International Women's Day

By Phil Plait | March 9, 2009 8:31 pm

I learned too late from Amanda at AstroPixie that Sunday was International Women’s Day. I wish I had known in time to write something for then, but I guess that’s OK. The point of the day is to raise awareness, and it made me think about a couple of issues. So let me talk to you about them.

Women in science is a tough issue. They are still underrepresented, and I don’t think it’s clear why. Sexism, certainly, plays a role. In fact, it plays both ends of the age game: when young girls want to go into science, they can be discouraged by their teachers, and when they are older trying to get a job in science they can be discouraged by their peers. I’ve heard way too many stories about that, and read too many studies as well.

Jessica Simpson

I wonder about sexism in a broader sense, too. Our society in the US is not the most encouraging for women. Just look at the screwed up body image advertising and such gives women; Jessica Simpson has gained some weight recently and a lot of rags online have been calling her fat. Really? She looks like she has a healthy and normal body to me. This whole advertising trend of using women with the bodies of 12-year-old boys baffles me.

Still, there are worse places for women. Allow me a slight digression.

Now, Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) is batguano insane (about a billion examples are to be found on the web, left as an exercise for the reader). Her viewpoints are so bizarre and skewed that her biography would have to be written on a Moebius strip.

Perhaps in a blog post about women’s rights, poking fun at Bachmann is ironic. Maybe so, but the point I want to make is that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. In an interview from 2008, tucked in with a vast number of ravings that are actually difficult to map against reality in any way, Bachmann said this:

"Not all cultures are equal. Not all values are equal."

This may shock people, but in this one small case I agree with this lunatic. She’s absolutely right. All cultures are not equal. A simple example: a large fraction of our own culture in the United States used to accept slavery. Moral equivalency be damned; slavery is wrong.

While I would hesitate to accept anything as a moral absolute, there are some things that are clearly wrong. Murder. Slavery. Institutional torture. Genocide. Racism. Sexism.

And that last one brings us to the point. There are countries in this world where women are treated essentially as slaves, or, perhaps worse, as things. Girls get acid thrown on their face for daring to get an education (and while this was done by a small band of militants, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for years, forbad girls from going to school). A woman was beheaded, possibly as an honor killing because she wanted to divorce her husband. A google search yields so much more, a horrifying list of atrocities aimed against women. A woman set afire because she was accused of being a witch. Thankfully there are groups taking action.

I am something of a moral relativist; I know that cultures differ, and what is art in one place would be a grave insult in another. That’s OK, because people are different.

But if you take half your population and relegate it to second class, forbid them from learning, don’t let them participate fully in society, then there is no relativism in my book. You’re wrong, and you’re stupid.

Carolyn Porco and Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin with Carolyn Porco, whom
he called "the Secretary General of
United Nations of the Solar System".

I know some brilliant women astronomers. Absolutely brilliant at what they do, whether it’s research, observing, public outreach, writing. Where would our science be without them? Carolyn Porco leads the Cassini imaging team which has brought us such beauty from the deep solar system. Could a man have done that? Sure, but that’s not the point: a woman could do it, and did do it. Vera Rubin helped clinch the existence of dark matter. Andrea Ghez has measured the mass of a black hole 25 quadrillion kilometers away, in the center of the Milky Way. Debra Fischer finds planets orbiting other stars. Pamela Gay educates tens of thousands of people on Astronomy Cast. Carolyn Collins Petersen does the same by writing planetarium shows.

I could go on and on, of course. These women — and many more — are friends, colleagues, scientists. Where we would be now if we relegated them to wearing burkas, to walking behind men, to staying at home and kept in the dark about the Universe around them?

Relativism be damned. Our culture in the US has a long way to go, certainly, but if you look behind us you’ll see the long winding road we’ve already labored upon. I’m glad my daughter is starting with such a head start down that road, and I hope that she forges ahead even further. That road goes a long way in both directions, and we’re right in the middle of it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Piece of mind, Science

Comments (119)

  1. Aww, no love for Kiki?

    http://www.kirstensanford.com/

    HJ Hornbeck
    (PS. Need more context? Check the link under my name…)

  2. Brian

    That road goes a long way in both directions, and we’re right in the middle of it.

    Hear, hear! Well said.

  3. Jack Mitcham

    I’d like to say as a science major, I wholeheartedly support women in science. If I have to date one more philosophy or English major…

  4. Alright, ladies… dance party in the comments for women in science!

    *happydance*

    Great post :-)

  5. While I would never equate the two events, I do find it hysterical that in the same era we saw bearded bigots blow up the centuries-old Bamiyan Buddha statues “over there” in Afghanistan, our own Attorney General draped a blanket over a statue of Justice because it bared its boobies.

    Yeah, we’ve got a ways to go yet.

  6. Davidlpf

    Since I am white male and can’t dance I’ll stay out of the comments.

  7. IvanMan: No.

    HJ: I do like Kiki, of course! But this was about astronomy for that list. I had a hard enough time keeping it that short.

  8. IVAN3MAN

    Phil Plait: Spoilsport.

  9. 9cube

    I have to say, I conditionally agree with this post… But I think that it is just as ‘absolutely immoral’ to force equality or social stature on someone who does not desire it, simply because you think that it is right.

    I think that it would be interesting to see some research done on this, if the female psyche has the same desires for social stature or control that the male does, and if the preponderance of male-dominated societies is merely an artifact of male physical stature.

    This also leads into how the modern feminist movement seems to want very little in the way of female equality so much as superiority. ‘I can do anything you can do, but better’ syndrome. Sorry, girls, but if you want to go raise several (or even one) children, you probably won’t be able to have a high-powered career at the same time. The sociological research I have read supports this, although I’d be interested in research which does not.

  10. tacitus

    I remember when I studied Computer Science at Manchester University in the UK, 25 years ago. Out of a class of 100 students there were about 6 women, four of whom were from China. Two British women out of 100 students! Things weren’t much better when I started work in a large computer company either. Most of the women were secretaries, with very few computer professionals.

  11. Davidlpf

    Come guys dance, dance with each other, if your into that, nothing wrong with that at all.

  12. Oh, I’m kidding, Davidlpf. Guys can join in on the dancing!

  13. Quiet Desperation

    our own Attorney General draped a blanket over a statue of Justice because it bared its boobies.

    It’s amazing how the lies live on and some people live in a personal world constructed of ideological myth and legend.

    Look, I had no use for Ashcroft, OK? But the reason he had the drapes was because the press reporters were going out of their way to take photos of him at an angle that had the statue in the background. They were contorting themselves and even lying on the floor to get the shot when he would hold a press conference. It was almost a sport- ask *anyone* who worked in the national media at the time.

    So he took their little toy away from them. The press, reacting like a scolded child, played it up as some prudish thing. It was ABC News that started the “Ashcroft hates the boob” meme with no evidence to back it up. You know, evidence? That stuff skeptics like?

    They did the same thing in 1968 to Ed Meese when he was AG. One wonders why they just didn’t hold the press conferences elsewhere.

    Actually, it was Bush’s team who wanted the first drapes for the rededication ceremony of the Justice Department building to Robert Kennedy. Something about them being “TV blue” and looking good on video. Ashcroft’s team kept them on for the aforementioned reason.

    I was more concerned that the stupid curtains cost $8000. Sheesh. Did D.C. not have a Wal-Mart back then?”

    Ah, for the days when $8K seemed important. :-(

  14. Quiet Desperation

    Guys can join in on the dancing!

    I am devoid of the dance gene. Not that I care, actually, but I have to side with Maddox on the issue: dancing makes me envy the crippled.

    I don’t think it’s clear why.

