April 10, 2010

A not very happy observation about +/- being a woman

brad and angelina.jpg
one of us has a question


I'm writing a long post about psychiatry (I write several posts at once, and finish them randomly.)  As with many other posts, I often email academics, journalists or other primary sources to ask them a question.

Sometimes I ask because I don't know, but often it's a "stupid" question to test someone's bias/perspective/actual knowledge.

As a recent example: I asked two different academics (paraphrased) "how does seroquel work as an antidepressant?  Is it the NET, and how much binding is there?"

Key point here: these are "famous" or busy or important individuals, used to getting a lot of emails; and my questions are very basic, very easy to answer, and an ordinary person should have been able to look up the answer themselves.

I construct the email to appear as if I am a college-aged person. 

My observation having done this several dozen times:

  • If I use a (fake) male email address, e.g. "petermiller@" no one ever responds.
  • If I use a (fake) female email address, e.g. "melissamiller@" I get answers almost every single time.
I'll add that the majority of the people I email are male; the few women I've emailed haven't been any different.   I've confirmed this by waiting a long time (month) and re-emailing a different (but still simple) version as a woman.

The conclusion I went to first was that there is some unconscious sexual element; not that the academics thought they were going to seduce me, of course, but that they derived some greater pleasure in answering the women than the men.

But perhaps there's a different explanation: there may be an assumption that if a guy asks such a basic/stupid question, then he's an idiot and not worth bothering with; but if a girl asks it, well, a college girl isn't held to the same standard/ expected to know as much.

I'd be interested in knowing other people's reactions and experiences with similar scenarios. I'm quite willing to accept alternative explanations.

--

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych






Comments

Cool, I get to leave the fi... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:02 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Cool, I get to leave the first comment.

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I vote unconscious sexual e... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:03 PM | Posted by Single Sex? : | Reply

I vote unconscious sexual element. It's usually easier for female students to talk to male professors and get recommendation letters from them. It takes a very special male professor to be unbiased in this way.

On the contrary, in my experience female professors have been more unbiased. With younger ones perhaps there is a bit of the unconscious sexual element but as they get older it sheds off.

It may also vary to the type of students the professor teaches. It may be interesting to look at how professors who teach only one sex would react. e.g., how would a male teacher who only teaches males react to the email? IMO, he would be more likely to respond.

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Maybe these people have con... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:07 PM | Posted by Matt: | Reply

Maybe these people have consciously decided to give females preferential treatment in order to make up for centuries of sexism! This is what i'm choosing to believe anyway.

Still though, if it has to be bias in one direction, it's probably better this way around rather than males having a higher response rate. Definitely worth repeating on a wider scale if you have the time/stomach for it.

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You can't make up for "cent... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:24 PM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by HP: | Reply

You can't make up for "centuries of sexism" with more sexism.
And you can't make up for centuries of racism with more racism.

You can't make up for one group treating another badly by just turning it around. That's simple vengeance, not even justice. And all it does is make things worse.

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Flip side of this: I was a ... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:32 PM | Posted by Kilometers Davis: | Reply

Flip side of this: I was a tutor in college, and a hugely disproportionate number of those who requested tutoring were women (which may or may not have been why I did it). I don't have an explanation, but it suggests that just as people are more willing to answer questions from women, women are more willing to ask.

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@Single Sex?Women ... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:42 PM | Posted by Brandon Thomson: | Reply

@Single Sex?

Women are not genetically motivated to pursue young men in the same way men are motivated to pursue young women, so that behavior should be expected.

And, I agree with the comment that you can't make up past sexism with additional sexism; hopefully Matt was implying that the professors had bad motives rather than implying that he saw that as appropriate behavior.

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May just be a simple case o... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:47 PM | Posted by Chris D: | Reply

May just be a simple case of an interesting discriminator.

If most of the email/communication/whatever they get is from men, the percentage from women will probably be received as relatively more important.

Sex alone doesn't explain women->women responses imho.

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I hope you didn't send the ... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 7:49 PM | Posted by V.: | Reply

I hope you didn't send the emails in the same order (first male, then female) to the same people each time. It's easy to not bother answering an email, but an answer will usually begin forming in your mind anyway. Next time the same question comes up, that answer will be ready. Not to mention the oddness of getting the same question twice in a row (a month is not long) makes it more likely you'll see it as important.

If posing as a female is your standard backup plan for getting things out of people, you really shouldn't be surprised to see it working. The key is persistence, not gender.

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Possibly the recipient is i... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 8:18 PM | Posted by Roger: | Reply

Possibly the recipient is intrigued by the novelty of getting a view that is different from what he or she is used to. If so, you might test it by using a foreign or corporate email address, to see whether the novelty of that impresses them also.

Another possibility is that both men and women think that men are more likely to be jerks hassling others with time-wasting questions. Women are more likely to sincerely want an answer.

I am not saying that these possibilities are likely, but perhaps they ought to be considered if you are doing an experiment.

