Are women the new children?

I was part of the local coffee shop gathering the other morning. We were talking about fighter jet procurement and how the Swiss actually voted on the question of F-35 versus Saab Gripen versus sticking-with-the-old (story). I pointed out that “Angela Merkel says that Germany can’t rely on the U.S. in the age of the Trumpenfuhrer, so the Europeans will have to buy a lot more military hardware.” The response was “The Europeans are like teenagers. They want to rebel, but they also don’t want to be responsible for anything. The U.S. is the parent who remains in the background to clean up any messes.” Conclusion: Europeans are the new teenagers.

The conversation shifted to a friend’s Facebook post:

Another Happy Mother’s Day tribute to my mom, an original feminine trail blazer! Cheers to all the strong and courageous moms out there who forged their own path, …  in 1970 became a private pilot. Happy Mother’s Day!#mothersday #strongwomen #womenpilot

He’s not completely wrong. A woman earning a Private certificate was a “trail-blazing” achievement… for Raymonde de Laroche in 1910. By the 1940s the Women Airforce Service Pilots were flying the P-51 Mustang, a 1,620-horsepower taildragger, and B-17 four-engine bomber. Their Soviet counterparts were flying 24,000+ combat missions. Jerrie Mock made it around the world in 1964 in a 1953 Cessna whose navigational gear today would barely suffice for a 50-mile sunny day hamburger run.

How is it that, in the aviation world, adult women are now being celebrated for stuff that used to be considered basic, e.g., taking a docile trainer around the pattern at an airport designed for transport jets? “That’s only been true for the past five years,” said one local Deplorable (he doesn’t have a rainbow flag on his house or Black Lives Matter sign on his lawn in our all-white/Asian nearly-all-hetero-couples town). “Before that, people were able to remember that women used to be as capable as men.”

We then discussed how this seems also to be true in the engineering and programming world. An adult woman who gets a straightforward program to work or who passes an undergraduate course gets extravagantly praised (see “Most computer science majors in the U.S. are men. Not so at Harvey Mudd” (LA Times), for example, celebrating women on track to get a bachelor’s in CS at age 22). A well-meaning, correct-thinking, Hillary-voting computer nerd friend in Boston described Jean Sammet, part of a six-programmer team on a committee designing COBOL, with “In the field of computer science she was a giant.” Twenty years ago, the same guy would have used “COBOL” as a synonym for computer-assisted mediocrity and incompetence. Certainly COBOL was promulgated years later than Fortran (which has given us hundreds of predictions of future Earth temperature?), ALGOL (which grew into today’s C, Java, et al.), and Lisp (which became a religion). COBOL was also years later than the business data processing languages from which it borrowed features, e.g., COMTRAN. A 1975 view from Dijkstra: “The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.” (Of course, there are women who are generally agreed to have been “giants” in computer science and you can see their names among the rest of the Turing Award winners (though don’t forget the “super-giants” Emil Post, Alonzo ChurchAlan Turing, and John von Neumann))

The question was posed: What other group in society is regularly praised for achieving fairly straightforward stuff? “Children” was the immediate answer agreed upon. Thus the group concluded that, at least as far as their portrayal in the media and in descriptions by activists purporting to assist them, Women are the new children.

Readers: if the goal of 1960s “equality feminism” was to put women on equal footing with men, has the result of present-day feminism been to put women on equal footing with children? (And, separately, could this be why a lot of high-achieving women refuse to identify as “feminists”? Examples: Angela Merkel, the PhD in physical chemistry who runs Germany; Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, hasn’t been seen wearing a pussy hat; Patty Wagstaff talks about the men who helped her (including an ex-husband in Alaska), not about obstacles that were placed in her path due to her sex.) Do the well-meaning journalists celebrating minor achievements by women inadvertently make readers think that women are less capable than men?

[Personal anecdotal history: When I started programming in the 1970s, every software development organization seemed to have at least some women. I learned to program from a woman who had a terminal (110 baud, printing!) in her home. I can’t remember anyone suggesting that it was more or less difficult for woman to write software than it would have been for a man. At the software development company that I co-founded in the mid-1990s, two of the earliest employees were women, one a Caltech graduate and one an MIT graduate, and they quickly rose to management positions due to their superior abilities. No customer ever expressed surprise that the manager responsible for their project was a woman. Nobody within the company ever expressed surprise regarding a programmer or a manager being a woman. Base salaries were the same for men and women (this was before the transgender age, so those were our only two categories) and bonuses were decided upon by a committee of project leaders. Women were awarded equally large bonuses by their peers.