    Maybe they just don’t want to? I googled a bit and found that while plenty of female start the path to science, a lot take the off ramps to something else.

    Maybe they finally meet the guys who are in the science fields and run away? ;-) Ha! I tease you science geeks. We engineers will always pwn you. :-)

  15. Melanie

    While I agree with what you said I kind of wish you didn’t. Do people really need to be told that women in science are capable of doing anything men are!? Surely that would be an assumption that we don’t need to fight for anymore (at least in countries like America, Australia, the UK etc). From what you wrote it sounds like a rarity that needs to be proven through the provision of examples.

    But I take your point. There are some places that treat women horribly. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be treated as second class because I am a girl. Or of a different race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever. It’s perhaps easy for me to forget that there are places where this isn’t a given.

    I also acknowledge that there is a massive issue with getting women into science. I don’t know why that is the case but I think its important for female scientists to get out there in the public eye to provide a role model for young girls. Science is the coolest thing ever and if there is some reason girls aren’t going for it as a career choice we should try and overcome that. Kirsten Sanford and Pamela Gay are particularly good in that way.

  16. LukeL

    Just recently in Saudi Arabia a 75 year old woman was arrested for accepting a delivery of bread from two men who weren’t related to her. She was charged with consorting with members of the opposite sex and is set to get 40 lashes for her crime.

  17. Erich

    Psst, Phil – International Women’s Day is March 8th. It even says so on the website you linked to in the first phrase of this post…

  18. Brent

    I know you’ve probably already gotten way to many “what about…”, but:
    What about Dr. Imke de Pater co-author of my favorite astronomy book ever (http://astro.berkeley.edu/~imke/ and http://bradley.agnesscott.edu/extreme/imkedepaterbio.htm) although I guess Planetary Science could be thought of more as a geo-science that uses astronomy methods — Even if she’s a co-author her touch is all over that book and it’s a freakin awesome Planetary Science book, I turn to it every time I forget what it is that I want to do with my life and quickly remember the pure joy of science in general, astronomy more specifically and the study of solar systems in particular.

  19. eddie

    Side note: She won her seat by defeating someone named Elwyn Tinklenberg???

    Speechless, I am, but to say that I like women, too. Very much.

  20. JenniferRuth

    @ 9cube

    You say ” Sorry, girls, but if you want to go raise several (or even one) children, you probably won’t be able to have a high-powered career at the same time.”

    But no-one ever says this to men…why is the burden of childcare always solely on the woman? Having children doesn’t seem to impact men’s high-powered careers. Doesn’t that seem a little…unfair? Maybe if both men and women shared childcare responsibilities then things would even out a little bit.
    I’m in my late 20′s – when I go to job interviews sometimes I get asked if I am married or looking to start a family. I bet they don’t ask this question to men. I know that if I answer that I do want children (one day) then I will probably not get the job. I know that I can get pregnant and that no-one has to have that concern about their male workers – but frankly, I don’t want to be tied to my biology like that.
    I have a Masters in science, but I am now working in advertising because believe it or not, it is an easier environment for a women to get a job and get promoted. This is just my experience, but I wonder if this is part of the reason that there are less women who stay in a career in science.

  21. T_U_T
  22. Excellent post, Phil!

    Not all cultural ideas are equal. And it is not ‘racist’ to say so. I find mainstream journalism lapses now and again in equating races with cultures, and you clearly spell out why it is okay to have problems with cultural ideas.

  23. outcast

    As an engineering major getting his undergrad in a university in China, I should point out that nearly 1/3 of my classmates are girls. Now, comparing this with my programming classes (which were electives) in high school in the US where there were no girls at all (except the teacher in one of them), it made me wonder about equality in the young generation of both countries.

  24. BicycleRepairMan

    Monday?

    Were I live its march 8, and its pretty big too, everybody knows what the date means. There’s always demonstrations in the streets, speeches and the like. I kinda assumed it was international, but I guess not.

  25. BicycleRepairMan
  26. Pieter Kok

    To say that not all cultures are equal is an unhelpful generalization. It is really only certain aspects of cultures that should forgo the protection of relativism in this context. (I use “should” in the sense of the Golden Rule, which is about as close to an absolute moral rule as you can get).

    At the risk of kicking in even more open doors: any simplified philosophy is most likely untenable, including undiluted absolutism and relativism.

  27. Pieter Kok

    BicycleRepairMan, according to your time stamp, it’s March 10 where you live. ;-)

  28. MadScientist

    There are still problems around the world, not only in the USA. If we go back 40 years (got your TARDIS ready?) for example, Jocelyn Bell discovered pulsars while studying in Glasgow. Many people have heard of Marie Curie but she was one of very few well-known female scientists in her time. Then of course there was her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie who was also a fairly well-known scientist. A contemporary of Irene Joliot-Curie was Lise Meitner.

    In many ways, despite the women’s rights movements and granting of suffrage, we have only made a very small improvement over the status quo in Europe over the past 100 years. I did meet a young scientist in Australia and she told me that she has only had good experiences at school and at work; apparently she never realized how tough things are for a lot of women in science. I told her that her case was a rare exception.

    One of my best lab pets was a young female student from France; I even gave her work which I would have thought suitable for late first year or second year university physics students, not realizing that she hadn’t graduated from the Lycee yet. I wish I were that intelligent at that age … She was lucky that she got to work with me though; my colleagues at the time were just outright pathetic and saddled visiting students with useless busywork rather than making any attempt to teach the students or introduce them to new things. If a typical science educator is anything like the majority of my colleagues then, the road to improvement will be long and tortuous indeed.

  29. Women`s day is EVERYDAY!

  30. Grand Lunar

    “In fact, it plays both ends of the age game: when young girls want to go into science, they can be discouraged by their teachers, and when they are older trying to get a job in science they can be discouraged by their peers.”

    Social interaction in school seems to be a major role. And just the attitudes of men towards women, but also women toward each other.
    I suppose it’s from the attitude that’s held toward smart people; they’re labeled as geeks and nerds (as if that’s a bad thing :) ), and often left out of social interaction, or get bullied.

  31. Phil Plait: But this was about astronomy for that list. I had a hard enough time keeping it that short.

    I find that very reassuring!

  32. Ray

    As for why women are underrepresented in the sciences, it may not be just cultural.

    As much as libs hate to hear it, the reality is that men and women are physically different. This extends to things like how we (men and women) process data and see the world. This would presumably affect our ability to excell at certain professions.

  33. Pieter Kok

    So when is Balding Middle-Aged Men’s Day?

  34. QUASAR

    You americans are turning into feminist nazis! Feminism doesn’t want gender equality, it wants women’s superiority over men! And right now men are more dicriminated than women! Men are forced to serve in miltaries around the world and men gen genitally mutilated at birth whereas women get complete protection and are free to get on wth their lives! If you want gender equality there’s something called ‘gender equality’ not feminism!

  35. Nigel Depledge

    @ Mad Scientist – And don’t forget the classic example of Rosalind Franklin. She deserves a share of the credit for determining the structure of DNA, because it was her X-ray crystallographs that gave Watson and Crick their head-start, and it was her calculations that ended up confirming their proposed model.

    As an aside – can you imagine doing X-ray crystallography without a computer to crunch the numbers???

  36. BethK

    As a computer science professor, mother of a 15yo daughter excelling in math and science, and a Girl Scout leader, I see how social pressures have tremendous effects. Enjoying math and science isn’t cool. Being smart isn’t popular. By design, my daughter is comfortable being herself.

    I try to help all kids (and especially the girls) know what options are available for life plans. Taking as much math and science as you can keeps more options open. And these are fun options.

