Women, Maths and Careers – an Unholy Trinity?

It is perhaps not strange that gender theory and feminism never really made it big in countries like Somalia and Colombia, where laws, norms and culture unequivocally suggests harsh control of women’s behavior and exertion of power. But to witness a conservatively driven anti-feminist movement in places like Sweden, Denmark and USA, where political changes in the law as well as in social norms have clearly made it easier to express oneself regardless of sexuality, puzzles me.

To be critical of the different ways in which government money is spent is both healthy and democratically necessary; To be critical of research findings, for example within Gender Studies, is equally important and healthy. But to condemn the very existence of it to the same hell as phrenology and other atrocities is just mind-boggling. Have we really achieved a perfect, power-balanced, sexually free, non-racist, non-discriminatory society today?? No, we have not, and the dissent spilling out from blogs and conservative philosophers and op-ed writers is of course deeply rooted in ideology – not a rational consideration of gender studies and science.

One topic that always stirs up freakish debate is women, gender and mathematics. A basic look at the number of professor of mathematics show that around 10 % of professor posts in the US are occupied by women, a staggering number for anyone wishing to propose the relative cognitive similarities between men and women. Psychologist Stephen Ceci writes at Psychology Today about his new book “The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls” about some basic findings of the great gender gap in maths. What they find is that ” The imbalance in math-intensive careers can not be accounted for by sex differences in mathematical and spatial ability that have been reported between male and females (to the extent that this is a factor, it is a minor one), nor can they be attributed to current biases, though past cohort discrepancies may be explained in such terms, because women are hired for tenure-track positions at rates roughly comparable to their proportions in the scientific Ph.D. pools–and often at rates slightly above their proportions.”

His explanation is far more complex further on: by looking at how society expects women to make a unproportonatly large sacrifice for family and children during their thirties right after the completion of the PhD. The presupposition that women always must take a unproportnatly large responsibility of children permeates society in general, and is to no help for women but of course gives licence to men not to be forced into such sacrifice and thus keeping their carriers flawless at the expense of their wifes and girlfriends.

When Steve Pinker and Elisabeth Spelke went at each other by means of evolutionary psychology and sociology, they were arguing from two different standpoints and research outlooks: The study of men’s and women’s relationships and individual choices is far more complex than just reducing their performance to either social skills or innate faculties. Once more the million-dollar question to be asking ourselves is: who is gaining from either side? I myself would like to see justice and freedom of choice for women, children and men, but in order to get there we must keep refining our analyses and meta-analyses of research concerning all aspects of life. Feminist analysis of things cannot stop at some time, just because a few of us find the struggle meaningless. It is a perpetual analysis required at all times to make sure we do not fall into any structural or neurological fallacies.

For more on this enjoy some research of the male and female brain.

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