Rebecca and Riley: Tempest in a Doll’s Tea Party

January 2, 2012


A fresh new year and Rebecca Watson is already upset about something I wrote. Is it January already?

Rebecca recently wrote a piece for her Skepchick blog called "Intellectual Cage Match: Ben Radford Vs. A 4-Year-Old," in which she critiqued a blog piece I wrote for Julia Lavarnway's recently-launched blog "We Are SkeptiXX." It was an analysis of a viral video featuring a four-year-old girl named Riley who complains about gender stereotyped marketing. In order to understand the context it's important to read my original post, which can be found at the link above.


There's much wrong about Rebecca's rebuttal to my article, so I'll jump in.

1) Rebecca begins by accusing me of "misrepresenting" research last year on a different topic; we had a long, drawn-out discussion on the subject which is easily available for anyone who wishes to look for it. I explained why Rebecca was wrong in her interpretation, and the whole thing ended with Rebecca contacting one or both of the authors who she claimed I misquoted; a year later, neither one has yet claimed that I misquoted or misrepresented them, their research, or the conclusions I quoted from their papers. Strange that Rebecca neglected to mention that...

2) Rebecca writes, "It takes a lot to strawman a 4-year old, but Ben's done it. For starters, most of his takedown involves literally taking the 4-year old's words at face value instead of comprehending what she's saying with her limited vocabulary."

There's a very specific reason I focused on Riley's words "at face value" for the purposes of discussion: They are concrete and objective. We can all agree on what exactly she said, we can read it and listen to it and quote it for reference in case of dispute. Anything much beyond her words is interpretation (more on this later). Julia's statement, in her response to my article on the We Are SkeptiXX blog that the point of Riley's rant was that "aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls'" is a perfect example. To Julia, that was obviously the gist or thesis of Riley's comments. But that was not the gist that I, or another viewer I corresponded with, interpreted from her Riley's words.

The point isn't that Julia, Rebecca, or any one of us, is necessarily wrong, but that the problem with discussing interpretation is that it brings us back to subjective opinions. Like a piece of art, a dozen different people may have a dozen different interpretations. Certainly we can each argue for our own interpretation, but it's like people arguing about different interpretations of the Bible: It's often circular, and there's rarely a meeting of the minds or consensus about interpretations.

Of course it's not enough to just analyze her words (that's why I did so only briefly); it's only a starting point. There's nothing inherently wrong with discussing various interpretations, as long as people acknowledge that they are essentially subjective opinions, and that other people may have equally valid interpretations. When we stick to the original, objective, indisputable words that Riley spoke-whether she's four or forty-we stick to things we can all agree on. This is actually standard practice for skeptical investigation, which is my specialty (and something Rebecca has, to my knowledge, never done): You focus on what exactly the person said.

So when I insisted that Riley was wrong in her claim that girls are forced or "tricked" into buying or liking pink items or princesses, my purpose was not to be pedantic, but instead to keep the discussion grounded and rooted in objective evidence.

3) "Ben goes on to guess at why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. One of his guesses is that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Apparently Rebecca was so busy facepalming herself that she didn't read what I wrote closely... Do I explain why girls decided that pink is for girls? Nope, I say that no one knows; here's the direct quote: "girls were later assigned the color pink for reasons that aren't entirely clear." Misrepresentation or misreading? Either way, Rebecca is wrong. A closer reading shows that I never claimed or suggested any link between "why society has decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys" and "that girls' toys are pink because their dolls' skin is pink."

Rebecca confuses two separate issues; the question "Why are most toys and clothing items for female babies and young girls pink" is a different question than why society chose pink and blue to represent girls and boys, respectively. I did not even try to answer the latter question (in fact I wrote that "reasons that aren't entirely clear"), while the former question can be analyzed as follows:

"One obvious reason is that dolls are by far the most popular toys for girls. What color are most dolls? Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned. There are, of course, dolls of varying skin tones and ethnicities (the popular Bratz dolls, for example, have a range of skin tones). But since most girls play with dolls, and most dolls are pink (a green- or blue-skinned doll would look creepy), it makes perfect sense that most girls' toys are pink."

Rebecca apparently believes that most dolls do not have "pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones." To Rebecca, the claim that most dolls have "pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones" is a "ridiculous fantasy story." What's her evidence for this? Did she do any research? Nope, she zoomed in on a screen capture of Riley taken with a cell phone and concluded that few if any of the dolls are pinkish. (Watch the first ten seconds of the video and see how the background colors change every few seconds; this is pretty much the definition of a flawed experiment, as she'll get different tones depending on when she freezes the picture.)

Who's right, me or Rebecca? I could cite studies about the dearth of minority skin tones in children's dolls, but there's a much easier way to do it. Decide for yourself: the next time you're in a toy store, craft store, or anywhere else where dolls are sold, look at the skin tones on the majority of the dolls. Are they roughly pink tones, or are they another color? Or do a simple Google image search for "dolls" and see what skin color most of them show up as; according to Rebecca, it will be anything but pink.

4) "Here's another reason Ben made up for why girl toys are pink: Pink is also the most popular color for girls' items for the same reason that white is the most popular color for new cars: that's what most people prefer. Get it? Popular things are popular because they're popular. Pink things are popular because people prefer them."


I'm not sure what Rebecca doesn't understand about this, but I've spelled out the logic below, maybe this will help:
1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls' toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls' toys are pink.

I can do a Venn diagram for her, but it's valid.

5) This is perhaps my favorite Rebecca-ism:

"Girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability. Riley understands this, but apparently Ben does not."

Yes, Rebecca is really saying that four-year-old Riley understands that "girls who don't dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability."

It's clear that Rebecca is putting her own spin or interpretation on Riley's comments. Julia Lavarnway, in her piece on We Are SkeptiXX, had a very different interpretation than Rebecca does, saying that "Aisles in the toy store are often specifically labeled ‘Boys' and ‘Girls.' That is what Riley is really complaining about." Of course Rebecca assumes that her interpretation is the only correct one; I'm wrong, Julia is wrong, and anyone else that doesn't agree with her is an idiot.

But if you listen closely you find that Riley doesn't talk about gender roles; that's Rebecca's spin on it. Riley's not talking about unfuckable prudes or boys being called fags; she's noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink). She complains that girls are "tricked" into buying pink items, a claim Rebecca apparently agrees with. Riley actually contradicts herself at least once in the video, for example when her father points out that boy are not forced to buy "different colored" (i.e., non-pink) items. I'm not sure which contradictory position of Riley's Rebecca endorses; probably both.

