As a Favor to Me, Do This Favor For Ben

Women, I swear that I will never ask you to do anything like this again, but as a favor to me, please tell Ben about your experiences in math class.  Ben, if we do this for you, you have to promise a.) to spend some time perusing this blog and b.) listening to women when they let their guards down.

Because, see, what’s happening right now is that it feels to me very much like you’re saying that, no matter what I tell you–that I experience being a woman in this society as being bullshit in ways it doesn’t seem to me men have to face–you refuse to give my understanding of my own experience as much weight as you give your own experience, even though you aren’t a woman and I am.

I could whip my dick out and tell you that I have a minor in Women’s Studies that compliments my double major in Literature and History (though, sadly, was little help with my Russian minor) and that my master’s thesis necessitated an intimate knowledge of feminist theory, and that I relied heavily on the works of the French feminists and their thoughts on écriture féminine in order to prove my point about the fallacy of the non-linearity of hypertexts and other forms of experimental fiction all as my way of showing that I know what I’m talking about, but I’d hope that you’ve been a man long enough to see that for the bullshit move it is.

What I want is that when I tell you about my experiences, you take them at face value and that you ask questions that aren’t premised on the supposition that I’m either too stupid to understand that there’s really nothing much wrong with our society in regard to gender or that I’m making shit up.  I don’t want to have to act like a man or talk about my experiences in the way you’ve come to expect the Truth to be delivered to you in order for you to take what I say seriously.

So, why aren’t there more women computer scientists?  Is it that women don’t want to be computer scientists or is it that we’re told, repeatedly, that we suck at math?   Shit, Ben, even Barbie had to get in on the “math is hard” message for girls.

I, myself, discovered that girls sucked at math when I was a junior in high school and there were nine people in our calculus class, taught by the man who also taught computer science, and three of us were girls.  We had to sit in the front row, because ‘girls have a harder time with math than boys do,’ which was, apparently, code for ‘I like you to sit where I can openly stare at your tits and regularly brush my crotch against your arms or back as I’m checking to see how you’re doing on your test.’

Guess which class we regularly skipped?  Guess which three people in that class were not about to be stuck in a computer lab in the basement with that dude?

But, you know, I’m sure the reason none of the three of us went on to be computer scientists or other math-intensive professions is just because we didn’t want to.  I mean, yeah, we didn’t want to, but not because of something inherent to computer science.

You can’t just look at the choices women have made and extrapolate from that that women are doing what they want to do and that because you don’t see any real injustice, none exists.

And I’ll humor you, because I’m willing to put up with a lot of stuff that’s hurtful if I believe that the person spouting it doesn’t really intend to be hurtful (which is one of the reasons I was so pissed at Steinem.  She knows what she’s doing; she knows how hurtful it is and she said it anyway), but it’s grueling, really, to both have to fight against obvious bullshit and repeatedly show that bullshit to people who are obviously smart enough to see it for themselves.

So, I can’t, at the end of the day, promise you that you’ll get any other women to participate.

But you might.  And I’d ask that you just listen to what they’re telling you about their experiences.  Just about this one thing.  I’m not even asking that you change your mind.  You can still think I’m full of shit.  But just listen and ask yourself if you really can say for certain that women don’t want to be computer scientists.

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93 thoughts on “As a Favor to Me, Do This Favor For Ben

  1. Slarti, can you recall when it was that Kat and I were discussing our experiences in math and computer classes over at your blog? Because some links to that discussion might be instructive to poor Ben.

  2. Oh, wow. Math stories.

    Ben, I’m a PhD in history, with about two more years each of graduate coursework in feminist anthropology and constitutional law. (The point here is that I’m not a dummy, nor lacking in analytic/quantitative abilities.) I’m 43 years old, and when I was going to elementary and high school in northeastern Ohio, it was made abundantly clear to girls that (and I quote) “you’re not going to ever need this .” (That was from my high school guidance counselor, when I reported that the geometry teacher had told our class that girls could expect to do worse in his class because they utterly lacked spatial reasoning ability. The counselor then tried again to get me to go into Practical Math — known colloquially as “Math for Girls” — which taught you things like how many ham slices each guest would need at your wedding. That was his idea of math that I would need.) I actually did pretty well in my math classes up to 8th grade though not without struggles, but sufficiently well to continue placing into AP math throughout high school. Math in high school, however, became a sadistic exercise in girls can’t win.

    To start, there were always far fewer girls than boys in the AP classes — probably thanks to our dumbass counselor. (He’s the same guy who put all the boys in Welding and all the girls in Home Ec, regardless of their interests.) I had a series of creepy math teachers (the violent guy who strolled around beating on desks with a yardstick, telling girls he looked forward to “punishing” them if they erred, the calc perv who repeatedly shamed girls in his class by measuring their bodies and using their measurements as part of his volume calculations). These guys offered an utter lack of mentoring or help (despite trying to get help after school, I was told “it really doesn’t matter if you learn this, you’ll just get knocked up and drop out.”) Boys did the geometry demonstrations at the board, girls watched — on the stated premise that the teacher didn’t want everyone to fluster the girls by watching their butts. So, we got none of the intellectual feedback, just a whole lot of harassment. There were fewer and fewer girls each year. By senior year, I was the only girl who hung in for the second semester of calc, and that’s mainly because my mother would not hear of me quitting over sexism, which she rightly noted is just a fact of life for women in the workplace.

    I got my math jones on in AP Chem and Physics, where I routinely got high marks and teachers (male and female) who suggested that there was maybe a future for me in their field. I actually thought about going into Physics professionally, but by the time I got to college, I was probably the only girl from my high school who actually had the academic preparation to make “the choice” to go into a math or science field. My PSATs and SATS in math were excellent (remarkably, since my grades were not so great…hmmmm), but I had heard from other women that the CS profs at my college were version 2.0 of high school math teachers — only more powerful and arbitrary.

    Anyhow, because it was the early 1980s and there was a lot of energy in that field and I had a ton of male friends who were interested in CS, I took an intro class to explore it despite my negative experiences in math-related stuff up to that point. The CS wing of the building was boyland — no women’s bathrooms, no female professors, no women on the bulletin boards in the promo pictures, no mentoring. The male students were invited to tour NASA Lewis and HP to make business contacts and arrange internships; the women were not, because part of the trip was going to involve some male bonding at a strip joint in Cleveland. I had no experience in the business world, so I didn’t know if women got jobs in that field or not and who was I going to ask? The professor who dismissed women’s questions as “lazy little girl whining” and then docked women for not participating in class discussion? What little I heard in the media suggested that women in the sciences generally had unpleasant work experiences and didn’t come close to making the same money that their male counterparts made. I could not afford to take a degree where I didn’t know if I’d be hired doing something at the end of it. And I certainly was neither recruited nor welcomed — the women in my introductory CS class (where we learned to program BASIC, COBOL and C, for today’s wayback moment) were referred to by the CS 151 prof as “seat fillers.” I just didn’t want to keep knocking my head against that particular wall — so I did what I thought was the smart thing and found an area where my efforts would be rewarded because men and women were on a more level playing field. History when I went into it was not exactly a feminist paradise nor is it today, but I’ve done quite well and I have no regrets.

    “Choice” hides a lot of things along the way — if you just look at the terminal decision, you can miss the process that informs our decision-making. It might be easier to think that women just don’t want to be scientists and engineers than to look at the long chain of harms (we call this structural sexism) that keeps them applying, matriculating, graduating, and succeeding in smaller numbers.

    I’d like to think things are getting better and I think they probably are. Math, science, and engineering departments are doing a much better job of recruiting and trying to hang onto talented women applicants. My daughter’s math and science ed is superior to mine in all respects and she’s thinking about either engineering or chemistry, so I’m somewhat optimistic about the future. But there are generations of women who did not get to make the choice (or the same choice, with the same unrecognized privileges) that you did and that my daughter will.

    I hope this has been helpful, even if it was too long. I don’t know how many others will respond and I wanted to give you something to think about.

  3. I was an advanced student in just about every subject in Junior High and High School. The advanced math teach in my Junior High was also the Computer Science teacher and he specifically told our class that the computers and computer courses were for boys only, no girls because they were precious and limited resources and the teaching time could not be wasted on us. I looked but was not allowed to touch a computer at any time. Of course that teacher is now in jail pending some rather nasty child porn charges and problems with young boys, so maybe that worked out better for me in the long run.

    I am good at math, but it is not my strong suit and I my skills and interests have always leaned more toward writing and business. I did however, make a good living writing and editing papers for my engineering friends in college. Quid pro quo Clarice.

  4. I’m rather good at math but am outshined by both my brother and my sister who work with numbers every single day, all day.

    I was lucky to have had mostly women teach me math (but ALL men teaching science) as a kid but also have my dad at home helping me since he loves math. It wasn’t until later that my worldview was skewed.

    At my highly competitive, college-prep high school I was in a small group of people 3 semesters ahead of schedule in math classes, with a few more boys than girls but not too uneven. And, even though we were being taught by nuns, two of them believed the girls weren’t as good as the boys. In Algebra 2, I quickly learned to turn to my right and ask John Lydon to pose all of my questions because he got clear answers, yet when I asked them myself I was told “you should already know that by now and if you don’t, then go look it up on your own time.”

    My confidence finally returned in my college logic course, taught by a real hard ass who couldn’t have cared less that I’m a woman and good with that kind of thinking.

  5. Grade School-New York State Public School System: Do exceptionally well in math.

    High School-Freshman year-Arizona Public School System: My algebra teacher is Polish and frequently counts in Polish or suddenly explains things in Polish. First Semester I get the first D I’ve ever received in school. Second semester: I have a new teacher. He’s a blow-hard Texan who “only explains things once. If you don’t get it the first time, you weren’t listening.” Final grade: F. First failing grade I’ve ever received in school.

    We move to Tennessee, I have to re-take Algebra. Oddly, the TN Public School System in my town uses the same book I had in Arizona. I have a gregarious and funny, joke-telling teacher. I make a B. Junior year Geometry-taught by the principals wife who is sweet but doddering and who is not by specialization a math teacher. I get out of there with a C.

    Fast forward 10 years or so, I go back to college and have to take remedial level math courses to shore up my skills. I have a great teacher. I make straight A’s. I tutor other students. I go on to make A’s in my college level math courses. When I take Logic (for I was a philosophy major at the time), I get through the course work, take my final exam, and am done with the course in 4 weeks.

    GED. I graduated from UT Summa Cum Laude in English – I score higher on the GED in my math scores than my English scores (caveat: I had an infected molar that was due for a root canal and was in a great deal of pain as I had chosen not to take the pain meds before taking the GED because I thought I;d pass out at the test).

