Jan 02 2014

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I love windows into other times and places – especially those that offer insight into different world views. How did people really think and feel in the past? We know that standards and sensibilities change over time, but still it can be shocking to see an example of just how much things have changed.

My wife, born in 1964, was given such a window by her mother, who had dutifully saved many keepsakes from her childhood. One keepsake was a school journal, with one page dedicated to each year of grade school, starting with kindergarten. The template for each year is the same, which you can see to the right.

Take a look at the bottom of the form – it asks what they want to be when they grow up, and helpfully provides suggestions for each gender. Parents will playfully ask young children what they want to be when they grow up, knowing that they are far too young to make such decisions. The parents anticipate an answer that is cute, but also perhaps hope it will provide some insight into their child’s likes and personality.

This is also an opportunity to make some suggestions to your young child, create some expectations. I use it as an opportunity to let my daughters know they can be anything they want – the world is open to them.

However, in 1969, boys were told they can be a fireman, policeman, soldier, astronaut, cowboy, or baseball player. Young girls were told they can become a mother, nurse, teacher, airline hostess, model, or secretary.

Even though I knew intellectually that sexism was still the norm when I was a child, it was surprising to see such a stark example of it. This was what my generation was exposed to growing up. Wow.

I imagine the people who made this form thought they were eliciting cute answers from the children, but the message is unmistakable. It is culturally acceptable, and even expected, for boys to go into physically tough and even dangerous jobs. Girls, on the other hand, are slated for nurturing or subservient roles, or those that emphasize their physical looks. (The same choices, by the way, were offered throughout grade school – these were not unique to kindergarten.)

There is evidence that children can be significantly influenced by their school and home environment in terms of their later career choices. Expectations matter.

Ed.gov, for example, gives a list of strategies backed by evidence, including exposing girls to female role models in STEM careers.

Further, parents can make sure that their daughters have equal access to computers, science-based toys, toys involving spacial reasoning and building, chemistry sets, etc. as their sons.

We can look back now at the oppressive gender stereotypes from 50 years ago, but walk into any store that sells toys and you are likely to see strict gender segregation along lines that are indistinguishable from the career choices offered to children in 1969. Girls are offered pink toys with domestic, nurturing, or beauty themes. Boys are offered toys that simulate tough and dangerous themes.

A New York Times article from 2012 recounts research into toy marketing throughout the 20th century, by looking through catalogs. Interestingly, by the 1970s gender-specific toy marketing had dramatically decreased, and was mostly gone. However in the 1990s gender-specific toy marketing made a significant return, and now is more similar to the mid-20th century. The author, Elizabeth Sweet, blames this partly on neuroscience research alleging to show brain-based gender differences, which toy marketers then use to justify gender-specific marketing.

I don’t know if this is the cause, but the gender-specific toy marketing is clearly evident. Things are still much better for girls in 2014 then they were in 1969, but self-reinforcing gender stereotyping is not gone. There are still differences in career choices between boys and girls, with fewer girls going into STEM careers. Girls today may not be told explicitly that they are destined to be mothers, secretaries, or models, but their toys and other subtle social cues still do.

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48 responses so far

48 Responses to “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

  1. ccbowerson 02 Jan 2014 at 11:03 am

    Just last month, I was at the “Strong National Museum of Play” (which is excellent by the way if you happen to be in Upstate NY), and amongst the board games on display was a game from 1966 named “What will I be?” It was subtitled “The exciting game of career girls,” and on the cover were pictures of 6 possible careers: ballerina, a stewardess, a teacher, a model, a nurse and a beauty queen. It is interesting how the date of this game 1966 is very close to this 1969 form.

    Looking back, it is difficult for me to evaluate this (I wasn’t born for another decade or so). Was this considered progressive at the time since girls were encouraged to consider careers, or was this a mainstream perspective, or was this a remnant and little dated for the time. I assume that it was a mainstream perpective, but it would be interesting if this was considered a bit progressive, considering how it looks now.

    It does help put things in perspective, since people often underestimate social change over time, as they retrofit their current perspectives into the past. Memories are malleable in many ways, and this is just another example of why we cannot really access the past as it was using our memories alone. I often think about this when people talk about “the good ol days” a romanticized version of the past that never was.

  2. dogugotwon 02 Jan 2014 at 12:00 pm

    In ’69 I was a sophomore in high school. I lived in a small mid-west town next to an Air Force base (I’m a brat). Boys were boys, girls were girls. Having said that, the situation was a bit more nuanced. My science teachers were women and there was a good representation of smart, independent females in my science and math courses. Another round of feminism was cranking up (ERA/Gloria Steinem) and there was more acceptance of women in non-traditional roles.

    By the time I left college in ’76, one would have thought that the sex wars were pretty much done and over.

    Turns out, not quite. Women are clearly more represented in the hard sciences and the company I work for now has quite a few women engineers, several in management roles. At the same time, I try not to look at the ‘pink aisle’ in the toy departments.

    This is a long slog and the hyper-conservative/religious right is not helping but it is my hope that this represents some of the final spasms of a dying philosophy.

