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From the New York Times:
Sendhil Mullainathan @m_sendhil SEPT. 8, 2017
One of the questions Elina Svitolina fielded after a recent victory at the U.S. Open: “Was there anything in particular you bought when you went shopping?”
The tennis finals of the United States Open are Saturday for the women and Sunday for the men. On the court, except for the number of sets, they all face the same rules. When they walk off the court, though, the game changes.
Two years ago, Serena Williams was asked why she wasn’t smiling — a question some felt no one would have asked a man.
Last winter at the Australian Open, sportswriters could have asked Serena a question that, due to society’s socially constructed prejudices, they’d never ever ask a male tennis player: “Are you pregnant?”
(Congratulations to Serena and her fiance Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder, on their first child.)
After the Australian Open in 2012, another player was asked, “After practice, can you put tennis a little bit behind you and have dinner, shopping, have a little bit of fun?” It is not hard to guess the gender of that player.
Liye Fu, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Lillian Lee, three computer scientists at Cornell, built algorithms to find out whether such examples were isolated incidents or reflective of a broader pattern. These algorithms processed the language in tens of thousands of questions spanning thousands of matches over 15 years and looked for how their content differed between genders.
Their work is interesting even if you have no interest in tennis, and not just because it reveals the subtle and persistent gender bias in our society.
Why doesn’t this article mention the gender of the reporters who asked women tennis players questions not about tennis?
Could it possibly be that women reporters assigned to cover tennis are less interested on average in tennis than are their male tennis reporter colleagues?
In general, women tend to be generalist in their interests and less often narrowly focused obsessives than men are.
For example, what percentage of sports reporters who are interested in advanced sports statistical analyses are female?
On the other hand, there are some fields where women tend to be more technically focused than men are.
For example, male rock fans almost never ask, say, Mick Jagger any technical questions about his singing technique. To men, that Sir Mick gets all the benefits of being a famous singer without actually going through the trouble of being a very good singer is just part of his overall Jaggerosity, which is what men find interesting.
Or as we recently discovered, you can win the Nobel Prize for your singing even if you can’t sing, as long as you are a guy.
In contrast, at various points in pop music history, such as the late 20th century, the era of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey, extraordinary technical / athletic ability in singing was prized by female fans.
For example, I was always baffled by the popularity of singer Tracy Chapman, whose “Fast Car” might be the most depressing song I’ve ever heard:
Being a semi-deracinated black lesbian folk singer with a terrible job sounds extraordinarily sad to me. But, this video has 55 million views, which is a lot. By way of comparison, none of the versions that I can find of the Rolling Stone’s 1978 FM hit “Shattered” (which I’ve always assumed is Jagger’s New York tribute to an even worse singing male icon, Lou Reed) has even a million views.
What’s going on? Well, it was explained to me, Chapman might not be good looking or energetic, but she is a virtuoso (virtuosa?) at a particular type of chest voice singing involving manipulating the column of air flowing from the lungs.