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Author Topic: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?  (Read 4558 times)

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Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« on: March 04, 2011, 12:28:28 PM »
An interesting article in Slate.

http://www.slate.com/id/2286671/pagenum/all

The full citation of the original article is here:
STEMing the tide: Using ingroup experts to inoculate women's self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
By Stout, Jane G.; Dasgupta, Nilanjana; Hunsinger, Matthew; McManus, Melissa A.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 100(2), Feb 2011, 255-270.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2011, 12:48:03 PM »
And this is why I make sure to stay on top of the little Oni's math work.  She's a natural in science (blue ribbon in the 4th grade science fair!), and I figure if we keep both of those up, she'll have programs like this looking for her.

Offline Heart

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2011, 12:12:31 AM »
I'm right here ^.^ Getting my Bachelor of Science at the end of the year!

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2011, 08:06:49 PM »
Very nice article. Yet more evidence on the growing tide that the idea of different genders having different aptitudes is nothing more than socialized horseshit.

For the record, there are far more women than men in my microbial biology program although the numbers are practically reversed in the biotechnology program. It suggests that this issue revolves more around math and computers than science per se.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2011, 08:21:34 PM »
I was always told that men were supposed to be better in 'pure math', and women were supposed to be better in things that involved visualizing (like the IQ questions involving looking at a fold-up box pattern and matching it with a view of the assembled cube).

I said to hell with that, and shot the curve. 

Offline Sure

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2011, 08:39:13 PM »
Women outnumber men overall in college degree programs but the majority stay away from the sciences. Men outnumber women in all preprofessional and scientific degrees, except psychology, as far as I am aware. This is despite men being outnumbered by women overall in terms of attendance. In terms of engineering, less than a fifth of all engineering students are female. Of those who are female, the most common are chemical or biological focused, the least common are computer engineers (computer science has slightly more women than engineering does, though, except when CS is lumped in as an engineering program).

I don't quite see how this is sexism, though. I've seen administrators and students move heaven and earth to try and make engineering more attractive to women and it hasn't worked. I've seen them get exceptions to rules that stand for virtually everyone else, I've seen them grouped together specifically because of this effect, I've seen them given access to aids that male students weren't, and it did nothing in regards to the numbers entering or staying as engineers. To me, it's apparent women are choosing to not enter the program, and frankly no matter what this article says the ultimate onus lays with the individual women who choose not to join.

Oh, and anyone who says women are worse at science or math inherently are wrong. Women do tend to pursue it less but those who do pursue it do no worse nor better than men in my experience.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2011, 09:14:04 PM »
Sexism doesn't necessarily have to be an active process. I think in this case, it's more that young women don't have the role models that men often do, and they are socialized to be more susceptible to social pressure to identify with those in their immediate environment. As such, they are going to gravitate toward professions and majors where they can more readily get that.

Plus, there are still teachers in grade schools (and in the higher levels) that tell you that you don't have to worry about being good in math if you're a girl. I was told that as a child, and I am not alone. I don't know what the statistics are, but they are out there.

My own personal pursuit of my degree has been frustrating and troublesome. I have been told that I should steer clear of the sciences lest my tits knock over the test tube racks. That's pretty much a verbatim quote, by the way, from a college advisor. I've been told that there are no attractive female scientists. I have been patronized and asked if it's my time of the month when I disagree with an administrator about the course of my own studies. I have been called an arrogant bitch for telling one of my advisors that he can either help me or get the hell out of my way.

That open door the article mentioned? It has a pane of glass stretched across the threshold, and there's no way that you get to the other side without getting your fists bloody.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2011, 09:24:20 PM »
I don't suppose anyone here remembers the kerfuffle over the talking Barbie that came out a few years back?

'Math is haaaaard.  Let's go shopping!'  >_<  Mattel got a backlash over that one.

When I was at an all-female college, the math department virtually fell over themselves if someone declared the slightest hint of possibly becoming a math major.   I used to joke that they'd materialize like a Star Trek away team, even if it was a whispered declaration in the far corner of the athletic field.  There were two and three students in some of my higher courses, and the minimum for an official class was four.  Several required courses had to be done by Directed Inquiry just so that two of us could graduate on time.  I certainly can't say that there was anyone discouraging the students from majoring in mathematics, but there was little interest.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2011, 09:53:32 PM »
The doll actually said: "Math class is tough." Not as bad, but still not anything promising. And still a little disgusting.

