make women less able in a field like science? 

Well, I think we’re certainly plenty of women out there immediately combating that view. Larry Summers is starting with the women in engineering and science who said just come and sit, you know, in my chair for a year and see what it’s like being a rare woman in a scientific field to see what that’s like. It’s actually quite interesting. Women, the numbers of women entering the STEM fields in science, math, biology and so forth have been increasing rapidly to the point where there are as many women as men interested in these careers and going into these careers. But they are less likely to get through graduate school and to remain in those fields once they enter them, suggesting that it’s not a matter of interest or ability, but of what happens to these bright women once they get into a field where they’re not welcome or where they’re considered lesser or not as well trained or not as competent. And you know, those that requires a different set of skills, women in fields who, you know, where they have to endure daily discrimination or harassment or the subtle kind of stuff that says you don’t belong here. You’ve got a smaller brain, you know, and eventually they say, you know, what the hell with you. I’m going to go do something else. You know, you can meet a lot of stamina to fight these kinds of prejudices. And incredibly, many, many women have done just exactly that. The numbers are indeed rising. Does this mean we don’t still have a problem? We still have a problem. So we have to look at this both ways. We have to see how far we’ve come and the reasons that we’ve come that far. What has made it possible for women to have come even as far as we have, and then we have to see what remains to be done? It’s like, you know, I remember years ago used to say that if you let a few women in the door of a men’s club the first. Women are just going to be happy to have been allowed through the door. It’s an obscenity of a bunch of women. They’re going to want to redecorate the room and change the conditions of employment. They’re going to want to change how things are done around here. We’ve got a lot of make it a little more possible for women to combine this job with family and make other systemic changes. 

And I do feel we are actually at an age where this might soon become possible with with. Although there’s still a lot of controversy, especially with, you know, a CEO like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! Who is actually changing the workplace environment to somewhat argue, make it more difficult for women to be successful by saying that their employees can no longer work from home, while at the same time, you know, installing a nursery next to her office and and other women sort of coming out and talking about these work life balance issues, which I want to talk about in a second. But first, I want to get back to some data supporting the idea that there still is a gender bias in science, because I think this notion, you know, or this this the fact that there are more women coming into the STEM fields is at least in terms of getting educated. Seems like the problem might be solved. And yet, you know, there is that Swedish study in 1997 that showed that, you know, peer reviews gave lower competence scores to women who had the same sort of an equal number of publications. And then just more recently in 2012 in PNAS, that was there was a study published by Corinne Moss, Roxanne and anchored authored by Jo Handelsman. You might be familiar with this where they they looked at a series of professors who were evaluating two applicants who had the exact same credentials, a male applicant and a female applicant. And, of course, the female applicant actually got rated as less hirable, you know, should should start with less money, etc. even if they were rated by female professors. So it wasn’t just that, oh, all the male professors in the field were saying, oh, you know, that that applicant is a woman, so she’s not better. Even the female professors showed this gender bias. 

Well, and I imagine it would be similar if you were evaluating the characteristics you wanted in a nurse or a nanny or an elementary school teacher or careers that we typically think of as female. They would say, I don’t know, you know, do men have these empathic skills and childcare skills? And they really warm and compassionate and easy these qualities that we want in our nurses and we see how many is still very low numbers of men going into nursing. But they know it’s a once again, we think, well, maybe men don’t really have the qualities to be a good nurse. There is a reason that Carol wait. And I called our book The Longest War. These attitudes are deeply entrenched. Which sex is best suited for? What kind of activities? And those attitudes implicit as they are and powerfully built in as they are. I’m considering two candidates for this engineering position or this science position. Male and female. I’m going to unconsciously think the male is better qualified. That is a deeply ingrained prejudice and it will only begin to subside when people in that profession see enough highly achieving women in that profession to in in the numbers to indicate that just as you know, in any field, you have people ranging from the incompetent to the brilliant with most people being average. And it’s the same with women when there’s enough of a density of women in a profession, you can see. Guess what? Those two will vary from incompetent women to super brilliant women. The head of the Department of Education in New York City many years ago said equality is not when a female Einstein gets promoted to assistant professor. Equality is when a female schlemiel moves along as fast as a male schlemiel. 

Quite a wonderful notion. But you see it. 