  3. tmac57on 02 Jan 2014 at 12:35 pm

    When I started with the telephone company in 1969,virtually all of the technical and physical jobs were held by men (linemen,switchmen,framemen,testboard,installers,engineers etc.) and all operator jobs were held by women,as well as all secretarial positions. By about 1972 or so that began to change slowly,and then really took off in the 80′s . But here is a weird anecdote that shows how some things just take time.One of the women that I worked with had been an outside repair tech,involving pretty physical work,including pole climbing (which many men and women hated).She said that she was glad to get away from that by getting a job in the central office.I assumed that she didn’t like the heat/cold/rain and pole climbing,but she said it was because all that physical work was bad on her ‘female organs’ and would make her sterile. I thought she was kidding at first,but she was dead serious,and no amount of arguing with her would change her mind.Then a couple years later,my mother-in-law was at our house on a Saturday when my wife was mowing the lawn,and I was edging and trimming,and she declared that my wife should stop that or she was going to…you guessed it,’damage her female organs’! Yikes!!!

    Here is a cute cartoon that fits in nicely with the gender issue on toys:

    http://www.gocomics.com/soup-to-nutz/2013/12/25

  4. Bronze Dogon 02 Jan 2014 at 12:46 pm

    ccbowers:

    Memories are malleable in many ways, and this is just another example of why we cannot really access the past as it was using our memories alone. I often think about this when people talk about “the good ol days” a romanticized version of the past that never was.

    I had a history professor who said something that stuck with me. Don’t know if he was quoting someone else or if it was his, but: “Nostalgia is the destruction of history.” One of the textbooks for the class was The Way We Never Were, whose cover featured a black and white sitcomy family with their eyes covered by black bars.

    I once had opportunity to facepalm at a troll citing “Leave It to Beaver” as if it were a completely accurate representation of the average American family back then, and how good things were before the civil rights movement. If you were white and middle to upper class, maybe.

    On a less serious serious topic, one thing I’ve been doing on Netflix is watching old cartoons I liked as a kid, like the original Transformers. It’s a lot different when you’re paying more conscious attention to the reason for new plot devices and characters.

    dogugotw:

    At the same time, I try not to look at the ‘pink aisle’ in the toy departments.

    I’m not sure if I can trust my memory for the comparison, but I think they’ve been gradually getting pinker. The last time I looked at one, it wasn’t pink, it was pank. Like what I’d imagine Peptobismol would look like under a drug that intensifies the sensation of color. It was so pink, I’m beginning to wonder if I should read Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space for tips on how to contain it if it starts corrupting the surrounding environment.

  5. Bronze Dogon 02 Jan 2014 at 12:53 pm

    @tmac: Wow. I didn’t know about that.

    Reminds me of a film scene set in China (don’t know the historic period) where a woman is married to a young boy who, at his age, is understandably not interested in sex. After a period of her not getting pregnant, the mother-in-law ends up forcing her to stay in bed, accusing her of ‘spilling his seed’ by walking upright during the day.

  6. nybgruson 02 Jan 2014 at 1:25 pm

    My fiance is a mechanical and aerospace engineer who does contract work for NASA. She also helps organize and lead all-girl events to promote STEMM (they added an extra M for Medicine – yay!) something which I fully support and help her out whenever I can of course.

    As for the sex differences in the brain… I took an undergrad course with Larry Cahill and attended a lecture of his a couple of years ago. He is most famous for his work with individuals that have a perfectly eidetic memory and had a CBS special on it. He also does research on sex differences in the brain and has demonstrated that there are, indeed, differences. He stresses that these are just differences and do not denote or connote any sense of “better” or “worse” or even that it means women are “better suited” for some things than others. He explicitly stated that in-group heterogeneity is at least as large as between group heterogeneity. His take home message was that these differences may indeed make a difference in biological and medical research because animal model research is typically done selectively on male animals since they tend to have less confounding variables for researchers. Since there is an average difference in certain aspects of neurobiology between males and females this could well translate into differences in research since we use averages of groups to decide outcomes. An example would be a particular psychotropic that shows little or no effect until males and females are segregated as subgroups. But unless you were accounting for that specifically ahead of time you would fall into the problem of multiple comparisons and your subgroup data will likely not be well powered enough to suss out the reality of the situation. During my post-grad research I used Drosophila as my model species and at our lab the PI mandated that all research be done such that equal groups of males and females were used and separate measures taken for each group to identify any potential sex differences. For flies this is relatively easy as they are cheap, small, and easy to breed. This becomes much more difficult in dealing with higher order animal models, particularly any sort of transgenics or knockouts, since doing this would effectively double the cost of any research and those animals are extremely expensive.

  7. Bronze Dogon 02 Jan 2014 at 2:27 pm

    He also does research on sex differences in the brain and has demonstrated that there are, indeed, differences. He stresses that these are just differences and do not denote or connote any sense of “better” or “worse” or even that it means women are “better suited” for some things than others. He explicitly stated that in-group heterogeneity is at least as large as between group heterogeneity.

    That last sentence is one big idea I try to drill into people’s heads when some troll tries to use science or pseudoscience to whitewash sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted statements to the effect of putting everyone in their presumed place. They’re essentially in denial about human individuality, assuming that if group X tends to be less talented at skill Y on average, that there will never, ever be an X with a natural talent for Y, so we should give up on teaching them Y. Of course, in reality, disadvantaged groups tend to lack various skills because they’ve been historically neglected by the educational system, not because of a built-in genetic or neurological factor.

  8. BillyJoe7on 02 Jan 2014 at 6:05 pm

    nybgrus: “in-group heterogeneity is at least as large as between group heterogeneity”

    bronze dog: “That last sentence is one big idea I try to drill into people’s heads when some troll tries to use science or pseudoscience to whitewash sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted statements”

    Good point.
    On the flip side, there are those who try to whitewash or censor scientifically confirmed differences between sexes and races in order to avoid a foothold for racists and sexists. Worse are those who impugn that the scientists themselves are racist or sexist for delving into and finding these differences.

