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’.