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Feminism and confirmation bias

(129 Posts)
jennyvstheworld Sun 14-Aug-11 18:03:35

It is an incontravertible truth that equality of opportunity is still often lacking in the UK and continues to require our attention. It is also true that power in society is achieved by adopting attributes more often found amongst men. Let us say, therefore, that the general tenets of feminism are correct.

Some people, however, seem to believe that because they are feminists (and because there is veracity in the notion of feminism), they themselves are incapable of making either an incorrect or even tenuous statement.

Mass generalisations are habitual, statistics - cherry-picked blindly from research without consideration of context or criteria - are thrown about to support dubious claims and the most minute and inconsequential event can be twisted to demonstrate conspiracy and oppression.

I offer the following as a statement made on this thread that no one saw fit to challenge:

"but where are the "good" male role models going to come from? men show no interest in teaching, little interest in community work, they are en masse opting out."

There are no good male role models? Men show no interest in teaching?? Men are not interested in community work? They are en masse opting out? (opting out of what - society? Community?) All four of these statements are erroneous and offensive and yet not one person - from all those who claim to believe in fairness and an end to the judgement of a person based on their gender - took issue with this.

This is just one of many examples. I have also seen opprobrium levelled at single-mothers and SAHMs. I have seen praise offered to successful women concurrent with condemnation of their male peers despite both forming part of the 'patriarchy'. There have also been a hundred other ill-conceived ideas that are accepted or condoned through silence because they fall under the feminist banner.

So my question is this: we are all guilty of confirmation bias to some extent; how guilty is feminism?

I will be interested to see how many replies demonstrate the hypothesis.

Ibiyemi73 Sun 14-Aug-11 21:19:46

How biast are you?

sparky680 Sun 14-Aug-11 21:25:27


TrillianAstra Sun 14-Aug-11 21:30:01


sparky680 Sun 14-Aug-11 21:31:00


BeerTricksPotter Sun 14-Aug-11 21:34:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

organicgardener Sun 14-Aug-11 21:52:22

I remember the rant on the thread the selection is from.

But I ignored it because it's just radical babble.

BeerTricksPotter Sun 14-Aug-11 22:12:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsReasonable Sun 14-Aug-11 23:26:34

I do feel that sometimes posters make the mistake of thinking that the feminist position/opinion is the correct one, rather than a (quite possibly correct) ideological interpretation.

sunshineandbooks Sun 14-Aug-11 23:33:32

Everyone is guilty of confirmation bias to some extent. That's why academic research has to follow such strict protocols and robust peer review. You're obviously not going to get quite the same rigor on a parenting website, which is mostly an exchange of opinions and discussion more than an academic exercise.

There is some confirmation bias in your opening paragraph. Women who adopt successful masculine traits are quite often penalised for using the same behaviour in the same context. It's not masculine attributes that confer success, just masculinity. So, in your first paragraph you made an erroneous statement to support your opening argument...

Admittedly I don't know much about volunteering gender divisions, but a very quick google managed to immediately turn up the following statement from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics." As confirmation bias goes, the gap was less than I was expecting, though still significant when you consider the greater domestic responsibilities facing women which gives them significantly less free time.

Also, it's not erroneous to say that men feature very marginally in teaching. Figures from the General Teaching Council for England (2010) show that almost three-in-10 primaries are now staffed entirely by women. Male teachers make up just 12 per cent of the primary school workforce and just 44 men work in state-run nurseries. There was a 50% increase in teacher training applications from men last year, believed to be due to the recession mostly, but even if all those applicants completed training and began working, they would still only make up about 30% of primary school teachers.

Of course none of that is incontrovertible proof that men are "opting out". That was simply an expressed opinion by another poster. However, the data that opinion was based on exists. You could undoubtedly find other data to demonstrate men acting in a community-minded way - everyone has their own confirmation bias as you say. For example, I'm sure most inner-city football clubs aimed at disadvantaged youths have far more male workers than female. But when it comes to caring for and educating children (arguably the most influential ways of being involved in society and affecting the outcomes of the next generation), men are not doing it anywhere near as much as women. That's not opinion or confirmation bias, just fact.

Some feminists can spout prejudiced rubbish as much as the next person. Generally though I see a lot less of it in this section, and I see a lot more thought about how offensive a post may be than I do elsewhere on MN (or in RL for that matter).

