Monday, January 31, 2005


thank god for this rational article from the post and even more so for this one from slate about -- yes, we're still talking about this -- larry summers' decision to go all retro in front of a room full of feminist academics and use the word "innate." oh dear. didn't this man go to college before he became the president of one? even frat boys where i went to skool would know better than to spout something like that. at the very least they would expect the roof to come down on their heads.

and no, william saletan, before you get your hackles up, not because of "political correctness." george will, over there in the corner, don't think i don't see you. the word "hysteria" is forming on your lips -- swallow that impulse right now, mister. you should be ashamed of yourself. for christ's sake! don't have you any knowledge of the history of that term?
that aside, you're both wildly off the mark, and if you think i'm going to patiently withstand 55 pounds of backlash where there'd been say 5 pounds of well-deserved lash, you've got another thing coming.

no, the swarthmore frat boys would understand you can't cheerfully claim that "innate" difference between men and women keep women from the top tiers of math and science because:

(a) doing so is not radical. it's a fall back on ages-old, comfortable, and unprovable explanations of why women are inferior at everything;

(b) doing so ignores that women also don't place in the top tiers of many fields in the humanities in which they supposedly are more adept. for instance, ever read Variety? where are all the women running studios or directing movies? are women innately less good are wrapping our flimsy brains around celluloid? what about literature? how many nobel prizes for literature have gone to women? yet we're better at english, right? right?;

(c) doing so encourages people to reach for lazy, easy solutions like sexism instead of trying to determine where their own prejudices may be hiding deep down in the parts of themselves that the searchlights of polite society don't reach. it's not pleasant to realize that maybe you instinctively feel more nervous when you pass a black man on the street than when you pass a white one. or that, on some level, you make a quick association between "muslim" and "terrorist." you may think you're better than that. but the vast majority of us who are white and/or non-muslim are not better than that; we're conditioned, subtly, all our lives, to be exactly that. which brings us to:

(d) conditioning plays a HUGE role in our lives. in quiet ways, over and over again, i was told science & math were not for me. maybe i knew it already. my fear of numbers is so entrenched it's hard to remember when it developed. and yet i have a vague sense it developed when i was around 9, when unhappiness introduced itself to me, when something in me rebelled against the very idea of having people look at me. what i'd relished the year before -- standing out -- i could no longer stand. i started thinking too much. most of the boys in my classes didn't have that problem. they weren't mortally afraid of being wrong, of being laughed at, of simply being seen.

in this respect, i'm the most conventional of my close female friends from skool, more of whom went on to study physics, biology, or advanced math at college than film, lit or art. my close friends are the exception; i am the rule. but it's heartening to me that they were able to succeed in fields that no one associates with females and against larry summers' expectations. (i don't think mr. summers is a bad man, by the way. see (c), above. i think he needs an experience that would make him question his assumptions more rigorously. perhaps this, for him, is it.)


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