This article scratches the surface of a complex issue. It asymptotically approaches topics surrounding (1) the binary division of “men” and “women”, (2) its historical significance, and (3) the work being done to promote “unisex” mentality, including unisex restrooms. It is important to take these efforts into careful consideration when considering the topic of women in science and gender equality (for more information, Nature publishing did this special issue on Women in Science: Women’s Work).
Claude Steele and many other sociologists elaborate on the concept of stereotype threat, which leaks into discourse surrounding the topic of women in science. While this field of research is only recently accumulating more quantitative evidence, the idea of women in science reporting greater inclination to feelings of imposter syndrome and the like is easily related to the discourse of Robert K. Merton on the sociology of science in general over half a century ago:
…when statements are doubted, when they appear so palpably implausible or absurd or biased that one need no longer examine the evidence for or against the statement but only the grounds for it being asserted at all.* Such alien statements are “explained by” or “imputed to” special interests, unwitting motives, distorted perspectives, social position, and so on. In folk thought, this involves reciprocal attacks on the integrity of opponents; in more systematic thought, it leads to reciprocal ideological analyses. On both levels, it feeds upon and nourishes collective insecurities…
: Freud has observed to seek out origins rather than to test the validity of statements with seem palpably absurd to us…On the social level, a radical difference of outlook of various social groups leads not only to ad hominem attacks but also to “functionalized explanations.”
–Robert Merton “Paradigm for the Sociology of Knowledge” 1945
Ideally, we do not let our perception of gender interfere, consciously or unconsciously, with our interpretation of the quality of another individual’s work (i.e., ad hominem attacks). Problems include (1) overcoming our initial reaction to categorize individuals in broadly defined stereotypes associated with historical (out-dated) gender roles and (2) appealing to any fallacies supporting the maintenance of out-dated gender roles.
Ask me to describe myself, and I will describe my aesthetics: biology, foreign languages, philosophy, post-modernism, and critical theory. Ask a stranger to describe me, and “female” is a socially acceptable general category.1 From this category, one may already make many assumptions of who I am and the quality of my work; however, the social category of “woman” is not one with which I would immediately self-identify, though I reside in this category when I check boxes on documents, select a gender pronoun, or use the restroom. Restrooms in the work place are usually segregated into binary divisions of men and women, and there’s a historical (subjectively out-dated) reason for it.
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