And I am with Trieste here, sexism (or rather genderism) gets ingrained in society and does not need to be active. Even without people actively standing in your way, there is a passive discouragement. Although I question the role of role models. I have had about two people I would even describe as role models and I didn't find the second one until grad school. So I can't say that they were instrumental in decision making.

Not that I am anywhere near traditional gender norms. <_<

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2011, 09:57:30 PM »
Perhaps I should have used the word 'examples' instead of 'role models'. It might have been a little less sentimentally loaded. >.>

Offline Sure

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2011, 10:36:50 PM »
Nothing you've said has taken the onus of the choice off of the individual women  (and several of them are bunk regardless). At the very most, they're assuming the level of responsibility of a criminal who comes from a broken home. It's still the criminal's choice, responsibility, and fault (though fault is not the right word in concern to specific college degrees). And likewise, the fact less men are going to college is still those individual men's choice, fault, whatever.

Of course, finding ways to encourage women into hard sciences and men to go to college is laudable (and criminals to stop committing crimes). But to call it sexism or a glass whatever absolves the individual of responsibility, as this article attempts to do. No matter what is affecting your decision a belief in free will necessarily means that at the point of decision you are free to choose what you will. No matter what the reasons are, the reason any individual woman is not in a math/science program is because she chooses not to be. Consciously at that.

And, by the way, your own experience with sexism in no way diminishes my (and Oniya's) experience where women were given an environment that was even more encouraging than the one men got and didn't go into those fields regardless. My point was not that sexism does not exist (it does against both genders) but rather that the absence of sexism or at least a decrease in the level of sexism does not lead to a corresponding increase in females.

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #11 on: March 06, 2011, 10:48:44 PM »
Well, I mean, clearly young women would rather go shopping than do math and it's entirely their fault. I can't believe I actually might have thought that individual choices are stifled or directed by social pressures and norms.

Individual choices are clearly made in a vacuum and remain sacrosanct. Thank god for Sure, or a whole generation might be sucked into a lie.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #12 on: March 06, 2011, 11:08:56 PM »
I don't think that anyone was suggesting that. 

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2011, 11:13:02 PM »
I think that the absolutism of free will that Sure is talking about implies precisely that. I think it severely underestimates the power of discouragement, the dearth of positive reinforcement, and the outright obstacles that students can face. Men face it in places like nursing school (yes, still) and women face it in places like physics faculties.

Offline Sure

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2011, 12:57:18 AM »
Well, I mean, clearly young women would rather go shopping than do math and it's entirely their fault. I can't believe I actually might have thought that individual choices are stifled or directed by social pressures and norms.

Individual choices are clearly made in a vacuum and remain sacrosanct. Thank god for Sure, or a whole generation might be sucked into a lie.

Your sarcasm neither contributes to this conversation nor is appreciated. It only serves to denigrate your own points and your own intellectual acumen and show that you must set up straw men in order to counteract my points. I ask you to please stop.

PS: A whole generation? Are you broadcasting this live or something?

Quote
I think that the absolutism of free will that Sure is talking about implies precisely that. I think it severely underestimates the power of discouragement, the dearth of positive reinforcement, and the outright obstacles that students can face. Men face it in places like nursing school (yes, still) and women face it in places like physics faculties.

On the contrary, decisions do not take place in a vacuum. I never implied as such. What I stated is that regardless of the influences the ultimate responsibility for the decision still belongs with the individual. The outside influences are just influences, the decision and responsibility for the decision lies with the individual. They can affect the decision taken but cannot diminish the individuals responsibility for that decision.

Free will is flatly not absolute, you are affected by your environment, but it is ultimate. That is, it is a necessary and controlled component in and for any action you take. Therefore ultimate responsibility lies with the individual regardless of influences. Therefore although these women may have pressure on them not to become engineers, the fact any individual woman is not an engineer is ultimately her own responsibility. She could have chosen to be an engineer instead of a history/english/film/acting/whatever major but she chose, of her own free will, not to be. Even if she would have had to put up with sexism, scorn from home, people sniggering, being unpopular, or whatever else she still had that choice and she made it.