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I guess the nuns should hav... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 9:39 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I guess the nuns should have written to Ratzinger instead.

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I believe there's any numbe... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:08 PM | Posted by dibgy: | Reply

I believe there's any number of studies will confirm the fact that people are generally nicer in ordinary social interactions with women than they are in those with men. I think it just comes down to a number of stereotypical assumptions that makes one think that (all other things being equal) a woman asking for help is more genuine, more deserving and (perhaps most fundamentally) more proper than a man who does, and doing so is less likely to result in conflict.

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So your "trial" hasn't been... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:21 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

So your "trial" hasn't been randomized, there's been no consistent protocol and the "n" is low. I'm thinking you know all this, so ... what the hell. This is the kind of "thought experiment" you talk about with a group of non-collegial friends over a glass of wine. Something to pass the time.

Or maybe we're just another part of a "primary source," and the scenario is litmus paper ... we get to project our biases on the page.

Or not.

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You might be interested in ... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You might be interested in somebody else's recent experiments in gender-bending on the Internet: The Pangendered Anthropologist, and follow-up post, Stand back bitches, I'm gonna try Science! Be forewarned that, post titles notwithstanding, these experiments were not particularly scientific.

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I propose that Alone is con... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:27 PM | Posted by Andrew Yates: | Reply

I propose that Alone is conduct a test: the test is to see how commenters will intuitively assume the context of the post to authoritatively describe reality. The actual results and conclusions are relevant to the data provided ---a vague fiction written by a character unknown to all commenters. Perhaps a "reality-inspired" fiction, like Mad Men! Alone's favorite suited n' smoking whipping boys of characters people think are more real than actual people who are real.

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Edit: I propose that Alone ... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:29 PM | Posted by Andrew Yates: | Reply

Edit: I propose that Alone has conducted a test: will commenters post authoritatively about reality given a fantasy premise?

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That's weird. It seems like... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 10:52 PM | Posted by Basil Valentine: | Reply

That's weird. It seems like it might be one of those unconscious biases you acquire if you don't make a choice on whether you're the kind of person who answers questions.

What's the tone of the responses that you get back? Entirely factual or are there attempts to start a conversation?

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I'm not sure if you actuall... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2010 11:47 PM | Posted by harman: | Reply

I'm not sure if you actually used the name Melissa Milller, but if you did, a simple explanation is the similar sounding name of Marisa Miller, and a subconscious connection might have been made by the male responders (20% of american males read sports illustrated).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marisa_Miller

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I am a psychiatrist. I do ... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 12:03 AM | Posted by SB: | Reply

I am a psychiatrist. I do psychotherapy on all my female patients, but with my male patients I just prescribe meds.

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I think Roger's post made a... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 2:08 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think Roger's post made a lot of sense, except I'm not sure that it's just novelty. I think there may be a certain unconscious element of "what can I gain by responding?" In this case, male vs female sender, the thought would be sex. But what if the email came from a high-ranking government official or a fortune 500 company? What about the university chancellor or even a student that was struggling in a class who was putting in a lot of effort? I think that the struggling student in a lot of cases (male or female) would get the quickest and most detailed response simply because seeing a student doing well would be the most "gain" for the professor replying. But this would only be the case with someone the professor knew personally. Otherwise it's back to power and sex.

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It all depends if you phras... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 5:02 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

It all depends if you phrased the emails exactly the same way.

Assuming you did, and not a single word was changed, then I am pretty sure the explanation is sexual.

IMO, if you are an attractive woman in her early-mid twenties, guys are just interested in you. Regardless of their age, or their status, or yours, there is just an interest there. He is especially interested if you happen to show even a slight sign of any interest (even if it is purely academic, some subconscious level of his mind is thinking otherwise).

And on the internet, all college-aged melissa's are attractive, at least in his mind.

(side note: psychiatrists deal wtih this conflict (the sexualizing/sexual interest of any reasonably attractive young woman they see) by labeling their early-mid twenties female patients as borderlines. By invalidating her (by labeling her emotions/perceptions/feelings as disregulated and irrational) he regains control over his desire, which otherwise impairs his ability to function professionally as a psychiatrist.
There is also an element of fantasy - the borderline label is associated with extreme passions and impulsive sexuality, in a way it is sort of wishful thinking.)

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Same anon as above.<p... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 5:04 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Same anon as above.

Also, there is the element that people (men) like to be nice and helpful to women, assuming they have manners. But given the rampant wild-fire like level of narcissism in academia I have to assume in this case, the motivation behind answering the woman in her early/mid 20s is purely a sexual one, probably not fully conscious.

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"Sometimes I ask because I ... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 8:56 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Sometimes I ask because I don't know, but often it's a "stupid" question to test someone's bias/perspective/actual knowledge."

Testing commenters' bias/perspective/actual knowledge ?

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Agreed I think this post is... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 8:57 AM | Posted, in reply to David's comment, by Lee: | Reply

Agreed I think this post is more about how people react to this kind of material than it is about discussing why this might be(if it even really is something he has noticed and not something he made up just for this post).