    I really enjoy solving interesting problems. I like looking at the world, wondering ‘why’, and investigating. I have fun building something new. And I try to share that enthusiasm with kids.

    Science is fun. But somehow we need to de-nerdify it. You can be both normal and a scientist.

  37. Annette

    9cube Says:
    “This also leads into how the modern feminist movement seems to want very little in the way of female equality so much as superiority. ‘I can do anything you can do, but better’ syndrome. Sorry, girls, but if you want to go raise several (or even one) children, you probably won’t be able to have a high-powered career at the same time. ”

    I find this statement particularly offensive and almost infuriating. Please, quote this sociological research that you speak of. I do not know how you would even give evidence for such a statement – would you relate the number of mothers with high powered careers to the percentage of their children that turn into crack addicts? Because for sure any failure in upbringing with your ideal family structure would be on the shoulders of the mother. For one thing, most of the time there are TWO partners in a child rearing situation so why on earth do you think that “girls” have to raise the children on their own while attempting to have the amazing career? Quite narrow minded and sexist don’t you think? Thank goodness that most men in this society do not think this way!

    Phil, thank you so much for this post! I always love to hear about women who are able to be so successful in this field… it gives me more determination to keep pushing towards my goals! Almost certainly I would have settled for less than my capabilities long ago without encouragement from the giants out there setting an example.

  38. Sisu

    I have to take care that I make my comment carefully. Saying it indelicately is what got Larry Summers into trouble at Harvard.

    In fact, I’ll start off with a defense of Summers – a defense *on this particular subject* (because there is a lot about him that is entirely indefensible):
    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/07/summers-vindica.html

    Basically men and women are equals in terms of mean math ability (or whatever trait(s) lead to math ability), but males have a slightly greater variance. Studies have shown this difference in the variance for decades. In a normal distribution, a slightly greater variance leads to a big difference at the extremes.

    When talking about careers in science, you’re generally talking about people well above the mean in “math ability.” Again, that’s “math ability” or whatever trait(s) lead to math ability – I like to think it’s related to compulsiveness.

    So, if:
    1/ the variance is real and
    2/ the distribution behaves like a normal population,
    then you must expect a significantly greater number of members of the group with greater variance to be in positions that require exceptionally high ability in this trait. AND you must also expect a significantly greater number of members of the high variance group to have exceptionally low ability in this trait. The sword of variance cuts both ways – there are more men than women in the sciences and in the prisons.

    That said, this *should not* excuse the current discrepancy. The men:women ratio is much larger than should be explained by variance. We still have a long way to go and I want the very best opportunities for my daughter.

  39. T_U_T

    @Annette:
    9cube shorter : women deserve to be subjugated, and, anyway, they like it. And those who don’t, are just power hungry harpies. So, if you love your children, stay in the kitchen and obey.

    As I said. POE is as POE does.

  40. T_U_T

    yes. I think it is fake. No one can be that stupid.

  41. Sir Eccles

    Interesting piece on the BBC that I spotted recently

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7928947.stm

  42. anonymous

    I think that there are two separate issues here. They are (a) women in the first world (b) women in the third world. Let’s start with (a):

    My gripe with women in developed nations is that they appear to want their cake and eat it too. Why is it okay for women to slap men but not the other way around ? It’s still assault ! If one claims not to be sexist then women slapping men (especially in Hollywood films) reinforces this view that it is okay for women to physically assault men. The film “Bridges over Madison County” is about a married woman with a loving, good husband but cheats on the latter anyway. Nobody condemns her. If a man does this, he is labeled a “cheating pig”.

    Now onto (b): Not only are women oppressed but children endure corporal punishment, the weak are bullied, the sick are left to die and the majority of men have to toil for all their lives to feed themselves and their families. There is no safety net in the third world. In addtion, animals are treated very badly. Women are, generally speaking, the physically weaker sex. And like children, animals, the elderly and the ill, they are sitting ducks.

    But is the focus on women because, unlike children, animals and the infirm, they can actually make a difference ? If so, then I would agree with this view. Comments anyone ? Help me out here.

  43. Redx

    Umm… no. I meant I have no idea what that acronym is supposed to mean. Can’t even find anything useful with google.

    I live in Florida. I’m exposed to people exactly that stupid every single day. There are a lot of areas where Feminists have done very poor work getting their message across. There really are an awful lot of people who think of feminism like that, right down to the unintentionally ironic understanding of the issues involved.

  44. Annette

    T_U_T Says:

    “@Annette:
    9cube shorter : women deserve to be subjugated, and, anyway, they like it. And those who don’t, are just power hungry harpies. So, if you love your children, stay in the kitchen and obey.

    As I said. POE is as POE does.”

    I’m not sure what POE means… even googled it. LOL. I must not be cool anymore because I don’t know all the internet lingo. :P

  45. @9cube

    I have to say, I conditionally agree with this post… But I think that it is just as ‘absolutely immoral’ to force equality or social stature on someone who does not desire it, simply because you think that it is right.

    How do you know what women desire?

    If women are attacked and occasionally killed for just expressing a desire for an education, how many women are going to be seen as desiring an education?

    An education is just a baby step on the road to equality.

    We should not deny women the ability to decide for themselves.

  46. @QUASAR,

    You americans are turning into feminist nazis! Feminism doesn’t want gender equality, it wants women’s superiority over men! And right now men are more dicriminated than women! Men are forced to serve in miltaries around the world and men gen genitally mutilated at birth whereas women get complete protection and are free to get on wth their lives! If you want gender equality there’s something called ‘gender equality’ not feminism!

    So, where in the article did Phil Plait suggest that he encouraged anything other than gender equality?

    Although, it was very perceptive of you to pick up on the the swastikas he hid throughout the post.

  47. Daffy

    Women are oppressed where the men are cowards. No exceptions that I know of.

  48. T_U_T

    it refers to the poe’s law which states that there is no way to tell a parody of religious fundamentalism ( or similar crazy ) apart from the real thing.

  49. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the examples Phil brought up in the way women are treated, could be traced directly back to religion. I agree with everything Phil said, and I find that sexism is one of the many -isms that are a blight on humanity that are religiously based.

  50. @ Annette,

    Poe’s Law states:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

    Click on my name for more information.

  51. T_U_T

    XhXtXtXpX:X/X/XrationalwikiXcomX/XwikiX/XPoeX%X27s_Law
    moderation sucks. just delete all X and use the link

  52. T_U_T

    Ivan3man, why you can use your name as link and I can not ?

  53. jasonB

    To quote Phil “There are countries in this world where women are treated essentially as slaves, or, perhaps worse, as things. Girls get acid thrown on their face for daring to get an education (and while this was done by a small band of militants, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for years, forbad girls from going to school)”

    And could you please go on to say who was trying to eradicate this group and their behavior? Phil you couldn’t find it in you to give Bush a nod for this?

    You then go on to pillory another obscure Republican. How about citing a much more prominent Democrat woman who put up with a husband who was/is a serial philander, public humiliation due to her husband working over an intern in his office (that used to be called sexual harassment) and actually helping him to cover up many of said abuses?

    If Ashlee Simpson will stop eating just to get ahead, and that’s a horrible thing, what does that say about my aforementioned Dem politician’s quest for personal gain?

    Which path would you rather your daughter follow?

  54. Sisu

    First off, I think we still have a long way to go before we have real equality and I want the very best opportunities for my daughter.

    Now I have to take care that I make the rest of my comment carefully. Saying it indelicately is what got Larry Summers into trouble at Harvard.

