Saturday, February 19, 2005

Miz Mellie, Please Pass Them Smellin' Salts, Aunt Pitty Pat is Havin' One of Her Fits

First of all, I'd like to present the first Aunt Pitty Pat Award to the unknown female professor who, upon hearing Harvard President Larry Summers' remarks, was quoted as saying, "if I'd stayed I would have blacked out or thrown up."

This ridiculous woman has probably set back the feminist cause more than Larry Summers' remarks ever could have. Anti feminists are rightly having a field day with her vapors. If she had to lose her cool, couldn't she just have said that she would've given him a right hook to the jaw instead? No, because then she wouldn't have been a professional victim. She would actually have been a ballsy woman and a good role model for some little girl. Who knows, maybe one of those little girls would even have gotten interested in her field of science.

For those who don't yet know, Summers has stirred up a storm of controversy once again at Harvard because of remarks that he made concerning the dearth of women in the hard sciences and mathematics.

In a Washington Post article, Sally Quinn questions the actual importance it makes to women if they in fact really don't have an innate aptitude for the hard sciences and math.

The truth is we don't know for sure what is hardwired into each sex. We have some theories and Summers was, in his own words, being deliberately provocative by throwing out some unpopular theories as to why women don't go into this field. He was trying to stir a discussion and challenge scientists to explore this troubling situation.

I am not so naive that I don't recognize that when women don't enter the sciences they are turning their backs on positions that have power, influence, and that often pay well. However, aren't there other professions that also have those advantages where women are having not just great success, but are also highly visible?

What if women really don't have an aptitude or interest in engineering, hard sciences and abstract higher math? Does that actually negate the accomplishments they've had in the fields of law, medicine, research, literature, journalism, the military, and business? Women have achieved stellar results in a diversity of fields. Why is one particular aptitude, one special type of ability and intelligence more important than all these others?

To say this is not to promote stereotypes. If one were to relegate women to just the fields of the arts, teaching, writing and the soft sciences, yes that would be prejudice. But women have visibly made their marks in many non traditional fields.

Here's the thing. Nowadays, women have successfully challenged all the conventional wisdom about where they do or do not belong. Women are serving in the military and have forced their way, often with legal challenges, into the nation's top military academies. They've proved that they are tough enough and can compete with men in areas that are not traditional for them. I think that if a woman is interested in engineering and hard science, then she would have no qualms about pursuing it and kicking open any doors that stood in her way. And that's the way it should be. But, if women are not signing up for these classes and not applying for the jobs, maybe it's because they're not interested in the field

Whenever a woman who qualifies is turned down or turned away because of her gender, I'll be there fighting for her rights. But when people get mad at somebody for making the mere suggestion that maybe women aren't in a field simply because they're not interested, I'll also be there to defend that person's right to raise that question.

And by the way, when somebody finishes reviving that unnamed and distraught professor, perhaps she can take a big breath and, if she's actually a scientist, perhaps she'll design an experiment that proves President Summers wrong, or at least publishes a reasonable and well researched article that does so. That would be the best feminist response. Because, we're really not that emotional. We're capable of logic and rational argumentation. But we just might not want to build a bridge.

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