i dream of being possible

Why are men keeping women out of science?

Now, this isn’t a criticism of Eileen Pollack’s considered article of why there are still so few women in science, recently published in the New York Times.

It is a criticism, however, of how this issue and the similar one of the gender gap in computer science/FOSS/etc is usually framed.

I’ve been staring at that title “Why are there still so few women in science?”. And you read through the article and you see a great deal of both qualitative and anecdotal evidence discussing how women perceive science, how they feel about participation, and a lot of other necessary descriptions of their subjective experiences.

But as you read on, Pollack never quite makes the leap to the institutional (although, there are hints). In part, this is a result of the framing: why so few women in science?

It gives you the subtle signal that what needs to be corrected is how women perceive science. Or that they need to be encouraged to do science. But the evidence within the article clearly shows that women, unsurprisingly, are curious, engaged, and in actual fact like science.

The that needs solving isn’t why there are so few women, but why men are systematically doing the most to keep them out. It isn’t that “women [are] still giving up” but that they are being pushed out. This framing tends to suggest that women, somehow, just aren’t ‘strong’ enough to push through the adversity of facing sytemic efforts to shut them out, something unfortunately expressed in the conclusion of the article:

Four young women – one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia – explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”

While the last paragraph gives us some hope, discussing how all of this is a matter of culture, rather than ability, it still misses the point. Because, who enforces this culture? Who is benefitting from it? Is culture something that just happens and humans passive recipients of it?

You can’t change ‘culture’ without addressing the people who create and substantiate it. And you can’t address cultural problems without examining the complex series and sites of power and privilege of the people within a culture.