Leave it to Penelope Trunk to write an article bound to stimulate heated discussion. Today’s article in BNET was titled: Mad About the Gender Gap? Blame Nature. In it, she basically argues that women are genetically predisposed to perform less well in math than men.
I found it interesting to read the references she used as the basis of her argument. Most of them did NOT support what she was saying. For example, she cites a research study on hiring and promotion of academics in the physical science that found no overt discrimination. But the study goes on to say that “Ceci and Williams conclude that female researchers lag behind their male counterparts in professional advancement because of a broader set of societal realities. Much of the problem, they say, can be boiled down to external factors related to family formation and child rearing.” In other words- it’s the sociological/cultural factors that are the issue, not biology.
The brain is a powerful instrument, shaping our behavior in many unconscious ways. Cordelia Fine’s DELUSIONS OF GENDER, cites study after study where performance differences between boys and girls/men and women can be significantly affected with minor tweaks in preconditioning. For example, have college students read an article about gender differences in math that favors males, give a math test and- tada! the males do better. Do the same thing but have the article describe women as being better at math- and the women do better. It doesn’t take much to impact the unconscious. And the assumed/perceived differences between the genders are strongly ingrained in all of us, constantly reinforced in a myriad ways. It’s simplistic to ignore that reality.
Are there any differences between male and female brains? Yes. Male superiority in math is not one of them.
Francine, Thanks for response to Penelope Trunk’s blog. I too felt uncomfortable with her assertions. I was one who majored in Physics and Math and while I did not choose that as a career path, I would like to think that I would have been successful at it-tho I humbly acknowledge – I’m no Einstein. As an aside, there are some who think that Einstein’s first wife was a better mathmatician.
Even if you accept the idea that as a population males have a biological edge, I fear that this kind of argument would discourage women who are wired for math and hard science to pursue those careers and to strive for intellectual leadership.
One must accept that there is a wide diversity of skills and aptitudes in both genders – one could argue that men cannot be great poets and writers because they lack white matter.
Thanks for your comment!
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