Are there people and parents who freak out if their young daughter plays with G.I. Joes or acts like a tomboy? Of course. Are there people and parents who freak out if their young son likes to play dress-up and wear pink? Sure there are. No one is saying that those people don't exist, or that their narrow-mindedness is not a problem. But this is specifically about Riley Maida, her comments, her father's comments, and the public's reaction to them, not about whether gender stereotypes exist (of course they do).

6) I actually wrote (and submitted) a much more detailed piece than the one that appeared on We Are SkeptiXX blog. It's unfortunate that it was not posted earlier (and is still not available) so that Rebecca could read the whole piece, since she misunderstands a lot of it.

Instead of trading insults with Rebecca, I'd rather look critically at the issues Riley raises. Of course marketing and advertising is going to feature pink toys (since many girls prefer pink-whether it's genetic, cultural, or both is another matter) and girls playing with dolls and princesses. Most TV commercials don't depict girls playing with gender-stereotyped male toys like WWF action figures and rockets-and why would they, since girls prefer dolls? If you're a company marketing to girls, you're going to depict girls playing with toys that girls prefer to play with; you could of course make gender-contrary ads (boys playing with princesses and girls playing with racing cars, or even men in lingerie), but why would you? No advertiser in their right might would do that--not because they are part of some sinister sexist stereotyping marketing conspiracy, but because there's little point in funding a marketing campaign that will appeal to a minority of consumers. Rule #1 in communication and marketing is "Know Your Audience"; you don't pitch BMWs to teenagers, beef to vegetarians, or princesses to boys. There are lots of toys that girls rarely appear in commercials playing with.... I'm not sure where the assumption comes from that girls only play with toys that they see girl actors in commercials playing with.

I think the discussion gets more interesting and much more productive when we as skeptics focus on real-world evidence and objective claims. We can speculate all day about why a particular girl likes pink, or whether boys or girls are harmed by not having opposite-gender toys marketed to them, but in the end it's mostly opinion. If there are studies showing that girls or boys who play with gender-stereotyped toys are damaged in some way, let's review them and discuss them. If there's some evidence (or reason to believe) that removing the "Boys" and "Girls" aisle signs in toy stores would have some beneficial effect on girls, let's talk about it.

Personally, I think the whole idea of distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is silly. I don't have a problem with girls being tomboys and playing with Superman, or boys playing with princesses. It doesn't bother me either way, I think Riley and every other kid should do what he or she wants. I'm not defending gender-stereotyped colors and toys, in fact I think the whole idea is ridiculous, and if parents buy into that they need to get over their hangups. But nor do I see any sexist marketing conspiracy in it. I don't see any specific harm or damage done if a girl plays with a pink princess, or a boy is given blue instead of pink or another color. Who cares?

Parents--not toy companies or toddlers--control what their children play with, from clothing to toys. Instead of blaming toy marketers for providing products that parents are free to buy or ignore (as Riley seems to), parents need to take responsibility. If you don't want your little girl to play with Barbie, don't buy her one. Ideally parents should offer their boys and girls a variety of gender-neutral toys and colors, and let them express their own preferences.

But little girls who express a desire for pink dolls and "girlie" items should not be denied them, nor made to feel like they "shouldn't" like those things because they reinforce gender stereotypes. It's insulting to suggest that the reason a girl wants pink is that she must have been influenced by marketers and the media: "I don't care what you say, you don't really like pink or want a Barbie... you're just buying into consumer culture's sexist expectations of what you should want." She might like pink dolls because she saw them in a commercial, and/or because her friends have them, and/or because she just likes the way they look, and/or because her mother or grandmother had one like it, and/or countless other reasons. Or she just might like pink dolls, and shouldn't have to justify her preference. I think kids should be kids, and allowed to like or dislike any toys or colors or clothes without their decisions being second-guessed by adults. Riley may be four years old, but she's not stupid.

It's clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don't think anyone is arguing or disputing that. It's the link between that and what Riley says in this video that's much less clear and focused. We all agree that what Riley said is not literally true: girls aren't tricked or forced into buying anything. So let's broaden the scope to a larger claim: Marketers encourage girls to buy (actually, their parents to buy) pink items and princesses, and boys to buy superheroes and non-pink items. Okay, so where does the discussion go from there? What exactly is the evidence of harm, and the proposed, evidence-based remedy? What is anyone suggesting be done about it?

Rebecca doesn't offer any answers; she's too busy hurling insults, being outraged, and trying to keep her head from asploding. I've tried to provide a level of considered, critical analysis about this topic. In the end, I think that Rebecca, Julia, and I more or less agree about 95% of this topic, and that much of the perceived disagreement is either factual (Rebecca claims that most dolls aren't pink; I claim most are); or interpretation.

I'll end on a different note. Rebecca and I can disagree about this and other topics, but it's disheartening to be called "idiotic" and described as less intelligent than a four-year-old by a friend and skeptical colleague. I counted about a half-dozen insults in her piece, and it's clear Rebecca enjoys being outraged at various things. It's often the case that outrage and insults substitute for truth and accuracy; it's easier to call someone stupid than it is to engage them respectfully. It's easier to have knee-jerk, facepalming reactions than it is to thoughtfully see if there's some misunderstanding on someone's part-or, god forbid, even some common ground. For my part, I take my cues from Ray Hyman, one of my heroes and one of the founders of both CSCIOP and the modern skeptical movement.

If you haven't read Ray's piece "Proper Criticism," you should; it's what guides editorial policy in Skeptical Inquirer. It's a short piece explaining how best to deal with people and claims you disagree with. I'll quote a few short sections: "Many well-intentioned critics have jumped into the fray without carefully thinking through the various implications of their statements. They have sometimes displayed more emotion than logic, made sweeping charges beyond what they can reasonably support, failed to adequately document their assertions, and, in general, failed to do the homework necessary to make their challenges credible.... If we envision ourselves as the champions of rationality, science, and objectivity, then we ought to display these very same qualities in our criticism. Just by trying to speak and write in the spirit of precision, science, logic, and rationality-those attributes we supposedly admire-we would raise the quality of our critiques by at least one order of magnitude.... The principle of charity implies that, whenever there is doubt or ambiguity about a...claim, we should try to resolve the ambiguity in favor of the claimant until we acquire strong reasons for not doing so. In this respect, we should...convey the opponent's position in a fair, objective, and non-emotional manner. We should avoid using loaded and prejudicial words in our criticisms. If the proponents happen to resort to emotionally laden terms and sensationalism, we should avoid stooping to their level. We should not respond in kind."

Just because someone disagrees with you, or has a different opinion than you do, doesn't mean the other person is a stupid, dishonest asshole. Even a four year old knows that.

