Don't remember how but I came across this recent really disturbing article entitled Why can't a woman be more like a man? by this pseudo-feminist (or anti-feminist) named Christina Hoff Sommers.
I had heard of her before because she's the author of that classic contribution "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men".
What's really scary is that if you didn't know anything about feminism, and read this article I linked to above, you'd think
a) feminism is crap
b) the author is a man.
Assuming you might not want to read the whole article, I want to highlight one major argument she makes and point out the flaw in it.
She cites numerous studies (well, actually doesn't cite all of them but talks vaguely about their existence) showing that girls play differently from boys, draw different pictures (people) than boys (houses). I'm well aware of these studies so it wasn't news to me.
But she keeps coming back to this point as if it explains everything. She claims that veterinary medicine is the dream job for women, since it combines both systematic thinking and empathy, and that this satisfies our (women's) inherent need to nurture.
As an aside, veterinary medicine, if she's right, is an interesting paradigm. They went from 8 percent women in the 1960s, she says, to 77 percent now, supposedly without any kind of role models or mentoring programs.
One has to wonder
a) is that true?
b) how did they do that?
But she doesn't offer any explanation, except to use it to buttress her argument that we shouldn't fund Title IX or similar equity-enhancing programs.
But let's get back to the point about little girls vs. little boys.
1. Hypothesis: What we might have played with as children could be irrelevant to our abilities and career aspirations later in life.
Experiment to test this: Hasn't anyone ever done a survey? Maybe we should. It could be as simple as asking women who are still in science vs. women who hated science vs. women who dropped out of science
a) played with dolls
b) felt that having a family was paramount
c) felt that having a family was incompatible with, or at least extremely difficult to achieve with, a career in science
Well, actually we already know the answer to c. Which leads me to my other point:
2. Culture is way more important than Hoff-Sommers allows.
She makes a point of saying that most people agree (74%) that women don't go into STEM disciplines because they choose not to.
As usual, the point that gets lost here is why women don't want to. She attributes it to our affinity for playing with dolls when we're little. I attribute it to a hostile climate both in and out of science.
If we had better childcare support (e.g. onsite facilities everywhere), science would just as attainable for women as for men.
Hoff-Sommers is probably one of these ones who buys into the idea that women should shoulder the majority of the child-rearing burden. I don't know. But I think it's a major flaw in her argument.
But pressure to raise a family aside. Let me tell you that I started out liking math, so I think it's culture and not nature that makes women choose not to go into STEM disciplines.
I liked math. I really did. Personally, I did not like dolls. But I didn't particularly like trucks, either.
I liked books. Still do. But gradually math class became less fun. Come to think of it, this started round about when we all hit puberty. Coincidence?
It wasn't until years later that I realized why I stopped enjoying it. I was certainly not aware of gender bias at the time.
Years later when I read studies about boys being called on more often in class (check) and girls losing confidence when they're in the minority (check), it started to dawn on me that this could have been a factor. Maybe the main factor.
I certainly did well enough on aptitude tests to suggest that my performance did not match my potential, but nobody at school seemed to be aware of that.
(It's ironic because the longer I stay in science, the more I notice that I'm being pushed harder to perform up to my supposed potential, which must be much higher than my male colleagues', since they seem to do less but get a lot more credit for it.)
She also quotes somebody as saying there's no objective evidence from the MIT report that women received less laboratory space (they did, measured in square feet how is that not objective??) salary (they did, but she claims the numbers were never released outside MIT, which I'm pretty sure is also not true) or other resources (which refers to what exactly?).
And one more gem, just because I get all warm and fuzzy reading it. She seems to think that equity will make everything worse and more "politicized".
"Departments of physics, math, chemistry, engineering, and computer science have remained traditional, rigorous, competitive, relatively meritocratic, and under the control of no-nonsense professors dedicated to objective standards. All that may be about to change."
Yup. After some of the comments I've seen in the past week where women were recounting the outrageously blatantly sexist treatment they've received from physics professors especially, not to mention all the sexual harassment lawsuits in computer science departments especially (which are apparently on the rise), I'd say that "relatively meritocratic" and "objective standards" are not descriptors reflecting reality. At all.
Here's hoping she's right that it's about to change. It's about time.