On Running Into that Wall

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 2:27 PM

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Being female is like bruising your nose over and over on invisible walls which other people can walk through. One of my least favorite happens often in atheist/free-thinkers conversations, as well as all day at school, from students and faculty: any evidence, no matter how much and how stringently researched, can be dismissed offhand because of the gender of the speaker.

It does not surprise me that people are desperate to rationalize the ideas they like, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that they're wrong. What surprises me is that the same group which claims there's not enough evidence presented to them will refuse evidence presented to them, changing their argument as many times as they feel are necessary to justify ignoring the evidence. Jason at the Lousy Canuck and Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels have both blogged about what they're calling 'hyper-skepticism.' I'm inclined to agree. People who will accept rather serious pseudoscience (for instance, women like pink and gender stereotyping because magic cavewomen and berries) as indisputable fact will balk at being shown anything in the last twenty years on stereotype threat, or on social inequity.

I'm well aware of confirmation bias. I hope, as Ian at Crommunist Manifesto suggests, that this is a battle being won by attrition, by refusing to give in as the objections become less plausible and less able to be repeated with the expectation of public support. I know that between now and then, there's liable to need to be quite a bit of time, in which people attached to the same tired tropes about gender, ethnicity and economics. I know that in that time, there'll be plenty of abuse (and, in fact, I just got called a faggot piece of trash on Skepchick by one of the people protesting that characterizing misogynistic actions as misogynist is a symptom of a dangerous cult).

I expect those things. The strange thing, for me, is to run into those transparent walls. Perhaps this is a product of my education, but I tend to expect to be able to present evidence and to have discussions on the evidence. I've noticed two things in these conversations: first, that when the other person thinks I'm male, they're politer. And second, that the evidence means nothing to them, even more so when they find out I'm female.

It's an odd feeling; I've spent tremendous amounts of time doing research, learning new things, teaching, practicing various disciplines. I have a high GPA and a rack of awards for grades, letters of recommendation, student thanks and a few writing awards.

Yet in these discussions, it is still possible for me to suddenly be immaterial to the point, and/or to actually be a detriment to research I did not do, because I am female and I used the information. Suddenly, the standards for evidence no longer matter, and all the intricate connections between fields which I possess as a function of research also do not matter.

It's almost exactly, for me, like walking into a glass wall (I have had that experience.) One minute, I'm moving like everyone else and then, suddenly, I'm knocked sprawling.

My education ceases to matter.

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