What it recognizes is that in any field and within both sexes, competence and abilities range from low to high. And so the expectation in fields where that are dominated by men is that the women who go into them had all better be better than the men to be sought as good. And that still continues. That attitude still continues, especially if you’re dealing with a field in which there is still a very small minority of women. But, you know, that’s that’s changing, too. As more and more women enter the field, you’ll see more variety among the women, just as we already recognize it exists and the men. 

So one of the one of the professors in the field at the moment, who I think has a really interesting viewpoint on this very issue, is a man named Ben Barris. Are you familiar with him? No, I’m not. 

The name is Ophelia. Well, he’s a neurobiologist at Stanford and he has a very impressive pedigree. You know, he got his biology degree at M.I.T., then is an M.D. at Dartmouth and then APHC from Harvard. And so he was very successful in his early career. And in 1997, he is a transsexual and he changed sexes. So he went from being a woman to being a man. And so he is a person now who can look back on his early stage career in which he was very successful, and start to see some of the bias that crept in, whereas most of us wouldn’t have that experience. And he wrote a commentary in the journal Nature in 2006 in which he talked about the gender bias that he’s experienced. Now that he’s a man, he he gets treated much better. And in fact, one of my favorite stories that he tells in that article is how at one point after one of his seminars, one of his colleagues, he overheard them talking to each other. And one of them said to another that, you know, Ben Barris gave a great seminar today. But then again, his work is so much better than his sisters. 

That’s wonderful. Normally, none of us can be our own control group, but he can help. Yeah. Oh, yeah. 

He really talks about, you know, looking back on his life that he now can see some real pieces of evidence that he was that his gender was was a problem. So, for example, he was passed over for an award at Harvard, even though the dean had taken him aside and told him that, you know, he would he had many more publications and was had a much better application. And at the time, he didn’t see that as as evidence of gender bias. He just didn’t win. And so he moved on. And I have to say that, you know, I I’m a woman, too, in science. And I can look back upon some of my experiences in which, you know, I didn’t win an award or I, I, you know, was treated one way or another through the lens of gender. But I don’t know necessarily how much of that was just my personality. So or just my my own errors or my mistakes or my inabilities. So I think it’s often hard to tease apart what is bias vs. what is just a difference in personality or individuals. And until we understand where that bias is, we can’t really address it very well. So in your opinion, how should we look for that bias and exterminate it? 

That’s a hard question. Yes, I think people have only been struggling with that one for a few thousand years. 

Well, of course, it’s the difference between. Well, it’s in a way, it’s an impossible question. What does what you’re saying is here you are. You’re let’s say I’m a woman and such and such a field. I’m not being promoted. I’m not moving along as fast as I think I should be. And is the reason that I’m just not as good as these other people, which is a perfectly plausible reason. Look, I haven’t published as much or I haven’t done this and that. Or is it because there’s some systematic bias the way you know or the way women in university settings know is by doing is getting some empirical data to see what is the promotion rate for women versus men. This is an empirical question, not for any given individual, of course, but certainly by department and by school. It is at UCLA. A colleague of mine was on a gender equity committee that that interviewed women and men in different departments to report on their experiences with promotions and advancement and raises and so forth. And they could see which departments were particularly had a particularly egregious pattern of gender discrimination. Medicine was the leading one. She had female doctors call her, you know, from a secret location, you know, practically in trench coats, whispering into her phone what their experience was and how they reported it to anybody. They would be sacked or they would be ostracized. So the way, you know is to be as as candid with oneself as possible. I think your question is a terrific one, because it’s very honest. It means you sit down and you say, right, all right. In exchange for not getting tenure this year or next, I have decided to do less publication so that I can spend more time with my family. This is a conscious decision I wish to make, and that’s what I’m going to do so that I will have fewer publications than Fred. So let’s Fred get the promotion. But if I have as many publications as Fred, if my track record is as good as Fred’s and Fred keeps getting the income raises and I don’t. Something else for sure is going on. 

So I want to talk for a minute to see if we could come up with some potential solutions to this problem of how do we. 

Make sure that the women and men in science who are in academia get treated fairly on the basis of their merit and not biased against their gender. So so we know this bias is there and it’s prevalent from, you know, those these studies that I’ve mentioned and from the work that you’ve done and that you’ve talked about. We know it’s there. So how do we eliminate it? And so one idea I had and was that we follow the model of symphony orchestras when they are looking for a new player for the symphony, they hold auditions behind a curtain so that the committee who’s who selects or the panel that selects the candidate does not know what the person looks like, what gender they are, or anything other than their playing. Do you think this is even possible in. I mean, maybe at least in the first rounds of of applicants in academia, gender neutral applications. 

