It is important to keep in mind that today’s academy is hardly inhospitable to women. Harvard, Princeton, Brown, MIT, and other top schools have women presidents. Women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of master’s degrees, and half the doctorates. If men were as gender-organized as women, they might lobby for Title IX reviews of the many departments — such as psychology, education, sociology, literature, art history, and the life sciences — where they are woefully “underrepresented.” And women now represent 77 percent of students in veterinary schools, so they can obviously manage hard technical science where it interests them.
The lower proportions of women in physics, mathematics, and engineering may be due in part to subtle factors of culture and “unconscious bias,” but facts point to simpler explanation. In a recent study by Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, 1,417 professors were asked to explain the relative scarcity of female professors in these fields. Nearly three out of four respondents, 74 percent, attributed it to differences in the subjects that characteristically interest women, while 24 percent put it down to sexist discrimination and 1 percent to women’s lack of ability.
A large and growing quantity of social science literature supports the 74-percent opinion. According to this research, not bias but natural propensities and preferences explains the disparity. Yet the majority (some would say crushingly obvious) view has not been heard at the congressional hearings, where legislators have been inundated with testimony and petitions from equity activists presenting unsound advocacy research on “hidden sexism” against women.
At one recent hearing, Representative Vernon Ehlers, a Michigan Republican who calls himself a “recovering sexist” jokingly suggested we declare science a sport and regulate it the way we do college athletics. But science is not a sport. In science, women and men play on the same teams. In sports, no one suggested that women’s success required transforming the “culture of soccer” or cooling the passion for competing and winning. Most of all, the continued excellence of American science and technology is vital to our security and prosperity — and depends on an exacting meritocracy and, at the top, an intensity of vocational devotion that few men or women can achieve.
Congressmen like Ehlers and Baird, and National Science Foundation officials like Kathie Olsen are charged with protecting our scientific proficiency. Taking a feminist hammer to the nation’s science departments is recklessly at odds with that mission.
– Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The War Against Boys and other works. This essay is derived from “Why Can’t a Man be More Like a Woman,” an article appearing in the most recent issue of The American.