    (Hey, nybgrus, long time no see!)

  9. rezistnzisfutlon 02 Jan 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Nybgrus! Glad to see you back. You around for a while?

  10. ccbowerson 02 Jan 2014 at 11:09 pm

    “On the flip side, there are those who try to whitewash or censor scientifically confirmed differences between sexes and races in order to avoid a foothold for racists and sexists.”

    Although there are certainly some who are ideologically opposed to acknowledging differences between certain groups, and I agree with what you are saying about that, I do think that it is important to be extra careful when describing such findings. This is especially true since the evidence for many commonly held beliefs is pretty weak or nonexistent. It is very easy for people, including scientists, to extrapolate beyond what the science tells us, because these differences may fall in line with other commonly held beliefs (not only for ‘racists’ and ‘sexists’ but more broadly among the general public).

    When nyrgbus brought up in-group variability being at least as large as between-group for most traits, it reminded me of the error that people tend to make when misusing science to rationalize their prejudices:

    The type of between group differences we are talking about are meaningless when we are dealing with a particular individual(s). Instead of realizing this, people tend to take that information (often faulty information about group differences) and use it as confimation of their belief about that group- using the indivdual as an example. Of course this sets the person up for confirmation bias… when the individual does not fit that belief – they are the exception, and when they do they confirm the belief.

  11. ChrisHon 03 Jan 2014 at 12:05 am

    In about 1964 when I was about six years old I got a road building set from an uncle, who did not remember that I was a girl. I did not mind, since I did enjoy playing with it. At about the same time my twelve year old brother gave me an old two-volume encyclopedia he bought for a few cents at a school used book sale. He told me I surprised him by actually reading it instead of cutting it up.

    Then in third grade about 1967 I had a teacher who kept marine biology samples in jars at the back of the room. This was in Ft. Ord, CA (near where the Mythbusters do their driving tests), and one of my favorite field trips was going to the fledgling museum on Cannery Row that would turn into the Monterey Bay Aquarium*. From then until I was in seventh grade I wanted to be a marine biologist… but then I had a sadistic lab partner for frog dissection and decided to go into physical oceanography.

    I read books by Jacques Cousteau, and the biography of Eugenie Clark the Shark Scientist in high school. She was about the only woman scientist I knew about. But after starting as an Ocean student I switched to engineering after three weeks, because the department had a picnic for freshman Ocean students with a large dose of employment prospect reality. (waves to nybgrus and his girlfriend who majored in the same discipline)

    I know I am a bit different. In that same third grade class I was in the group given more advanced math instruction. I liked to read about science, and I was not terribly girly. Though I did play with Barbies (making clothes, accessories and sometimes enacting battle scenes with Ken… the look on my dad after I painted them in camo colors was priceless). In high school I was one of the few in math and higher science, and in college I was often the only one. I learned to become immune to bullies.

    Of my three kids, one is soon going to graduate with a math degree, but I cannot convince my daughter to take the basic calculus needed to get a double degree in psychology. Le sigh. And this was a child who never played with Barbies, but she had well armed beanie babies (with weapons from a collector’s series GI Joe fully outfitted for WWII D-Day given to the kids from an aunt).

    Speaking of role models, I just found out about a documentary on the “computers” used in WWII. They were mathematically talented women, the Top Secret Rosies. I have not seen it, but I have asked my public library to get a copy for their collection.

    * That museum had Doc’s specimens (see Steinbeck’s Cannery Row). The one I remember was a squid in a thirty inch or so tall jar. I thought it was awesome. Even more so when I saw it again on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the mid-1980s.

  12. BillyJoe7on 03 Jan 2014 at 7:33 am

    Chris,

    Interesting story. (:

    “In about 1964 when I was about six years old I got a road building set from an uncle, who did not remember that I was a girl”

    Only slightly related, but…
    One of my female employees, also called Chris, recently entered the “200km in 2 days Ride Against Cancer” in Melbourne. There was an overnight camp and those who were on their own (as she was) were randomly assigned to share a two man tent with another rider. You can guess what happened.

  13. ChrisHon 03 Jan 2014 at 10:04 am

    I guess they got into their sleeping bags and had a nice long sleep after a day of cycling. Like most intelligent responsible adults.

    By they, I did explorer scouts in high school, a co-ed branch of the Boy Scouts of America. It was a specialty post for oceanography. I went on a few camping trips where nothing happened.

  14. BillyJoe7on 03 Jan 2014 at 4:13 pm

    As you guessed, thinking she was a Christopher, they put her in with a male.
    But, no, she played it safe and booked into the local motel for the night.

  15. Davdoodleson 03 Jan 2014 at 8:42 pm

    This old brochure from the early 1970s is, on its face, extolling the modern, groovy life a young woman can achieve by moving to Canberra, Australia’s political capital (Like Washington DC I guess).

    http://images.smh.com.au/file/2011/07/13/2489644/Canberralife.pdf

    Note, however, the wide range of career options available. You could be a stenographer, a typist, or a secretary. Ad astra!

    Note also the creepy insinuation on page three about husband-hunting.
    .

  16. ChrisHon 03 Jan 2014 at 9:19 pm

    There is a 200 mile bike ride between a pair of our cities. Hotel/motel accommodations are limited for the about ten thousand riders, so riders essentially arrange their own lodging from a fairly good list.