    I’ve co-run an Architectural Design Studio. I’ve worked for H&R Block. I was the Financial Administrator for a non-profit.

    I am good… no… GREAT at math. But most math jobs (CPA) bore me or stress me out (CPA). Computer Science IS an option I’ve looked at in going back to school. Our friend’s go-to person for computer related problems is a woman.

    I’m seriously considering going back to school to become a a junior high or high school math teacher. I honestly like math and know that there are good teaching jobs available for math teachers. I have to say that so many math teachers I’ve encountered in my life really aren’t good teachers. They lack some kind of social ability to explain outside the box of “math.” I don’t think they know how to make math fun or relevant. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced sexism in a math class, since so many of my math teachers have been women. What I’ve experienced more often than not were just plain incompetent instructors who lacked imagination.

  6. “I could whip my dick out and tell you that I have a minor in Women’s Studies that compliments my double major in Literature and History (though, sadly, was little help with my Russian minor) and that my master’s thesis necessitated an intimate knowledge of feminist theory, and that I relied heavily on the works of the French feminists and their thoughts on écriture féminine in order to prove my point about the fallacy of the non-linearity of hypertexts and other forms of experimental fiction all as my way of showing that I know what I’m talking about, but I’d hope that you’ve been a man long enough to see that for the bullshit move it is.”

    Right, I’ve got reams of my own jargon to wallow in, but I hate that crap. Using jargon with folks unfamiliar with it is among the worst ways that people go about to try to demonstrate their intelligence. Good that we’ve go that out of the way.

    Here’s what I posted at TCP, just so I don’t have to type it over again:

    ….

    “So, I’m gonna suggest that what you can do is act in ways that welcome women into your life and work — maybe even go so far as to encourage women to join you.”

    I do. My advisor is a woman. In fact she is the first female professor in our department and she’s only two weeks older than me, her first grad student. She also has two Masters degrees, and a PhD from Harvard.

    The women I’ve known in engineering and computer science have by and large been anywhere from above average to vastly superior compared to their average male counterpart. There just aren’t very many of them. More women I know than men simply don’t seem to care about CS and engineering. We’ve had many undergrads in our lab over the years, four of which were women. Two of the women were by far the best we had, one was so-so, and one was not so good. The male undergrads we had work for us were about the same, but there were more of them.

    I still don’t understand feminism. Much as women don’t like that, and I don’t know why they do, it is true. Women, including my wife, are a bit of an enigma to me. A wonderful enigma, but I often come across like a plank of wood to them for some reason.

    ….

    And yes, I can imagine having a math/CS teacher like that would be horrible. That sort of behavior disgusts me. And while that is only an anecdote, it is obvious that there are far more men who behave that way than there are women. But women aren’t as naturally focussed on sex as men are, that is the simple nature of the situation. I have a difficult time putting myself in a woman’s shoes, but do women have an easy time putting themselves in men’s shoes?

    You know, being a boy was great. From day 1 of puberty that changes. Through no fault of our own, we males become outrageously focused on sex. With proper parenting, this can be tempered and civilized, but without that, it becomes a disaster and you end up with an asshole like that for a teacher. And it has to come from the father and the mother to be effective, I think.

    Then you get rap music. I’m surprised feminists do not openly fight against what the whole “hip-hop” culture seems to stand for. Makes me want to puke the way women, and even life in general, are portrayed.

  7. Another thing… my highschool experience was remarkably different. My labmate in physics was a girl, and she repeatedly kicked my ass on exams. Since then she’s gotten her PhD from Harvard in Astronomy and is a Professor somewhere. All of the math and science teachers we had were men, and they were wonderful. My sister took a year off from school early on, and ended up finishing the last two years of high school in my classes, so I’d have heard from her if the teachers were anything but the best. She is now finishing her PhD in Astronomy at UT Austin.

    I was always a little better at math than my sister, but she’s the one I turn to to edit my papers because I can’t write for crap and she’s a genius with grammar and all that.

  8. hmmm… I wasn’t the greatest in math — and now that I am reflecting on it, I am pissed off. I was one of the “chosen” to begin Algebra I in the 8th grade — this was back in the day, circa 1988-89. My teacher was a coach, but he had math chops. But he was a complete asshole – the kind of asshole that is condescending to people who don’t “get it” right away. Math was always somewhat of a second language for me — or Greek. I tried, I really did. But he ended up standing at my desk yelling at me, all because I didn’t grasp the concept as readily as some of his pet students. I ended up dropping the class and reverting back to lowly 8th grade math — which was shameful to me, because I am not, and have never been a quitter.

    The upside is, once I passed Algebra I, the next year, with the help of a very strident, but wonderful teacher, whose door was always open for help – I moved on to Geometry. It was amazing how much sense that course made. Same with Trig. It all makes sense now, as I am an artistic type, that shapes make sense to me — but back then I felt like a failure. And his berating in front of the whole class didn’t make me want to learn. It made me feel shameful and stupid.

    For the record, in my job the only math I use is converting fractions to decimals and vice versa. Fuck you Coach Easley.

  9. Despite being a good student and excited about learning (and not sucking at math in Elementary school), when I transferred to Junior High School, the principal took one look at me (brown, female, slightly wild) and dumped me into remedial math. I went from doing basic algebra (functions, quadratic equations, most of the ‘playing around with variables’ stuff) and basic geometry (angles, area, etc.) in 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade and scoring wildly high on my standardized tests … to being taught how to add fractions with cut-outs of pizzas. We didn’t even get to multiplication of fractions ’til halfway through the year.

    My mom fought for a year to get me put into the normal/honors algebra class, and finally won. Except by that time, I had missed out on all the fundamentals that the teacher insisted on (this being, of course, the same teacher who taught the remedial class and didn’t bother to explain any of these concepts to the students in his class, because why would they progress?), and he made no bones about failing me on things because I didn’t know what he was talking about when he referred to things that had happened “last year” (for all of the students who had taken his special pre-algebra prep class, of course).

    By the time I got to High School, I regained some of my balance. I tested into Honors Geometry… but because the school was in transition, that meant that I got stuck in the Travel and Tourism Academy’s Geometry clas. The Academy was meant to, well, get students into hotel jobs and restaurants, not move them on to academic jobs, and it showed. I had seniors in there who had repeated the class three years in a row just because, and a burnt out teacher who left the next year. I didn’t get singled out because I was a girl then, as the teacher was a rather nice woman… but I for damn sure didn’t get a good education, either.

    After that, I took matters into my own hands and took Algebra II at a nearby private school over the summer. I’d heard stories about the teacher (which were confirmed next year, by my friends and my own observation) – arbitrary, capricious, and not very good. No one else in my grade made it out of her class.

    That landed me in Trigonometry/pre-calculus the next year. The teacher was one of those horrid old men that fancied himself a “professor” (and thus better than you in every way), made all of his tests on poor photocopies of his atrocious handwriting, and insisted that if you just read the book, you’d never need to ask a question in class (and that anyone who did so was stupid). He was kicked out less than a quarter of the way in for sexually harassing female students.

    That left us with a really cool permanent substitute… a very nice man who knew his stuff, but was well aware that he was getting paid to babysit and not to teach. He taught for about 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class, then let us play cards, read, or otherwise goof off for the rest. Why should he care? It’s not like we were going to need it, and he certainly wasn’t getting paid to be our teacher. That he happened to do anything academic at all was a gift.

    Our calculus teacher was the same way. For more than a semester, there wasn’t a single week in which he showed up every day. He was leaving the school to be teach nuclear physics for the Navy, and we were clearly unimportant. What was the point of teaching us, anyway?

    I never took another math class again. The haphazard (and often downright harmful) way I’d been taught math (because why should they bother?) made me so ill-prepared I erupted in full-blown math-phobia in college. Logic and Chemistry were trials of epic proportions because my foundation was so shaky. It was discouraging, and reinforced the narrative that I wasn’t supposed to be good at this, that it wasn’t going to be germane to my life, and that I should just do something else.

    (Did I mention that I did all of this with an at-the-time undiagnosed math/spatial learning disability? And moderate-severe ADD? Because let me tell you, nothing makes a teacher want to expend extra effort teaching a student they already think is worthless than finding out they have to explain things differently. [/sarcasm])

    And yeah, I heard the same stories about the same kinds of professors that Bridgett did. Which should, if nothing else, enforce the universality of our experiences. After all, we went to school on different sides of the country, during different decades, and followed different academic paths and still got the same old shit. I got to hear about my friends who were reduced to tears by male faculty by being in fields they ‘shouldn’t’ be. (Not at my school, or I’d’ve said something, but at other colleges.)

    If you want to read far more about this kind of discrimination than anyone might reasonably want to know, Thus Spake Zuska and Absinthe are veritable founts of knowledge.

  10. “The upside is, once I passed Algebra I, the next year, with the help of a very strident, but wonderful teacher, whose door was always open for help – I moved on to Geometry. It was amazing how much sense that course made. Same with Trig. It all makes sense now, as I am an artistic type, that shapes make sense to me — but back then I felt like a failure. And his berating in front of the whole class didn’t make me want to learn. It made me feel shameful and stupid.”

    My eighth grade math experience was very similar to yours. I got moved from regular math to algebra part way through the year. It was too late, and I never caught up. I just felt like an idiot in that class. Eventually I moved back to regular math.

    Now I’m three months from finishing my PhD in control systems engineering with a focus on robotics and state estimation. I’m good at math, but I go to school with a lot of people who are a lot better, and many of them are women.

  11. To clarify, I don’t feel like I was singled out because I was female — maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. This particular coach (I refuse to refer to him as a teacher, as I learned nothing from him) treated many of the students like shit, both male and female. I just got a double dose of it because I had the unfortunate luck of being in his homeroom. He would walk over to my desk and throw my book in front of me, slamming it down on my desk, if I wasn’t busy for that 30 minutes. In. Front. Of. The. Whole. Class. (“Busy” to him was math related… English work be damned)

    It’s hard to maintain a sense of respect for someone who takes pride in belittling students — and I had a hard time learning from someone in whom I projected so much disdain.

  12. These are some great stories, especially Bridgett’s.

    I was always pretty good at math too. My father, as well as many other uncles, aunts and cousins (both male and female), were/are accountants and various sort of engineers. So maybe it’s genetic, and I don’t mean that in the male/female way. I also, apparently, was fortunate enough to not have any asshole teachers or bosses blocking my way.

