Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I despise Harvard, I detest Harvard

The title comes from a T-shirt a friend of mine used to wear. He got it his senior year in high school, when he was accepted to Harvard. Except his version said "I hate Yale, I despise Yale, I detest Yale..."

Makes you wonder why Harvard, if it's so great, is threatened by a tiny, old school in New Haven?

No, this blog is about a speech given by Harvard's president yesterday. Kudos to Grrlscientist for letting me know about this! I live under a rock, btw, that's why I hadn't heard about it yet.

God, where to begin. Well, let's start at the top of the article and work our way down.

First, "The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers."

As someone who has been dealing with this kind of crap my whole life, I have to say that it never gets any easier.

I was in the Gifted and Talented program from 3rd grade on. In 2nd grade, I used to make a boy named Peter M. bang his head on his imitation-wood desk just by repeatedly beating him at speed-tests in basic arithmetic.

Starting in 4th grade, I was the only girl in my math group. IT REALLY SUCKED. There were only a handful of us in my math classes in junior high, maybe 20% of the class was girls (say, 5 out of 25 in Algebra and Geometry). Senior year, in multivariable calculus, I was again the only girl. The one other girl dropped out.

Why, you might ask? Honestly, all I can do is speculate, based on many conversations with my peers, a few classes in Women's Studies, and a lot of reading.

The one thing I learned in school, above all others and perhaps most importantly in life, is that no matter how good you are at some things, you can't be the best at everything.

I believe in cultural effects on gender bias. You can't study Anthropology and miss this. If it's an innate property, why is it that our culture is so patriarchal, while many others throughout history were not?

Perhaps because girls seem to do better in school than boys in general, they tend to gravitate toward subjects where they are already excelling?

Girls generally kick boys' asses in all things literary, for example, and foreign languages. And that's fun. It's a lot more fun than struggling to get an A- or a B+ in trigonometry. Most girls I know really like a pat on the head more than the guys I know.

Boys are strongly encouraged to do well in math and science, much more so than girls are. (someone please remind me to ask my sister what she thinks about this!).

What guys do better is hide the struggle. Boys are encouraged- or used to be, pre-sports for girls- to be more competitive. Girls have a tendency to self-regulate, to try to force each other to fit in. Excelling in math goes against the grain when you're a standout- all the girls will hate you.

They hated me in elementary school, but I can't say if it's because I was better at math, and worse at hiding it, than they were. Maybe it's because I didn't want to hide it?

So I believe in socialization, and I believe in discrimination because I've experienced it myself.

Speaking of outright discrimination, Nancy Hopkins, btw, is one of my all-time heros. See the study that changed it all .

Obviously Harvard isn't making a lot of progress on the issue, since "The percentage of tenured job offers made to women by the university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences has dropped dramatically since Summers took office, prompting vigorous complaints from many of Harvard's senior female professors."

-- "the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks."

Ugh. How can he say this is not due to our CULTURAL NORMS, where the man DOES NOTHING and the women do ALL THE WORK???

And more to the point, I never want kids anyway, but I still get plenty of discrimination. I worked for a guy who said that he loved employing pregnant women because they were so organized and efficient.

The last guy I worked for treated me like I was a heartless bitch because I didn't have any inclination to be somebody's mother. A woman who doesn't have this drive must surely be too much like a man, was his insinuation.

And someone I worked for once told me that the reason I'm good at tissue culture is because 'women are more nurturing.' (He didn't know it was because the MAN who trained me was a good teacher!)

You get screwed either way.

Also, to bring up the point about 80-hour work weeks, this is also a cultural norm. Several women have commented to me that they seem to get evaluated as being 'lazy' because they're efficient with their time.

As one friend put it, "why would you want to reward someone for taking hours longer to finish the same task? Why is it good to brag about how you stayed late?"

"daddy truck" and "baby truck"

Again, generalizations made from flawed studies... what children play with is largely a function of what they're given and what they see adults and children around them doing. It's very difficult to find children who have never been around any adults or children or toys before!

I never wanted dolls as a child, UNTIL MY SISTER GOT ONE. There is definitely something to be said for children following examples. But even then, I was just copying her, and the logic went something like this: I'm unhappy and my sister is always happy. She has a doll. Maybe a doll will make me happy.

Dolls didn't, and don't, make me happy. But I had to do the experiment!

And nobody gave me too many trucks, either, although we did have some early robotics sets that didn't work very well, and my father was always bringing home the latest computers from work.

Nobody let us take apart the toaster, as many of my guy friends did, because our parents were afraid we'd get hurt. And we were terrified of getting in trouble, so we wouldn't have done it on our own.

Nobody let us go out to play without supervision, especially not at night. Meanwhile, the boys were off exploring half-finished buildings during the day and playing kick-the-can in the dark. And that old saying, "boys will be boys" is why it's okay for them to take apart the toaster without asking.

Anyway, this guy Summers is clearly out of touch with reality. He's selective in his reading and his interpretation of the literature, and hasn't bothered to do his homework.

And I feel really sorry for his wife and his daughters. Not only is he a sexist prick, but I'm sure if he had been around more while they were growing up, his wife could have had all kinds of opportunities she probably didn't have time for, and he would have learned a lot from his daughters.

I mean, he's the classic example. How convenient for him to have children and still work 80 hours a week! How does he think that happens??? I swear, the man can't do simple math.

Oh, and one more thing. I didn't want a job at Harvard anyway.

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At 5:06 PM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

I am laughing aloud. You have written the fastest and most coherent rant I've ever seen, and not a single typo! This makes you superbly well-suited to office work! I am jealous. I am not qualified to do anything at all, except cat sitting. Okay, it is time for me to do my penance (penance for being a female scientist AND for being jealous of a fellow (?) female scientist) by scooping some cat shit. I hate to tell ya this, but I earn more money by cat sitting than I did as a scientist. It's too bad I don't have more clients .. if I did, I could actually pay my rent!

At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"due to our CULTURAL NORMS, where the man DOES NOTHING and the women do ALL THE WORK??? "

your entire post makes you come across as a very arrogant, intellectual, man-hating woman.

I don't know if that's what you were vying for.

-An open-minded man who enrolled in two womens studies classes and hated them.


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