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Bemoaning the lack of female penis models - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Bemoaning the lack of female penis models [Jul. 8th, 2008|10:02 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Apparently it's a big problem that only 25% of employees in the Venture Capital industry are female.

I completely understand why the low participation levels of women in say, math is a problem: there is considerable sexism, overt or not, that contributes to the situation. But Venture Capital? Surely, everyone understands that men are significantly more attracted to risk-taking behavior? In fact, that's true for males of virtually every species; this is extremely well understood in sociobiology and has been used to explain and/or predict such diverse phenomena as higher auto insurance rates for men and the fact that left-handedness more common in men than in women.

Most dramatically, perhaps, the sex ratio of Darwin award winners is skewed something like 100:1 in favor of men. And yet, nobody complains about that.

In fact, there is strong evidence that sexism is not a cause of the gender differences in the VC industry: if one looks only at non-investing positions, the percentage of women jumps up to 44%, or near-parity. If the observed behavior is completely explained by biological differences, why is it a problem? And who benefits from changing things?

Joey Tribbiani's rhetorical example of penis modeling as a profession where we will never see gender equality seems oddly appropriate.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mcfnord
2008-07-09 06:12 am (UTC)
if men take more unwise risks in the course of taking more risks, then the gap in investing positions probably represents a loss of potential value.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-07-09 06:15 am (UTC)
men just take more risks, and aren't wiser or stupider as a sex; the ones that happen to be stupid in addition to being risk takers end up killing themselves.
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[User Picture]From: mcfnord
2008-07-09 03:40 pm (UTC)
it's a thesis of investing that risk and reward are asymmetrical.
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From: kupamanduka
2008-07-09 03:15 pm (UTC)

Questions

I am uncannily reminded of the analogy with suicides. Apparently females are involved in more crashes but the male crashes are more severe :

http://www.junkscience.com/news2/womendri.htm

Many more women than men attempt suicide but about thrice to four times as many men end up committing suicide as women in developed countries. So perhaps females are slightly more attracted to low-level risk taking, or may be they have some mechanism that inhibits high-level-risk-taking-tendencies, in the interest of their baby.

BTW would you support :

1. Higher auto insurance rates for blacks if they were involved in more accidents.
2. Womens' health being funded by only means that charge women.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-07-09 10:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Questions

BTW would you support :

1. Higher auto insurance rates for blacks if they were involved in more accidents.


being a libertarian, i don't support or oppose that sort of thing. insurance companies are private entities and should be free to use whatever information they have, free of government intervention.

on the other hand, i think it's both racist and financially unsound to charge differential rates. we've repeatedly learnt that there's virtually nothing about behavior that's biologically determined by race. if african americans do have higher accident rates, it's purely due to the difference in socio-economic conditions, so if i were coming up with the formula for insurance premiums, the smart thing to do would be to consider income, zip code and stuff like that and leave out race. it would also be the non-racist thing to do.

2. Womens' health being funded by only means that charge women.

that's just bullshit and i'm not going to waste my time giving that question any legitimacy.
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From: kupamanduka
2008-07-10 01:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Questions

Ok, my phrasing was terribly sloppy - for both questions I didn't mean what I asked. I think I understand your stance. Thanks.
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From: kupamanduka
2008-07-10 07:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Questions

BTW there can be "socialization" factors in addition to income, zip code etc.
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[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2008-07-09 05:25 pm (UTC)
I don't think that risk-taking is the main factor here. In a lot of industries, sexism is highly subjective. The advertising industry is another,as is teaching.

Sure there are male and female teachers, but I have observed that students and faculty always react entirely different to one sex vs. the other.

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From: fixious
2008-07-09 09:06 pm (UTC)
How is your argument different from ones that reason that women are inherently scientifically handicapped?
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-07-09 10:10 pm (UTC)
first of all you'd have to show that the handicap arises from biological factors, which would be very hard to show considering that other species don't do science. you'd also have to argue that there's no sexism in science, which i don't think you can because it's not true.
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From: fixious
2008-07-09 10:45 pm (UTC)
So are you arguing that there is no sexism in the VC industry? (That may be true, I don't know, but we haven't established that.)

A standard argument for the mathematical handicap is that it derives from the biological disparity in spatial skills.
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[User Picture]From: ethernight
2008-12-30 10:29 pm (UTC)
I don't have any firm opinions on this, but I do think that using the phrasing "scientifically handicapped" is rather loaded.

There are inverse gender disparities in psychological fields -- the industry is female dominated. Is this because men are "emotionally handicapped"? Or perhaps because women are "emotionally talented"?

