My colleague in Physics recently gave a talk on the situation of women in Physics. I offered up her talk as an extra credit opportunity in my WS class. The students who attended--women--seem to fixate on the insignificant cognitive findings. I was aghast. The whole point of bringing these cognitive differences up was to consider this as one of the explanations (the one Larry Summers gave) of why women aren't full professors in science. However, if you look at that evidence, the consequences of the differences--men have a greater aptitude for rotating 3-D spaces in their head--is wholly irrelevant to success in science. That particular difference does nothing to explain the disparity.
So, a few of my female students were nonetheless willing to believe this cognitive difference theory. Some might argue that these women are suffering from bad faith. Or, as Za likes to say--mostly to taunt me--women are the greatest obstacles to feminism. I reject both of these explanations for why women might cling to the belief that they are just hard-wired to be less successful in the sciences. What this suggests to me is their own sense of inadequacy in science and math, and that inadequacy is nurtured by the culture--Barbie dolls that say "math is too hard"--and parents who do not nurture scientific curiosity in young girls, and finally, sexist teachers.
I am a casualty of institutional barriers. I hate writing about it. And, when I analyze why, it is clear. I don't want to be accused of playing the victim. But, the only reason I left science was sexism, plain and simple. I clung, with dear life to Philosophy. The choice of Philosophy over Chemistry was odd; I am pretty sure there are even fewer women in Philosophy, especially at the top of the field. But, I wasn't gonna be kicked out a second time. I remember distinctly a conversation I had with my epistemology professor when I told him I was dropping his course. He stated, quite matter of factly, that he just didn't think women were capable of understanding this material. I was pissed off enough, having just left the sexist fuckwits in the Chem department, so I looked at him and pointed out that I had a 3.7 with a Chemistry major, and had placed into advanced Mathematics courses. What about these credentials suggested my lack of aptitude for analytical reasoning? Perhaps, the reason women are leaving your course is because you are a horrible teacher. (Oh, snap!). Don't think I didn't pay for that, by the way.
This icky stroll down memory lane serves one purpose in this post: to point out how useless it is to fight this kind of pervasive and insidious sexism in higher ed by calling it what it is. Moreover, even those who have experienced this kind of sexism will find themselves blaming their own inadequacies (which I surely did).
We have to use strategies--that by keeping women out of science, the whole country suffers. Fine. I endorse the move. But, shit, I wish we could invoke this reasoning in all other fields as well. I doubt the country is clamoring for more philosophers, but if they were, I hope they issue a similar report. (I'm not holding my breath).