Science Ate My Brain, But I Have a Theory About That

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Trolling the Twitter feed this morning I found this tweeted by

Q from audience. What can we do to encourage girls to pursue science careers? A: Change their perception of science

Uh, no, how about making science more interesting? I don’t buy into the argument that girls are “kept out” of science because they don’t see other girls interested in careers in science. I think, and everyone get their umbrage spatter glasses on, that some girls just find science boring as hell. I did and so did a lot of my friends, including guys. Oh not all science was boring. I found physical geography, earth science, and meteorology interesting, food science was fun and you got to eat the results, but anything that I had to learn statistics or geometry or physics for on a higher level than measuring cups? Forget it. My brain didn’t work that way. I’m an English major. I deal in story theory, literary tropes, and composition, not in facts. In fact, much like some of Alice’s friends in Wonderland, I can’t hold more than a few mathematical or scientific facts in my brain at one time. There’s just more interesting things out there. I found Algebra interesting in college but failed it in High School (ahem, this might have something to do with my other interests in high school… er.. boys). Algebra was interesting until we got into logarithms or matrices. Bleck. Math theory? BORING! English theory?? Hooray!!

No, I don’t believe girls are kept back from science. Girls keep themselves from science because some of us just aren’t interested. I also think we think differently because, and here’s a concept, we are different.  No one will ever convince me that the female brain is the same as the male brain because, and I am officially giving up my feminist “license” on this one, of one difference; hormones. Hormones are why there are effeminate men and masculine women. Testosterone and estrogen and the amounts that each of us are born with pretty much determine how we present ourselves in society and much of our likes and dislikes. I don’t know why this is so, but it is and I’ve lived long enough to observe some facts about that myself. Does that mean that women cannot do science? Lord, no! It means that some of us are so wired that science as a career sounds as boring as being an accountant (believe it or not I started to be an accounting major, but found it… surprise…very boring). I couldn’t imagine doing science or accounting for a living. So, no, I don’t think we can push the sexes to be other than they are, interested in their own areas of knowledge and expertise. Some things you just can’t even out or socially engineer because you wish it so.


9 thoughts on “Science Ate My Brain, But I Have a Theory About That

  1. Thank you for this. It’s refreshing to be able to admit that we may simply not be interested in something, for whatever reason.

    It’s still worth trying to enable people to make free decisions though. Peer pressure is a frequent derailer of interest in something unfashionable. I know people of both sexes who gave up on real talents because their friends thought they were “weird”. Yes, I know that thinking of someone else’s choice as a “waste of potential” is a judgmental position, but I would hope that young people had access to the kind of guidance which would point out to them the difference between educational choices which might be irrevocable, and social choices which might not seem as crucial to life tomorrow as they do today.

    So I agree with you that there may well be hormonal reasons why women and men, as a generalisation, display different kinds of creativity E.G. there are more male jazz musicians than female, and I don’t know why. However, predisposed or not, not being interested can’t be divorced from the kind of teaching we get, which is the “guidance” I was hoping for. There have been teachers in my life who’ve kindled enthusiasm in me for subjects I previously thought arid and boring. I think the preeminent female mathematicians and scientists, and the “natural#” female jazz musicians I’ve met, all had strong and motivating role models. So I’m just bolting that on to what you say as a consideration.

    • Oh, I believe role models and good teachers do play a part. What I usually deride is the social engineering going on that says we “should have” equal parts girls as boys in any field. It’s just not going to happen no matter how much incentive is offered, especially if the interest factor isn’t there. It’s not that I think girls don’t have the opportunities, they do. It’s that they just aren’t interested. Just as there are more female nurses than male, or more male soldiers than female soldiers. I don’t think we can create a completely “equal” society unless women also get paid in equal measures. This is why men won’t teach the lower grades in school, because it doesn’t pay squat. I think some jobs need to up their pay ante if they hope to attract men and women regardless.

  2. Obviously people shouldn’t be forced into being science majors if it’s just not what they’re into, male or female. There are plenty of guys who just don’t dig science.

    However, it’s worth noting that what people are interested in is sometimes socially constructed. Experiments have shown that the number of girls willingly choosing to study math and science is MUCH HIGHER in environments where it’s presented as a good thing for girls to do than in ones where it’s seen as “unfeminine”. (For the same reason, you sometimes find all-female high schools turning out a much higher proportion of math/science girls than co-ed ones filled with boys teasing girls about not behaving properly.)

    Once someone’s tastes get set they tend to stay that way – there’s no point in badgering someone who’s already made up her mind. But people generally have a strong desire to be normal and acceptable. Many guys are afraid to like things they think are seen as unmasculine, and many girls are afraid to like things they think are seen as unfeminine. Opportunity alone doesn’t change that.

    Trying to force things to be perfectly equal is silly, of course, people are different. But not always as different as we make ourselves out to be.

    • All of which is true. Perhaps the answer lies in making schools single sex educative environments. That would go a long way toward evening out the playing field.

    • It’s hard enough to disentangle our own motivations, let alone those of others. The kind of cultural pressures reported by the 3 women bringing the latest Class Action against a Wall Street bank go much further back than the work place. For instance, might a girl highly interested in boys be even more dissuaded from the attractions of science by the thought that those boys might be less attracted to a girl interested in science? MOI’s idea about the possible greater educational efficacy of a single sex environment might leave people to make freer choices without hormonally driven discouragements distorting their own preferences.

      Incidentally, since girls generally do better in educational attainment – at least they do here in the UK, advocates of co-education say that the presence of girls should raise the general standard by making boys less willing to be outshone. It would seem that doesn’t work so well in practice.

      As far as equality is concerned, there is often confusion between equality in the sense of one group not being treated prejudicially compared to another, and equality in the sense of being identical to others. This confusion can force people to attempt roles for which they are not best suited, simply to prove that they can do it. Speaking as someone who embarked on social work training to prove that I, and blind people in general, could be social workers, I can say that challenge as the motivator soon lost its appeal. Being a musician/entertainer turned out to be, if rather less ground breaking, much more congenial.

      So we need to be allowed to form our judgments as independently as possible. Having made those judgments, we need some framework as a basis for thinking our choices worth defending. It’s the no hopers in any peer group who are always trying to belittle the would-be high achievers for their own nihilistic reasons. But, as usual, I digress…

    • Many guys are afraid to like things they think are seen as unmasculine, and many girls are afraid to like things they think are seen as unfeminine. Opportunity alone doesn’t change that.

      It’s because there’s so much homophobia and fear of being undesirable to the opposite sex in our society. Which is why guys and girls always act stereotypically masculine and feminine to avoid stigma and rejection.

  3. Also I’d suggest that changing one’ s perception of something and “making it more interesting” is the same thing really. Nothing is ever interesting except that you think it is, based on your perception of the thing. Nothing is objectively “interesting” or “boring”. I hate it when people tell me they like “fun things” or want to know if you are “hot” etc. . what kind of moron assumes that everyone knows what they’d find “fun” or “hot” ? Same thing for science (or any other subject). Show people (girls or boys) that it’s interesting in a way that agrees or changes their perception and they find it interesting.

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