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Women in Physics

  1. Nov 20, 2015 #1
    The American Physics Society is making the following official statement


    where they use the word "disappointing" referring to the percentage of physicists that are women. Of incoming physics majors, about 20% are girls, and 80% are boys.

    When a girl in high school is filling out her college application, and she comes to the part of the application where she is supposed to write down her choice of major, she can write down any major she wants. She's the one filling out her application. Nobody else fills it out. Nobody is looking over her shoulder while she fills it out. The reason for the fact that the 20% of the physics majors are girls, is because girls are less likely than boys to choose to major in physics. If you don't like the current percentage of physicists that are women, you are blaming girls for choosing to not major in physics.

    This is very insulting to girls. If a boy chooses to major in subject X, you don't criticize him for not majoring in subject Y. You assume he put a lot of thought into the decision. On the other hand, if a girl majors in subject X, you criticize her for not majoring in subject Y. You don't respect her decision about what to major in.

    Second of all, they imply that girls who did not major in physics, somehow secretly wanted to major in physics, but inexplicably didn't do it anyway. Well, that's insulting to girls. Someone would have to be stupid to not major in what they want to major in. If a boy majored in subject X, it would never occur to you that he secretly wanted to major in subject Y. However, if a girl majors in subject X, you assume that she must have secretly wanted to major in subject Y.

    Third of all, if you confront people about this, they then suddenly claim, without evidence, that supposedly somebody is telling girls not to major in physics. First of all, nobody is telling girls not to major in physics. Second of all, it is insulting to girls to imply that girls are so weak-minded that they don't major in what they want to major in just because someone told them not to do it. It would never cross your mind that a boy who wanted to major in subject X would instead major in subject Y just because someone told him not to major in subject Y. However, you assume that girls are so weak-minded that a girl who wanted to major in subject X would instead major in subject Y just because someone told her not to major in subject X. Besides, nobody is telling girls not to major in physics.

    Fourth of all, another way they insult girls is implying that girls need to be told that "physics is an option". Are they implying that girls don't know physics exists, or don't know girls are allowed to major in physics? Of course, girls already know that physics is an option. If a boy majored in subject X, you would not think the reason is because he didn't know that majoring in subject Y was an option. On the other hand, if a girl majors in subject X, you assume it must be because she didn't know that majoring in subject Y was an option.

    All of this is very insulting to girls, implying that girls can't decide what to major in, that they need you to tell them what to major in, or if they don't major in what you think they should have majored in, you assume that someone else must have told them not to. You don't respect a girl's decision about what to major in since the decision was, after all, made by a mere girl. All of this is the unspoken premise of anyone who believes that the percentage of physicists who are women should be higher than it currently is.

    If you believe that the percentage of physicists who are women should be 50%, and you are trying to encourage girls to major in physics to get the percentage closer to what you think it should be, then you are preselecting a value X for the percentage of physicists who are women, and then trying to get the real percentage closer to X. Another example of that same thing would be if someone believed that the percentage of physicists that are women should be 0%, and they were trying to discourage girls from majoring in physics. If you admit that would be sexist, then you admit that it is sexist to believe that the percentage should be 50%, and to try to increase the current percentage.

    There are lots of professions that are overwhelmingly one gender. Nurses are 90% women. Secretaries are 90% women. Elementary school teachers are 90% women. Fashion models are 90% women. Nobody thinks that is a problem. Nobody thinks we should get the percentage closer to 50%. If physicists are 20% women, what's wrong with that?

    Men and women, boys and girls, are often interested in different things. Boys are more likely to be interested in BMX bikes, skateboarding, or football. Girls are more likely to be interested in fashion, or listen to boy bands. What's wrong with that?

    One last thing, being an undergraduate physics major is hard work, and you need to be passionate about the subject. If there was someone who would not major in physics if you hadn't persuaded them to do it, then they are probably not passionate about the subject, which means they are probably not going to do very well.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2015 #2


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    Have you read this paper:
    or any of those cited within?
    Gender stereotypes having influence on competence beliefs, actual performance, and educational choices are well established. This is not 'being insulting to girls', this is how human mind works.
  4. Nov 21, 2015 #3
    Don't get me started. Girls being directed away from STEM by idiot educators and the media is a real problem. I am good friends with a major mathematician at a major university who happens to be, guess what!, a woman. She is literally as good as ANY man. And our company hires lots of women engineers and scientists and would like to hire more so please gals don't be discouraged. You can do it.
  5. Nov 21, 2015 #4
    Great analysis MathAmateur. I agree with you. of course girls know they CAN major in Physics if they wanted to! They are just not so interested in it so much. I think that insisting on having 50% of female physicists or 50% of female members of parliament is a question of ideology.
    Yes, I am a woman. I have studied social anthropology. I am not a conservative Christian. And I claim: There are differences between the genders and it is true that men and women have generally different interests. There is nothing wrong with that. It's normal.
    I am not saying that a woman can't become a scientist. of course she can. And as far as I know, the society where I live accepts this fact. No one prevents girls from choosing Physics or any other science. They just don't want to. And on the other hand, not so many men want to become kindergarten teachers. it's just our own fault (the fault of the society) that we subjectively consider scientists to be more important than kindergarten teachers. THAT is a problem, not the ratio of men:women in various occupations.

