Of Snap Judgments and Sexism

Fascinating post today in CopyBlogger – Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants. It’s a female writer outing herself; she’s been writing under a male pseudonym for the last three years. She’d tried under her real name, but started working under a second name because she didn’t want her own name to be associated with a failing business. Inadvertently, she started an experiment, because the name she’s picked was a man’s name. Finally she started having more success, which she attributes to people thinking she was a man. That’s such a brief overview, and I recommend you read the whole article, because it’s good.

Anyway, I tweeted this with the comment “It’s not always overt, but sexism is still alive and well :'(“. And I continued to think about it.

Her situation – working as a freelancer, often for one off, seems like it would be one of many quick decisions about whether or not to hire her. Perhaps even, snap judgments? Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Amazon), in car dealerships. In an experiment, car dealers were found to offer women (and black people) higher prices than they offered white men.

Credit: Flikr / myoldpostcards
Credit: Flikr / myoldpostcards

As I write this, the article has been tweeted 1866 times and has 463 comments. And I think it’s a good thing, because it’s good that we’re having this conversation. How long ago would this kind of discrimination, overtly done, not generated any comment? Not that long. And this isn’t, I don’t think, overt. It’s about snap judgments. We’ve been proven to be discriminatory in our snap judgments, against women and against black people (more thoroughly discussed in Blink). But – we’re not as discriminatory in our long term relationships anymore. The response to the article shows how far we’ve come.

As a women in tech, I’ve seen this. The look on someone’s face when you walk into a room of men I think it says, “is she lost?”. A guy I know (and like!) on meeting me started telling me the difference between a computer scientist and a software engineer quite recently. But – I also see that it’s a quick perception, and for most people it’s immediately changed by saying, or showing that no, you’re not lost. By speaking fluent geek, or making or doing stuff that demonstrates you know what you’re about.

I think there are two lessons we can take from this. In our treatment of other people, we can learn to be aware of our snap judgments and consider our biases before we act on them. (Note, the only thing they found effective to reduce bias was reading or watching positive things about the group that you’re biased against – so instead of complaining about sexism we should put out and promote great stories of women doing awesome things).

Lesson two – for ourselves – if we take from this that all things being equal, a man will beat out a women in perception… let’s strive to make things unequal instead. This doesn’t mean complaining, it means demonstrating our value better, educating ourselves so we perform better, and beating out on our capabilities, instead.

9 thoughts on “Of Snap Judgments and Sexism

  1. I too was shocked by that piece. Especially since during some dark, depressing times I’ve actually thought about creating a fake female persona in hopes of getting more work.

  2. I too was shocked by that piece. Especially since during some dark, depressing times I’ve actually thought about creating a fake female persona in hopes of getting more work.

  3. I like your thoughts on this subject, but I’m not so sure it’s as simple as proving you have what it takes to counter snap judgments. I read JC’s blog and she says that although her work quality was the same, she consistently got more corrections and negative comments sent back to her on pieces when under her female than under her male name. Makes on think.

  4. I like your thoughts on this subject, but I’m not so sure it’s as simple as proving you have what it takes to counter snap judgments. I read JC’s blog and she says that although her work quality was the same, she consistently got more corrections and negative comments sent back to her on pieces when under her female than under her male name. Makes on think.

  5. The James Chartrand story is an interesting data point, and it raises a number of additional questions. Did merely writing under a pseudonym free the writer to worry less about the potential consequences of writing something perhaps less representative of the image she wanted to project for herself? (Remember: The Internet never forgets.) What would happen if we got 1000 writers to write a series of articles under randomly-chosen pseudonyms that they were never allowed to see? Would the results vary with the perceived gender in the name? Would they vary by the field or by the demographics of the audience?

    Anyway, you might find this article on ERV interesting, which asserts that the knee-jerk reaction of promoting women just because they’re women is equally degrading.

    By the way, ERV is a great blog: it’s both entertaining and informative. Check out this article on drug-resistant prions, for example. (Mad cow disease is caused by prions.)

  6. The James Chartrand story is an interesting data point, and it raises a number of additional questions. Did merely writing under a pseudonym free the writer to worry less about the potential consequences of writing something perhaps less representative of the image she wanted to project for herself? (Remember: The Internet never forgets.) What would happen if we got 1000 writers to write a series of articles under randomly-chosen pseudonyms that they were never allowed to see? Would the results vary with the perceived gender in the name? Would they vary by the field or by the demographics of the audience?

    Anyway, you might find this article on ERV interesting, which asserts that the knee-jerk reaction of promoting women just because they’re women is equally degrading.

    By the way, ERV is a great blog: it’s both entertaining and informative. Check out this article on drug-resistant prions, for example. (Mad cow disease is caused by prions.)

  7. Rob – you’re hilarious!

    Rachelle – that’s so depressing :'( I still think writing freelance is likely different than most other professions, but perhaps I’m just deluded.

    Dwayne – quite! Someone should organize a study! Hard to do that in this context though, but borrow Blink off me – you’ll probably find it interesting.

  8. Rob – you’re hilarious!

    Rachelle – that’s so depressing :'( I still think writing freelance is likely different than most other professions, but perhaps I’m just deluded.

    Dwayne – quite! Someone should organize a study! Hard to do that in this context though, but borrow Blink off me – you’ll probably find it interesting.

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