Don’t say your first name, that sort of thing. Sure. It’s a very interesting idea. Yeah, that’s a very interesting idea. 

I don’t know that it would happen because it’s partly because in a symphony orchestra, the orchestra is sitting there listening to what the oboe player sounds like. But in science or in any other academic field, it’s as much by your recommendations and wanting to know what you know, the professor you know, who was your mentor has to say about you. And it would be pretty hard for that person to write a gender neutral letter to get everybody to agree to do this. It’s a really interesting idea. I like that a lot. But because so much of employment is based on recommendations and referrals and they know I worked with this student for three years and she here it is a terrific person. 

You know, be hard, be hard to implement that. But that certainly would be the idea. I think one of the most important steps and here’s where your orchestra metaphore really applies is that we have to be in concert. We have to be in harmony in working together on this problem. Women and men who wish to see more women succeed in the sciences. 

And for that to happen, one of one of the ways in which the system gets to perpetuate itself is by making a woman who protests seem to be a crazy person. And indeed, one lone protester is usually seen as the crazy person, the first woman who protests discrimination in a department like all whistleblowers. I mean, the psychology of whistleblowers is that it’s a terrible story because so many whistleblowers really pay the price financially and socially and emotionally for blowing the whistle, for being brave, for rocking the boat. For all we say that we welcome people to do this. Ours is not a culture that welcomes this. 

So the lone protester is always singled out for often, not always, often singled out for punishment or retaliation, but in unity. What who what a woman needs to realize is if they’re being if they’re discriminating against you in this business, you can be sure you’re not the only one. And that is why it is often group action that gets better results than one person complaining about not getting tenure because of discrimination. You need the evidence to show that this is more systemic than just you. It also helps the individual woman to have an alliance than to be doing these things on her own. You know, it’s it’s so interesting when we talk about what can what can be done. The United States is such an individualistic, Lee, you know, oriented culture in Europe where there are so many systemic ways of helping working women combine their work and their families with nurseries, schools for the youngest children and daycare and paid maternity and paternity leaves that are real maternity and paternity leaves where the cultures really value the work that women are able to do and should be doing and make it possible for them to do it without putting the burden of this choice only on the woman. We’ve been arguing this business about whether you should work at home or work in your office and whether you should commute or not commute. And what about children? All of those decisions are left to the individual woman to solve. So if you have enough money, you can bring your daycare with you to work. And if you don’t have enough money, then you have to make a choice. This is. This is one of the greatest impediments, I think, to equality and advancement for women is that it’s still in so many places left up to the individual woman. 

You’re exactly right. And that’s actually one of the potential solutions that Ben Berra’s suggests in his nature commentaries to provide daycare in the form of, you know, as as as a benefit for young faculty who are trying to get tenure. And I think that’s that’s exactly right. And that’s in some ways how the U.S. is very much behind other Western countries like, say, in Europe. 

But I also want to talk about another potential solution, which is, you know, to create more diversity in leadership and at the top or on selection committees. And while in principle, I think that that’s the right idea. And, you know, a good solution or a potential solution to the problem. It begs this question of affirmative action. 

So how do we choose women to be in these leadership positions or have more diversity at the top without making it seem as though or without, you know, just choosing a woman because she’s a woman? How do we address that issue? 

He told my committees within a department choosing member, choosing people for a new department to running the university level, or I think both. 

I think that there’s you know, some departments are better than others. As you mentioned, in terms of their selection committee as being more diverse. But there are far more men at the top of leadership positions, both in academic institutions and, you know, in almost every field. 

And that that’s really, you know, one of the major issues is that there aren’t females at the top. 

Well, I think this is like, you know, this is the pipeline problem. You can’t just plunk out a woman on to a committee. She doesn’t have the qualifications or experience or years in the field that the men do. She can be sitting there on the committee and they won’t pay any attention to her. And in a way, why should they? I mean, if if she doesn’t have qualifications for being on that committee, then she’s going to feel the nose as much as they will. That isn’t, I don’t think, unnecessary. Well, let me just put it. There would be a complicated solution. It’s the pipeline issue. You get women coming through the pipeline. I watched this happen in the field of psychological science in the 70s. We were all so eager to have a woman, professor of psychology. There were a couple at the University of Michigan where I was wildly underpaid, denied that they’d been wildly underpaid until it became abundantly clear that they were. And then everybody suddenly wanted women around. We need more women, faculty, more women teachers. We need more women researchers and signs, all of which is true. But first, they had more women going into psychological science and eventually the sheer force of numbers as women became better trained and more experienced and more of them entered the field. There was plenty more for them to do so. Sun is a time lag problem. 

