Summers' Remarks Supported by Some Experts

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Harvard University president Lawrence Summers has suffered acrimonious condemnation, and may have jeopardized his job, for suggesting that the underrepresentation of women in engineering and some scientific fields may be due in part to inherent differences in the intellectual abilities of the sexes. But Summers could be right.
(MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer)

I think that it is obvious that there are differences in general between men and women. One is not superior to the other, and both can be taught to do all kinds of tasks. One of the greatest physicists in history was a woman, Marie Curie. Albert Schweitzer M.D. was known more for his nurturance than for his technical skill as a physician. I personally think that the disparity in the number of women vs men in the so-called hard sciences has more to do with a 'one size fits all' theory of education than with any innate differences in intelligence. I learned math and science in a very different way than my brothers did. I actually know and use more of these than either of my brothers do, also. But I flunked chemistry in High School because the way it was taught was so alien to my way of thinking and learning. My brothers have excellent language skills and use them regularly - but they both struggled in High School because the ways in which language was taught were oriented to a feminine way of learning. To quote Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young, "Summers also touched feminism's third rail: biological differences between the sexes."

Another factor is that women, by and large, are simply unwilling to sacrifice their legitimate desires for family on the altar of scientific ambition. The last page of Sunday's Boston Globe magazine (alas, not available on-line) pointed out that the tragedy isn't that most women are unwilling to put in the 80 hour workweek routinely, but that most men are. I used to get lots of folks saying to me, "you're so smart, why don't you just become a doctor?" to which my reply is pretty much, "I don't want to give up 11 years of my life". My family came first. We wanted a large family and I knew that would mean that there would be other things that wouldn't happen. I have few regrets, and none at all about having six children.

I watch the struggles that our OB residents go through, and it makes me sad to see what choices these young women are forced to make. The work week for residents was recently decreased from the triple digits to the double digits, and there is still wailing from the older docs that the new residents aren't paying their dues, and that they aren't going to be as well qualified when they graduate.


Summers got WAY too much slack, especially since he made no sweeping judgments, but was simply citing evidence. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts on this.

I really struggled with the choice between family and pursuing graduate studies. All of my profs, whom I respect deeply, insisted that I ought to pursue a doctorate in History (my major). But I was getting married the summer after graduation, and I didn't want to postpone having children until some theoretical time in the future.

So here I am, staying home full time and expecting my first baby in 4 weeks, with academia put off until some unseen time in the future. I know that my children deserve more of me than I could give them if I were studying or teaching on a post-secondary level full time. But my fertility has a sell-by date, and my brain doesn't (I hope), so I am hoping that I will have have that opportunity still - 30 years from now or so.

Still, its hard to have a professor I deeply respect tell me that I am depriving the world of my talents by confining them to my own family.

My sister made a similar decision regarding a career in medicine. Half of my extended family was pushing for her to go to medical school, but since she knew that she wanted a family, she chose to become a Physician Assistant, which will allow her much more flexibility.
I've put a career in teaching (granted, not necessarily a male-dominated field) on the back burner, willingly, while I'm raising my family. My salary when I return to the workforce will be a result of *that choice, not of some bias against my gender.

Still, its hard to have a professor I deeply respect tell me that I am depriving the world of my talents by confining them to my own family.

That stinks, Kate. Unfortunately, I think that mindset pervades most of academia. The world will still benefit from your talents a) through your children b) when you choose to reenter the "work world."

I feel fortunate to have had a supervisor during my student teaching that was very supportive of my choice not to pursue a teaching career at the time. She wrote a wonderful note to me at the end of the term to the effect that someday I would be a wonderful teacher, but that now I am "shaping other young lives (my children) in a most important way."

One of the things I've seen in response to this is that there's some data to suggest that the curve for women and men doesn't in fact match up with respect to the kinds of intelligence required in math and science, but it's not what anyone might have thought. Men seem to be more concentrated at both extremes, with women less concentrated at the extremes and in higher numbers everywhere else on the curve. That means that in the very highest-level positons, we would expect more men, and in professions that require no mathematical ability, there will also be more men, but at other levels along the spectrum women will be slightly more concentrated than men. It's an interesting thesis. It hasn't been shown yet, but there is some evidence for it.

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on February 28, 2005 10:25 AM.

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