Feminist organizations have launched yet another gender-gap crusade, this time in the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and math departments, or STEM, for short. As we have noted, female college enrollment now approaches 60 percent in this country, and women earn the majority of degrees at every academic level. However, after a decade or more of government-sponsored effort by militant groups like the American Association of University Women, STEM departments remain obstinately male.
As Contrarian readers know, it is always wise to look at the facts before assuming that any statistical disparity in American society is a result of gender bias or discrimination. Women’s activist groups, however, make assumptions like that for a living. Consider a recent AAUW study funded by a $250k grant from the National Science Foundation. This study, titled Why So Few? is actually not a study at all, but a summary of several reports published in the last decade.
Why So Few? highlights society’s propensity to consider STEM jobs “masculine,” and humanities, education, and healthcare jobs “feminine.” It asserts that these attitudes form the basis for STEM discrimination, because girls are less likely to apply themselves to subjects that society considers masculine. Indeed, even girls who are gifted at math and science are far less likely to pursue STEM careers than their male counterparts.
Why So Few? doesn’t attempt to prove that gender bias is the sole contributing factor to the STEM gender gap. The authors admit that biological factors, such as interest or innate ability, may lead more men than women to major in math and science. This important point, however, is quickly brushed aside. The AAUW is not interested in the degree to which biology accounts for the disparity between men and women in STEM fields. Rather, the purpose of the study is to highlight the possible presence of bias, regardless of whether or not men enjoy a natural talent and propensity for math and science.
Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War against Boys and editor of The Science on Women in Science contends that the “evidence for bias against women in science is weak.” In a March 1st Forbes article, Sommers concludes that “men and women, on average, have different career interests and propensities. Women are underrepresented in engineering but more than hold their own in sociology and biology Ph.D. programs. Is this because engineering departments discriminate against women while biology departments do not? Or is it because more women choose not to spend their lives with inanimate objects?”
If Sommers is correct, and women are biologically less inclined to STEM careers on average, is it discriminatory to consider these jobs more masculine in nature?
The AAUW will not be content to make only modest recommendations from its quite modest scientific findings. Nestled among suggestions such as “encourage girls that effort, not innate knowledge, is important” one finds this radical prescription: “enforce Title IX in science, technology, engineering, and math.” Title IX, traditionally applied only to sports programs on college campuses, has been a disastrous policy. The Department of Education has interpreted the law to mean that the ratio of male to female athletes must approximate the total ratio of men and women on campus. It doesn’t matter if more men than women are interested in playing college sports. Men’s programs are cut if they are not in proportion to enrollment.
The fact of the matter is that more men than women are interested in STEM majors and careers. The AAUW doesn’t wish to consider whether or not that disparity is caused primarily by biology. Rather, feminists are happy to deploy their standard tactics and laugh all the way to the bank: highlight a statistical gap between men and women in some element of society, publish a study claiming that the gap is a result of inherent discrimination, and propose that the federal government compel contrition on behalf of the people, either by pouring money into feminist groups and causes, or passing legislation like Title IX.
It is one thing to apply radical social engineering projects to college sports departments. It is quite another to apply them to the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and math industries. Title IX will not create a more vigorous academic environment, as the AAUW contends. It will bar countless qualified individuals from contributing to American innovation and discovery in the 21st Century.