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 00:03:38

Sunshine 2nd paragraph, yes, very fair point that that happens, but that doesn't make my observation erroneous.

3rd paragraph - in all liklihood there genuinely are more women in the voluntary sector. One could attribute this to compassion/guilt (not sure if this stands up to scrutiny) or maybe suggest that more men are in fulltime employment (across all age groups) - I'd argue with you about women generally having less free time!! The fact remains that the original post is obviously incorrect.

4th - Who said marginal? The statement is 'men have no interest in teaching'. Tell that to all the male teachers. I'm not sure why you only quote primary schools - that must surely make the situation look worse than it is overall. Doesn't the education system last until PhD?

5th - yes, I am quite sure that you are correct. Was this the case a generation ago though? Do we know what the impact is of the increasing concerns over paedophilia, say. I would suggest that some people would be suspiscious about a man working with children, such is the climate sometimes. Guilty until proven innocent is a common belief now - it came up a lot in the 'aggressive chat-up' thread.

Generally - the post wasn't really about the specifics of that post though, and you're right that in RL there is quite probably more BS than there is here. However, most people aren't self-proclaimed activists for social change - most people just get on with their lives without a great deal of thought about how it all works (I'm not advocating this by any means). It's the hypocrisy that gets me - the way someone, believing themselves more moralistic than Joe Public, can pontificate and judge and yet still be as fallible to prejudice, arrogance and conceit.

PS Thank you for taking the time to respond.

sparky680 Mon 15-Aug-11 07:52:49

i dont believe in stastistics ect-in fact i dislike them.
im also not scared to say if im wrong and i hope i dont come across as moralistic-i certainly dont feel moralistic.
so...actually-are you guilty of this youreself?[not arguing]
[how guilty is feminism]-well-again-are you not guilty youreself?
reason being....the said above.

sparky680 Mon 15-Aug-11 07:59:45

sorry-i didnt explain the end bit very well-
[how guilty is feminism...................well-again............]
if you say this-you are forgetting that people are individual in this also.

ninjasquirrel Mon 15-Aug-11 08:47:39

As you say, 'confirmation bias' affects how everyone sees the world, how much credibility they give to new pieces of information, and almost everyone is sometimes guilty of making generalisations and ill-thought through arguments. Feminists are obviously not immune to this.

But I think your question "How guilty is feminism?" doesn't make sense, it should be "Are feminists more guilty of this than other groups in society / people who subscribe to other political views?" I doubt that's true - I think it's all about a. personality, and b. context (if you're posting hurriedly on an internet forum then I think it's easy to make careless statements).

Your argument in your last post is that feminists should hold themselves to higher standards than others because they presume to judge others. But everyone judges other people! Perhaps it just becomes more obvious to you when it's done in a way that doesn't necessarily match the social norms.

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 15:14:50

That's exactly what I'm saying Ninja. For example, when the political expenses scandal broke I had no sympathy with arguments that they (the politicians) simply went along with procedure just as most people do. Politicians are elected because they are supposed to possess and exercise good judgement. To my mind they should be constantly thinking about what they do from a strong ethical foundation. If they had done this, they would have accepted that it is not correct for the taxpayer to purchase duck-houses etc... Similarly, I think that someone who is actively involved in promoting equality should be extra careful that they themselves treat people fairly. On that basis I do not agree that it is a defence to suggest that one is no better or worse than anyone else.

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 15:20:07

But you, OP, can't be free from confirmation bias. That's the whole point, surely? Isn't that why double-blind studies are usually taken as the most reliable?

Feminism is clearly 'guilty' of confirmation bias, because it's a political movement comprised of people. Any other movement, group or individual would yield the same result.

Studies can do a lot, and I'm very fond of citing research if it exists. Seems to me, though, that if we are to adopt 'confirmation bias' as an easy way of discounting the testimonies of disempowered groups then feminism is shooting itself in the foot.

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 17:20:14

Absolutely not free at all VG! As a consequence I'm very grateful to all the erudite and patient people whom I meet who discuss issues on which we disagree. In fact, I actively seek out alternative opinions (have you noticed wink?)! As SB points out above, however, this is not an academic forum and rigor is not applied.