    Just a disclaimer in order to prevent accusations: I know that "ideal women" and "ideal men" do not exist. I know that in each human, both aspects are present, I know that various cultures perceive roles of men and women differently. I respect all people- hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, inter-, asexual. I do not think that these identities are wrong.
  6. Nov 21, 2015 #5
    Who are these "idiot educators" or members of the "media" that you claim are "directing" girls "away from STEM"? You're looking at the percentage of physicists, engineers, etc. who are women, and you just assume, without evidence, that the reason the percentage is less than 50% must because "idiot educators" or members of the "media" are "directing" girls "away from STEM". There is no evidence for that. Most likely, the real reason is because girls are less likely than boys to be interested in those subjects. Even if, hypothetically, someone were to tell a girl to not major in physics, why would that cause a girl to not major in physics if she wanted to do it? You yourself cite an example of a woman who is "major mathematician", which disproves your own claim that either people are supposedly discouraging girls from majoring in physics or similar subjects, or that such discouragement, if it were to exist, would cause a girl to choose to not major in physics or a similar subject, if she herself wanted to major in it.
  7. Nov 21, 2015 #6
    Never heard that this is not considered an issue. How does one know that these fields will not be improved by having a 50% balance.

    We all know what has been achieved with the status quo, it is great possibilities that inspires everyone to balance the playing field.
  8. Nov 21, 2015 #7
    So you are saying we should try to make the percentage 50% because "How does one know that these fields will not be improved" if the percentage were 50%. Therefore, you are saying " we should try to make the percentage X because 'How does one know that these fields will not be improved' if the percentage were X.", where X is a preselected number. Well, if you can choose "50" to be the value, then you can just as easily choose "0" to be the value of X. Then you would say " we should try to make the percentage 0% because "How does one know that these fields will not be improved" if the percentage were 0%. That would be the moral equivalent of what you're saying because you're saying we should try to change the percentage to be equal to X, where X is a number you just preselected for no logical reason, and then tried to justify it by saying "How does one know that these fields will not be improved" if the percentage were X.
  9. Nov 21, 2015 #8
  10. Nov 21, 2015 #9


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    Please use data from actual studies to support your claims. So far, all the claims in the OP are purely personal beliefs, which only play into the stereotype data provided in post #2.
  11. Nov 21, 2015 #10
    Here's some data: world population is ~50% male and 50% female, as there is no known difference in capabilities between the sexes they should be equally represented. Any discrepancy is an artefact of the social conditions in each society.

  12. Nov 22, 2015 #11
    Of course no one's telling girls not to major in physics, and no one's telling boys that they can't be nurses.

    But just entertain me for a second. What kind of person do you see when someone says the word "physicist" to you? What about "programmer" or "engineer"? When someone says "nurse" to you, do you think male or female?

    Obviously the reason there aren't more women becoming physicists is that not as many women are interested in physics. But when you start reaching numbers like 1 female physicist for every 4 or 5 male physicists at best, then you have to find a reason why those young women aren't making that choice.

    And you can dance around that forever by pulling out old "common sense" tropes about how men are from Mars and women are from Venus, therefore women need to be nurturing and caring and think solely with their emotions while men are the logical and emotionless ones (a trope which, by the way, has been refuted over and over again), but sooner or later you're not going to be able to get past the fact that there is no inherent reason that this disparity should exist that can be explained by anything biological.

    Basically, the fact that such high disparities exist is a symptom of a greater problem, not the problem in and of itself. You need only visit the Debian forum archives to see very clearly that there are distressingly common social attitudes about technology and gender that are repelling women from technical careers.

    And just on the greater subject of women in technology and technological interests, in the video gaming industry and video gaming player communities, about the last three years have been stained by essentially a never-ending shitshow of open, unapologetic misogyny after some women tried to speak out against perceived sexism in the industry and communities. Just one look at that whole debacle should make it very clear that the reason for the lack of female interest in the STEM fields is largely social.

    Who's saying that there's nothing wrong with that? That nursing as a career is 90% female (a number which, by the way, seems a bit high. Do you have a source for that?) is just another facet of the very same social gender roles that make the hard sciences unappealing to women. Men are wimps if they're in a "nurturing" job, they're ambitionless and effeminate if they don't seek the power and authority of being a doctor, they're immature and unreliable if they're the sort of person to choose the lower salary of a nurse compared to a doctor.

    Nothing, but the question is why? What makes, say, football (I assume we're talking American football here?) more interesting to boys than to girls? It's clearly not that boys are the only ones interested in sports.
  13. Nov 22, 2015 #12
  14. Nov 22, 2015 #13


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    I fully support the APS statement.

    According to the data female faculty in physics departments are at about 14%, a number that has been growing, but is certainly nowhere near parity. The thing is, how does that compare to something like high school physics enrollment? Informal reports seem to indicate that there is parity at the high school level. So when females first have the opportunity to choose to take physics, there is interest at a parity level. But then there's a decline from high school to university undergraduate enrollment, and that decline appears to continue on up into the academic ranks.