    I just recently read the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, about hiking the Appalachian Trail. There are shelters along the way, and they do require that you don’t mind who you are sleeping next to. (I actually listened to an audio version, and it was hilarious).

    One of the last times I went camping was when my brother, my sister, some of my brother’s friends and I walked ten kilometers up the mountain next to my father’s house (it is part of a park that borders my dad’s back fence). Since it was Arizona we did not have a tent, but just one long ground sheet. So we all slept in our sleeping bags along the sheet. I was between my sister and one of my brother’s friends. At one time during the night they both rolled over on me at once. I ended up starting college with a huge bruise on my arm.

    I wish I could have gone camping some more, but during my first year in college I met the man I have been married to for over thirty years. He must be the only Canadian who refuses to go camping! He is even from a lumber town on Vancouver Island. His version of “roughing it” is a lodge where the bathroom facilities are down the hall (which do exist in the parks near where we live). (we did force him to do car camping in Europe with my brother and his family, the only thing he liked was how little it cost)

  17. BillyJoe7on 04 Jan 2014 at 1:25 am

    I met my wife while cross country snow skiing. We subsequnetly snow camped together (in separate bags!) on many occasions. We’ve been together now for 26 years. After we were caught in a blizzard overnight on the side of a mountain, we never went snow camping again. The next day we ran into rangers who were looking for two young lads who’d gone missing the day before. They were found later the next day mutilated by wild animals.

    My main pasttime since then has been hill running – we live 6km from the base of the Dandenong Ranges. For 7-8 years up until two years ago I completed an annual 50km walk/run over the Dandenongs and back. The first time it took 9:25 hours, but i was able to decrease my time every year fininshing it in 6:55 hours the last time. Since then I have completed the Puffing Billy Great Train Race (13km) and the Rollercoaster Run (22km) both in the Dandenong Ranges along rough hilly terrain; as well as the 210km Around The Bay in a Day cycling event in Melbourne.

    Unfortunately, my wife does not share my interest in hill running or cycling. She was pretty good on a pair of skis but can’t seem to move on her feet. Pity

  18. Will Nitschkeon 04 Jan 2014 at 5:30 am

    This article does not site any academic research on the topic of gender differences in education, for which there is plenty. It seems to consist primarily of Steve’s speculations and anecdotal experiences revolving around a preconceived conclusion… If women, overall, are not interested in engineering degrees, maybe, just maybe, the explanation is more complex than which toys were offered to them when they were growing up.

  19. BillyJoe7on 04 Jan 2014 at 6:52 am

    You meant “cite”.
    But that’s the least of your problems.
    Your worst is that you have misconstrued this article, even though there is a title and a picture right at the top to help you.
    If you want to read an article about gender differences in education, then go read one.

  20. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Jan 2014 at 7:42 am

    Girls today may not be told explicitly that they are destined to be mothers, secretaries, or models, but their toys and other subtle social cues still do.

    The same thing, then, occurs for boys as well and can influence their decisions. I think we need to be careful about the directions with what could be connoted as sexism (whether explicit or implicit). One could also read the picture above as missing such occupations as “father”, “airline host”, or “nurse” (in the male sense).

    I think this kind of thing is an excellent area of study, but I think it should be done in respect to both men and women. Currently, we tend to see sexism, and gender studies, as to how it relates to women but seem to ignore how it relates to men.

    It’s not my intention to start some flame war regarding certain ideologies, but studying sex and gender in a scientific setting would seem to be most enlightening when both sexes/genders are studied with equal veracity.

    If we’re going to shoot for making things truly equal, we have to be inclusive of both sexes/genders. Perhaps a more appropriate quote would read something like:

    “Girls and boys today may not be told explicitly that they are destined to be mothers, firemen, secretaries, soldiers, or models, but their toys and other subtle social cues still do.” I believe that boys are subject to subtle social cues just as much as girls are.

    Interestingly, I noted that I was the only one who got my daughter gender neutral and “boy” toys and clothes for christmas recently, the majority of her presents coming from the women in our family which were ALL decidedly feminine. I felt it was appropriate to “balance” things a little as I figured I was going to be the only would who would. Two interesting (anecdotal) observations: she seemed to really like the “boy” presents that I got her from both her birthday and christmas. However, her favorite toy was a doll that she got which she carries around her everywhere and even rocks and cradles. Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of either. Being anecdotal, it’s not much to go on, just a curiosity more than anything.

  21. ChrisHon 04 Jan 2014 at 11:35 am

    Oh, Will Nitschke: “If women, overall, are not interested in engineering degrees, maybe, just maybe, the explanation is more complex than which toys were offered to them when they were growing up.”

    I for one did not even knew it existed as a profession until my last year of high school. That was when the physics teacher handed be a brochure from the local university explaining engineering was a fine major for women… this was in 1974/75.

    Also, since that high school’s after school science club was not as organized as my previous year’s high school* I joined its newly formed “Junior Engineering Technical Society”, or JETS. Which involved a field trip to the univerisity’s engineering open house. Which is why it only took me a few weeks to switch from oceanography to engineering.

    This is why there is outreach by engineers to show young women what it is about.

    * I went to two high schools in two years. I worked since 8th grade to graduate a year early so I would not have to attend a third high school. One of “perks” of being an Army brat. My step-mother told she should not have let me do that, I told her after seeing my brother to four high schools she did not have a say in the matter.

