Women Face Bias Beyond Academia

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 8, 2008 9:42 am

430px-Chase_William_Merritt_Back_Of_A_Nude_1888.jpgI’m troubled to read that according to a UN-commissioned report, women are discriminated against in almost every country. We make up 70% of the world’s poor, owning 1% of titled land. While I often write about gender bias in academia, that disparity is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Surely more can be done to improve opportunities for women globally. So how and where do we begin?

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Comments (15)

  1. Becca

    I’m not sure it’s the best place to start, but if you are really worried about 70% of the world’s poor, I like what microfinancing can do (http://www.grameen-info.org/). If I remember correctly, over 90% of their loans are to women.

  2. Anakin

    A complex consideration Padme, and this seems a good forum for discussion.

    This begins with empowering young woman and girls early to believe in themselves and expect more. There is cultural context of course and discrimination to surmount.

    The Intersection is certainly worth reading too.

  3. Colugo

    Women in academia, from your article:

    “undergraduates: 57%
    doctoral students: 45%
    postdoctoral fellows: 37%
    assistant and associate professors: 31%
    full professors:13%”

    How much of this is simply generational transition? (For one, a bunch of old fart male tenured deadwood taking up positions until they retire or are bought ought.) What will this look like in 5 years? 10? 20?

  4. We make up 70% of the world’s poor, owning 1% of titled land.

    I’m curious about the definitions that were used to arrive at those numbers.

    On the first, where geographically are the places where that gender discrepancy exists? How are children counted? In the US, there are many single women who are poor and independent, but our social structure is an exception. In most of the world, aren’t poor women part of poor families? Families, almost by definition, should have nearly equal numbers of males and females. If the demographics of families (outside the US) are in anyway skewed, it should be toward more males (considering the natal preferences of India and China). And, while there are more opportunities for males to leave traditional poor families and seek their fortunes, most of them fail and simply become poor somewhere else. So, where are all of these surplus poor women located?

    On the second, does that mean poor women own 1% of the titled land belonging to the poor, or women own 1% of all the titled land in the world? I can believe the former definition but not the latter. In traditional societies, how much land, if any, is defined as titled? How much of the titled land in the world belongs to the poor, and what percentage of the world’s poor own land? Both of those numbers are going to be very small.

    In any case, I’m not attempting to minimize the problem of poverty for women around the world. It is very real and very serious. I’m just curious about the source for those statistics. They hide the wide diversity of situations that exist for the world’s poor.

    In answer to your question. The best thing that can happen for women and the poor in general is for women to gain some degree of economic independence. Microloans and educational access are the two most effective ways of doing that.

  5. I try to put most of my donations to Kiva (a microloan organization) in the hands of women. I also participated in the One-Laptop-Per-Child program because I wanted girls to have access to computers. I think they are a nice equalizer.

  6. In academia at least, I would agree with the second commenter – teach girls early that it’s okay to speak out and have strong views. Get them interested in debate teams or speech teams.

    Just my 2 cents I guess.

  7. Phoca

    “On the second, does that mean poor women own 1% of the titled land belonging to the poor, or women own 1% of all the titled land in the world? I can believe the former definition but not the latter.”

    I took it to mean that women (1) Make of 70% of the world’s poor and that women (2) Own only 1% of titled land worldwide. Why should (2) be unbelievable?

    In industrialized nations where gender equality has advanced considerably, land titles could be expected to advance less quickly, so it wouldn’t be surprising if women held a minority of land titles in industrialized countries (of course, corporations and governments would probably own more land than men or women.) Wealthy women would be most likely to own land, but I can see how even a wealthy woman might not own any land. Middle class women might or might not own land, and even if land is jointly owned with their husband, it might be in his name and not hers. Poor women would be extremely unlikely to own land – even where a poor man might own land, say in rural areas, tradition might make it more likely for families to pass down land to their sons instead of their daughters. Certainly where a poor woman became sole caregiver to her children, she would be unlikely to own land where even a poor man might be able to invest towards buying land with money that would be used to pay for supporting the children if he were the sole caregiver.

