Monday, March 23, 2009

mental gender bias

Last week in class a grad student was leading discussion about a paper with three authors. While summarizing the paper, the student repeatedly referred to the authors as "he." Two of the three authors had traditionally female names (first and third, in case you were wondering). Some of the women in the room, myself included, started saying "she" when he repeatedly said "he," but quietly. We did this a few times, and when he finally noticed and paused we said, "Two of the three authors are women, but you keep saying 'he.'" I suggested he say "they" instead since it was more appropriate anyways. He admitted that he said "he" because that was what he thought while reading the paper to prepare for discussion. The student said "they" a few times and then reverted back to "he" for the rest of the discussion (being corrected a few times).

We discussed a second paper, but the gender of the author was unknown, since there were only initials. I suggested lightheartedly that he just assume it was a woman and say "she" (in part to make up for all of the misplaced "he's" in the earlier discussion). He quickly fell back into "he found this" and "he did that."

The scene was never tense, and the student leading discussion laughed at himself for his false assumption, but it makes me sad that the assumption that the author(s) was male was so stuck in his mind.


Fia said...

Oh, that is annoying. I sometimes catch myself doing that, when I read an article and am surprised when I later find out the author is female, while what I pictured was a man as the author.
I find it horrible how socialization can do such things to my mind.

BTW: Do you know this study?

I find that scary and sad.

Samia said...

When someone corrects me, especially publicly, I tend to remember the exact mistake I made. I think most people are like that. The fact that your colleague's attitude is so engrained speaks volumes.

Paulina said...

I do that all the time. I don't think I have ever assumed that an author is a she until corrected. There is an interesting test you can take to measure your bias. I'll try to find it for you.