  22. ChrisHon 04 Jan 2014 at 11:52 am

    Also, Mr. Nitschke, watch the video in this article.

    Have a spin on it with the Beastie Boys, and their original lyrics.

    BillyJoe: “Unfortunately, my wife does not share my interest in hill running or cycling. She was pretty good on a pair of skis but can’t seem to move on her feet. Pity”

    My husband does not share my fondness for swimming in addition to camping. So we take long walks in the restored wetland near our home.

  23. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Jan 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Well, that’s the rub, and perhaps the impetus for this article. Girls and women ARE being made aware of engineering programs, and they are CHOOSING not to go into them, even young women who did very well in math and science in high school and receive every encouragement. The question is, why. I don’t think that question has been adequately answered or even addressed. Most people are quick to assume either sexism or some innate variability between the sexes, and I’m not saying those are for sure not factors, but I have to go with Will on this one in that there’s likely far more to it than just biology or discrimination (though my guess is that our reasoning is probably different).

    Back in the 60s and 70s when awareness was changing, it’s pretty easy to see where gender discrimination played a major role. I’m not so sure that’s as much the case today. Women have every opportunity and incentive to enter engineering schools as well as to succeed, I’ve seen it for myself, so there’s nothing like lack of outreach or information stopping them. It’s other things, and I’m not convinced discrimination is the issue. That’s why I think further scientific study that is lacking in ideology or bias and covers all the basis is called for. Unfortunately, gender topics are so polarizing and emotional that bias in both directions is almost inevitable.

    I’ve worked closely with many female engineering students, and many of the did fine (some did extremely well). I never once observed discrimination, and when I asked some of them about it, they indicated that they didn’t feel they were discriminated against. A couple did say that there were times in the beginning of their student careers where they felt intimidated when walking into a large classroom of mostly males (I’ve felt that way in classrooms consisting mostly of females), but they said they quickly got over it (civil engineering and construction management are especially male dominated). While I’m sure discrimination and backward social attitudes still exist, I don’t believe it’s as prevalent as some people assume.

    I suppose my point is is let’s find out what is actually going on, not what we think is going on. Let’s get some reliable data behind conclusions. Let’s inform our decisions with the best information possible through well-constructed, strong, and unbiased studies and research, without ideology muddying the waters.

  24. ccbowerson 04 Jan 2014 at 1:48 pm

    “This article does not site any academic research on the topic of gender differences in education, for which there is plenty.”

    First, this blog post was not an overview of gender differences in education, so asking for research on that topic is a nonsequitur criticism, but coincidentally Steve actually does provide a link to a website that does. Did you actually read the article, or did you just want to drop by and complain?

    “If women, overall, are not interested in engineering degrees, maybe, just maybe, the explanation is more complex than which toys were offered to them when they were growing up.”

    No one has said that toy selection makes women not interested in engineering or any other career. You just made up that ridiculous strawman. Again, if you actually read the post and comprehended it, you might have something intelligent to say, but maybe I’m being overly optimistic about that. This post was not intended to be a broad overview of career choice, yet you criticize it for not being that. No where does he imply a lack of complexity on that topic, but post was about a more narrow topic.

  25. ccbowerson 04 Jan 2014 at 2:28 pm

    “I’ve worked closely with many female engineering students, and many of the did fine…”

    I would be careful about extrapolating from your life experiences. Even if your anectodal experiences are representative of female engineering students (and they may not be), the women who succeeded in engineering are not likely to be representative of women who might have otherwise succeeded in engineering, but didn’t. In other words, this is a self selected group, and you have almost by definition filtered out those who may have more difficulty with those very issues.

    I do agree somewhat with one aspect – viewing sexism as a broader issue and multidirectional. I view the topic as males and females in a society placing constraints (through various methods, both subtle and overt) on other males and females in a society. This constraint is based upon a person’s sex or gender. Historically, this has been framed mostly as uni directional, because the discrimination aspect has been asymmetrical, with men as a group having political power to dictate the terms. But on an everyday individual basis both men/women and boys/girls are constrained with what attitudes, emotions and behaviors are desirable, acceptable, and even legal for their respective group.

    I agree that these constraints have lessened a great deal over recent times in many areas, but I would be careful with being optimistic that they are negligible or no longer an issue. From your reference point being the 1960s and 1970s, you may come to a different conclusion about these things than a person who was born more recently, or those who are comparing current attitudes to what is ideal in their mind.

  26. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Jan 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I think I was careful to acknowledge that what I was relating about my experiences is purely anecdotal and should be regarded as such. Also, it was meant to recount my observations as an undergrad engineering student, not professional life (which I didn’t address one way or another).

    However, that’s my point in that we have very little actual data to base conclusions on, yet conclusions are being made anyway, and as we seem to agree, unidirectionally. Really my only point is that we should be determining what is actually going on instead of what we think is going on. It seems that most of the narrative is based on ideology and preconception rather than data, and I think most of us here can see the problem with that. Yet, somehow gender seems to very often get a free pass on that. Plus, my little gripe is that the primary focus is on one gender – seems to me that the focus should be on both if we’re going to get any meaningful data.