    Pretending that this is just due to natural biological differences is like burying your head in the sand. Organisations that exist to promote the study of physics such as the APS, should be looking into such disparities and doing what they can to ensure that issues such as deliberate or unconscious gender bias are eliminated.
  15. Nov 22, 2015 #14


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    Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

    http://www.newmodels.com/race.html (limited survey population - put's women at 53%, men at 47% for fashion modeling in print ads)

    http://www.menteach.org/resources/data_about_men_teachers - about 18-19% of elementary and middle school teachers are male, BLS indicates about 19-20%.

    In nursing, about 90-91% of nurses are female, but that proportion is not uniform across the US.
  16. Nov 22, 2015 #15
    Since the women's liberation movement in the sixties ( throwing off the stereotyping of women as meek, have only nonserious aspirations outside of the home, college education is a extravagance, or they can't compete with men) they have continued to struggle against sexual bias in the workplace still making only about 85% of men in the same job title. Even having proved the fallacy of this bias they continue to have to deal with it. In enlightened households young girls may be nurture to recognize opportunities that they have a chance of making it in this man's world but acquire doubts as they see that in the real world that it remains discouraging or even hostile to their aspirations.

    In an article appearing in Physics Today May 2014 "Psychological Insights for improve physics teaching" by Lauren Aguilar, Greg Walton and Carl Wieman. The article particularly addresses a cause if lack of representation of women, Latinos and African Americans (under represented groups) in introductory college physics courses and why under representation still exists and what can be \done to ameliorate it.

    In her book “The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club.” Eileen Pollock gives her experience as an undergraduate physics major at Yale and her reason for not pursuing a physics career.


    Yesterday on the NPR radio program "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" Lisa Randall Harvard Professor of Physics was a guest celebrity. Program Host Peter Sagal prior to the game talked with her about her career as a particle physicist noted for her Randall-Sundrum model of the universe, the first tenured women physicist at Princeton and the second at Harvard

    It just might be true that many women are as good or better than most men in the sciences. I don't think putting limits like 50/50 should be a goal. Just find the best people for the job, isn't that what it is all about.
  17. Nov 22, 2015 #16
    I'm not making any argument, other than the fact that I don't think it's good to be sexist. If you think we should increase the percentage of physicists that are women, that means you are therefore sexist. Only a sexist person would care what someone's gender is.
  18. Nov 22, 2015 #17
    What's wrong with an "artefact of the social conditions in each society"? There is nothing "wrong" with boys and girls, men and women, being interested in different subjects. Do you think that men should be just as likely as women to take up knitting as a hobby?
  19. Nov 22, 2015 #18

    Well, you are against the APS statement, since they literally use the phrase "disappointingly low" to refer to the current percentage of physicists that are women. Unlike you and me, the APS does not believe that we should "Just find the best people for the job", and instead their goal, which they openly admit in their statement, is to increase the percentage of physicists that are women.

    I have to say that I am shocked by the responses to my post, where almost every post was openly virulently sexist. It is deeply offensive. It is deeply sexist against girls to believe that girls are so stupid that they can't decide for themselves what to major in, and they need you to tell them what to major in, which is exactly what you are assuming if you think the percentage of physicists that are women should be higher than it currently is. Even more offensive than that is when people are actually seriously talking about whether a woman does or does not have the same mental capacity as man. I literally can not imagine someone saying something like that in the year 2015.

    Then you have people claiming that they are against any cultural difference between men and women whatsoever. What are they saying? Are they saying they believe that in a perfect world men would be as likely to wear dresses as women, because they are against any cultural differences whatsoever?

    Equality doesn't mean that boys and girls will choose to do the same things. Equality means that boys and girls have equal rights to choose to do what they want. If girls are less likely than boys to choose to major in physics, that's their choice, and if you respect a girl's ability to think for herself, then you won't consider that a problem.
  20. Nov 22, 2015 #19
    No-one believes that you are making simple arguments against so-called sexism. Every argument that is made like this is based on some previous experience or missed goals that one attributes to a so-called unfair policy, that is why the OP missive is wandering, full of personal opinion, and, goes against the overriding goals and values of PF, and to answer your knitting question is ridiculous - of course someone whom knits can be of any gender. I know some extremely strong outdoors people whom knit of both genders. People whom design cloths and create them are of all sexes.

    If you think you are making new arguments you have missed the last 50 years.
  21. Nov 22, 2015 #20


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    I want equality too! 90% of prison population is male 90% of deaths on the jobe are male. Let's start putting women in prison and let's give them the more dangerous tasks which are so rarely assigned to them. Let's also take away the children that the courts usually favor them with significantly over fathers. Selective outrage by the women's movement, as so often happens.EDIT 1 I know of women who graduated in computer science, math, physics, and I never heard from them any horror stories. Want to go into science? It will be hard for you as a woman as it will be for a man. You will, as everyone does, face stupid people telling you stupid things. Ignore them, as there are idiots and thoughtless people -- often in high positions -- everywhere you look

    EDIT2: And these researchers paint a picture making it seem as a male is given an amazing level of support and reinforcement when going into the sciences. Complete nonsense.
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