Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Women and Science

An interesting article in the NYT regarding "findings" on the disparity of women in science.

The article suggests a looming Title IX for science, similar to the parity men and women find in college athletics.

As with most press treatments of such complex issues as gender and careers and the effects of "discrimination" therein, the article sets up everything as either/or.

I'm an academic. I see the culture, hell I am the culture.

I am not going to reproduce the article here, but I am going to reproduce a couple of paragraphs below and comment on it:

In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science. In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention.

I agree with this, in part. However, while women may be making inroads in academia (in part because the professoring profession is changing and men are as much abandoning academics as anything else...with certain areas still laregly male, especially the physical sciences and math). Also, in one particular area, call it information technology (includes computer science), women are LEAVING the area, when 20 years ago, it was not "gendered" or associated with a particular sex. That fact is not addressed by the psychologists who try to explain away the disparities.

But the institute found that women with physics degrees go on to doctorates, teaching jobs and tenure at the same rate that men do. The gender gap is a result of earlier decisions. While girls make up nearly half of high school physics students, they’re less likely than boys to take Advanced Placement courses or go on to a college degree in physics.

This is stated as though, well, "discrimination" is not occuring. But what about at that point? Part of the problem is that we always want to look for a particular model of discrete discrimination....a sign that says, women not wanted, for instance. When, it has as much to do with one's identity as anything else. And at the crucial age of middle school, we see girls falling off and moving away from such pursuits.

Now, here comes the psychologists who too often seem to be incapable of understanding culture:

These numbers don’t surprise two psychologists at Vanderbilt University, David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow, who have been tracking more than 5,000 mathematically gifted students for 35 years.

They found that starting at age 12, the girls tended to be better rounded than the boys: they had relatively strong verbal skills in addition to math, and they showed more interest in “organic” subjects involving people and other living things. Despite their mathematical prowess, they were less likely than boys to go into physics or engineering.

"organic" subjects? Then accounting is more organic? What about economics? 25 years ago similar arguments were made for why women choose nursing over medicine, and still today, the specialities within medicine, this same line of reasoning prevails. It has to do with gender....the allocation of men and women to roles...not surprising that we learn our lessons well, and come to like what we are supposed to. Furthermore, the operational items here, working with people, data, or things,,,,is from the Dictionary of Occupatoinal titles, the only comphrehensive analsis of job skills, but it has considerable problems, too.

Take physics, the straw dog set up to make this argument seem plausible. Physics is perhaps the ultimate in "inorganic" studies. But most people with a phsyics doctorate teach. Most of their time is teaching, which is, perhaps, the ultimate in organic.

But what about all that research? yes, but physics is still about people and working with people. Many men who puruse these studies becuase they think they can avoid working with people, are dumbstruck to find that so much of their success hsa to do with negotiating people.

What we need is a more realistic and consciously gendered (or perhaps a very gendered presentation....a presentation of science that fits the prevailaing notions of masculinity as well as a presentation of science that fits the prevailing notions of femininity as well).

Lastly this little nuggest of sophistry:

Ms. Pinker says that universities and employers should do a better job helping women combine family responsibilities with careers in fields like physics. But she also points out that female physicists are a distinct minority even in Western European countries that offer day care and generous benefits to women.

Ugh, what about Asian countries, where the gender definitions and allocations are different? Women pursue quantitative studies in greater numbers.

I don't agree with a quota system and I don't agree with a Title IX like approach to science....sports is very different and there is no question that title IX has created women's sports and all the good things (and bad) that comes along with them. But sports is for most athletes a temporary pursuit and a way to pay for their university education. Why not be equal on that one?

A career is a life long choice...but continuing to make excuses for male priviliges in the most lucrative of fields makes no sense whatsoever.

No comments:

Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged