Why are men keeping women out of science?
October 3, 2013
Now, this isn’t a criticism of Eileen Pollack’s considered article
of why there are still so few women in science, recently published
in the New York Times.
It is a criticism, however, of how this issue and the similar one
of the gender gap in computer science/FOSS/etc is usually framed.
I’ve been staring at that title “Why are there still so few women
in science?”. And you read through the article and you see a great
deal of both qualitative and anecdotal evidence discussing how
women perceive science, how they feel about participation, and a
lot of other necessary descriptions of their subjective
But as you read on, Pollack never quite makes the leap to the
institutional (although, there are hints). In part, this is a
result of the framing: why so few women in science?
It gives you the subtle signal that what needs to be corrected is
how women perceive science. Or that they need to be encouraged to
do science. But the evidence within the article clearly shows that
women, unsurprisingly, are curious, engaged, and in actual fact
The that needs solving isn’t why there are so few women, but why
men are systematically doing the most to keep them out. It isn’t
that “women [are] still giving up” but that they are being pushed
out. This framing tends to suggest that women, somehow, just
aren’t ‘strong’ enough to push through the adversity of facing
sytemic efforts to shut them out, something unfortunately
expressed in the conclusion of the article:
Four young women – one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia – explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.
“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
While the last paragraph gives us some hope, discussing how all of
this is a matter of culture, rather than ability, it still misses
the point. Because, who enforces this culture? Who is benefitting
from it? Is culture something that just happens and humans passive
recipients of it?
You can’t change ‘culture’ without addressing the people who
create and substantiate it. And you can’t address cultural
problems without examining the complex series and sites of power
and privilege of the people within a culture.