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Dr. Helen

How Does Institutional Bias Affect Men?

August 7th, 2014 - 4:57 am

I wondered about this a few weeks ago as I watched a Question and Answer session for perspective students at a large Washington D.C. Law School. The Q &A was about an hour and the admissions speaker was a lively woman who seemed very oriented to students and happy to answer questions about the LSAT, the law school and how to do one’s best in the application process. The future students were eager to ask questions and hands around the room went up quickly. There were around 50 people, about half men, half women in the room. But I noticed that the speaker mainly called on the women students, even if a man had raised his hand first. She even said “I will get to you in a minute” to a male student but then called on a couple of women instead: one woman was even called on three times! I wondered if the speaker even knew she was doing this.

I must admit that part of the problem was the way that the guys in the room were trying to ask questions. Their hand did not go up as aggressively as the girl’s hands nor were their voices as strong or as loud. They were softer and more hesitant than the women’s and I often could not hear them as well. Is this a function of men with softer voices applying to enter law school or were they more timid in this particular setting? Were they picking up that they were the underdogs in this situation and that they were not getting the same attention? If I am observing this behavior in one academic setting, how many more men are being affected by academics and administrators around the country who may be treating them differently?

As I pondered these questions, I got an email from a reader by the name of Bob who was going through more institutional bias at his college:

Dear Dr. Helen,

Just today I discovered you and your work browsing youtube! My girlfriend and I live together and go to the same college in which we have had over 5 classes together now. We can legitimized what you say about college being hostile towards men!

For example: We consistently have studied together and given 100% identical answers on tests only to find that she constantly gets better grades than I do for the exact same work and answers.

It has been really frustrating for me. It has also caused a lot of tension in our relationship from jealousy (on my part). We also found that her grades are normally given generously and mine are given accurately vrs, me getting undergraded and she’s getting accurately graded. Also in the labs after class the teachers always tend to check up with the girls to make sure they are understanding the material and staying on top of things where the guys are left to figure it out. I could write you 10 pages, but I wanted to just say, THANK YOU on behalf of the Y chromosome :)

I can’t imagine how frustrating this discrimination must be and the strain it can cause on relationships when one person gets all the goodies and the other has to work harder to get less. How will the treatment of men by these institutions affect how they view women, even their own girlfriend? If women think men want nothing to do with them now in terms of commitment, just wait until another generation of them is treated to our academic system.

There are many examples of institutional bias against men: they often need a note from their wives to get a vasectomy, men get little or no due process in college sexual assault cases and there are even misandrists in the government who tell men they are not as smart as women and that they get little say in the matter because they are “outnumbered.”

How does this institutional bias affect men? I read some comments from men that suggest that a real man would “shrug this stuff off.” Bullshit. You don’t shrug it off when the government threatens to come after your free speech or your second amendment rights. Why would a man shrug off something this important? Other men perhaps don’t notice what is happening or do notice and feel there is nothing to be done or they can sidestep these problems. But it catches up to you eventually or your son, or brother.

What are some more examples of institutional bias that I have missed? How do you think men are affected by this type of bias?

Vice Meets the Honey Badgers

August 5th, 2014 - 4:47 am

Alex Brook Lynn from Vice actually wrote a decent article on the International Men’s Conference and the women in the men’s rights movement:

It’s unpleasant to defend people who throw around words like cunt, bitch, and whore while talking about gender, but I must admit that in my conversations with them the Honey Badgers drew my attention to things I had never thought about before and even convinced me some of their grievances are legitimate. I now believe male circumcision could be described as “genital mutilation” and we shouldn’t be so casual about performing it. I also think that society is too eager to accept women being physically violent in relationships, and that we need to start talking about due process in regard to rape allegations, even if the conversation is uncomfortable.

Almost against my will, I found myself liking the group and marveling at their diversity.

Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), will be on Amy Alkon’s radio show tonight from 9-10 pm eastern:

Dr. Barbara Oakley has written an incredibly helpful book on learning how to learn math and science. But, yoohoo, math-loathers, this book — and this show — are about much more than that.

Both the book and tonight’s show are about techniques you can start employing immediately that will show you how to do your work and your creative work more efficiently and ultimately more successfully and satisfyingly.

The proof that these techniques work? Dr. Oakley herself used these techniques to transform from a girl who flunked every math and science course in high school into a tenured professor of engineering. And she currently uses them to curb procrastination, to learn and retain difficult material better and faster, and to increase her creativity in problem-solving and writing.

I have been following Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program twice a week now for a few months. I have to say it has worked really well for me.

