The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality

People who consider themselves fully rational individuals are ignorant about basic psychology and their own minds.

It is easy for white men in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to perceive themselves as more rational than other groups, because our society associates rationality with whites, men, and STEM professionals. When white men in STEM fields believe in this stereotype, they might assume that bias is more common in non-white people, women, and people in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. After all, these other groups seem to want to discuss bias more often, and unexamined associative “reasoning” would link bias to those who bring up the topic of bias. Under logical scrutiny, however, it does not follow that the act of thinking about bias makes one more biased.

Green Red Blue
Purple Blue Purple


Blue Purple Red
Green Purple Green


the Stroop effect refers to the fact that naming the color of the first set of words is easier and quicker than the second.

A basic tenet of contemporary psychology is that mental activity can be unconscious. Unconscious simply refers to any mental activity that is “not conscious”, and it is not equivalent to the unscientific New Age concept of the Subconscious. A good example of unconscious mental activity interfering with conscious intentions is the Stroop effect (right). If you try to name the colours of the colour words aloud, the first set of colours will be easier to name than the second set of colours, because you unconsciously read the words. This means that you do not have full control over your thoughts and behaviour, and your willpower or logical reasoning cannot overcome the unconscious cultural bias of being able to read in English. Of course, there are other unconscious cultural biases aside from English literacy bias.

Race (Black-White IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most people have an automatic preference for white over black.

If you are a white person and you take Project Implicit®’s Race IAT (Implicit Association Test), you will probably discover that you implicitly/unconsciously prefer white faces to black faces, despite your explicit/conscious belief that white and black people are equal. (The test is called Race IAT, and it is located in a random position in the list of IATs.) If you are black, your results are less predictable, but on average, as many black people have a pro-white bias as a pro-black bias.

Like all psychology experiments, the IAT expects people to make mistakes. However, if you mistakenly associate black faces with negative words more than you mistakenly associate white faces with negative words, then it means you have an anti-black bias. Similarly, if you mistakenly associate white faces with positive words more than black faces with positive words, then you have a pro-white bias. Reaction times are another indicator of bias, e.g., if you are faster associating white faces with positive words than black faces with positive words, then you have a pro-white bias.

Gender (Gender-Science IAT). This IAT often reveals a relative link between humanities and females and between science and males.

If you take the Gender-Science IAT, you will probably discover that you cannot help but associate women with humanities and men with science, despite conscious efforts to respond in an unbiased way. (Again, the test’s position in the list of IATs is randomized.)

The scientists who created Project Implicit® did not “invent” the concept of implicit bias to advance some liberal agenda, as the explicit-versus-implicit or conscious-versus-unconscious distinction in psychology is not limited to social stereotypes. Evidence of unconscious or implicit bias abounds in psychology literature, and the social application is only a tiny slice of the studies done on unconscious/implicit bias. Similarly, the scientists are not trying to suggest that racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination are innate. The scientists are simply bringing the practical and social applications of implicit bias to the public’s attention. Project Implicit® is only the socially-relevant tip of the iceberg of implicit bias research. Thus, it is silly to accuse the scientists of conjuring up the idea of “implicit bias” for the sole purpose of proving some political point.

A social implication of the existence of implicit bias is that people’s assurances that they are “not biased” do not prove that they are unbiased. Racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and other types of discrimination can occur without people’s conscious knowledge. A white interviewer might perceive a black interviewee as unfriendly, without realizing that the negative associations come from the white interviewer’s unconscious attitudes towards blackness. A male software developer might assume that his female peer is less competent in coding and better at documentation or communication, simply because of his unconscious attitudes towards gender and skill type. A person who says, “I don’t see any discrimination at my workplace,” is not even providing a single data point towards proving lack of discrimination. If you are biased, you might not be aware of it. Your conscious attitudes towards racial and gender equality are not sufficient to show that you are unbiased.

The realization that you may have biases that you are unaware of, and that you are not as rational and objective as you assumed, can be frightening and disorienting. However, you can reduce bias by becoming aware of implicit bias within yourself and accepting that implicit bias exists in our society. This means that you should no longer maintain naïve notions that you live in a meritocracy; that you are racially “colorblind”; that racism comes from only those who self-identify as racists; that you can ignore somebody’s race and gender when you are evaluating them; or that white men in STEM fields are the last people who should worry about being biased. Ignoring bias or pretending it does not exist does not make it go away. Ignorance of bias does not indicate intellectual purity.


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53 Responses to “The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality”

  1. Flaw In The System Says:

    In not sure how good these IAT tests are, half the times i mix up my answers, its like in a tense game of Unreal I’ll sometimes dodge left instead of right because I can see im being shot at and have to do something, and immediately realise I just jumped further away from cover by accident.

    It was also (obviously) american biased (European American And African American). Or was that the whole point? Even the unconscious bias test is biased?

  2. Restructure! Says:

    In not sure how good these IAT tests are, half the times i mix up my answers, its like in a tense game of Unreal I’ll sometimes dodge left instead of right because I can see im being shot at and have to do something, and immediately realise I just jumped further away from cover by accident.

