Breathe in and out…nope, I’m still spitting mad

Posted by barb on Jan 17, 2005 in Science Musings |

Just two days ago I was writing optimistically about the status of women in astronomy, and then I read these comments from the president of Harvard.

The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Summers also questioned how much of a role discrimination plays in the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities.

The article says that in this talk he was acting as a top ecomomist, and not as a Harvard official. If you’re the president of Harvard, you are always acting as a Harvard official. One has to wonder what kind of dumbass the president of Harvard has to be not to know that already.

He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.

The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ”I said no one really understands why this is, and it’s an area of ferment in social science,” Summers said in an interview Saturday. ”Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren’t” due to socialization after all.


Summers’ third point was about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.

Point 1: It’s women’s fault that they don’t want to neglect their families by working 80-hour weeks? No. It’s the science culture that’s at fault for not shaming men for neglecting their families by working 80-hour weeks. No one should be working 80-hour weeks. Period. We need time to nurture our families, our friendships, our lives, and 80-hour work weeks are not a good way to do that — it just leads to burn-out. (And, apparently it leads to assholes getting to be president of Harvard.)

Point 2: Do we really need to go over this one again? Boys are encouraged by adults to explore their worlds; girls are encouraged to play house and learn to be mommies. Of course we are socialized to be good little boys and girls. I was fortunate that I got to play with my older brothers’ toys — I had Legos AND dolls AND action figures AND Lincoln Logs. Most girls get dolls and Barbies and stuffed toys.

Point 3: Discrimination is a huge factor in the problem. It’s not the only problem, but in seven hiring cycles at my university, the only woman who was hired was hired because the school mandated that a woman be hired.

The article reports that several women left Summers’ talk. He got off lucky. There should have been some kind of “storming the stage.” Our only hope is that this will be the impetus needed to oust Summers’.

[via Pharyngula]

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Jan 17, 2005 at 4:24 pm

Good Gods! WTF?
Who the hell does that guy think he is? And who the hell is he to speak about what it means to grow up female? What subtle represssions did he have to contend with? I guarantee you I could raise a boy that wasn’t interested in going into science, and that I could raise a girl to become a general.
The part that really pisses me off? He’s refused to provide a transcript. If he’s going to make such comments about the genetic disposition to be good at this or that, dammit, I want to KNOW and READ FOR MYSELF the research that he says supports that. As a result of not being able to examine the works he spoke in reference to, he can say that this is all taken out of context, all inflammatory sound-bites.

Universal Acid
Jan 17, 2005 at 8:39 pm

Innate differences and sexism

One of the interesting things about this debate is that whether or not men and women have innate differences in math/science-relevant skills, this whole issue is almost completely irrelevant to the issue that actually matters, namely discrimination a…

Preposterous Universe
Jan 20, 2005 at 11:36 am

Sex and science!

Hey, have you heard? Apparently Harvard President Lawrence Summers has made some sort of remarks about underrepresentation of women in science being attributable in part to innate cognitive differences, rather than some sort of discrimination. And it…


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