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So, n~30? "Almost every" > ... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 10:12 AM | Posted by V: | Reply

So, n~30? "Almost every" > 90%? The primary systematic bias I can think of was mentioned before- if you try as male and then try as female, it might be persistence. If you try as female, and then don't try as male- they might have been helpful to males too.

But there are a host of effects out there which 'scientists' have associated with male names / female names. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html , search for "I will give you one last version of a gender-labeling study." Men and women evaluating female professors up for tenure have concerns about the source of their work four times more frequently than they do for men. Spelke thinks it's evidence that there's a bias against women- I think it's evidence that everyone is more willing to help women, and thus thinks there's a higher risk of unoriginality.

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what happens when a sizeabl... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 11:18 AM | Posted by vanveen: | Reply

what happens when a sizeable portion of the population becomes more concerned with explaining (away) behaviors than with engaging them? what happens when a preference to explain over engage signals desirable characteristics like cleverness and wisdom? what prompted those questions i leave to the reader.

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As a single late-40s male b... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 11:34 AM | Posted by keith: | Reply

As a single late-40s male busily working in a technical field, I don't get nearly enough time to talk to women. So of course if a "woman" writes me to ask a question, I'll take extra care to answer it. By doing so "she" has broken at least three barriers: she's identified me as someone worth talking to, she's initiated a conversation, and she's asked me a question about something that I know how to talk about. It's not that I think that the question might lead somewhere beyond a brief exchange of email, nor that I have any specific interest in a "woman" whom I don't know at all; its just that I enjoy conversing with women.

If a "man" writes me, I'll probably still answer, but my answer might be more terse. Unless his question is particularly intriguing, I'll be thinking in terms of merely answering his question rather than starting a conversation.

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Two possible ways to look a... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 12:14 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

Two possible ways to look at it:

1. Men compete against each other. A man asking you a question is basically a competitor asking a question. Looking at it that way, why would you help a competitor?

2. Another way to look at it is, "be a man about it and look it up yourself. If you can't figure it out, then ask me but first show me you put some effort into it yourself." If it's such a simple question then why didn't you google it yourself, what are you lazy?

Women don't think this way, generally.

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is the point of this post t... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 12:26 PM | Posted by Samantha: | Reply

is the point of this post that most people think women are stupid and need more help, or that most people enjoy helping women because they are considered more responsible and personable???

because either way you're not discovering anything that all women haven't experienced since they were born.

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Here's a fun game:... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 1:07 PM | Posted, in reply to Samantha's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Here's a fun game:

go back over past comments and see if you find yourself reading those commentors with female names with less bias than you would an anonymous one.

More fun:

imagine you're in medival Europe and a woman with a question. Do you ask someone directly or ask your man-freind to ask it for you? How much bias do you have to lick through to get to the center of a tootsie pop? How do culturally institutionalized biases change over time and by what mechanism(s)?

Taking a completely unscientific sample of the commenter population here, most believe Alone is man. Whether anyone should care or not is not beside the point, but in the case of this post, the point itself. Makes it kinda tough to beleive gender equality exists or ever did.

All this post demonstrates is drunken curiosity, albeit interesting and probably anthropologically relevant.

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Same anecdotal results in C... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 1:27 PM | Posted by GA: | Reply

Same anecdotal results in Chatroulette . . . http://vimeo.com/9669721

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Sex. Don't think there has ... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 2:04 PM | Posted by Andy: | Reply

Sex. Don't think there has to be anything subconscious about it, though.

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Everybody also skipped over... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 2:29 PM | Posted by Andrew Yates: | Reply

Everybody also skipped over this key part:

"I'll add that the majority of the people I email are male;"

It's implicit that "famous" or busy or important academics in Psychology are, "by default," male? And that Alone would, by default, choose a sample which is mostly male? Isn't this the same trap as the "I know this car ad is fake, so I don't notice that I've learned that this is the default for how beautiful woman should dress."

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Nice catch. What does the ... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 3:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew Yates's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Nice catch. What does the author want to be true? Or is this just an example of occupational statistics?

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Perhaps nobody likes the na... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 4:02 PM | Posted by MH: | Reply

Perhaps nobody likes the name "Peter."

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>> "By doing so "she" has b... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 4:28 PM | Posted, in reply to keith's comment, by Andrew Yates: | Reply

>> "By doing so "she" has broken at least three barriers"

Keith, that's creepy.

Dude, women are people, too. Have you considered that in her state of mind, that her sex is not relevant to her engagement with you, and thus your imagined "broken three barriers" would be gross imposition? Maybe she didn't "break any barriers." Maybe she just needed the printer password, so she sent an email to tech support to get it.