    I especially (like Elizabeth) loved geometry, because of all that ‘spaciality’ . I considered becoming an architect. Instead, my degree is in painting. But then I worked in the computer business for almost twenty years, rising to the position of assistant manager in an IT department of a major ::cough cough Amoco:: oil company. We did disaster recovery work for not only our company but the US military, as well as being a Beta developement site for IBM. Too bad I sucked at math to be able to do my job so well.

    And then Ben goes ahead and says:

    “You know, being a boy was great. From day 1 of puberty that changes. Through no fault of our own, we males become outrageously focused on sex. With proper parenting, this can be tempered and civilized”

    You take it from here, B. This is exactly the sort of boy I do NOT want my sons to be.

  13. I could be wrong, but I think Ben is on the verge of something. That seems to be how it usually goes. You go through life blissfully unaware that there’s a problem. Then, it comes to your attention that some folks are having a problem and you look around and wonder if said problem really exists, since you hadn’t noticed it. And, a lot of people are at that place and stay there–right on the verge of getting it. Those people are aggravating.

    But once in a while, some folks do listen and they do get it. But that process is long and often disheartening, I think.

    So, yeah, my point is that it seems like Ben is on the verge of the verge. He’s heard there’s a problem. He’s not sure it exists, really, though. So, he’s asking some questions. That tendency, to ask questions, if they’re meant in good faith, I respect, even if I, like every other feminist, sometimes feel like it’s always the same questions over and over.

    Because at least he’s curious. That’s better than most.

  14. “I especially (like Elizabeth) loved geometry, because of all that ’spaciality’ . I considered becoming an architect. Instead, my degree is in painting…”

    Seems Peggasus and I have led somewhat parallel lives… I considered becoming an architect too — but in my case, the physics got in the way — damn you, math!

    My degree is in fine art with an emphasis in graphic design. Luckily, I make my way through life with little bother of math. ;-) But there is still part of me that wishes I was one of the people that “got it” — and I did get it when it came to geometry and trig — but I have to give a shout out to those teachers that really gave a damn… Ironically, those teachers were the toughest… they made you want to care. And I think therein lies the difference, at least for me.

  15. I’m part way through a Masters Degree in Mathematics. In terms on the general population, I am exceptionally skilled at math. In terms of the people I work with, my fellow students and professors, I’m about average.

    I am where I am mostly because I’m stubborn and contrary. In elementary school (where most of the teachers secretly, or not so secretly, hate math) I liked math the best mostly because saying so freaked people out.

    My earliest story of any kind of gendered discouragement is mild compared to some:

    In grade 7 I placed first in my school in a math competition, amoung the top 10% or so in the country. Excited, and proud of my accomplishment, I told my grandmother. She’s a dear woman, but sheltered. Her response is burned into my brain.
    “But…Girls aren’t good at math.”

    She was so genuinely puzzled. So sincere…My grandmother is a dear woman, but it’s still chilling whenever I think back to that.

    In the course of my university career, up until this point, I have often been in classes that were overwhelmingly male. Nothing untoward ever really happened, but those extreme cases were some of the most difficult classes to get through.

    There are lots of components to this and I’ve never been really sure how it all hangs together, but I’ll try to explain it anyway.

    In a class that is mostly male (think 20 male students, 1 or 2 female students) a female student has no peers. Discussion with classmates is often a useful learning mechanism, but a female student in a largely male environment may feel uncomfortable in such discussions.

    There are always questions about the motives of your male classmates especially in the kind of institutional culture that produces mostly male classrooms. The males in the class generally get to assume that they can trust their classmates not to consider a discussion of the class material to be a prelude for a romantic relationship.

    In a class that is mostly male a female student feels like she has something to prove. The very makeup of the class in and of itself reminds a female student that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math. Maybe this can be motivating, I always liked a good competition, but the odds are invariably stacked against you so it can also be both intimidating and frustrating.

    In a class that is mostly male, a female student feels like an intruder, like she doesn’t belong. She is, in actual fact, the odd one out.

    That feeling is driven home in a lot of little ways. It’s the jokes that are told and the wording that is used and the social groups that are formed and the way people sit and the way questions are asked.

    This post is getting long, but here’s the point:
    All of us have crappy math class experiences. Men, women, everyone. Math is not particularly respected in our culture (for the obvious example: People regularly tell me they’re no good at math as soon as we’re introduced. Can you imagine someone telling a stranger they were no good at reading?)

    Many elementary school teachers hate math and pass that on to their students.
    Many teachers don’t care too much about their students.
    Many teachers randomly categorize their students based on irrelevant things (economic class for example).
    Many teachers don’t really know how to teach.
    Many math teachers find their material so intuitive they can’t explain it.

    So yeah, I can totally believe that you, ben, to had some crappy math experiences and that you pulled yourself up out of the muck and moved on to become mathematically successful.

    But I am certain that you have never been told that you couldn’t do math because of your gender.
    And I am certain that you have never felt excluded in a math class because of your gender.
    And I am certain that you never felt that you had to represent your entire gender in math class.

    I am glad that technical fields are now, at least officially, open to women. And I am glad that more and more women are choosing those fields and in turn making it easier for women to chose them. And I’m glad that more and more men are examining what they can do to make these fields more comfortable for women.

    But please, don’t think that this means that everything is perfect and sunshine and buttercups. And don’t think it lets you off the hook.

  16. Maybe if Ben is curious he could spend some time at Feminism 101, as you recommended? He might learn that “why don’t you feminists complain about rap music instead of about me?” is not a particularly productive approach. Or maybe he could stop patting himself on the back for being surrounded by women who are so much more brilliant than he is, and concluding that therefore he has no responsibilities for improving things, but could figure that if women have to be extra brilliant even to get their foot in the door in his field, whereas men can just be better than average and have a place there, that means he’s got a lot of work to do (if he sincerely wants to help).

  17. Oh. Rivikah already said it.

    And, Rivikah, good for you for sticking with it, despite the Bens of this world.

  18. Wow, such horrible stories!!! I must have been truly lucky. I went to high school in Louisiana in the late 70s; not exactly the most progressive place, but had no prejudice being in advanced math classes. Was it because most of my teachers were female? And, most of them were fantastic?

    I went to college, unsure if I should major in some field of chemistry or computer science. The male advisor suggested I take a course in both and see what appealed. I fell in love in that first computer science class (learning FORTRAN ) and never looked back. I can’t remember experiencing prejudice, though I know that I passed one math test I probably shouldn’t have, because I stood by the professor’s desk as he graded it. He never made inappropriate comments or moves, but I got the feeling that he might have liked to.

    I had mostly male teachers in math in college; again, no prejudice, except a few that did stare.

    I graduated, interviewed and landed a sweet job with Xerox, working on fascinating and leading edge software. It was a fantastic time.

    In interviewing then and in subsequent years, sometimes I would walk into a company and know that I wouldn’t be getting a job offer because I was a woman; it sucked, but I realized I didn’t want to work there anyway. Yes, there were jobs I didn’t get offers for because of some other reason than being a woman. :) Just some gave off the vive of it being a boy’s club.

    My daughter was a natural in math for years. I say was, because her last math teacher she really didn’t understand. She hated that class; now she really has an aversion to math; she’s ultra sensitive, though, so I can’t completely blame him.

    She took a computer science class last year. Her teacher told us that she had a gift for it. My brilliant programming husband and I looked at each other, as if to say “duh.” Genetics at work. I encouraged her to pursue more classes like this, but she declares that programming is very dull.

    Interesting about those that found geometry easy. I struggled with geometry; algebra and logic classes were the ones I breezed through.

  19. I found all math and logic classes easy and fun. Languages, too — I’m convinced there’s some brain-processing similarity in how people (or I, at least) learn those things. My favorite was always trigonometry, but once I started reading a lot of historical demography I wished I had understood more clearly all the things calculus is good for, because that would have made it that much more appealing.

    I’ve gotten over being sorry I didn’t go into math seriously, except when I think about fractals. Those equations are so beautiful, and I can’t understand them. Maybe there’s a Fractals 101 blog out there somewhere?

  20. “You take it from here, B. This is exactly the sort of boy I do NOT want my sons to be.”

    I would suggest that you lop their testicals off before the age of 10, in that case. You could at least pretend to try to understand the male point of view, as I’m giving the feminine point of view a shot here.

    “She took a computer science class last year. Her teacher told us that she had a gift for it. My brilliant programming husband and I looked at each other, as if to say “duh.” Genetics at work.”

    Er, doesn’t that make you a “geneticist” in the same sense of “racist” and not “scientist”? A little Gatica-esq, no?

  21. “I would suggest that you lop their testicals off before the age of 10, in that case. You could at least pretend to try to understand the male point of view, as I’m giving the feminine point of view a shot here.”

    Oh, it is to laugh.

    Anonymous (if, in fact, that is your name), you don’t have a clue, do you? My point is, was not, to lop off anybody’s testicles. I love men. I have a father, three brothers, a husband and two sons. I understand, perhaps more than some, how it is to live and work in the Land of Men. And not only because I have lived my life with them, but also because I have had to live most of my life as a WOMAN in the Land of Men.

    That is the point B is trying to make here. I / we (women, that is) have had to make our way in your world for so long, and I believe, for the most part, that we understand it. So why can’t you try to do the same? The understanding, that is?

    The last time I did a testicle check on all the male members (heh) of my family, all were intact. And they are still good men.

  22. Pingback: Unreal « Shoot The Moose

  23. I found all math and logic classes easy and fun. Languages, too — I’m convinced there’s some brain-processing similarity in how people (or I, at least) learn those things.

    That’s how things are tracked at my college anyway. I didn’t have to take math classes because language classes satisfied the same requirement.

  24. “Through no fault of our own, we males become outrageously focused on sex. ”

    What a load of pathetically whiny garbage. Girls get the insane rush of sex-obsession-making hormones in puberty just as strongly as boys do. But they also get even bigger rushes of other hormonal changes that occur every single month. Get that? Women go through bigger hormonal changes in a single month than boys do in puberty. Go look it up. They learn to deal. You can too, since you are dealing with a less extreme problem. If you haven’t bothered, it’s because you’re a slacker, not a victim.

  25. “Girls get the insane rush of sex-obsession-making hormones in puberty just as strongly as boys do.” – Helen

    Well, I might add that I got a second surge around the time I hit 30 and it hasn’t let up since. I believe it’s what Aunt B refers to as “it” in a previous post to Britney G. She hit the nail on the head with that blog entry…

  26. Elizabeth, yeah, there’s that one too. And yet somehow we don’t walk around harassing people because of it.

  27. “What a load of pathetically whiny garbage. Girls get the insane rush of sex-obsession-making hormones in puberty just as strongly as boys do.”