    In fact, it’s worth reading a defense of Summers – a defense *on this particular subject* (because there is a lot about him that is entirely indefensible): Google “Summers Vindicated” for a post at a blog called “Marginal Revolution.” Should be the top hit.

    Basically men and women are equals in terms of mean math ability (or whatever trait(s) lead to math ability), but males have a slightly greater variance. Studies have shown this difference in the variance for decades. In a normal distribution, a slightly greater variance leads to a big difference at the extremes.

    When talking about careers in science, you’re generally talking about people well above the mean in “math ability.” Again, that’s “math ability” or whatever trait(s) lead to math ability – I like to think it’s related to compulsiveness.

    So, if:
    1/ the variance is real and
    2/ the distribution behaves like a normal population,
    then you must expect a significantly greater number of members of the group with greater variance to be in positions that require exceptionally high ability in this trait. AND you must also expect a significantly greater number of members of the high variance group to have exceptionally low ability in this trait. The sword of variance cuts both ways – there are more men than women in the sciences and in the prisons.

    That said, this *should not* excuse the current discrepancy. The men:women ratio is much larger than should be explained by variance.

  55. BethK

    @Sisu: You walked that line nicely. Good work.

    You don’t have to be phenomenally brilliant to be a successful scientist. It does take aptitude and hard work. But you don’t need to be an outlier to be successful.

  56. Quiet Desperation

    Enjoying math and science isn’t cool. Being smart isn’t popular.

    Hey, the same thing goes for boys as well. I can speak from experience. I’m amazed *anyone* does anything technical in this country anymore. The only positive portrayal of an engineer I have seen in the media in recent years is Joe Dubois on Medium, which is part of the reason I like the show.

    How many recent movies have “science gone wrong” as their theme? I’m looking at you, I Am Legend.

    And could you please go on to say who was trying to eradicate this group and their behavior? Phil you couldn’t find it in you to give Bush a nod for this?

    Ask yourself: If 9/11 had not happened, would Bush have gone into Afghanistan?

    Just last month the current president of Pakistan signed an agreement with the Taliban to allow implementation of their particular brand of Shariah nightmare in some parts of Pakistan. Yes, girls are banned from education once again.

  57. Sarcastro

    And could you please go on to say who was trying to eradicate this group and their behavior? Phil you couldn’t find it in you to give Bush a nod for this?

    Yea, go Bush!

    Even assuming that W had the needs and hopes of women in mind when he invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he succeeded at those goals just as well as he succeeded at all of his other goals; That is to say, not at all.

  58. jasonB

    @ Quiet

    Ask YOURself: Would you have supported it then? Do you now? What the heck does it matter, he did the deed. If others lack the will to follow through and keep these freedoms that does not reflect poorly on Bush.

    To the last part of your post. This is why I often wonder why people insist that we can negotiate and meet these sort of “people” half way. Some girls disfigured and uneducated are okay? Just not all?

    Who was President last month?

  59. IVAN3MAN

    T_U_T:

    Ivan3man, why you can use your name as link and I can not?

    When I first started posting comments on BA-Blog, back in June 2008, I also had my comments held up “awaiting moderation” whenever I used my name as a link. It’s the same with all “Newbies”. It’s because Phil has a problem with cranks and trolls who often plague the comments section. After a while, Phil’s anti-spam filter will let you through with a link via your name, once it becomes familiar with you. However, links in the comments section will always be subject to moderation.

  60. T_U_T

    Phil’s anti-spam filter will let you through with a link via your name, once it becomes familiar with you. However, links in the comments section will always be subject to moderation.

    Paranoid to the point of being just useless nuisance. But Phil’s blog, phil’s rules.

  61. BethK

    Many people supported going into Afghanistan. Changing the focus from Afghanistan to Iraq was controversial.

    Popular scientific women … women who just happen to be good at math ands science …

    How many of you know that Hedy Lamarr held a patent on frequency hopping technology? How many of you know that actress Danica McKellar (Winnie on the Wonder Years) earned her math degree at UCLA and has authored two books encouraging middle-school kids to enjoy math?

    Education opens doors and opportunities. Prohibiting education, discouraging education, and suggesting that you don’t need education doesn’t help anyone build a better life or world. Being educated in math and science opens even more doors.

  62. Enjoying math and science isn’t cool. Being smart isn’t popular.

    I’ve always been perplexed about this, for men or women. Why is it uncool to now have knowledge about the world around you and label you as a nerd? Why am I a nerd because I can make computers do neat things or find fuzzy objects in the sky, but if I know who’s winning on Idol or Dancing I’m part of the in crowd?

    People’s values are seriously out of whack.

  63. Lyr

    “Not all cultures are equal. Not all values are equal.”

    I totally agree with this, even if it did come from someone whose views are mostly bass-ackwards. Human rights are for everyone, regardless of their culture.

  64. Pieter Kok

    I don’t think it is the “being smart” or “enjoying math or science” that makes a high-school student unpopular. Are there no popular smart people? That sounds like overgeneralizing, and buying onto the Hollywood stereotype. I find it more likely that the lack of popularity of some “science geeks” is due to their social inabilities, and quite possibly boring the guano (love that euph.) out of their fellow students with their pet subject. After all, plenty of unpopular students are not particularly smart or into science/maths. The key to popularity is probably 99% social (including personal hygiene).

  65. Phil, a thoughtful essay. I’m pleased to be included with the likes of another Carolyn P and Pam Gay. Thank you.

    I’m a feminist, as is my husband, as are many men of my acquaintance. Most of the feminists that WE know are not haters — we are all people who have a simple thought: that women and men should be treated equally; that women have been treated like crap and that it needs to stop. Many of us are simply working to make things equal for women on the playing fields of life. So, those of you who want to come charging in here with the usual canards about feminazis and toss out such stupidities as “women can’t have it all” when, of course, MEN are never told that when they want to have a family and a career — you are welcome to your opinions as you sit in your club chairs and harrumph into your cups. The rest of us will (women AND men) move forward without you.

    When I started out as a science writer at a newspaper, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of female science writers. As I write my books and planetarium shows and science documentaries and other projects today, I try to remember that the scientists I work with and write about — women and men — are all human beings equally deserving of attention for their work to help people understand the cosmos. There ARE more women in science these days, although I’d like to see more young girls try it out before they decide on political science or women’s studies in college–and I think more of them are, so that’s all to the good.

    Recently a group of us had a thoughtful discussion on Facebook, started by David Grinspoon, about the apparent propensity for women on selection committees in science to be tougher on other women. David wondered why.

    A number of us who have sat on such committees at one time or another chimed in and I think we all got an education about it. Essentially I said that for centuries, women have faced an “old boys’ club” attitude about hiring and training of the next generation of scientists. By whatever means possible, a few women (compared to the overweening propensity of science professions, even today, to be still male-dominated — and do NOT get me started on L. Summers and his POV) have made it onto those selection committees. And guess what?

    We’re either socialized or expected to be equally tough on all applicants (which is as it should be — a candidate for a position in a job or in grad school should be considered for his or her accomplishments, not his or her wiggly bits). But, I suspect that women — having once complained about old boyism, now feel constrained to be tougher on women so that we’re not accused of old-girl-ism. Not that a little old girlism wouldn’t be expected just to right the imbalance. But, we don’t wish to even give that appearance, and so the toughness continues. And, it’s a backlash that shouldn’t have to happen.

    Or, perhaps we only THINK that we might look like we’re playing favorites, so we bend over backwards not to. I can’t imagine that men, in the same situation, would do the same. It’s a very difficult situation.

    Again, thanks for the mention Phil, and thanks to nearly everybody in the comments for your thoughtful discussions.