In classes that I have taught at MIT, ranging from probability theory to circuit design to database programming, women have usually been over-represented among the best students.

I’ve been part of the same airport community since 2001. There has always been a mixture of men and women at every level of flying experience and nobody has ever said “I am surprised to see that Woman X is flying a jet now” or “I don’t feel comfortable with Woman Y as my instructor.” One of my primary instructors was a woman. My first flight in the cockpit of an airliner during training at Comair (Delta regional jet subsidiary) happened to be with a female captain and young male first officer. When I came back from the flight, nobody in the training class expressed surprise that the captain had been female or asked a question regarding her competence.

Among the pilots that I have worked with as an instructor, the ones who identified as female didn’t stand out as having any difficulties learning, nor did any ever complain that she was struggling to overcome a sex-linked barrier.

So… if I didn’t have the New York Times and a cluster of social justice warrior friends on Facebook, I would be aware that women were a minority in flying and computer nerdism, but I would not be aware that women faced special obstacles in these worlds.]

Related:

  • Sho Yano, celebrated for earning a bachelor’s in science at age 12 (Yano went on to earn his PhD at 18 and MD at 21, useful to remember next time someone brags about an academic achievement!)).

49 Comments

  1. mark

    June 12, 2017 @ 3:41 pm

    1

    Come on. It was Mothers’ Day. Cut ’em some slack.

    The percent of women pilots in 1970 must’ve been pretty small.

  2. Reality Check

    June 12, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

    2

    Grace Hopper: childless, divorced.

    Jean Sammet: childless, never married.

    Want to die alone and childless? Learn to program.

  3. anon

    June 12, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

    3

    RealityCheck,
    It seems to pertain to COBOL specifically. Other women programmers including very famous computer scientists do much better in personal life.

  4. philg

    June 12, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

    4

    mark: “The percent of women pilots in 1970 must’ve been pretty small.”

    I’m not sure that is the relevant measure. The percentage of people who have climbed Mt. Everest is small (and maybe declining due to population growth?) and yet I cannot be a “trail blazer” by climbing Mt. Everest.

    https://www.womenofaviationweek.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/WOAW_women_pilots_statistics.pdf

    provides some data. It seems that there were 29,472 female pilots, including student pilots, in the U.S. in 1970. By 2010 the number had grown to 36,808. Considering the U.S. population growth over the same period (205 million to 310 million), the chance of encountering a female pilot at a fixed-size social event has actually fallen.

  5. mark

    June 12, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

    5

    That’s an interesting chart. Woman majoring in CS also peaked in the 80’s. I wonder if the rise and decline for both are related to the same issues.

    https://domore-standard.s3.amazonaws.com/images/111014_womencode_v1b.focus-none.width-500.png

  6. philg

    June 12, 2017 @ 5:04 pm

    6

    Thanks for that chart, Mark, showing the 1985 peak. As a LIsp programmer my answer is, of course, to blame C++ and Java! According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%2B%2B#History , “In 1985, the first edition of The C++ Programming Language was released”

    If we hypothesize that women, on average, make smarter and more sensible life choices than men, fleeing from C++ is confirmatory.

  7. anon

    June 12, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

    7

    I was surprised how many men gave up engineering efficiencies and scientific calculative rigor and plunged into C++ compiler semantics games. I would expect this from philologists, women are usually over – represented in filed of philology. Note that C and Assembler languages ascend did not correlate negatively with women participation in computer science.

  8. someone

    June 12, 2017 @ 6:14 pm

    8

    Relevant Chris Rock bit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0B_ekSrsEk

  9. Manxane

    June 12, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

    9

    Dilbert beat you to it:

    The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles. -Scott Adams

  10. philg

    June 12, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

    10

    Mark: I should probably have added this to the original posting, but https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches says that female Soviet pilots flew 24,000 combat missions during World War II and faced daunting odds against survival (the regiment had only about 80 flight crew members at a time and yet 30 died in combat). It isn’t a “microagression” when the German military is shooting at you and your canvas-covered airplane.

  11. Jack D

    June 12, 2017 @ 7:40 pm

    11

    The question was posed: What other group in society is regularly praised for achieving fairly straightforward stuff?

    Uh, African Americans and other racial minorities? And black women get double credit. By the time they were done with that movie, those “black” ladies who ran the adding machines at NASA (black in quotes because in any other country Katherine Johnson would be considered white) were single handedly responsible for the moon landing.

  12. Smartest Woman on the Internet

    June 12, 2017 @ 7:50 pm

    12

    What other group in society is regularly praised for achieving fairly straightforward stuff?