    Really? I doubt it, but it is possible. I don’t have first hand experience with that.

    And that was me up there, don’t know why it came up as “anonymous”.

    I wrote:

    “You know, being a boy was great. From day 1 of puberty that changes. Through no fault of our own, we males become outrageously focused on sex. With proper parenting, this can be tempered and civilized”

    To which I was replied:

    “You take it from here, B. This is exactly the sort of boy I do NOT want my sons to be.”

    Maybe I was misunderstood, but compared to boyhood, where you are not focused on sex at all, the focus you get from hormones alone at puberty is quite strong. You don’t want your sons to go through that? Good luck, castration is your only option.

    It turns out that, shock of shocks, women are attractive to men, for the most part. That part is biological. What do you want us males to do about it?

  28. It turns out that, shock of shocks, women are attractive to men, for the most part. That part is biological. What do you want us males to do about it?

    Not be entitled dumbasses?

    Seriously, that’s all. Your hormones aren’t my problem. Your raisin’ ain’t my problem. If you can’t control yourself, for whatever reason, that’s on you; it isn’t my fault for being whatever made your cock jump or prostate tingle.

    Sure, restraining yourself might be hard, learning new ways to think might be hard, but it’s a part of being a decent human being, and we all have to go through it.

    And what does that mean? What do we want?

    We want you not to harass us.
    We want you not to rape us.
    We want you treat us like full human beings.
    We want you to take responsibility for your actions.
    We want you to respect us as equals.
    We want you to judge us fairly.
    We want you to accept us in your lives, your workplaces, your disciplines and everywhere else.
    We want you not to be assholes.
    We want you not to take advantage of the screwed up systems that privilege the ways you get to be assholes (“boys will be boys”) but penalize us for indulging in the same behavior (“god, she’s a slut,” “shouldn’t you be more ladylike?”).

    It goes on and on and on, but it basically boils down to not being a jerk. Biology is no excuse for bad behavior. You are not your cock.

    (Sorry for the cached version, but the original seems AWOL.)

  29. “Not be entitled dumbasses?”

    While I agree that that would be a worthy goal, good luck :-).

    “Sure, restraining yourself might be hard, learning new ways to think might be hard, but it’s a part of being a decent human being, and we all have to go through it.”

    Duh. But at the same time, many/most women seem to want to be attractive to men. I can’t help that either, since it’s beyond my control. If you don’t want a man to look at your cleavage, don’t wear tops that reveal anything. It’s really that simple.

    “We want you to accept us in your lives, your workplaces, your disciplines and everywhere else.”

    Even on my guys only poker night? That doesn’t make sense. Or do you not mean everywhere when you write “everywhere”?

    “You are not your cock.”

    I figured that out around the age of 0 thanks to my mother, father, and other roll models. Many guys don’t seem to have. I loathe and despise Maxim, Playboy and all the rest. And to be honest, I dislike promiscuity equally in men and women.

    I also have a daughter. I want her to be a good person and live a happy life. I’d be just as happy if she was my hunting buddy as I would be if my son was (they’re both still to little). I hope she turns out to be an engineer, I’m a little biased that way. And whatever else she wants to do, I will support her 100%. And I don’t treat any other women any different. So where’s the problem?

    That, and I think rapists should be shot.

  30. “If you don’t want a man to look at your cleavage, don’t wear tops that reveal anything. It’s really that simple.”

    You own your gaze, moron. No one else does. No one reaches into your sockets and grab your eyeballs. You direct them where you choose.

  31. Although I have a hard time believing in Ben’s good faith after all this … Taking the “cleavage” story.

    Ben, what do you make of the fact that in other times, a woman’s ankle was considered generally to be such a sexualized body part that showing it was considered an invitation to sex? How or when does this change, and how are women (and men) to keep track of which body part is Teh Hotness? Or how about the fact that in other cultures, other body parts than cleavage are considered highly sexual and an invitation to male attention. Can you explain this due to genetics or hormones? No you cannot.

    the MEANING you put on what you see around you is LEARNED. It is LEARNED by all of us. There is variation, sure, but put together two things:

    despite the variations of attitudes you can probably describe among people you know, overall those variations

    1. tend to separate women and men

    2. those separations happen in ways that differentially affect their ability to have power in society (even just defining power meaning money, prestige, participation in politics, participation at the top of nearly any institution)

    and lastly, your abdication of responsibility for your eyeballs or your penis, by saying that you or “men” can’t help what they do about sex…
    well that puts an extra amount of pressure on all women to manage men’s “uncontrollableness.”

    So think about the fact that whenever women enter male-dominated places, not only are they worried about passing the test or learning the material or whatever, but to the extent that all the men there think they have no right or ability to control the way they treat women sexually, the women have to MANAGE men’s reactions to them. What a lot of extra work! That alone kept me out of the computer club after a while.

  32. “You own your gaze, moron. No one else does. No one reaches into your sockets and grab your eyeballs. You direct them where you choose.”

    Look, why show it if you don’t want men (or women for that matter) to see it? I don’t show my chest, not that anyone would want to look. For men, looking at a womans chest is very pleasant, sorry if that offends. Yes, we own our own gaze, and I have control of mine most of the time, but just about every man I’ve ever met will look at what a woman shows him at least some of the time.

    Women want it both ways. You want to be attractive, but you don’t want to be ogled. You want your cake and eat it too, it’s ridiculous.

    “Ben, what do you make of the fact that in other times, a woman’s ankle was considered generally to be such a sexualized body part that showing it was considered an invitation to sex?”

    I dunno, different times, different places. Showing cleavage in itself certainly isn’t an invitation to sex these days.

    Whether or not women like it, there will always be sexual tension between men and women in public places. That means the work place too. You can’t take a zillion years of biology out of the equation, it’s just not possible. My examples were crude, but that’s the crux of the matter, and men and women are, and have always been, biologically different.

    And much as women want to claim that they have just as much hormones for sex as men, I can prove that they are wrong: Gay men have a gazillion times more sex than gay women. With gay women, it appears to be all about feelings, which is what women like most, and for gay men it’s all about scrogging, which is what men prefer.

  33. Look, why show it if you don’t want men (or women for that matter) to see it? I don’t show my chest, not that anyone would want to look. For men, looking at a womans chest is very pleasant, sorry if that offends. Yes, we own our own gaze, and I have control of mine most of the time, but just about every man I’ve ever met will look at what a woman shows him at least some of the time.

    Women want it both ways. You want to be attractive, but you don’t want to be ogled. You want your cake and eat it too, it’s ridiculous.

    See, my problem is that as a woman the fact that I have breasts is always apparent unless I’m wearing some kind of gigantic sack. I don’t care if you find my breasts titillating (ha), I just want you to keep it to yourself. Look me in the eyes when you talk to me. I want to be evaluated on the quality of my work, not the size of my chest. Most men I know want to be considered attractive, but would feel uncomfortable if people stared at their crotch. Why wouldn’t it make me uncomfortable if someone stares at my breasts? (And yes, women do ogle men, it’s just that we’ve learned to be less blatant about it.)

    Anyway, I did have a funny math experience when I was taking freshman calculus in college. There was a dude named Phil in my class who asked me out for coffee. It turns out that his favorite topic of conversation was himself. In particular, how smart he was at math and how he helped so many girls in his high school math classes. I suppose at that point I was supposed to ask him for “special tutoring” or something, but it just irritated me. I kept trying to brush him off after that, but he routinely sat next to me during the lecture. I didn’t get rid of his unwanted attention until after the first midterm, when he found out my score was higher than his. Phil, if you are out there somewhere, at 18 you were a total dork.

  34. Ben, I just have one question for you and I don’t mean it to be snarky. I just genuinely want to know. When you ask these questions, what outcome are you hoping for?

    Do you think that, in the whole history of the world, you’re the first person to ask these kinds of questions and so you’re providing some kind of useful thought experiment for everyone? Do you get that there are a shit ton of answers to your questions out there, but still feel like it’s easier for you to insist we prove to you there’s a problem while you continually discount our evidence? Or what?

    I mean, there are clearly problems between men and women. We’re not lying to you.

    Second, okay, fine. If you won’t believe us, just ask yourself this: why do you think so little of men? And what does that mean for your own feelings of self-worth and security in the world that you think that men are trapped by the whims of their bodies?

    And when your daughter comes home for the first time, crying, because some boy has grabbed her crotch (for me, the first time that happened, I was in third grade and the crotch-grabber was also in third grade), will you be satisfied that he was just so hardwired to do it, that he couldn’t help it? Is that going to be an acceptable answer for you to give your eight year old?

    Or do you think you may come to suspect that it doesn’t have much to do with innate sex drives at all and more to do with boys learning, at a very early age, that girls are there for them to do whatever the fuck they want to them?

  35. Ben,

    I’m a biologist (and a dedicated lurker on this blog! Hi!) If you’re still using arguments like “men are slaves to their hormones” and “gay men have more sex” (was there a cite for that? No? Color me unsurprised), you have a LOT of background reading to do before you have anything useful to add to that kind of discussion. Human biology is a vast and complex field; you’re arguing entirely based on hearsay and newspaper articles. For a long time, researchers didn’t know much about women’s sex drives because they were trying to look at it in a very male-centric way. Fortunately, there’s a lot of new research out there that I’m *sure* you’ll be fascinated with, if you’re arguing in good faith and not just to push an agenda.

    Being a biologist, I have a few good educational stories of my own, the most hurtful of which was me announcing that I was going to go to college to major in chemistry, and having everyone I know (except the chem teacher) try to talk me out of it. My parents trying to push me toward English, my math&physics teachers telling me to “be prepared, it might be harder than you think, no shame in dropping out” (which sounds innocuous until you find that they never said anything similar to any of the boys, no matter how shaky their chem was). My guidance counselor suggested elementary ed (at this point I was clearly scientifically inclined and had never done anything to suggest I liked kids) because “when you get married and have children you’re going to want a job that is flexible and that lets you take some time off.” Fairly mild, compared to some stories, but this was in 2002. In college, I was one of three girls in a physics lab class of 20, with a prof who insisted on checking all of the girls’ work before we were allowed to leave, but never any of the boys’. I had a chemlab professor who constantly made small talk with the male students about how women were illogical and had terrible analytical skills. In grad school, things have been fine, but there are still exactly 2 female professors in my department (of biology! the only sciencey field which has graduated roughly equal numbers of men and women for years and years now!) It’s systematic. In middle school, the math teachers are men, the English teachers are women. The doctors and astronauts and medical experts in the news are men. Professors are always “he”. With no positive role models for girls (and often outright discouragement) how do we expect girls to get into and stay in the sciences?

