One of my greatest high school regrets is that I never took an auto shop class. I would have had a chance to learn some practical skills like changing oil and changing a tire. At the time, I doubt it fit into my schedule, but entering a class of mostly boys scared me as well. It's not that I was afraid of boys—I considered myself a feminist despite not fully understanding what that meant—but it would still have been intimidating to walk into a classroom full of dudes.
When does this happen, this point where men are encouraged in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and women are left out? My mother teaches kindergarten; in her class, all the kids seem equally excited by counting and banana slugs. But somehow, by the time women reach the higher echelons of education, there is sorting out, if you will, in which mostly men go in one direction and women in another.
But seriously. "Daring to Discuss Women in Science" by John Tierney ran in the New York Times two days ago. In it, Tierney announces a proposed national law that would require the White House science adviser to oversee workshops aimed to close the gender gap in science and engineering. But rather than express support for the proposal ("Fulfilling the potential of women in academic science and engineering," section 124 out of 700-section bill, brief the 248-page PDF here), Tierney in so many words says, "You guys, I hate to be the buzzkill, but girls are worse at math than boys. I can prove it."
Long before Lawrence Summers's unfortunate remarks at Harvard University a few years ago, there have always been powerful forces which assigned all manner of illogic to women's "inability" to excel at math and science. Their brains were too feeble to handle such difficult concepts, they claimed. And besides! Math and science were "right brain" and therefore "masculine" sciences so it wasn't in a woman's nature to be interested. Although there were some textbooks written to give women the knowledge they would need to carry on a polite conversation if the subject of science should arise, these books framed mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry in ways that the authors felt women could understand—through the lens of romantic love. Compound these shoddy arguments and weak study materials with the practice of barring women from attending universities and there was a pretty good chance you would not have seen an overwhelming number of women studying calculus 200 years ago.
However, there was certainly one women determined to pursue her love for mathematics, and she is the subject of our Adventure in Feministory today.