    Comedian Chris Rock once did a bit on the praise heaped on a black man for taking care of his own family.

    Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for no peace-related achievement at all.

  13. GermanL

    June 12, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

    13

    NPR did an article a while back about women being chased out of computing once the era of personal computers came and all the nerd boys took over (the computers being sold were just toys for boys it said, and gave them the edge before the girls). They kept mentioning how intimidating the field of computing was because it was so ‘boy centric’.

    I don’t know, it’s not like these women were trying the equivalent of joining the NFL or the Marines – something most computer nerds would be intimidated about as well (even more perhaps, because being males they have fewer excuses for coming up short of the ideal). I would assume computer programmer nerds would be quite benign compared to other professions when placed on the misogynist scale.

  14. philg

    June 12, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

    14

    German: I don’t think that can explain a decline starting in 1985. Academic CS departments, including undergrad, pretty much ignored PCs until the early-mid 1990s. What excited us back then was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motif_(software) on an HP-UX workstation (at least those of us who weren’t still mourning our beloved Lisp Machines). Experience coding BASIC on a DOS computer wasn’t of too much value to get through undergrad CS. Even today I don’t think that there is anything that boys do on home computers that is significantly helpful to them for earning an EECS or CS degree. Because American universities deemphasize software engineering (“mere programming”), arriving on campus as an expert software engineer isn’t as helpful as you’d think. Remember that if faculty members are bad at something then it can’t be something important.

    Look at http://csmajor.stanford.edu/Requirements.shtml , for example. And also https://cs.stanford.edu/courses/schedules/2016-2017.spring.php

    Jack, Smartest Woman: I don’t think the African-American idea holds up. Pointing out that, next to https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1952/schweitzer-facts.html , Obama didn’t deserve a Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t a ticket to instant social ostracism so there was apparently disagreement regarding whether Obama should be held to a lower set of standards. Asking “Why is it hard to a woman to fly a Cessna?” is a passport to defriending in my experience (and/or the question will be deleted so as to maintain a “safe space” for the original poster and his or her like-minded friends).

  15. philg

    June 12, 2017 @ 8:11 pm

    15

    http://web.stanford.edu/class/cs50/ (Using Tech for Good) is my favorite. Students can use computer nerdism to (1) help undocumented immigrants (including helping them find sanctuary in the Sanctuary City of Oakland; apparently nobody in Palo Alto wants to help immigrants settle in Palo Alto), (2) promote the availability of abortions, (3) resist Donald Trump (“We see resistance as a vast, scalable and untapped resource”), etc. I wonder what would happen to a student who asked “Can we build something for the National Rifle Association? They’re my favorite non-profit and civil rights organization.”

  16. Jackie

    June 12, 2017 @ 10:00 pm

    16

    (the computers being sold were just toys for boys it said, and gave them the edge before the girls)

    You can tell because the computer cases were not pink. Anything that is sold for girls has to be pink. A few years ago there was a building block toy for future girl engineers called Goldieblox that got a lot of publicity:

    https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2012/oct/16/goldieblox-toy-girls-engineering-gender

    You can tell that goldieblox are for girls because they are pink and pastel. If they painted the things black or red then girls couldn’t play with them, no way.

    Also I remember going to the computer store with my daughter and trying to buy her a computer. “Is this for a girl”, they did not ask? “Why?”, I did not reply. “Because if this is for a girl we are not allowed to sell it to you”, they did not say.

  17. Andrea Matranga

    June 13, 2017 @ 3:18 am

    17

    here is an interesting take https://hackernoon.com/for-inclusive-culture-maybe-less-is-more-87b663662cea

    the title is very misleading. Basically he says that when everybody in programming companies wore business attire, worked office hours, and kept things professionals, a lot of people from different backgrounds could participate, as long as they had an interest at writing great software.

    When it became the norm that to work in a startup you had to wear t-shirt and jeans and stay crazy hours and then go out your colleagues for beers (and your career path depended on this) the envelope of social backgrounds that could perform well in these environments narrowed.

  18. jack crossfire

    June 13, 2017 @ 4:00 am

    18

    They used to brag about being engineers. Now, they brag about being in public relations, a job that women have always had. It only means the world is a lot more conservative.

  19. Jernej

    June 13, 2017 @ 7:35 am

    19

    “The Europeans are like teenagers. They want to rebel, but they also don’t want to be responsible for anything. The U.S. is the parent who remains in the background to clean up any messes.”