    To pick a nit here, historically the vast majority of men were confined to societally determined gender roles just as much as women were. Those who were in power constituted a tiny minority of the population, and they were indeed male (for the most part, but even male and female royalty had their own confinements). Most men and women had little choice in their occupations and roles, and often faced harsh punishments when deviating from them. While life for women was typically confining, and there was the risk of childbirth, men had to face harsh working conditions, pressures to the the sole providers of a family, forcible warfare drafts, brutal punishments, and as likely as not an early death. For the vast majority of people, life was hard and it wasn’t of their choosing (for both men and women). It gets my goat when the histories of either gender is ignored, mangled, or belittled.

  27. ccbowerson 04 Jan 2014 at 3:39 pm

    “It seems that most of the narrative is based on ideology and preconception rather than data, and I think most of us here can see the problem with that.”

    The evidence problem is a difficult one, but I don’t think you need all the details of data to make positive changes. We have made much progress recently, and we are still a ways a way from data from being the primary bottleneck. I still think we are at the low-hanging-fruit stage, but we should be pushing for better data, especially when looking for solutions

    The problem of evidence is that questions regarding gender and sex are integrated and correlate with many other factors/confounding variables, which makes interpretation of the data difficult. But this issue is not strictly a scientific one- even if we were to agree on the data, we will have disagreements on what should be done and what those goals should be. As much as you want to remove ideology from this issue, it is partially ideological in its nature. We do want to be informed by the best evidence, but then we have to discuss what our goals are and how to achieve them, like many other social issues.

  28. BillyJoe7on 04 Jan 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Chris,

    “My husband does not share my fondness for swimming in addition to camping. So we take long walks in the restored wetland near our home”

    I empathise with your husband regarding the swimming.
    But my wife doesn’t even like “going for walks”, especially “nature walks”. Even walks along the beach! In fact, she doesn’t see any point in moving at all unless for some practical purpose – which is not to say tha she is lazy because she’s always doing something.

  29. BillyJoe7on 04 Jan 2014 at 3:46 pm

    RIF,

    “A couple did say that there were times in the beginning of their student careers where they felt intimidated when walking into a large classroom of mostly males (I’ve felt that way in classrooms consisting mostly of females), but they said they quickly got over it”

    Perhaps you’re not seeing the ones that didn’t get over it, or those who were intimidated enough not to even start.

  30. Ufoon 04 Jan 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Steve wrote:

    “I don’t know if this is the cause, but the gender-specific toy marketing is clearly evident. Things are still much better for girls in 2014 then they were in 1969, but self-reinforcing gender stereotyping is not gone. There are still differences in career choices between boys and girls, with fewer girls going into STEM careers. Girls today may not be told explicitly that they are destined to be mothers, secretaries, or models, but their toys and other subtle social cues still do.”

    Steve, why the emphasis only on girls and women in the end?

    This reads like women have it worse than men in our society (when it comes to work and career choices / obligations), was this your intention? Would love to hear your reflections on glass cellar, which in my assessment harms men way more than glass ceiling (or fewer women going into STEM careers) harms women. In addition, CEO positions and such are not available for most men either.

  31. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Jan 2014 at 10:19 pm

    CCbowers, I agree. As with any other issue, the more data we have the better off we’ll be, and I still think we’re grossly lacking in relevant data to be making the sorts of conclusions that are being made now as it is. I think we can do a much better job at getting some answers. I agree that a lot of that will also have to do with personal and cultural attitudes, but it would be nice to know what the actual hurdles and obstacles are rather than guessing and blaming.

    Perhaps you’re not seeing the ones that didn’t get over it, or those who were intimidated enough not to even start.

    I would think that my mentioning this would indicate that I’m aware that there are those who are intimidated and make a decision not to pursue it. In fact, that’s why I brought it up because I realize that’s a problem. The issue is, why are they intimidated, and how can we get them over it? Is it our job to get them over it beyond what we’re already doing in the first place? If someone is making a decision based merely on the fact that they enter a classroom filled mostly with males, I’m not sure what to do about that. Other women seem to be able to get over it fine. As long as men aren’t being intimidating in their attitudes or behaviors, it seems to me that the ones who are intimidated have an issue to work out. The problem I have is when sexism and discrimination are the first items brought out as the responsible factors, when that may not at all be the case. Perhaps one social attitude we should be instilling in young women more is how to be a little more assertive, along with teaching young men not to be sexist in their attitudes.

    However, I tend to think that there are many other more nuanced factors that play into this that has little to do with an intimidating classroom that forms decisions some capable young women make not entering engineering fields. Honestly, the way things are now I don’t see that discrimination is a big factor, at least at the university level. Perhaps, as Dr. Novella points out in the article, social attitudes are being taught to both men and women that help form decisions later in life. Maybe discrimination has nothing to do with it anymore (again, women have every opportunity and incentive when the time comes to decide. Shoot, they have ten times as many scholarships, programs, resources, services, groups and organizations, and women only spaces that men do, they are all but being pulled out a golden chair at this point).

  32. pandadeathon 04 Jan 2014 at 11:44 pm

    This was a very interesting article and comments (interesting enough that I felt compelled to register and thus comment).

    I think there are a few points that tend to overlooked. First, an anecdote: I used to live in Seoul (and am white), and I used go to a certain neighbourhood near the U.S. army base and think that “wow, everyone here is western (not Asian basically)!” Long before I ever knew of the skepticism movement, I was waiting for a bus and decided to count just how many people were clearly not Asian. I counted fifty people and ten were either white, African origin (probably American or Nigerian) or wearing U.S. army uniforms. And I was so surprised, since in my head I really thought that at least half would have been foreigners. I realised how easy I was over estimating the numbers.