My observation is that there is a general trend on this threads (and it is general rather than exclusive) for applying rigorous condemnation of all manner of behaviours, vocabulary and structures that are percieved to disadvantage or disparage women, but hardly any censure at all where someone indulges in the same practices in reverse. I apologise if my post appears to suggest that feminism - either in RL or on MN - should be discredited; this was not my intention at all. My suggestion is that the changes that some people are working very hard for are undermined by those who are entrenched in a polarised position. This being the case, why are such extreme views tolerated when toleration of unacceptable views are surely something feminism is inherrently working against?

Just as some would argue that it is just as important to campaign against the small issues as the large ones, is it not just as important to take to task those who only serve to exacerbate negative stereotypes of feminists?

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 18:59:45

But if you won't engage with the statistics offered - preferring to airily dismiss them as 'cherry-picked' - and you dismiss the opinions and experiences of individuals as habitual 'mass generalisations', what on earth makes you qualified to sit back as a self-appointed examiner for flaws? How can you possibly construct a little test of your own devising and then triumphantly inform the board as a whole that it has failed, without engaging with sunshineandbooks' post that actually supports your original 'test' statement?

If you take it as true that this board as a whole tolerates and even promotes misandry (which I don't), is it really such an earth-shattering conclusion that a message board populated by women collectively fails to pick up on every single 'slight' on men? Particularly when that slight is constructed in such a way that it chimes in with broad narratives already in place with regard to male role models? Particularly when the board that you are testing has already stated - as a collective - that this is a space in which women's experiences are privileged? Confirmation bias - though perhaps not in the negative way you position it - is openly acknowleged in this space.

I appreciate that a devil's advocate position can be a useful rhetorical tool - it's one I use myself. But you aren't following it through with any conviction whatsoever. You offer nothing up as a contrasting position, preferring to be an empty vessel - you offer nothing to suggest, for example, that sunshineandbooks is incorrect, preferring to fall back on the stance I identify at the beginning of this post and pose a series of rhetorical questions. When confronted, you prefer to say something like 'aha! How hypocritical!' - strongly implying that a poster is 'attacking' your view rather than the frankly ineffectual manner in which you present it.

It is divisive that you do this to posters. It is ineffective when it is your only style of debate. It is particularly irking when all of this is put into place in order for you to present yourself as a guardian of feminism, watchful for those women who would bring down the movement with their adherence to negative stereotypes.

I'm just baffled by you.

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 19:54:08

If that's how you view my posts then I can see how you would be baffled. It does seem to me that what you state as fact about my position, my 'style' and attitude are actually just your own perceptions though - not that this leads to a caveat or two in your summary, far from it.

A question, then, to qualify your allegations: you suggest I simply dismiss statistics, but then sunshineandbrooks' statistics concerned only primary schools, but were used to defend a statement that men showed no interest in education. I do not need to go very far to point out that statistics which exclude the majority of the education system do not offer a clear picture. Nor should it be contentious to suggest that a minority of men in education is not proof of a lack of interest by men - either in general or specifically by those who form said minority. If I were to say that the lack of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms demonstrates a lack of interest by women in the economy, would you think this was fair? Would you criticise at length someone who took issue with me for proposing that this was the case? If I was to take the argument to lengths of some on these threads (note use of the word some VG, because you seem to have missed it previously) I could then suggest that the finincial crisis was women's fault for not engaging with the economy. A ridiculous position, of course, but equivilent to the original assertion that the London riots were due to men's unwillingness to engage with community; a position which you appear to be defending.

But, did you not wish to consider the hypothesis? Choosing instead to offer a critique of the manner in which I engage in these threads seems too easy. It simply isn't sufficient to answer my post with 'well, we're women and don't pick up every slight against men'. The proposition is not that basic and I know that you are quite capable of challenging this position rather than dismissing it; I really would be interested in your opinion on this!

sunshineandbooks Mon 15-Aug-11 20:23:52

Jenny, I only included education from 0-11 (which is actually 2/3rds of the educational period, assuming education to age 16) because that's all I could easily find official stats for. I couldn't quickly find the equivalent for secondary from an official govt. or industry source so I left it out.

From a less verifiable source I have found that 55% of teachers at secondary school are female, which still places men in the minority. If you add the two together for all ages and come up with an average, teaching is definitely a female-dominated profession.

