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What About the Boys

December 16, 2010

This probably makes me a bitch, but I don't like mansplaining with my coffee. Even if it's from a woman. I'm not sure why I started watching the video over at Machines Like Us. It's offered with no commentary, so it's hard to say what the poster's intent was. But the video coming from the American Enterprise Institute should have clued me into its being a load of crap since the rest of their videos are all libertarian mumbo jumbo about how taxes are what's wrong with this country. I really wish our elected representatives had to take an up or down vote on a public option and those that voted no wouldn't receive healthcare from the government. If they're so sure it's a bad idea, I'm sure they won't mind buying their healthcare on the "private market" like they suggest for the rest of us.
 
But this doesn't have anything to do with healthcare. This is all about why aren't there more female scientists? The video is snippets from some panel mostly with Christina Hoff Summers who thinks women choose to go into other fields even if they are equally apt because other fields are more fulfilling. She's also the author of a bunch of bullshit books about how there's a "war on men" (like the war on Christmas right?). I agree with some of her concerns, but achieving parity between the genders in college attendance is not something I'm going to freak out about. Does this really mean fewer men are going to college now or just more women? We didn't worry about it in the 1950s when there were way fewer men, so why start a national movement to freak out about a few percentage lower men attending some colleges now? And anyways, her goals are all wrong. It's not because we've "forgotten" about the menfolk or that we're rigging the system in favor of women. It's because while women are making gains, inner-city and poor men are losing ground. So this is hardly a gender thing so much as a class thing. And I agree we should make more of an effort to support inner-city and disadvantaged youths, male or female. But reaching out the olive branch to the middle class, educated white men who read her books or follow her bullshit is going to gain us nothing in further educating anybody.
 
Where does she get off talking about women in science anyways? She has an unspecified BA and a doctorate in philosophy. So she's been in the folds of academia and liberal arts her entire life. Maybe when she gets a job in a math or science career or talks to more than one woman in the scientific field without holding her preconceived notions I'll give a damn about her.
 
Her ignorance is further amplified when she suggests there's a severe shortage of scientists and engineers in this country and that it's the NSF's responsibility to recruit people, both men and women (though I assume she means men since women choose to do other things). I guess she doesn't know about all the hoardes of scientists and engineers that are out of work right now. How there are all these PhDs in science who can't find jobs or have to live separately from their families or take extremely low pay just to keep working supposed to contend with even more people competing for the same low number of jobs. I mean if she's even part libertarian she should know that if there's a market demand for these jobs, people will go into these careers. If we start creating companies that produce things and need scientists and engineers, people will start training in that instead of becoming lawyers or working on wall street.
 
Luckily for my blood pressure, someone sent me this article from 2006, Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist. Dr. Ben Barres is a neurobiologist who was once a woman and is now a man.

After he underwent a sex change nine years ago at the age of 42, Barres recalled, another scientist who was unaware of it was heard to say, "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's."

And as a female undergraduate at MIT, Barres once solved a difficult math problem that stumped many male classmates, only to be told by a professor: "Your boyfriend must have solved it for you."

"By far," Barres wrote, "the main difference I have noticed is that people who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect" than when he was a woman. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Barres underwent a lot of criticism for writing on gender differences, or lack thereof, and even though most of his writings focus on studies and data people assume he is taking things "too personally."

Some of those who argue against him tried to bring up a handful of studies again, the typical ones that argue that a man performs better at the highest echelons in math than women even though on the average, men and women perform about the same. Or other studies that suggest women are better at "verbal" things and men at computation. One of Barre's colleagues, Dr. Spelke, responded to the interview and has argued against making conclusions from such data that would imply genetic differences between male and female brains. Coming back to Ms. Sommers and her hackneyed theory that women "choose" to go into other fields and that is why they are absent, I love the quote from Dr. Spelke:

"You won't see a Chinese face or an Indian face in 19th-century science," she said. "It would have been tempting to apply this same pattern of statistical reasoning and say, there must be something about European genes that give rise to greater mathematical talent than Asian genes."

"I think we want to step back and ask, why is it that almost all Nobel Prize winners are men today?" she concluded. "The answer to that question may be the same reason why all the great scientists in Florence were Christian."

So non-Christian scientists or Chinese scientists in the 19th century European theatre probably just chose to do something else, something more fulfilling, right Sommers?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 3:43 am

    Slam. Dunk.

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