Thus Spake Zuska

Joy of Science Week 3 Reading Summaries

Welcome to Week 3 of our course on “Feminist Theory and the Joy of Science”. This post will be a presentation of the summaries for each of this week’s assigned readings. If you were not able to do the readings or couldn’t get access to the books, I hope this post will give you a good flavor of what the week’s readings were all about.

You can reference the course syllabus for more details about the readings in the whole course and the course structure. Here’s the initial post about the course. And here are some guidelines about how I’ll post on readings and what we should strive for in commenting.

In this post, I just present the summaries. Following posts will offer more discussion of the readings in relation to one another and/or to other material of my choosing. You are invited to comment, as usual, on any of the posts.

This week, all the readings are from one book:

Building Inclusive Science: Connecting Women’s Studies and Women in Science and Engineering special issue, Women’s Studies Quarterly (28:1-2)

There are six readings. Let’s get started!

The Anatomy of Interest: Women in Undergraduate Computer Science

Jane Margolis, Allan Fisher, and Faye Miller

One sentence summary

It is not the nature of computer science itself, but social and cultural expectations and experiences that combine to cause women to lose interest in computer science.


Interest in computer science is affected by more than just one’s intellectual preference for abstract material. Women enter computer science with high interest and enthusiasm, but over time compare themselves to a male model of interest that is obsessive and all-consuming. In addition, males are likely to enter CS with more experience than females. Prior experience is not correlated with success in CS; nevertheless, women compare themselves unfavorably to men and conclude that they are not qualified. This feeds into dampening their interest in CS, which in turn hampers their performance, further affecting their interest. One notable exception is international women students, who initially enter with no interest in CS but with confidence in their math skills and with a strong motivation to succeed in whatever they study. Over time, their interest in CS develops, becoming an “acquired taste”. CS departments must establish a culture that promotes the idea of multiple ways to “be in” CS. They must also establish multiple entry points into the department that account for different degrees of prior experience. They could also provide students with information about the “myths of effortless learning” and make clear that gender-based taunting creates hostile learning environments and is not tolerated.

A Desire to Help Others: Goals of High-Achieving Female Science Undergraduates

Patricia H. Miller, Sue V. Rosser, Joann P. Benigno, and Mireille L. Zieseniss

One sentence summary

Some women in the life sciences may be more likely than men to satisfy their interests in science through careers in health and medicine.


The authors argue that many females satisfy their interests in science through careers in health and medicine. They were interested in how the career goals of advanced undergraduate students in the life sciences were stimulated by “prosocial goals’. They studied 120 undergraduates in an honors interdisciplinary program (biochemistry and neurobiology majors) via “personal statements” on their program applications. Over half the women and men expressed interest in research. For women, it was more likely that their interest in research was connected to their interest in a career in medicine, or to doing research within medicine, rather than a career in research itself. More females than males gave “prosocial” reasons for pursuing their major on their statement of interest. Females’ prosocial reasons were about directly benefiting people, whereas males’ prosocial reasons were about adding knowledge to the field or providing leadership. The sample size is very small, and this is a retrospective study of a written instrument not designed for the purposes of this study. The authors say their results show that “males and females interested in science tend to follow different paths”. However it is difficult to conclude much with confidence from these intriguing but tenuous results.

Promoting Success in Math Among African American Female Children: A Self-Empowerment Approach

Carolyn M. Tucker

One sentence summary

Self-empowerment strategies can help African American females attain success in math despite the social, economic, family, and educational conditions in their lives.


African American females are socialized to support their families and to take care of the emotional and psychological needs of family members, especially males. This socialization is not supportive of their development of mastery in math. African American females often grow up in impoverished environments with poor educational systems. Tucker promotes her Self-Empowerment Theory of Achievement as a means to help African American female children develop the necessary skills to succeed in math. These include promoting self-motivation, self-control, and self-reinforcement; adaptive skills such as communication, socialization, and daily living skills; self-management techniques; and math-success behaviors. Math-success behaviors include things like asking for extra homework or staying after school to get tutoring. Tucker says many African American children label such behaviors as “acting white” and it is important to re-label these behaviors as academic success or math-success behaviors. Tucker claimed success with the Self-Empowerment techniques in a partnership program with 75 students in grades one through twelve; after two years, participating students had higher grades in math. Educators, parents, and others in the community can all be important participants in the Self-Empowerment program.