But in the interim, what indeed should be the case is that women in these fields, the students and other faculty, can become more active and to agitate to have women on decision committees and at higher levels of governments at a university level. And that, you know, and that that is a that’s a very important priority that you have mentioned. 

And I want to take a moment now to sort of circle back to one of the books that you’ve you wrote in 2007. 

Mistakes were made, but not by me. And really, the crux of that book is about cognitive dissonance. But my favorite chapter, I have to say, is the last chapter where you talk about people admitting their mistakes and the sense of euphoria that can come when someone says, you know what, I was wrong. I was completely wrong. And I’m not going to try to justify it. 

And so I want to just talk a little bit about whether some of this proliferation of gender bias, this this reluctance to talk about it, could be solved by some people saying I was wrong. 

Or is that never going to happen? 

It’s not. Never going to happen. It does. It actually does happen. Well, you see, one of the things we say is this is how prejudice works. It’s sneaky like a weasel. You can’t you know, you can chase prejudice around the room and try to strangle it. But it’s a very slippery creature. For this reason. 

People have an image of what a what a prejudiced person is or a sexist person. And whoever it is, it isn’t me because I am a fair, open minded, unbigoted kind soul. And now you’re trying to tell me that my attitudes toward women here are a sign that I’m a sexist pig person. Don’t be absurd. 

My attitudes are completely reasonable because as we know, women empirically are just simply less competent and have sillier brains than men do. I’m not prejudiced. They just they’re just dumber. OK, it’s a Mel Gibson approach. You know, I’m not anti-Semitic. But Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world and in this way. That’s how he’s resolving the dissonance. 

So it is the same thing with a sex prejudice or any other kind of prejudice. The academics who don’t want women in their departments or who don’t want women at higher levels still see themselves as prejudiced against women. 

They see, on the contrary, why women are wonderful creatures. They’re kind. They’re even better than we are. They’re more warm, empathic and loving. And they’re ever so much more compassionate and generous. 

It’s just that those aren’t the qualities we want here in our physics department. So before they can say, I guess that I have headed here a track record of discriminating against female candidates. It would be very nice for them to be able to admit that. And many do. To be fair, many to this was that this is something I have observed repeatedly in my field over the years as people just began to get it to get it. What their implicit assumptions were about the other sex that were not valid. 

Now, of course, it happens that change doesn’t happen in the way you imply. Gee, I guess I was behaving badly here. I must change my mind at once. 

It’s usually a more gradual evolution as people in these departments begin working with women or Latinos or African-Americans or any other category of people that you weren’t familiar with and learn. Hey, you know, this person’s a great scientist. So and then, of course, what happens is they say, well, I was never prejudiced. You know, it turns out, you know, women, not women, can be terrific physicists. Yeah. So the process by which people change their prejudices is generally first. You have to force them to behave in a non prejudiced way. That’s the purpose of outlawing discrimination, because once you aren’t allowed to behave in a discriminatory way for the sake of consonants, you’ll change your attitudes to conform to your new behavior. You know, this is the reason we used to say you can’t wait around for everybody to have a change of heart and to become less prejudice or fairer. You have to require them to be fair and then you’ll change their attitudes, or at least you have a better chance at changing their attitudes. 

Well, on that note, I want to remind our listeners that Carol Tavis’s book, The Miss Measure of Woman, Why Women are not the better sex, the inferior sex or the opposite sex is available through our Web site at point of inquiry, dawg, as well as her book. 

Mistakes were made, but not by me. Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. 

Carol Travers, thank you very much for being on point of inquiry. 

Thank you so much. It’s been a lot of fun. 

Hi, I’m Adam Isaac, the producer of the show. If you learn something new from this episode or you just really liked it, please consider supporting the show financially. There are a couple ways you can do that. You can go to the website point of inquiry dot org and make a donation, or you can go to the website and buy a T-shirt. The host and I really do depend on this money to keep the show going. You know, we’re the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit that itself depends almost entirely on donations. And we’re just one small piece of that. We hold the show to a high standard that I hope you appreciate as listeners, and we want to keep doing that. By the way, all donations are tax deductible. Thank you very much for listening. 

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