Thursday, August 30, 2007

Myths About Girls, Math and Science

Live Science has this article "5 Myths About Girls, Math and Science" regarding persistent stereotypes of girls learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects (Are you listening parents with girls?). Of particular interest is Myth 5 "At the college level, changing the [Science] curriculum runs the risk of watering down important "sink or swim" coursework".

In my experience, (having taken extensive courses in an all female Physics Department at my Alma Mater and also at the predominately male Physics Department at their nearby, co-ed "Brother" College) predominately male programs place an emphasis on an aggressive weeding out of perceived "weaker" students while the female programs placed an emphasis on group coursework and team projects. The males often perceived this as a "watering down" of the material and complained the female-dominated seminars were easier. However, the Princeton Review of both Departments (which occurred during my Senior year) concluded that the males and females from both departments scored similarly on the same achievement tests.


  1. You do see the irony of this post, right? The whole thing is based on anecdotal evidence. Basically the entirety of your single source and the post itself could be summed up as, "some people say...". Then there is the irony of the pin-up girl next to the post. We've had this discussion before and what I would like to see is some good scientific evidence to back up your claims.

    I might be a little pissy tonight.

  2. The "In my experience" part of the post is anecdotal. The article the post refers to is based on the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research on Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE). I am not sure how their studies do not qualify as good scientific evidence. Perhaps you could elaborate.

    The opinion I posed in the "In my experience" part of the post is not only my own. When I say that the Princeton Review evaluated our Physics courses during my senior year, it was part of their nationwide review of Physics Departments throughout the country. They interviewed all the majors and faculty in both Departments: they sat in on our classes, they gave us questionnaires, they scrutinized tests and test scores and reviewed "after graduation" statistics for the Departments (how many majors go on to get Masters and PhDs and so forth). When I mentioned our male counterparts at our brother school thought our courses were watered down because they focused on teamwork, I am citing parts of their review where they quoted males that took courses at the all female department, while attending the primarily male department. The Review made note that though the teaching methods at either school were quite different, the results in knowledge retention and test taking were comparative. Perhaps not a scientific study, but I thought the opinion of a well-respected source was relevant.

    Lastly, I am not sure how sexuality (regarding the Pin-Up of the Month) has anything to do with the inequality of women in the sciences. I might need clarification. Are you suggesting that a highly sexualized woman does not deserve equal treatment in the Sciences? Are you suggesting that expressions of "lipstick" femininity belittles a post about the Sciences?

  3. Touche.

    I knew you were up to the task. But, no, you're mostly misinterpreting my response...mostly because I didn't elaborate, which I will do after I thoroughly reread your comment.

  4. Sensuality and intellectual aptitude are not mutually exclusive. As a society, we acknowledge that there are boundaries of public behavior, often delineated by society and applicable to the roles that women and men play in the workplace and elsewhere. However, these expectations of what is acceptable in terms of conduct do not preclude the layers of personality that allow for sensuality to exist side-by-side, over, and around intelligence or capability. There is power in being completely at home in one's body, trusting and living through the senses, and that is a threatening concept for most people, primarily because we have divorced it from our own strengths as human beings. The comment about the pinup resting next to a discussion of the advantages of a supportive environment in a science classroom is reflective of this concern with women, achievement, and the blatant regard of their sensuality.

    What would be an interesting further discussion is the differences between sensuality and sexuality, and how they intersect with gender roles.

  5. ok, your comment settings suck, sorry if this is a duplicate.

    aw, shit, I'm 'bout to get my ass kicked... but I'm game.

    My pointing out of the irony of the pinup next to the post has nothing to do with the advantages of a supportive environment. It has to do with acknowledging that the pinup is NOT about sensuality or being "completely at home in one's body", it is about sex AND the portrayal of women as not being smart enough to be anything but sex objects OR smart enough to use sex to not have to be smart (that is one long runon sentence). So, the irony is, bemoaning the fact that girls are discouraged from pursuing science and that when they do pursue science-centric studies they are not receiving as vigorous training as men (granted, as perceived by men) while at the same time embracing, or, at least, showcasing a view of women that reinforces the traditional stereotype.

    So. Before I address the next part I feel like I need to say something. I don't want to believe that these things are true. I want to believe that girls receive the same encouragement and assistance that boys receive in science. I want to believe that women in college get the same instruction as men. So, when I hear that this is not the case I push back, I demand proof, I insist on perfect arguments. Which could very easily be construed as something else. It's not that I believe it is valid that girls are not good at science it is that I find it so hard to believe that other people still believe it.

    On to the evidence issue. My entire point about it boils down to 4 words: show me the money. Your source does not point to the NSF study, I have no way of knowing that anything said in the article is true. And you discuss the Princeton Review study but, again, there is no link to verify the veracity of what you say. At this point it is all innuendo and hearsay. Which seems kind of ironic to me when discussing science education since one of the pillars of the scientific method is providing corraborating data. Maybe it's true that you didn't get a very good science education (I jest, I jest, I get it, it's a blog post, not doctoral dissertation, like I said I was pissy last night).

  6. The article in LiveScience is, of course, distilled for the lay person. You may find the press release from the National Science Foundation and their citations from the journal articles here:

  7. The interpretation of the pinup as depicting "sex AND the portrayal of women as not being smart enough to be anything but sex objects" is a perfectly subjective view of the subject matter and its wider implications. Candybuffet is allowed to take what is traditionally considered a vehicle for oppressing women and reclaim it as an expression of sensuality that the individual chooses to portray, notwithstanding the original purpose of the artwork. It is also a testament to the power of sensuality and the joy that is experienced from embracing that sensuality. The fact that women have been the standard-bearers for this type of sexual display for centuries should only reinforce the reinterpretation as necessary. Perhaps an explanatory note under the photos would be helpful in this regard.

  8. I appreciate the distinction about the Pin-up of the Month. The comment has a second prong that I think you are missing. Women are traditionally portrayed as either being not smart enough to be anything but sex objects or not being smart enough to be anything but a sacred mother (The virgin and the whore).

    The idea that a woman's sexuality has anything to do with any part of her personality other than her sexuality is absurd. It is a non-issue for heterosexual white males and should be for everyone else. In that regard, the Pin-ups stay in their position of honor, regardless of the subject of the posts.

    Oh, yes, and the comment setting of blogger do suck.