Since having a heart attack many years ago, I was afraid to do squats and deadlifts with much weight, if at all. However, Mark gave me the confidence to feel that I could indeed, do them again, albeit with some modifications. I have been using lighter weight, mainly just the 45 pound bar for deadlifts and the same for squats. Yeah, it’s light but sometimes I add five pounds on each side if I feel like it. I do three sets of five reps of each of the exercises with rest in-between as Rippetoe suggests. At first, I thought it didn’t seem like this plan would do much but I have noticed subtle changes over the past few weeks.

My lower back rarely hurts and my legs are much stronger. I have been doing overhead presses also that help me keep my posture in line and my upper body no longer hurts from the computer as much as it did. I feel better and can easily squat down now to lift things more readily. The idea of these exercises is to give one more functional ability in his or her daily life and they definitely have done that for me. I am still doing some yoga and other exercise for variety but I think the squats and deadlifts have really been key to helping me achieve the goals that I wanted–less pain and more ability to do tasks in my daily life. Thanks Mark!

Huffington Post (hat tip: Terry Brennan):

It is also a matter of negative self-perception and self-doubt among women.
“Women are very likely to believe that when they run for office, they don’t do as well as men. There’s no empirical evidence to support that,” said Lawless. “When women run, they actually perform just as well on Election Day, they’re able to raise just as much money, and generally speaking, their media coverage looks very much the same. But what we found was that women who are well-situated to run for office don’t know that and don’t think that. So they believe they’re not qualified because they think women have to be twice as good to get half as far.”

Those who recruit political candidates often share this misperception, Lawless said, and are thus less likely to consider women for political races.

She understands why many people still assume that existing gender roles undermine women’s political ambitions.

Maybe if other women would stop telling women that they are always going to be discriminated against, they would do better in politics and in life.

It seems that people pick places to live on other variables than happiness:

If New York is so unhappy, why do so many people keep living there? That’s one of the many questions at stake in a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia used people’s self-reported life satisfaction data from the CDC to try to determine a geography of American happiness. What they found is that among the biggest metropolitan areas, the Big Apple is the unhappiest. Scranton, Pennsylvania, takes the honor of the least happy metro area of any size. Meanwhile, Richmond is the happiest large metro area, and Charlottesville, Virginia, is the happiest of any size…..

The data also carries in it an insight into how people make major life choices. If people only sought to live in happy places, cities like Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia would be swamped with people, while New York would be desolate. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.

“One interpretation of these facts is that individuals do not aim to maximize self-reported well-being, or happiness, as measured in surveys, and they willingly endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs,” they write.

That said, places with low income growth and low population growth also tend to be particularly unhappy, both currently and historically.

“[C]ities that have declined also seem to have been unhappy in the past, which suggests that … these areas were always unhappy — and that was one reason why they declined,” write the authors.

The upshot seems to be that people make decisions based on happiness, but only on a limited basis. So at least in the economics world, there’s more to life than being happy.

It seems that people go where the money or jobs are earlier in life and then often move to places that make them happy or that have lower taxes when they retire or maybe lower taxes makes them happy as they have more time to do other things with their money. The problem is that people ruin these places such as NYC etc. with their politics and then move to the lower tax states such as the South to retire and then try to ruin these places with their politics and the cycle continues.

A Classic Example of White Knighting

July 22nd, 2014 - 5:04 am

So Dave Swindle here at PJM writes a reply to my post on the man with the spreadsheet being disappointed in his lack of a sex life with his wife:

I’m actually going to take the wife’s side in this dispute. I have absolutely ZERO SYMPATHY WHATSOEVER for this loser. Why?

Because it’s not a wife’s responsibility to be her husband’s happy whore, eagerly providing him with his orgasms on demand.

Dissatisfied husbands, want to know the secret to having sex with your wife whenever you want? It is not your wife’s responsibility to be ready to go on command, it’s YOUR responsibility to know your wife so well that you are capable of seducing her anytime. When you want to have sex with her you don’t ask her, you put her in the mood yourself. It’s really that simple: know you wife well enough so you can push the right buttons, say the right things, and create an environment where sex just naturally happens.

Unfortunately, that’s more work than most men are used to for getting orgasms.

This response is classic white knighting where the spreadsheet guy is a failure and this is why he can’t get sex. Note the word loser that is used in Dave’s first paragraph. Of course it’s important to white knight and call the guy a loser because that means that a man that doesn’t get upset if his wife won’t have sex with him is a winner! A convenient excuse to tell oneself on yet another sexless night. And of course, as Dave notes, it is always up to the man to take responsibility for any problems in the couple’s sex life. Wife doesn’t put out? It’s your fault, man. You lack self-control. Really?

