Of course, that’s not specifically what this item from Australia’s The Age is about – but its what anyone with any familiarity with the egregious history of discrimination against trans women by Gay, (St)Inc. (and who doesn’t have a status quo interest in Gay, (St)Inc., to protect), should come away from the item with.
MADELINE Heilman at New York University once conducted an experiment in which she told volunteers about a manager. Some were told, “Subordinates have often described Andrea as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. She is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees’ creativity.”
Other volunteers were told, “Subordinates have often described James as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. He is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees’ creativity.”
The only difference between what the groups were told was that some people thought they were hearing about a leader named Andrea while others thought they were hearing about a leader named James. Heilman asked her volunteers to estimate how likeable Andrea and James were as people. Three-quarters thought James was more likeable than Andrea.
Using a clever experimental design, Heilman also determined that four in five volunteers preferred to have James as their boss. Andrea seemed less likeable merely because she was a woman who happened to be a leader.
The existence of unconscious sexism can be scientifically proved in laboratory experiments. We know that unconscious sexism caused the laboratory volunteers in Heilman’s experiment to find Andrea the manager less likeable than James the manager, because two groups of volunteers, divided at random, reached different conclusions about the likeability of the managers. Since the only thing that varied between the groups was whether they were told the manager was named Andrea or James, we can confidently say the outcome was produced by that single difference.
Bias is much harder to demonstrate scientifically in real life, which may be why large numbers of people do not believe that sexism and other forms of prejudice still exist. Many people think we live in a “post-racial” and “post-sexist” world where egalitarian notions are the norm. Indeed, if you go by what people report, we do live in a bias-free world, because most people report feeling no prejudice whatsoever.
What would be remarkably instructive in real life would be if women in various professions could experience life as men, and vice versa. If the same person got treated differently, we would be sure sexism was at work, because the only thing that changed was the sex of the individual and not his or her skills, talent, knowledge, experience, or interests.
Enter Joan Roughgarden and Ben Barres.
Both are researchers at one of the premier academic institutions in the country; both are tenured professors. Both are transgendered people.
During the first year of Barbara’s residency, when she was an intern, she found herself clashing with the chief resident. “When you have to learn to do a spinal tap or do a line, at some point only one person can do the procedure. What I noticed is that every time a male resident would do the picking, he would pick a guy to do the procedure. I had to often say, ‘He did it last time. It is my turn this time.’ ”
But things changed in large and subtle ways after Barbara became Ben.
Ben once gave a presentation at the prestigious Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A friend relayed a comment made by someone in the audience who didn’t know Ben Barres and Barbara Barres were the same person: “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”
At the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, an outpost of the university about 150 kilometres from campus, Roughgarden ruffled feathers in the scientific establishment by arguing that a prominent theory that described the life cycle of marine animals was wrong. Where previous research had suggested that tide pools were involved in the transportation of certain larvae, Roughgarden reframed the issue and showed that the larger ocean played a significant role. The new theory got harsh reviews, but Roughgarden’s ideas were taken seriously. In short order, Roughgarden became a tenured professor, and a widely respected scientist and author.
Like Ben Barres, Roughgarden made her transition to Joan relatively late in life. Stanford proved tolerant, but very soon Joan started to feel that people were taking her ideas less seriously.
[I]n contrast to the response to her earlier theory about tide pools and marine animals, few scientists engaged with her [about a theory she developed after transitioning.] At a workshop at Loyola University, a scientist “lost it” and started screaming at her for being irresponsible. “I had never had experiences of anyone trying to coerce me in this physically intimidating way,” she said, as she compared the reactions to her work before and after she became a woman. “You really think this guy is really going to come over and hit you.”At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Joan said, a prominent expert jumped up on the stage after her talk and started shouting at her. Once every month or two, she said, ”I will have some man shout at me, try to physically coerce me into stopping …When I was doing the marine ecology work, they did not try to physically intimidate me and say, ‘You have not read all the literature.’
“They would not assume they were smarter. The current crop of objectors assumes they are smarter.”
Joan is willing to acknowledge her theory might be wrong; that, after all, is the nature of science. But what she wants is to be proven wrong, rather than dismissed.
You want to really have some fun Joan? Get a law degree and get licensed to practice law – and then try to get a substantively relevant (read: non-‘Associate Director of Diversity‘) job with a gay rights organization. You’ll be able to re-calibrate the definition of “dismissed.”
What will be interesting to find out is whether Shankar Vedantam, the author of The Hidden Brain (from which the Age item is extracted), referenced Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl in his book.