 

 

Comments:

#101 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:18pm

“Why do YOU assume that Riley only interacts with her father, or that her father’s lack of caring is representative of the culture at large?”

I don’t. Here’s your claim: “It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.”

I never said that. We are talking about Riley specifically- what she says and does in the video. I made no statements about the presence or lack of social pressure to conform to gender roles. I wrote nothing of the sort. I didn’t even bring it up.

#102 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:18pm

I don’t think beige OR pink are on the color wheel. So that sounds even sillier, now that I think about it.

#103 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:24pm

I don’t. Here’s your claim: “It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.”

I never said that. We are talking about Riley specifically- what she says and does in the video. I made no statements about the presence or lack of social pressure to conform to gender roles. I wrote nothing of the sort. I didn’t even bring it up.

Yes, I know you didn’t bring it up—which is rather startling, since that is exactly what Riley is talking about.

It amounts to an attempt to deny that gender roles exist.

That, or you’re just saying that Riley is that one magical 3-year-old who is unaffected by them. In which case, someone should do a scientific study on her, like, right away.

#104 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:28pm

“But I guess I have to prove to you that sexism exists, and gender roles exist, is that it? Fantastic. I’m sure you think you get lots of skeptic points for questioning the existence of gender roles.”

Actually, here’s what I wrote about that, I’m sure you disagree:

It’s clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don’t think anyone is arguing or disputing that. ...Are there people and parents who freak out if their young daughter plays with G.I. Joes or acts like a tomboy? Of course. Are there people and parents who freak out if their young son likes to play dress-up and wear pink? Sure there are. No one is saying that those people don’t exist, or that their narrow-mindedness is not a problem.

#105 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:28pm

You seem to be assuming that Riley has people around her (other than her dad, of course) who force or urge her to conform to gender roles. Do you have any evidence of this in Riley’s case? Or do you just assume that all girls experience that pressure? If so, why?

I’m not sure exactly how to respond to this. Pressure to conform to gender roles is well-documented. I don’t know Riley personally, so I can’t comment on that. But societal reinforcement of gender roles is very well documented. I’ll mention a couple studies below, but I really think that even a cursory glance at the literature would answer this question, and perhaps posing it to yourself first might avoid this kind of stuff.

Ploderl and Fartacek’s 2009 study “Childhood Gender Nonconformity and Harassment as Predictors of Suicidality among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Austrians.” demonstrated both that childhood harassment regarding non-heterosexuality diminished significantly for LGBT children who conformed to gender roles, and further that gender-role non-conformance correlated with higher suicide risk. Obviously, this deals with LGBT orientations as well as gender roles, but I think it stands as fairly good evidence that gender role nonconformance is an issue, especially for children.

The role of childhood gender role nonconformity (CGNC) and childhood harassment (CH) in explaining suicidality (suicide ideation, aborted suicide attempts, and suicide attempts) was examined in a sample of 142 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults and 148 heterosexual adults in Austria. Current and previous suicidality, CGNC, and CH were significantly greater in LGB participants compared to heterosexual participants. After controlling for CGNC, the effect of sexual orientation on CH diminished. CGNC correlated significantly with current suicidality in the LGB but not in the heterosexual group, and only non-significant correlations were found for CGNC with previous suicidality. Controlling for CH and CGNC diminished the effect of sexual orientation on current suicidality. Bayesian multivariate analysis indicated that current suicidality, but not previous suicidality, depended directly on CGNC. CH and CGNC are likely implicated in the elevated levels of current suicidality among adult LGB participants. As for previous suicidality, the negative impact of CGNC on suicidality might be overshadowed by stress issues affecting sexual minorities around coming out. The association of CGNC with current suicidality suggests an enduring effect of CGNC on the mental health and suicide risk of LGB individuals.

Mike Parent and Bonnie Moradi, in their 2010 study to develop a framework for developing a way to judge women’s conformity to culturally constructed feminine gender roles note, for example, that

Conformity to cultural norms of femininity is posited to
play an important role in women’s lives across a range of
domains, including mental health, relationships, and work
(e.g., Brown & Brodsky, 1992; Philpot, Brooks, Lusterman,
& Nutt, 2002; Worell & Johnson, 2004).

#106 A mom (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:31pm

@36

Let me get this straight…you are completely ignoring the effect of peer pressure on society, suggesting that it is the fault of FOUR YEAR OLD CHILDREN when they give up an interest rather than fight a battle for the right to have that interest, a battle which even in adults can kill the love of the hobby by turning it into a crusade rather than a good time. 

Are you and Radford really that determined to be misogynistic?

How have you reached adulthood without ever hearing of the concept of peer pressure?  Radford, how do you even begin to consider yourself worthy to comment on this issue at all if you are so ignorant on the subject of peer pressure?

That’s…quite frankly, pathetic.

#107 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:36pm

“Yes, I know you didn’t bring it up—which is rather startling, since that is exactly what Riley is talking about.”

Okay, thank you for acknowledging this! I’ve been saying this for a while now.

I disagree; Riley doesn’t talk about gender roles—though I can see how you and Rebecca and others could interpret it that way. She’s noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink).

We have different interpretations; I see it as a marketing issue, since she’s in a toy store asking why marketers offer princesses for girls and superheroes for boys. I don’t see that as a discussion about gender roles necessarily, I think that’s reading a lot into the 4-year-olds words. But again, I can see how it could be interpreted that way.

#108 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:38pm

Boys and girls are, from birth, reared under a different set of environmental conditions. Parents play more roughly and vigorously with infant sons than they do with daughters, and are more likely to react positively to assertive behavior on the part of their sons and to emotional sensitivity in their daughters. Boys are encouraged to be more physically active while girls are encouraged to be affectionate and tender. Boys tend to be given more freedom to roam the neighborhood, and they are not protected for as great a length of a time as girls from potentially dangerous activities like playing with sharp objects or crossing the street alone. Parents quickly come to the aid of their daughters, but are more likely to encourage their sons to address problems themselves. Thus, independence and initiative tend to be encouraged in boys, while dependence and passive behavior tend to be encouraged in girls (Woolfolk, 1998). In science, where discussion, problem-solving, and laboratory exercises are essential learning tools, these learned behaviors later result in science classrooms characterized by male-dominated discussions and laboratory activities in which boys perform the experiments and girls passively watch and take notes

(Guzzetti & Williams, 1996; Woolfolk, 1998).

#109 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:40pm

She’s noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink).

Please explain how this is different from “gender roles,” and explain how you define “gender roles.” Apparently you have a much different definition of the word than the majority of researchers in the field.

Please explain why you think a “marketing issue” is distinct from a “gender role” issue.