    In developing countries, most land titles would tend to be held by men, since in most societies worldwide men tend to be the property holders. There are still parts of the world where it is illegal for a woman to drive a car, much less own land. Even where it has been legal for decades for women to own land, attitudes and culture may change far more slowly than the law.

    I wouldn’t be shocked if (2) were true, but I don’t know where the information came from.

  8. “How much of this is simply generational transition?”

    I was reflecting on this just this morning, as my wife and I struggle figure out how to accomodate 2 academic careers. Anecdotally, of 4 couples I know who were both doing PhDs at the same time, 3 of them made moving choices to accommodate the male’s career.

    I think there are certain generational factors, but important now is for men to give up very comfortable, convenient habits of mind inherited from society, their family (probably), etc… I honestly don’t think most of them are even aware that they’re being selfish or limiting their partner’s career.

    There is also constant, pervasive, low-grade sexism that occurs in academia that must be exhausting and demoralizing. You just have to watch for it… men talk over women in mixed settings (e.g. conferences–and white men talk over Asians and other minorities). They honestly don’t know they’re doing it. Again, male behavioral habits need to change.

    Studies show both men AND women will rate a CV or research article lower if it has an obviously female name on it compared to a male name. The best way to overcome this bias is authorial anonymity in the review process (often not possible).

    Then there is just plain old sexism–media portrayal of women, etc. Substitute “black people” for “women” when listening to a right wing radio show, or a comedian, or even mainstream television, and it’s easy to see a double standard that is permissive of obvious bigotry and hate speech toward women.

  9. Colugo

    miko: “There is also constant, pervasive, low-grade sexism that occurs in academia that must be exhausting and demoralizing. You just have to watch for it… men talk over women in mixed settings”

    Not to mention male professors viewing female grad students as potential sex/romantic partners. But this traditional “perk” of academia is being phased out.

  10. Colugo wrote:
    Not to mention male professors viewing female grad students as potential sex/romantic partners. But this traditional “perk” of academia is being phased out.

    Veritas. However, I’m not so sure that traditional ‘perk’ is being phased out.

  11. Colugo

    A notorious quote from 1993 – William Kerrigan of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, in a discussion on sexual relationships between professors and graduate students in the September 1993 issue of Harper’s:

    “I am not defending Don Juanism, you know, sex for grades and so forth. But there is a kind of student I’ve run across in my career who was working through something that only a professor could help her with. I’m talking about a female student, who, for one reason or another, has unnaturally prolonged her virginity. Maybe there’s a strong father, maybe there’s a religious background. And if she loses her virginity with a man who is not a teacher, she’s going to marry that man, boom. And I don’t think the marriage is going to be very good.”

    In fact, I have met a woman who lost her virginity to a professor (and much of her dating history was with professors). I am aware of a male professor whose romantic life involves female grad students to a large degree. I also personally know of two pairs of spouses who were female grad student and professor in the same department, and am aware of several other cases. It’s not unusual for the age difference in these relationships to be 12-25 years.

  12. Maria

    Wow, Colugo, that’s an interesting quote.

    Regarding Sheril’s post, why should we especially care about women who are poor, as opposed to about all the poor? Also, I can’t seem to find the original report – do you have a link? I was thinking along the same lines as John McKay. In some African countries, with men dying in civil wars and such it’s possible to get that skew, but otherwise it seems odd. For every man there usually is a woman, especially outside the developed world.

    Titled land should probably exclude corporate ownership – unless we want to say that men own x% of total land, with x

  13. Carlie

    Regarding Sheril’s post, why should we especially care about women who are poor, as opposed to about all the poor?

    Because women are the primary caregivers to their families, and the health of children is most often directly related to the autonomy and assets of the mother. As the women go, so go the nation.

  14. Superstringy Indian

    And how much titled land,exactly,is in the husband’s name but are owned by the couple as a whole?Let me guess….you didn’t check.

    FAIL.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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