Still against Larry Summers
Dear Fareed Zakaria, George Stephanopoulos and Cynthia Tucker,
A lot of us blogged about Larry Summers when he blamed women for our lack of success in science. He said it was because we didn't want to work as hard as men, implying first that all women have children, and second that all women who have children work fewer hours than men.
Which implies that choosing childcare over career success is a free choice. This is false logic.
Furthermore, he said it could be because women just start out dumber, citing studies that claim women don't do as well on exams and others that claim socialization can't explain all the differences in women's competitiveness.
We women scientists were outraged and offended at the time, but more importantly we knew what this meant: like cockroaches, when you see one, that just means there are plenty more where it came from.
We knew that, if the President of Harvard was saying things like this, here was yet another example of why we weren't making more progress. We might not expect the public to know how hard we work or how smart we are, but we hope our supervisors do. And yet, we know that even our supervisors don't know how hard we work or how smart we are.
We know we are perpetually underestimated. We know that this, more than any other factor, is what holds us back. Second on the list is the underestimation of the pervasiveness of sexism, in all its subtle forms.
Now, we're back to sexism's best friend: the argument about "picking the best candidate for the job." You argue that Larry is "brilliant" and that Obama needs people who are "smart." Allow me to argue with that argument.
How smart can Larry Summers be? He's not a scientist, yet he offended women scientists everywhere by referencing research on genetics vs. socialization and claims that girls don't do as well on math and science exams as boys.
As it turns out, one of the things that made this most offensive was that Larry didn't have a complete grasp of the literature, had chosen to cite only the studies that supported his point, and hadn't considered the effect of his words.
Perhaps most offensive to me, he used an anecdote about his daughter's choice of toys in support of his argument. This is classic sexism in science.
Let me reiterate (since I have blogged about it before): What toys we played with as little girls has NO EFFECT on whether we become successful scientists later in life. This anecdote was cited as if it has predictive value, but it simply doesn't.
Fareed Zakaria said anyone who has followed Larry's career knows that he has never done anything to hurt women's careers? I couldn't find anything on Google about the great and wonderful Larry Summers helping women's careers. Interestingly, though, there also seems to have been sufficient good press about him since he said these negative things that it doesn't even come up associated with his name unless you add "women in science" to the search criteria.
And I think it's more than fair to say that most people have not followed his career.
By offering him a slot as Treasury Secretary, Barack Obama would be condoning an attitude that doesn't go away with an apology.
If you still can't see what I mean, look at it this way: Harvard did the right thing firing him. People like this should not be in positions of power and high visibility. What's to keep him from saying something stupid in a press conference and embarrassing Barack Obama?