    Afterwords, I starting my undergrad in physics, and I had one class where I was the only female (though another student’s girlfriend came to class for some reason), and another class where I could have sworn half the students were female. Then I counted and realized that there were five out of about twenty. So maybe when recalling the numbers of female students in a science or engineering class, the actual numbers could be fewer. In the physics department, for example, we tend to think that “All the girls are going into biology”, but maybe it is just an illusion. (I have no numbers, I am at a University that has an embarrassing rate of female dropouts, so I tend to hope it is not the norm)

    Another point is that since there are fewer females in physics at least, they tend to stick out more. If a female student is good, they stand out and are remembered as being very, very good, probably more so than male students that are good. However, if a female student is average, then they stand out as being “bad” because you tend to think of all the students that scored higher (I have caught myself doing it when I was TA, and was surprised when I would check my spreadsheet that a female student I thought was bad, was actually just average). And when a female student is bad, then people start talking about gender-brain differences. I think the same thinking goes for minorities as well, just people don’t say it out loud.

    There are a lot of things amoung physics students that subtly discourage females: One, male students tend to like bragging about “easy” the assignments are and how little time they spend on them. As an undergrad, I used to think I was the biggest dumbass until my sister pointed out that it doesn’t mean anything and it could just be talk. It isn’t malicious, just maybe a cultural difference on my part or a small gender difference. Two, young men in the U.S. can be unconsciously intimidating, they talk a lot about intellectual and physical achievements. And I realise it is not conscious, but when you are about one foot shorter than everyone, personal space can be an issue. Females not being drawn to science an engineering can be possibly influenced by not wanting to the only female around. Three: other females can look down on you. In my particular department, many male grad (and undergrad) student have wives that stay at home to raise kids (I have no idea how they afford it), and their wives can make you feel like the biggest a**hole on the planet. So it isn’t just men that are biased. Plenty of females seem to think that one would only go into a male dominated area just to be surrounded by men (maybe there is some sort of “Alaska” logical fallacy here, i.e., even fat chicks can get a man in Alaska because there are more men there).

    Also, males don’t necessarily have it easy either. People are fine with buying a little girl boy toys, but boys that play with barbies are far more discouraged. Males are expected to magically come up with a job that can support a family by themselves, but those jobs may not be easy to come by, especially for young men. That could very discourage them from careers in science as well, given it takes a long time to be adequately trained.

    Basically, I think it is more than just toys or what people say out loud.

  33. froesccnon 05 Jan 2014 at 1:13 pm

    There is also a purely marketing-technical factor that may contribute to gender-segregation in toys, called “target group optimization”. An interesting article about this (in the context of video games) is here: http://howtonotsuckatgamedesign.com/2013/12/marketers-fear-female-geek-2/

  34. Will Nitschkeon 05 Jan 2014 at 6:20 pm

    It’s also completely irrelevant if females in general don’t want engineering careers. The only issue of concern is that jobs of similar financial calibre are accessible to them. If females grow up playing with dolls and wanting to be nurses, it seems of little importance so long as they are able to make better informed choices when making such decisions become important to them.

  35. Bruceon 06 Jan 2014 at 8:17 am

    “It’s also completely irrelevant if females in general don’t want engineering careers.”

    Maybe it is because they have been conditioned since they were young to not want an engineering career as only boys do it? You perhaps missed the whole point of the original post.

  36. Ufoon 06 Jan 2014 at 9:17 am

    Bruce, if we take the social conditioning of girls seriously, we should also take the direction where boys are conditioned seriously too, and imo, we should compare the numerous end results (from harmful to good, etc.) of these career choices as objectively as possible.

    Again, which is more important (and why), the glass cellar or the glass ceiling (or women not going into engineering as much as men)?

  37. Kawarthajonon 06 Jan 2014 at 9:35 am

    Too bad none of the women readers commented on this posting. I’d like to hear their opinion on the impact of gender branding of toys on them and their children..

  38. ccbowerson 06 Jan 2014 at 10:19 am

    “One, male students tend to like bragging about “easy” the assignments are and how little time they spend on them. ”

    pandadeath – Those are interesting observations, and I have similar recollections (although I am male) regarding certain students I went to school with. There does seem to be a bias in some cultures (definitely American culture) favoring the idea of talent over hard work. You can see it in sports, and you can see it in the characters of many stories. Perhaps this attitude correlates with the display of machismo for some men. I also knew a guy in school who used to always act aloof regarding academics (and this was a professional program), so I was very surprised after being in all of the same classes as him for a few years that he was 3rd in our class of over 100. I was friends with his roommate who told me that he studied constantly, but liked to keep that to himself. (They were not born in the US which I mentioned above, but Ghana and had moved to the US as young adults)

    Perhaps the idea of working hard, for some, implies that they are compensating for their inadequacies as in individual… instead of viewing passion and the desire to work hard as the most important qualities for success. It is something that is a common-enough narrative in stories: there are many people working hard at figuring out a difficult problem, and ‘the genius’ walks into the room and figures it out right away (or knew it all along).

    “Another point is that since there are fewer females in physics at least, they tend to stick out more.”

    That is also an interesting point. As a student, other than a few undergrad classes like physics and chemistry, I have mostly been in classes that were at least 50% female, but I could see how having small numbers could skew people’s perception of the group as they extrapolate out.