    Yes, but if it was just a matter of coordination, mistaking left for right and right for left should cancel each other out. Also see: Could the result be a function of the order in which I did the two parts?

    It was also (obviously) american biased (European American And African American). Or was that the whole point? Even the unconscious bias test is biased?

    Yes, the tests are U.S.-centric, especially the “Asian IAT”, which assumes that non-U.S. is foreign and that U.S. is domestic. As a non-American, I cannot take that test. However, I don’t see how your results on the black/white test itself should change based on your nationality, because they used faces.

  3. Flaw In The System Says:

    “As a non-American, I cannot take that test. However, I don’t see how your results on the black/white test itself should change based on your nationality, because they used faces. ”

    Your Result
    Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American.

    Your Result
    Your data suggest little or no association between Male and Female with Science and Liberal Arts.

    Tinfoil hat: Perhaps with are unconsciously answering what we feel is the “correct” answer, not what we truely think, for fear of appearing biased? (I don’t believe for a second I’m that unbiased).

  4. Restructure! Says:

    I’ve updated the post with this paragraph, since people might not understand how the IAT results are computed:

    Like all psychology experiments, the IAT expects people to make mistakes. However, if you mistakenly associate black faces with negative words more than you mistakenly associate white faces with negative words, then it means you have an anti-black bias. Similarly, if you mistakenly associate white faces with positive words more than black faces with positive words, then you have a pro-white bias. Reaction times are another indicator of bias, e.g., if you are faster associating white faces with positive words than black faces with positive words, then you have a pro-white bias.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    Flaw In The System,

    Your Result
    Your data suggest little to no automatic preference between European American and African American.

    Your Result
    Your data suggest little or no association between Male and Female with Science and Liberal Arts.

    Interesting. Your results would be in the minority, though.

    When I first took the online test years ago, I had no automatic preference between “European American and African American.” However, I took it again recently before I wrote this post, and I expected to have a slight preference for black faces.

    I was wrong.

    Apparently, I have a strong preferences for black over white now. Huh.

    For the Gender-Science IAT, I slightly associate male with science and female with liberal arts. I don’t remember my old result, probably the same.

  6. fred Says:

    restructure writes “Apparently, I have a strong preferences for black over white now. Huh.”

    I don’t know why that surprises you. Anyone who reads your blog should know that.

    For the Gender-Science IAT, I slightly associate male with science and female with liberal arts. I don’t remember my old result, probably the same.

    I would agree that both of your answers were biased. But I would distinguish between a reasonable bias and an unreasonable one. It is reasonable for one to have a slight association of males with science and females with liberal arts because there are more males in science and more females in liberal arts. Or at least, that has been my experience. If someone had the reverse association that would be unreasonable because it doesn’t conform to reality.

    Regarding the “face” bias, it may have less to do with complection and more to do with proportion of features and familiarity. There have been studies done to determine which proportions various groups find most attractive. The results show that attraction wasn’t based so much on color complection as features. That’s the reason for the “face bias” of most people. On the other hand, I would suggest that your preference was simply the manifestation of your deep-rooted bigotry.

    A quick look at these two photos should be enough to prove the point to most reasonable people.

    Ethiopian  woman

  7. JP Says:

    fred, you crack me up

  8. JP Says:

    aww man. i got a moderate association between african-american and bad. =(

  9. The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality | Geek Feminism Blog Says:

    […] This post was originally published at Restructure! […]

  10. Undercover Punk Says:

    This is an AWESOME POST! Thank you for sharing these implicit biases tests. It is SO RIDICULOUS to allege that we can “over come” our social conditioning! (trans Identity politics is predicated on this delusion) Or that we can get to a place of “pure objectivity”where it social conditioning longer impacts our desires/aspirations/motivations. *Especially* when social bias continues to hammer us on a daily and hourly basis. We ARE always influenced by unconscious biases. Get used to it, white men.

  11. Restructure! Says:

    Undercover Punk,

    No, the existence of implicit bias does not justify your transphobia.

    edit: Your implicit bias can change, but it cannot be changed by not thinking about bias.

  12. Undercover Punk Says:

    Oh, it’s not a justification for my transphobia. It’s a radical feminist critique of trans politics. Trans politics alleges that one can transcend their social conditioning and resultant biases to authentically “become” another gender. I can quote some Julia Serano if you want? I’m very familiar with her work. Trans politics is simply an example of what you’re discussing here: the myth of white male objectivity. I know you don’t want to hear it, but just remember this little post next time you hear a transwoman INSISTING that she IS THE SAME as born women, despite her male social conditioning. You don’t even have to publish my comment, I don’t care. I’m just saying.

  13. Restructure! Says:

    Sure, quote some Julia Serano.

  14. Undercover Punk Says:

    Oh, great!

    So, from WhippingGirl page 322, this excerpt is about HOW social conditioning shapes our behavior and I-dentities. Please note her “surprise.”

