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Interests not only assigned by gender


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Zack Armstrong

By Zack Armstrong
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 15, 1999

Women only constitute about 15-20 percent of students studying in the math and engineering departments. Oddly enough, to me at least, these numbers appear to be dropping. What's going on here? Is there a question of the confidence of women that needs to be further examined? I was under the impression that we were making advances in the efforts at equality among the sexes. Are we really just stuck in the mud without even knowing it?

This whole topic made me think of something I saw on "Oprah" a while back (and no I'm not a regular "Oprah" viewer, but I did watch it once and I'm not too completely ashamed of it). Anyway, Winfrey had three psychologists on the show; a mother and her two daughters, whose names, alas, have escaped my memory, but they had just come out with a new book called "See Jane Win." They spent three or so years studying successful women and trying to figure out if they had anything in common that helped them get to the top. As it turns out, they did. Success, they found, was largely related to how the women were raised.

There is no question that boys and girls are raised differently, and it should be obvious that it affects the way that their lives are lead, but for some reason it eluded me until my little encounter with Oprah. First of all, girls are given different toys to play with when they're young. Guys get Legos and girls get Barbies. Guys play with dolls too, but even our dolls have a sense of competition. G.I. Joe was all about war, and it doesn't get more competitive than that. Boys are ingrained with traits that lead to success later in life. We learn order and construction from toys like Legos and competition from toys like G.I. Joe. Girls can't learn anything from Barbie but a keen, yet often unattainable fashion sense. They aren't even anatomically correct.

As we get older, things don't change much, and they may actually get worse. The older we get the more we realize what we receive the most attention for. Boys are encouraged to compete from birth on. They get their attention for excelling in sports or academics. Girls, on the other hand, receive more attention for looking pretty. This becomes obvious to them in their adolescent years when they start liking boys and boys start liking them. They begin to realize that the boys are more receptive of the pretty girls, and even if they excelled in other things before this hormonal shift, they begin to put more emphasis on their looks, which pulls attention away from other areas. So in a way, it's guys' fault. We're superficial bastards, and I'm sorry.

By the time girls get to college, most of them are convinced, whether they know it or not, that they can't do as well as a guy could in fields like math and engineering. This is ridiculous and sad. Now I know that I'm just a guy and all and my view of this situation can only come from a guy's perspective, but I'm not coming into this gunfight armed with only a knife. As well as these ideas stemming largely from my run-in with Oprah, I was also fortunate enough to run them by a lady friend of mine who is in the engineering department. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to talk to her because I was hoping that she would have lots of stories about how much of a struggle it was to be one of the few girls in the department. I wanted to hear about guys being too competitive and mean and about teachers who didn't take her seriously. I didn't get that though. She had one negative encounter with a professor that she felt was because she is a girl but that was it.

Since I didn't get any dirt, we talked about the ideas that I talked about above. It turns out that she was always challenged to excel. She played sports and was always given a strong dose of positive encouragement and help from her parents in relation to academics. Coincidence? I think not.

Any idea that women are genetically less capable of succeeding in fields such as math and engineering is ludicrous. It is nothing more than a matter of confidence. Gender alone does not assign what we are good at.


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