#110 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:41pm

Socially acceptable toys and play are different for girls and boys. Boys’ rooms tend to be filled with sports equipment, toy vehicles, tools, and building kits. Boys’ play tends to involve taking things apart and putting them back together, grouping objects, and manipulating objects. They develop a relationship with objects with de-emphasis on play that promotes relationships with people. Boys typically participate in activities such as building with blocks and constructing model airplanes, and often participate in sports that involve science and math concepts (e.g., figuring batting averages and negotiating over game rules). Girls’ rooms tend to contain children’s furniture, kitchen utensils, and dolls. They tend to use these objects to explore emotional relationships such as playing house, making up stories, and talking to dolls. Girls perform fine motor activities like sewing and drawing, which tend to be solitary, sedentary, and structured. Thus, girls tend to play with toys that promote the development of verbal, interpersonal, and fine motor skills (Aldridge & Goldman, 2002). The issue here is that the nature of the play experiences and toy choices of boys provides more opportunity for the development of spatial visualization and basic math and science skills than do the play experiences and toy choices of girls. Thus, boys tend to have an environmentally-induced advantage in math and science even before they are introduced to these subjects in school (Aldridge & Goldman, 2002; Jones, Howe, and Rua, 2000).

#111 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:46pm

Of course gender roles exist… I stated that clearly and explicitly. I didn’t even write about gender roles in the context of Riley’s video because I consider her rant about marketing, not really about gender roles. I’m not even sure what a four-year-old’s understanding of gender roles would be.

I know what Rebecca claimed: “Riley understands that “girls who don’t dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability.” This is what Rebecca believes is Riley’s understanding of gender roles. I disagree, and see a lot of projection and interpretation.

#112 llewelly (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:47pm

Ben claims:
“Instead of trading insults with Rebecca, I’d rather look critically at the issues Riley raises”.

But then he writes:

“Of course marketing and advertising is going to feature pink toys (since many girls prefer pink-whether it’s genetic, cultural, or both is another matter) and girls playing with dolls and princesses. Most TV commercials don’t depict girls playing with gender-stereotyped male toys like WWF action figures and rockets-and why would they, since girls prefer dolls?”

And uncritically assumes advertising has no effect on which toys girls perfer.

Ben also wrote:

“It’s clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don’t think anyone is arguing or disputing that.”

A clear contradiction of the claim in his prior article, which was:

“The problem is that Riley is wrong: Girls don’t have to buy princesses, and boys don’t have to buy superheroes. Girls don’t have to buy pink things, and boys don’t have to buy toys that are blue, or any other color”

It is a fact that “social and cultural expectations” are enforced - sometimes violently. Sure, you’re free to violate social norms if you don’t mind being beat now and then, or missing out on the social contacts which are necessary for making a living.

Ben, if you really believe “It’s clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don’t think anyone is arguing or disputing that.”, you need to come out and admit the central premise behind your original article is glaringly wrong.

As a long time fan of monstertalk, I am, painfully, reminded of the day when Brian Dunning decided to make an entire podcast which was firmly in denial of the overwhelming evidence that DDT has been rendered obsolete by evolution.

As a long time fan of Monster Talk, I must say, this is a reminder that all skeptics have their narrow zone(s) of expertise, outside of which, they are as naive as anyone. (One of Rebecca’s, for what is worth, is marketing. That’s what she studied in school.)

#113 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:48pm

Previous quotes were from Gender Disparity in Science Education: The Causes, Consequences, and Solutions. By Susan D. Witt.

#114 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:50pm

But when you say things like this

You seem to be assuming that Riley has people around her (other than her dad, of course) who force or urge her to conform to gender roles. Do you have any evidence of this in Riley’s case? Or do you just assume that all girls experience that pressure? If so, why?

it seems like you are denying that society urges people to conform to gender roles. But as I point out in my post #105, scientific research supports the conclusion that there are strong incentives to conform to gender roles.

Unless you are denying that sexist and gender-based marketing encourages gender roles and urges conformance, any rant about how marketing is gendered is necessarily about gender roles. But that’s beside the point. Your claim above clearly denies the role of gender role conformity.

#115 Jennifer (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:53pm

Yikes, this is a giant case of tl;dr.  Sure Ben is clearly wrong and cites dumb research, but god, between him, his opponents, his fallacious supporters, and what’s on Skepchick, there’s enough to fill a god damned novel.

Does anyone in this community have a job?  And are skeptic meetings in meatspace this needlessly long-winded? 

Well, I guess since I’m in Rome, I’ll join in with my own critical rant.
“I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me! I’m so smart, look at me!”

I dare you to refute my infallible logic.

#116 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:54pm

I know what Rebecca claimed: “Riley understands that “girls who don’t dress up or wear make-up are called dykes or unfuckable prudes. Boys who wear skirts are called fags or treated for mental instability.” This is what Rebecca believes is Riley’s understanding of gender roles. I disagree, and see a lot of projection and interpretation.

Although Riley doesn’t use the words “gender roles,” “unfuckable prudes,” “dykes,” or “fags,” she is still correct in noting that there is a social price to pay for deviating from one’s assigned gender role. That is what Rebecca Watson was saying, though not in so many words. And that is what you are struggling with. Is there, or is there not, a cost imposed on young children who defy gender roles? Is a boy truly free to choose to play with pretty pink princesses, or will he be teased by his peers, and inspire fear and concern in his parents, teachers, and other adults? Is a girl truly free to dress in boyish clothes and play with pirate swords, <a href=“

#117 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:54pm

She’s noting, correctly, that toys marketed for girls tend to be pink (and princesses), and toys marketed for boys tend to be superheroes (and not pink). Please explain how this is different from “gender roles,” and explain how you define “gender roles.”

Sure… I don’t see different colored toys being marketed to different people (even different sexes) as necessarily involving “gender roles.” What implication does a pink doll have for Riley’s “role” as a female, as opposed to a blue doll? Again, I’m not denying that gender roles exist, or that they are good or bad. The issue, the angle I discussed in my article, was explicitly NOT gender roles but marketing—I was discussing why dolls are marketed to girls and superheroes are marketed to boys. The whole discussion is about marketing:

Of course marketing and advertising is going to feature pink toys (since many girls prefer pink-whether it’s genetic, cultural, or both is another matter) and girls playing with dolls and princesses. Most TV commercials don’t depict girls playing with gender-stereotyped male toys like WWF action figures and rockets-and why would they, since girls prefer dolls? If you’re a company marketing to girls, you’re going to depict girls playing with toys that girls prefer to play with; you could of course make gender-contrary ads (boys playing with princesses and girls playing with racing cars, or even men in lingerie), but why would you? No advertiser in their right might would do that—not because they are part of some sinister sexist stereotyping marketing conspiracy, but because there’s little point in funding a marketing campaign that will appeal to a minority of consumers. Rule #1 in communication and marketing is “Know Your Audience”; you don’t pitch BMWs to teenagers, beef to vegetarians, or princesses to boys. There are lots of toys that girls rarely appear in commercials playing with…. I’m not sure where the assumption comes from that girls only play with toys that they see girl actors in commercials playing with.