    Pretty sure the US is not even cleaning up it’s own messes. On a global scale, most current military/weapons industry issues are almost entirely your own fault and we get dragged into them (like unwilling teenagers, I’ll agree to that). We’re involved because someone, a long time ago, agreed on a 2% GDP military spending which we don’t really want or need. And then we get stuck with the by-product (refugees) that wouldn’t be in exodus if the US hadn’t created and fueled the mess in the first place. Just stop trying to “fix” things that don’t concern you. You’re terrible at it.

  20. philg

    June 13, 2017 @ 9:37 am

    20

    Jernej: Hah! I’m with you on the “We’re Americans and we’re here to help” part. But the “Europeans are the new teenagers” observation came from a European immigrant (from Eastern Europe, as it happens, so he does not reliably conform to accepted Massachusetts norms regarding political and social thought, part of which is that everything in Western Europe is better, especially the hearts of the people).

  21. Finn

    June 13, 2017 @ 10:53 am

    21

    Well, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Coleman did have to overcome a lot of extra obstacles to become a pilot, and lesser known compared with those more privileged ones such as Amelia, Pancho, or Jackie.

  22. philg

    June 13, 2017 @ 11:37 am

    22

    Finn: Of course Bessie Coleman was a trail blazer, having earned a pilot certificate in 1921 (the first U.S. federal certificate was issued in 1927). One of the world’s best FBOs is named after her: http://www.b-coleman.com/

    I’m not sure that the concept of “trail blazer” in aviation makes sense after World War II. There are certainly some awesome achievements by both men and women since then (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeana_Yeager for one), but once you had turbine engines and VORs it became a completely different activity than it had been pre-WWII.

  23. Neal

    June 13, 2017 @ 11:41 am

    23

    For the most part, the women I know in STEM consider the gender related issues they encounter to be irritations rather than serious obstacles. Dealing with those irritations doesn’t make them heroes, but pointing them out and wanting them to go away doesn’t make them children either. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some women who face more significant gender related issues in their workplace.

    The post does seem to make very broad conclusions based on one guy bragging about his mom on mother’s day. In my Bay Area social circle I don’t see a lot of fawning over women for ordinary accomplishments. That makes me skeptical that women are the new children.

  24. philg

    June 13, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

    24

    Neal: The worst that workers who identify as “women” in STEM generally encounter is “irritation” and from that we have thousands of news and magazine articles, plus books, about how the whole world has to stop and pay attention to the gender IDs of what had been faceless STEM drones?

  25. Neal

    June 13, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

    25

    @philg:I don’t think my comment was (and certainly was not intended to be) a defense of the “thousands of news and magazine articles, plus books, about how the whole world has to stop and pay attention to the gender IDs of what had been faceless STEM drones” which you claim are out there.

  26. the other Donald

    June 13, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

    26

    Observing the men in politics, I see no downside to turning it over to women.

  27. Yz

    June 13, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

    27

    philg–did you ask any of the women who trained you in aviation/computer nerdism if they faced obstacles that men didn’t face? And if one of them had said she had, would you have believed her?

  28. philg

    June 13, 2017 @ 8:50 pm

    28

    Yz: The question doesn’t even make sense to ask. Suppose that I go into a restaurant run by an African-American woman. There appear to be tables free, but she refuses to seat me. You ask me if I was denied seating because I appeared to identify as a cisgender male. I confidently tell you “yes.” But regardless of my level of confidence in this answer, she could have denied me seating because (a) she doesn’t like white people, (b) she doesn’t like people whom she believes to be of Ethnic Group X and she thought that I was a member of that group, (c) she had a batch of reservations for 15 minutes later, (d) she thinks that I’m old and unattractive and will deter other customers, etc.

    So… unless I encountered a “woman” in the industry who previously identified as a “man”, I don’t think it would be meaningful to ask “what obstacles did you face specifically due to your gender ID?”

    Even statistics are pretty hard to work with. Women failed out of our airline’s training program at a higher rate than men. As there was not a huge amount of physical strength required to fly the Canadair Regional Jet, you’d confidently infer that this must be due to prejudice among the training captains, right? But if you dig a little deeper you’d have found that the airline, eager to put up some cheerful gender equity numbers, was hiring women with 250-400 hours of flight experience. Many had never worked as flight instructors. Men being hired, on the other hand, typically had 1,200 to 2,000 hours. So you could also look at it as “people who show up with 350 hours of flight time are more likely to have trouble flying a 53,000 lb. jet than people who show up with 1,500 hours of fixing student errors.”

  29. Yz

    June 14, 2017 @ 10:38 am

    29

    Um no, if you looked at the statistics of women failing out of airline training programs at a higher rate than men, you would confidently infer that women are naturally bad at flying aircraft. And you would entertain your friends at cocktail parties about this scientific evidence of women’s inferior natural aircraft-flying abilities.

