Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Thought about getting your degree tattooed on your forehead, ladies?

When you act like you’re ignorant, people assume you’re ignorant. Your degrees aren’t tattooed onto your forehead.

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse, feminism, gender.

Quick update on a few things happening lately. I've mainly been reading more theory, for my data analysis as mentioned in the last post, and in my spare time reading Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty First Century (an important new book about inequality for anyone who hadn't heard about it yet). I've also been reading what others have said about Piketty online.

The comment above was made by a male (I believe) commenter to me during an online discussion, which I had started by questioning a statement by Piketty that sustained population growth in the 18th century was unprecedented (p 3). The commenter, and another man in the same discussion, were convinced that I didn't understand the concept of exponential growth, and that they had to explain it to me.

Didn't matter that I said, yes, I do get it, I do understand the concept - they were convinced I didn't, and they had to keep lecturing me about it. In the end I got so sick of it that I pointed out to the second guy that, while I hadn't studied general maths since I left school, I have studied biostatistics and epidemiology at postgrad level, got high distinctions for both, and won an award for epi. So the idea that I didn't understand a concept like exponential growth was unlikely.

In response to which, he said that I "sounded like" I was dumb at maths, and he couldn't be expected to know better, given that I didn't have my degrees tattooed on my forehead (not that that would have been much use online, anyway). I suppose the possibility of believing me when I said I understood it, hadn't occurred to him.

I'm not linking to the site, because it's a good blog and shouldn't be typecast by a couple of misguided individuals (in fact the first guy got reprimanded by other commenters, one of whom said he was behaving like a "dick".) However this whole episode reminds me of Rebecca Solnit's work Men Explain Things to Me. I've read the famous first essay, the one that led to the concept of "mansplaining" (although Solnit didn't use that term), but I'd like to read the whole book.

The episode also reminds me of another incident last year, when a male sustainability officer tried to explain to me why I was wrong about electricity prices going up. I'd been talking about peak demand, infrastructure, privatisation and service charges, and why all this had an unfair impact on low income groups. He interrupted me to tell me I was wrong, and then proceeded to explain it all using slightly different terminology. It took me several tries, and again having to insist that I wasn't stupid, before I managed to make him see that we were saying the same thing using different words.

Maybe it's particularly in the maths and technology area that some men think women are dumb. Anyway what about this idea of having our degrees tattooed on our foreheads? Will it work? Will it solve the problem? Or is the responsibility on these men to stop assuming we're dumb? Hard question (not).

But more seriously, how much does this keep women from participating in discussions about these issues? Because as I've mentioned before, not many seem to, at least online, and this is an important gap.

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