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Women in Science: An Answer to Anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers

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Loisenman Donating Member (101 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-26-08 11:09 AM
Original message
Women in Science: An Answer to Anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers
The title of the article on women in science was a little bit odd, "Why Can't a Woman Be More like a Man?" and there were some other clues as well. But my misgivings were allayed by the following sentence that appeared close to the beginning. "The research on gender and vocation is complex, vibrant, and full of reasonable disagreements; there is no single, sensible answer." I experienced a pleasurable crisp feeling as I read that.

'snip'

The facts seem clearly stated in the third paragraph of the article. Women comprise just 19% of tenure-track professors in math, 11% in physics, 10% in computer science, and 10% in engineering. And the pipeline does not promise statistical parity any time soon: women are now earning 25% of the Ph.D.'s in the physical sciences---way up from the 4% of the 1960s, but still far behind the rate they are winning doctorates in other fields." This apparently clear statement of the facts along with the crisp sentence cited above helped set me up (primed me) to be more accepting of the author's argument than I otherwise might have been.

She argues that the low percentage of women in these fields reflects the female tendency to prefer fields based on nurturing. She cites for example a survey in which 1500 professors (gender breakdown not given) were asked what accounts for the low percentage of women and 74% chalked it up to differences in interests. She also cites work by Baron-Cohen suggesting that autism is the far end of the male spectrum. He feels that the male brain on average is wired to be better at systematizing and the female brain better at empathizing.

'snip'

I finished the article and then noticed that it had been published in the American Enterprise Institute bimonthly newsletter. I also recognized that the author Christina Hoff Sommers had written an intensely antifeminist book. Uh-huh, I thought to myself. READ MORE...

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Triana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-27-08 01:19 AM
Response to Original message
1. I'd be suspect too, of anything about women in science (or lack thereof) from...
..The AEI and a known anti-feminist. And I think there is likely a LOT to priming and automaticity in society and that would hold more weight with me regarding the 'women in science' problem than muck from an known anti-feminist and the AEI (both of whom have known political and social agendas).

I like her blog. I'll bookmark it. Thanks!

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Recursion Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 12:04 PM
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2. Maybe another way to ask the question...
...is why women are disproportionately choosing the humanities as their field?
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Krivodete Donating Member (8 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 05:32 PM
Response to Original message
3. typical logic for a christian - is she perhaps one?
Why not go to the limit and say things like "why are there so few ethiopian web designers? They must be naturally inferior", or "since women put on lipstick, it must be instinct", hahaha. But not really funny, such confused pseudo-logic often shapes national and internaitonal policy, and this almost always leads to much suffering.
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bjorkfan Donating Member (206 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-01-08 12:32 AM
Response to Reply #3
7. Barack Obama is a Christian, is he perhaps misogynistic?
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ismnotwasm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 08:46 PM
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4. Good come back
When anyone tries to paint women as somehow having constitutionally difficulty in science, I've found it's usually based on broad brush statistical bullshit that doesn't take history or socialization into account. Take ten little girls randomly right now, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Hell, take a 100. It would be interesting to see how many Doctors as opposed to Princesses answers you get. Do little girls innately want to be a princess? Born with it?


From my own knowledge, more and more women are getting into medicine, and medicine is more and more a specialized field. If you are a researcher, we'll say of the immune system, not only do you need a meticulous mind, and solid scientific background, you have to be able to acclimatize to fast paced new information. In other words, multi task--a talent women supposedly excel at. What with all our Chile-bearin' skills doncha know.
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Elspeth Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed May-14-08 09:58 PM
Response to Original message
5. Tell this to Christina:
Edited on Wed May-14-08 10:17 PM by Elspeth
Women in certain sciences (computers, math) can get better paying positions outside the university with a B.S or M.S. than they can as academics. Sticking around for a PhD means giving up the best years for saving money and bearing children to a low-paying TA job with 5-10 years of study, and another 6 years of waiting for tenure.

Here's an example. If I get a BS in computer science or an MSIS (Information Systems), I can earn in the high five figures starting out and even the six figure range fairly quickly, depending on my locale, degree, etc. Coming out of college or a Master's program at 22-26, I can start earning decent money, saving it, while looking for a mate. Assuming 8-10 years of saving, I can have my kids in my early to mid 30's, before the high risks set in and before the biological clock issues. I will also have good health insurance and a job history that will probably allow me some flexibility once I do have kids.

If I go to get a PhD, the best case scenario would have me starting in my 20's, say at 22 or 23. I will live on a TA salary (if I get a TAship) which is about 7-10,000/year. Not all schools offer funding to all students. If I am lucky, I might even have some basic health insurance, but that's also not a given. If again, I am lucky, I can finish my PhD in 5 years. (This is assuming that I have no interruptions in schooling (like illness), nothing that causes me to leave (like ongoing sexual harassment*). Then, I will be 27-30, with a PhD and need to find a job, in this market. I will probably not make as much with a PhD starting out as I would be working for a company.