If it is not, all sorts of problems arise. Like, for example, if free will is not ultimate, then blaming the victim is defensible:
She was just too influenced by the outside factors of the woman's skirt and that sexy underwear and her lack of a bra, you see. Given different conditions she would never have raped that girl. So clearly the conditions are to blame, not the rapist.

She was just too influenced by outside factors to choose an engineering degree, you see. Given different conditions she would have been an engineer. So clearly the conditions are to blame, not the woman.

Also, you are still ignoring my point that in at least two cases when there was less sexism the corresponding number of women in these fields did not go up.

Offline WhiteyChan

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2011, 09:11:20 AM »
As someone currently doing a 4 year Masters degree in Physics - at a British University, yes, so it may be slightly different to the States, but still applicable - I can tell you what I've noticed.

There are more girls in my year than in the previous year; which had more girls than the year before that. And there are more girls in the year below me than in my year. The number of women entering the field, at a higher-education level anyway as I don't know about post-grad research, is increasing every year. In terms of results, in most cases, there is little difference between the guys and the girls. The guys possibly have a larger range, from just passing to getting 85+%, but that's only because there are more of them still. The averages are about the same, around 65% for a 2:1. In the two lecture courses we've had taught by female professors, there hasn't been any noticeable difference in this compared to the 10 courses we've had taught by male professors (I guess it is interesting to note the number of male:female professors, but that can be explained if you consider that the number of women entering the field is increasing - maybe in 20 years time, when current graduates have had chance to gain experience in physics, this ratio will even out).

Girls generally do better at practical labs than guys, though - but whether this is just down to girls being a bit more organised about the experiments or the fact that the head lab technician is a woman (who, by the way, is many kinds of awesome), I can't say. Its no bad thing, though, shows that women can be better than men at science.

This is all coming from my experience so far as a physics undergraduate, talking to friends about exam results and whatnot. All of the above should not be taken to be a proper study, as it is not in any way, shape or form.

Offline grdell

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #16 on: March 26, 2011, 09:12:08 AM »
I have been called an arrogant bitch for telling one of my advisors that he can either help me or get the hell out of my way.

Does he still have a job? I would have raised holy hell over language like that being used against me.

But...

I am currently tutoring the daughter of a friend in math. She has a female teacher. Yet still she lacks confidence. She's good - she gets the material after I explain it fully (which is what isn't happening in the classroom), and if it weren't for her test anxiety, she does just fine on tests. She blows through her homework, with a clear understanding of the concepts. She wants to get into astronomy, which is very VERY math-and-science heavy. Her parents have warned her about it, her teachers and advisors have warned her about it, I have warned her about it. She's determined. Her (female) friends think she's crazy for taking the high honors math courses when she doesn't *have* to. But her parents and I have also encouraged her into following her ambitions. She knows what she wants and she knows it's going to be a hard road to get there, but she's determined. Which seems at odds with that lack of confidence I mentioned at first. But nobody has ever said that the human being is a simple animal...

And...

I wish I could recall the article in which I read it, but there was an absolutely appalling occurence of sexism against men in a case in Australia not too long ago. There were only two males in a class for early education (preschool, IIRC), and they were heavily discouraged from taking it at all, and when they insisted, were told - actually TOLD! - to be as overtly heterosexual as they could. So, yeah, it still exists, and it's not just women.

Just my two cents.

Offline SinClaire

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #17 on: April 15, 2011, 05:17:47 AM »
I used to work at a science museum, and one of the pet projects I had was finding ways to get girls more involved with science and technology. What I figured out was, if you start very early on, girls are very, very interested in science/techy stuff, and are more likely to continue down that path on their own, regardless of peer pressure - parents are a whole different issue, of course. But if girls haven't been exposed to hands-on science by the end of elementary school (I'm Mexican, and our system runs different than in other countries), it's not likely they'll get involved.

I'm kind of an example of that. Growing up, I had some books about "how (insert everyday household item here) works??", and I liked reading them with my dad and brothers. I was allowed to play with things around the house, provided it wasn't something that could harm me, and any questions I had were answered - not always on the spot, but my parents were kind and insightful enough to provide me with an answer. That continued throughout junior high school and high school - which is how I ended up at the science museum. Now, my career of choice is not related to science (I'm studying a bachelor's degree in Translation & Interpretation), but I do want to get involved in science popularization, mainly translating texts so everyone can have access to the latest developments in science and technology. And I mean everyone - kids, adults, people with higher degrees of education and people who may not have finished elementary school.

