Re: Lurker Seeking Assistance

Subject: Re: Lurker Seeking Assistance
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- progeny -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 09:59:43 -0800

Beccalrussell -at- aol -dot- com wrote:
> I am a Technical Communications student at Milwaukee School of Engineering
> and have been assigned a paper on communication and gender (in a nutshell,
> differences in ways men and women communicate and how this affects
> collaborative work). I also need to have an inteview as a source. I am
> looking for anyone willing to expound on this topic and willing to allow me
> to pick his/her brain.

No sources to suggest, just a comment:

Virtually without exception, all studies of gender - whether the
perspective is eco-feminist or ultra-conservative male chauvunist -
are badly flawed because they start with the unproven assumption
that differences exist.

Apparently, this is a fact that everybody knows, so nobody bothers
to prove it empirically. Yet a moment's thought shows that all sorts
of ideas that everybody knows are simply wrong; for example, many
people are convinced that crime increases during a full moon,
although statistics quickly disprove the idea. The idea that
meaningful generalities can be derived about one-half of a
population is even more ridiculous than the idea that all people fit
neatly into the twelve signs of the zodiac (to be precise, it is six
times more ridiculous because it only makes two divisions where
astrology makes twelve)

Morever, even if meaningful generalities could be made, they do not
necessarily apply to any particular individual. For example, just
because you have a cancer that kills 90% of its recipients in three
months doesn't always means that you are going to die in three
months; your health and habits could put you at the far end of the
bell curve and give you an excellent chance of survival. Similarly,
if you say that women communicate in a more cooperative fashion and
men in a more competitive one, you can easily find aggressive women
and unassuming men.

Whenever this subject comes up, I'm always reminded of the science
fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr. When stories first appeared under
the Tiptree name, many critics commented on the strongly masculine
style. When Tiptree was revealed to be Alice Sheldon, many of those
same critics did an about face and immediately started commenting on
the stories' feminine tone and saying how they had always knew
Tiptree had to be a woman (even though none of them had ever
committed this knowledge to print). Thise reaction reminded me of
the scene in "Nineteen Eight-Four" in which the speaker is ranting
against one enemy, then is handed a note that tells him that the old
enemy is now an ally, and immediately starts ranting against the
former ally, all without missing a beat. But the point is, people
saw masculine or feminine traits in Tiptree's writing only after
they had made an assumption about the writer's gender.

Of course, differences may exist. But, for all the mountains of
books and papers on the subject, the idea remains unproven. And, so
long as it's approached with preconceptions, it will remain so.

Bruce Byfield, Progeny Linux Systems
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- progeny -dot- com

"'Do you know medicine? Chemistry? A little biology perhaps?'

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