    For instance, during my transition, when I first began to be perceived as female on a regular basis, I was surprised by how often male strangers told me to smile — “Cheer up, things can’t be all that bad,” they’d say. Needless to say, I found those remarks condescending, as nobody dared to tell me that I should smile for them when I was perceived as male. However, despite my determination not to conform to the suggestions of patronizing strangers, I nevertheless, over time, stopped hearing such comments. Obviously, something had changed. Maybe on an unconscious level, I learned to smile more without realizing it. Or maybe it had to do with another defense mechanism that I’ve learned since living as a woman: making eye contact with strangers less often than I did when I was male, which significantly reduced occurrences of strange men harassing me. These behaviors, which are often considered feminine because women primarily exhibit them, seem to originate as an unconscious response to negotiating one’s way through the world as a woman. In other words, they appear to be primarily or exclusively social in origin.

    Yes, females have many survival techniques that one might not appreciate until she has need for the same. They are socially constructed, they are often unconscious, and they are extremely pervasive.

    Whipping Girl page 180:

    The extent to which this constant misgendering during our formative years shapes our relationship gender (and our own self-perception) cannot be underestimated.

    While I may agree, the same is true about female socialization: The extent to which this constant gendering during our formative years shapes our relationship to the world (and our own self-perception) cannot be underestimated.

    Then, from pages 240-241:

    After all, feminists regularly insist that women are capable of doing anything men can despite having been raised as girls and encouraged to take a subordinate position to men. Thus, women Can (and often do) transcend their female socialization. It remains unclear why these same feminists would paradoxically insist that trans women are unable to similarly transcend our male socialization.

    This is, in my humble opinion, a blatant misstatement about feminist theory. A woman may, under particular circumstances, choose to defy gendered social expectations or seek to remedy the ways in which gendered social expectations hold her back. But this is NOT the equivalent of comprehensive and on-going transcendence of social conditioning.

    And another admission of how she didn’t really appreciate the incredible power of female social conditioning until she lived AS a woman:

    On an intellectual level, I knew that I would sometimes he dismissed or harassed once I started living as female, but I underestimated just how frustrating and hurtful each one of those instances would be.

    So my point is merely that *whether* one can or cannot transcend socially constructed biases is at the core of trans politics (and its conflict with radical feminism). I disagree that we can overcome these constructions to such a pure extent that we no longer need to trouble with them or account for them. As I said above, the conditioning is happening all the time, every day, all around us. We can’t escape!!

    Here are my links:

    http://feminsttheoryreadinggroup.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/excerpt-whipping-girl-chapter-10-experiential-gender/

    http://feminsttheoryreadinggroup.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/whipping-girl-chapter-12-bending-over-backwards-traditional-sexism-and-trans-woman-exclusion-policies/

    http://undercoverpunk.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/some-more-excerpts-from-whipping-girl/

    And thank you, sincerely, for the opportunity to share.

  15. Undercover Punk Says:

    Sorry that last quote about UNDERESTIMATING the power of being treated badly as a female is from page 223 of Whipping Girl.

  16. Restructure! Says:

    So my point is merely that *whether* one can or cannot transcend socially constructed biases is at the core of trans politics (and its conflict with radical feminism).

    I don’t understand. Serano referred to “male socialization”, but you are referring to “socially constructed biases”, which is different. How are they the same?

  17. Undercover Punk Says:

    You’re right about the semantics, but I don’t understand your question. Social conditioning *constructs* our biases. One leads directly to he other. Male conditioning is a particular kind of bias-construction, directed specifically at humans with male genitalia. Wikipedia tells me that: “In statistics, bias is systematic favoritism that is present in the data collection process resulting in misleading results.” Right, so patriarchy constructs sexism as a bias that we all end up suffering from. But the ways in which the bias affects us, HOW we are conditioned,and how we internalize this bias depends on who we are within the (biased) system. Male conditioning results in a socially constructed biases that manifest themselves in “male” behaviors (interruption of others’ speech), desires (valuing male opinions over female ones), and expectations (that you will be served before the women at the bar). Not all of them are bad per se, but for example, male arrogance and the presumption of objectivity is a systemic favouritism– in favor of the self, that is– that leads to misleading results.The white male myth of rationality (hey,that’s your post!) is one manifestation of a bias constructed via male-specific social conditioning. Women, in general, are much less insistent on their own ability to be objective (by believing that we can put socially constructed biases aside). Serano, not only as a male-conditioned person, but also as a trans activist, is similarly insistent that transwomen can transcend their male conditioning and resultant biases–behavioral and otherwise.

    I hope this makes sense. I think I repeated myself there, and I may be missing what you’re asking, but *whether* we can transcend socially constructed biases is what I meant to be talking about. And also that I believe male social conditioning results in certain kinds of male-specific biases. Like the myth of rationality. Among others. We cannot simply de-program ourselves to pass the Implicit Association Tests. It’s much deeper than that.

  18. Restructure! Says:

    Cis women also have anti-female and misogynist bias, such as valuing male opinions over female ones, and believing that men are more rational than women. However, women are more likely to accept that anti-female and misogynist biases exist, because we are recipients of it. In your quotes, Serano’s behaviour changed pretty quickly to female-typical because society treats her like a woman. Of course she is no longer allowed to interrupt others’ speech, and of course she would no longer expect to be served first at the bar.

    Social conditioning *constructs* our biases.

