Only Women Need Apply

The need for more women in STEM has become a mantra, accepted as a truism and blamed on sexism and the discouragement of women from participating in science education rather than women exercising their agency in choosing to focus their education elsewhere. The result has been an array of mechanisms to encourage women to major in STEM subjects.

new study released Tuesday found that 84% of about 220 universities offer single-gender scholarships, many of them in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. That practice is permitted under Title IX only if the “overall effect” of scholarships is equitable. The study, by a Maryland-based nonprofit advocating gender equity on college campuses, showed the majority of campus awards lopsidedly benefited women.

How lopsided?

In California, for instance, 11 colleges and universities reviewed offered 117 scholarships for women and four for men, according to the survey by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments. The group was originally founded to lobby for due process rights for those accused of campus sexual misconduct, who are overwhelmingly male — and launched the current project challenging single-gender programs in January.

But single-sex scholarships are just part of the regime change, and the facts may be surprising in light of the narrative.

In university hiring, a 2015 study by Cornell University found that hypothetical female applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships were favored, 2 to 1, over male counterparts.

Then there are the federally funded conferences.

The January “Women in Mathematics and Public Policy” workshop focused on cybersecurity and climate change and specified on a flier that “only women will be invited to participate.” The “Collaborative Workshop for Women in Mathematical Biology” was held in June to focus on biological and medical questions. Its flier specifically welcomed female but not male graduate students, recent PhDs and other researchers.

A complaint was filed about these, not by a male but a female academic who thought it just a bit too flagrantly sexist to have conferences directed only to women,and to the exclusion of men.

The professor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared retaliation, said she worked with UC professors to file the complaint to push back against what she described as an erosion of meritocracy and growing favoritism of women in the sciences. As a mentor to college students of all genders, she said, she sees more men becoming discouraged about their chances of success in the field.

Has the pendulum swung too far? Was the pendulum the problem at all? There is an underlying belief that the reason women have not been represented in STEM in proportion to their percentages, whether in the general population or the population of college students who could select a STEM major, is sexism, whether in creating interest in public schools so that they want to be scientists when they go to college or in the misogynistic nature of this erstwhile male-dominated field.

After all, women now constitute the majority of students in college and graduate school, and it’s hard for the minority to oppress the majority. It’s harder still to justify singe-sex scholarships and programs designed to entice the majority to be even more of a majority. And yet, women remain somewhat under-represented in STEM fields,

Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center argued that such female-focused programs are allowed under Title IX as permissible affirmative action to overcome conditions that resulted in “limited participation” of one gender in a particular educational program. She blasted the growing national wave of complaints alleging that men are being treated unfairly under Title IX — most prominently in sexual misconduct cases and now in STEM programs.

This begs the question of whether the claimed “limited participation” is the product of “conditions” or something else. The presumption is that it has to be conditions, some failure along the educational spectrum that pushes women away, or they would obviously be better represented in STEM. This is grounded in the untouchable argument that there can be no differences between the sexes that aren’t sexist, so it’s not only inconceivable, but sexist, to suggest that any lack of women in engineering, for example, could reflect anything but the choice made by women.

“The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction,” said Everett Bartlett, the organization’s president who plans to file federal complaints against about 185 campuses if they don’t sufficiently respond to questions about the scholarship practices. “We’re not a society based on quotas, we’re a society based on fairness,” Bartlett said.

The problem is that no one knows what “fairness” means. Quotas are easy to figure, as you count heads (or some other part of the anatomy) and calculate whether the outcome conforms to your assumptions.

In a less sex-obsessed society, the notion of single-gender scholarships and conferences dedicated to getting more women into, and more men out of (because there are only so many seats in a classroom and this becomes a zero-sum game) STEM might be sufficient to make everyone take a breath and consider whether women, like men, get to choose what they want to do with their lives.

“We need to be skeptical … of any segregation projects,” [Erin Buzuvis, a Title IX expert and law professor at Western New England University] said, “because the risk of treating people unequally on the basis of sex is promoting stereotypes.”

There has never been a time when the STEM Academy has done more to accommodate and provide incentives for women to major in STEM. Short of kidnapping gender studies majors and forcing them to take physics, what’s left to be done?

At some point, the reality of the majority of college students making their own choices has to be respected, even if it doesn’t produce the outcomes feminist theory says it should. In the meantime, there are men from poor families for whom there are no scholarships to be had who want desperately to be engineers.

33 thoughts on “Only Women Need Apply

  1. Derek Ramsey

    “Short of kidnapping gender studies majors and forcing them to take physics, what’s left to be done?”

    Nothing. Inside our professional domain, we discuss this often. About every month for the last decade or so there has been an article on (“news for nerds”) about getting women to join the profession. The ensuing discussions inevitably determine that it is perfectly normal and there is nothing to be done. You can’t force women to do what they don’t want to do. The gender imbalance (and wage gap) is self-inflicted and it’s perfectly fine.