  30. philg

    June 14, 2017 @ 11:00 am

    30

    Yz: You’re not confusing me with Malcolm Gladwell? (see http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/foreign-airline-safety )

  31. Neal

    June 14, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

    31

    @philg: While it is true that people can misapprehend the motivations behind any one social interaction, that doesn’t mean it “doesn’t even make sense to ask”. It means that one must take that into account when evaluating the answer. You give an example where a person “confidently” blames a slight in a very ambiguous situation on their gender identity. Certainly that person’s answers should be taken with a huge grain of salt. I can construct alternative hypothetical scenarios (or find real life anecdotes) where the answer would be more credible (but still not absolutely so) because the situation is less ambiguous and/or the answer is more shaded. With enough such anecdotes one can glean real insights even within the very significant limitations imposed by the use of anecdotal evidence.

  32. Yz

    June 15, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

    32

    philg, sorry. I didn’t intend to show up on your blog and launch an ad-hominem attack on you by confusing you with Malcolm Gladwelll. You and I clearly have different expectations regarding what the majority of “people” will confidently infer when looking at the same numbers. But it does make me wonder (and I’m genuinely curious) –would you prefer the majority of people to think that women lack natural ability, or would you prefer people to think that there is a gender bias in training. “I would prefer people to dig deeper and ask critical questions of the reported statistics” is not an acceptable answer since that is not going to happen. Also, do you think it matters what the majority of people (for some definition of people) think?

  33. philg

    June 15, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

    33

    Yz: Natural ability? Nobody was born knowing how to fly an airplane or helicopter. Gender bias? I work at a flight school. I would like to think that we welcome everyone who is interested in aviation, regardless of age, gender ID, ethnicity, and national origin (though of course the Federal government requires us to discriminate against foreigners: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_Flight_Student_Program

    I don’t think it is productive to look at the gender ID distribution among workers in various occupations. There are only about 250,000 Commercial and ATP pilots in the U.S. In a country of 325 million people, it would be easy to fill 100% of these jobs with with women if the pay and working conditions were sufficiently attractive (and fire any pilot who changed gender IDs to male if the goal is to keep it a 100-percent female occupation). Because we could have 100-percent female pilots we could also have 50 percent or 0 percent or any other number that we want. If we in fact don’t have a certain number then that is mostly evidence that nobody actually cares enough to hit that number.

    Same deal on STEM. The U.S. doesn’t have that many STEM jobs. If it were important to our society to have 100 percent of these jobs filled by women we could easily do that. But apparently we don’t care (though some people pretend to care, mostly those who didn’t study a STEM major in college).

  34. Neal

    June 15, 2017 @ 10:48 pm

    34

    >If it were important to our society to have
    >100 percent of these jobs filled by women…
    >though some people pretend to care,
    >mostly those who didn’t study a STEM
    >major in college.

    Do you really know of many people who “pretend to care” about having 100% of any job filled by women? I don’t know of anyone and I live in the liberal Bay Area. I think “have 100 percent of these jobs filled by women.” is a straw man which very few people argue for. Perhaps what people actually care about is ensuring there aren’t gender specific barriers to entering STEM or other jobs. Of course, if you admit that (and not 100% female participation) is what they want, it does become harder to paint them as lunatics. In fact, “I would like to think that we welcome everyone who is interested in aviation” gives me the impression you want it too.

  35. philg

    June 15, 2017 @ 11:05 pm

    35

    Neal: I guess I didn’t explain this very well. Because one could have 100 percent of these jobs filled by women it is also true that one could have any other desired percentage of these jobs filled by women.

    “Perhaps what people actually care about is ensuring there aren’t gender specific barriers to entering STEM or other jobs.” Why would anyone waste time thinking about this? If it is important to society to have X percent women doing something, why not get serious and offer wages sufficient to attract them? In a separate thread it was noted that Uber had a reputation for a “toxic environment” (a significant “barrier” to almost anyone) and yet the company is fully staffed with 12,000 employees, 36 percent of whom are identified as “women” in https://newsroom.uber.com/diversity-report/

  36. Neal

    June 15, 2017 @ 11:25 pm

    36

    @philg: What is the logical inconsistency in thinking it IS important there aren’t gender specific barriers and also thinking it IS NOT important for society to have X percent of women doing something?

  37. Neal

    June 15, 2017 @ 11:40 pm

    37

    >why not get serious and offer
    >wages sufficient to attract them

    Well for one thing, you would scream bloody hell about paying women pilots more than men because they are women.

