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Jan 14, 2010


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I wonder if it's not so much structural barriers as it is the relentless cultural message that girls aren't as good at these things as boys, and, even if they are, math and science majors and careers are more masculine than feminine. When I was in third grade (forgive the bragging) and got the class award for "math whiz" one of the boys in class loudly protested "but she's a GIRL!" I can't count how many times I was told to "not worry my pretty little head" about certain math/science things by men (I wish it were an exaggeration but those were the exact words), and on numerous occasions when I was older, when someone in the course of life had a math related problem, they would mention it in the group of people we were with, I would offer a solution, only to have a man immediately say "no, that's not right", only to give the same exact solution a minute later. It doesn't help when apresident of a prestigous university chalks it all up to innate differences. So much of the message is conveyed in subtle, unremarkable ways, but the amassed force of it over a lifetime shouldn't be underestimated. I got this message my whole life, and frankly it worked.

Michael W. Kruse

Its an interesting question, isn't it? I've read of studies that report that when math and science capabilities are plotted on graph that males tend to have more occurrences at the extremes (not capable and highly capable.) That, only with some amount of gender bias might explain why there are so few women at the absolute pinnacle of these professions. However, across the broad range of professions that use math and science, there wouldn't be that much difference.

Another set of studies suggests that women more often seek an applied outlet for their math/science abilities than men do. They tend to see their lives in more holistic terms and want have more holisitic applications. More men are drawn to pure science and mathematics. If true, is the difference a nature or nurture difference?

Also, I think math and science are fields that require uninterrupted learning and devotion. Stopping for a few years and returning is professionally limiting. Though there has been change, women are still seen as the primary child care givers. Family demands have inordinately stronger limitation on women versus men.

Then, as you say, there is the simple stereotypes of gender capabilities.

How much weight to play to any or all of the above I don't know. But I don't think the primary issue is educational opportunity any longer.

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