#118 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:56pm

Shoot. Let me fix that: is a girl truly free to dress in boyish clothes and play with swords, or will society start questioning whether her mother is “turning her into a boy”?

The last is a reference to the media freak-out over Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s apparent preference for said boyish clothes and pirate swords.

#119 Linda (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:57pm

#33 Jennifer has it about right.

#120 PZ Myers (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:58pm

Here’s what Riley is saying: she knows that she’s a girl, and she sees clearly (unlike you) that marketing people are telling her that girls are supposed to like a lot of pink stuff. And she doesn’t. She’s entirely right, too: marketing really does try to shoehorn people into simplistic and often wrong gender roles. That you deny the obvious while Riley sees it clearly is why you are going to get a lot of flak for this awful piece.

You try to deny responsibility for that poor article from Hurlbert & Ling by saying you cited it accurately. No, that’s not good enough. You’re a skeptic. You’re supposed to evaluate claims like that. It’s that kind of credulity that gets a lot of crap perpetuated in the media. Now that you have been instructed in its flaws, are you making efforts to retract your claims about it?

And I’m sorry, but this whole absurd argument about girls favoring pink because it’s the color of their dolls is outrageous bullshit. It’s appalling ad hoc handwaving of the worst sort: it defies reason and the evidence, and you’ve got no supporting citations to back it up at all. It appears to have been plucked entirely from your ass, and you ought to be embarrassed to have invented it…and you make it worse with your obstinate insistence on defending it.

#121 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:01pm

Sure… I don’t see different colored toys being marketed to different people (even different sexes) as necessarily involving “gender roles.”

That right there? That’s you in denial. I don’t know why, but you are. You acknowledge that marketers sometimes base their marketing on what gender their audience is (in reality, it’s difficult to find marketing that ISN’T gendered), yet you deny that this has anything to do with gender roles.

I mean, it’s just silly. You’re fractally wrong.

Wrong about the history of blue and pink

Wrong about pink and beige

Wrong about why girls’ toys are pink

Wrong that Riley isn’t talking about gender roles

Wrong that marketing has little to do with gender roles

etc., etc.

I’ll just quote this, from Josh, who was here earlier:

“If Ben were smart—and after he cooled down—he’d incorporate this debacle into his work and do a whole presentation on how skeptics are just as prone to bias, ignorance of data, and self-interested defensiveness at the expense of honesty. He could come right out and do a full-on mea culpa and use that to walk audiences through how we can fool ourselves, and that we need to be very vigilant about our own failings.

He’d regain respect and he’d be doing people a very worthwhile service.”

#122 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:03pm

“And uncritically assumes advertising has no effect on which toys girls perfer.”

No, I don’t assume that, in fact I state in several places that advertising has an effect on girls’ choices, for example:

“Marketers encourage girls to buy (actually, their parents to buy) pink items and princesses, and boys to buy superheroes and non-pink items. Okay, so where does the discussion go from there?”

Ben also wrote:“It’s clear there are social and cultural expectations for women about beauty and appearance, I don’t think anyone is arguing or disputing that.”

A clear contradiction of the claim in his prior article, which was:“The problem is that Riley is wrong: Girls don’t have to buy princesses, and boys don’t have to buy superheroes. Girls don’t have to buy pink things, and boys don’t have to buy toys that are blue, or any other color”

I see no contradiction, and certainly not a “clear” one. The first statement says that there are cultural and social pressures; the second girls “do not have to buy” (i.e., are not forced or tricked, as Riley says) into buying princesses or pink items. They are different things.

#123 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:07pm

“Although Riley doesn’t use the words “gender roles,” “unfuckable prudes,” “dykes,” or “fags,” she is still correct in noting that there is a social price to pay for deviating from one’s assigned gender role. “

I disagree that Riley’s comments include a discussion or statement that there’s a “social price to pay for deviating from one’s assigned gender role.” I just honestly don’t read that into what she says. I’m taking her words more or less at face value; I’ve been around 4-year-olds, and you often have to take their comments at face value.

#124 infinitegames on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:09pm

Honestly, Radford, at this point we’re past the Riley thing. But, again, I’ll reiterate the point that’s been made a hundred times already that Riley said in the video that, no, girls don’t HAVE to buy pink things etc. What could she possibly mean by saying that girls don’t have to but are tricked into it? We interpret it as being a (naive, admittedly, but she’s 4) statement regarding the way marketing fits into a culture that strongly pressures girls to buy certain things, do certain things, etc., and boys to buy other things, etc.

But the important point is that these societal pressures are actually extremely important and dangerous to non-conforming people. Read the study I link above regarding the effect of childhood gender non-conformity on increasing harrassment and suicide/suicidal ideation. You can’t separate out “minor” gender roles from “major” gender roles because they’re part of a societal package deal.

No, this isn’t some sexist conspiracy by marketers. But marketing to gender roles is a symptom of the problem…..and, in a nasty way, a perpetuation of the problem.

#125 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:10pm

“Is there, or is there not, a cost imposed on young children who defy gender roles? “

Yes, absolutely there is. I just don’t read that sentiment into Riley’s words and comments. You can extrapolate and interpret all you like, but if you just read or listen to what she actually says, she’s not discussing costs imposed on young children who defy gender roles. She’s just not.

#126 SallyStrange (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:12pm

She’s just not.

More ironclad argument from Mr. Skeptic.

Like I said, this is fantastic evidence that the skeptic movement has a sexism problem. You can’t even handle the idea that a young girl would be pissed off over feeling forced into roles she may not be comfortable with. Who knows why, but it’s affecting your ability to reason critically.

#127 Jennifer (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:19pm

//#33 Jennifer has it about right.//

I can’t believe this is still going on, ever since I’ve started reading atheist and skeptic blogs, I’ve come to note that they tend to debate trivial shit to death and do so with long-ass posts with WAY more (inane) detail than they need to actually make a point.

This whole “Skeptical Blogosphere” has a noise to signal ratio that is approaching infinity.

#128 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:20pm

” You can’t even handle the idea that a young girl would be pissed off over feeling forced into roles she may not be comfortable with.”

