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Math is Hard!
July 3, 2014 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Inspire Her Mind

In 2010, the American Association of University Women released "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" [pdf of full report], a survey of available research on women in science. Among their findings:

--While women make up about half of bachelor's graduates in chemistry and earth sciences, and a majority of biology graduates, the ratio of women to men completing their degrees drops substantially for those fields at the doctorate level. The fields with the worst gender parity (engineering, physics, and computer science) stay relatively static--with women earning about 20% of such degrees, undergraduate or graduate.

--"Pajares (2005) found that gender differences in self-confidence in STEM subjects begin in middle school and increase in high school and college, with girls reporting less confidence than boys do in their math and science ability."

--Correll designed an experiment around a fictitious skill called “contrast sensitivity ability.” In this experiment, participants were given evidence that contrast sensitivity ability (the ability to detect proportions of how much black and white appeared on a screen) was either an ability that men were more likely to have (male advantage or “MA” condition) or an ability that showed no gender difference (gender dissociated or “GD” condition)[...]Perhaps the most interesting finding from this study is that women and men held different standards for what constituted high ability in the MA condition. In the MA condition, women believed they had to earn a score of at least 89 percent to be successful, but men felt that a minimum score of 79 percent was sufficient to be successful—a difference of 10 percentage points. In the GD condition, women and men had much more similar ideas about how high their scores would have to be to assess themselves as having high task ability: women said they would need to score 82 percent, while men said they would need to score 83 percent (see figure 17). This finding suggests that women hold themselves to a higher standard than their male peers do in “masculine” fields."

--"The researchers found that when success in a male-type job was ambiguous, a woman was rated as less competent than an identically described man, although she was rated equally likable. When individuals working in a male-type job were clearly successful, however, women and men were rated as equally competent, but women were rated as less likable and more interpersonally hostile (for example, cold, pushy, conniving)."

Wondering about the experiences of scientists outside the gender binary? Keep an eye on Queer in STEM [interview; preliminary demographics post]
posted by kagredon (12 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I haven't seen the video, but I have seen it as a gifset on Tumblr, so maybe I'm missing out on a cloying soundtrack, but from what I've seen, it makes the point very well. I'm reminded (as so often in this type of thread) of There's a Good Girl: Gender Stereotyping in the First Three Years of Life, a Diary, by Marianne Grabucker. Grabucker, a working mother with feminist views, kept a record of all the gender-stereotyping things people said to her baby daughter up till the age of three -- including herself. It's a really eye-opening book and should be widely read.

(I was a fairly precocious child, and my mum has told me of her horror when I said, at about that age, "Mummy, I know why it's called 'mending'! It's because men do it!")

The links to papers in the body of this post will be invaluable the next time I find myself arguing about women in STEM, although that happens less often nowadays. That's probably due to a combination of picking my friends better, no longer being surrounded by male undergraduate students, and having got bored of that kind of argument and given up on them. Instead I bite my tongue and avoid contentious topics. Perhaps I've corrected too far.

The Queer in STEM project looks awesome and I shall definitely be keeping an eye on it!
posted by daisyk at 3:36 AM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Math is always hard… until it isn’t.

(via the boundlessly beguiling blog: Math With Bad Drawings.)
posted by fairmettle at 5:20 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


When individuals working in a male-type job were clearly successful, however, women and men were rated as equally competent, but women were rated as less likable yt and more interpersonally hostile (for example, cold, pushy, conniving)."

This is the reason I am dubious of the suggestion to "Lean In" as an adequate solution to the problem of underrepresentation of women at executive levels in business. If you are a woman with confidence, people think you are bitchy.
posted by Librarypt at 6:13 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]


This is the reason I am dubious of the suggestion to "Lean In" as an adequate solution to the problem of underrepresentation of women at executive levels in business. If you are a woman with confidence, people think you are bitchy.

Sure, but that's something that can and will change over time. I think already attitudes towards women as bosses are changing as sexist people are confronted with actual female bosses. I agree that Leaning In is not an adequate solution to this problem, but I think it's part of the solution, along with institutional changes.
posted by peacheater at 6:45 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


When I was in 7th grade (not quite, but depressingly close to 30 years ago) we had a female student teacher for Science. One thing our (male) primary teacher mentioned in introducing her to the class that always stuck with me was that out of the entire massive student population at UC Berkeley, she was one of only 4 women that year on track to get her teaching credential with a science emphasis.
posted by The Gooch at 7:03 AM on July 3


I tutored a young woman for the AP Calculus BC exam in the Spring. She was easily the strongest student I've had among that age group — disciplined, curious, ingenious — and I made sure she knew it. Great fun! I believe she's going to the Courant Institute in the Fall.
posted by Coventry at 7:11 AM on July 3


This is the reason I am dubious of the suggestion to "Lean In" as an adequate solution to the problem of underrepresentation of women at executive levels in business. If you are a woman with confidence, people think you are bitchy.