    OK. Changing social conditioning would also change our biases. From Seeing Through Colorblindness: Implicit Bias and the Law (p. 48):

    Third, and most important, implicit biases are highly responsive to environmental exposure and experience.205 We have already discussed studies relevant to Grace’s Hire. Here, we shift gears to Skip’s Encounter. Preference for White over Black (measured by the IAT) decreased more following exposure to a positive depiction of Black Americans (a segment from the film Poetic Justice) than following exposure to a negative depiction (a clip of the film Black & White & Red All Over showing Black characters arguing over a gang-related incident).206 Similarly, racial attitudes were less biased on a priming procedure when Black faces were viewed in a “church” context than an “urban street corner” context.207

    Such findings raise the possibility of purposeful training with countertypical datasets. For instance, repeated exposure to a dataset that associates Black faces with positive words has decreased implicit bias, as measured by priming instruments.208 The implicit stereotype associating Blacks with athleticism can similarly be dissipated, especially among participants highly motivated not to be biased.209 And practice can attenuate the shooter bias of both police officers and lay samples210

    The point of my post isn’t that bias is hard-wired or hard-wired for adults, but that bias still exists for people who are ignorant about bias, and that ignoring bias is a bad strategy for becoming less biased.

  19. Restructure! Says:

    I discovered that the IAT site comes in Canadian, so I changed all the IAT demo links to point to the Canadian version, which correctly calls them “white people” and “black people” instead of “European American” and “African American”.

    I also took the countries IAT, and I have “a strong automatic preference for Canada compared to the United States”. I’m not sure if the test controlled for Canadian culture, because the word “peace” is included in the positive words, and there is a strong Canadian cultural stereotype that Canada is characteristically peaceful. The survey didn’t seem to control for Canadian culture, either, as the (U.S.) nationalistic values like “strong leader” over someone who is open to differences, etc. would be associated with the U.S., instead of with my own country.

  20. Hardlearn Says:

    Hi Restructure!
    As an Asian-Canadian woman, have you taken an IAT( the test linked only does black and white) to measure an implicit/unconscious bias with black,white, and yellow folks?

  21. Restructure! Says:

    Hardlearn,

    No, I have not. I wish there was an online IAT like that. However, Asian Canadians do not have an ingroup bias when it comes to recognizing Asian vs. Caucasian emotions.

  22. Undercover Punk Says:

    Yes, women also suffer from (sexist) biases. And yes, counter-conditioning is effective at reducing bias.

    Whether such counter-conditioning fully or permanently eliminates that bias (all the while we concurrently battle the relentless construction of socially dominant biases) is what I’m skeptical of. And I maintain that the answer to this question is pivotal to the conflict between trans politics and radical feminism. It is a critical point of rational divergence, not “trans phobia.”

    Also, while I find the IAT test fascinating, they are not conclusive evidence of how people display bias under complex stressors, when caught off guard, and/or when social survival is at stake. I expect that our biases are more likely to rear their ugly heads during uncontrolled conditions such as these.

  23. Restructure! Says:

    Are you suggesting that the more internalized sexism a woman has, the less woman she is?

    I think internalized sexism varies a lot between individual women, probably more than between cis women and trans women as groups (if there even is a difference a year after transitioning).

  24. Undercover Punk Says:

    Oh goodness, no! I agree that internalized sexism varies greatly amongst women of all kinds. I also believe that transwomen, such as Serano, have extremely valuable insights to offer feminism regarding how male privilege works. I further agree with Serano about the prevalence of trans-misogyny (though I don’t think we need a new word for it, it’s just everyday misogyny directed at trans people–usually transwomen).

    if there even is a difference a year after transitioning

    I may be a particularly stubborn person, but as a lesbian separatist (10 years and counting!), my entire LIFE is structured around eliminating male privilege and sexism from my life. Yet even *I* continue to suffer from internalized sexism. The bias is not eliminated just because I become conscious of it, counter-condition it, or analyze it on a daily basis.

  25. links for 2010-08-25 « Embololalia Says:

    […] The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality « Restructure! A social implication of the existence of implicit bias is that people’s assurances that they are “not biased” do not prove that they are unbiased. Racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and other types of discrimination can occur without people’s conscious knowledge. A white interviewer might perceive a black interviewee as unfriendly, without realizing that the negative associations come from the white interviewer’s unconscious attitudes towards blackness. A male software developer might assume that his female peer is less competent in coding and better at documentation or communication, simply because of his unconscious attitudes towards gender and skill type. A person who says, “I don’t see any discrimination at my workplace,” is not even providing a single data point towards proving lack of discrimination. (tags: psychology cognitive.biases privilege academia) […]

  26. Restructure! Says:

    Undercover Punk,

    You accept that internalized sexism varies greatly among women. You also believe (correctly) that internalized sexism cannot be completely eliminated. Why then are trans women inherently more biased against women than cis women, when Serano herself has much less internalized sexism than the average cis woman?

  27. Undercover Punk Says:

    Restructure!, I didn’t say that “trans women [are] inherently more biased against women than cis women.”