It’s not that I “can’t handle” the idea that Riley might be pissed off at feeling forced into gender roles. It’s that, in my view, her discussion is not about gender roles. It’s about marketing; being given a pink toy instead of a blue one is not necessarily forcing anyone into a gender role. Again, I respect your opinion, and I can see why you might interpret it that way, I just believe that you’re reading a lot of social and political context into Riley’s comments that aren’t there.

#129 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:22pm

Sally, people can disagree with you, or have a different interpretation. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid or missing the point.

Maybe I am; I’ve already admitted that I was wrong about the pink study. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes and miss things. I’m just telling you how I read it.

#130 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:29pm

I’m exhausted from responding to a half-dozen people at a time, and I’m heading to bed soon. I’ll post a bit more, but I sincerely want to thank folks here, especially Sally and InfiniteGames, for helping me understand their points—and mine—and pointing out where I’m wrong. I think I have a better idea of what the issues are and where the disagreements lie.

I appreciate the effort and time you spent actually trying to explain and come to an understanding, instead of hurling insults. I respect and appreciate that.

#131 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:58pm

I didn’t think I’d have to weigh in on this again, since Ben has done quite a lot of commenting himself. However that word has been thrown around more times, seemingly by people who haven’t bothered to read what it means.

So for the benefit of everyone:

mi·sog·y·nist (noun)
A person who hates women.

Merriam-Webster (I can’t link, so Google it).

Am I the only one who thinks that labelling Ben with this word is more than a bit over the top? To imply that Ben hates half the human race from the contents of one article in which he attacks the arguments of one female skeptic and another in which he comments on the rant of a 4 year old girl is patently absurd.

C’mon people; we’re skeptics…let’s be rational about these kind of things. Step back, calm down, and ask yourself which is more likely: that a popular skeptical author hates women / doesn’t understand women’s issues, or that you’ve misunderstood what he was writing about in the first place.

#132 Will R (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 11:59pm

@Ben:
<<Listen to the first ten seconds of the video and see what you think it says. If I’ve got wrong, I’m not the only one; see this piece on Jezebel, which quotes her as asking ““Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses! Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses! So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”

I can’t link to it, but it’s easy to find.>>

Go watch the video again, sir. She doesn’t utter the words “have to” in the first ten seconds.
She said, “<Riley>: “…wouldn’t be fair for all the girls to buy princesses and all the boys to buy superheroes.” <Dad>: “Why?” <Riley>: “Because girls want superheroes and the boys want superheroes. And the girls want pink stuff…and the boys don’t want pink stuff.”

At around 0:44 seconds in, she uses the words “have to” in this context:
<Dad>: “If boys want to buy pink, they can buy pink, right?”
<Riley>: “Yeah! So then why do all the girls have to buy princesses? Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses. Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses.
<Dad>: “Absolutely.”
<Riley>: “Why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
<Dad>: “That’s a good question, Riley.”

That’s the part that Jezebel is quoting, not “the first ten seconds of the video,” but the end of it. And you’re taking it out of context, which was Rebecca’s complaint. You claim you’re being “completely objective,” but really you’re being completely pedantic. She’s four. She does not have the same grasp on language that an adult does. Which is part of the problem of trying to debunk and take to task a four-year-old. When she says “why do girls have to buy pink stuff” she does not literally mean girls are FORCED to buy pink stuff. Julia pointed this out to you, but you choose to ignore it.

As an example of how her words could be differently interpreted, instead of “have to” meaning “be forced to,” what if she meant “have to” as in “they feel compelled to”? As in, “did you have to go and do that?”

Do you see now how you are actually still interpreting Riley, not objectively using her own words? Just saying that you’re being objective does not mean you are, which is my point. This is all still an interpretation, not some objective, quantifiable claim.

<<That’s not correct. Please provide a quote of me saying that pink is for girls because of evolution. (If you’re referring to the pink preference study that PZ loves to hate, you are confusing a social color association for a personal, gender-based preference; they are not the same thing.) I’ve provided references for the blue-boy link going back millennia; they may or may not be wrong, but I was not sloppy or wrong in citing them just because someone else has other references saying something different.>>

Okay. You said, “Research has found that girls exhibit a significant preference for the color pink.” You follow this up with an evo-psych explanation from that study. That is you providing an evolutionary explanation for the question of why girls exhibit a preference for the color pink. If you do not think that is a possible explanation for why girls prefer pink, then why did you quote it?

As for your claim that you were not sloppy or wrong in citing them because there are other sources that say something different, are you freaking kidding me? It is incumbent upon you, the claim-maker, to vet your sources and at least look for contrary evidence. It is exactly sloppy not to do that. It could also be considered cherry picking. As Richard Feynman said of having scientific integrity: “the idea is to try to give *all* of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another” (from his 1974 Caltech commencement address).


<<I’ve already addressed this elsewhere. Yes, I provided one study; that’s one more study than you and PZ have provided.>>

You provided one magazine article describing a discredited study that has nothing to do with skin color. And PZ Myers provided a link to the Smithsonian’s article about association of girls and pink, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that you’ve posted information about one more study than he has. You both linked to articles about studies. He actually went a step further than you did, though, and pulled up the actual study and critically engaged it.

So, you want a study? Showing what, exactly? That there are different theories about color preference and sex? How about starting with this one: “Sex-Dimorphic Color Preference in Children with Gender Identity Disorder: A Comparison to Clinical and Community Controls” by Chiu, et al. From the journal Sex Roles (2006), Vol. 55, pp. 385-395. This study found that color preferences for cisgender children was typical of boy=blue, girl=pink/purple, but that the preferences were inverted for children with GID. The authors draw on gender-schema theory (not evolutionary psychology) to explain color preferences in children.

Also, in my post that magically disappeared, I pointed you to Bandura’s work on social learning theory. But here’s another one: “Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation” by Bussey & Bandura. From the journal Psychological Review (1999), Vol. 106, pp. 676-713.

Also, there is mounting evidence that color perception is shaped by culture (more specifically, by language). Since links are forbidden, you can go to YouTube and type “color perception himba” and watch the first video from BBC Horizon that comes up. Or just google search “color perception and language.”

One of the biggest critiques of the study that was discussed in the article you cited is its distinct lack of attending to cultural variables (one paragraph at the end is insufficient). Further, the Han Chinese subjects in the study were immigrants to the UK, and the rest of the informants were British. How did the study control for sociocultural factors? Oh, that’s right—it didn’t. They just assumed that their findings were biological and evolutionarily derived.

<<You’re welcome to your opinion; I don’t think noticing color differences is particularly insightful or critical thinking.>>

It’s not about noticing color differences, it’s about questioning normative assumptions and popular narratives. That’s what makes it critical. I cannot believe you do not see that.

