Art vs. Science: The Gender Divide

Last week, it finally happened. I knew it had to happen one day, and I knew that day was soon. Especially judging from my Quantum Class this summer.

Last week, I found myself in the interesting position of being the only female in a class. I know this has happened to may women in math and science before (just ask my friend Sherry about her research group!) and I didn’t deny that it would happen to me.

I didn’t notice it at first, my discussion section is very heavily male, with only two other women usually in attendance. For some reason on Thursday neither of them showed up to class. About halfway through the hour I looked up, looked around, and thought to myself. Wow. It finally happened. Why doesn’t this feel weird? I am just so used to it, I guess.

On that note, to men and to my fellow women I ask: Why? Why is it like this? I really want to refuse to believe the heaping, festering pile of ‘conventional wisdom’ that says that womens’ minds are not suited for Mathematics above the level of basic algebra. I want to refuse to believe that the Hunter-gatherer divide is still ingrained in our collective psyches and that being a scientist is somehow the academic equivalent of being a ‘hunter.’ I want to refuse to believe it all.

But then I find myself in a classroom full of men, struggling with an integral and what I so often (and sadly) perceive as my own mathematical inadequacy. My mind starts to wander in embarrassing directions, trying to find the perfect scapegoat for why I am having such a hard time. First it’s “I work at the Daily Cal and that takes up more of my time so I can’t practice this enough” or ” I am a cyclist so I can practice this enough” or “I didn’t have adequate high school preparation”. Then it gets worse: “I’m just bad at math” or “Maybe I am just slow” and then finally, in the back of my head, “I’m a girl.”

That’s when I have to stop myself and say: No. That is NOT the reason. That is NOT the reason.

The truth is, Physics is hard for everyone, regardless of gender. Someone today told me that writing is like the harmonica: anyone can play it, but very few people can play it well. If physics were an instrument, it would be one that few people could play, even fewer (Newton, Maxwell, Boltzmann, Planck, Einstein, and maybe a few more) could play well and that no one could play flawlessly.

So, if this is the case, I return to my original proposition: Why, o women of the world, why?

Truth is, I don’t know. And I don’t really even have a good theory this time. It perplexes me to know end.  I want to just blame it on society, on our culture, and on history. But I don’t think I can. There is this aching feeling in the back of my mind that suggests that maybe there is something in our brains that makes us tick in a different way, and that something, somehow, inclines us more toward French literature and away from Electrical Engineering (hey, I’m not hating on the humanities…I would choose French Lit any day!) What that something is, I have no idea. It could be that the way men and women perceive the world, the way we break things down in order to be understood is different, and line up differently with academic interests.

I don’t mean to suggest that men are better at science than women, and women are better than men at the humanities. I couldn’t swallow that. I would choke on my own words. What I am  suggesting is solely a commentary on preference, not skill. I am merely an fascinated observer (albeit the sole female observer). So, ladies, why not give the dark side a try, eh? I’d like some company.

And, now, off to attack some integrals.


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3 Responses to “Art vs. Science: The Gender Divide”

  1. Sabrina Says:

    So I just said this to you, but here’s the posted comment: I worked at science camp, grades 1-6, and there was definitely a 1 to 10ish ratio of girls to guys there. I don’t think kids are making the choices at that age, and when later in life guys feel more “intuitive” around science, you have to wonder where the line between intrinsic and learned lies.

  2. hereandbackagain Says:

    In my class, I regarded most of the girls as stupid when I heard them asking silly questions to the teachers in the class. They seemed slow to grasp a lecture, but this was also true for many of us boys. At the end, however, I found that many of those ‘silly girls’ have done better than me in the exams!
    Why feel so inferior as a girl? There are really some genius women in our time and there were many more in the past.

  3. Qualms with Quantum « the daily saga Says:

    […] few seconds later, as I looked around the room and realized I was one of four girls in a forty-person lecture, a small part of me began to wonder if our professor would have felt […]

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