Friday, June 13, 2008

Intuition vs. Evidence

There are times when I can seem scarily intuitive.  My gut will tell me that there is something wrong, even when I have no evidence to support it. When I was younger, I would go around blurting out what I was feeling or sensing, and would often attract weird looks or strenuous denials. 

It took me some time to learn how to understand and manage my intuition. Essentially I learned that intuition is quite possibly a misnomer, because what happens is that the intuitive individual gathers information about changes in the pattern of behaviors of significant others and then reacts to these changes. The problem is that the information processing happens so rapid-fire that it seems intuitive. Now when intuition tells me that there is a problem, I sit up and take notice. And then I quietly try to find the evidence to confirm or disconfirm my conclusions. 

For example, several weeks ago, I sensed that a male colleague had changed in his attitude towards me. I intuited a cooling, a slight distancing. [See, I still use the language of intuition even though I no longer believe in it. It’s just a convenient way to understand a process.] I did not know why this man’s attitude towards me had cooled. But I set out to find out. The evidence came so easily that it almost made me start believing in intuition again. 

I went to lunch with a good friend. I brought up the name of the man whose attitude had frosted, saying, “Oh, I can tell that Mr. Smith [not his real name] doesn’t like me. I think that he thinks that I am too assertive." 

She hesitated for a few moments. And then she confirmed that I was right. And she went a bit further, observing, “Isn’t it interesting that when a male colleague demonstrates the same qualities that you do, he calls it leadership potential. But he says that you are too bold.” 

I have learnt not to let people know when they are confirming my intuition. I used to be more honest and would say things like, “I knew it! I could feel it but I didn’t have proof. Thank you so much!” Which of course would make the other person extremely uncomfortable. I no longer make such confessions. I just quietly file away the information and then start deconstructing my intuition. I start searching for the evidence that I knew existed, and that I had picked up on at some non-verbal level, some change in a pattern of overt behavior. 

I remembered that when I used to feel well regarded by this man, he would go out of his way to chat me up. He was never overtly flirtatious, but he did make a point of watching my boobs and butt. Now that he no longer fancied me, he still went to lengths to swivel around as I walked out of a room, but he no longer spoke to me. What had changed was not his quiet lechering, but the fact that this was the sum total of what he now offered. I had been reduced to tits and ass, because I was too bold, too outspoken, too much like a leader, except that he could apparently only appreciate those qualities when they came with a penis attached. 

A recent article in “Perspectives on Politics” examines the issue of gender inequity among academic women. 80 female faculty members from a range of disciplines and positions at the University of California at Irvine were interviewed for their views on gender equity in academia. The majority described profound frustration by a system that they perceive as undervaluing their work and denying them opportunities for a balanced life. The study found some evidence of overt discrimination, but the majority of complaints involved more subtle forms of inequity. 

The main researcher, Dr. Kristen Monroe, is a professor of political science and philosophy at Irvine and director of its Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality. She examined national trends in achievement, and noted that while more women than men complete graduate studies, women’s gains in this area start diminishing by the time they obtain their first jobs. Fewer women than men obtain tenure or advance to senior positions. Women often found that positions such as committee chairs, department chairs, deans and administrators, became devalued once occupied by a female. Women were often subjected to bizarre comments that suggested that their male colleagues often did not know how to relate to them as equals. Women were more often assigned to tasks that were time-consuming and unfulfilling. Balancing work and family did not come easily. And legal forms of redress often seemed inappropriate. 

I know from personal experience that this problem is not limited to this particular university. I happen to work in a male-dominated institution. I watch as male colleagues with less education and experience scamper up the ranks of achievement. Women like me who take time out to raise children end up working longer days for lesser remuneration. And no, this is not my intuition talking. It is fact.


HappyGeek said...

I've observed conversations change tone, or an expression of shock on a guy's face and sometimes a response of silence, if I offer extra information on a topic, and - heaven forbid - happen to know (for example in a conversation about computers) of software programs that could achieve a certain result. They would have a different reaction if what was being said was coming from a fellow male buddy.

miko said...

for every 5 guys like this supervisor, there is one Stedman, willing to hold your purse and let you rise to the top. maybe we need to find out what makes them tick so we can educate the other guys