Da more ya wonder

Referring to yesterday’s entry, “Da more ya think about it,” about James Damore’s memo suggesting that inherent differences between men and women might “help explain” the gender imbalance in Google’s technical staff:

On the one hand, there must be psychological differences between men and women. On the other hand, Damore made a serious error in estimating the effect of these differences compared with the effects of prejudice and discrimination.

Studies have found actual psychological differences between men and women, including differences in brain structure, though it’s not clear that they’re genetically derived, since brain structure does adapt to experience. But it’s inconceivable that there would not be genetic differences. For tens of thousands of generations, as our species evolved, women did two very important things that men cannot do: bear children, and suckle them. While the men went out in teams to hunt mammoth or wild boar, the women stayed home and cared for the children.

The survival of the group depended on men and women each adapting to do their jobs effectively. For instance, if the men hunted in teams while each woman cared for her own children—though that might not have been the case in all human cultures—individual women would be more valuable than individual men. Adaptation would then lead women to be less risk-taking than men—though it’s not at all clear what that might have to do with technical aptitude.

But Damore made a serious error in not distinguishing internal discrimination (within Google) from external discrimination (outside Google, and before any employees ever got to Google). Google made serious efforts to avoid prejudice and discrimination. But before anybody ever got to Google, cultural stereotypes told women that they were not suited to technical activities. Women were encouraged to believe that mathematics, and other technical disciplines, were too difficult for them.

Whether or not they had a genetic aptitude for technical work (whatever that is), most of them became convinced that they didn’t. That would have a far greater effect on gender imbalance than actual differences in aptitude. Damore may have been right that there were differences in ability, but he was wrong in thinking that was the answer.

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