Daily Archives: May 31, 2006

Catching up (2): Gender-norming science?

In a May 22 post, Jeff Goldstein rightly slams an absurd proposal to use Title IX (which prohibits gender discimination in higher education) to go after science programs that fail to satisfy feminist criteria of gender parity. It comes, not from a political activist, but from Richard N. Zare, chair of the department of chemistry at Stanford University.

Zare, who offers a Cultural Revolution-style confession of his own sins of unconscious racism and sexism, argues that women in science are still held back by subtle discrimination. As proof, he cites a 1997 Swedish study showing that female applicants for postdoctoral positions are rated less favorably than male applicants. Says Zare:

Many regard Sweden to be a progressive country and the behavior of committees in 1997 to be not much different from what might be expected today. The conclusions that discrimination exists and is entrenched in our judgments seem hard to deny.

But maybe Sweden is a little too progressive. The generous parental leave policies and other support structures that enable women to stay in the workforce but drastically curtail their work commitments once they have children create a situation in which many women are no doubt viewed as suspect when it comes to their future productivity. (Many of these programs are also available to Swedish men, but they are far more likely to remain employed full-time while raising a family.) Can we universalize from the Swedish findings? A few years ago, a British study — which admittedly measured different things — found no evidence of discrimination against women scientists in the awarding of research grants and postdoctoral fellowships. The study did find that women scientists who had young children, or had taken a break from their careers for family reasons, were considerably less likely to apply for grants.

So, once again, this brings us to the work-family conundrum. And Zare actually acknowledges this, noting that the slow progress in achieving gender parity on the faculties of leading science departments has to do with

the failure to take into account the asymmetric burdens of childbirth and child care as well as elder care, and the failure to structure faculty jobs to better reflect a balanced lifestyle. … Currently, the reward structure of the academic rat race in science, engineering, and mathematics presents a real barrier to women choosing a career in academics. We must dispel the notion that working day and night equates to productivity. Many of us know coworkers with limited time available who nevertheless make outstanding contributions to the success of a research project.

In my 2001 Salon.com article on women in science, I commented on somewhat similar proposals:

A 1993 article in Science on women’s attrition from scientific fields deplored such “outmoded stereotypes” as “an emphasis on scientific knowledge independent of real-world uses and an image of scientists as obsessed with science to the exclusion of other human endeavors.”

But what if trying to jettison these “stereotypes” results in the loss of something essential to scientific pursuit at the highest level?

It seems fairly indisputable to me that by and large, if two people are equally talented, smart, and hardworking, the one who gives 80% of herself to her work is going to achieve more than the one who gives 50%. I’m all for changing societal norms to make it easier for ambitious and talented women to relegate the role of primary caregiver and homemaker to their husbands. But lowering the standards so women can succed is not an answer, it’s an insult — to both science and women.


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Catching up (1): Individualism is racist?

Catching up with some must-reads from my blogging hiatus.

As reported by Eugene Volokh on May 17, the Seattle Public Schools’ website identifies the following among various forms of racism:

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

I think there is some validity to the criticism of the use of “flesh-colored” to mean the color of “white” flesh. But “a future time orientation” (a phrase that baffled many Volokh readers, and which apparently means an ethos that stresses achievement and progress as well as planning forward)? And “individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology”? Personally, I think “racism” is a pretty good description for the belief that some people, by dint of their race or ethnicity, are forever bound to “collective ideologies” and ill-suited for individualism, or for “future-oriented” progress and achievement — or for proper English.

As for the “racism” of “identifying only White as great writers or composers,” it depends on the context. I concur with Eugene, who writes:

I should say that assuming that only Whites can be great writers or composers is of course indeed racism; but providing a list of the greatest composers and writers that consists only of whites may be perfectly legitimate, depending on your criteria (which could be entirely fair, though not indisputable, criteria) of greatness.

The real racism here comes from the pseudo-multiculturalists who put racial labels on values and ideas.

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Pictures from Israel

My photos from Israel are now up on my website.

A few of my favorites:

A mosque and a church in Acre (Akko), a city held at various times by Jews, Greeks, Romans, Cruaders, and Muslims.

On Ben Yehuda street, a pedestrian mall/shopping center in Jerusalem, the city’s three religions mix, and a sign in a shop window expresses appreciation to foreign visitors.

Ceasarea: Roman-style ruins, a Crusader fortress, Israeli flags (and my father).

Jerusalem: The Armenian quarter and a map of the Armenian genocide on a wall (I saw several of those on a single block).

Jerusalem: Via Dolorosa and the “Christ Prison Shop.”

Jerusalem: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to stand on the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified and to house the tomb in which he was buried prior to the Resurrection. Recapturing the “Tomb of the Lord” from the infidels was the main objective of the Crusades.

The Western (Wailing) Wall (the women’s prayer section is on the right), and another view of the wall with the golden Dome of the Rock (a famous mosque) behind it.

Seen from the back (not on purpose), the camel handler on the Mount of Olives who complained to our cabdriver that the terrorists had almost ruined his business. Oh, and the camel, of course.

The Damascus gate and the market in the Muslim Quarter.

The Gethsemane Garden, with eight olive trees said to date back to the time of Christ.

The lime rocks and grottoes at Rosh Hanikva.

In Yafo (Jaffa), an unusual monument symbolizing the rebirth of Israel: a tree growing out of an egg-like rock.


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