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You, thelast, should at lea... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 6:52 PM | Posted by James Dean: | Reply

You, thelast, should at least cite similar studies to show that your idea was apathetically unoriginal at best. I know you're not a psychologist, you're a psychiatrist (whatever that means), but there have been several studies documenting the behavioral preferences for girls and academic expectations in a learning environment for boys throughout childhood and adolescent development. Hell I can point out the very same concept being in a family raised by a teacher. The learning process and learning institution are different for both sexes.

I have always thought that the interesting thing about this bias is that both sexes tend to respond to females and neglect males. I thought of the male-female responsiveness as a distorted Academic Chivalry: helpless female student with professor in shining white sports jacket to the rescue. I attributed the female-female responsiveness to some distorted sorority, where sisters help sisters in a business that has historically been dominated by males - but, most recently, is becoming dominated by females.

I would cite some sources, but I'm too lazy and I qualify as neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. :-)

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If you're seeking message b... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 7:13 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

If you're seeking message board help for a computer programming question, the very fastest way to get an answer (actually multiple answers) is to post with a female name. One could argue we're just encouraging budding females in a male dominated discipline. And that would be wrong. It's about sex.

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I had an experience like th... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2010 7:46 PM | Posted by demodenise: | Reply

I had an experience like this when I played MMORPGs. Other players just about fell over themselves to help me when I was a female character, but I was pretty much ignored when I played a male character.

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What is the gender spread i... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 12:06 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

What is the gender spread in your profession?

I ask because (working in the male-dominated tech industry) I find it easier to get through the din than my male colleagues when asking a question of some well-known and busy expert. I don't notice any difference when asking a man or a woman, or someone whose gender preference I am or am not.

I think it's simply that I'm an oddity, and oddities are easy to notice.

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There's another take to the... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 3:00 AM | Posted by Simple Truth: | Reply

There's another take to the "sex" answer: women are seen as more stupid and therefore more deserving of help. If you help "Melissa", then you can pat yourself on the back and go about your duties unimpeded. "Peter" might be seen as a threat; why would you want to help that lazy, good-for-nothing look up a question he should know the answer to? Note, this works for women, too. Most women in male-dominated industries fight twice as hard to get where they are. Their competition isn't going to be other women.
There's an underlying sexism, and it's not all about the respondent wanting to get laid. It's the culturalization that women are inferior and therefore needing of help more so than men.

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Wait, the title needs some ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 4:04 AM | Posted by Romy: | Reply

Wait, the title needs some fixing:

A not very happy observation about +/- being a younger/older woman

There.

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In my online experience pos... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 4:47 AM | Posted by Romy: | Reply

In my online experience posing a question in a chat/board with a male name is more likely to yield the answer you need without much hassle.

You can be taken seriously with a female name in a mostly male board/chat but you'll have to be extremely thick skinned and either the "mother goose" type or extremely neutral in your dealings with them.

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If you're going to do this ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 6:47 AM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

If you're going to do this as an experiment, the obvious precautions to take include:
- Randomly sample the names you use (in case the result is something special about "Peter" and "Melissa" rather than gender difference as such)
- Randomize the order (in case people are more/less likely to respond the second time a question is asked)
- Write the letter before you randomly choose which name to use (in case your perception of women makes you write a better letter when you're posing as woman)
- A statistical significance test would be good

*****

One possible explanation is that the people you're emailing think women students should be encouraged, and so will answer questions they wouldn't otherwise.

*****

Personally, I believe I answer questions if I can come up with an answer quickly or if the question is an interesting one. I may have unconcious biases, of course.

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"If I use a (fake) female e... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 6:53 AM | Posted by hot anon: | Reply

"If I use a (fake) female email address, e.g. "melissamiller@" I get answers almost every single time."

How many guys, if you included any information about where you are from, institution, program, etc., would immediately Google "melissa miller" images on the off chance to see if you're hot? Most would.

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It's intriguing how many co... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 8:04 AM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

It's intriguing how many commenters jump immediately to the conclusion that this is a test of their own biases or of their perceptiveness for recognizing that it could be a test. While that's possible, who died and made you Neo? Why are you so disappointed if Morpheus hasn't called you back?
As for the experiment, at best it tells us what we don't know. Until more data has been properly tested, the anecdote is just like the used car salesman saying, "I've sold a bunch of these beauties, and not one lemon has come back yet." Caveat emptor.

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Never underestimate the pow... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 8:40 AM | Posted by Dolores: | Reply

Never underestimate the power of the subconscious sexual mechanisms evolution so carefully installed in our brains. I'm not very surprised Alone gets more answers pretending to be a college-aged female than a male.

And I can only speak for myself (although assuming that you're anything but completely ordinary would be so narcissistic right?) but being a mid-20s female in academia, I am aware of this phenomenon described by Alone. And not afraid to use it to my advantage if needed. While still trying to pretend I'm a feminist at the same time. God, I'm confused.

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I propose that TLP's "study... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 9:22 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I propose that TLP's "study" is an EPIC FAILURE and that any derived conclusions from it are biased in that it serves his own narcissistic need to look "cool" and pretend he found something were nothing exists

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We're trained from birth to... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 9:30 AM | Posted by jess: | Reply

We're trained from birth to help women, children and old folks, and not necessarily in that order. Everybody else can find their own life jacket.

