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When Are You Guys Going to Get It?
By Deborah Blum
Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and the author
of "Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection."

February 13, 2005

In Victorian times, scientists argued that women's brains were too small
to be fully human. On the intelligence scale, researchers recommended
classifying human females with gorillas.

The great 19th century neuroanatomist Paul Broca didn't see the
situation as quite so dire, but he warned his colleagues that women were
not capable of being as smart as men, "a difference that we should not
exaggerate, but which is nonetheless real."

The president of Harvard University suggested that a lack of "innate
ability" might help explain why women couldn't keep up with men in
fields like math and science . oh, wait, that one happened just last

Hold for a minute - OK - while I dig out my corset and bustle.

If that sounds snotty, I mean it to be.

I, for one, am ready to leave the 19th century behind. Harvard President
Lawrence H. Summers can apologize all he wants, but the fact is that -
from a position of power - he felt comfortable speculating about women's
inadequate intelligence and ignoring years worth of science that proved
him wrong.

I don't find that excusable. Period.

And I wonder why we women are so willing to tolerate this kind of

Summers raised the issue of women's lesser capabilities in an economic
conference in Cambridge, Mass., in mid-January. And the most consistent
response from women - the one still resonating across the country - is

A litany of female scholars quote studies proving that, yes, we girls
can do long division, actually understand a chemical formula, comprehend
a physical law or two and not only become professional scientists but do
good work.

In fact, when allowed, women have done excellent science for decades,
even since the corset-and-bustle days. The physicist Marie Curie won two
Nobel prizes - in 1903 and 1911 - for her work in France with
radioactive elements. As one Stanford University professor assured her
audience last week, "clearly, girls are as capable" as boys.

No argument there from me except this one: Why does that have to be said
at all? How well must women perform before the question of our
competence gets taken off the table? How many times do we have to make
the point before people actually believe it?

I wonder when it was that male academics last organized a conference to
explain that their brains worked as well as those of their female
colleagues. Perhaps they should have. At least, if more attention was
given to the limits of male brain function, Summers might not have made
quite such a fool of himself.

If that sounds like a cheap shot, I mean it to be.

Thanks to brain-imaging studies, we can quantify the average size
difference between men's and women's brains. It runs between 6% to 8%.
Imaging studies also tell us the brains are packed a little differently.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the average female has more cortical
complexity - a little more sophisticated material in the region that
handles cognitive processing - than your average guy. A whole bunch of
studies - to use one of those technical terms - indicate that the corpus
callosum, a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the right and left
hemispheres, is larger in females.

Not unexpectedly, research also shows that women seem to use both sides
of their brain in certain tasks, such as verbal processing, when men use
only one. The result, though, in terms of quick and accurate response,
is about the same.

In other words, minor brain differences with minor effects. But as Dr.
Ruth O'Hara of Stanford's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral
Science points out, even such subtle differences can be used against
women. In one report, the scientists suggested that men have better
control over brain activity and therefore don't need to slop into a
second hemisphere.

"You wouldn't think that more activity would be a bad thing," she notes.
"But apparently that's a matter of interpretation."

Does it strike you, as it does me, that Summers missed the important
question? The one that goes like this: If men and women are basically
equal in ability, why is there not a more equal balance of power?

That's complicated terrain, perhaps more than he wanted to take on.
Still, I'd like to propose this simple scenario: One gender gained the
power position and has been really, really reluctant to share the space.

It's possible that dominance has nothing to do with intelligence and
everything to do with size and strength. That early in human history,
males muscled their way into control and have stayed there because
they're bigger (an average 17%) and because they play tough.

In our civilized times, muscle mass isn't that necessary. Why use
physical force when other techniques are so effective: put-downs,
dismissals, suggestions that, geez, we'd love to see women advance in
those challenging intellectual fields - if only they were up to it.

Do I believe this represents the way all men think today? Absolutely
not. I know many men who were as unhappy with Summers as I was. "My
first thought was, 'With friends like this, who needs enemies?' " one
male neurobiologist told me.

Do I believe, though, that Victorian attitudes of superiority still
exist? Absolutely yes.

"It's important for these attitudes to come out," Londa Schiebinger
says. She directs Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender,
and she organized the recent conference. Schiebinger is determined, she
says, to make something positive out of Summers' remarks, to use them to
educate people about women's talents and abilities.

Again no argument from me. But I would ask how much lemonade can be made
from Harvard's lemons. How many people learned from subsequent reports
on women's brains and how many only heard, as my 15-year-old son relayed
to me, "the president of Harvard thinks women aren't as smart as men."

I wonder even now if a few more bellows of rage and a lot less tact
might yet be in order, that we need to remind the world also that, yes,
we are nice - but not that nice. That we don't have so much patience
that yet another generation of female scientists needs to die out before
garnering the recognition they deserve.

To return to Marie Curie, you should know that the year she won her
second Nobel Prize, the French Academy of Sciences refused to admit her
as a member. Why? She was a woman. Curie did finally get her recognition
from France in 1995 - 61 years after her death from leukemia. They dug
up her bones and reburied them with other national heroes in the
Pantheon. What an honor, huh? I'll bet that meant a lot to her.