    And as far as the cleavage thing goes, I call bullshit. I have no problem not checking out a guy’s ass if we’re in a context where that is just inappropriate; if he’s my labmate or my colleague and we have a professional, respectful relationship, or if he’s my friend and I see him and appreciate him as a whole and autonomous person who would prefer I not check him out, because he’s not wearing those tight jeans for me. Yeah, believe it or not, there are a lot of different motivations for wearing “revealing” clothes. He might be wearing those tight jeans because his girlfriend likes the way his ass looks in them, or because HE likes the way his ass looks in them, or because jeans with a bit of stretch are more comfortable, or because close-fitting clothing is just safer in a lab environment, or because he doesn’t want to keep hitching his pants up. The same range of reasons applies to women. If you have female colleagues who are dressing for *your* attention, you’d know it in ways besides their dress. Unfortunately, “professional” women’s clothing is often less modest than jeans and a t-shirt would be. Ankle-length skirts are not considered business attire; neither are baggy sweaters. If you respect your female colleagues as whole and independent people, you won’t look, especially when you’re talking to them. If, as I suspect, you see them as things that are around for your enjoyment because *poor me, I can’t help it, I’m controlled by my hormones*, then stare away, and at least they’ll know you’re a jerk right off.

  36. I work with college students. Within the last ten years I have had more than one woman student tell me that a math or science professor has announced to her class that women should not expect to receive good grades in his class because women do not have the innate ability to do math or science. (One professor actually said that it’s because of women’s “plumbing”. Plumbing?) When I’ve expressed outrage, and suggested that the students really needed to contact their department head to complain, they’ve declined, out of fear. Do you think these women then were able to make a free “choice” to not be “interested” in computer science?

    I have also, within the last five years, listened to a conversation between two male friends, engineers in their late 20s, describing an engineering class they took where a professor regularly made demeaning jokes about women engineering students, of whom there were fewer than five in the class. These two friends of mine, otherwise sensitive, intelligent men, thought these jokes, the retelling of them, and the situation as a whole, were a laugh riot. If otherwise clued-in, kind men like these two didn’t understand the pain that this classroom climate caused their female classmates, then how could a clueless one? And how could those female students make a free choice to continue in a field of study where they were harassed daily by a teacher who was supposed to be a mentor and a help to them?

    Me, as a liberal arts major, the worst I got in college was to listen as an anthropology professor explained that some societies believe that a man can be weakened by proximity to a menstruating woman. “So guys, if you got a poor grade on your last exam look at who you were sitting next to, and maybe that will explain it.” He gave me a “D” in the class. I am not a “D” student. But, you know, maybe I was on the rag. For five straight months.

    As all of the previous comments have explained so well, sexism is still so entrenched in every level of our educational system, that girls and women cannot make free choices about what subjects we are interested in. There are too many other, insidious, sometimes downright scary, factors skewing our decisions.

  37. Me, as a liberal arts major, …

    The first ‘B’ I ever received in an English class was from a professor who, rumor had it, never gave ‘A’s’ to females. I was doing ‘A’ work. I knew it. I saw what kind of work male student’s were turning in–it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t 4.0 quality. Yet, they received ‘A’s’. Not one woman in my class received an ‘A.’ By the time our final exam rolled around, I knew even making a perfect score on my test wouldn’t get me an ‘A’, that I could slack on the test and still make a B+ in the class. So I put no effort into the test and wrote off my 4.0 average.

    Complaints to higher ups in the English Department were met with sympathy, but I was told that nothing could be done. Dr. Drake (I’m naming him because he has passed on) was a department chair. They had given him the chair hoping he’d step down from teaching because the complaints had been numerous over the years (but difficult to prove). It was well known in the department that Dr. Drake was a “confirmed bachelor,” who only gave “good grades” to his “boys.” He said he wouldn’t stop teaching until he died, and he was true to his word.

    That’s sexism of a whole different color.

  38. ““gay men have more sex” (was there a cite for that? No? Color me unsurprised)”

    Er, um, like, do I really need a cite for something that obvious? Do gay women canoodle each other in parks and bathroom stalls at airports? I didn’t think so.

    “For a long time, researchers didn’t know much about women’s sex drives because they were trying to look at it in a very male-centric way.”

    Women have sex drives, I know that. Last time I checked I initiate sex with my wife about 10:1 more than she does with me. The same goes for every married couple I’ve ever known. Men and women are not the same this way.

    “And as far as the cleavage thing goes, I call bullshit. I have no problem not checking out a guy’s ass if we’re in a context where that is just inappropriate;”

    Why do you think that is? Are you saying that women are better than men? That we are unequal? And are the guys hanging their butts out of their pants for everyone to see?

  39. So Ben is clinging to the “Your failure to wear a burkha ripped my penis out of my clothes and forced it to rape you” argument.

    Not a surprise, but proof he’s just another jerkoff trying to do the opposite of learn. It’s pretty transparent — if he learns, then his sad little device he’s stumbled upon to get women to pay attention to him by explaining things vanishes.

  40. “So Ben is clinging to the “Your failure to wear a burkha ripped my penis out of my clothes and forced it to rape you” argument.”

    Taking a gander at a woman is a far cry from rape. Rapists should be shot, period.

    The problem that I see here is that the argument from most of you is very one-sided. It’s all men’s faults, and it has nothing to do with our natural tendencies, but with the fact that we’re jerks. How am I supposed to respond to that?

  41. I’m saying that you, personally, are a jerk, because you, personally, are claiming, just as rapists do, that women’s appearance is at fault for your bad behavior.

    The problem isn’t with human nature. The problem isn’t with anything inherent in men. The problem is that there are too many men who are just like you walking around, and you are a sexist pig.

  42. Last time I checked I initiate sex with my wife about 10:1 more than she does with me. The same goes for every married couple I’ve ever known.

    ANECDOTAL!

    Ya see, in my relationship, and in a lot of the couples i know, the women are the primary instigators. in my relationship, I’m the one dropping the hints and the panties 9 out of 10 times.

  43. “I’m saying that you, personally, are a jerk, because you, personally, are claiming, just as rapists do, that women’s appearance is at fault for your bad behavior.”

    No, I am not claiming that. Have we even established that it is bad behavior to glance at a woman’s cleavage if it is clearly on display? Why else would a woman wear such a garment? I never wear anything like that. On the other hand, I avoid at all cost looking at a woman inappropriately when she is breast feeding an infant. That is obviously not meant for anyone to look at. See the difference?

    “I’m the one dropping the hints and the panties 9 out of 10 times.”

    No kidding?

  44. “No, I am not claiming that.”

    Yes, you are, no matter how much you protest otherwise.

    “Have we even established that it is bad behavior to glance at a woman’s cleavage if it is clearly on display?”

    Of course we have, moron. Unless she specifically invited you personally, by, say, asking you.

    “Why else would a woman wear such a garment?”

    Because it’s comfortable. I’ve got to stop calling you moron, because you’re dumber than that.

    “I never wear anything like that.”

    And the world revolves according to your personal preferences and views of course. Dumber than a moron*and* an egomaniac.

    “On the other hand, I avoid at all cost looking at a woman inappropriately when she is breast feeding an infant. That is obviously not meant for anyone to look at. See the difference?”

    No, because there isn’t any. Your suggestion that there is is just another reiteration of the “Your failure to wear a burkha ripped my penis out of my clothes and forced it to rape you” argument.

  45. Ben, may I ask in all seriousness why you’re here? That’s not in the sense of “please go away;” it’s in the sense of “what do you hope to gain/learn/accomplish here? You showed up asking some quite reasonable questions about feminism, human worth, and the like. But when you were given answers and suggestions for further reading/study/consideration, you first rejected them (mostly, so far as I can tell, for being too much work for you to check out) and then promptly started discussing women solely in terms of our bodies. Are you getting some jollies with this? You have certainly proven to the satisfaction of most of the participants here that it’s true that you don’t understand women, that there are reasons that the women in your life find you plank-like, and that there are reasons why women might not be eager to work in a field filled with individuals like you. But I’m not quite seeing how that flows from the questions you came here asking. So I’m asking.

  46. “Of course we have, moron. Unless she specifically invited you personally, by, say, asking you.”

    You would actually ask a man to “please have gander at my cleavage”?

    “No, because there isn’t any. Your suggestion that there is is just another reiteration of the “Your failure to wear a burkha ripped my penis out of my clothes and forced it to rape you” argument.”

    Oh brother. My wife and sister disagree. Should I take your word over theirs?

  47. “You would actually ask a man to “please have gander at my cleavage”?”

    If I wanted to be sexually involved with him in any way, I would have no problem saying so. The lack of my stating as much clearly and distinctly means that none of it is for him, no matter how much jerkoffs like you want to fantasize otherwise. We really aren’t courting your gaze, dumber-than-moron egomaniac.

    “Oh brother. My wife and sister disagree. Should I take your word over theirs?”

    You should consider that they have to face powerful negative consequences for disagreeing with you, and I don’t.

  48. So Ben, when are you going to answer the thoughtful questions about what you hope to accomplish here? At this point, your ignoring them plus your sexist garbage have degenerated you to a troll, and my pointing out your jerkoffisms is just troll-bashing and apparently troll-feeding as well.

    So what’s the deal? Why aren’t you answering them?

  49. Why else would a woman wear such a garment?

    Because it’s 98-degrees in the shade and taking my top completely off is out of the question (an option you legally have and I don’t whether or not you choose to do so).

    What prudery! What? Only “bad” girls show cleavage? Let me tell you son, when I wear a turtleneck, men stare as surely as if I was wearing something cut down to my belly button. What’s my alternative then? Oh right. The burkha. Unless you’ve got an understanding with that woman, staring at her breasts is RUDE. End of story.

    Nope.

    No more discussion.

    Really. If you don’t get it now, you never will.

    And yes. I am the instigator. Why? Probably because he turns me on in a million ways. Probably because he’s far more dimensional than a plank of wood. If a woman isn’t instigating sex at least half of the time, than I’d say one of the reasons why is that the man doesn’t know how to turn on.

  50. That is…

    If a woman isn’t instigating sex at least half of the time, than I’d say one of the reasons why is that the man doesn’t know how to turn her on.

  51. “So Ben, when are you going to answer the thoughtful questions about what you hope to accomplish here?”