Now, when I find my academic job at 27-30, I have 6 years to earn tenure. These 6 years are hellish: lots of publish or perish, lots of traveling to conferences to give papers, lots of events to attend (to schmooze the department)--all while teaching a full load and having departmental (committee) responsibilities. This means that from 27/30-33/36, is probably the most stressful time for me and the worst time for having kids.

Add to that the sexism that still pervades academics--one prof I know was told that she ruined her career by having a baby before she got tenure, and sure enough, she didn't get it--and you end up waiting til 33/36 to start having kids, assuming you get tenure. There are studies demonstrating that the UC system, for example, hires women and minorities with new PhD's, but does not give them tenure. Even when female academics are established, they are at risk. At Drexel University about a decade ago, a new university president came in and fired all the top women. There was a class action suit, and a settlement out of court, but those women did not get their jobs back.

At any any rate, I need to be safely tenured for the best security for my kid(s). However, we start moving into a problematic time biologically at that point. I also probably don't have the same savings I would have had working in the private sector.

And this is a BEST case scenario. I am assuming 5 years for the PhD after a B.S degree and FUNDING (which many women do not get). However, even with funding the time one spends getting a PhD could greatly exceed 5 years. 6,7 and 8 years are not unusual for doctoral candidates. Much of this time is spent writing the dissertation. I also know a couple of women who passed their qualifying exams (which you need to pass before the dissertation): they passed exams in the first 3 years. But neither woman finished her dissertation on time because they both had gotten married. When a woman gets married, the family responsibilities fall to her--the household, the Christmas cards, the social upkeep, etc--and she is also expected to bring in a sufficient income. Both of these women worked full time hours (teaching, in the library) for part-timer pay, because they did not have their PhDs yet and could not get full time positions. They both ended up taking on jobs at more than 2 different schools. As a result, there was less time for these women to do the dissertation. Both of these women took 7 years to finish their dissertations, and neither had children. They just had husbands and jobs.

To conclude:

I'll bet most women in math and science look at all this and decide that the PhD is not cost effective and that it just won't work for them if they want a family. The private sector has more rewards and they are more immediate. The women who do tend to get PhDs are in areas which are not necessarily rewarded by the private sector: English, the Arts, etc. or for professional reasons: a PhD in psychology to be a therapist, or an EdD to be a high school principal.

I also think that many scientifically minded women might end up in business school for the same reasons: a B.S or M.B.A is enough education to get to a well paying position.

Oh, and one more thing. Let's say a woman decides that she wants to go back and get a PhD later in life--like in her 30's. She works for private industry in her 20's, saves money, and can pay for her degree herself. She will probably be told not to bother to apply: she's too old. (No kidding.) A friend of mine in computers WITH a master's in the field, decided to go back for a PhD at 37. She was told there was no way she would be accepted because of her age. This was a private university in Washington DC. This friend had the money to fund at least the first two years of her own studies. It didn't matter.

All in all, the PhD game does not work well for women. The timing is lousy, the sexism is rampant, especially in maths and sciences, and even in schools of architecture. Women are still regarded as less than. Add to that the (at best) low pay for so many years or (at worst) the huge expense, and it hardly seems worth it.

I think a real study needs to be done on women in PhD programs and on women who decide not to go further in the academic world.





*The UC system reports that around 40% of all graduate students are sexually harassed by professors.
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The Diest Donating Member (82 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-04-08 09:51 PM
Response to Reply #5
8. Wow. That is so right on....
I stopped at an MS in science because the only place to go from there was PhD, trying to get tenure, post docs for the rest of my life. Impossible when you want to pause for a child. The women who do get their PhD's usually end up throwing their kids in daycare as infants, which, for most women, is very difficult to do.

I have met many parents over the last couple years where HE was a stay at home dad because....she was in IT and he was in Science, hence, she made more money. Even most biotech jobs don't compete with IT jobs, salary wise.

From 96-2003 when I was in college, the women TOTALLY outnumbered men in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, and even math. I remember in Organic Chem and Analytical Chem the guys dropping out so fast it was almost dizzying as the women kicked ass on the exams and set the curves. The impression I got was that the dudes were pretty intimidated and embarrassed.

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Loisenman Donating Member (101 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri May-30-08 07:18 AM
Response to Original message
6. New URL for Women in Science Post
http://intuition-indepth.blogspot.com/2008/03/women-in-science-andan-illuminating.html">new url for "An Answer to Anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers."
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