    I said that trans politics is predicated on the assumption that individuals CAN overcome the social construction of our world views (specifically, here, genderizing) so completely that trans women and trans men can “become” THE SAME as born-women and born-men. Which is simply not true. Men and women are socialized differently. None of us can help which gender box we’re assigned to. However, the experience of being socially constructed as a girl from birth cannot be replicated by willing yourself into a “female” framework or being voluntarily treated as woman by others later in life. I understand that it’s more complicated than that, but what I said is that wo/men and trans wo/men are substantively different identities, experiences, and ways of just BEING in the world— BECAUSE of our very different social experiences/constructions. It’s not meant to be an insult. It just IS.

  28. Jayn Says:

    That implies that how children are socialized is the only thing that affects how children develop. I think that how you identify will play as much, if not a greater, role. As someone who identifies as female, social messages aimed at female audiences will resonate with me more than messages aimed at a male audience. A big example for me is groups with both male and female characters in multimedia. I’m almost always going to identify with the (often lone) female character more than the male ones, and so I’ve often taken my cues of how I want to behave from them.

    I guess it’s a bit of an ‘I think, therefore I am’ (female) thing. Messages in our culture that relate to how I see myself sink in more readily than messages aimed at identities that I don’t claim. That includes, but is not limited to, my gender.

  29. Undercover Punk Says:

    @Jayn: “That implies that how children are socialized is the only thing that affects how children develop.”

    No, it doesn’t. Saying that something is the only influence is different than saying that one of several things is an overriding influence.

    What I’m arguing is that the impact of social conditioning on our unconscious development specifically during childhood– while are brains are not yet mature and before we figure out how to deliberately perform critical analysis– is more powerful than our conscious ability to exercise rationality (via counter-messaging). Hence, the IAT test results discussed in this post.

    Again, from Serano, Whipping Girl page 180:

    The extent to which this constant misgendering during our formative years shapes our relationship gender (and our own self-perception) cannot be underestimated.

    Gendering, misgendering, what’s the difference??* The psychological experience of genderizing shapes our self-perception and relationship to the world in a way that cannot be underestimated.

    *Don’t even try to tell me that cis people have NO difficulties embodying their assigned gender and therefore mis-gendering is more powerful that gendering in general. Because NO ONE likes being told that they can’t cry (for males) or that what matters most is being “pretty” (for females), etc, etc, etc, etc!). Gendering is powerful. More powerful that our individual attempts to “undo” it. That’s all.

  30. Restructure! Says:

    Undercover Punk,

    I said that trans politics is predicated on the assumption that individuals CAN overcome the social construction of our world views (specifically, here, genderizing) so completely that trans women and trans men can “become” THE SAME as born-women and born-men.

    This is a straw man. Women do not all have the same experiences. White women and women of colour have very different experiences of womanhood, yet racial differences in gender socialization do not mean that some women are more authentically “woman” than others.

    I understand that it’s more complicated than that, but what I said is that wo/men and trans wo/men are substantively different identities, experiences, and ways of just BEING in the world— BECAUSE of our very different social experiences/constructions. It’s not meant to be an insult. It just IS.

    The same applies with respect to white women vs. black women’s identities, experiences, and ways of being in the world. The white cis woman’s experiences are not the yardstick or standard for all women’s experiences.

  31. Restructure! Says:

    Undercover Punk,

    What I’m arguing is that the impact of social conditioning on our unconscious development specifically during childhood– while are brains are not yet mature and before we figure out how to deliberately perform critical analysis– is more powerful than our conscious ability to exercise rationality (via counter-messaging).

    Yet gender identity is unconscious, which is how Serano refers to it. Gender identity is not some kind of rational choice.

  32. Undercover Punk Says:

    Gender is a social construct– not an essential human trait that we can “discover” about ourselves. Gender does not exist independently of culture. Sex does, but gender does not. I suspect you’ll disagree. This is, again, a critical point of difference between trans and radfem theory. And, again, it’s not a phobia, it’s a rational divergence in ideological underpinnings.

    And as for your alleged “straw man”: racial, geographic, and class differences in each woman’s upbringing do not negate the commonalities of FEMALE-specific conditioning that all women are exposed to in Western cultures. For example, ALL female bodies are focused on as sexual objects. ALL females are expected to want to be mothers (here’s a doll for you to play with, my pretty!). ALL women are expected to love men and defer them (and be heterosexual). Even me, with my feminist upbringing. I was STILL exposed to these ideals of female behavior outside of my parents’ house. At school, Girl scouts, at my little friends’ houses. Etc. Etc. There *are* differences between individuals. But the overarching social theme of constructing female identities is very solid. These commonalities are, indeed, the entire BASIS of feminist analysis and critique of culture.

    And finally, my description of social conditioning is not about my personal commitment to cis-centricity. Nor am I advocating in favor of white cis social conditioning. It’s about the cis-centricity and obsession with traditional sex roles that society continuously bombards us with via media, institutions of education, nuclear family structures, and other sources of community messaging (which collectively create the phenomenon of social conditioning). I didn’t create the bias. I’m just reporting the news.

  33. Restructure! Says:

    Yes, I disagree with the claim that gender is (only) a social construct, since gender identity (not gender role) has a biological basis.

    There *are* differences between individuals. But the overarching social theme of constructing female identities is very solid. These commonalities are, indeed, the entire BASIS of feminist analysis and critique of culture.

