Environmental science, traveling, and the sociology of the unraveling American dream.


If you're looking for more about me, I'm pretty much hanging out over at my livejournal these days. I use this account for commenting on other people's blogs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My pretty little head

For those who haven't been following: Larry Summers, our great President, screwed up once again, this time by telling women their lower natural aptitude may be partially to blame for their failure to find equal representation in the sciences. Slate tries to excuse him, but he's already apologized. Well, sort of. Those alumni donations would be missed.

Women are less genetically fit for science.

If the difference is genetic, then the way in which this difference is expressed is not in terms of intelligence, but rather in terms of behavior. Certainly the boys in my physics problem set group were much more willing to scream people down, to steal the chalk. The residence time of girls within the hard science departments can be directly correlated to their willingness to scream, to sneak in under somebody's arm to steal the chalk and take over the board, to get themselves heard.

Good feminine girls are passive. Girls who insist on being good in science are going beyond their roles, becoming unfeminine, ugly, strident, unwanted, uneeded, unloved.

I did my time at Harvard as a woman in science, in two departments, both in the hard sciences. Because I spent so much time working with the first department on trying to rectify the gender gap, I won't identify it specifically. The department's Head Tutor tried. He tried damn hard, but he was working to buck years of social conditioning within both that department and the field as a whole.

Girls aren't good at math. Girls aren't good at science that needs math.

Bullshit. Asking females for their gender on a test automatically suppresses their scores, because they're taking that test under the stereotype society buys into -- the stereotype they buy into.

Girls don't need to try math, or physics, or structural engineering. Men are there to do it for them.

I felt guilty as hell when I left that department, because I felt like I hadn't improved things at all. Which -- hey, I hadn't. But geology? Society has no overwhelming stereotypes about how well girls do at geology. It's a hard science. It has math, and spatial relations, and earth science as a discipline has harder math than a lot of areas of physics. We're not dealing with ideals. We're dealing with the real world, and in the real world the math is messy.

Real science is about the ideal, finding the numinous. About taking the abstract and simplifying it further. Unification.

I took both meteorology and linear analysis. I had a safety net in the form of a problem set group and extra help available in the linear analysis that I never had in the meteorology. Why did I do meteorology and suck at linear analysis, when the meteorology was a harder class, and I was working without a safety net? Simple. Meteorology was a place where I'd never been told that I was going to suck. I didn't have preconceived notions about my own skills. Society's prejudices were leaving me alone, and I did well.

Meteorology is a service, not a science.

Geology, as a field, pretty much feels like the rest of the world can go hang. Let's look at some rocks. My year in my department was evenly split between girls and boys, and all of us kicked ass. Nobody ever told us we couldn't.

Geology is just an excuse to drink and go neat places.

I am an alumn of Harvard University. I had reasons to dislike Summers as an undergrad, which I shan't get into here, as they go into internal university politics. But putting this sort of attitude onto the national media agenda? Even the first department I was in tried. This I can't forgive.

Don't you worry your pretty little head.