At the superbowl party at my house last weekend, most folks didn’t really have a stake in who won. But several friends were rooting for Pittsburg to loose, largely due to their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. In case you don’t pay attention to sports news (like me), Roethlisberger was twice accused of rape/sexual assault in the last two years. When folks were talking about it, I foolishly said something along the lines of, “well, what were the cirumstances of the rape?”

In my defense, I was just trying to get more details, but it came off as an attempt to minimize. All of this is to say that I’m more or less a moron when it comes to issues of gender inequality. I’m a middle-class, white male from liberal Santa Cruz,CA – all of my knowledge of discrimination (of any sort) is purely theoretical. I’m against discrimination, but I don’t really know what it looks like.

And there’s been a recent spate of gender issues cropping up recently on a lot of the blogs I read, from the (generally positive) fall-out of the women and science blogging session at ScienceOnline, to the douche-baggery of some dudes at at an atheist conference in Florida, and now a new paper in PNAS that finds sexual discrimination in science (in terms of hiring) is virtually non-existant, but that women are still held back due to other factors:

Researchers Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams from Cornell University in the US reviewed 20 years of data on gender discrimination and the status of women in the sciences. They argue that too much attention has been focused on apparent sexual discrimination when women apply for new jobs, funding or to be published in journals.

Instead, Ceci and Williams believe that women are more likely than men to make personal choices – many of which may well be constrained – that prevent them from progressing to more senior levels (eg time off to raise children, following a spouse, caring for parents). They argue that focusing on discrimination at application stages may represent a costly red herring and that resources should be redirected towards education and policy changes that reflect the challenges faced by women interested in building a long-term career in science.

The paper is available to the public for free, but I have to admit, I’m over my head. I read the paper and nodded my head at the apparent wisdom, but I don’t really trust any of my opinions on the matter. None of the female science bloggers I read have covered this yet (though a couple of the male ones have) – so what about it bloggosphere?


  1. #1 longsmith
    February 11, 2011

    I thought that piece on Jon Stewart was hysterical. Did you read Dr. Isis? I think she posted about this.

    I really like your blog. Thanks!

  2. #2 Elyse
    February 11, 2011

    I thought FSP had an excellent breakdown of the paper. Her points about who they were basing their data on seemed particularly relevant as my field is generally included in the physical sciences. The culture in the physical sciences is very different from that in medicine, biomedical science, and molecular biology.

  3. #3 becca
    February 11, 2011

    Keep in mind, if the sexual discrimination occurs at the level of *requiring more from women to get jobs/promotions/ect*, *and if women know this perfectly well* then women may not go up for a job until they are already better-qualified. Thus leading to zero apparent discrimination by hiring committees.

  4. #4 Mike Olson
    February 11, 2011

    Some issues and situations are nothing more than an invitation to walk face first into a large industrial fan. I hugely and heartily agree that victims of crimes need to receive justice. But, in some situations you really have to wonder what happens to fair, balanced and just: suggestions someone is a pedophile, a wife beater, or sexually assaultive pretty much immediately create a hugely negative atmosphere not based on guilt but based simply on person’s taking precautions so as not to be associated with the person presumed guilty. To me, this is something like liberal guilt. In other words actual racists don’t really care if they are accused of racism. A liberal will bend over backwards to avoid the accusation of or the appearance of any sort of prejudice. Similarly, for men who strongly support feminism or are strongly empathetic to women’s issues can face the same sort of situation. Again, I am all for protecting kids and ensuring justice for women. But, I’d point out that simply being a woman making an accusation doesn’t make a woman a victim. There are vindictive and manipulative person’s in the world…male and female.

  5. #5 Katharine
    February 15, 2011

    Christina Hoff Sommers discusses sexism in science on NRO:

    Also, check out her op-ed on domestic violence myths:

  6. #6 JM Shep
    February 17, 2011

    I haven’t read the full article yet; I plan to over lunch today.

    I have some thoughts on this based off of what you’ve posted and the fact that I’m a woman in science. Women are still expected to do the majority of housework, cooking, and child-rearing in most relationships, and I think that is the biggest challenge facing women (in science) today. Until that changes, we will not see a change in the demographic of science higher-ups. I know that when I think about going to grad school or starting a family, I wouldn’t want to do both at the same time. I see having a family as something that will come after I establish myself as a scientist. If I start a family first, I don’t know if I would be able to achieve as much as if I wait. A lot of that would depend on my partner and our relationship and how we divide maintaining a household and raising children.

    So I can see how we need to focus less on outright discrimination at the hiring process, and how we need to shift that focus to minimizing the effect of non-career life on the careers of women.

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