Monday, September 5, 2016

Reflecting misogyny: Academic feminism is harming women?!

A surprising story from Clay Routledge, PhD in Psychology Today: "Is modern academic feminism harming women?" - The article is number 1 on Psychology Today as I write.

My gut reaction is that it's probably not harming women as much as he's going to tell me it is, and that means I need to read on. I don't know Clay Routledge but I will look into his work later.

Here's a few quotes from the first few paragraphs.

"There are fields in which men still outnumber women, but at the same time women have pretty much taken over a number of disciplines such as psychology and veterinary medicine. Women can now freely choose whatever career path they want and are making their choices based on personal preferences and priorities."

"...many feminist scholars and some journalists are not celebrating. Instead, they continue to advance a narrative in which women are perpetually victimized by men. They tend to ignore or dismiss data that challenge their narrative."

Well, that's curious. I wasn't aware that women had pretty much taken over psychology. I know most of my colleagues are female, but have they taken it over? What would that look like? Of the last 10 American Psychological Association Presidents, 6 were female. The next is male. Of the top 5 social psychology journals (ranked by impact factor), I find four males and four females listed as editors. The APA noted in 2011 that female PhD candidates outnumbered males and wondered if it was because males were scared off by stagnant salaries. In another piece in 2014, the figure below displays a change in proportion over time, but strangely enough, males still outnumber females at the top. More recently, this piece details other problems, noting that for every practicing male psychologist, there are 2.1 female psychologists, and that the gap is even wider among minorities.

Proportion of Male and Female Faculty at each Academic Rank, 1985 and 2013
So there are a lot of women in psychology, but I'd hardly say women have taken over. I'm also not a fan of free choice as an explanation of how we choose our careers. Worse than that, though, is the assertion that many feminist scholars ignore or dismiss data that challenge their narrative. Dude, didn't the data in my previous paragraph cross your mind when you wrote that sentence about women taking over psychology? At this point I don't know where your narrative is going, but it looks to me like you're dismissing several examples of males retaining power at the top of journals (alongside women) and outnumbering women at the highest levels of university in order to run with a narrative that intends to portray feminists as persisting with a fight that's already been won.  Let's see.

And then I feel quite conflicted. We are led to an article in Time by Christina Hoff Sommers that focuses on dispelling myths that some feminist scholars keep reciting. It's interesting stuff. She pushes for us to drop the myths and focus on the facts. I believe that very few people actually deal in factual information here and many will have used numbers that are inaccurate, but Hoff Sommers doesn't seem heavy on providing the real numbers here, which leaves the impression that she's saying if the numbers are wrong then the information isn't true. Which leads her to suggest that men are not sustaining a rape culture, for example. The problem is that even if she's right about the inaccuracies, I'm not sure how this approach will help - she says it will. I suspect The Factual Feminist will explain things better but I'm not going there for now. Back to Clay.

Oh. Next he's interviewing Hoff Sommers. And here things get better. Below are some key points that help me understand what Hoff Sommers is saying. There's probably something to it, but it's somewhat diluted by the paragraph-long questions that Routledge is asking.

  • Modern feminism tends towards benevolent sexism. Trigger warnings and safe spaces are infantilizing.
  • Female college students are some of the most privileged members of society but are coddled against a phantom patriarchy.
  • Too many gender scholars subscribe to a 'women-as-victims' narrative and try to 'knock down open doors'
And here's another quote from Clay Routledge:

"The concern is that since most social psychologists are liberals, when they study topics such as prejudice or intolerance they tend to focus on domains most likely to capture bias and discrimination among conservatives. If this can be a problem even in empirical fields, should we be especially concerned about this in more qualitative fields such as gender studies? Is there any debate going on in fields like gender studies about a lack of viewpoint diversity and liberal bias and how to combat these issues?"

Whose concern is that?

My own concern is that Routledge is pushing an agenda that is not supportive of genuine diversity. He therefore reasserts his opinion that women have it pretty good now and should stop feeling oppressed, using Hoff Sommers as a form of evidence. This while expressing a concern that there are too many liberals in social psychology.

So how do we best describe this piece? It has anti-feminist undertones, and appears to use the opinions of Hoff Sommers to advance the author's own concerns, which seem to be to do with combat against liberal bias. Is it actually calling for misogyny but disguising it as a less coddling version of feminism? I'm still puzzled about the title - it's not entirely clear who is harming women and how.

Read with caution.

Note: Christina Hoff Sommers is Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative thinktank.

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