    Er, yeah, we got way off topic. I just wanted to know what was meant by “worth” when you talk about men and women being of equal worth.

    I think of it as worth before God and civilization. It’s sort of a vague idea.

    If you mean worth on the job and worth in sports and worth in the math class, well then I think it’s a dumb idea to think of worth in terms of gender. In those cases, worth is individual, not group.

  52. I don’t want to derail the thread, but I just want to point out that, though it’s appropriate to link types of clothing and female oppression, unless some of us are secretly be-burquaed Muslim women speaking from a voice of experience, let’s be mindful of throwing that garment around as the watermark for oppressive feminine wear.

    After all, even very modest women get ogled and raped (so their clothes aren’t a protection) and probably no one who is now wearing or has ever worn high heels should be holding anything else up as the standard for oppressive clothing and we would be better off talking about those articles of clothing in terms of both how they’re sexualized and framed as a way for women to assert power and prettiness and acceptability, etc.

    Thanks.

  53. “staring at her breasts is RUDE”

    Duh. I don’t recall saying anything about STARING. I think I used words like “glance.” Is glancing rude?

  54. So Ben, when are you going to answer the thoughtful questions about what you hope to accomplish here?

    Er, yeah, we got way off topic. I just wanted to know what was meant by “worth” when you talk about men and women being of equal worth.
    I think of it as worth before God and civilization. It’s sort of a vague idea.

    And do you find that introducing (as you did) the question of women’s math skills gets you closer to an answer? Or, perhaps, introducing (as you did, again) the topic of how men always deal with women through the filter of their bodies gets the discussion where you want it to go? I mean, presumably there was a reason that you introduced and continue to flog matters that don’t in any way get you back to the discussion you say you want. So that I’m left to wonder whether you realize that, so far as one can deduce from your actions, your purpose is actually to disrupt conversation if it isn’t centering on you. That, btw, is treating B and her blog as things of very little worth.

    Finally, there’s the question of whether worth includes personal responsibility, which you might demonstrate by admitting, “yes, I’m the one who completely derailed the discussion, and I apologize,” instead of going with the weasly “we got way off topic.” Would you like to discuss measures of personal worth? Would you like to discuss women’s math abilities and how they do or don’t correlate with personal worth? Then do so and stop looking at our tits.

  55. Jesus Ben,
    Stop being an ass. I’m a gay man and I can say to a woman I’m friends with, ” Wow, you’ve got great boobs” and she’ll probably laugh and say thanks. Then she’ll probably complain about finding blouses that fit. I can’t do it at work, I can’t do it in a public place or she’d take my block off and rightly so. The reason is I don’t take a proprietary interest in her body. I also don’t believe that having breasts has anything to with her mental ability.
    Now think about me saying to you “Great package” and staring at your crotch. Do you think you’d be uncomfortable? How about I assume you’re an ass because you’re a straight man, and not because you’ve been proving it in the comments. Throw in the fact that women are in many ways less able to defend themselves, because of size and strength or simply because women are almost never believed? If I was twice your size and and in a position of authority? Then could you get what’s going on?
    It’s really not unusual for women to be in such a position. Your questions don’t seem sincere to me. They seem to be about trying to trip up the women who are trying to explain something to you, and prove that you’re innocent. I’m gay and even I’m aware that I have a percieved one up on women in many situations for no other reason than I’m a man.
    And I don’t think you’d be ok with me trying to molest you simply on the basis that I’m a sex crazed homo. It seems a little disingenous to try and excuse a lot of men’s behaviour on the fact that they’re just wired that way.

  56. Sorry,
    That wasn’t really on topic and unlikely to really help matters.
    I got annoyed.
    I think the thread is really interesting and I enjoyed the personal stories.
    Thanks

  57. “Now think about me saying to you “Great package” and staring at your crotch. Do you think you’d be uncomfortable? ”

    If you glanced at my crotch, I wouldn’t care. I’ve never done anything remotely like that to anyone.

    “And I don’t think you’d be ok with me trying to molest you simply on the basis that I’m a sex crazed homo?”

    Eh? I only said that men liked to have sex more frequently than women. That’s why I think gay men have more sex, because they aren’t with a woman who would have a restricting affect on them.

  58. Heh, you’re not the only person who got annoyed.

    That does bring up a question I’d like to see answered, though. Why do you wear the clothes you do, Ben? Are you trying to show off for gay men? What about people who have fetishes for people who share identity markers with you? (If you can think of it, it probably exists. If nothing else, you’re married; what about people with cuckold or homebreaker fetishes? Every time you’re out with your wife, showing off that married goodness, you’re attractive to someone. Do you count that as ‘sending off signals’ to those people, or do you (rightly) just think you’re going about your day the way you want to go about it without a thought about those people?)

  59. That is true: According to BenTroll’s own logic, he only goes out in public actively to solicit sexual attention from gay men.

    So that must be why he’s posting here.

  60. Back to the original topic of women in computer science:

    I am one of the “success stories.” I have a Ph.D. in computer science and I work in the scientific computing field at a national laboratory.

    I was fortunate enough to have possessed just the right combination of persistence, self-preservation instincts, and good luck, to have gotten through the doctorate. I was lucky enough to have accidentally picked a really awesome and supportive (male) advisor, who was influential in the field and helped all his students, no matter their gender. I was also fortunate to land with a postdoc advisor who was wonderful, very active in the care of his three young children, and extremely supportive when I became pregnant and had a baby. And now, I have gone on to work in another department, for another male boss, who is very supportive and encouraging.

    Even though I work in such an (unusually) inclusive and supportive environment, I still have some strange encounters with my (90% male) colleagues every once in a while. I’ve had colleagues who tell me that I can’t do my work well because I’m pregnant, or who ask me whether I got my job because of my husband. (I didn’t. He’s a stay-at-home dad.) I’ve interacted with people who talk to my boobs rather than to me, people who think they have to hold the door for me, and people who think they have to apologize for being nerdy in front of me. (Evidently, if you have boobs, you can’t be a nerd yourself.) I regularly correct people who refer to computer scientists with the masculine pronoun exclusively, but I vacillate between boldly calling people out on other acts of sexism and silently seething about it.

  61. I was the second-best or best student in all my high school math and science classes (competing with the Asian guy). My cup size is also an AA, so there’s really very little to stare at.

    I don’t know if it was my luck at being able to grasp math concepts so easily (all of my math and science teachers were male, but I was very fortunate they were all very talented teachers), or my lack of distracting physical features, pure dumb luck in where I went to school, or some combination of these things but I’ve never experienced discrimination based on my gender. If anything, I’ve gotten preferential treatment (“hey, wouldn’t it look good re:gender equality if we had a woman in the office? This woman’s qualified, let’s hire her and not really consider the men we interviewed too seriously.)

    If I wear a revealing or form-fitting top, I want people (men and women) to glance at my breasts and find them good-looking. When I put my hair up, it’s partly to get it off my neck to stay cooler, it’s partly to keep it out of the potentially dangerous equipment I use at work, and I also try to make it look interesting and hope people look at my hair and find it attractive (of course, if someone couldn’t stop ogling my hair, that would be creepy). Maybe it’s my tiny chest talking here (I’ve never experienced talking to anyone who stared at it), but I don’t see why clothes can’t be both functional and inviting to (polite and restrained) admiration of the physical form.

    Oh, and on this:

    >>>Last time I checked I initiate sex with my wife about 10:1 more than she does with me. The same goes for every married couple I’ve ever known. Men and women are not the same this way.<<>“And as far as the cleavage thing goes, I call bullshit. I have no problem not checking out a guy’s ass if we’re in a context where that is just inappropriate;”

    Why do you think that is? Are you saying that women are better than men? That we are unequal? And are the guys hanging their butts out of their pants for everyone to see?<<

    Some of the men at my work do come to work in ripped jeans with a butt cheek hanging out (you do not want to wear your nice clothes to the place I work). It would still be rude for me to stare.

  62. Boy, I must have stumbled on some code I wasn’t aware of in that last post. It ate part of my post right where it goes to italics.

    I had tried to say that I initiate with my husband about 2:1 (there, now Ben knows two couples that don’t fit his preconceived model). However, I disagree with the posters who stated that couples where the male initiates more involve men who are bad in bed. I believe, rather, that the variation in sex drive from individual to individual is greater than the variation between male and female. So while it is true that the average man has a higher libido than the average woman, it is also common for an individual woman to have a higher drive than an individual man.

  63. Disclaimer: I feel like the following discussion might detract from the original purpose of the post, so all due apologies to B who is welcome to take me over her knee and spank me for my disobedience at her convenience.

    lyrl,
    I didn’t say or suggest that Ben was “bad in bed.” I said my man was…

    far more dimensional than a plank of wood. If a woman isn’t instigating sex at least half of the time, than I’d say one of the reasons why is that the man doesn’t know how to turn her on.

    More of a suggestion that perhaps a reason Ben’s wife doesn’t initiate sex quite as often is because Ben might not be doing what it takes to make her interested enough in initiating it. Because I don’t know how often he and his wife have sex or how often he may be turned down for sex, I can’t speak to either of their libidos. That is, if Mrs. Ben says, “yes,” to his come-ons 100% of the time, then I could surmise that her libido is just as healthy as his and she enjoys him as a lover. So why isn’t she initiating?

    As I said, this is an entirely different discussion for an entirely different post.

    B, I’m waiting for my spanking. Would you like me sans panties or in little white cotton full backs? It’s up to you.

  64. Oooo, well, if I have to choose (instead of having it as a surprise), I’d have to go with little white cotton full backs. There’s an element of transgression and it shows common sense in the cooter health department.

  65. WOW. I am so glad I found this thread so late because participating in it would just about have made my head explode.

    Shorter Ben: “Every man in the world is like me (unless he’s gay, in which case he’s having tons of hot sex) and every woman in the world is like my wife (unless she’s gay, in which case she’s probably not having sex at all cause women don’t really like it all that much). LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

  66. Oh, tanglethis, true enough. Sorry, The Editor, but you and I cannot play “I’ve been very, very, oh, so naughty” because we don’t like sex.

    I forgot.

  67. Maybe we could just play “I’ve been very, very, oh, so naughty” because we’ve been very, very, oh, so naughty and your Sweetie could oversee to make sure that we don’t cross the line into anything that borders on sex.

    Like, we could say that being naughty and needing spanking is for sure not sex. But, if I kissed you to make it better… And I was wearing nothing but a fur coat… and I put my hand…

    Whehhlll, anyway, you can see how we might need a judge.

