Gender in the Social Sciences (Event 3-025, with moderator Niobe Way and panelists Alisha Ali and Ramaswami Mahalingam)

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This session had less to do with moving us toward a point and more to do with steering us away from one.  Our scholarship and socialization reflect adherence to gender binaries, a "way women are" and "way men are" that has little to do with empirical reality.  Panelists brought up examples of how these binaries interfere with our scholarly discourse and our lives.  They shared insights relevant to teaching, research, and practice.

According to Dr. Way, we treat gender the way we used to treat race 20 years ago.  We mainly think about gender differences.  I'm guilty of this in my own work: Males play video games for more hours, prefer more "addictive" video game genres, and have higher rates of problem video game play than females.  A t-test will happily tell us whether we've found out something else about the way women vs. men are.  In the case of my study, this would fail to get at the story of our heroic struggle to find "girl gamers," who are arguably a distinct population only questionably comparable via a t-test.  It would also fail to acknowledge that all of my participants came from in and around places like game stores and arcades, a risk context in which gender may have unique relevance or not even be particularly meaningful relative to other determinants of risk.

The most useful take-home messages for me were relevant to teaching about gender.  According to Dr. Ali, our education valorizes women's ways of being and ways of knowing, fencing relationality and intersubjectivity off from men.  Criticizing this might be uncomfortable for classes, but it serves a greater good.  Dr. Mahalingam first shared amusingly about how his class assumed he was the Asian tech guy rather than the professor when they first saw him, and also discussed how (and I can totally see this happening in curriculum design) having a distinct women's studies class or department gives other areas an excuse to not teach about gender at all, which is something that would never happen with race.  An audience member noted textbooks seeming to include less content about gender than they did 20 years ago, suggesting that things might be moving backward, even as we work to move them forward.