One of the topics I tackle in the Undead Sexist Cliches book is statistics, and how they supposedly explain men getting the best jobs and the top positions in everything.
Male and female performance statistics overlap quite a lot. The average woman and man scored on pretty much any skill are going to be closer to each other than the best and worst man (or woman) are. When you graph the stats, however, the male bell curve spreads out much further than the female: the very best and the very worst are both men.
This, according to a number of articles I’ve read over the years, is why men rule, girls drool. Okay, not drool, but obviously if the very best in (for example), STEM fields are always men, it’s no surprise women don’t get the plum jobs. What woman in physics can match up with Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer? No discrimination at all, no sirree bob.
There are a number of problems with this argument. First off, the assumption that because the very best people in the field are men, therefore the men applying for a job must be better than the women. This does not follow: Einstein was a genius but that doesn’t mean every man who applies must be closer to Einstein than the female applicants are. Most people are going to fall into that big average bulge at the center of the Bell curve. That’s the nature of averages. And given that men occupy the bottom of the skill distribution too, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to assume that the average woman has a good chance to be better than the male applicants? Indeed, one study found women who apply for STEM jobs tend to be above average, possibly because only an exceptional woman thinks she has a shot.
About 15 years ago, Larry Summers made a speech on why women were underrepresented in STEM: in his opinion, they just weren’t as good. Several right-wing pundits, such as John Leo and Walter Williams, cheered him and insisted his argument should end any talk of sexism or bias affecting women’s chances. But that’s a load of codswallop. I’ve read lots of stories of women winning traditionally male jobs and the response is rarely “Wow, you must be way better than the average woman. I’m impressed to have you on my team!” It’s more likely “affirmative action” or “tokenism” or “who did she blow to get that job?” One bank back in Florida, for instance, discovered the president had promoted a woman he was having an affair with; they promptly demoted every woman he’d promoted.
And if all else fails, there’s the old “Why is that bitch taking a man’s job?”
So no, statistics do not prove we live in a post-sexism world.
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