Toward a Laboratory of One’s Own: Lesbians In Science

H. Patricia Hynes

One sentence summary

Lesbians, or woman-identified women, in science can help each other rediscover their original “passionate reason” and curiosity for science, and in so doing, forge identity and rebel against their erasure by/in patriarchal science.


Hynes asks, “Why would a woman-identified woman study science when scarcely a grain of female genius is tolerated by male science…?” She answers in part “because nature is fascinating.” She speaks eloquently about her love for science and the excitement and curiosity she originally brought to its study, and the “passionate reason” she once felt. Patriarchal science, however, requires one to seal off this passion and curiosity in order to “stand still and bore ever deeper”. A wide-ranging curiosity is undisciplined, immature. The erosion of intellectual passion is one of the worst features of patriarchal science. True intellectual passion is traded for pseudo-passion, which “is warmed by…inclusion in the high priesthood of science”. The rush of competition feeds pseudo-passion. Hynes links the erasure of women from science to the erasure of passion from science. She suggests that woman-identified women can break the silence imposed upon them by patriarchal science and rekindle their passion by sharing their ideas and projects with each other. It is this “exhilarating mental work which forges identity and meaning” for women. By rebelling against erasure, women claim that which patriarchal science will not grant them, and refuse to concede to men an “absolute power over nature”.

The Feminist and the Scientist: One and the Same

Angela B. Ginorio, Terry Marshall, and Lisa Breckinridge

One sentence summary

“Feminist scientist” is not an oxymoron, and the concerns of feminist scientists, which appear liberal in nature, must be addressed as part of any more radical project for changing science.


In a study of 28 women scientists, 25% self-identified as feminists. This compares to the national figure for all women who identify as feminist of 27.2%. Another 50% of the women conditionally identified as feminists, i.e. with qualifications on what “feminist” meant. Feminists were more likely to be in biological fields than in physical sciences. Scientists in the physical sciences were more likely to mention concerns about negative images or impact of feminism. The most common concern raised by nearly all women was access and equality for women in science. Women who identified as feminists were more likely to mention changing science as a concern. There is a tension between feminists who promote the idea of changing science and those who fear promotion of beliefs about “essential differences”. The feminist project is often misunderstood as saying that women will do science differently because of some essential quality they possess. Feminists outside science need to understand that a focus on access and equality does not indicate being “stuck” at the early position of liberal feminism. It reflects the realities that women scientists must still struggle with. In complex ways, grappling with access and equity is an integral part of changing science.

Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents: A Metanarrative on Science and the Scientific Method

Banu Subramaniam

One sentence summary

A modern fairy tale about race, gender, and colonialism in science, or, what’s the price of admission?


Snehalatha Bhrijbhushan leaves her village and sails the oceans to the Land of the Blue Devils to study science. In the Building of Scientific Truth, she learns from the Mirror – the “collective consciousness of all the Supreme White Patriarchs” – that she is a misfit. The Mirror sends her to the Wise Matriarch in the House of Seven Detergents, who can help Sneha, but at a cost. One detergent changes her name to Snow Brown, another scrubs away her accent; another, her “foreign” ways of eating and socializing. Another washes away her Third World mentalities, letting her be more aggressive and arrogant. But the Patriarchs dislike these qualities in a brown person…so she uses yet another detergent to become Snow White. And suddenly, the Patriarchs notice that she is pretty! Still not a scientist, but they wouldn’t mind having her as a lab tech. In the end, she has lost all her identity, and for nothing. There are three endings: one, she dies, the Patriarchs pour the last detergents on her, she vanishes. Two, she dies, but had written her story and sent it to everyone; people begin to question inequities. Three, she dies, her story spreads, and the Revolution comes.