Why don’t girls excel in math science? Well, for one thing what does excel mean? I’m a (mature) girl and I’m good at math but don’t find it to be particularly compelling. I much prefer studies involving people and social behavior. I quite took to college Physics (as let’s face it, it explains the whole freaking universe) but never loved it enough to marry it. I do know female mathematicians, programmers and scientist (rocket and otherwise.) They exist in moderately significant numbers. Are there still a lot of lockers available in the lady scientist dressing room? Yes, and it’s a good thing attention is being paid. But what about boys?
If we’re going to engage in conversations that generalize gender why do we focus on girls’ deficits? Why is it we never discuss the gender discrepancies in the social sciences? Where are the boys in studies of philosophy, exposition, psychology, and sociology? Do they measure up? Why is it that the top (public) high schools in New York City are for math/science studies only? Do math and science concentrations lead to better paying jobs? Sometimes, but when did public high schools revert back to their roots of workplace preparation? I suspect that what’s really at the root of the exultation of math & science is the very fact that it has been a male-dominated field.
We have a long rich history of imbuing male centric endeavors or behaviors with positive attributes. It is immaterial for this argument, to dissect what gender behaviors are learned (aka socialized) and which are innate. Any parent of a baby will share with you their surprise when his/her yet to be socialized tyke exhibited gender stereotypes. Is it that the parents are looking for gender specific behavior in their child (and fail to be impressed by gender atypical or gender neutral behavior)? It doesn’t matter. Gender is very very important to people. It’s the first thing one asks when hearing about a new baby. It’s the first question on almost any form. We’ve decided it’s important and part of how you elevate a concept is to attribute it with certain characteristics.
Fine. But why are characteristics long associated with boys some how more desirable than characteristics attributed to girls? When did we decide that expressing emotion is a weakness? Was it at the same time we decided that an affinity with numbers is more admirable than an affinity with language? Why do we think that understanding machines is more valuable than understanding people? While it is true that as a cultural we are becoming slightly less rigid around gender issues. We have quite a ways to go. At the heart of much of our rigidity is our sense that boys are strong (which equals good) and girls are soft (which equals bad.) This core belief colors much of what we do as a society and traditionally has left little wiggle room for boys who enjoy a softer side and girls who enjoy a stronger side.