Wednesday 26th September 2012

by sophie

Forgive me for the brevity, typos, and lack of filter: my brain has been wrapped around and fully defeated by Online Mistake-Bound Learning Models and log base 2′s and omega bounds and other uncomprehensible things in the last 48 hours.

Anyway, here’s a nifty little article in the NYtimes reporting a study about how not only were men likely to judge female students as less competent in the scientists, but female professors as well.

Does this really come as any surprise? Pretty sure that if 50% of the world tells you that you are scientifically less suited to a certain way of thinking, which is, by the way, entirely false, it doesn’t take long for the other 50% to view these stereotypes as true. Too sleepy right now to expand on that but my mentor this summer aka Mathbabe wrote a wonderful and far more thought-out piece about the stereotype of women in math. Combine that with traditional concepts of femninity (“pushiness” is a turn-off, confidence is aggressive, to be scientific is to be cold) and you have a pretty surefire way to undermine confidence and perpetuate negative thinking.

Finally, two small anecdotes before I nap:

First, I was in a computer science program this summer with a male:female ratio of students of about 10:1 onsite, and I can tell you firsthand it is very hard to compete with the self-confidence of a 20-something white male, and ergo, very easy to be overcome by self-doubt, especially if you are timid. The entrepreneur is an especially cocky breed. Sorry, that was rude, I hope no one takes offense, and I do love you all. And I apologize for neither my apology nor my statement.

Second anecdote: I was in a study group last night with three other very intelligent, outgoing girls for aforementioned problem set, and somewhere around 2 am and the 10th proof in, the topic came to topic of female attractiveness w.r.t. men (because yes I am a normal college-age girl and not a robot). Anyway, it came as a suprise to me (or maybe not really a suprise) that it was heavily insisted upon that appearing “vunerable” was attractive. While I would probably agree that this is true, it made me slightly sad. Vunerability is of course what makes us human and lovable, but the idea that you might want to appear slightly weaker than you are in order to catch someone’s eye or heart could be potentially dangerous. Deception, of course, is not admirable; yet trying to actually be weaker is more than frightening.

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3 Responses to “In Other News Science Continues to be Sexist, No One is Shocked”

  1. Randall Hunt says:

    Hi Sophie,
    Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the program? How would you have preferred the male students to act? How would you have preferred the female students to act? Essentially, what can we do better?
    (feel free to answer off-line and I promise your comments will be confidential)

    A personal thought on your second anecdote:
    I think your group was working off an assumption since there were no men in the group you mentioned… Why do they think being vulnerable is attractive? As a male in the field “vulnerable” women (admittedly more so than men) make me feel like I have to carry them as well as myself… I would prefer someone who could take care of herself. Maybe that’s just me personally but I’m honestly not particularly attracted to vulnerable women.

    A personal prejudice I’ve just stumbled on:
    I do find that I’m unconsciously more willing to let a guy fail at a task (in CS or whatever) but feel more inclined to help a woman in the field. I guess I’m afraid if they fail they’ll want to leave? As a TA I definitely gave women more encouragement e.g. “-1 incorrect, but good thought process” but with guys I would just write “-1″.

  2. Ethan T says:

    Male engineering grad here…

    There are timid guys in those same classes, but I wonder if there’s a difference in how timid guys and timid girls react to the presence of an cocky “alpha male” type. My perception is that girls in engineering classes are typically subjected to greater scrutiny by their peers, which may lead them to become a more extreme version of their natural personality: timid girls become meek and helpless, while outgoing girls become loud and “alpha female”-like. I’m not saying that every engineering girl is one of these two extremes … just that it seems like the pressure of peer scrutiny can lead anyone to stop acting like themselves. Guys (in engineering) have the benefit of living outside the limelight if they want; it’s really tough for girls to have that same privilege.

    Hopefully none of that came across as sexist; I’m just trying to be open about my perceptions, prejudicial as they may be.

    • sbchou says:

      Hi Ethan,
      I appreciate your insight. I agree: I’ve seen the same thing happen, even to myself, and I believe the reason lies in the problem of being under scrutiny that you’ve pointed out. Women in CS are rare and often cause confusion– peers have a hard time categorizing us. As a defense mechanism, it is easy to become extreme versions of ourselves in order to make it more simple. This is, of course, unhealthy, and problematic.