    Except they aren’t solid. The feminist movement to liberate “women” from being housewives assumed that all women were middle-class white women, ignoring non-white and poor women who were already working as maids, factory workers, and sex workers, and never had the luxury of not working.

  34. Undercover Punk Says:

    The feminist movement did not begin with Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique. Its history is much longer than that, but I *am* familiar with the allegations against feminism that the movement is born of privilege. What does that have to do with anything? I am simply stating that the existence of generalized female social conditioning is a well-accepted reality. I can’t believe that you intend to argue otherwise, as if you have no idea what “femininity” and “masculinity” refer to or how they are socially constructed.

    And gender identity does NOT have a biological basis. Sex has a biological basis and the brain is plastic. It responds to external conditioning. This does NOT mean that we can erase the message we have been exposed to, but as we discussed above, we can reduce the neurological effects of certain experiences. We cannot, however, erase them as if our brains had a DELETE button. It would be pretty cool if it did and I’m sure a lot of people with PTSD would take advantage of such button. But unfortunately, this is still in the realm of “magic” not reality.

  35. Restructure! Says:

    Undercover Punk,

    but I *am* familiar with the allegations against feminism that the movement is born of privilege. What does that have to do with anything?

    That’s not the point. The point is that feminism is centred on the experiences of only a subset of women, and it makes the mistake of assuming that there is a universal experience of womanhood (other than identifying as female).

    I am simply stating that the existence of generalized female social conditioning is a well-accepted reality. I can’t believe that you intend to argue otherwise, as if you have no idea what “femininity” and “masculinity” refer to or how they are socially constructed.

    You are correct that I don’t know what a “generalized” female social conditioning refers to exactly. I am familiar with the general idea of femininity as it applies to white cis women, but I also know that black women are not subject to many of those “feminine” stereotypes that apply to white women.

    I don’t know how to respond to your second paragraph, because I don’t understand how someone could still think that after reading Whipping Girl.

  36. Lisa Harney Says:

    Trans politics is predicated on the idea that trans people are our correct genders and should legally and socially be treated as such. That’s where it begins and ends. That’s what’s important.

    Cherry-picking Julia Serano’s words to make your point doesn’t really show any insight into transgender politics – quite the opposite. A lot of what she wrote is a starting point for quite a few of us, but Whipping Girl is just that, a starting point. You complain on your blog that Serano takes the words of one woman to discredit feminism (and I do not agree with this interpretation at all, but let’s go with it), and you’re using the words of one woman to discredit transgender activism in general.

    If you do not grasp the impact that constant misgendering from childhood onward has on trans people, you’re not really in a position to comment on that misgendering. It’s not as if we’re living in a world where any and all socialization is handled with laser-guided missile systems and the only socialization CAMAB* children experience is intended for boys, and the only socialization CAFAB* children experience is intended for girls. It’s not as if a child who as soon as they start expressing gender see themselves as one gender over another even if it conflicts with that gender is not somehow impacted by socialization related to that gender. vs. the gender they’re allegedly supposed to be. You don’t even have a coherent interpretation of how trans people are socialized relative to cis people, since what you state about how socialization works would preclude the existence of trans people in the first place. If fe/male socialization is so powerful and pervasive in the womb and first two years of life, how does anyone defy that so much to see themselves as a different gender than they are supposedly socialized as?

    But what is this really? You’re trying to debate how many trans women can dance on the head of a pin as if this is theoretical constructs are of greater consequence than lived experiences. You focus on the socialization of children as being so supremely formative that trans women somehow think just like cis men throughout their lives and transgender politics can be collapsed into some notion of “white male rationality?”

    How does this debate help trans people live our lives without discrimination and violence? Don’t your arguments support the dominant cultural discourse that trans women are really men and thus the dominant transphobic discourse that trans people are not really who we say we are? Aren’t you ignoring the impact of daily socialization and condition that continues throughout our lives? Aren’t you ignoring the impact that institutionalized transphobia has on all trans people before as well as after they transition? How can you pretend that “male socialization” is a dominant and overriding factor in all trans women’s lives without accounting for internalized sexism, internalized transphobia, and the self-hatred both of these can engender in trans women? Can we talk about the comorbid depression many trans people experience? The high suicide rate? Can we talk about trans men at all and how they experience sexism and male privilege pre- and post-transition? You can’t deduce the totality of trans lives from a single chapter in a book intended to address specifically how culture devalues and attacks trans women.

    I totally agree with you that giving a name for the intersection of transphobia and misogyny is unnecessary, but what Julia Serano is talking about is that intersection, not just misogyny, but how misogyny is directed at trans women specifically.

    Also, I have to agree with Restructure! about “generalized female social conditioning.” That’s not just a way to promote cis womanhood as more valid and real than trans womanhood, but also a way to promote cis, white, temporarily able-bodied, neurotypical womanhood as the default “womanhood experience,” and the promotion of such a concept is one of feminism’s deepest failings. The end result is ignoring the needs of diverse populations of women, either promoting them all as having exactly the same needs (and ignoring racism, cissexism, ableism, classism, and heteronormativity and the role these play in many women’s lives) or denying their womanhood completely and excluding them from resources that in many cases, they may have helped establish (such as dV and rape shelters – quite a few trans women were active in the Second Wave, despite cissexist feminist efforts to the contrary).