  68. Well, that was fun. Reminds me of the whole Venus/Mars thing. I’ve got pies to bake and ammo to load, so I’ll bow out. Thanks for the fun!

  69. I’m terribly late to this party, but I thought I’d chime in. Back to the original topic of this thread…

    I started out life with a pretty good “math brain”. My very-much-older brother, who was 15 when I was 3, got saddled with babysitting me a lot, and he used to keep me quiet by doing his algebra homework with me. I had already worked out addition, subtraction and multiplication by playing with blocks and beads, he filled me in on division, and by the time I was four I had mastered graphing equations and solving polynomials. It was all good.

    Then I started school. To cram many long, miserable years of hell into a nutshell, I was not _allowed_ to work ahead of the class, and the ensuing fights with teachers — in which I was not backed up even a little by my parents — ground most of my love of maths out of me. When I was finally allowed to start algebra (again) in high school was actually the death knell. Algebra I went ok, with a male teacher, and even managed to rekindle some of my love of the sheer elegance of numbers; ironically, though, Algebra II was taught by a female teacher, who somehow managed to have the attitude that girls in her class must somehow be there by accident or to scope out a boyfriend. She responded to questions by the boys in the class; they took their work up to the board, the class worked it out, she would mark their homework appropriately, it was good. However, if you were FEMALE and had a question, you could sit there with your arm up in the air for 50 minutes (I did this, on several occasions) and simply get ignored. Your homework was marked with a passing grade if you turned in a sheet of paper with random numbers on it; I guess that was all that was expected. I bogged down around matrices, and couldn’t — literally, physically COULDN’T — get her to seriously help me with it — I got the pat on the head thing and “don’t worry about it, you’re not going to need it in life anyway.” By that time there were only three girls in that class anyway. I just gave up. Didn’t do a lick of work for the rest of the year, and still passed with a B. Hated math after that.

    Many, many years later, after having moved into the humanities and completed a history major with an anthropology minor, I discovered by accident and necessity that working with computers was really, really _fun_ — and I was good at it. I took a two-day crash course from a friend who was a systems development project manager, and managed to get a job, first selling computers and then fixing them. I learned enough from that to get a job doing application troubleshooting for BP — they didn’t ask for a computing science degree, fortunately, I just had to sit down with a series of bugged-up computers and demonstrate to the interviewers that I knew how to tackle them and was capable of making things work.

    That job was fantastic. Except, perhaps, for the co-workers. At that point I was the only the second female working in the entire IT support team, and I got an awful lot of porn and lesbian jokes sent in my direction “as a joke”, because it was clear to most everyone there that this was a man’s domain and I didn’t really belong. I was also getting paid about 60% of what my male colleagues were getting paid, including the ones hired straight from secondary school and who spent the day hacking playstations at their desks. The other BP people didn’t always help, there was one manager in particular who refused to have me or any other female even look at computer problems in his department because, he said outright, women couldn’t possibly deal with technology effectively. Guys could go and say _precisely_ the same thing that we were suggesting, and it would be acted on. So much for that.

    Another company took over providing IT support to BP; I decided to move to them, and then I took an application test for their internal “graduate training program” in programming. I cruised through that, and got in. The very first training session I attended, down in England, another person trying to make the transition into actual programming (in his case, from networking) turned to me before the first class and said, without any trace of irony or self-consciousness, “So why do you want to program, anyway? I mean, it’s math and logic and stuff, and you’re a _girl_. Girls don’t go in for that.”

    I have to say, he only very narrowly missed dying, there. But I had just started that job, and didn’t want to jeopardize it.

    Since then it’s gotten a lot better. I went back to university part time, and found a maths lecturer who loves his subject and who loves getting other people to love the subject too, and having that kind of enthusiasm available to me lit the fire again. I enjoy, and have always enjoyed programming, and currently work in a place with plenty of women and a really good atmosphere. It shocked the hell out of me when I dove back into an archive of tips and tricks I had kept from my very first job at BP and found the file of lesbian jokes that a colleague had “helpfully” left there for me, because I no longer have to deal with that kind of bs. But do I think that it’s gone, and it’s all ok now for women starting out in maths or physics or computer science? No. I think I just got lucky and got through it.

    Lynne B.

  70. Translation of Ben’s last post:

    I can’t handle having my moronic ass handed to me the way these people do, so I’ll be slinking off to snivel in a corner and take out my irritation on my wife. Let’s not forget that I’m an egomaniac too though, so I’ll also post another all-about-me-ism to try to make it look like choose to leave and didn’t get stomped every time I opened my IQ-23 mouth.

  71. Wow, this thread really hits home, in many different ways. I, too, was subtly coaxed away from math and science in junior high and high school; for years I bought into the notion that I just wasn’t good at math — even though I received excellent grades in all my math classes. Life has a sense of irony, though: I’m now a science writer (after majoring in English), and learning calculus for the first time 20 years after high school. The leopard CAN change its spots. :)

    I’m also writing an account of my personal journey as a recovering “mathogynist,” exploring what went wrong in my formative education (a complex combo of factors) and how we might improve both the teaching of math and science, and the climate for women in those areas. If anyone who commented on this thread is willing to share their stories “on the record” (I’m happy to use pseudonyms or omit last names), I think it would really enhance that particular section.

    Success stories also welcome: I was chatting with a woman at a party a couple of days ago who said somehow, she became known for being “good at math” in grade school because she worked very hard at multiplication tables to win the weekly timed “contests” staged by her teacher. This became an integral part of her self-identity, so when she got hung up on more advanced math problems, instead of assuming a lack of aptitude — as most o us, including me, have done — she reasoned that since she was good at math, she should be able to figure it out. And she did.

    How can we convey a similar self-identification on the young girls of tomorrow?

  72. This thread has made me realize that I have no experience of math teachers who operated from the assumption that I could do all the material.

    Through grade school, this failed to make much of a dent, because I was the best in the school mathematically. I did go through a brief phase where I was suddenly unable to do long division, which made no sense at the time because I’d been doing it over a year with the same teacher with no mistakes. And yet, instead of realizing the clear symptom of trauma (it was when my parents separated), the teacher treated me as though I was incapable. My bewilderment at the sudden disappearance of a previously dependable skill turned to anger at my teacher’s attitude and lack of any constructive help. Within a few weeks I was back to doing the hardest problems mentally, with one difference: I no longer felt any compunction about pointing out the teacher’s occasional mistake rudely instead of with diffidence.

    Through high school and college, again, I can’t recall any teachers who worked from the assumption that I could master all the material, and if I had any trouble, must simply need more work or a bit of help. I know of quite a few male students who were given that presumption of capability. I wasn’t.

  73. You can have my story, for what it’s worth, Jennifer.

    One thing that really stood out for me was that this is really a complex set of related phenomena, rather than a single thing (women being discouraged from being good at STEM stuff). There’s a cluster of specifically gendered stuff (“you won’t need that later in life,” “girls can’t do that (ability),” “girls aren’t supposed to do that (cultural climate),” “don’t outshine the boys”), and several other clusters of problems that intersect with the gender issues to create differential outcomes.

    (For me, I kinda wish someone had tried to tell me when I was younger that I couldn’t do math or be good at science. I’m the kind of contrarian that would absolutely have excelled in a class just to piss the speaker off. Hell, the only time I ever got straight A’s was the semester when all of our AP stuff kicked in and the normal frontrunners were complaining that everything was “too hard” and looking at me like I was going to fail. I did it just to be perverse, and never felt the need to repeat it.)

    One of the things that fascinates me is how much of this is structural and institutional, rather than specific sets of bad behavior. If it was just a problem of certain people being assholes and that tainting the field, it would be … difficult to deal with, but not all that complex. Bad behavior is pretty straightforward. It’s the bad systems that cause the most harm. (Largely because our bad systems allow the assholes inordinate amounts of power in both direct and indirect ways, and often actively stifle attempts to change that fact.)

  74. Aside from a few instances of being told I’ll “never use that,” my experience with subject-related sexism has basically all happened in the workplace. (I got out of organised math education early, as I have a math-related learning disability and any math teachers I encountered in school had neither the time nor the apparent ability to spend the effort looking for ways to make things understandable to me. My family was less than no help, since despite getting the formal diagnosis, my father’s attitude was that I “just hated math,” and that was why I was bad at it. I spent years trying to tell him I hated math because I was bad at it, not the other way around, to no avail.)

    When I was in my late 20s, I finally landed my first job as a technical writer. It was hard enough getting into the technical writing field — I kept hearing from tech-side HR people that I’d “be happier in marketing or academia.” I hate marketing. Working briefly in marketing writing convinced me completely that I wanted to be a technical writer; there’s zero BS involved. I also kept hearing from non-technical HR people that I’d be “happier in a technical position.” The sexism and condescension inherent in telling a job seeker that they don’t know enough about themselves to figure out where they’d be happiest boggles the mind. The occupational steering itself has a sexist element, because at least where I come from, marketing is a strongly female-gendered field, and anything technical is strongly male-gendered. (Oddly, in reality, technical writing is a female-dominated field these days. Don’t get me started on why that is…)

    Once I did break into the field, besides procedural documentation and suchlike, my job duties included filing, answering the phone, and occasionally cleaning the office. I once got told (by my boss at that job) that I wasn’t getting a raise because I didn’t “have a family to support.” (Find me a male technical writer who ever had a non-internship job where secretarial work was part of the job description. Go on, I dare you.)

    At that same job, I also tangled with my boss’ pet IT consultant, who charged him enormous amounts of money for slipshod work, and could get away with it because he had a smooth line of patter. Any time I tried to point his BS out to my boss, I was dismissed because I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about.

    I’ve also had co-workers refuse to believe that I can actually install my own software. I work on Windows, as do probably 95% of all professional technical writers, so installing software usually involves a few mouse clicks and some basic reading comprehension skills.

    People also mis-represent or misunderstand what I do — they think basically my job is to be a glorified typist. Actually, most of my job is to do incredibly detailed, feature-by-feature analyses of software I’ve usually never seen before, to determine the processes by which it’s used, and then write down those processes, explained and organised in a manner that’s understandable to my target audience (usually end users, in my case). Writing it down involves advanced information design and operating some extremely complex software. I also write the file that links the software to the help (it’s basically a text file full of C #define statements), and work with a lot of HTML and XML.

    I also do some software testing, and that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    I currently have a better job than the one I used to have. People are nicer, and conditions aren’t as bad as they were. That said, I’m still terribly underpaid, for someone with a Master’s degree who has several years’ work experience. I am one of two women in the entire company (13 people). The other one is the office manager.

