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How a 'blind' audition at an orchestra still had a secret bias towards men

The funny thing about bias is, often times we don't even realize it's creeping into our minds, coloring everything we see.

tar, blind audition, sexism, orchestra
Focus Features/Youtube

A trailer for 'Tar," starring Cate Blanchett

In her TED talk, "What does my headscarf mean to you?" Yassmin Abdel-Magied told this story:

In 1952, the Boston Symphony was looking to diversify it's male-dominated orchestra, so it conducted an experiment with a series of blind auditions.

For the auditions, the musicians would be playing behind a screen, in an effort to remove all chance of bias and allow for a merit based selection only - a selection that would hopefully increase the number of women in the orchestra.


To their surprise, their initial audition results still skewed male.

Then they asked the musicians to take off their shoes. The reason? The sound of the women's heels as they entered the audition unknowingly influenced the adjudicators.

Once the musicians removed their shoes, almost 50% of the women made it past the first audition. The moral of the story? Overcoming unconscious bias isn't as easy as one might think.

Ted Talks, race, religion, community

Gender bias can seem like a tug-o-war as we seek equality.

Image via Pixabay.


That's partly why Yassmin is somewhat forgiving when it comes to the assumptions that come along with her headscarf.

Yassmin wears a hijab, but that's only part of who she is.

"Someone who looks like me walks past you in the street. ... Do you look me up and down, wondering how hot I must get or if my husband has forced me to wear this outfit? ... I can walk down the street in the exact same outfit and what the world expects of me and the way I'm treated depends on the arrangement of this piece of cloth."— Yassmin Abdel-Magied, "What does my headscarf mean to you?"

But Yassmin is so much more than just a Muslim woman in a headscarf. Like everyone else, her identity is complex and special to her. She has worked as a race car engineer, trained as a boxer, and, these days, works as a mechanical engineer on a giant oil rig. Oddly enough, the very things that make Yassmin unique are often seen as a contradiction because of her religion. And every single day she is dealing with the unconscious bias of those who see her and her scarf, making instant, quiet, almost reflexive judgements about her. Because that's how unconscious bias works.

Bias is a natural response to living in a society that normalizes certain types of people and behaviors while it "others" anything that's different.

Even when we try our hardest to see everyone as equal, our mind is influenced by the way people and things are presented in the world around us. As Yassmin explains, unconscious bias is ingrained in all of us, even when we have the best of intentions.

"Unconscious bias is not the same as conscious discrimination.I'm not saying that in all of you, there's a secret sexist or racistor ageist lurking within, waiting to get out.That's not what I'm saying.We all have our biases.They're the filters through which we see the world around us. ... Bias can be about race,it can be about gender.It can also be about class, education, disability.The fact is, we all have biases against what's different,what's different to our social norms." — Yassmin Abdel-Magied, "What does my headscarf mean to you?"

A link to watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied and her Ted Talk below:

If bias happens unconsciously, how in the world do we correct it?

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic wand that can wipe away any trace of bias you might have. But just knowing that there are biases present in all of us is an important first step to overcoming them. Also, just diversifying your community and interacting with people who are different from you is another way to fight off those silent prejudices.

Want to dig deeper? You're in luck!

Psychologists from Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia teamed up to create a series of online tests that measure unconscious bias. There are tests for everything — age, gender, race, religion, skin tone, and even weapons! It's pretty cool.Visit the "Project Implicit" websiteto test your unconscious bias and find the areas of your perspective that need a little extra TLC.

This article originally appeared on 06.22.15

A young woman drinking bottled water outdoors before exercising.



The Story of Bottled Waterwww.youtube.com

Here are six facts from the video above by The Story of Stuff Project that I'll definitely remember next time I'm tempted to buy bottled water.

1. Bottled water is more expensive than tap water (and not just a little).

via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube


A Business Insider column noted that two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States is in individual 16.9-ounce bottles, which comes out to roughly $7.50 per gallon. That's about 2,000 times higher than the cost of a gallon of tap water.

