Saturday, January 22, 2005

An Ample Dose of Cynicism

Are things really so much better today than they were 50-60-70 years ago? I'm really not sure.

A lot of people who were born around the same time as myself, the early 80s, and who were raised in similar middle to upper class environments, have been fortunate enough to lead fairly privileged lives. As such, this privilege, whether we are conscious of it or not, has shaped how we interpret the world around us. Because some of us grew up in quite egalitarian communities, a lot of us seem to think that things are generally like this all over. It's ignorance, but it is not a malicious form of ignorance. I think it speaks to the benefits that we have been lucky enough to experience in our lives. Unfortunately, it limits us from really appreciating the reality of our culture, and consequently limits us in working towards making any changes.

Yes, there are many many instances of improvement. I cannot and will not deny this. The simple fact that I am attending a University, about to graduate and continue on to a PhD, speaks loudly and clearly for itself. However, I cannot and will not deny the fact that there are many many instances that desperately still need improvement. I experience this on a daily basis, most often in simple discussions between individuals. There is still so much ignorance, and deeply ingrained beliefs, that still persist from 50-60-70 years ago.

The reason for this rant: Dr. Summers, the President of Harvard University, recently provided a shining example of what I'm talking about.

At the Jan. 14 conference, at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit economic research organization in Cambridge, Dr. Summers angered several of the women present, one of whom walked out, by suggesting that innate gender differences may explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers." (Source)

"Dr Summers had told the private conference on the position of women and minorities in science and engineering that women's reluctance to work long hours because of child-care responsibilities was behind them not performing as well in the sciences. He also said boys outperform girls on high school science and maths scores because of genetic difference. As an example, he told the conference about giving his daughter two trucks. She treated them like dolls, and named them mummy and daddy trucks, he said." (Source)

The fucking President of Harvard University. Arguing for genetic based inferiority of women in science. Priceless. Of course he's recanting like a son of a bitch, but that means nothing: he said what he said because he believed it.

Have things changed? Yes. Have they changed significantly? No, I don't think so. It wears me down, it makes me sick, and it's so hard to fight against when it's so deeply ingrained the minds of so many people. Even women themselves: the ones who know nothing about feminism, but are so afraid of what they think they know about it. "I'm not a feminist, but...". It's so frustrating.

Some days I feel like there's a chance for things to change. Then something like this happens, and I realize how pointless it is to hope. I think I need another Cosmo:

Listening to: Shit on the Radio - Nelly Furtado


At 3:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um ... sometimes I think we get really sensative about things before thinking them through. The quote posted makes 2 statements:
1 - woman are reluctant to work long hours because of childrearing (not offensive and true)
2 - boys score higher than girls on some tests in high school and their genetics are different (not offensive and true)

I can rant for hours about how women have, through evolution, developed better social, nurturing and multitasking skills. A man might be offended but he shouldn't. It's true. We're all different. Genetically, we're predisposed to certain strengths and weaknesses. There are exceptions. And all of that is great.

I am comfortable with the reality that I am not perfect at everything. I am also comfortable with the fact that most men can do some things better than I can. What, really, is so offensive about that?


At 4:46 PM , Blogger Joanna said...

Thank you for the comment, nothing you said is rude or offensive. However, a lot of what you did say was based on generalizations.

1. Which women are reluctant to work long hours? I personally know many women who this does not apply to. Where did you get this information?

2. Boys in general score higher on some tests? Which ones? Where did you get this information? Genetically, we are different, but I think test scores and genetics have very very loose correlations - if any at all. I see that you don't think that, and that's one of the frustrating points that I was trying to elucidate.

I'd like to see where you get the information to believe women have evolved such skills. Is this speculation? There is very little research that can establish any kind of meaningful relationships to those variables. I think this is largely what we are socialized to believe in order to maintain the hegemonic conceptions of what it means to be male or female.

I think difference is very important to understand - but the causes and consequences of those differences are very much misunderstood, not understood at all, or largely due to similar speculations that you yourself have presented in your comment.

I do not think being uncomfortable about not being able to do things better than all people is at all the issue. The issues are some of what I have outlined above: generalizations, ignorance, and speculation not based on reality. Stating the genetic differences are explanatory of women's natural inferiority in scientific endeavors is quite offensive and archaic.

At 5:09 PM , Blogger Bowman said...

Look, the dude said women overall are weaker in sciences and math. He didn't say ALL of them were. And this is true, test scores say as much. At least those in America do, I don't know about Canada. I doubt they are much different.

What the man forgot to say, and he should have done so to somewhat cover his ass, is women score better in the humanities than men.

Males and females are different, which I'm sure you'd agree with. It should be no surprise that we have different intellectual strengths and weaknesses as well.

All one has to do is look at engineering schools to look for evidence. Why is it that most of them have at least 70% male student bodys?

At 7:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All one has to do is look at engineering schools to look for evidence. Why is it that most of them have at least 70% male student bodys?"

You can't just look it like that. If more males are enrolled in engineering, so what? That doesn't necessarily mean that males are suddenly genetically smarter in that subject. Looking at the social context of education and gender is important. Are females from young ages encouraged to excel in the subjects like math and science that are commonly viewed as more "brainy"? This may be a contributing factor. The deep-rooted female oppression in society limits females on a number of levels, which makes them feel their potential to succeed in certain areas is not likely. Try reading up on articles featuring girls feeling ashamed for doing well in school.

At 1:43 AM , Blogger Richard said...

There are innate physical differences between males and female of most species, right?

There are obvious physical differences between men and women, right? For example, in general, men have more body hair, are larger, taller, deeper voiced, and all that other physical stuff that you can't blame society for (perhaps you can blame slective breeding over the last X generations, but boys are taller than girls for genetic reasons).

I believe there are even mental differences between male and female mammals. *NOT BASED ON ANY SORT OF SCIENCE* For example, male cats have a larger territory, roam around more, and get in more fights than female cats do. I'd say cat society didn't teach em that.

Male cats also refuse to ask for directions, and female cats won't tell you why they are mad with you if you can't figure it out yourself ;)

But seriously.

Men and women are not the same. We're all equally valuable as human beings, heck women are probably more useful and nicer, and the world would be a better place if they were in charge. But we aren't the same.

I'm fairly sure I even saw studies that said babies have different abilities (spatial vs patterns or something) based on gender. There's a limit to how much society can affect a 12 month old (or younger, or older, this is based on memory but I do remember reading a study along those lines).

I'm not saying this guy was right. In fact, I think he was wrong.

It's kind of scary to see how quickly he recanted though. My pick on this is that he thought he had evidence but has been scared away from explaining himself by the lynch mob.

People like you are killing free speech Jo :P

Yes, he is probably, even hopefully, wrong. BUT, we can't just form a posse and try to lynch anyone who says anything stupid, or ill-advised, or that just offends people.

I've argued in favour of Holocaust deniers being allowed to speak, so I'm going to argue in favour of the President of Harvard being allowed to speak as well.

Without the right to freedom of speech, society would be a much worse place.

Well, that was an off topic and inflmatory rant, sorry bout that Jo.

By the way - links to sites that you have to register for to read the stories bug the crap out of me (and other web users too) - not your fault, it's that damn Murdoch-Packer-Turner triumvirate. But anyway. I hope you're still speaking to me after this latest outburst of idiocy.


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