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Deliberatepixel / Are Women Too Smart for Science?

Are Women Too Smart for Science?

Although it's over a year old now, I just ran across (thanks to Reddit) this article about women in science from Philip Greenspun - the hypothesis of which is that there aren't more women in science because science as a profession sucks and more women are smart enough to be able to realize that. Men, apparently, are just stubbornly stupid adolescents who stick with things even if they aren't economically or emotionally successful.

So, what's wrong with this picture? Simple - it's still making stereotypical assumptions and gross generalizations of what men and women are like. It has the same problem that fired Harvard president Larry Summers, whom the article quotes, did - it assumes that women are naturally a certain way and men are naturally a different way, and that these classifications are absolute, fixed, and past our own improvement.

To which I cordially respond: bullshit.

However valid this article's points may be about the scientific profession, the author is missing some other, vitally important points when it comes to women, careers, and education. First off, I'd like to know, if this hypothesis is correct, why the technology industry experiences the same lack of women. Last time I checked, computing careers aren't exactly stupid career choices to make. Even if we're not still in a tech boom, technology is still a very sustainable and lucrative career path to follow. Yet, at the same time, it's still very much dominated by men.

Is it possible the that "too smart" hypothesis is true for science and there's an entirely different answer to the problem of women in tech? It's possible, but I think extremely unlikely. I have a hard time believing that fields so closely related in the educational sector, with such similar histories of excluding women, have resulted in professional problems that have absolutely no connection to each other whatsoever. It makes much more logical sense that these widespread problems have a common source.

Basically, this is the same kind of thinking that claims women aren't in tech (or science, or engineering) because the stringent time demands and the intensity of the work interferes with their family lives. If I were to suggest that we ought to make those demands and intensity flexible enough to accommodate other needs, I would likely bring about the outraged cries of, "Why should we have to change the rules just for you?" Well, because the rules right now are skewed in your favor, and you're too damn scared and/or lazy to let go of them, that's why.

On a bit of a side note: why do women automatically bear the bigger responsibility for maintaining family life, anyway? Are none of you men in technology or science fathers? Why do you get away with it when mothers don't? Also, why is it assumed that women even want families? Some, I'm sure, are perfectly happy childless.

My point is that these are all profound concerns that the notion of "women being too smart" does not adequately address, regardless of the differences in particular fields in which it is discussed. There is something bigger and deeper than that. Diversity in fields where it currently does not exist will not ever come to exist until we stop trying to rationalize why it's not there and start letting go of the old, biased power structures that keep it out.

Although maybe there is something in the "stubborn adolescent" theory after all - because for all the "intellectualism" of discussions like these, the argument still ends up sounding like a bunch of whiny boys afraid of growing up.



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