And in an article in 20 Something Finance, G.E. Miller investigated the cost of bottled versus tap water for himself. He found that he could fill 4,787 20-ounce bottles with tap water for only $2.10! So if he paid $1 for a bottled water, he'd be paying 2,279 times the cost of tap.

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“As we were making vegetable soup, we landed on the idea of cooking it on stage and performing a concert with the vegetables while we were doing that,” Meinharter told Atlas Obscura. “It all started as a joke,” he told the BBC. “We were brainstorming what we could do, and we thought: ‘What is the most difficult thing to play music on?’”

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

I recently spent some time with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's known not only for breaking down stereotypes about what kinds of people go into science, but he has actively stood up and spoken against those who would close its doors, especially to young women.

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Incubators regulate temperature, humidity, optimize oxygen levels and monitors a baby's vital signs. New dad, Ed Andretti, recently welcomed a baby girl, Cathara, who is having to spend some time in the NICU after being born three months early. But it was his sweet motivational speech he gave to his daughter through the plastic of the incubator that has everyone's heart melting.

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She was with her children in a play place that "runs the entire length of a giant science museum,” she said in her viral TikTok video.

“So I end up going the opposite direction of where she actually ended up. So I thought she didn't go past me, so she must have gone to a water table or something because she loves water. She wasn't down there, so at that point, I'm starting to panic,” Grundey revealed.

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Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

Crinkle crankle walls are more common the U.K., but they can be found in the U.S. as well.

If you were to draw a straight line and a wavy line from point A to point B, there would be no question which one used more ink. After all, "The shortest distance between two points (on a flat surface) is a straight line" has been baked into our brains since elementary school math class. Logically, a wavy line uses more ink because it covers more distance, right? Right.

So if that's true, how is it possible that a brick wall built in a wavy pattern could use fewer bricks than a straight one built between the exact same two points?

Not only is it possible, it's actually true, despite people's disbelief over the fact.

A post on X from @InternetHOF shows the claim that "corrugated brick fences" sometimes seen in England use fewer bricks than a straight wall, with the caption, "I don't believe this is true."

It does seem illogical from a pure geometry-on-paper standpoint, but what makes it true is how the structural integrity of brick walls works.

There are all kinds of nitty-gritty calculations a structural engineer could get into to explain, but thankfully, internet hero (and strangely popular X account) Greg came to everyone's rescue with an explanation that neatly fit into a single post on X.

"They're called crinkle crankles," wrote Greg. "A single leaf wall over that distance would need brick piers approx every 1.5-2m if it was a retaining wall it would need to be at least 9” wide (2 bricks). The crinkle crankle has more strength due to it’s curved nature so can be 4” wide or a single leaf of bricks.

"For the maths if we can assume they’re true semi-circles then each semi circle would be 1/2piD or 1.57D whereas a double leaf wall would be 2D for the same length D.

"Therefore using 21.5% less bricks than a double leaf wall hope that clears things up."

In even simpler terms, a long, straight brick wall only a single brick wide would not be able to stand without some kind of buttresses every couple of meters, which would actually take more bricks to build. Otherwise, it would need to be thicker, which would also increase the number of bricks needed. The curve of the crinkle crankle (best name ever) provides stability all on its own, so the wall doesn't need structured supports.

serpentine brick wall next to a bunch of daffodils

Crinkle crankle walls are usually referred to as serpentine walls in the U.S.

Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

First of all, what a cool piece of human ingenuity that people actually figured this out hundreds of years ago. And second of all, why are there not more crinkle crankle walls everywhere? So much more fun and whimsical. And apparently, a better use of resources.

But before you go building your own crinkle crankle wall to make your house look super cool, make sure you've got the geometry correct. There are actual specifications for making a structurally sound serpentine wall, and if you don't do it correctly, you may find yourself with a pile of bricks and no wall, curvy or straight.

If you want to see some cool crinkle crankle walls in the U.S., head to the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson himself added them to the design of the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus.

wavy brick wall separating a grassy area and a driveway

Crinkle crankle wall at the University of Virginia

Carlin MacKenzie/Wikimedia Commons

More crinkle crankles everywhere, please.