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Maybe we should paint math and science classrooms pink, too?

girl-math.jpgOk, I’m looking for my friend Tammy to speak up in the comments on this one, because as a chick who’s gotten a PhD in a scientific field where there ain’t many gals, she’s much more qualified to comment on this story than I am. Of course, that won’t stop me from saying that I think the idea of applying Title IX to science is fucking ridiculous.

Title IX, as you may know, was passed in 1972 and has been used to increase the number of women participating in collegiate sports. It’s worked, and I’d say it’s worked pretty well. Even though it has also killed men’s sports teams at many schools because, where the schools were unable to find enough girls interested in playing on their sports teams, they could only meet Title IX quotas by axing some boys teams.

Well Title IX’s wording does not limit itself to university sports, and there’s apparently a movement to have it applied in some form to university science and math programs, halls where women are few and far between. Now I’m all for anything that increases the number of people interested in math in science, don’t get me wrong. And when I was in college, I would’ve loved — loved — for there to have been more female physics majors to hang out with. And anything that improves math and science education gets my support too. But look at what this MIT biologist, Nancy Hopkins, says:

“It is a system,” Hopkins says, “where winning is everything, and women find it repulsive.” This viewpoint explains the constant emphasis, by equity activists such as Shalala, Rolison, and Olsen, on the need to transform the “entire culture” of academic science and engineering. Indeed, the charter for the October 17 congressional hearing placed primary emphasis on academic culture: “The list of cultural norms that appear to disadvantage women…includes the favoring of disciplinary over interdisciplinary research and publications, and the only token attention given to teaching and other service during the tenure review process. Thus it seems that it is not necessarily conscious bias against women but an ingrained idea of how the academic enterprise ‘should be’ that presents the greatest challenge to women seeking academic S&E [science and engineering] careers.”

Ok, facing sexism head-on is one thing. I know there is sexism in the math and science fields, particularly from the older generation. But to use this sexism movement as a basis for changing the entire culture just reeks of the worst kind of liberal crap (and this is coming from a staunch liberal). I mean, I actually agree that the lack of emphasis of teaching and the overarching push to publish are bad things about the academic side of the system. And if you think there’s a way to change these things in a way that’s better for both the educational system and the scientific community, great. Do it. I got your back. But don’t fucking couch it in this gender equality argument which, to my money, just doesn’t support it. I mean, she says that women find it “repulsive” that the system is one of “winning is everything?” Really? So what, women are above that type of culture and atmosphere? Sounds a bit fucking sexist to me.

Anyway, this article over at the American is a long, but very interesting read. To be fair, author Christina Hoff Sommers is certainly on my side of the argument, but her overall discussion is pretty compelling, to my culturally sexist mind, anyway.

| Comments (3)


Actually, I believe the original intention of Title IX was to equalize all school areas, and womens' sports advancement was just a happy, but not necessarily foreseen, byproduct.

I'm curious to see how they specifically plan to apply this to the science/math field (sorry, I haven't read the linked article yet), so I'll reserve judgement on whether that is a good thing or not.

I do agree with your thought that the MIT commenter's statement was rather sexist. Stupid generalizations like that are never productive. But all in all, I think you are off-base in that this is an incorrect application of the statutes goals. But you are most correct in that increasing women participation in these fields is a good goal to have.

I can't give this enough attention to give you a detailed discussion (having to do all that scientific work and all takes all my time after all). However, the idea of changing the culture of academic science is quiet a convincing argument if you know some of the details. Some very simple cultural changes have been shown to have significant impact on the numbers of women who enter and remain in scientific fields.

One of the things that I find interesting is that these changes don't make science 'women-friendly,' they make it 'people-friendly.' These issues are coming to the forefront more an more in science because not only are women and men (your age) are balancing a lot of the same issues in their lives. For example, it was rare that a male scientist in the past had a partner with a career. That is much more common today, and it is something that any woman scientist with a partner had to juggle in the past and still today.

Interestingly, a lot of the subtle issues that encourage women to look elsewhere for careers, also tend to weed out any body who is not looking to live the life-style of a monk . What is a positive step is that the argument about why women leave science is changing. It used to be that women were 'not very good' at science, but the argument today is that 'they just don't want to live like a scientist' (the term 'scientist' meaning a gray beard with a house wife to take care of all non-science issues in life, of course). I guess a change from woman as incompetent to women as whiners for not wanting to live in the lab is some kind of progress - though I like to imagine that I am not incompetent nor a whiner.

The bigger argument coming out today is that if we continue to weed out diversity in science, it actually weakens the scientific enterprise as a whole. Since woman and non-white men make up the majority of the population, it seems like a waste of resources to weed them out, and the government is taking notice since a larger chunk of scientists in the US are not from the US. This stuff has popped up in the discussion of the whole American Competitive initiative stuff.

As for the title IX stuff, I can see how it can be useful, and I can see how it can be poorly implemented (as it often was in sports). Studies have shown that if faculty search committees, for example, are actually trained to think about the possibility of recruiting women and non-white men to positions, they get many more applicants. Unfortunately, this takes powerful and thoughtful leadership to implement, and that is seriously lacking in the scientific community on this issue. The old boys network is still the biggest recruiting tool. I recently helped organize a meeting on women in science for department chairs from the top 50 research institutions on women in science, and I must say, I was very disappointed in their lack of awareness for what women in their own departments were experiencing that was different than their male counterparts. They seem to think that things were fine the way they were and that it was 'normal' to have less than 10% of their faculty be women - it didn't seem to bother them that this was also discouraging for the women students (who they supported more).

What is most interesting to me is that there is a LOT of science on this issue, but whenever you have a bunch of scientists talking about the issue, they prefer to rely on their personal experience and anecdotal stories rather than the research that illuminates the issues. I think part of it is that many of the men at the top would have to admit that they succeeded in a system that made things easier for them than for some others, and the egos aren't willing to accept that in many cases. There is some hope, however, in some successful male leaders who have married women scientists or have watched their daughters go into science. They have seen things that they wouldn't have believed if they didn't watch a woman they love go through it.

Forget Title IX, maybe we should just require all male scientists to find a scientists for a spouse!

As a female engineering major (electrical, no less--far as I can tell, I'm the only white chick in the major), I have to say the problem is with those ingrained ideas of what women do and do not like, which damn near amount to brainwashing. The change needs to start way earlier than college.

Don't get me wrong, I think "winning" is emphasized to the detriment of actually learning, but that's a more general problem observed and experienced by all of us who are here because we love what we do, not for the degree and high-paying job at the end.

An interesting observation: I know a lot of fellow engineers, and more of the women seem to be here because they're honestly passionate--less likely to be in it for shits, giggles, and jobs. Being a female geek is tough (because of society, peer pressure, lack of support, etc., not the field itself), and I think bullshit stereotypes about how women react in academic settings have become self-fulfilling prophecies. They shape how mentors and authority figures treat female geeks, which in turn steers those women away from the hard sciences.

My two cents. I wish more of the geeks I knew in middle school had stuck it out. There's nothing sexist about my field or how it's structured, only the attitudes surrounding it.