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A shot in the dark where no... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 9:58 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

A shot in the dark where nothing exists? I wonder what schrodinger's cat would have to say about that.

Anecdotal to be sure, and any comment confirming or negating the hypothesis remains equally credible, but you're not going to lean one way or another until you open the (in)box.

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Assuming that there is a bi... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 12:48 PM | Posted by Nobody: | Reply

Assuming that there is a bias, I am going to go with the threat angle.

Men are seen as more of a threat. Thus it is a decision to not share information with someone who may be an "enemy".

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>>So your "trial" hasn't be... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 1:30 PM | Posted by HP: | Reply

>>So your "trial" hasn't been randomized, there's been no consistent protocol and the "n" is low. I'm thinking you know all this, so ... what the hell. This is the kind of "thought experiment" you talk about with a group of non-collegial friends over a glass of wine. Something to pass the time.

As opposed to...what? This is a blog upon which TLP spews [his] thoughts at will, sometimes with an agenda. It's not like [he]'s publishing this in a journal. What makes you think we, the audience, are a higher-standard recipient than the collegial friends halfway through a bottle of wine?


>>I propose that TLP's "study" is an EPIC FAILURE and that any derived conclusions from it are biased in that it serves his own narcissistic need to look "cool" and pretend he found something were nothing exists

What makes you think it's a study? What makes you think [he] even cares how we see [him]? It's like Ben said - who died and made you Neo? TLP's musing aloud in a particularly big room, and we're just around to hear it. [He] may very well have a grand scheming agenda behind it...or he may just be getting into the rum again.

PS: Rule #1 of teh int3rnetz: Everybody is white, male, and late teens to early 30s until proven otherwise.

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"What makes you think we, t... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 2:58 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"What makes you think we, the audience, are a higher-standard recipient than the collegial friends halfway through a bottle of wine?"

Self-Importance and Narcissism.

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Without being long-winded, ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 3:39 PM | Posted by infopractical: | Reply

Without being long-winded, girls are much easier to work with and teach. They are more mature, more sincere in their efforts, and more thankful for my time. In aggregate.

As a teacher who was once a little boy, I work hard to constantly remind myself that boys grow up more slowly and struggle with authority more -- even into adulthood. This allows me to find the right ways to communicate with boys more often than I used to. But frankly, girls are easier to work with. Less energy lost and more energy gained. Less feeling of time wasted.

I respond both to my emails from boy students and girl students who need help. I push hard against the instinct to simply favor certain students and I can see how it would be easy to fall into the trap of responding only to the girls and working more with the girls.

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It's easy: When I compare m... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 3:54 PM | Posted by Hannah: | Reply

It's easy: When I compare my partner's and my behaviour, he'd just simply forget about it whereas at the next conference I would be going on about how that p***k just ignores my e-mails.

Just kidding. I don't go to conferences.

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I have not had the time to ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 8:20 PM | Posted by Paul Narayan: | Reply

I have not had the time to read every comment here (will soon) but I Have one bit to contribute that even if not the cause of what we are discussing is still interesting and I think worth discussing:

(Alone originally uses gender only, but for the sake of my example let's include other categories, for the sake of discussion)

Whenever someone says "that little kid" (I have done some amount of experimentation with this) the listener generally assumes a white male. Try telling people to draw "a kid" and even though drawing a little girl would be more accurate (with their slightly higher representation in the avg population) odds are good of getting a picture of a young boy. This also applies to race - note that when people tell stories, if a character is of race, they'll specify ("so this asian guy was telling me..."), because the general descriptor ("this guy") is not sufficient - arguably because this is assumed to be white/male/whatever depending on how we are delivering this story. "A story" is a very limited example, this could apply in some form or other to other media or aspects of life.

Could this exception to the general assumption - "not a person, but a /woman/sexuality(why not)" be something that catches our eye? does this make the person stand out from a crowd of faceless nobodies, and therefore more likely to catch the attention of the person's focus? I suspect that it may play some role. Your thoughts are welcomed

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crap. last paragraph,first ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 8:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

crap. last paragraph,first sentence:
*race/woman/sexuality (html-based error)

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It was a short, unexpansive... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 9:13 PM | Posted by Basil Valentine: | Reply

It was a short, unexpansive post with anecdotal evidence providing the set up for a highly contentious conclusion. This from a guy whose entire blogging corpus is filled with essays describing the various biases inherent in studies, with special emphasis on the gap between what the evidence says and what the authors assert.

Although I'm quite open to alternative explanations, I think this means one or more of:

1) Everyone, including those making a career out of the biases (narcissistic and otherwise) that hobble human thought, can still get tripped up by those same biases.

2) Alone is messing with his readership, maybe looking to see how many people repeat his own critiques back to him.

3) It's just an interesting factoid that he felt like passing on.