    CC

  66. Calli Arcale

    # Jack Mitcham Says:
    March 9th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I’d like to say as a science major, I wholeheartedly support women in science. If I have to date one more philosophy or English major…

    Some of us are double-majors, ya know. I started out English and Chemistry, but then fell in love with computers and swapped Chemistry for Computer Science. Now I’m a software engineer, and my hubby often remarks that he is glad to have found a geeky bride. ;-)

  67. Toledo

    The key to popularity is probably 99% social

    Thank you, Captain Obvious. Oh, sorry, was that not social?

    The problem is that being a smart kid starts you out with a deficit. Yeah, *some* few overcome it, but it’s difficult when behavior is tolerated in schools that would get you fired or even arrested in a professional environment with adults. Oh, but that’s all character building, right? The organized and focused persecution of one kid my many others, sometimes dozens, happens evenly and fairly to all, right?

    …due to their social inabilities, and quite possibly boring the guano (love that euph.) out of their fellow students with their pet subject… including personal hygiene

    Brilliant. You complain people are overgeneralizing and using stereotypes, and then you overgeneralize and use stereotypes.

  68. kebsis

    @JenniferRuth:

    ”I’m in my late 20’s – when I go to job interviews sometimes I get asked if I am married or looking to start a family. I bet they don’t ask this question to men. I know that if I answer that I do want children (one day) then I will probably not get the job. I know that I can get pregnant and that no-one has to have that concern about their male workers – but frankly, I don’t want to be tied to my biology like that.”

    Interestingly, I got asked the same questions when I applied for my current job (I’m male). I answered that I hadn’t thought about any of that yet, but ended up getting the job. After several years, I had become friendly enough with my boss that I asked him why it was that he had asked me those questions.

    What he said was interesting. He said that when he interviews a male, it’s considered a good thing if the applicant has a family, the idea being that a guy with a wife and kids will take the job more seriously than a bachelor and work harder to keep the job. Whereas with women, having a family is considered a bad quality because while it can be a motivator in the same way as it is with men, it serves as too much of a distraction for them that the company doesn’t want to deal with.

  69. @ QD:

    While I appreciate your comment about skeptics requiring evidence, it would have gone over much better had you referred to another paragraph from the website you may have gotten your information from:

    Many detractors claim these arguments are merely a smokescreen by the administration to conceal what they consider a prudish conservative censorship agenda. The “did-he-or-didn’t-he” debate that has ensued has been dubbed by some as “Drapegate” or “Breastgate” will probably never be resolved.

    Given Mr. Ashcroft’s stance on liberty in general (“Your tactics only aid terrorists,” et al), I’ll stick with the boobie story.

  70. Quiet_Desperation

    The key to popularity is probably 99% social

    So… being social is 99% social. Wow. Hold on. Let me write that one down. ;-)

    (QD scribbles “social = social”)

    I tease.

    In my case I suffered from serious depression and other clinical disorders, and still do for the most part, although by this point I have developed many workarounds. Being social back in school was difficult when daily thoughts of self destruction had to be actively suppressed.

    What? You think I use this Internet handle for grins?

  71. Quiet_Desperation

    Given Mr. Ashcroft’s stance on liberty in general (”Your tactics only aid terrorists,” et al), I’ll stick with the boobie story.

    Have at it. Far be it from me to deny anyone their fantasy worlds.

  72. BethK

    All through college I was a double major in Computer Science and English. When I mentioned to my husband that grad school in a science isn’t normally a good place to find a bride, he said “worked for me.” :-)

    Throughout the world, we need to value education more than we do now. Maybe US society is upside down in that education isn’t as valued as it is around the world.

  73. Clearly I could add a lot to this discussion as a woman in the sciences. I was fortunate to have started my career in biology where women were more accepted than those in the so-called “hard sciences”. I only encountered high quality respectful gentlemen who were interested in sharing their knowledge with all students, regardless of gender. I never felt demeaned or minimized (or harassed) I worked very hard though, knowing that, oddly enough, my attractiveness was a handicap in academia. And actually, any nastiness I had come my way came from women hardened by their years in having to defend themselves in a male-dominated field.

    The most difficult decision I made was to leave a PhD program in order to raise children. I watched female grad students with children (the minority) struggle mightily with a low income and difficulty to do the work and raise children at the same time and knew there was a choice to be made. I left with my masters and took a job as an instructor and not a researcher (which is really all I wanted the PhD for, frankly). With this I have been able to raise four amazing kids and have the time to devote to one special needs kid. I figure now they can all go out and each get a PhD or equivalent. Somedays I still wish I had the PhD for various reasons and it is frustrating to know that it is because I was a woman in the sciences in the 80s that I had to choose. Kids are exhausting and so is getting a PhD (especially in biology where it can take 7-8 years!) and so is striving for tenure. I applaud the women who do it all.

  74. # QUASAR Says:
    March 10th, 2009 at 5:14 am

    You americans are turning into feminist nazis! Feminism doesn’t want gender equality, it wants women’s superiority over men! And right now men are more dicriminated than women! Men are forced to serve in miltaries around the world and men gen genitally mutilated at birth whereas women get complete protection and are free to get on wth their lives! If you want gender equality there’s something called ‘gender equality’ not feminism!

    Maybe I’m feeding the troll here, but I just want to point out that militaries around the world now admit and even draft women. And if you want to talk about genital mutilation, male circumcision is a cakewalk compared to the female variety (which is practiced all over the world). Look it up, I dare you. It’s some seriously sick stuff. There is even evidence that the male version protects against certain diseases (cancer, if I recall correctly) later in life — even with modern hygiene — so how morally wrong the process is is kind of a question up for debate.

  75. Joe Meils

    It’s the sheer waste of human mind that galls me about our species continued abuse and neglect on one half of it’s population. How many female Einstiens, female George Washington Carvers, how many women leaders could have benefitted us all?

    All lost becuase of this stupid, barbaric idea. Yes, there are still people and groups out there that believe this crap. They aren’t just in other countries, either. Take a look at science fiction fandom here in the US. There’s a sub group called “Goreans” who follow the pulp writings of John Norman, who wrote 27 crap sword and sandal “novels” that espouse how superior men are to women. These morons actually take this stuff as fact!

    Yeah, we’ve come a long way in the US in just the last 60 years… but we still have a very long way to go.

  76. The Other David M.

    I haven’t read the 70 posts in this thread, but to me one of the causes is very clear. The career path that is “expected” of many scientists is the academic one. Go to grad school, do a post-doc or two, and then get a tenure-track position and pray for funding. By the time you get tenure, you are in your late 30s or early 40s. If you decide to take a year or two off to have some kids, you aren’t “serious” and you poison your chances at tenure. Biology lets men have kids after they’ve been granted tenure, but the odds for women are very low. Either we need to shift the focus of “science” from the academic model to the industry model, or we have to rework how tenure is awarded (giving allowances for family time) or we need to find a lot more women willing to be childless in the name of science. I don’t see movement on any of those in the near future.

  77. Pieter Kok

    @QD: LOL! Yes, if you put it like that… My point is of course that the sooner we debunk the “smart = boring” link, the better.

  78. Have at it. Far be it from me to deny anyone their fantasy worlds.

    Ditto.

  79. Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does:

    OBERLIN, OH — According to a study released Monday, women—once empowered primarily via the assertion of reproductive rights or workplace equality with men — are now empowered by virtually everything the typical woman does.

    “From what she eats for breakfast to the way she cleans her home, today’s woman lives in a state of near-constant empowerment,” said Barbara Klein, professor of women’s studies at Oberlin College and director of the study. “As recently as 15 years ago, a woman could only feel empowered by advancing in a male-dominated work world, asserting her own sexual wants and needs, or pushing for a stronger voice in politics. Today, a woman can empower herself through actions as seemingly inconsequential as driving her children to soccer practice or watching the Oxygen network.”