    I’m also distressed by how much better my job prospects have gotten since I grew my hair long. I would prefer to wear it short (less work for me that way, since it’s hard to manage), but I’m tired of paying a financial penalty because I don’t look cisgender enough (no makeup, no waist, no skirt, no heels). I’m disgusted that the system imposes extra work on me simply because I’m female in order for me to even have most of the access men enjoy by default. (Long-haired men in IT, by contrast, do not seem to have this problem, even here in my stodgy, conservative hometown.)

    I note from reading the comments that there are a bunch of commenters who basically say, “I’ve never been affected by sexism…except when I was.” Wow.

  75. Interrobang, isn’t there a snappy phrase for that–like “woman tax” or “woman cost”–the extra time and money we have to spend in order to conform to acceptable workplace norms?

    Someone here will know, I hope.

    Anyway, I think two things are going on when we say “I’ve never been affected by sexism, except when I was.” One, we still cling to the belief that these are just isolated incidents and that our whole lives aren’t shaped by it. It’s a way of acknowledging that we are affected, all the time, without having to look it square in the face. But the other is that we all know women who’ve got it worse and I think we’re trying to leave room for that.

    I don’t know. Maybe not. It’s a good point.

  76. I wanted to comment on what Aunt B just said:
    “One, we still cling to the belief that these are just isolated incidents and that our whole lives aren’t shaped by it. It’s a way of acknowledging that we are affected, all the time, without having to look it square in the face. But the other is that we all know women who’ve got it worse and I think we’re trying to leave room for that.”

    I used to be like that. I thought that the incidents that happened to me couldn’t be discrimination because “they” defined the term to mean these other, horrible things and not my little problems. I also just didn’t want to accept that our culture really was this bad with sexism so ingrained that people didn’t even know it was there. It wasn’t until I attended a women in astronomy conference and heard everyone else talk about their stories that it hit me how bad things were for women. These were all highly intellegent and accomplished women, and they had all experienced discrimination based on their gender. The conference was a true eye-opener and I haven’t been the same since.

    As for my story. I’m a physicist in a university lab who does mostly computer programming/applications, double major in math and physics as an undergrad. I’ve been in my job for 5 years now with a wonderful male boss, and I still experience discrimination (I am the only female out of 4 faculty and 4 staff). For instance, we don’t have a secretary so guess who gets assigned to do most of the secretarial work. The worst instance was when I made a suggestion for fixing a problem during a meeting. Everyone literally ignored it, like I had said something in some incomprehensible language. A minute or so later, a junior faculty member (had been there less than a year compared to my 4 at the time) said THE EXACT SAME THING I had just said. Everyone, including my boss, said “Yeah, that’s a great idea, let’s do that!” I was dumbfounded.

    The funniest instance happened when my husband and I went out to eat with my parents. We bumped into a friend of my mom’s who had known me in high school. At the time I was trying to finish my bachelor’s degree and had just gotten a grant to do research from my university. The grant money came from NASA. Now, let me point out that I had said from the time I was 13 that I wanted to “work for NASA.” So my mom was telling the woman about my grant and all she could say was “Really?!” The woman was shocked. The look on her face was priceless. She had really thought that, like all the rest of the girls, I wasn’t really going to accomplish anything substantial in my life. Her look was so funny that my husband almost spewed his drink all over the table and ended up coughing instead. It was all I could do not to laugh in her face.

    So yes, to Ben or anyone truly interested, sexual discrimination does exist. It happens every single day. And if any woman out there claims she hasn’t experienced it, I think she’s lying to herself. Discrimination can be very, very subtle–so subtle that you really have to examine your life and your culture and question everything in order to see it sometimes.

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  78. I have a story. I’m not going to try to do any sort of in-depth analysis of it; that’s for people who have studied sociology and psychology. Me, I’m a rockhound. I’ve tried to pare it down to just the facts, so you can draw your own conclusions about whether The Math Thing was a result of discrimination, bad teachers, lack of self-confidence, or maybe a combination of all three.

    I’m not really sure what made me think I was bad at math. Maybe it was the timed arithmetic tests in sixth grade, which really test memorization more than anything else. Being as I am, I can barely remember my own birthday, much less addition and multiplication tables. I had to sit and think out how 6 x 7=42; it never occurred to me that it wasn’t a bad thing.

    Maybe it was when the teacher got frustrated with me because I (apparently) wasn’t paying attention to him talking about rounding numbers, something I had known how to do for a very long time- I was just waiting for the part that I’d need to work on whatever I was working on at the time. He called me on it in front of the class, and I can’t remember what he said, but it was something to the tune of “If you don’t listen, you’ll never get this!” Of course I felt stupid, and of course I wrote, “I hate math” in my journal that afternoon (which he circled, completely ignoring the topic that I’d written about).

    Maybe I would have bounced back from that quicker if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was a girl. It was always subtle pressure. My well meaning grandmother encouraged me to go into interior design when she saw me playing with lincoln logs. The heroines in my favorite books tended to eschew math and science in favor of arts and literature, or teaching, or some other field. Finally, I never had daily contact with anyone in a science career- my models for that were all televised, with the exception of the pediatrician, the nurses, and the occasional person we saw at the museum. The sum total of this to my little brain was

    1) Girls can’t do math.
    2) I’m a girl.
    3) Therefore, I can’t do math.

    This little demon that I call The Math Thing followed me around for a very long time.

    Science, on the other hand… I excelled at science. I loved it, especially the projects, which my seventh grade science class had no shortage of. I remember the taxonomic leaf collection when I first started to get the hint that there was something to this natural selection thing, and explaining to my dad the theory behind the model of DNA that I was building over the kitchen table with particular clarity.

    A year later, a female teacher in my earth sciences class told me that because I was “book smart”, that didn’t necessarily mean I was creative, and that she’d graciously consider this when she was grading my science project- again, in front of the entire class. I apparently attracted teachers that got off on embarrassing students in high school. For some reason (maybe because eight years of experience told me I could), I took it as a challenge and designed an experiment to see which commercially available material would best clean up oil spills- to her credit, she apologized to me after she finished grading it.

    Looking back on it, maybe the whole reason that I’d never really got over The Math Thing but excelled in science was because of the teachers. All of my math teachers were male basketball coaches, merely putting in time until they could get on the court. They did their job, and they didn’t treat me any differently because of my gender, but they just weren’t enthusiastic enough. My high school calculus teacher told me to my face that I would never use derivatives again in my life- on that note, I need to show him the modeling I did for my master’s thesis. My science teachers (half were women, by the way), on the other hand, were as a group the most enthusiastic teachers that I can really recall. I think I picked up on their enthusiasm for the subject, and that’s what helped me keep science as a career.

    I majored in geology, and passed second-semester calculus on my second try (male teacher the first time, female the second, but I’m not really sure if this is a gender thing, because my truly awesome first semester calculus teacher was also male). I spent the five years after high school graduation thinking I was still horrible at math, even though I gave third-semester calculus a shot (and in retrospect, I’m very glad I did). When I entered grad school, one of the first classes I took was mathematical modeling.

    For about the first three weeks, it was hell. I could do the work (programming was a little harder because, you know, girls don’t program, either), but there was always a little voice in the back of my head saying, “You’re so bad at this! You should just drop the class, and save yourself the coronary!”

    I had a bachelors of science. I had taken three semesters of calculus. I had an engineering class under my belt, as well as a surface processes class that should have been called “The Math of Sedimentology.” I was working on testing models of bedrock channel incision rates for my thesis, for Peat’s sake! Despite everything, I couldn’t shake The Math Thing. It followed me everywhere.

    Then one cold and sunny Tuesday morning, I was walking across campus, thinking about my current homework with The Math Thing always in the back of my head. I don’t know what caused it, but a part of me that had remained silent against The Math Thing for the past decade finally decided to stand up for itself. “If I’m so bad at this,” I thought, “then why am I here?”

    And just like that, it was gone. I haven’t had a math anxiety thought since.

    The damage from The Math Thing had already been done for that particular class; I ended up pulling a B+ out of it at the very end. But with The Math Thing gone, I achieved As in the synthetic aperture radar and hydrology classes I took the next two semesters, neither of which are courses for slouches or math-phobic people. I finished my thesis, and graduated in December 2007.

    So, discrimination? No, nothing overt, at least nothing that I didn’t call right away. Subtle sexism? Definitely. No one should have to go through it, even to the very small degree that I did- but I’ve proved, at least to myself, that it can be overcome, and The Math Thing doesn’t have to be a fact of life.

  79. Just as a follow-up to this thread, I’d like to call attention to what can happen when girls aren’t driven away from math and science: this article was reprinted in yesterday’s Tennessean a month after the fact.

  80. Since Ben took this discussion off topic, I have a query about his premise. Is there evidence to show that women and men are equally susceptible to sexual urges?

    That men _might_ have to fight harder to control their urges is not an original idea, nor one that is completely outlandish. It is not even foreign to feminist writers. This concept was actually the central premise for a piece of writing by Alice B Sheldon (writing as James Tiptree Jr, for whom there is a prestigious annual award in SF for best SF short story dealing with gender issues) – ‘Houston, Houston, Do You Read?’

    I’m a male who has never really had the problem of being inappropriately attracted to the female form (as in I’m not tempted to look). But I’ve noticed that many of my friends do. When there are no women present some of them will say things like ‘check that out’ (at which point I usually roll my eyes). Not all of them will though. In fact I’ve noticed that many of them don’t actually want to be distracted when an attractive girl walks past. They seem annoyed with themselves, like their distraction was automatic but unwanted (admittedly unwanted in the same way that someone dieting finds a chocolate bar unwanted). Is it possible that that this type of thing is related to different people reacting differently to hormonal imperatives. If so, isn’t it also possible that their is a biological difference between men and women that makes them more susceptible?

    If not, and this is a genuine question, how do I reconcile their behaviour? Do any of you think that social conditioning can be responsible for this type of automatic reaction? Or do women get distracted in the same way?

    I’m having trouble believing it is the latter. The reason being that I can’t believe that feminists being thinking individuals could label an automatic natural reaction to the opposite sex being a sexist action when men perform it but not when women perform it? To do that would to turn those men who are most driven by their hormones into ‘sexist objects.’

    Like I say, I doubt that is the case. More likely would be that the proliferation of male-centric pornography and male-view sexualisation of women in general teaches this behaviour. Automatic reactions can be learnt, just ask a martial artist – they react without thinking based on years of training. This presents another problem though, how do we un-train men? Given that some of their reactions, it seems to me, are unwanted by them anyway.

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