    Restructure!,

    I need to retake the IAT. The last time I took the racial test, I had a bias for black over white, which surprised me. The time before that it was white over black.

    * Coercively assigned fe/male at birth

  37. Lisa Harney Says:

    (oh, wall of text…)

    Also, there’s no scientific evidence to support your (or really, anyone’s claims about the etiology of transness and gender identity, so it’s not really helpful to claim that transness arises strictly from social constructs. We can’t make any claim about that.

    And also, since I know you’re talking about transsexual women, I’m kind of disturbed that you would talk about the biological basis of sex (and ignore how sex is itself socially constructed from constellations of physical traits) but dismiss the possibility that the need to actually physically transition has any biological basis at all.

    You’re making the assumption that because it is called “gender identity” that it is a social construct just as gender roles are. And can we talk about how powerful social constructs are, instead of positioning them as simply false and apparently superficial for some (as in, trans) people while not really critiquing gender identity in most (as in cis) people?

  38. NancyP Says:

    There are a few universals in female social conditioning:
    1. Men are more important.
    2a. Women do not have inalienable rights to their own labor.
    2a. Women are to perform unpaid labor for their families.
    3. Women must fear violence inflicted by men.

    Of course men also get the same messages, but from the side of entitlement. Men also get additional conditioning, as do women.

    There aren’t very many women, or men, in the world who don’t receive these 3 basic messages.

    Transwomen may experience the impact of those messages fully later in life, when living full-time female, but face it, they hear the messages early in life and have to deal with the explicit misogyny of the butching-up process.

  39. Lisa Harney Says:

    Yeah, it’s not that simple.

    Please don’t cissplain to me what my socialization was like.

  40. Lisa Harney Says:

    That’s super terse.

    What I mean is, I wouldn’t make any assumptions about how trans people are socialized on the basis of how cis people experience socialization. And I really wouldn’t spend much time focusing on socialization at all because it’s pretty irrelevant in the face of sexism and cissexism.

  41. Lisa Harney Says:

    oh oh and can we talk about how trans people are socialized to be completely invisible as trans and basically denied our gender entirely and how abusive and traumatic that can be or is it going to be erased to simply talk about how everyone perceived as a cis boy gets male privilege and receives socialization that they interpret as a cis boy? Or is intersectionality and kyriarchy a lost cause here?

    And can we talk about how cis women are socialized to be cissexist and how this means they throw their cis privilege around by writing long rambling screeds about how assumed male socialization defines trans women for our entire lives?

    And my second comment: I mean when talking about what trans people face, focusing on how our socialization supposedly invalidates our gender or is somehow relevant to the day-to-day over focusing on the effects of sexism and cissexism on us at any particular time in our lives. Obviously socialization is important in that we all pick up socially approved busted messages.

  42. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    I have long had a problem with these “implicit” bias tests and I hope someone can explain this. I remember one time taking such a test which asked the question “Are you Islamophobic?” Now at that point in my life I was far from Islamophobic, I had a copy of the Quran, spent a lot of my free time with Muslims, was genuinely interested in Islamic history and culture, had marched against the war in Iraq, etc. Incidentally in the long period since then I have met many more Muslim friends, traveled to two Muslim countries and one Muslim territory, continued reading the Quran, learned Al Fatiha and most of the verses used in Salaat, and am currently engaged to a woman of an Islamic background.

    Despite all that, when I started to take the Islamophobia test, it seemed to me that the test was literally forcing me to associate negative words with Islam and Muslims. If you are familiar with magic and card tricks a “force” is something you do so that a volunteer will pick the card you want even if they think it is entirely their will. David Copperfield once pulled such a trick on TV, where viewers were told to move about a square made of cards while he removed them in sequence. In the end, despite the fact that the viewer had some freedom to move almost anywhere they want, Copperfield inevitably trapped them on one particular card. This is what I felt on the test

    Now maybe I don’t remember the details so I’ll try taking one of these tests again, but I remember being faced with some illogical choices, for example, I HAD to put Muslims on the side with negative words otherwise my response would come off as irrational(it had something to do with words already on the screen and their re-arrangement or inversion with one another). Like I said, I have to take it again, but it seems manipulated. Unless I seriously misunderstood the directions, something was definitely wrong because I am definitely not Islamophobic.

  43. Lisa Harney Says:

    No, it really doesn’t force you to associate Muslims with negative words. It may feel that way when you want the outcome to match your conscious preferences rather than implicit bias. What really helps to see how these tests work is to take them more than once.

    And if the test says you have a bias against Muslims, it’s not saying you’re Islamophobic. It’s saying you have a bias against Muslims. That may be Islamophobia, it may not.

    And seriously, I felt the same way you did when I took the black/white IAT the first time. After I took it again, I saw that the distribution was not quite so stacked, I was just a bit oversensitive because I didn’t want to think of myself as racist.

