Anything you can do, I can do better

21 May



Print: John Clark (Etsy)

Print: John Clark (Etsy)

I don’t believe the title of this post is true, in my ability as a female to compete with a male.  For example, I have never, ever been good at math or science.  I was raised in an academic family, my father is a PhD educated scientist, and nearly all of the Indian children (males and females) of my parent’s friends have excelled in both subjects.  My brother earned a perfect score on the math section of the SATs, while I struggled through calculus, accounting, and finance.  

I’m also a staunch feminist; girlfriends and boyfriends will attest to my outspokenness on issues of equality between the sexes.  But I believe there are innate differences in the intellectual capabilities of men and women that cannot be solely blamed on socialization and discrimination.  That’s why when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, made comments in 2005 akin to my above, I silently agreed with him while reacting to the furor his remarks created by noted feminists I respect.

I’m no fan of Larry, by any means.  As a adviser to President Obama on financial issues, he has accepted significant financial compensation from failing banks and his centrist policies are probably not in the best interest of the American people.  He has a big ego, no question.  But here’s a summary of his remarks, from the Boston Globe (Summers’ remarks on women draw fire, Jan. 17, 2005, Marcella Bombardieri):

He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.

The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ”I said no one really understands why this is, and it’s an area of ferment in social science,” Summers said in an interview Saturday. ”Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren’t” due to socialization after all.

Summers’ third point was about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.

Because that doesn’t seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, ”the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it’s less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination.”

Sometimes I think third-wave feminists have a knee-jerk reaction to any claim that women are different from men.  I believe reactions that completely dismiss Summers are a disservice to the research we could be focusing on, like how to better incorporate work and family for young women, providing more encouragement to young girls who do display a talent in math and/or science at an early age, and using promoting these girls into high-level positions as they enter the working world. 

Summers’ remarks about working mothers is another, very serious issue; it is unfortunate this comment was swept under the rug in favor of lambasting his theory about genetic differences.  The speech was meant to be provocative and start a dialogue.  I’m in favor of political correctness, but listening rationally to someone we may not agree with is a sign of maturity, not weakness.

One Response to “Anything you can do, I can do better”

  1. phil May 22, 2009 at 12:09 am #

    if we are talking honesty and fairness without judgement then afirmative action is contrary to that but…

    unless one would like to purposely breed a population (over a few generations) where women with these characteristsics, on the whole, grew in quality and quantity.

    but that is not proven anthropology or economics and has absolutely nothing but my own conjecture behind it

    alsoooooooooo i think everyone stands to benefit from a little more honesty: it could help us all and help me from being so paranoid I DONT TRUST YOU! lol

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