On the other hand, I've female friends who know zero, nada, absolutely nothing about science and technology. Talking it out with them, their parents never allowed them to take apart an old radio, or help change a lightbulb, or watch a documentary on the Big Bang. Instead, they were provided with dolls and dresses and shielded from anything deemed as "man stuff".

Of course, I also have friends who were brought up like that, and are studying robotics… Difference is, somewhere along the way, they met someone who introduced them to that field. Or, like me, they got a book from Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking that opened their eyes to the awesomeness of science and technology beyond gender.

It's a mix of a lot of things - upbringing, schooling, friendship, luck, and yes, even the will to get yourself into that field. I mean, I could've been a neurosurgeon, or researcher or something like that. I even studied psychology 2 years before switching majors. But I chose not to go that way, because my calling is different, and I feel I can do more good to science by helping spread what we already know than by researching new stuff.

That's just my take on things, though. But I do take some courage from the fact that, like WhiteyChan said, there's more girls and women stepping into the science/tech/math fields with each passing year.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #18 on: April 15, 2011, 07:46:32 AM »
I can actually point to one man as being responsible for my love of mathematics.  In 7th grade, I got stuffed into a math-related elective because when you're a 7th grader with a last name near the end of the alphabet, all of the popular electives have filled up by the time your schedule requests get looked at.  The teacher for that class showed us things like bead-and-string puzzles, tiling patterns, dice games, card games - and how math figured into these.  It was like playtime!

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #19 on: April 15, 2011, 10:05:36 AM »
It's like that with several things. I was aggressively exposed to algebra at an early age, and I actually really enjoy working with algebraic problems - unless it involves geometry. I hated geometry; the teacher was a bitch. Woman or no, she really taught me to loathe that class, and now I'm still awkward with it.

My brother and I are very different kinds of smart. He has difficulty with books, but has sheer charisma and ... whatever it is that people do that makes other people like them. :P He has been 'people-smart' since forever, and he's recently picked up reading as a sometimes hobby. But he learned to read very late, and had to be essentially forced to sit and do his nightly reading. Me, I was reading before they were really even teaching it in school, or so I'm told.

There are children who love to write, and children who hate it. Usually you'll find that the ones who love it were exposed to good teachers or good influences early in life. I could count a million disciplines that early exposure seems to make a difference in.

Part of the difficulty with science fields is that it brings together this nexus of things that girls 'don't do'. Math, physics, chemistry, biology. How many people expect a high school girl to dig into the class frog dissection without squealing in disgust? How many female mathletes are there out there? When I was still participating in Odyssey of the Mind, our team was just about evenly split between girls and boys, but most of the other teams were mainly boys.

That's just the way it works. *shrug* That's what needs to change.

Offline Neroon

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #20 on: April 20, 2011, 08:35:09 AM »
Just to add a little something to this discussion about how influences might affect people, here is an article I found in my work email this morning.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13128701

The basic finding I see there bears out a lot of what I see in education recently.  Frequently, girls are described as "hard working" while boys are described as having an aptitude for certain subjects but typically "don't like writing a lot".  Thus I find that the proportion of high achieving male students entering my classes in year 7 is lower now than it was 22 years ago when I started teaching.  Typically, the girls out perform the boys, though they are often far more worried that they "don't get science" than their male peers whose attitude is one of "Yeah, I understand this stuff, so I don't need to work now, I can just turn it on for the exam."

Of course, with teenagers the mindset is hard to change; a great deal of damage has already been done by the time they get to me, in terms of the self confidence of the girls and the work ethic of the boys.  Continued success in science through their hard work can improve the girls' self-belief.  However, the tendency of boys to coast is much harder to change.  This is leading to the trend that Whitey has described in his post: women are catching up in the "hard sciences" and soon will overtake men.

Offline Lilias

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #21 on: April 20, 2011, 08:53:53 AM »
I can actually make a valid claim that I have no head for numbers, at least from the point where their use crosses into abstract thought. My father used to tutor maths, physics and chemistry, and he was always there to help me with my homework. It still didn't work. I simply didn't like numbers; my kind of smarts has to do with words, as my half-dozen languages can attest.