  44. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Ok but I really don’t see how I have a “bias” against Muslims. I did what the test told me to do. When they put “bad” with one side and “good” on the other, I’m not going to associate “terrible” with good unless I’m really not paying attention or my finger slips. I just believe that this test isn’t really empirical. As I was doing it(I just recently did the US vs. Canada test and got bizarre results), my thought process ebbs and flows- a picture of a US dollar appears, I’m on the ball and I quickly sort it to the US side. A second later I might be thinking about my last answer, the test in general, or noticing some background sound, and then I sort “Toronto” in a slightly longer time. This means basically nothing. Without know exactly how concentrated a person is on the task(and it is impossible to focus solely on one thing like that), we can’t really measure the results accurately.

  45. Lisa Harney Says:

    When I’ve taken the IAT tests black people were both on the good side and the bad side, and I imagine that the Islamophobia test was the same. The test measures how quickly you react when people are associated with certain words. When you do it the first time, it’s easy to think that because you’re seeing black people or Muslims associated with negative words that you’re being trained to react to them as negative words, but that’s not actually how it stands out. You may be primed to look for those associations and take them personally, and even inflate their importance over the other associations because it can feel like it’s trying to push you into a certain response.

    But it’s really not trying to push you into certain responses. It’s not a big conspiracy to prove people are racist or sexist or Islamophobic, it’s just there to test your implicit bias, and see how you react when you don’t really have time to think it through. That’s all.

    And the bias itself does not measure your worth as a human being. The bias is because you know we’re all inundated with this racist and sexist crap, right? That doesn’t mean we can’t all consciously choose to do better, right?

  46. Lisa Harney Says:

    I mean, these tests had to pass ethics boards and peer review I don’t believe most universities’ are going to put stuff up that are meant to trick people into thinking things about themselves that aren’t true because no ethics board would allow that kind of in real life trolling. And given the nature of race and gender in the US, I especially doubt that this would be perpetrated on white people or men.

    So, really, if you get along with your Muslim friends? Great, is there even a problem? Is that bias the IAT highlighted actually making you think of them less than human? Or do you actually make an effort to be a real friend and consciously see them as equals?

    These tests don’t say whether you’re a bad or a good person, that’s based on what you do.

  47. Restructure! Says:

    Now maybe I don’t remember the details so I’ll try taking one of these tests again, but I remember being faced with some illogical choices, for example, I HAD to put Muslims on the side with negative words otherwise my response would come off as irrational(it had something to do with words already on the screen and their re-arrangement or inversion with one another). Like I said, I have to take it again, but it seems manipulated. Unless I seriously misunderstood the directions, something was definitely wrong because I am definitely not Islamophobic.

    Yes, one part you had to put Muslims on the side with negative words, but for the other necessary part that is used to compare, you had to put Muslims on the side with positive words.

    It doesn’t mean that you are “Islamophobic”, but that you may have an anti-Muslim bias. Muslims (especially those who were raised in a non-Muslim-majority country) can have anti-Muslim biases too, so you having Muslim friends, etc. does not invalidate the test.

  48. White people empathize with animals over non-white people. « Restructure! Says:

    […] The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality […]

  49. wat Says:

    Wait, I’m confused…I expected this post to contain some kind of info about aggregate or average IAT scores among white male STEM professionals. To debunk the myth of white male geek rationality, wouldn’t you need to prove that white male geeks do *not* in fact have lower IAT bias-scores than the population at large?

  50. Restructure! Says:

    Well, the myth of white male geek rationality is based on the intuition that people who discuss bias are themselves biased, and that the social sciences are a bunch of woo such that learning about it would make one more susceptible to bias. It would be a step forward if most white male geeks were aware of the IAT and the notion of “unconscious” bias (which some people may dismiss as woo, because of its word-association with the woo term, “the Subconscious”).

    That’s an interesting study idea, though. However, the post itself talks about white versus black averages, and whites have higher race bias scores than blacks.

  51. Latrell Johnson Says:

    To be black in america in 2010 is to have it made: special advanges, preferential treatment, affirmative action, race-based government-sanctioned “set-aside’s”, and all of that going unchecked and unchallenged for four decades! Ah, but wait .. now that I think about it .. there is that issue about the genetic factor, slavery, I.Q., etc. etc.

  52. Eloise Says:

    Oh, is THIS why I, a Native American (“red” Indian, First Nations, American and Canadian Indian, whichever you want to call it, even call me “Latina” if you must!) female Biology major can’t get a damn JOB in my field to save my life. I find myself, looking at my resume, and approaching 40, having had a lifetime of desperately taking typist or data entry jobs since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree (and a lot of Call Center jobs) to desperately avoid winding up on the streets as I apply and apply and apply for entry level lab technician jobs in my field. I’m a dual citizen (by virtue of being First Nations) US and Canada but when I was in Canada I wasn’t made to feel any differently about my job prospects in my field than I have been here in the US. So it is, as I suspect, a combination of my skin colour (perceived “race”) and gender and as of lately, “advanced age.”

  53. Restructure! Says:

    Eloise,

    I’m sorry about your situation, although I know many people in similar situations, racialized people with Bachelor’s degrees who are taking jobs like typist, data entry, etc. It’s probably a combination of implicit bias and lack of white connections.


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