This past Friday, at an academic conference on women and minorities in the science and engineering workforce, Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University and former Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, came to the same conclusion as Anchorman Ron Burgundy on the role of women in society. President Summers hypothesized, based on “scientific fact” (of course), that fewer women succeed in science and math careers due to innate biological differences between men and women. Summers further claimed that genetic predispositions, rather than socialization factors, are more influential on natural ability than previously thought.
Ron Burgundy’s Channel 4 News Team elucidated for us, “It is anchorman, not anchorlady. That is a scientific fact!” President Summers also offered three other possible scientific explanations for the limited number of women in high-level science and engineering positions:
1) Women who are mothers are reluctant or unable to work 80-hour weeks. This trend clearly begins at an early age, according to Summers, who cited the example of one of his daughters who in early childhood named two toy trucks “daddy truck” and “baby truck,” much like dolls. The lesson here: women are naturally predisposed to be motherly, especially towards inanimate mechanical playthings with wheels. Furthermore, women pose a clear and present danger to any workplace. Channel 4 News discovered that “periods attract bears. Bears can smell the menstruation.” The womb really is a hazardous, hazardous thing.
2) Beginning at the high school level, girls score lower than boys on science and math tests. Well, duh. I mean, like, Ron Burgundy like totally points out that like “You're just [women] with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It’s science.” Perhaps we would have figured this out sooner if we had the extra two-thirds brain power to take a biology class. Oddly enough though, girls tend to score higher than boys on science and math tests up until high school. Hmm… perhaps someone keeps telling them that they aren’t supposed to be as good as men?
3) It is unclear as to how much impact discrimination actually has on the number and advancement of women in the science, math and engineering fields. How silly to assume that there are actually some men out there who are discriminatory against women! After all, Ron Burgundy assures us that “[women] are just dying to quit [their] job[s] so that [they] can take care of me and have babies.” We have to agree with Ron Burgundy. Our sole purpose of coming to Duke was to garner our MRS degrees, and we resent that there isn’t a Home Economics major to complement that.
In all fairness, Summers was self-admittedly attempting to “provoke” his audience into an intellectual debate challenging present beliefs about socialization factors on women’s professional career success. At the conference, Summers stressed that people would “prefer to believe that differences in performance between the sexes are due to social factors” rather than innate biological predispositions, and that further research on this needs to be conducted. In 1991, as a chief economist for the World Bank, Summers himself published a research report illustrating that the education of girls in developing countries was a worthwhile investment because of “high returns.”
But we have to question Summers’ own performance record at Harvard considering that only four of 32 tenure job positions were offered to female Harvard professors last year. In fact, Summers has been repeatedly criticized for allowing the number of senior female positions to drop in each of the past three years of his presidency. In the wake of Summers’ disquieting personal record, he has stated in decisive terms that he is “absolutely committed to promoting the diversity of the faculty.” But then, “what in the hell’s diversity?” Again we turn to our chief anchorman, Ron Burgundy, for the answer: “Well, I could be wrong, but I believe Diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.” (Obviously.)
When the president of a venerable institution such as Harvard University adheres to archaic views on diversity and the appropriate roles of women in both society and the workplace, it is difficult justify grander social transformations on academic grounds. We thus invoke President Richard Brodhead, with the seemingly insurmountable task of creating a hospitable academic environment in which undergraduate, graduate and faculty women can compete fairly with their male counterparts without fear of chastisement for just being women. We cannot expect dominant social mores to change if the vanguard world of academia appears to be abrasive to women. So give us the chance prove ourselves to those who doubt us. Give us a forum in which we can assert ourselves as equals. And give us the opportunity to be both women and successful. As a wise bartender once told anchorman extraordinaire Ron Burgundy, “You know times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now. And you're going to have to learn how to deal with it.” So deal with it.
You stay classy, Duke University.
Boston Cote and Jingyi Zhang are Trinity juniors.
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