  38. Yz

    June 16, 2017 @ 9:27 am

    38

    ” I would like to think that we welcome everyone who is interested in aviation, regardless of age, gender ID, ethnicity, and national origin” is a lovely sentiment, but the only thing that statement shows is that you are a good-thinking non-Deplorable. The question that is actually actionable is how do you prioritize being “welcoming of everyone” relative to other factors.

    Consider the following scenario: Your flight school has an excellent aviation instructor who also finds it entertaining/enjoyable to rank all women he meets based on their attractiveness, and let them know how they rank. Let’s say 15 % of women who show up at your flight school interested in aviation are sufficiently distracted turned off by the general acceptance of these comments that they decide their interest in aviation doesn’t outweigh the unpleasantness of having to have their attractiveness rated every time they want to go learn how to fly, and they leave. You do not have women in your flight school who rank all men they meet by attractiveness and communicate their rating to the men in question.

    In your view, would this scenario occurring at your flight school (or, for instance, if a TA in an electronics lab did the same thing) 1) have any impact on how “welcoming” you are to everyone, regardless of gender ID and 2) would this be a problem?

    Commentators on this blog (sorry, can’t find the comment now) have made the argument that women entering the workforce/universities has slowed down the economy because women are more likely to drop out of the workforce, thus giving society a lower return in tax revenue on education investment. I don’t have any data to know if this assertion is true or false, but I think this is a fair/honest argument and can see why someone might believe it or at least consider it worth investigating. As a (current) woman with many years of a taxpayer-funded education and also the means to drop out of the workforce if I want to, I don’t *like* the idea that people like me are a burden on society and shouldn’t exist. But I can see why some people might not be in favor of e.g. educational institutions being equally welcoming to everyone if they view it as a choice between “exclude people identifying as women (or people having uteruses) from universities” and “not have enough money to pay for everyone’s health care/national security/climate change mitigation/whatever it is we want to pay for”.

  39. Yz

    June 16, 2017 @ 10:23 am

    39

    “In a separate thread it was noted that Uber had a reputation for a “toxic environment” (a significant “barrier” to almost anyone)”

    I disagree with the assertion that a “toxic environment” is a “significant barrier to almost everyone.” Plenty of people don’t realistically have the choice of a non-toxic environment, and a well-paying toxic environment is better than a poorly-paying one. And sometimes toxic environments have other things to balance them out that are not money. IIRC, Ms. Fowler said that she didn’t leave uber sooner because the work itself was interesting and rewarding and she was good at it. Why can’t a workplace provide both interesting technical problems that are rewarding to solve, AND unpleasant coworkers whose repeated and unwelcome propositions for sex make the social environment “toxic”?

  40. philg

    June 16, 2017 @ 11:09 am

    40

    Neal: “Well for one thing, you would scream bloody hell about paying women pilots more than men because they are women.”

    Of course I wouldn’t! Though I am an American, now the Home of Central Planning (TM), I believe in market-oriented solutions. I think that both women and minorities (basically, anyone other than white males) should be paid more because they have more value to employers.

    Separately, when people have an alternative to wage labor you always have to pay more to make wage labor attractive. In My home state of Massachusetts, for example, welfare in 2013 yielded the same spending power as $50,540 in pretax income (see https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/the_work_versus_welfare_trade-off_2013_wp.pdf ) and therefore one would expect to have to pay at least $51,000 to attract someone who was in a position to collect welfare.

    American women have more alternatives to wage labor than men. Friends recently attended a wedding and sat at a table with three other couples, each of which contained a high-wealth or high-income man and a non-working wife with a Harvard MBA (one of whom had also gone to Harvard undergrad). There was some wage at which these Harvard MBAs would go back into the labor force, but presumably employers are not currently offering that wage. (The bride at this wedding as a PhD and recently lost her job. My friend’s (working MBA) wife asked her about her plans. The bride responded “I’m married now. What the fuck do I care?”)

    Sticking with Massachusetts, 97 percent of the residents who collect child support are women (Census data). Russian economists found that Americans who can collect child support withdraw 12 hours per week of labor, on average, compared to similarly situated Americans who can’t. A woman who has sex with an airline captain here in Massachusetts will earn more than a woman who flies as a first officer. A woman who has sex with two or three different airline captains will have the same spending power as an airline captain. Thus it would not be economically rational for a woman to invest time and money in flight training toward an airline career unless she can earn substantially more than a man. (Of course there are female pilots, which shows that some people just love the job and aren’t making decisions primarily based on $$ and leisure time.)