    The issue has never been one of demand, but of supply. When I got my degree there was, on average, one or two women in each class. Some classes had none. Thirty young men to one young woman makes for a social situation where women are….honored. Years later when I was in a position to hire them, I found out how difficult it was to hire women. They are in extremely high demand and do not stay long on the market.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s a cartoon that’s been around engineers for a while about this, which is either horrible sexist or completely true. But you can’t hire women who don’t exist. The opportunity is not merely there, but goes begging for interest (and great jobs afterward, because number of women matter). So what’s a field of endeavor to do?

      1. Derek Ramsey

        I’m sure sexism exists in the field somewhere. You see anecdotal examples from time to time from those who have to screech about how terribly discriminatory STEM fields are. It’s hardly the norm.

        Many companies will bend over backwards, to hire female engineers. Ironically, due to inclusive corporate hiring practices, many could be making six-figure salaries whether they are good at their jobs or not. They still don’t do it. Consider the Harvard/Australian Government trial in 2016/2017. They found that putting a woman’s name on their CV led to an increased likelihood of landing an interview.

        Observation: despite the stereotype to the contrary, women marry nerds in far greater numbers than become engineers themselves.

        1. DaveL

          women marry nerds in far greater numbers than become engineers themselves

          The odds are good, but the goods are odd.

      2. Pavel Drotár

        Imagine if the guy and the woman in the booths swapped places – a WOMAN would be trying to get more women to sign up for STEM, and a MAN was trying to get more [whatever] to sign up for Gender studies.

        1. SHG Post author

          There are few things more valued than putting certain words in all caps as an indication of stable genius.

      3. B. McLeod

        Well, they put a male at the STEM FIELDS sign up booth, right? He’s probably not really trying.

      4. David

        Well, if by the time they graduate high school they haven’t taken the prerequisite math and science courses needed for STEM, even if they want to apply, they can’t. By then it’s too late (even the Big Bang Theory had an episode addressing this!).

        Looking at a local (outside US, so even better than an anecdote, a foreign one!) university I attended, women and gender studies only requires grade 12 English (and having graduated high school), and you need grade 12 English to graduate high school, so everyone can apply. But engineering requires two math and two science grade 12 courses, and you need zero of these grade 12 courses to graduate high school. One doesn’t need a STEM degree to do the math…

        1. SHG Post author

          Requirements to graduate high school differ from place to place, which is why someone will now tell you how your experience is wrong, when it isn’t wrong, just unhelpful and irrelevant. The assumption that one’s experience is universal (or at least common) is an unfortunate affliction, surpassed only by the person who feels compelled to relate his story to prove you’re a lying liar who lies.

  2. Skink

    “Collaborative Workshop for Women in Mathematical Biology.” The name made me look:

    “The benefit of such a structured program with leaders, projects and working groups planned in advance is based on the successful WIN, Women In Numbers, conferences and is intended to provide vertically integrated mentoring: senior women will meet, mentor, and collaborate with the brightest young women in their field on a part of their research agenda of their choosing, and junior women and graduate students will develop their network of colleagues and supporters and encounter important new research areas to work in, thereby fostering a successful research career.”

    I still don’t know what they did at this conference.

    1. B. McLeod

      Seriously? The Women in Numbers are famous. Miriam, Cozbi, Jochebad, Mahlah, Milcah, Noah, Hoglah, Tirzah, an unnamed Eithiopian, and a bunch of unnamed Medianites.

        1. B. McLeod

          Perhaps ironic, in that “Cozbied” meant something different in those days, but was still an unenviable fate.

    2. wilbur

      They intended, provided, integrated, mentored, met, mentored some more, collaborated, developed, encountered, worked and fostered.

      And all in one sentence. That’s some serious collaborating and workshopping.

  3. KP

    Why not reserve 50% of seats for females in every course. Those untaken remain unoccupied..
    Its only fair.

  4. teecrafter

    I knew a couple of aircraft mechanics certified by the FAA. Neither one of them knew the difference between a nosewheel strut and a shimmy dampener, or an aileron and a flap. The only way they got hired was to sign off work done by competent mechanics who were knowledgeable and proficient. The FAA is infested with this disease of trying to put women where women have neither the desire nor the ability to go.

    1. JR

      And I know plenty of woman aircraft mechanics that are experts. Or, how about the only person in my area that can give a check ride in a DC-3 is a woman that works for the FAA. Check out a group called AWAM.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    How about a scholarship for gender studies majors or recent graduates to change to STEM fields? Call it “be the change” or #occupy STEM and see whether there are any takers.

    1. SHG Post author

      You broke the code and figured out that this post was really a covert means to find new scholarship incentives for women to leave gender studies. You are so smart.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I was thinking about “put up or shut up” since so many find it easier to write word salad about “the patriarchy” instead of admitting they don’t want to learn calculus. Offering x studies majors the chance to be part of the solution either solves the problem or highlights their hypocrisy

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