<<“It’s about you claiming that preferences are not influenced by marketing and media. “
Nope, never said that. Please provide a quote or admit you’re wrong.>>

You mean when you say, “Parents—not toy companies or toddlers—control what their children play with, from clothing to toys.”

Or how about from the comments on your original blog post, where you said, “However it shows the power parents have: The minute they start buying pink princesses for their boys and superheroes for their girls, toy companies will begin marketing to them. Parents, not toddlers or toy marketers, hold the influence in this situation. “

The way I understand what you’re saying is that parents are influencing the marketing and the media, not the other way around, or that there is a co-influence going on. You are laying the preferences squarely at the feet of parents. In your own words, toy companies do not begin to market to parents until after they buy toys. Support that claim.

<<“It’s about you claiming that there is no social pressure to conform to gender roles.”
Nope, never said that. Please provide a quote or admit you’re wrong.>>

Uh, I did quote you. In your comments on the original article, you said you were curious where Riley got the idea that toys are intended for certain genders…here let me quote you!

“I think a more interesting and productive discussion would be to ask Riley, “Why do you think that you can’t or shouldn’t buy a superhero, or a non-pink toy?”

Where did she get that idea in the first place? She’s free to pick up a princess or a superhero, a pink toy or a blue one… It’s not like anyone cares. She chose to go to a section of the toy store with pink dolls and princesses, and then questions why she’s surrounded by pink dolls and princesses.”

“It’s not like anyone cares” comes across as there is no pressure to conform to gender roles. PEOPLE DO CARE, as you later admitted:

“Are there people and parents who freak out if their young daughter plays with G.I. Joes or acts like a tomboy? Of course. Are there people and parents who freak out if their young son likes to play dress-up and wear pink? Sure there are. No one is saying that those people don’t exist, or that their narrow-mindedness is not a problem.”

So, as you can see, you have been contradictory on this. You do admit that there is social pressure, but only after you have said that “no one cares” whether girls play with superheroes GI Joe or typically boy things.

Anyway, I’m beginning to tire of this. You cherry pick what to respond to and ignore so much of what people say. Like, for example, my asking you how you could possibly ask people to prove a negative or your attempted appeal to the masses. Nope, you won’t address those completely unskeptical positions!

#133 rcn2000 on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 12:12am

As a father of a young girl, I found the original toddler’s video inspiring. The sheer blind and bloody-minded response to pretend that there’s ‘nothing going on here’ is disappointing. That it’s from someone that purports to represent skeptical thinking…hmmm

So when my daughter asks why there aren’t any air-hockey tables in pink, because she’s obviously not allowed to get one in any other colour, by your responses I presume we’re supposed to support this colour-sorting garbage rather than using it as a useful teachable moment about marketing and the ultimate irrelevance of its colour?

Exactly how much lower can one get, when one attacks a 3/4 year old? I await the next topic with breathless anticipation.

Cheers,

Ron

#134 Ben Radford on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 1:15am

Hi Ron-

“I presume we’re supposed to support this colour-sorting garbage rather than using it as a useful teachable moment about marketing and the ultimate irrelevance of its colour?”

Nope, I wrote exactly the opposite:  “Personally, I think the whole idea of distinguishing Boys and Girls toys is silly. I don’t have a problem with girls being tomboys and playing with Superman, or boys playing with princesses. I think Riley and every other kid should do what he or she wants. I’m not defending gender-stereotyped colors and toys, in fact I think the whole idea is ridiculous, and if parents buy into that they need to get over their hangups.”

#135 Ben Radford on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 1:33am

>>Ben, I notice that you did not include yourself in the list of who might be wrong. Telling really.

Actually, I did include myself in a list of people who might be wrong; here’s a direct quote from the post above (did you read the whole thing?): “Of course Rebecca assumes that her interpretation is the only correct one; I’m wrong, Julia is wrong, and anyone else that doesn’t agree with her is an idiot.”

Did you somehow miss the words “I’m wrong”? Who do you think I was referring to, if not myself?

#136 Grimalkin on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 1:59am

Hey Ben, here’s some color wheels for you:

http://grimalkinblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/heres-a-color-wheel-for-ben-radford/

As you can clearly see, Caucasian skin tone is not pink, and is closer to yellow than pink when we’re talking primary colors.

Your response to this? It clearly shows that your logic is flawed. Objectively.

#137 Justicar (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 3:39am

Jennifer (guest) writes:

a.) But despite her petty personal attacks, she’s right you are WRONG here, and no offense, but you’ll never understand why because you’re not a woman.

followed by

b.) However, regardless of their bad attitudes, they are very correct to say that sexism is still alive and well in the Skeptic community.  I agree that we need to do much more to stamp it out and make the skeptic community a more welcoming place for women.  I just don’t believe flame-wars are a good way to do it.

Yes, sexism apparently is alive and well, Jennifer; and you’re one of its obvious purveyors. If you want to make our fair community slightly less sexist, you could have the common decency to stop telling half of the human race it is incapable of understanding what you somehow, magically just know - both accounts on nothing other than one’s biology.  It doesn’t stop being sexist because you have a vagina. It doesn’t stop being discrimination because you think you’re right. It doesn’t stop making you into a hypocrite because Watson, Benson, Myers, Laden and the rest of that bunch will come rushing to your aid, ready to march in independent-thinker unison to support your right to promulgate the trope that men are bad and women are good.

If a man had said, ‘now darlin’, you know you can’t understand how this math works because you’re a woman’, he’d he dead to rights wrong and everyone would roundly call that bastard out. But if a woman says something in the same tone about a subject like, say, culture, socialization, or toys, well, it’s hunky dory.

You’re sexist, overtly. And it’s wrong. You should be ashamed of yourself, but, alas, reading on demonstrates the precise opposite.

#138 ellid (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 5:17am

Dude.  You were wrong.  You were wrong about the evolutionary psychology, you were wrong about the textile history, and you are looking like an ass for arguing with a TODDLER.

Take your shot, apologize, and STOP.  Unless, of course, you enjoy coming across as a pompous, pretentious, sexist ass?

#139 randomhuman (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:54am

I originally agreed with Rebecca and Julia that what you wrote was sexist, or at least missing the point, but in this response you seem to be arguing that it was really just… boring. “This little girl is technically incorrect” boring.

#140 john@skeptivus (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 6:55am

Great post Ben. A nice contrast to the inarticulate ranting of Watson. I still don’t understand why the skeptical movement listens to her. Keep up the good work.

#141 Dr Bob on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 7:23am

Many folks have pointed out the difficulties in your rather bizarre logic in this piece and your previous one, Ben, but here’s another one:

1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls’ toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls’ toys are pink.

