Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Public Ads: For Girls Only

You may have seen this online.

The banner next to the Deseret News column reads, "Encourage girls to see the world through math and science." There's a background picture of a roller coaster, overwritten with a bunch of undecipherable physics notations. It links to a web page entitled girlsgotech.org, which has since transformed itself into a Girl Scouts program.

Why should that be a message directed specifically at girls? I suppose the world is the same, whether girls or boys are looking. And science is equally applicable from the perspective of either.

Some suggest that the issue is "representation". To me the idea of "representation" seems apropos to political ideals, but how does it apply to academic studies, professions, and career choices? Why should anyone believe that girls or boys are "underrepresented" in anything in particular, or that any kind of parity is even warranted?

I observe that right now, for example, it seems boys are "underrepresented" in every college-level academic discipline, because the girls, for some reason, attend college in disproportionate numbers. Is there anything wrong with that?

We also hear complaints about historic discrimination against women, and the assertion that today's imbalance is simply a correction for past inequity. I don't necessarily find references to what happened "a century ago" to be all that instructive, unless we establish significant parallel to what goes on today. I might as well assert that a century ago, girls were not permitted to ride in an airplane. They were excluded simply because no such opportunity existed for anyone.

In particular, this excuse is frequently offered in the context of higher education opportunities. I don't know anything about who was permitted to take college classes a hundred years ago, but of my fourth and fifth-generation ancestors, I only find a single one, Alexander Neibaur (#20 on my ancestry chart) out of twenty four men and women who received any advanced education of note, between 1860 and 1910.

Perhaps there are some other indicators of superior privilege represented in such data. To me it appears that exclusion from academic careers was nearly universal during that period. Secondary education or academic degrees were vanishingly rare, I suspect more for reasons of practicality than discrimination.

I find it passing strange, as well, that inclusion in academics by "being married to a man in the field" is sometimes looked down on, a distinction to be denigrated. I suspect not a few women of that day partnered with educated spouses to share their husband's interests and skills. Perhaps it was a different way of doing things, but I think not necessarily of lesser merit or effectiveness.

1 comment:

Philyra said...

Keep up the good work.