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.