This is not, in fact, valid, Venn diagram or no Venn diagram. First, we can dispense with (1), which is irrelevant to the conclusion. Let’s suppose (2) is true with probability 0.60, and likewise (3) with the same probability. Also assume that the two are statistically independent. Without further assumptions, we can only conclude that the probability of a girl’s toy being pink is at least 0.60*0.60 = 0.36. So, (4) doesn’t follow from the premises given.

The situation only gets worse when you replace (3) with “Most dolls are pink, or Caucasian-skin colored.”

If you’re going to retreat behind a wall of logic, you should at least attempt to use valid logic.

#142 Jennifer (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:01am

//#136 Justicar (Guest)//

Well some men understand women, but you in aren’t one of them, and maybe that’s why you’re so butthurt about them in general.  Read “The Game” by Neil Strauss or something buddy, might help you get one so that you feel less need to rant endlessly about them online.

In any case, you can all continue to get your tits and/or nuts in knots and writing 5-page butthurt responses to each other, but I have a job, so I’m out.

BYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEE.

#143 mrmisconception (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:04am

>>Ben, I notice that you did not include yourself in the list of who might be wrong. Telling really.

Actually, I did include myself in a list of people who might be wrong; here’s a direct quote from the post above (did you read the whole thing?): “Of course Rebecca assumes that her interpretation is the only correct one; I’m wrong, Julia is wrong, and anyone else that doesn’t agree with her is an idiot.”

Did you somehow miss the words “I’m wrong”? Who do you think I was referring to, if not myself?

OK Ben,
I originally misread the part that I was referring to (The point isn’t that Julia, Rebecca, or any one of us, is necessarily wrong,) and I apologize for that, I missed the “and the rest” style inclusion of yourself. What is sad though is how defensive you are being over this whole issue. I know a lot of people are calling you out, saying you are sexist, and so forth but to come back with Rebecca saying she thought you were wrong as proof that you did say you might be wrong? Really?

What really is starting to bother me is not that you wrote a quickly tossed together and poorly reasoned piece, or that your are stubbornly defending all that you said instead of owning up to shoddy writing or research, or even that you are so set on proving your point that you are grasping at any straw that might help no matter how tenuous.

What really bothers me is that you would have never have tossed together this sort of slipshod article about a monster, a ghost, or even a moon-hoax conspiracy, because those are things that you care about, and rightly so. What bothers me is that you wrote and are defending so ferociously such a slapdash piece of fluff about a little girl’s viral video without regard to the people who are telling you why what you wrote was not just wrong but why it is unwittingly helping further the perception and reality of sexism, misogyny, and male-privilege in the skeptical movement. That doesn’t show that you are a sexist or a misogynist, I don’t know you so I can’t say if that is true or not; what it does show is that you don’t care as much about those issues as you do about “traditional” skeptical topics. That’s your right of course, I just find it sad.

#144 SallyStrange on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:07am

Re: the complaint that “misogynist” is applied to guys like Ben who obviously don’t personally detest all women with a burning white-hot hatred…

Funny how such strictness in definitions is never applied to the term “misanthropy.”

Double standard much? Hey, isn’t double standards for men and women something that… misogynists do? Or at least sexists. *gasp* There I go again, alienating “allies.”

#145 Dorion on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:10am

Did I miss someone being called “misanthropist” in this epic comment thread? Because I certainly saw people throwing around “misogynist.”

#146 john@skeptivus (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:13am

@#130 Adrian Hayter

Great point. It touches on why I have no interest in the skeptical community. It’s overrun with hyper-emotional ideologues. Any dissenting opinion is quickly met with the usual slander and character assassination. Sadly, I don’t see much hope for the movement to gain any real influence in the long run.

#147 Adrian Hayter (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:26am

@#143

Perhaps such strictness should be applied to that term. I certainly try to use words in the way they are defined, and more people should in my opinion.

My point was that even if Ben Radford is a closet misogynist, there is absolutely no reason to come to that conclusion from what he wrote in either article.

By all means attack his arguments, challenge his methods of research, but don’t resort to the abysmal practice of attacking someone’s character. It brings absolutely *nothing* to the table.

#148 m5 (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 8:40am

Mr Radford, you are a buffoon. An unpleasant buffoon at that.

#149 Torcuato Gemini (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 9:34am

Mr Radford: Regarding the following argument:
“1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls’ toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls’ toys are pink.
I can do a Venn diagram for her, but it’s valid.”

Never mind whether it’s relevant to the rest of your post. Can’t you see that it is so obviously NOT valid?

Here’s an example of a situation in which it would fail: assume that ALL girls play with dolls. That would make (1) true. Assume that 70% of toys that girls play with are dolls (and the other 30% are non-pink non-dolls). That would make (2) true. Assume that 70% of all dolls are pink. That would make (3) true. Then, 49% of girls’ toys are pink (70% of the 70% that are dolls). In what universe would you say that 49% is “most”?

#150 Yiab on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 9:47am

(Copied from my comment on Julia Lavarnway’s post)

Ben, you’re wrong and here’s an example to prove it.

1) Most girls play with dolls
This is actually irrelevant to the argument.

2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls’ toy)
Let’s assume that 60% of toys girls play with are dolls.

3) Most dolls are pink
Let’s assume that 60% of dolls are pink.

4) Therefore most girls’ toys are pink.
Actually with the information presented so far we can draw no conclusions at all about the colour(s) of girls’ toys. There is no information here about how many dolls are manufactured vs how many are bought, and no information about correlation between doll colour and likelihood of purchase by/for a girl.

Let’s add two more assumptions so we can actually get a statistical conclusion from this:
5) Girls select dolls independent of their colour (so we can expect that 60% of the dolls that girls play with are pink).

6) 30% of non-doll toys which girls play with are pink.

Then the percentage of toys which girls play with that are pink is 0.6*0.6+0.4*0.3 = 0.48, or 48%.

Notice that I did not assume the most extreme possible values in this example either. Also, I have no knowledge of what the actual statistics are for any of these points, I just pulled numbers out of thin air.

(Yes this argument was already made here by Dr Bob at #140 and I don’t know why we made up the same numbers, but my version adds a few details so I felt I should repost it here.)

@infinitegames #70 Actually if his logic were circular then it would at least be a tautological argument, but as I show above it is not. His premises are very similar to his argument but that is not in itself enough to make it circular, just somewhat trivial.

#86 What he’s saying is closer to P -> Q and Q -> R therefore P -> R, but the inclusion of the qualifier “most” at every stage of this argument renders it strictly invalid.

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