Friday, August 01, 2008

Women in Science

In reading more about views on women and various measures to increase the numbers of women who choose to pursue careers in science, I have discovered a strange world of antifeminists according to my definition of feminism.  I present to you the following reading materials:
  • A New Frontier for Title IX: Science - the NY Times talks about plans to have gender balancing requirements for math/science.  While there are many ways to improve the education system to increase male and female interest in science from an early age, the government wants to spend its time artificially increasing numbers of women in science with requirements?  Not only is this a waste of time, it could cause much harm by increasing societal perceptions of women as somehow lacking what it takes to have natural interest/aptitude.
  • The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap - Susan Pinker discusses how the assumption that a female is a kind of male is wrong. She also says that women are less "extreme" than men when it comes to deviating from the norm. She provides a preview of an interesting, well-presented argument with which I don't entirely agree.  While I agree that women have clear biological differences from men (no one who believes in science will object to the statement that male and female brains develop in wildly different environments), I think Pinker makes strong assumptions about the differences between men and women and presents them as fact.  She doesn't really address how these cultural norms arose and other societal reasons for the existence of these differences. 
  • The freeom to say 'no' - an article presenting results on how there are not more women in science/engineering because they are just not interested. I am not surprised, but I think it is good to ask why more women are not interested in math/science.  While some of it may be biological, much of it is societal.  We should take the results of such studies in mind when trying to increase the numbers of women in computer science.  The findings here support my view that the ex post facto patches of making it easier for female professors to get research funding does more harm than it does good.  The women who end up in academic professions are not the ones who need help; if we wanted to increase numbers we should be focusing on changing the views of younger women and the people who influence them.
  • Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man? - Hoff Sommers discusses the proposals to apply Title IX to science.  While I agree with her that this is a terrible idea, Hoff Sommers seems to have internalized the views that women have certain qualities associated with them ("cooperative rather than competitive," etc.) that makes them inherently worse at science.  First of all, while these stereotypes do have biological backing it is as foolish to assume a woman is cooperative as it is to assume an Asian is short.  Secondly, even if women were a threat to these "competitive environments," Hoff Sommers is making a very strong assumption that the competitive way is the best way.

No comments: