Reading Material on Gender Essentialism

In a memo titled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber James Damore claims that “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership” with the aim to show that “discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.” Soon after the memo went viral, tech sites such as Hacker News started to see supportive statements. Motherboard reports that the verdicts expressed in the memo have some traction amongst the author’s former co-workers. It stands to reason that this agreement is not the privilege of Google employees, or as Alice Goldfuss put it:

I’ve read the Google anti-diversity screed and you should, too. You meaning men. Women have heard this shit before. Why should men read it? Because it’s a 10 page essay that eloquently tears away the humanity of women and non-white men. It uses bullet points and proper spelling and sounds very calm and convincing. And it should, because it was written by one of your peers.

— Alice Goldfuss (@alicegoldfuss) August 5, 2017

While I do not work in (US) “tech” (I’m an academic cryptographer at a British university), I guess the fields are close enough. Besides, gender essentialism is a prevalent idea beyond the confines of STEM disciplines. As mentioned above, the memo offers a bullet point list to support its claim:

  1. [The differences between men and women] are universal across human cultures
  2. They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  3. Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  4. The underlying traits are highly heritable
  5. They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

The memo and its defenders accuse those who disagree with its claims as being ideologically driven moralists1, hence the memo’s title. Alas, since I read several good critiques and their source material over the last few days, I figured I might attempt to summarise some of these arguments.2 Initially, my plan was to simply dump a list of books and articles here, but reading around as someone not so familiar with this literature, I found this mode of presentation (“well, my meta-study says your meta-study is full of it”) rather unhelpful. Thus, I opted for spelling out in more detail which arguments I found particularly illuminating.3

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Encouraging female reverse engineers

Thomas Dullien is running a nice competition to address the gender gap in IT security or more precisely reverse engineering:

As a field, reverse engineering has undergone a rapid change in recent years:
a rise in importance and visibility has led to a rapidly growing community of
reverse engineers. More people are doing reverse engineering, better tools are
developed, and it has mutated from a “dark art” to an almost-mainstream

However, as the community grows, the most visible parts  remain unchanged.
While there are female reverse engineers in the field, they are still under-
represented in absolute numbers and visibility of their work in conference
attendance and presentations.

What can we, as a growing field, do to change this? Progress can be made on the
macro level by many small and decentralized contributions on the micro level.
So, when I heard about the Syscan speaker’s honorarium this year, I decided to
put it to good use.

I asked a few friends if they’d be willing to form a panel of judges for a
women-only reverse engineering challenge, with the first (and only) prize being
a ticket to fly to and attend Syscan Singapore 2013. Luckily for me, they
agreed 🙂