  41. philg

    June 16, 2017 @ 11:19 am

    41

    Yz: “Your flight school has an excellent aviation instructor who also finds it entertaining/enjoyable to rank all women he meets based on their attractiveness, and let them know how they rank.”

    That’s a great theory, but it doesn’t fit our flight school very well because our most active primary instructor identifies as a heterosexual woman (and mother of five children). Well, actually in our transgender age I shouldn’t presume that she continues to identify as a woman. But, at least as of last week, I think that she was still stuck in her cisgender rut. Also, due to the relatively small number of students that an instructor might have at any one time, and the wide age range (from 10-80?), it wouldn’t make sense to rank students on any dimension.

    Yz: “Plenty of people don’t realistically have the choice of a non-toxic environment, and a well-paying toxic environment is better than a poorly-paying one.” This sounds like a great argument for going on SSDI or making a living via family court litigation (alimony, child support, etc.). If the only W-2 labor options require acceptance of “toxicity,” why endure them to have a slightly higher spending power than a non-working lifestyle? It is definitely not economically rational to give up 3000 hours/year (work+Silicon Valley commute time) of leisure time in a combination of stuck-in-car or toxic environment in order to have the same spending power as an American who had sex with a dermatologist.

  42. Neal

    June 16, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

    42

    >I think that both women and minorities
    >(basically, anyone other than white males)
    >should be paid more because they
    >have more value to employers.

    I take this as sarcasm unless you declare it is not and provide some justification for the opinion.

    I also understand that in comment #41 you are abandoning the argument “If it is important to society to have X percent women doing something, why not get serious and offer wages sufficient to attract them?” because you ignore the counter argument I provide in #36. Perhaps that counter argument wasn’t stated clearly enough so let me restate it differently. Because your argument contains a conditional, I can falsify the argument by stating “It IS NOT important for society to have X percent of women doing something.” After making that statement, I can still state (without creating any inconsistency I can see) “it IS important that society not erect gender specific barriers to women doing something”. Therefore, the “If it is important to society to have X percent women doing something, why not get serious and offer wages sufficient to attract them?” argument does not really explain your objection to people expressing opposition to gender specific barriers to women doing something.

    I understand the point of the paragraphs designated “separately” is that there are other explanations for the lack of women in certain occupations. While we must be careful about drawing broad conclusions from the few anecdotes you present, I am certainly willing to concede that yes, the reasons illustrated by those anecdotes are real and contribute to the prevalence of women in the work force. However, this does not mean there are not also gender specific barriers which are inhibiting women’s participation in certain occupations which should be eliminated.

    >That’s a great theory, but it doesn’t
    >fit our flight school very well

    It wasn’t a “theory” about your flight school, it was a plausible hypothetical set at your flight school to make it more personal for you. The fact that the current primary instructor happens to be a women does not make the hypothetical implausible because that could be true and your flight school could also employ an instructor like the one described in the hypothetical. Treating it as a “theory” about your flight school rather than a hypothetical scenario is creating and then knocking down a straw man.

    >Also, due to the relatively small number
    >of students that an instructor might have
    >at any one time, and the wide age range
    >(from 10-80?), it wouldn’t make sense to
    >rank students on any dimension.

    I will state that I have (infrequently) witnessed behavior like that described in the hypothetical in the workplace and believe many of the first hand accounts I have heard from women claiming they have experienced similar behavior. The problematic behaviors didn’t make sense in those contexts either, yet they occurred anyway. Therefore, the fact that the behavior described in the scenario “wouldn’t make sense” doesn’t make the scenario implausible.

    I don’t buy your argument that the hypothetical scenario presented by Yz is implausible. Perhaps it does not apply to your flight school as currently staffed, but I think you should still answer the question she asked in #38 because it *could* plausibly apply to a flight school you work at.

  43. philg

    June 16, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

    43

    Women and minorities DO have more value to employers. That was not sarcastic. The “justification” for my inference is that employers invest in trying to recruit and retain more women and more of certain minorities. Check out http://fortune.com/2017/05/23/apple-diversity-officer-young-smith/ for how Apple has a “vice president for Inclusion and Diversity” reporting directly to the CEO. Unless she is working for free or concentrating on recruiting white men, this indicates that Apple considers women and minorities more valuable than white men. (Also, women do get paid more in the aviation industry, adjusted for experience. If employers are willing to pay a woman more than a man, I think it is reasonable to infer that the woman has more value to the employer.)

