Friday, October 26, 2012

Amazing Women and Today's Stereotypes

Have assumptions of women's and womanly capacity and ability changed any in 400 years? Yesterday we learned about Jean/Jeanne Baret who disguised herself as a man because what she was capable of doing and desired to do could not be done as a woman. Not because she wasn't able or capable, but because she wasn't allowed. 

I found this article on Buzzfeed a couple of days ago and was blown away. Yes, women have the vote now, but we still face a myriad of stereotypes and prejudices. 

Sociologist Elaine Ecklund and her coauthors surveyed 3,455 physicists at various levels of their professions, from graduate student to tenured professor, asking them to select which of the following reasons explained the difference: “Women seem to have more natural ability in biology than in physics;” “Women seem to prefer biology more than physics;” “There is a lot more funding support for women in biology than in physics;” “Women are discriminated against more in physics than in biology;” “There are fewer mentors for women in physics than in biology;” or “There is some other reason." Then they conducted followup interviews with 216 of the scientists, asking them to talk in greater depth about why they thought there were more women in biology than in physics. A sampling of what they said:
“morphological differences and biological differences [make men better at] hardcore math and physics.” — male assistant professor, genetics
"[There are] some brain differences between men and women that explain it." — male grad student, biology
“On balance [women are] just less interested in math.” — male professor, biology
“Physics is more difficult for girls and you need a lot of thinking, and the calculation, and the logic. So that’s maybe hard for girls.” — male grad student, physics
“Science has been a male-dominated field for a substantially long period of time, and it’s going to take a while for that shift to change.” — male grad student, biology
"Women have to make a choice [because] the woman ends up being the primary caregiver if they have children.” — male postdoctoral fellow, biology
“I think women ... want to have more of a sense that what they are doing is helping somebody. ... Maybe there are more women in ... biology [because] you can be like ‘Oh, I am going to go cure cancer.’” — postdoctoral fellow, biology
"Physics is more abstract and biology is more concrete. Women are less likely to like abstract things.” — female associate professor, physics
“[A friend of mine] was always told, ‘Oh, you’re not good at math,’ until she found herself getting As in a multivariable calculus class. You know, she was scared of math all through high school.” — female grad student, physics
“Male-dominated departments are really unpleasant for women. [...] Men can be huge jerks in those situations.” — female associate professor, biology
“I know a lot of women who are in chemistry and physics who are excellent at what they’re doing, but are often sidelined or ignored by their colleagues because there’s just not very many of them.” — female assistant professor, biology
“It’s not going to be solved until we figure out how to help mothers figure out how to do the career and the kid thing.” — female associate professor, physics

Astounding that men - supposed scientists who should be able to think and reason in a rational way - assume that just because there are some anatomical and physiological differences means that the mental capacity and function is somehow simultaneously diminished. To them I say, "Pfffft." And I add, "Idiots."

Tomorrow: Another amazing woman who refused to be held back just because some men told her so. 

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