It’s OK to be different. Isn’t it?

March 30, 2010 | NeW Staff

Ever wonder why more men typically enter into math and science careers?  It’s a hot topic of debate right now.  Let’s begin the discussion with a few questions.  These were provided to me by Ashley Thorne at the National Association of Scholars (NAS)

“Why aren’t there more women who drive big pickup trucks?” 
“Why aren’t there more women hunters?” 
“Why aren’t there more women growing beards?” 
Sound ridiculous, right?  We all know the answer to these questions.  It is not that beards are sexist displays that serve to keep women down; rather, men biologically are more apt to grow beards.  It is not wrong that women don’t want to grow beards, or for that matter, can’t typically grow them.  
Thorne wrote a recent article for NAS, “Bias, Barriers, or Biology?” and argued against the claim of gender bias and barriers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and careers.  Through her analysis of AAUW’s (American Association of University Women) recent report, “Why so Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” she shows how these seemingly ridiculous questions are not that far off from the question AAUW is trying to solve and fix.  She argues that we should “honor ability not identity.”
Thorne’s statement is a response to AAUW’s attempt to change universities so they can better meet the needs of young women to enter into STEM careers.  Here are some suggestions AAUW provides:
Host summer institutes for AP computer science teachers at local high schools; send prospective students “an inclusive message about who makes a good computer science student”; stop student “cliques” from dominating the major; and introduce broad concepts at the beginning of the program.


But Thorne finds fault with this suggestion and reasonably so:
Cloistering off by identity group is nothing new. Supposedly it boosts the confidence of its members to face an environment in which few other people look like them. But it teaches students to keep company only with those of their own kind, to voluntarily segregate. This propensity to emphasize differences, whether racial or sexual, tends to cause division rather than a blending of groups.


Thorne argues that biology is at play in this debate.  However, the increased number of women in STEM careers over the last few decades reveals that today women can pursue any career they choose.  Women do go into medicine, engineering, and business.  We should encourage women with a proclivity for these fields to purse their ambitions and goals; however, we cannot ignore the inclination both culturally and biologically for more men to pursue these types of careers.  Thorne asks, where do you draw the line?
How far do we need to prod to get girls involved in an area they might not naturally be attracted to? What is the magic number at which feminists and women’s groups are satisfied?
At the end of her article, Thorne closes with the statement, “Honor ability not identity.”  This should be the goal of colleges and universities.  This is how we can empower the next generation by recognizing talent and success.  We should focus our efforts on encouraging women and men in the areas where they are the most talented individually.

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