a post in another feminist blog on women and engineering prompted me to write this reply, and i wanted to add it to my blog as well. i’ve written about sexism in math and science before, but i want to write again, articulating some points differently. this is a passionate issue to me because i know what a difference cultural factors like positive reinforcement, and available opportunities make for women’s careers. some people, including women, have told me there’s nothing wrong with saying perhaps there’s something “innate” about women’s brains that makes them less apt for science. i don’t see scientific basis for that at all.

1) women are underrepresented in almost all good jobs in the public sphere because of historical oppression. women weren’t considered good writers or painters and they’re even underrepresented in professional cooking! i remember someone posted a letter from Disney to his grandmother on Feministing that told her that Disney doesn’t accept female cartoonists – they’re only for secretarial jobs. the lack of women in science has to do with women being confined to the private sphere in all areas of life (except for sex work and cleaning). interestingly, sexists who think women being underrepresented in the sciences is/could be a result of innate differences don’t think that women are over-represented in prostitution because women are innately sex-crazy. they think men are sex-crazy. there was a time when women were considered deficient in typing – oh wait, why then are women secretaries?

2) some studies argue that women are less “spatially” oriented and therefore deficient in math. firstly, even studies done on children have to take into account how culture shapes the brain, let alone studies on adults, whose mental abilities are shaped by they way they have used their brains throughout life. secondly, so what it women are less “spatial?” only some areas of science require spatial understanding and it’s something you can learn. i’ve always gotten A’s in geometry and physics and i can’t play spatial sports to save my life!

3) standards for achievement have been set by men. the scientific process has been defined by men. have you ever heard people complaining about doing poorly in standardized tests even though they do well in class? have you heard of people complaining that they get confused by the way standardized tests frames questions? i have. and it’s because such tests follow a certain system, and to do well you have to understand and work the system, regardless of your level of intelligence/knowledge. similarly,  even if women’s brains were innately different from men’s, women are only challenged in a scientific culture defined by men. which means there’s an even bigger need for women to change the systems for themselves. the fault is not in women’s brains, the fault is in the system.

with all these cultural factors at every step of the analysis, is it anything but sexist to keep on saying perhaps there’s something innately deficient about women’s brains? – vidyarthi