My secondary school had six maths teachers (four men, two women) and four science teachers (two men, two women). Towards the end, when we were choosing our specialty areas for university, the science departments were pretty evenly split between boys and girls, while the linguistics department, where I went, was overwhelmingly female. So, even back in the 80s, things were not as uneven as they may seem at first.

Both my best and worst science class experiences had to do with male teachers. The former was a substitute in year 8, who had everyone in his class not only acing our exams but also worshipping him (and crying when he left). The latter was a bare two years later and, well, he was the kind of teacher that should have been stripped of his licence. Unfortunately, I fell into his hands in a key year and, by the end of it, the damage was impossible to patch up.

As for the talent vs effort debate, I wonder what took people so long to figure it out. Any really talented person will affirm that great talent needs more work than anyone else, to remain great. I grew up hearing 'Oh, you're so good, but you have what it takes to be even better,' which essentially meant that the best that I could be was not good enough, so I might as well coast rather than exhaust myself. I'm not making that mistake with my son.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2011, 08:57:10 AM by Lilias »

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #22 on: April 20, 2011, 09:19:42 AM »
I would say that it genuinely depends on the person. Similar discouraging 'encouragement' was a solid theme throughout my grade school years. Honestly, it was shocking if I didn't get a comment on my progress reports or report cards to the effect of, "Very smart, but lazy. Is not fulfilling her potential." and if I were to be completely honest, it bred a compulsive urge to excel at everything academic that sometimes borders on mania. I'm not particularly competitive; the only reason for seeking valedictorian or similar is for the grades, really. But my mental state is definitely achievement-oriented: if I'm doing well, I'm usually pretty happy, while a poor grade can ruin an entire week.

Anecdotal evidence aside, I think that being able to picture oneself in one's field is extremely important, and probably has more to do with the success of women in women's classes than anything else.

Offline Jude

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #23 on: April 20, 2011, 09:24:50 AM »
Anecdotal evidence aside, I think that being able to picture oneself in one's field is extremely important, and probably has more to do with the success of women in women's classes than anything else.
There's really something there.  We'd all like to believe that people are born with an innate drive that takes them in one direction or another, but that just doesn't seem to be how the human mind works.  Some people have factors which lead up to them picturing a career even if it isn't a typical choice for someone of their personality, sex, or appearance, etc... But most people look at themselves and instead wonder, "Where do I fall?"

This is true for all careers, and it isn't social oppression as much as it is a natural human instinct that results in a societal tendency to stick to the status quo.  The problem is then compounded by the fact that being in science, math, and physics isn't as attractive to most people as being, say, an investment banker or someone else who pulls down a huge salary.

Offline WhiteyChan

Re: Science, Math, Physics: Where are the women?
« Reply #24 on: April 20, 2011, 05:06:08 PM »
The basic finding I see there bears out a lot of what I see in education recently.  Frequently, girls are described as "hard working" while boys are described as having an aptitude for certain subjects but typically "don't like writing a lot".  Thus I find that the proportion of high achieving male students entering my classes in year 7 is lower now than it was 22 years ago when I started teaching.  Typically, the girls out perform the boys, though they are often far more worried that they "don't get science" than their male peers whose attitude is one of "Yeah, I understand this stuff, so I don't need to work now, I can just turn it on for the exam."

Of course, with teenagers the mindset is hard to change; a great deal of damage has already been done by the time they get to me, in terms of the self confidence of the girls and the work ethic of the boys.  Continued success in science through their hard work can improve the girls' self-belief.  However, the tendency of boys to coast is much harder to change.  This is leading to the trend that Whitey has described in his post: women are catching up in the "hard sciences" and soon will overtake men.

Ha. Now, this I can relate to. In my case, I've coasted all my life, even up to my second year of my degree (so, now). My 'revision' for the january exams consisted of doing a couple of past papers, then panicking lots and making brownies the night before the hardest one. Still managed to get a 1st in all of the modules. On the other side, all of the girls I know in physics spent ages doing revision - making notes, doing past papers, going back through the problem sheets, and generally doing lots of work. And as far as I can tell, most got a 1st too, or at least a 2:1. Kinda makes me wonder what my marks would be like if I actually did work... Maybe I should properly revise for my summer exams xD