Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Daddy Truck, Baby Truck

(Before I move on, it's important to note that spring training game scores don't matter [for those of you wondering about the Sox/Yankees game yesterday]. Never fear. Doesn't Matter. Just wanted to get that in there.)

So: I've been resisting it, but I think it's finally time to throw in my two shiny cents on this whole Women's Brains and Science issue. It just isn't going away. The hoo-ha started, of course, when Laurence Summers, the president of Harvard, gave a speech at a conference on women in the sciences in which he managed to piss off members of his own faculty and women scientists across the country. Summers seemed to suggest that the underrepresentation of women in the sciences is due to a fundamental difference between men and women's brains. That, in short, women aren't as well cut out for the job mentally.

Smart move, Larry. A funny little wrinkle to the story is that senior job offers to women faculty have dropped steadily each year of his 3-year presidency. So brou-haha ensued, naturally, with women walking out of the lecture and folks talking about Summers' job being in jeopardy. This all happened back in January, and he's still firmly ensconced across the river, so I guess his post is safe though.

He made himself sound like an idiot, yes, but the thing about Summers' speech that really delighted me was his super sophisticated "Daddy Truck, Baby Truck" theory. (Oh yeah, Summers is an economist, with no significant scientific training whatsoever. Forgot to mention that.) The DTBT premise that Larry came up with refers to the gender-neutral training he and his wife attempted to give their daughters, and the charming way in which it all came to naught. Apparently one of the mini Summers was given two trucks instead of two "girly" type toys, in an effort to break out of society's rigid gender expectations. Yet, in an outcome worthy at least of a journal article in Nature Neuroscience, Summers' daughter named the trucks "Daddy truck" and "Baby truck," as if they were dolls, demonstrating that girls are cut out for mothering, not motoring, and proving once and for all the primacy of nature over nurture. Right?

Yeah, it's silly. But what's sillier is that many media publications were eager to jump on this bandwagon and take Summers' ideas seriously, producing reams of articles carefully examining this economist's points and trying to determine if they were true. Based on his own apology, that seems like a pretty stupid thing to do in retrospect. As put more succinctly by Denice Denton, outgoing dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington: ''Here was this economist lecturing pompously (to) this room full of the country's most accomplished scholars on women's issues in science and engineering, and he kept saying things we had refuted in the first half of the day."

It makes me think of how many times I have listened to similar "arguments" made against women's abilities in science, math, business, leadership, religion, law, engineering, bartending, you name it. They are usually just about as sophisticated as Daddy Truck, Baby Truck, and yet they are being aired, and being listened to. Sometimes they are being aired by women. Sometimes they are being accepted by women. I can understand why an entire country respectfully considered Lawrence Summers' brainbusted ideas--after all, even though he's not a scientist and didn't know what he was talking about, he happens to be the president of Harvard. So you can understand our collective mistake. But why do we give that kind of platform to just anyone on the street? To those well-intentioned but misguided male and female friends, those occasional old-fashioned teachers, spiritual leaders, and relatives? Why do we listen to this?

No one is suggesting that men and women aren't different. Thank god, we are. Voila, spicy world. But although we do have generally different strengths and weaknesses that have been documented, women are not inferior to men, not even a little bit. And it shocks me that I actually have to write that down. But I feel it bears repeating, since the notion comes creeping in these days much more sneakily than it used to, swaddled in implications and inferences. Don't buy it. Whether it comes from Lawrence Summers or L. Sanders, your neighborhood know-it-all, don't buy it.

(And Happy International Women's Day! Yeah, I don't know exactly how to celebrate that either; if anyone has any ideas, let me know)


At 4:37 PM, Blogger jameson said...

I used to work in bars. Even owned one. And for the record, women bartenders are just as good as their male counterparts. What perpetuates the idea that men are better are the tarts that club/bar owners put behind the bar to attract the male customer. These "bartenders" drag the average way down and give those men in the business their ammunition for ignorance. In the end, a woman can do the job as well, even better. There is no difference between the top female and male professional bartenders. Its the posers that allow men to make the ridiculous claim that men make better bartenders.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger scs said...

Thank you very much for your expert opinion, jameson-who-used-to-work-in-bars. I'm very glad to hear that myth debunked so easily. Too bad Dre doesn't read my blog.


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