Saying that, on average there tends to be a difference in the innate adeptness in certain areas depending on gender is not a value judgment. Calling those differences "handicaps" is, and it muddles the facts. It biases the statement with how we think things should be, rather than just evaluating how they are.
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From: fixious
2008-12-31 01:47 am (UTC)
All right, substitute 'handicap' with "lack of innate adeptness". Is that really much better?

I was under the impression that the reason men don't tend to get into psychology (and literature, and fields of the sort) is that it's harder to make secure, breadwinning careers out of them, rather than because of a lack of interest or ability.
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[User Picture]From: ethernight
2008-12-31 02:30 am (UTC)
"All right, substitute 'handicap' with 'lack of innate adeptness'. Is that really much better?"

I think so. But better still would be "a different level of innate adeptness". Framing it as a deficit in women implies that men have a "normal" aptitude, and women suck. Whereas, if such a difference exists, it could just as easily be framed as that women have a "normal" aptitude, and men happen to be especially good.

"I was under the impression that the reason men don't tend to get into psychology (and literature, and fields of the sort) is that it's harder to make secure, breadwinning careers out of them, rather than because of a lack of interest or ability."

My point is not weather or not it is the case that these innate aptitudes exist, or even if they are the cause for gender gaps in careers. (I think there are lots of arguments to be made on both sides.) My point is that if you want to discuss the possibility of innate aptitude for either gender, it is important to frame it as a neutral data point.
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From: fixious
2008-12-31 03:09 am (UTC)
That's just shifting the scale around to sound less harsh on the ear. So if there is an "average" or "neutral" point, someone (or some group) has got to be below-average too, right? Or do you keep re-calibrating so you don't offend anyone while still maintaining a nice relative hierarchy? As far as I'm concerned, being told I'm inherently mediocre at something is no better than finding out I inherently suck, especially if it's something important to me.


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[User Picture]From: ethernight
2008-12-31 03:30 am (UTC)
"That's just shifting the scale around to sound less harsh on the ear."

It is not a matter of not being offensive, but a matter of being unbiased.


"As far as I'm concerned, being told I'm inherently mediocre at something is no better than finding out I inherently suck, especially if it's something important to me."

Considering the possibility that women tend to not do as well as men at certain things does not change your skills or talents. Recognizing a trend does not mean that you or any specific individual fall within that trend. It would be foolish for anyone to generalize and assume that because a trend exists, that they can apply the same tendencies to any member of that group sight unseen. That's the very definition of discrimination.

However, evaluating the data to identify such a trend, and recognizing it if it exists, is not.
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From: fixious
2008-12-31 04:24 am (UTC)
No, it is not unbiased to say a certain group is better than the other without good evidence to support it. We are comparing quantities against each other, so who cares whether the baseline is 'sucks' or 'normal'?

Considering the possibility that women tend to not do as well as men at certain things does not change your skills or talents.

Yes, I know -- when I used an individual pronoun, I wasn't talking about the issue on an individual level, or how group generalizations affect people. It was simply to say that being 'average' is not really inoffensive -- or unbiased if you prefer -- and that changing language to basically say the same thing is an idiotic endeavor.

(sorry for the repeat post-edit.)
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[User Picture]From: ethernight
2008-12-31 07:54 am (UTC)
Well, I think we've both expressed our points. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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From: fixious
2008-07-09 09:09 pm (UTC)
Also, I don't see the link between left-handedness and risk-taking from the abstract -- it seems to be about the advantage of the former in fighting, which is not necessarily about risks.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-07-09 10:13 pm (UTC)
it's not in the abstract, sorry. you have to read the paper. i think the intro will do. but it's pretty awesome, so it might be worth your time. i found that paper 4 years ago when trying to understand if the disproportionately high percentages of left handers in sport led to a general evolutionary argument. i've been meaning to link to that paper ever since.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-07-09 10:39 pm (UTC)

sexism, 44%, glass ceiling

You may as well to specify what the 44% are ..
The HRs, the administrative as so on ...

Then what about the percentage of women's presence for these more decision making positions in the VC industry?
Are they equally paid as their male counter parts?

Isn't it so convenient to rely on seemingly apparent factors such as risk-taking to shovel the harder reality under the rug?

One thing evolves super slow for sure is the collective perception and projection.

It's overtly easier to "stereotype" women's intellectual and business prowess without the conscious or subconscious awareness of sexism, given that women only made into 2% of Forbes' CEO list.

On the other end of spectrum, it also convenient to ripe off the courtesy of behaving politely and professionally when treating female peers in the name of gender equality.

You may well check out bitch_phd.
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