    Klein said that clothes-shopping, once considered a mundane act with few sociopolitical implications, is now a bold feminist statement.

    [...]


    Click on my name to continue with reading the article.

  80. Sundance

    @MadScientist

    “I did meet a young scientist in Australia and she told me that she has only had good experiences at school and at work; apparently she never realized how tough things are for a lot of women in science. I told her that her case was a rare exception.”

    I believe this may be a matter of differences between countries. As a (male) Australian physicist, doing my degree during the 90s, I never had any sense that female students were discriminated against or discouraged from studying science. This comes not just from observation, but from discussion with my female contemporaries. My girlfriend of several years did her physics degree in a class that had only two male students – the rest were girls. When I moved into my PhD and postdoctoral work and began tutoring undergrads, the most brilliant student I knew was female. The current head of the South Australian chapter of the Australian Institute of Physics is female. Accounts I’ve heard from people who attended the “Women in Physics” part of the most recent Australian IoP congress suggest that there is less discrimination and sexual harassment in academia than in industry (probably because science demands a culture of asking questions and raising objections – which encourages women to speak up about things that make them uncomfortable – whereas in industry there is more of a culture of not questioning your boss/supervisor).

    I do wonder if women are to some extent discouraged from a career in science by the perception that academia is antagonistic to women. If that’s the case, then bemoaning discrimination against women is counterproductive, and what’s really needed is more public outreach efforts by women who have succeeded in science, to show that it’s not as hard as it sometimes appears.

  81. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It’s difficult to understand the process which filters out women in several areas. But an often mentioned factor is women’s lack of power. For example, IIRC UN statistics shows that women own a mere 5 % of the worlds capital, an order of magnitude skew. (And at my guess probably even less of its resources due to the skewing factors.)

    OTOH you can find promising modern examples of broken glass ceilings here, IIRC there was a local article on a company board with several women and one man where “the number of [insert common female name here] outnumbered the males” 3:1.

    As BA I’m wary of moral absolutes, but I also state outside motives for equalization. Foremost that democracies are observed to work well, so it is likely better that women should share in all sorts of social processes. But also in more localized systems that tit-for-tat is observed to be a good strategy in the sort of recurring game that describes many social interactions.

    and while this was done by a small band of militants, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for years, forbad girls from going to school

    It’s AFAIU still happening in Taliban areas, inside and outside of Afghanistan. Latest the cease fire agreement between Pakistan and talibans in the Swat Valley lead to religion elevated to law. And IIRC a local newspaper article claimed that schools for girls have been targets for religiously motivated terrorism in the proximate area 200 or more times.

  82. PeterC

    One of the smartest people I knew at university (physics) was a woman. A quick google search (I don’t know if it’s the same person, but it seems likely) reveals she’s been publishing papers on “Rotating Spacetimes with a Cosmological Constant”, “Direc Borne Infield Cosmic Strings”, “The statistical physics of cosmological networks of string loops” and so on.

    I agree that it’s quite noticeable that those men who feel themselves most powerless, or have the most desperate need to “control” things around them, are the ones who most feel the need to keep women suppressed. When you have no control over your destiny at all, I guess that at least being able to dominate your woman makes you feel better.

    That said, it’s obvious that one should judge a woman – as one should judge a man – by the content of her character and the level of her ability. It is not a prejudiced statement to note that ON AVERAGE men are taller and stronger than women, or that for a given weight men ON AVERAGE have a higher proportion of muscle. That’s biology, and it’s no more resasonable to argue with science when it goes against theories of social justice than when it goes against religion. There are some physical and psychological differences between the sexes. They don’t make either sex superior, just different to each other.

    That means one should not put people – whether men or women – into situations that they can not handle. A few years ago, the Sandhurst military academy (the British equivalent of places like West Point) was opened up to women after a long court battle by a woman. After they installed female quarters, toilets etc., she entered the academy and collapsed twice on the first day, before dropping out on the second. It’s not that she was a woman – it’s that she was simply too overweight and under-fit to be an appropriate candidate. Since then, of course, much better female candidates have performed well. It wasn’t the fact that she was a woman – it was the fact that she was not physically suitable.

    In the same way, I don’t really want a 5 foot tall skinny female or male firefighter trying to carry my unconscious body down a ladder from the 10th floor of a burning building. I feel that there’s something wrong when I see short, petite women police officers desperately trying and failing to restrain drunken violent yobs with twice their body mass and three times their strength. There’s a place for people with weak physical characteristics in the police, or army, or any “traditional” male field – but it’s not there. The policy of “not discriminating” against smaller women is a mistake, in that it exposes them to a much higher chance of getting them hurt than larger men. Of course, any woman who is capable of handling a particular role should have the opportunity to do so, but setting women who aren’t up to fail has its own subtle sexism, I think.

  83. I still find it mildly mind-boggling that women get treated differently from men, and that such things as glass ceilings exist. Admittedly, nodding to some of PeterC’s points, I work in a very cerebral sphere, but I also know some women who could deck bison, in much the same way I know some men who need both hands to lift a Wacom stylus. Gender should go whistle – only ability should count.

  84. Quiet_Desperation

    kuhnigget Says: Ditto.

    Heh heh. And the “many worlds” theory receives more proof. ;-)

    QD: LOL! Yes, if you put it like that… My point is of course that the sooner we debunk the “smart = boring” link, the better.

    On that we can agree.

    To clarify, I was outcast from the high school general population (prison terminology intended) for being smart, but outcast from the other smart kids because of my malfunctioning head meat.

  85. The Mad LOLScientist, FCD

    @JenniferRuth: Where do you live? IIRC, here in the Hew-Hess-of-Hay it’s ILLEGAL to ask that question.

    And Rosalind Franklin was ROBBED. Literally.

  86. Richtpt

    I have never understood sexism. Who care’s what sex the person is doing the job? For me, all that matters is are they doing a good job? Are they respectful of the people they work with? Women are every bit as capable as men at 99.9% of the jobs (I think there are some things each sex is better at because of our physical design and I’m not only talking about having babies). My wife and I are raising our kids that men and women are equal, you can do anything you want regardless of sex.

    Why must people hate and put down because of sex and skin color? It’s not the color or the sex that makes me dislike the person, it’s the person. Of course there’s the other problem that if I happen to dislike someone who is anything other than a white male I’m seen as a sexist or racist. But that’s another issue. ;)

    Sex and race should never matter. Only the person inside should. I don’t know why people have such a hard problem with this.

  87. Loved your post, Phil.

  88. Pieter Kok

    QD, that’s tough, I sympathize.

  89. Molls

    I am a young, female, scientist who is all to familiar with the male ego. It is never a surprise to be one of the few, if only, woman on a committee or at a meeting. While being young has its own set of issues, being a woman is harder to overcome. I recently made an observation that invalidated two years worth of work. Other people eventually took all the credit. What I have learned thus far is to not let it get to me, to pick my battles for respect, and savour the moments when I prove myself as more than just a woman, but as a valuable scientist! It still angers me though when I am refered to as a bitch for standing up for issues I believe in, or that I am regularly called a lesbian since I have chosen to work in a “man’s world.”

    Anyway, I thought people may be interested in this group, A Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women: http://thepinkchaddicampaign.blogspot.com/

  90. Candace Pert, the founder of opiate receptors in the brain (in the 70s) was also robbed. She even had to do the research on the sly because her PI thought it was a waste of time. When her PI found out about her finding, he took the credit and lobbied for the Nobel Prize for himself. That is scum to the nth degree. Luckily when he was up for the Lasker prize, Pert contacted Lasker’s widow, who was in charge ultimately and would not allow the PI to get the prize.

