Friday, August 27, 2010
Yes, we can. But do we have to?
Yesterday, LabMom discussed the problems with science and gender at a very young age when trying to enroll her daughter in science camp
. Seeing as I have no children myself (nor will I anytime soon), I tend to steer clear of discussions relating to children and parenting. However, something else LabMom mentioned caught my eye.
“It is no secret that boys tend to lean towards subjects in the physical sciences, while girls tend to have more interest in the biological sciences, but I had just assumed there were be a few other girls at dinosaur camp.”
I feel like this is a topic that is coming up more and more frequently. While I used to just read about the problem with getting girls interested in science, more and more I see individuals phrasing it as a necessity to get females more interested in the physical sciences. (Note: I’m not trying to say that LabMom is doing this, but rather her post and subsequent comments made me realize how this is becoming a more common topic.)
But I have to confess… I don’t understand why this is a BAD thing. I’m not talking about situations where women are not exposed to science at the same level as men, but rather if the exposure if equal, why does it matter if women just tend to be more inclined towards and interested in the biological side of things?
In my high school, we had to take the honors level of each science before advancing to the A.P. course. While this made it far more complicated to take multiple A.P. science classes because of scheduling, it also meant that those who were intelligent but with no interest in science could stop at the honors levels of biology, chemistry, and physics, and did not have to advance further. As a result, those taking the A.P. level courses were the ones truly interested in science. My biology and physics classes were pretty evenly split between male and female, and my chemistry class was quite a bit heavier on the female side. Everyone in these classes truly wanted to be there, and since we all took it out of interest, there was never a situation in which males dominated and females sat back on their hands instead of speaking up in class.
So what happened further on down the road? Well, for the most part, the females went into the biologically related fields (medical school, veterinary school, etc.) while the males went into physics and engineering. We all took the same courses, had the same experiences, and came from a similar upper middle class background with parents who supported us all in studying exactly what we wanted to study, regardless of typical gender roles. Yes, of course, childhood experiences may have shaped this, but with equal secondary educational opportunities, everyone went on to pursue the field that interested them the most
, even if it did hold true to gender bias. Isn't this what we want -- everyone studying what interests them the most?
I’m sure I have a slightly different perspective from others because I was very strongly shoved into research. I suspect, had teachers and professors not latched onto me so strongly (a female! interested in science! good at the bench!) and yanked me in my current direction, I would be doing something much, much different today. It’s not that I regret where I am, but I do regret that I didn’t get here of my own choosing. I may very well have opted to do the same thing on my own, but I don’t know for sure what I would be doing today if the only person involved in deciding my future career was me
So why do we spend so much time trying to drag females into science, and more specifically, into a field of science they just may not enjoy? If a grade school boy doesn’t like math and thinks it’s hard, it’s not a problem. He just doesn’t like it, and that’s fine. But if a grade school girl doesn’t like math because she thinks it’s hard, an intervention is necessary to teach girls that they! can! succeed! at! math! Just because a female CAN do something doesn’t mean she should be forced to do so.
This isn’t meant to be a discussion about parental influence from a young age and whether children should go to dinosaur camp or not, but rather a question of why further down the road, when interests are developed, we still feel the need to push women towards the sciences. Even if their experiences as a child were responsible for shaping their less-than-favorable view toward science, it’s still important to remember that not everyone likes everything or wants to do everything as a career, and that is okay! If students take the same advanced science courses and we still wind up with more women in biology and more men in physics… that’s okay too, as long as everyone is studying something about which they feel passionate. I fail to see why we have to “remedy” this and chance down more women for the physical sciences. If not left to make their own decisions, I fear that we will have a generation of female scientists who may very well regret it.