Sunday, 30 March 2008

Feminism Piled Higher and Deeper

Looking at this graph, I wonder what's more significant: the overall picture showing the societal discrimination against women in academe is decreasing, or the gender-based difference is the various domains of study.

In my own experience at the ANU, only about 8-12% of Engineers in first year are female. How much of this is due to sex-based statistical differences in inate talent, how much due to socialisation, and how much is due to girls just being more interested in other areas? My bet's the last of the three, but that just begs the question: how much is inate, "natural", and how much is socially conditioned? I think the latter predominates by maybe 3:1, but the former exists too. We'll see. If I'm right, all of the curves will flatten at about the same time, with women getting a little more than half of all PhDs, but the relative proportions in the different areas remaining constant. That would mean about 30% of all engineers would be female - with a corresponding gender imbalance the other way in law, medicine, and the social sciences.

The graph is from Jonathan Kulick's excellent article on the subject, Math is Hard, in The Reality Based Community. The article also contains this little gem. Something that encapsulates - or encrapsulates - all that I despise in Post-Modernist Feminism.
The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. Although men, too, flow on occasion—when semen is emitted, for example—this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organ that counts, not its complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in mathematics, which conceives of fluids as laminated planes and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, existing only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.
(Hayles, N. K. (1992) “Gender encoding in fluid mechanics: masculine channels and feminine flows,” Differences: A Journal Of Feminist Cultural Studies, 4(2):16–44.)
As he says - "Although this would have made Alan Sokal proud, it was not a hoax. Every woman fluid dynamicist I’ve shown this to has responded with an unladylike snort.".

Not just fluid dynamicists.


E said...

Quite a few people have noticed that fewer women are entering engineering and that female engineers seem to be abandoning the profession in Australia. Apart from the immaturity of too many engineers, the dysfunctional workplaces and prejudice against women no one seem to have any idea why.

I am not the only 30-something woman to have noticed this and, in fact, I am within three months of abandoning the profession. If I do, I will not bother to finish off my PhD, but instead will pursue another career altogether.

At first, I thought my pointless search for anything worthwhile in engineering might have been a small absence for further study, or maybe my transition, not that I advertise it. However, talking about this with other 30-something women made me feel better - then worse. It seems that most engineering (and project management) environments take the view that a woman of that age will no doubt have kids and *gasp* go on maternity leave. At one interview, I was all but asked whether I had or intended to have kids.

In a perverse way, I am almost looking forward to abandoning the whole endeavour. It turns out that the reality of engineering is pathetically dull. I should have studied maths instead!


Anonymous said...

WTF? "encapsulates - or encrapsulates - all that I despise in Post-Modernist Feminism."????

I thought only I could use a phrase like that!! Worse, why aren't your blogospheric cromies lighting up like $2 joints and whining that you are a "massage-inist"?

Keep up the good work: there is A LOT WRONG with feminism, not just the post-mods. Not least of which is that whole dialectic of who is and who isn't a 'real feminist'.

The day that women had to analyze whether or not the are strong, or equal etc is the day they stopped being so, and became paternalizing pedantic replicant whiners... that old expression 'there are those who do and those who teach..." set apart from those who teach by doing.

I am laughing my ass off right now thinking about all of those so called 'professors' of knowledge hiding behind their degrees--especially in Womens Studies--as if they have to study to be a woman, and slathering over all of the new young female minds( and often, bpdies) to twist up and smoke....instead of being out there in the field somewhere teaching by example.