  91. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I’m sad to see that no one mentioned my absolute favorite woman scientist, Emmy Nöther.

    I haven’t read her work in theoretical physics, but naively there is something deeply intuitive and satisfying between conservation of quantities (say charges) and various symmetries.

    [Incidentally, IIRC Emmy placed high in a Cosmic Variance beauty contest on the single piece of work that has mattered most, up there with Darwin but not quite Newton. (Probably since Newton more or less founded modern science while, say, Darwin 'only' more or less founded modern biology.)]

    Another laadie with a special place in my hearth [I seem to have a big hearth problem (><) ] is Sofia Kovalevskaya from the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem on existence and uniqueness of analytical solutions of analytical partial differential equations (partial DEs).

    This result I happened to have read (but not worked to understand much) as it was in a DE book of mine, and again there is something deeply intuitive with physical (analytical, or smooth and bounded) solutions to smooth problems. And their use of smooth (analytical) patches to glue smooth solutions together, intuitive also because I believe something like it is used, in a generalized form of gluing local maps, in various areas of modern math. (Say topology where IIRC the Good Math, Bad Math blog has covered some of its use.)

    [Again incidentally, I'm sure, Kovalevskaya was also part-time local here.]

    Her viewpoints are so bizarre and skewed that her biography would have to be written on a Moebius strip.

    ROTL! Advancing from fractal wrongness to topological (möbiusan) wrongness; you can’t possibly be more wrong than that while still trying to argue?!

  92. Sili

    Dame Jocelyn did indeed discover pulsars, but her advisor got the Nobel. The sexism was (and most like is still) institutionalised.

    If you’ll allow the quotemine:

    You’d think after 40 years it would’ve settled into an interesting but mature phase. Blow me, is it heck.

  93. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Oops. ROFL, and someone knicked my closing blockquote tag.

    Preview was promised sometime this spring, February or March I believe. May we have it anytime soon? Presumably it can’t be premature to have some simple form of preview to preview.

    (While we wait, whittling white-bearded in white text windows, wanton as they were.)

  94. Thanny

    Phil’s responding to a comment by IvanMan that doesn’t exist. I’ve commented before, and later saw that comment disappear.

    I think there’s something amiss with the blog software. Either that, or there’s a strange censor who randomly deletes comments.

    On topic, I agree completely that there should be no artificial barriers for anyone. But I think it’s also important not to expect that any group will be proportionally represented in every endeavor. There are just some kinds of jobs that a given group of people is less interested in, on average. So let’s not get hung up waiting for exactly 50% of any given job to be held by women. Let’s just make sure every woman who wants and is able to take on a given career has no obstacles not shared by all those pursuing it.

  95. @ Molls:

    I recently made an observation that invalidated two years worth of work. Other people eventually took all the credit.

    Trust me, that sort of thing has nothing to do with sexism. Or maybe sexism exacerbates the problem, but idea-stealing egotists know no gender boundaries.

    When I worked at a certain rodent-infested movie studio I had the pleasure of working for a wannabe manager who was, by all definitions of the word, a conniving bitch. I also had the pleasure of working for a vp who was, by all definitions of the word, a thieving bastard. Both took joy in stomping on others, taking credit for the good that others did, passing along blame for her/his own idiotic decisions, and being all around jerks in general.

    Odd, how when the conniving manager did something stupid, I seem to recall wishing she could be more like some of her male counterparts, whereas after one particularly egregious bit of ratfinkery, I remember wishing the vp would take a lesson from the company’s most senior female directors.

    Bottom line: people are morons.

  96. Jim

    I think that one big thing keeping a lot of women and minorities out of science is simply the demanding path of the academician. As I was working on my astronomy doctorate, I became very aware of the fact that even after I worked 16 hours a day for my Ph.D., I was then going to have to live a semi-nomadic existence for the better part of 10 years, bouncing from post-doc to post-doc, until I got a tenure-track position. Mind you, that’s tenure-TRACK. It is very difficult to maintain friendships in the post-doc life. And how could I even think to ask a woman to share that life with me, even if I could find one who would? In short, if I wanted to become an astronomer, I would not be able to begin my life until my mid-30′s.

    I looked around at many of the Ph.D.’s in the Department, many of whom never married, or were divorced, or were on their second marriage, or who didn’t know their children well, and I did not want that life. I wanted to be a husband and a father, and I wanted it before my life was half over. That realization, more than anything else, caused me to leave hardcore science for education.

    I’m thinking that’s what drives many women (and minorities for that matter) out of science. For some reason, that almost monastic existence works for an inordinate number of Males of Northern European Descent (aka Geekus Caucasianicus). Not me, though.

    Institutionalized sexism is a very easy answer, but I think it’s just too easy. Until we make changes to that Long and Lonely Road that leads to a science career, I think were going to lose a lot of women and minorities.

    And that’s a dang shame.

    JIM

  97. I don’t know what else to say except thank you. So: Thank You.

  98. wench

    Chick in the Army in a tech job = the only chick for miles around some days. I worked with guys 24/7 for years on end. I spent all that time fighting their stereotypes that I’d be physically weaker or less willing to do the dirty work. They never questioned my brains though. Six years and every unit I got to, I had to prove myself all over again. Every damn time. I know I freaked some of them out by not being what they expected; it might have been easier on their nerves if I were a lesbian (because in an Army guy’s mind, lesbians are expected to be butch and can be mentally reclassified as guys; like freaks of nature.)

    I still get the defensive mental reflex twitch that wants to tell you how much weight I could lift and how fast I used to run the 2 mile.

    Today I work in an office packed full of women, all doing tech jobs. It’s lovely; I’ve never worked with so many technical women before. We make tons of jokes about stereotypes.

  99. kristy

    Most of Minnesota is embarassed by Michele Bachmann. Although, those who voted for her wouldn’t admit she’s a flake. Her opponent wasn’t much better, except that he wasn’t her.

    Woman like Ms. Bachmann give women, in general, a bad name.

    On the other hand……

    I work with a wonderful bunch of women in science: nurses and doctors. They are outstanding examples of working in science–many who balance home and work with grace and fluid dexterity.

  100. Mike C.

    ” “Not all cultures are equal. Not all values are equal.”

    This may shock people, but in this one small case I agree with this lunatic. She’s absolutely right. All cultures are not equal. A simple example: a large fraction of our own culture in the United States used to accept slavery. Moral equivalency be damned; slavery is wrong.

    While I would hesitate to accept anything as a moral absolute, there are some things that are clearly wrong. Murder. Slavery. Institutional torture. Genocide. Racism. Sexism.”

    Now, now, Phil – don’t go all conservative on us. Go to a drum circle or something and work it out. BTW, you do realise the last sentance of yours I qouted above is completely contradictory, yes ?

  101. Julienne

    As a woman in science I have come up against the ‘wall of men’ so many times my head has a dent in it. When I was a Senior in highschool I went to a college day and when I told the people at Stanford that I intended to be a Physics and Chemistry major – they laughed and said, “no, really, why don’t you be a science teacher.”

    When I was in my Ph.D. program, I realized where the major problem occurs is the difference when it comes to having a child. In my mid-twenties I was thinking of having children (as were my fellow male grad students). What I realized was that if I were to have children in my grad or post-grad years, I would have to work the 60+ hours a week in lab plus do my classes all while pregnant. Then I would have to return to work nearly immediately or lose time in my program. Meanwhile, the men in my program were having children without any issues because their wives were at home and in other jobs that gave them that freedom.