    On the wall in the basement of one of the professional programs at a school I went to, they had all of the class pictures from the 1950s until the early 2000s. It was very interesting to see how it transformed from a group of young men with mustaches (1950s) to a group of long haired men with some women (1970s), and then >50% women (1990s and 2000s). I realize not all areas of have changed in this way, but seeing it all laid out like that was interesting to me.

    “That could very discourage them from careers in science as well, given it takes a long time to be adequately trained.”

    And if they think that they should be able to do it without working hard, then they will be in for a rude wakening, which will be very discouraging

  39. ChrisHon 06 Jan 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Kawarthajon: “Too bad none of the women readers commented on this posting.”

    Very funny. :-/

  40. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2014 at 4:48 pm

    “Very funny. :-/”

    Same reaction here. (:
    Interestingly, some posters have sometimes responded to me as if I’m female.
    I have to remind them that the girl from “Petticoat Junction” was called “BillieJoe”.

    (BTW, do you have Bell’s Palsy :-| )

  41. ccbowerson 06 Jan 2014 at 5:04 pm

    “Very funny. :-/”

    I laughed, but wasn’t sure that the humor was intended.

  42. ccbowerson 06 Jan 2014 at 6:44 pm

    “Interestingly, some posters have sometimes responded to me as if I’m female.”

    The user names we choose can influence the assumptions other readers make in many ways. For an obvious example, the name oldmanjenkins elicits a certain image in my mind, but some are more subtle. The most common characteristic that I have felt surprised about is age (when someone discloses a clue about that), and apparently I assume people online are younger than they actually are.

  43. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Jan 2014 at 8:21 pm

    This is what I’m talking about. Most people have stories and personal observations, myself included, but there isn’t much actual data out there in the scientific sense that we can grab onto. We all know the dangers and pitfalls on relying on personal anecdotes and perceptions to formulate conclusions. I’m not saying that they are completely irrelevant, but that they by themselves are highly unreliable.

    Gender stigmas go both ways, if we are going to discuss those. Though there have been some acknowledgement that men face cultural expectations and even discrimination, it seems to be somewhat of an afterthought. We will never have a complete picture of gender relations or equality if we focus primarily on one gender, with the focus on the other gender typically being negative.

    To give examples of how it plays out in the opposite direction, men are actively discouraged from fields such as early education and child care work. Only now are we starting to see more male nurses in hospitals, and even then it’s overwhelmingly female. Socially, men are discouraged from being stay-at-home dads and househusbands, bringing in less or no income and relying primarily on the woman. While this is changing some, it’s still a problem.

    The way I see it, we need to get out of the realm of ideology and anecdotal evidence and turn an objective eye to it. We need to start generating actual sound, reliable data instead of guessing on a hunch.

  44. ChrisHon 07 Jan 2014 at 2:58 am

    ccbowers:

    “Very funny. :-/”

    I laughed, but wasn’t sure that the humor was intended.

    I’ll be generous and believe he did not fully read the comments, including the ones by a physics major whose ‘nym is related to the mortality of bear like critters. Or he/she was deliberately trying to be ironic. In short: total fail.

  45. ChrisHon 07 Jan 2014 at 3:02 am

    Ach! Failed blockquote. Stupid tablet. The last part should boldly say:

    I’ll be generous and believe he did not fully read the comments, including the ones by a physics major whose ‘nym is related to the mortality of bear like critters. Or he/she was deliberately trying to be ironic. In short: total fail.

  46. BillyJoe7on 07 Jan 2014 at 4:21 pm

    To be fair, pandadeath’s comment was probably in moderation (first comment by a new poster always go through moderation) when he wrote that.

  47. ChrisHon 10 Jan 2014 at 2:04 am

    Woot! I have been informed that I am second in line to get the Top Secret Rosies documentary from my library, out of seven requests. Not only are there more than myself who wanted to see in my city, I am second in line for a hold. So my local public library has five copies on order with at least two requests for them to buy it.

    BillyJoe7, there was a two day difference between pandadeath’s comment and Kawarthajon’s… which was several days after my own, and I am not a new poster. I don’t believe I was coy about my gender, even in the first sentence.

    You are being very nice. But I am also trying to be nice by thinking he did not fully read the comments.

    I recently recalled a big difference between myself and my sister… When we were young we had a tiny little phonograph and few records. One of those records was from Disney. One side had the songs from the movie “Cinderella” and other side were songs from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. Needless to say, we fought over which side was played. I much preferred the side with Captain Nemo.

    To misquote Tolstoy, we are all different in our own special ways. My sister really does not understand me, but I love her none the less. Though I am really glad that her hubby #2 watches over her, especially since she (learning from our dad) wrangled their finances into reality, even if she did not graduate from a university. If anything, she has resilience and knows how to do basic financial planning (something one learns while being a single parent).

  48. BillyJoe7on 10 Jan 2014 at 5:05 am

    I am in a similar situation with my brother. He’s a veterinary surgeon and he is obsessed with his work and his finances, both of which are constantly on his mind. Of course it has paid dividends and he could retire now if he wanted to (so he tells me). But I couldn’t care less about my finances. And when I’m at work I’m at work and that’s all I think about, and when I’m not, it never enters my mind. I don’t have any idea of the state of my finances. I enjoy all my working and leisure activities and I figure the money can take care of itself. I once bought a book about money managing but couldn’t get past the introduction. Boring. On the other hand, I spend a lot of my time learning things that won’t bring me any financial rewards. During the holidays I listened to all of Steven Novella’s lectures in the Great Courses series – 24 on “medical myths”; and 24 on “your deceptive mind”.

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