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1. The internet is serious ... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 9:48 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

1. The internet is serious business.
2. There are things on the internet.
3. This post is a thing on the internet.
4. Therefore, this post is serious business.

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"Try telling people to draw... (Below threshold)

April 12, 2010 11:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Paul Narayan's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"Try telling people to draw "a kid" and even though drawing a little girl would be more accurate (with their slightly higher representation in the avg population) odds are good of getting a picture of a young boy."

Fail. Given your age range men>women.

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what if you used a gender f... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2010 1:10 PM | Posted by Anon561: | Reply

what if you used a gender free name like "sammiller@"

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Interesting and highly accu... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2010 3:48 PM | Posted by Androjennie: | Reply

Interesting and highly accurate, in my opinion. It just goes to show how attraction and lust take precedence over arrogance and self-conceit. The highfaluting, enormous ego of the physician immediately reverts to the horny 15 year old boy when a girl shows interest in his field. Long live the power of the pussy - no matter who you are, or who you think you are, you simply can't deny its allure.

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Ok, here's my quick, comple... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2010 5:47 PM | Posted by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

Ok, here's my quick, completely personal take on the issue:
I view women as more "team players" than men. They're more likely to adhere to the expected convention. They're more connected to its execution and enforcement, and thus more likely to affect you. Men are more antisocial. They're more likely to bend or ignore the rules to get to point B. A request from a male is more likely beneficial to him than you, as he's not playing by the rules. You don't know the full intention of their actions (like Alone emailing dumb questions to smart people). A woman wouldn't (presumably) do that, and if she did, she answers to a more demanding set of peers.

There's also the obvious sexual element where it applies.

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For men, I'd say they enjoy... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 9:40 AM | Posted by Mae: | Reply

For men, I'd say they enjoy the (slight) sensation of "helping" a female. Rather like holding the door open or in Ye Olde Days, laying down a jacket over a puddle. Like "don't hit girls" or some such.

For women, they want to support other females in a male-heavy arena, sort of a feminist move. (This may also be the case for men. I've seen men do this because 1. they want to be perceived as feminist by others, and 2. they really are feminist)

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In response to: 1. T... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 10:12 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Ben: | Reply

In response to:
1. The internet is serious business.
2. There are things on the internet.
3. This post is a thing on the internet.
4. Therefore, this post is serious business.
You can prove anything with a syllogism. My favourite example, related to me by an old Czech philosophy prof. whose English was, uh, idiosyncratic:
1. What is not lost is possessed.
2. You have not lost your horns.
3. Therefore, you are horny.
This is also, BTW, a great way to wake up a lecture theatre full of dozing undergrads.

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What an unsettling post!<br... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 1:04 PM | Posted by Stupete Gentes: | Reply

What an unsettling post!
I don’t like the thoughts it brings in me because I enjoy very much reading this blog (enventhough I sometime disagree a lot with some of its assertions, I learn a lot). But that post left a bad taste.

Here we have an anonymous writer who use to discuss about narcissism and about the assumptions we take for granted. In this post, he writes that he use to deceive academics to test their gender bias. But we cannot exclude the idea that he(?) is deceiving his numerous readers to expose their own biases. Neither of these options is really appealing.

In deceiving academics, he seems to be trying to show how much they do not deserve their status (and we know that he doesn’t seem to appreciate academics). There’s a name for that...

And if he forged that entire story about testing academics, its seems to me to be a pretty much skewed way of exposing his ideas. I don’t like that paranoid state that post (considering the succession of previous posts and discussions) induce in me.

Maybe that’s just playfulness (in a Winnicottian way) from TLP. He’s playing with concepts, with academics, with us his readers… Life his too serious for not playing. maybe.

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It has to do with sexism. T... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 5:38 PM | Posted by Anonymous Doctor: | Reply

It has to do with sexism. There are centuries of ingrained sexism in the human psyche. Just look at a playground like DirtyPhoneBook for an example of how sexist and wrong human beings could be sometimes against each other.

Of course men don't respond to other men and of course they respond to women. You don't even need a study for that. Laughing out loud!

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I wonder how this bias play... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 6:18 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I wonder how this bias plays out in other cultures, say Orthodox [Insert Jeudeochristian Sect]?

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I'm a woman and I only get ... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 8:28 PM | Posted by Jumana: | Reply

I'm a woman and I only get response when the recipients are females!
academic males almost never answer me, unless I'm not a stranger to them :/!
but maybe I'm just an exception!

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Sounds like the basis for a... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2010 10:59 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Sounds like the basis for a research grant.

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Maybe it's just 'ref... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 12:19 AM | Posted by Ronald: | Reply


Maybe it's just 'reflex', like how men automatically hold the door open for the opposite sex without really thinking anything about it.

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Maybe your name doesn't sou... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 2:39 AM | Posted, in reply to Jumana's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Maybe your name doesn't sound female or pretty to them.

