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Different by Design

January 10, 2012

One of my friends just happened across the fact that Google personalized search results, thereby creating a viewer bias. This didn’t exactly surprise me, I routinely search through pages of search results with different terms. But I wouldn’t mind hearing from others – does Firefox operate in a similar way, should we be concerned, can we counter this?

Normally I wouldn’t do a double take but this evening I thought that my browser had been invaded by some form of intelligent (??) design. I had been reading a post at the CBMW blog, and I will discuss this later. But directly after CBMW, I opened my browser to view this!

I had to ask myself if CBMW had left a cookie that affected the way I view Firefox! Did I need to throw the “different by design” cookie cutter out? Should I wipe history? Delete recipe trails? Should I empty my cupboards of all cookie dough ingredients? Should I take up deep breathing to alleviate the palpitations?

Back to CBMW. According to this study cited on the CBMW blog, women have more sensitivity, warmth and apprehension, (oh yeah) and men have more emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance. (Read that twice.) This is because, as we know, women are moral relativists, and men are rule-bound absolutists – so I was once told.

The study affirms that if a characteristic is typically female, then only 18% of men will have that characteristic. I am now wondering if I need to take the temperature of the men around me. Women are warm, so only 18% of men are warm. Only 18% of men are sensitive, talkative, passionate, emotive, social, nurturing, caring …. hmmm.

Now my question is whether the browsers of men and women take on different interfaces. Perhaps no man updating Firefox today saw the “different by design” interface that I saw. Perhaps it was only me. Perhaps only women. Perhaps that is because men are more vigilant and women more apprehensive. The men saw it but they didn’t care, being too emotionally stable to be freaked out by a browser interface.

Are only 18% of women emotionally stable, because emotional stability is a male trait? And if women are not typically mechanical, does that mean that 82% of men are mechanical geniuses?

Later in the study, we find that these profound conclusions came from a survey of self-assessed characteristics. What I really want to know is if some hypervigilant male can tell me whether this study was simply a joke.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012 10:53 am

    Hilarious, Suzanne. You know, most of the time I try not to tell Firefox my sex. But blogging through the years as J. K. Gayle (who I really am by the way), many people first think I’m a woman (Gayle is a female name, and J. K. may make them think of Ms. Rowlings, and I blog much about egalitarianism and feminism and sexism and such). When they find out I’m a male, well, all sorts of things change because suddenly to them I am “Different by Design.”

  2. January 10, 2012 11:56 am

    Different by Design is a slogan of Mozilla — celebrating the fact that they are non-profit.

    Here is the video that you skipped:

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 12:03 pm


    Um…. I watched the video – I labeled this humour. One can only do so much.


    yes, I remember scanning your blog in the early days for clues.

    i just want to say how wonderful it is to blog with both of you guys now – my Aristotle bookends.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 12:04 pm

    still wondering if the study cited is a joke or not. I have been taken in by less.

  5. Amanda permalink
    January 10, 2012 7:08 pm

    Suzanne, there are some serious problems with the research that the CBMW post is pointing to. I have written about them here
    I hope that helps.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 7:12 pm


    I realize that I didn’t make it clear that “different by design” is the phrase used by CBMW for conferences, and is a book by John McArthur. Its all about how men and women are designed for different roles – provider vs nurturer and so on.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 7:16 pm


    Fabulous work! This is the part that I missed –

    “PLoS-ONE is an open-access journal that charges authors money to publish their papers, does not assess the quality of the study beyond the technical aspects, and accepts 70% of papers submitted (by contrast, the journals published by the APA have an average 71% rejection rate, and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, which published Chuck’s meta-analysis, has an 80% rejection rate). So it’s not a great journal.”

    I was just amazed that anyone would publish such a study based on self-assessment.

  8. January 10, 2012 7:36 pm

    Suzanne — I don’t spend a lot of time read CBMW literature, so I don’t recognize their catchphrases. I realized your post was intended to be funny, but Mozilla is doing something that is pretty important, and I wanted to give them a plug.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 7:54 pm

    I didn’t mean to make fun of Mozilla. But sadly, “Different by design” has been used to indicate that men are initiators and women are receivers.

    The great thing is that Amanda has done excellent work in taking apart the study which CBMW comments on,

    “This research once again confirms God’s good and design: He has created men and women in His image to play equally valuable, but complementary roles. To accomplish this, it has pleased God to equip us with different gifts, different strengths and different weaknesses-all perfectly congruent with those of the opposite gender. It will be interesting to see how much play this article gets in the media and how (or if) the secular academy responds.”