Isn't that in fact the entire point of "Lean In", and its companion "Ban Bossy" campaign?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:46 AM on July 3


The Lean In model is probably best as a limited purpose type of approach, for a specific subset of relatively privileged women in specific types of situations that currently exist, but IMO, it perpetuates a male-centered model that's really a shitty thing in the long run. Yes, demanding, blustery, overconfident men are rewarded in our current system, and the way most women are socialized is not compatible with those expectations. If you are a grown woman today working in certain corporate environments, you have to be assertive and confident if you want to get ahead.

But in the long run, we value confidence and assertiveness far too much. People who are too confident and too assertive often make very big, very bad decisions that just ruin everything everywhere, all the time. Ideally, instead of focusing solely on teaching little girls to adopt male-coded traits, we should be teaching boys to adopt female-coded traits. To question themselves more, to compromise, to listen to others, and dial down the dominance behaviors. You can't learn something new when you think you know everything already.

One very disturbing thing I've had to train myself to do, as a woman in technical fields, is to almost entirely eliminate couching or qualifying language. Because if I say "I think" or "maybe" or say I'm unsure about something, far too many people interpret that as me being completely ignorant. It just gives them an excuse to ignore what I said completely, and to start in with the mansplaining. I cannot count the number of times I've carefully qualified something I was saying, only to have some super-confident dude start lecturing me on something he was completely unfamiliar with. Apparently just making things up out of whole cloth. Sometimes, it's actually pretty funny, until other clueless people start believing them.

I want to be able to truthfully say, "This is not really my area of expertise" and not have it parsed as "I have literally never heard this word before, and am now free associating about my boring feelings or something. Explain life and everything in it."

I don't want to be more confident when I'm 79% right. I want everyone else to be less confident until they're 89% right. Because we should be rewarding and encouraging competence instead of just dumb, unqualified boldness.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:01 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


That's a fair point, ernielundquist. It would be better if no one had to be blustery and demanding to be perceived as effective in business situations.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:11 AM on July 3


There's a bit in the novel Three Times Table that I always loved. One of the characters is famous paleontologist, and a woman, and she mentors other women. At one point she ponders the grumbling she overhears about how "she always favors girls." She thinks about her current protege, who is not brilliant, just a steady, dedicated, reliable scientist, and for that very reason, would easily have a successful career if she were male, but needs the patronage of a famous woman just to get her foot in the door because she's female.

Just the room and space to be reliable, average scientists, doing their job; that's what women need. You shouldn't need to be a genius to be given the chance to rise to your level.
posted by emjaybee at 8:42 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]


I love the message but I don't like that this video brings it as Yet Another Thing Parents Do Wrong, when in reality this specific problem, in my experience, is much more caused by peer influence and teachers. My child was always good in math. Until she wasn't anymore and instead of explaining the things she didn't grasp immediately to her, her teacher was all "doesn't matter, I used to suck at math too, you're good at other things". Pair that with the fact that her friends "hated math" and no matter what I say, it's not going to do much.

In my experience too, there is not that much difference in how parents treat boys and girls when it comes to being careful with clothes and science projects that seem a bit excessive. I regularly see parents tell boys to be careful with their clothes too. And I'm a person who is super sensitive to sexism, I think I would notice the discrepancy if it were there as a general rule. The only thing I really recognized was the "why don't you hand that to your brother" comment. That's a shame indeed, and a real problem, but at that age, a lot of damage has already been done. (Caveat: I'm not in the US so I'm sure it could be argued that it really is different there and people there don't generally complain about boys getting their nice clothes dirty, but even then I am pretty sure the influence of teachers and peers in this regard is huge there too)
posted by blub at 1:48 AM on July 4


(Caveat: I'm not in the US so I'm sure it could be argued that it really is different there and people there don't generally complain about boys getting their nice clothes dirty, but even then I am pretty sure the influence of teachers and peers in this regard is huge there too)

I'd say it's more that people don't dress their boys in nice clothes for a hike in the woods, whereas it's more common to dress up little girls for all kinds of occasions, even ones where it's really not a sensible choice.

But I get where you're coming from, and I was kind of on the fence about posting it because, yeah, "put down the thing you just picked up off the beach that I can't quite tell the identity of from this distance" seems like an all-around solid parenting strategy that I expect gets applied frequently to boys as well (though I could still believe it being applied more to girls--I think there is still a level of tolerance for boys exhibiting curiosity about gross/dirty/mildly dangerous insects or whatever that doesn't really exist for girls. But maybe not.)

The project thing, too, was one where I was sort of like "is that really gendered, though?", but after spending the afternoon in the male allies thread (which diverged into a "received messages about domestic labor and neatness" thread), I'm not so sure. (I could beanplate more here about what it means that her project is more overtly "artsy" than the stereotype of "science project", and whether that was a deliberate or unconscious staging choice, and how that changes the way the audience and the characters perceive it, but I'm pretty sure at that point I'm putting waaaaay more thought into this than the admakers did.)

In the end, in spite of definite flaws in the presentation, I still felt like it was worth headlining the post because it's pretty novel to see an ad sponsored by a major corporation that really tries to engage with the idea of microaggressions and invisible bias.

(And ugh, yes, the "oh well, maybe you're just not good at math" at the first sign of real difficulty is one of the most hideously toxic and damaging lies that kids, especially girls, hear about school, and it's still so very common.)
posted by kagredon at 2:45 AM on July 4


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