    You guys are fantastic at speculation regarding how flight instructors work. How about you come to the flight school? We’ll put the helicopter into an autorotation. If you can rank the attractiveness of women as the helicopter glides down at 70 knots and 1500 fpm, we will up-end the sacred rule of flight instruction and lunch will be on me! Same offer holds for V1 cuts in a multi-engine turbojet.

  44. Yz

    June 16, 2017 @ 1:05 pm

    44

    When did this discussion become about whether it’s economically rational to work? You’ve convincingly demonstrated that ssdi/welfare is more economically rational and I don’t think anyone is taking issue with that.

    But, as you’ve stated yourself with regards to the existence of female pilots, people work for reasons other than money. Wanting to work on interesting problems is one reason to work. Wanting to have smart coworkers from whom to learn is another. Wanting to make money is yet another. (Psychologically, to many people, making money is not the same thing as having money, and is also not the same thing as spending money, so one can want to make money without necessarily wanting to increase purchasing power). Some people also have professional ambition and want to be big and important and have others listen to them (I.e. Be a recognized expert). So what is the point of the bringing up economic rationality?

    With regard to the flight school example, based on your and data, you are clearly not deplorable and neither is your actual real-life flight school. Is that an interesting conclusion?

  45. Neal

    June 16, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

    45

    >this indicates that Apple considers women
    >and minorities more valuable than white men

    That is one possible explanation. It may also indicate they use different strategies to go after different applicant pools even if they don’t see one set of applicants as more valuable than the others.

    @philg: Are you really arguing it is not possible for a flight instructor to make sexist comments to their students? I’m not a pilot, but I nonetheless am confident in thinking that an instructor can’t just beam themselves and the student star trek style into an autorotation and then back to their cars. Since it only takes a moment to make a sexist comment, I’m finding it very hard to believe there is no opportunity (on the ground) to make them. You seem to imply that a sacred rule of flight instruction is that students buy lunch. If so, couldn’t these comments be made a lunch?

  46. philg

    June 16, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

    46

    Everything eventually gets back to the Kleiner Perkins partners and the Ellen Pao lawsuit. Ms. Pao was alleging that the partners wanted to make themselves poorer by denying a promotion to one of the world’s greatest venture capitalists (Pao).

    The flight instructor’s motivations are to build hours (each hour logged with a student is also logged by the instructor) so as to become qualified for the next job. The instructor also wants to be paid, which only happens when he or she flies with a student who voluntarily returns to the airport and plunks down a credit or debit card. Based on the large number of women who have chosen to go to medical school or law school rather than become commercial pilots, you’re confident that there is a large group of flight instructors out there who want to shrink their flight time and pay by offending female customers. As there is not typically a video camera rolling except perhaps during the lesson itself, there is no way to disprove your theory that flight instructors are acting against their own interests.

  47. Neal

    June 16, 2017 @ 1:46 pm

    47

    >Everything eventually gets back
    >to the Kleiner Perkins partners
    >and the Ellen Pao lawsuit.

    Why don’t we take it back to Susan Fowler or other credible reports of workplace sexism instead?

    >you’re confident that there is a large
    >group of flight instructors out there
    >who want to shrink their flight time
    >and pay by offending female customers

    Straw man: The hypothetical was about one flight instructor. Nobody in this thread has made the statement you claim I am “confident” of.

  48. philg

    June 16, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

    48

    If we want to circle back to the original post topic, since Susan Fowler was not fired by the profit-seeking Uber, the only real question would be “Is her prominence in the tech world overstated by the media?” When the NY Times or other publication writes about her, for example, do they make it sound as though her role among the 12,000 Uberites was more important than it actually was? (I can’t speculate on this because I know that Fowler was a sysadmin at Uber, but I don’t know her precise contributions or how important they were.)

  49. Neal

    June 16, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

    49

    I don’t remember anyone claiming that her role at Uber was particularly important, but I think I understand what you are getting at: How representative was her experience of the more general experience of women working at Uber? More generally, what is the relative importance of gender (or race) specific barriers in explaining the distribution of women (or minorities) in the workplace relative to other factors (some of which have been identified earlier in the thread). We don’t really have any way to answer those questions with the evidence we’ve discussed in this thread.

    Believe it or not, my motivation for sticking with this thread was to expose this issue as a central question. If the NYT thinks that Susan Fowler’s experience at Uber was typical for women there and you think that her experience was an outlier then we are talking about a quantitative not qualitative disagreement. Granted, the magnitude of the quantitative disparity may point to different policy solutions.

    I could believe that barriers and social expectations are not generally the predominant factors in explaining the demographics of most occupations, but it would take very strong evidence to convince me they are not significant factors which should be addressed.

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