As most primary carers are female as well, it demonstrates pretty strongly that men are not as involved with children as are women.

I'm not sure you could compare male teaching with women entering the City. It's not so much about interest in the professions as it is about practical difficulties. For example, we know that the long hours culture actively prevents many women from taking up professional roles that they would love to do and would be good at it if they weren't primary carers. Every so often in the "lifestyle media; there are articles about women who have 'made it' in these sectors - many of them have an army of paid staff or have simply turned traditional gender roles on their heads and have male partners playing the role of primary carer. Quite a lot just never had children or left soon after. Taking maternity leave can kill a career in these sectors. The same practical difficulties are just not there for men entering traditionally female sectors.

THere is, of course, quite a useful discussion to be had about how cultural conditioning sways men and women into certain areas (e.g. female nurse, male banker). However, I think for women they have a double whammy - it's not just cultural norms, it's practical difficulties. For men it's much simpler and more about cultural norms.

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 20:25:38

I genuinely haven't seen anything to suggest that you weren't referring to the board as a whole, other than the single point at the beginning of your OP 'some people' who think that because they are feminist, everything they say is feminist. The rest of your OP implies very strongly that you're talking about the board as a whole, with words such as 'habitual', that 'no one' picked up on your test, and that we are all guilty of confirmation bias.

I am not offering a critique of the way you engage, you are free to engage however you like; I was pointing out how frustrating it is that you don't actually engage. Similarly, my point that a board full of women who prioritise women's experience are likely to fail your test wasn't an answer, it was pointing out that your test was flawed from its inception. I haven't dismissed your position; in your OP, you didn't ask for people to engage with the hypothesis. You asked how guilty feminism is of confirmation bias. For the record, I haven't 'defended' anything with regard to male role models or the lack of them. The only intention of my post was to observe that your methods are flawed.

As it goes, I don't think that your comparison between male teachers and FTSE 100 board directors is fair, because to compare those groups isn't fair. There are barriers facing a would-be woman director that don't match those of a would-be male teacher.

National Statistics online document a drop in male secondary school teachers of around 60,000 between 1981-1998. In the same period, the numbers of female teachers fell, in real terms, by 1,000. I can only hypothesise why this would be - greater retirements in men, the last remaining effects of the marriage bar, the perception of teaching as a 'female' profession with the associate loss in status, meaning that young men no longer want to enter it, who can say. Nevertheless, in 2005 the percentage of women teachers in secondary schools was 56%, suggesting that there are plenty of men remaining in the education system. Whether or not any of these teachers are decent role models, I have no way of knowing.

This would have been more interesting coming from you. If you had offered this, perhaps the seeds of a debate could have been sown. It's a shame.

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 20:40:49

I'm not sure it really matters what I write.

Can you not differentiate between 'some' people making false statements and 'all' people failling to take issue with those same false statements? This doesn't seem so complicated!

Also, if I say that the statement 'men are not interested in education' - based on a minority of men in education - is comparable with the statement 'women are not interested in the economy' - based on the lack of women in the boardroom - I am not directly comparing the two actual scenarios. I am setting one conclusion against another and saying that both are demonstrably false. Perhaps the second is more false than the first, but both are false.

I'm sure it is a shame for you that I am not having the same conversation, perhaps if you could spend a little more time reading my posts it would help and you wouldn't then think that I was failing to engage.

I'm sorry VG, I'm sure your heart is in the right place and thank you for taking the time to write back, but it does seem that you are more intent in trying to 'defeat' me than discuss the issue.

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 20:43:04

Thinking about it, that last line is overly snarky. To clarify, you presumably knew that your statement was false when you posted it. So why not provide that in the original thread? Why not say 'hang about, this narrative about male absence is false; look at X, Y, and Z here'. Why not give the thread the benefit of your knowledge? Because at the moment what you're doing is like asking me to guess what's behind your back.

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 20:47:34

Cross-post. Pointing out flaws while providing solutions isn't wanting to 'defeat' anyone. It's how debate works certainly how I would expect any of my posts to be treated. How else would I revise what I think?

And I have discussed the issue: I answered precisely what you asked me.

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 20:50:56

Could you clarify the thought process that turns

"'men show no interest in teaching' is false"


"men are not a minority in teaching"?

These are different statements.

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