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Or...we are the group of "f... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 12:44 PM | Posted, in reply to David's comment, by Irishmostly: | Reply

Or...we are the group of "friends", "Hey, I've got an interesting thought. I'm going to write about it on the internet because everyone will probably want to hear about my interesting thoughts."

Wait...this feels familiar. Am I in a narcissistic cacoon right now?

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Perhaps "experts" see males... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 8:21 PM | Posted by Adam: | Reply

Perhaps "experts" see males as challenging their status and females as seeking their expertise ie in their role as an expert they are more likely to avoid anticipated confrontation (and a narcissistic wound) in a situation where there is no audience, whilst they seek to assert their expertise with females whose anonymous queries are perceived as an opportunity to propagate their view with less likelihood of it being questioned.

The old stereotype of males as dominant and females as acquiescent.

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I'm intrigued. Why? Pleas... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 8:47 PM | Posted, in reply to SB's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm intrigued. Why? Please explain more.

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why that picture?... (Below threshold)

April 18, 2010 2:36 PM | Posted by Trei: | Reply

why that picture?

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I think Didgy's comment hit... (Below threshold)

April 21, 2010 1:12 PM | Posted, in reply to dibgy's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I think Didgy's comment hits the nail on the head for me.

People are more likely to answer when they feel that the person asking the question genuinely wants a real answer.
In certain fields where one sex more or less completely dominates the field, when a person of the opposite sex asks a what looks like a real question people tend to take them more seriously.
So when a woman asking questions in a technical field she gets more positive responses, have you ever tried asking questions as a man in female dominated fields?

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As a 20-something woman, I ... (Below threshold)

April 24, 2010 1:56 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

As a 20-something woman, I have always felt its the latter. If I am ignorant of something, or ask a lot of questions, or even if I just stop riding my bike on a corner in a suburban neighborhood and check the time, people REALLY WANT TO HELP! I can be stupid, or in need of help.

What people have an issue with is if I get drunk or angry and act like a jerk -- even towards people who do the same to me. It's outrageous and disgusting, they cannot handle it at all...

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i agree with you about the ... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2010 4:20 AM | Posted by Farouk: | Reply

i agree with you about the pleasure part, that might be the reason , interesting observation :)

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I'm going to say it's both.... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2010 7:21 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm going to say it's both. There are a lot of associations with women - the most effectual of which in this case I'd say to be that they are sexy and in need of assistance. Chivalry is not, unfortunately, dead.

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I think it's a muddle.... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2010 6:44 PM | Posted by Typical Type: | Reply

I think it's a muddle.

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I had fun understanding thi... (Below threshold)

May 26, 2010 3:41 AM | Posted by moncler: | Reply

I had fun understanding this post. moncler coatI want to see more on this subject.. Thanks for writing this respectable article..

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I heard this story from a f... (Below threshold)

June 6, 2010 3:42 AM | Posted by Lucas: | Reply

I heard this story from a friend of mine, checked on Facebook, and was shown the evidence.

This friend of mine signed up and played MafiaWars on Facebook under a fake account as a test. He was a standard American male with basic info inserted, (single, a few movies, books, and music listed that he liked) with a stick figure drawn in PAINT for a picture.

He joined one of those "Join this group for help in MafiaWars" groups where people would hand out extra money and items to people that were part of that same group. After being part of the group for a month he got no help whatsoever. He tried to get help by messaging people in the group specifically, no good.

So he then took the fake account and changed the sex, the interests, the movies, all of it, to the classic as he put it, "dopey girl" stereotypical stuff. I

Within 3 days he had emails, wall posts, and friend requests. In the MafiaWars group he had money, items, points, posts, and help all sent to him without even asking for it. The birthday he set for the account came around and he got 5-6 "Happy Birthday hot mama" posts from complete (male) strangers.

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Re: LucasNo shit s... (Below threshold)

July 21, 2010 2:48 AM | Posted by shirlock: | Reply

Re: Lucas

No shit sherlock. Men adore women. Men buy women gifts, chase women, and protect women. Men fawn over women if they are potential sexual partners. Men are kindly and helpful to girls and young women the way a father cares for and protects a daughter. Men are polite and deferential to older women as mother/grandmother figures. At a social-gathering, a psycho-b1tch can dump a drink over a guy's head because she hates the pleats in his slacks and if he gets livid and yells at her, half-a-dozen guys will jump-up and rush to her aid. Women are routinely absolved of all errors - smash your ex-boyfriend's car, hit a random guy over the head with a heavy object, lie about being assaulted or raped. Really doesn't matter. Good odds you'll get a slap on the wrist because you are a "confused girl" even if you are 35-year-old attorney. Women are only expected to have the emotional maturity of a self-absorbed 12-year-old brat. I've probably been in six fights in my life but the number of times I've been hit, pushed, screamed at, and threatened by various women (including complete strangers) is countless in addition to the number of times I've experienced having a woman try to convince some guy to fight me or hit me for absolutely no reason. I also love the way women complain about being "looked-at" or "talked to" or "bothered" by men... the average woman experiences a life of constant adoration that only a very few males - mostly rock stars - can only imagine. No wonder there are so many M2F TG's: my completely unscientific non-factual-based conclusion is that it is primarily BECOMING WHAT YOU ADORE. As for me, I'm scheduled for my trans-dolphin surgery next week (I adore dolphins).

