Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Women In Science

Women in Science: The Battle Moves to the Trenches

I was on the New York Times website a few minutes ago. The article above was obviously of interest to me. My girlfriend is taking up a degree in Conservation Biology, I love science (not to the same level she does--but I did receive an award at my high school graduation for my exploits in A.P. Biology and overall science skills), and it provided an opportunity for me to educate myself.

This article sounded vaguely similar to a discussion we had on our email chain about African-American lawyers. Sometimes when people think of Affirmative Action they forget that women have benifited as much from the legislation as traditional minority groups (blacks, hispanics, etc.) This is not a knock on Affirmative Action or a resounding plea for the legislation to stay in place. However, it is the recognization that people generally forget about how women benefited from the legislation despite the fact that most people view it in terms of race.

That aside I found the article informative.

"Since the 1970s, women have surged into science and engineering classes in larger and larger numbers, even at top-tier institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where half the undergraduate science majors and more than a third of the engineering students are women. Half of the nation’s medical students are women, and for decades the numbers have been rising similarly in disciplines like biology and mathematics."

I found this extremely encouraging.

"Yet studies show that women in science still routinely receive less research support than their male colleagues, and they have not reached the top academic ranks in numbers anything like their growing presence would suggest.

For example, at top-tier institutions only about 15 percent of full professors in social, behavioral or life sciences are women, “and these are the only fields in science and engineering where the proportion of women reaches into the double digits,” an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences reported in September. And at each step on the academic ladder, more women than men leave science and engineering."

This is a trend that I hope some day can be reversed. I know that this is a male-dominated society. I found this result extremely troubling with the amount of women in science degree programs. Some of my best science professors have been women. I think they deserve their fair chance. I believe they will get there, because for the most part women are resilient. Each step that they climb is worthy of celebration, but until they get to the top they will not be satisfied. If you know me I say men are sprinters, women are distance athletes. Genetically they are built to outlast (see any figure on male/female death statistics). They play such an important role in our society not only as caretakers but as politicians, lawyers, doctors, academics, etc. I hope like any group that all the hard work and activism pays off, if not for our generation, for the future...

At the end of her talk, Dr. Steitz displayed a chart showing rises in the proportion of women in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty. There were few until the passage of civil rights legislation 40 years ago, when the numbers jumped a bit and then leveled off, she said. The numbers jumped again in the late 1990s after a report criticized the institute’s hiring and promotion practices as they related to women.

“We now have another plateau,” Dr. Steitz said, “and it’s my fervent hope that Larry Summers, God bless him, and the report that’s just come out will have this kind of impact.”

Ms. Imoukhouede hopes so, too. She said she was encouraged by the National Academy study — “that it could be done, and that it was taken seriously, that people would be willing to listen to women bringing up these issues.”

Meanwhile, though, she added, “I try to spend less time thinking about these perceptions and more time on my research.”

I included this last paragraph for encouragement. I am a male, a black male, and I think our country would benefit from women reaching the pinnacle of all fields--science included. While I would hardly call myself a feminist, I am a realist and I believe everyone deserves a fair opportunity to follow their dreams--as a society we must do what we can to make sure that they can. So I guess I'm not a feminist and I'm not 100% in support of Affirmative Action--but if it gets more qualified female applicants in traditionally male-dominated arenas--I'm all for it (at least while its purpose hasn't been outlived).

The future's so bright I have to wear shades!


Elizabeth said...

Jamaal, why do you say you aren't a feminist? The definition of feminist is a "supporter of the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes." The backlash against the word feminist is a shame. It does not mean you burn bras and hate men. It simply means you believe in equality, which, I daresay, you do.

Unless your plan for Al is that she birth your tan babies and cook your meat in your Connecticut mud hut, in which case, No, I'd say you're *not* a feminist. :)

Excalibur said...

LOL, I was baiting you.

I'm not a fan of labels in general. So if it makes you feel good you can call me a feminist, LOL. I just won't describe myself as such.

Al said...

Actually, EE, thank you for pointing out the backlash against the word "feminist." I was on the bus at Tufts and this girl was taking "Intro to Feminist Philosophy" because it was the "only" thing that would fit into her schedule and she was very quick to say "but I'm not a feminist!" I've heard other people we know...cough....(not smith peeps, others) say "well I am not a feminist!" If you're a woman, you absolutely should be a feminist, if you respect yourself in the slightest, and for a man to come out and call himself that, I think, it hot. It's simply an acknowledgement of equality.

I love the shoutout to our tan babies and a mud hut too, LOL

Excalibur said...

Okay let's clear up what I meant by not defining myself as a feminist.

I know there are two definitions:

1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

When I describe someone as a feminist I envision the second definition more than the first. I think the first is a subset of the second. A feminist to me is not just someone with opinions, but someone willing to take the steps necessary to seek equality of the sexes.

I don't envision feminists as bra-burning lunatics (though I'm sure there are some)--like those women at the U.S. Open that said Maria Sharapova was being objectified and that Henin was upset with the way that Sharapova was treated (a tad bit of projection).

So I would more likely say I'm a supporter of feminist efforts than a feminist.