  10. January 10, 2012 8:32 pm

    It could have been worse. Mozilla could have said “Firefox is from Mars, IE is from Venus.”

  11. January 11, 2012 8:23 am

    I’m not particularly surprised that the study used self-reporting. With a large enough sample size that does tell you some important things. The two issues I see just from the lay article, without actually hopping over to PloS-ONE (which has a mixed record, at least in my field), are:

    1) “just 18 per cent of men having a typically “female” set of traits or vice versa.” This appears NOT to mean that 18% of men have a single “female” trait but that 18% of men have an entirely “female” trait-set. The incidence of single-trait crossover will be much higher. From the CBMW’s point of view that would have to look like 18% of people are transgender.

    2) Because it’s self-reporting it’s entirely possible that some or all of the difference detected was based on how people think about themselves and not how they are. So perhaps people with very similar personalities describe them differently based on what the perceive to be acceptable and valued traits for their sex. Now, that’s an interesting finding, but it’s not the finding that CBMW thinks the study made.

  12. January 11, 2012 9:42 am

    You may be absolutely correct in saying, “From the CBMW’s point of view that would have to look like 18% of people are transgender.” I think that CBMW blogger Jeff Robinson is really hoping to use what he calls “a landmark admission by a secular science journal” to assert his claim:

    This research once again confirms God’s good and design: He has created men and women in His image to play equally valuable, but complementary roles.

    I think “transgendering” is Robinson’s fear. Or, at least, he like so many others of CBMW is afraid that the ostensible “separate but equal” design will disintegrate into allowing women (aka those submitting themselves to the roles of so-called “biblical womanhood”) to play the valuable and priviledged roles of men (or, the men who rise up to the roles of so-called “biblical manhood.” Let me link to Robinson’s post again:

    It’s quite interesting that Robinson starts by alluding to Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [ESV]. One way to read this, of course, is to view God’s image — and the human image — as being equally male and female. (And so the image of אלהים is both זכר and נקבה, and so is the image of adam אדם both זכר and נקבה.) All of that biblical stuff sounds a whole lot like something Chitra Sundaram has blogged for Forbes recently. Here’s how Sundaram puts it:

    To be feminine is not necessarily to be a woman. Femininity is a characteristic of humanness, encapsulating beauty, fecundity, conceptual clarity, and wisdom. A man interacting with his children is displaying femininity (as much as he might cringe at that characterization). When my son draws a beautiful picture he is delighting in his femininity.

    The realization that femininity is a characteristic of being human, rather than of being a woman, is a powerful idea. It requires a radical shift in social and female consciousness. Embracing this idea would drive an emancipation of women and men around the world. The explosion of social evolution that would be awe-inspiring to behold.

    When one reads the Hebrew Bible, or even the New Testament (see the note on the “Annunciation of John’s conception” and the “Holy Spirit, a major Lukan theme” and “the feminine presence of God that dwells with Israel” at Luke 1:11-23, on page 98 of The Jewish Annotated New Testament“), then one gets the idea that “To be feminine is not necessarily to be a woman.” Biblical womanhood and biblical manhood and the image of the Creator may include the feminine. Sundaram may be a secular feminist, but Amy-Jill Levine (who writes the bit in the NT footnote) is not the sort of feminist that Robinson fears most. Levine even counters Christian feminist thinking at certain points; and clearly the CBMW bloggers do too. But Robinson and the CBMW rather uniquely force “biblical” to mean “separate but equal” roles for women, in which Christian women must actually take the lesser (the submissive and the silent) roles. Too often the CBMW expresses its fear of the “transgender” and of the “hermaphrodite” as if male and female are going to be irreversably mixed and mixed up somehow; as if the role of “biblical” teaching is to keep roles entirely separate.

  13. January 11, 2012 10:19 am

    “It’s quite interesting that Robinson starts by alluding to Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [ESV]. One way to read this, of course, is to view God’s image — and the human image — as being equally male and female.”

    I think it’s also fairly clear that “male and female he created them” is designed to mark out the fact that both men and women equally receive God’s image. So while Robinson sees this as an affirmation that God created people to be both male and female I think this is more likely a counter to a strong patriarchal idea that God created man to bear His image and women as a shadow of men – or even that God created men and then a horrible accident occurred and we ended up with women.

  14. January 11, 2012 12:35 pm

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