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In the case of male profess... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2010 5:01 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

In the case of male professors, it's probably a case of narcissism. They respond to the female address because in chronological order
(1) They assume it is a girl writing
(2) Optional but probable: They picture the female as a hot college girl, because they sure wouldn't picture the stereotypical librarian trying to help out a psychiatrist major
(3) They respond to the female because it enforces their ideal identity they invent for themselves(quoting Alone on numerous posts here)

And for all professors receiving emails with masculine and feminine handles: Read the email address, then picture the person that most fits the stereotyped identity of the name. Who would you rather be friends with?

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keep posting like this it's... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2010 11:24 PM | Posted by actron cp9190: | Reply

keep posting like this it's really very good idea, you are awesome!

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<a href="http://ac... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2010 11:25 PM | Posted by brian: | Reply

actron cp9190

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Androgynous Andy, who recei... (Below threshold)

June 24, 2011 7:04 AM | Posted by gordon: | Reply

Androgynous Andy, who receives an email asking an elementary question, is flattered when the sender is a woman because she/he assumes that the sender is after the personal connection just as much as the information. The possible sexual overture is there too to excite Androgynous Andy's testosterone, while the sisterhood connection is there for her ovaries, which are delighted to find another set of curious, medically inclined, earnest lady parts that are potentially an ally (the potentiality of an ally appeals less to a guy). Androgynous Andy thinks the woman sees something worthwhile in them as a person, and assumes that this is the reason why she is comfortable to reach out to Androgynous Andy over a stupid question. Women are more likely to be nice to women who fit a certain mold (medical student) AND reach out like this.

The guy sender however, is assumed to be either useless or socially desperate, because the typical guy isn't after relationships (allies) like his female counterpart is; he wouldn't bother emailing such a nothing question; he'd just look the answer up. Desperate guys, just as much as useless guys, are not worth knowing/replying to. The guy sender does not appeal especially to Androgynous Andy's private parts either, especially cos he's either useless or desperate. Lose and lose.

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Thank you! The content is e... (Below threshold)

August 18, 2011 10:26 PM | Posted by cheap jewelry: | Reply

Thank you! The content is extremely rich.

cheap jewelry

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One thing to remember that ... (Below threshold)

February 17, 2012 8:29 PM | Posted by noonenonedone: | Reply

One thing to remember that could possibly explain a good deal of this without appeals to unconscious bias is that it is not uncommon for psychology and other social science classes to be predominately made up of female students. If you were a professor with a class of 60 people and only ten of them are male it seems it would be much more likely that you would notice that a male email did not come from one of the students you are currently teaching. The willingness to answer these questions may have less to do with gender and more to do with who you believe to be asking the question. "Is this email from one of my students or from some random undergrad?" The reasonableness of asking drops off significantly if one is perceived to be the random undergrad.

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have you considered simply ... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2012 10:50 AM | Posted by ginnygeneva@gmail.com: | Reply

have you considered simply telling one of these people (I'm sorry; are they all academics?) what you have done, and asking them what *they* think it means? I'm sure you could pick your targets well enough in the future that at least one person would be cool with it and respond. maybe someone whose career has been about observing gender difference (or lack thereof) without turning it into a big emotional/political/ideological thing, I don't know.

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No single woman can experie... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2013 8:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

No single woman can experience "centuries" of sexual discrimination, so it would be pointless to attempt to compensate a woman for such mistreatment, right?

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Well Alone, I sent you an e... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2013 1:28 AM | Posted by Isabel: | Reply

Well Alone, I sent you an email, and you never replied to that!

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Sorry about the three years... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2014 5:26 PM | Posted by Oedepism: | Reply

Sorry about the three years too late response, but I can't resist the relevance of this.

My voice is relatively androgynous, with a little work I can pass for male or female when I'm on the phone. My first "big" job as customer contact for an Internet Start-up, I used this and some drama experience shamelessly to my advantage. Thank God the front desk always insisted on the reason for the call.

When I was working with a difficult customer (usually about a bill) I was Tanya. When I was trying to make a sale, I was Alfred. Over time, answering many, many calls I learned when each one would be more advantageous for different calls. Angry user? Tanya. Tech Support? Alfred. I'd never flirt, but a dose of gender-specific charm usually sealed the deal. "I know we all have bills! I've got a (m)car/(f)dresser I'm still trying to pay for."

I was offered double my salary when it was time to quit, so I'd like to think I knew what I was doing.

An interesting corollary, which I don't see mentioned here, is about secrets. When I was "collecting information", Tanya failed utterly. With Alfred, both genders were a lot more open. Read into that whatever you like, but if you're paying attention you won't have to.

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