I have a few questions for you, Dave. What if the man does all of the things you suggest such as put her in the mood, goes through all of the rituals etc. you suggest and then ends up with nothing? Then what? The man should then continue in a sexless marriage? Bask in the glow of his “self-control” as he wonders where the sex went? According to you, he alone (the loser!) is to blame. It takes two to tango, if you blame him alone for their lack of sex, you see women as having no responsibility and no agency in sex. Isn’t this a little sexist?

Update: Dave Swindle responds.

I read this article titled “Man Uses Spreadsheet to List All the Times Wife Turned Down Sex; Wife Posts it on Reddit” over at Is it true? I don’t know, but it is a good example of how many women (and men too, given some of the comments) don’t think men have any feelings when it comes to what they need in marriage. From the article:

Yesterday, Reddit user throwwwwaway29 went to the popular web site for advice: right before she left for a 10-day business trip, her husband sent her a spreadsheet. Column A listed all the dates from the beginning of June, column B listed whether they had sex that day, and column C noted the excuse given, using “verbatim quotes.”

“I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone,” she wrote. “According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 ‘attempts’ on his part.”

The discussion over at Reddit now appears to be locked down, but on another site here is mention of the letter the wife wrote in:

Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone. He’s never done this, we always communicate in person or by text. I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone. Attached is a SPREADSHEET of all the times he has tried to initiate sex since June 1st, with a column for my “excuses”, using verbatim quotes of why I didn’t feel like having sex at that very moment. According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 “attempts” on his part.

I saw the original letter from her before it was locked down and it seemed she was confused about his behavior, and said the lack of sex was unusual and that it was because she was just busy with work. From what I remember, she is in her 20s and the couple have been together around five years and married for two and have no kids.

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A Mind for Numbers

July 19th, 2014 - 6:05 am

I have been reading Barbara Oakley’s new book A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) this week. It’s a fascinating and fun read if you want to learn math, science or like me, just want to improve your memory.

I was actually pretty decent at math as my father was a mathematician and I grew up learning to love numbers. However, I had no natural talent, just no fear, which is important in learning math. Oakley makes this point throughout the book as she believes most people can learn math (and science) with the right tools and mindset. She is an engineering professor who failed her way through high school math but tackled these skills as an adult. Here is more about the book:

In A Mind for Numbers, Dr. Oakley lets us in on the secrets to effectively learning math and science—secrets that even dedicated and successful students wish they’d known earlier. Contrary to popular belief, math requires creative, as well as analytical, thinking. Most people think that there’s only one way to do a problem, when in actuality, there are often a number of different solutions—you just need the creativity to see them. For example, there are more than three hundred different known proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. In short, studying a problem in a laser-focused way until you reach a solution is not an effective way to learn math. Rather, it involves taking the time to step away from a problem and allow the more relaxed and creative part of the brain to take over. A Mind for Numbers shows us that we all have what it takes to excel in math, and learning it is not as painful as some might think!

Relaxing while trying to learn math sounds counterintuitive but it works, according to the book. One of my favorite chapters is called “tools, tips, and tricks” and it gives the reader positive mental tricks to use to their advantage in learning. She tackles procrastination and gets tips from experts regarding their students such as “No going onto the computer during their procrastination time. It’s too engrossing” or “Before procrastinating, identify the easiest homework problem” and “Copy the equation or equations that are needed to solve the problem onto a small piece of paper and carry the paper around until they are ready to quit procrastinating and get back to work.”

All this seems to lead to being a bit more creative and perhaps a bit more relaxed. Come to think of it, the above tips would be helpful in writing a blog post except the writer has to use the computer and cannot avoid it. Anyway, the book is great and goes into more detail about how to increase your memory with metaphors and visualization. Pick it up if you want to know more about how to succeed at math and science or if you just need to improve your memory and learning ability.

July 16th, 2014 - 4:44 am

FIRE announces a New Organization Founded to Promote Due Process on Campus:

FIRE is pleased to announce the launch of a new organization, Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), dedicated to defending due process on campus. FACE president and co-founder Sherry Warner Seefeld is the mother of Caleb Warner, who was falsely found responsible for sexual assault by the University of North Dakota in one of FIRE’s best-known due process cases. Co-founders Judith Grossman and Allison Strange are mothers with similar experiences. FIRE looks forward to working with FACE on due process issues in the years to come.

I am glad to see that this new organization exists but it is founded by mothers of sons who have been charged falsely with sexual assaults. Where are the fathers in these cases? Do they not care or are they afraid to fight back or just out of the picture?