And if that sounds angry, I mean it to be.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Comments (5)


nesutikciau, kad vyrai ir moterys yra vienodai protingi, greiciau ju protingumo rusys yra skirtingos. Manau, kad apie tai daznai pamirstama diskusijose, kur painiojamos intelekto ribos ir lygios teises. Zmonijai labai pasiseke, kad turime dvi lytis, o ne viena. Aisku, sunku isivaizduoti, ar buti geriau, jei buti trys arba keturios lytys, taciau turime kelias rases ir apie desimt pastaruju misiniu, taciau nei genotipai, nei tuo labiau fenotipai neatrodo pakankamu pagrindu vadinti vienus ar kitus gerais mokslininkais.
Socialines roles turetu buti liberalizuotos ir, atrodo, bent jau Vakaru pasaulis to neisvengs.
Is savo subjektyvios-konservatyvios pozicijos
kol kas esu linkes rezervuoti tik individualaus "psichofizinio pilnavertiskumo" sriti: vyras negali buti gera moterimi, o moteris geru vyru, nes tai butu nesazininga sios istorines-genetines "dviprasybes" atzvilgiu. Aisku, visuomeneje jie abu yra vienodai "zmoniski" ir nusipelne pagarbos bei savirealizacijos galimybiu.


aš labai noriu ir stengiuosi tikėti vienodais mergaičių ir berniukų sugebėjimais hitech mokslo srityje, tačiau blet, kodėl nei viena mano kursiokė, kol mokiausia informatikoje, neparašė nei vienos supistos programos? aplinka, kultūra ir auklėjimas?

tai kiek galima slapstytis už to auklėjimo? o po to kiekvieną kartą, kai išlenda toks aštrus klausimas, ištraukti iš užanties "jie 17% didesni ir stipresni ir todėl jie dominuoja" o gal greičiau "jos yra stipriau paveikios emocianime plane, todėl investuoja į sugebėjimus šioje srityje o ne į mokymąsi programuoti"?

to netaikau kolegėms, kurios nemala šūdo ir nuoširdžiai domisi technologijomis. jūs žinot, kas jūs esat, žiūrėdamas į jus galiu įsivaizduoti, kaip dirbo marija kiuri.

dar pseudomokslo apie "berniukai vs mergaitės" - yra nuomonė, kad berniukai yra labiau single-taskiniai, o mergaitės multi-taskinės. todėl berniukai statistiškai (sic!) geriau pavaro ten, kur reikia koncentruotis, o mergaitės - ten kur reikia surišinėti palaidus galus. šitą girdėjau iš moters (kultūrologijos docentės)


"aš labai noriu ir stengiuosi tikėti vienodais mergaičių ir berniukų sugebėjimais hitech mokslo srityje, tačiau blet, kodėl nei viena mano kursiokė, kol mokiausia informatikoje, neparašė nei vienos supistos programos? aplinka, kultūra ir auklėjimas? "
tiesiog pabandyk hipotetiskai isivaizduot ar jos taip pat nebutu sukure jokios programos jei ta aplinka, kultura ir auklejimas butu buves kitoks?
kodel tarkim cia, kur praejo didelis feministinis judejimas, kuris pakeite poziurius, istatymus ir t.t. padetis labai kitokia? tai nereiskia kad tos pacios problemos neegzistuoja bet palygink su lietuva ir cia rasi turbut daug didesni skaiciu santykinai, moteru 'nemoteriskose' profesijoje, moteru kurios savo veikla griauna bet kokius stereotipus kas ka ir kaip sugeba.

mokyklose vis dar ir cia ir turbut lietuvoj tuo labiau berniukai yra labiau skatinami tiksliesiems mokslams ir i juos dedamos viltys. ar tai gali turi efekta gyvenimo pasirinkimams?
ar pasitikejimo skatinimas ir skirtingos is anksto numatytos roles veikia? kai vyrui naturalu investuot savo laika i zinias , o moterims i savo isvaizda ir tai kad jomis turetu buti pasirupinta, ar tai didelis faktorius ar ne? ir nesakykit man argumento kad kiekviena/s turi pasirinkima ir laisva valia, bunant subkulturoj ir turint issilavinima, lengva kalbet, kad visi/visos turi lengvus pasirinkimus visuomenej ir gali pasipriesint mainstream spaudimui.


"aš labai noriu ir stengiuosi tikėti vienodais mergaičių ir berniukų sugebėjimais hitech mokslo srityje, tačiau blet, kodėl nei viena mano kursiokė, kol mokiausia informatikoje, neparašė nei vienos supistos programos? aplinka, kultūra ir auklėjimas?"
baigiau info mife, parasiau visas programas kurias man reikejo ir nereikejo. tai kad kai kurios neparaso kalta aplinka, auklejimas ir kultura. tai kad ne visos paraso - normalu -- nevisi vaikinai irgi paraso.
reikia uzsispyrimo, tikejimo savimi ir gerai suvokto noro eiti pries stereotipus. "vyriskose" specialybese merginai reikia buti geriausiai is visu kolegu, kad i ja butu ziurima ir ji butu vertinama kaip lygiaverte (tai kas yra visada a priori true vaikino atveju) -- tai daugybe kartu patirta ir isbandyta ant nuosavo kailio.


o jumi neatrodo, kad čia truputi beprasmė diskusija?
kyla klausimas, kas geriau - rėksmingas PR'inis feminizmas ar grassroots žmogizmas?
gal truputį pojebat', ką sako harvardo profesorius (netgi jei tai nėra medijos išpūstas burbulas), jei "vyriškoj" specialybėj kursiokai/dėstytojai gerbia už tai, ką moki ir padarai?
jei man pavyks ką nors gero nuveikti, norėčiau tai padaryti kaip opit, o ne *moteris*, bo nenorėčiau, kad kas nors mane imtų gelbėti ir užjausti.
kita vertus, dabar ateina toks laikotarpis, kai viskas susijaukia - lytys, pozicijos, tiesos. postfeminizmas. ir radikalusis feminizmas, bent jau šiame kontekste - europoj ar štatuos - atrodo taip pat truputi plėktelėjęs, kaip, tarkim, sąjūdis. metas švęsti savo skirtumus.


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