    I ended up leaving my program (for other reasons) and am now a science teacher. I love being a science teacher and couldn’t be happier when I’m encouraging my students to think and stretch. But I always wonder if things could/would be different if the grad school wasn’t so male biased.

  102. Sciencegoddess Says: “Candace Pert, the founder of opiate receptors in the brain (in the 70s) was also robbed. She even had to do the research on the sly because her PI thought it was a waste of time. When her PI found out about her finding, he took the credit and lobbied for the Nobel Prize for himself.”

    The exact scenario that Carl Sagan put into “Contact.”

    - Jack

  103. I’m sure many male sexist pigs would be surprised to learn that Britney Spears has devoted much of her spare time to the study of laser physics.

  104. JenniferRuth

    @kebsis

    “What he said was interesting. He said that when he interviews a male, it’s considered a good thing if the applicant has a family, the idea being that a guy with a wife and kids will take the job more seriously than a bachelor and work harder to keep the job. Whereas with women, having a family is considered a bad quality because while it can be a motivator in the same way as it is with men, it serves as too much of a distraction for them that the company doesn’t want to deal with.”

    That is really interesting. It pretty much makes clear the bias that we all face due to our genders. It is also pretty unfair to men, since they are expected to take literally no time at all from work when they have children. Paternity leave is a stupidly short amount of time.

    @The Mad LOLScientist, FCD Says:

    I live in the UK – as far as I know, it is not illegal to ask questions about an applicants family or future family plans. In fact, a couple of years ago on the tv show The Apprentice, a woman who got to the final 3 was asked exactly that question – how would she would cope with the job and family, and it was implied that she was a bad mother for wanting the job. She did not win.

  105. Nigel Depledge

    Jennifer Ruth said:

    I’m in my late 20’s – when I go to job interviews sometimes I get asked if I am married or looking to start a family. I bet they don’t ask this question to men.

    In the UK, it is actually illegal to ask this question in a job interview. Hey, looks like we got something right!

    A job interview should be about assessing a person’s ability to do the job and their probable fit with the company culture, not about their personal life.

  106. Nigel Depledge

    Hmmm. . . looks like I missed some relevant comments.

    Jennifer Ruth said:

    I live in the UK – as far as I know, it is not illegal to ask questions about an applicants family or future family plans. In fact, a couple of years ago on the tv show The Apprentice, a woman who got to the final 3 was asked exactly that question – how would she would cope with the job and family, and it was implied that she was a bad mother for wanting the job. She did not win.

    Well, that’s interesting. I never watched that programme (Alan Sugar’s people skills stink). AFAICT, it is illegal to ask an interview candidate if they plan to start a family in the near future, unless it is directly relevant to the job itself (e.g. working on an oil rig, or some such arrangement).

    If you get asked it again, I would suggest that (a) you don’t want to work for that company anyway; (b) try asking them to repeat the question, pointing out that it “sounded like” they were asking if you planned to start a family; or (c) respond by asking them what insight they hope to gain from the question.

  107. Daffy

    Off topic, but, JasonB, when you use Rush Limbaugh’s inane tactic of refusing to use the word “Democratic” when using the adjective form of “Democrat,” you make yourself look ignorant, no matter what your views on a subject.

  108. Jim

    “Meanwhile, the men in my program were having children without any issues because their wives were at home and in other jobs that gave them that freedom.”

    Well yeah, except for the fact that they were too busy working (and society pretty much demands that they be too busy working) to actually spend time with their kids. They very likely miss their kids’ first smiles, first steps, first words. But other than that, no issues whatsoever. Nope.

    Yeesh.

    The lousy job market kept my wife at home with our son for three years while I took class overloads. I envied her every day as I drove away from the house.

    JIM

  109. Sundance

    Jim:”Institutionalized sexism is a very easy answer, but I think it’s just too easy. Until we make changes to that Long and Lonely Road that leads to a science career, I think were going to lose a lot of women and minorities.”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, in more ways than one. I’m sure there are other factors involved, but simply the fact that the path to an academic career involves a period of semi-nomadic existence must discourage a lot of people, especially if they feel a biological clock ticking. Add to that the fact that postdocs are often treated as junior researchers, incapable of pursuing their own ideas, and forced to work on a faculty-member’s pet project until they achieve tenure themselves (at which point they can enforce their pet projects on the next generation of postdocs), and the academic career path doesn’t look so wonderful.

    I can’t help feeling that this deals a double-blow to the progress of science. Large numbers of innovative young people (including women and minorities) are discouraged from pursuing a research career, reducing the diversity of ideas being studied. And those young people who make it through the system often can’t do the work they want until they are in their mid-late 30s, and are no longer the young, innovative people science needs. It’s no surprise that Einstein did his most ground-breaking work while employed in a patent office rather than a university.

  110. darth_borehd

    There is a difference between being [i]right[/i] and being [i]equal[/i]. Some cultures treat woman horribly. But some other cultures might say American culture does the same thing, from their point of view. Like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Moral Relativism is dependent on your frame of reference.

  111. Darin

    9cube Says:
    [..]Sorry, girls, but if you want to go raise several (or even one) children, you probably won’t be able to have a high-powered career at the same time. The sociological research I have read supports this, although I’d be interested in research which does not. [..]

    I actually have a real world example that I’ll share in a moment, where evidently you can have your cake and eat it too.

    In general, I fully agree it should be the most qualified person for the job, and regretfully this is not always the case. I also concede that in the past (and currently in some professions) that it does tend to be male dominated and women often hit ‘glass ceilings’ in those vocations. Ironically, I recently read an article about a male nurse trying to succeed in a career that is made up predominantly of women – and what he describes is a bias and unfair treatment of him performing that same role as his female coworkers (by those coworkers or female management). An interesting dichotomy to think about.

    I’ve also noted a couple of other items that, as a male, now seem unfair to me as a gender. One example would be the large contracting firm that I work for participates in “International Women’s Day”. During this time any woman in the firm can take the entire day (paid no less) to attend various seminars and sessions on womens topics. And I am happy they are allowed to do that. I on the other hand would appreciate something similar that I could attend, and be paid to do it as well.

    The next example is an actual scenario that is occuring with a friend of mine in a large law firm in DC, and actually proves that in some vocations you evidently can have children and a high power job. In his firm a woman who has a child gets 4 months paid maternity leave. That’s right, 4 full months. And then the following months they can ramp back in at 50%, then 75%, prior to returning full time. His law firm does this because of retention – too many women were leaving the firm when having children. The main reason for doing so isn’t because of their unique or better qualifications, but because their clients want to be seen as doing business with a firm with a ‘good’ ethnic / gender balance.

    Honestly, for me it’s not about gender, it is about equality. And equal means equal in both directions for the defintion to truly apply (IMHO). To right a wrong, bettering the position of one gender should not penalize the other in the process (regardless of which it is)….

  112. Thanks for saying this, Phil! As an undergrad applying to PhD programs, I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m going to experience discrimination (I’m a Hispanic female). Fortunately, I think that there are a LOT of women in the biomedical sciences, so I might be safer than a woman going into, say, the physical sciences. But what do I know :-)

  113. Thank You! BTW: Are there ANY female-friendly constellation stories? The female figures in the greek constellations are currently depicted as vain, jealous, chained up, objects of rape, incest (Hindu skylore), or at fault for causing masculine characters to dissapoint the gods. BORING. I even search other and ancient cultures. Do you think that all skygazing cultures throughout history devalued/objectified women, or could it be that only misogynists have since interpreted/recorded the skylore?

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