Biology and Culture: Reasoning as to Why Women Are Under-Represented in Math and Science

Topics: Gender, Science, Harvard University Pages: 5 (1695 words) Published: November 27, 2007
In 2005, January 14, Lawrence H. Summers, ex-President of Harvard, made a speech on the under-representation of women in careers involving science and mathematics. He ignited an uproar when he said, among other hypotheses, that innate differences in math ability between men and women might be one reason as to why fewer women succeed in these fields. One of his main points was that women do not have the same innate ability as men in certain fields and this sparked a massive controversy. In his defense he told the media that he sought to be provocative yet he must have underestimated how the public would react toward his provocative speech. The question is, is there a scientific biological component explaining the under-representation of women in math and science? A person who supports Summers's view is Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (2005) who provides a more thorough and coherent analysis, compared to Summer's, on the issue of under-representation of women in higher fields of science and mathematics. He begins by stating that the proportion of women in science has increased exponentially over the past decades. He then transitions to Summers's speech, noting that it was his book that partly gave Summer's speech support. He reinstates his agreement with Summers's that gender differences, discrimination, and the difficulty of raising a family while working for a high powered job is partly responsible for the lack of women in these specific fields. Pinker explains that because of these situations these fields do not appeal to women as much as they do to men. He states that there are scientific studies that show differences between men and women in the brain. According to these studies men are better at "mental rotation and mathematical word problems, whereas women are better at remembering locations and at mathematical calculations." Pinker tells us that men show greater variance than women, and are "disproportionately found at both the low and high ends of curve" (Pinker 4). The reasoning behind this is because men are able to spread their offspring more than women. Since men are able to go around and lay their genetic genes with as many women as they possibly can, and since women are, on average, only able to have one child a year, men can then produce more brilliant children than women can. Lastly, Pinker provides the notion of psychological taboo. It is because of this idea that this topic is considered as a very sensitive affair. Pinker also argues that there are negative consequences of over-estimating the impact of discrimination. He concludes by stating that if we do not encourage forcing more debate on this unmentionable subject that it will lead to further complications in the future. Further analysis of Pinker's article shows he uses certain rhetorical strategies to convince his readers on the issues of the under-representation of women in sciences. He attempts to make an appeal to logos by explaining sex differences through evolutionary biology and other scientific data on gender differences. His appeal to ethos makes his article credible from his statistical data and facts that support his argument, although his facts seem to be more opinionated than they do factual. Pinker makes an appeal to pathos in an attempt to defend Summer's. He mentions that he feels that the public took summer's speech on gender differences between men and women too harshly. He also expresses pathos through his notion on psychological taboo. Although I agree with Pinker and Summers that there is a significant biological component, there are other factors to take into consideration explaining why women are under-represented in math and science. First, discrimination seems to play the largest role pertaining to this issue. Second, women are also socialized into roles that steer away from science and math because there is a cultured thought that those fields are considered masculine (Rhode 46). Third, women prefer careers that are...

References: Barres, Ben A. (2006, July 13). Does gender matter? Nature, 442, pp. 133-136.
Pinker, S. (2005, February 7). The science of difference. Sex Ed. The New Republic Online. Retrieved October 17, 2006, from
Rhode, D. L. (1997). Beginning at birth. Speaking of sex: The denial of gender inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Separating science from stereotype [editorial]. (2005, March). Nature Neuroscience, 8(3), p. 253.
Summers, L. H. (2005). Remarks at NBER on diversifying the sciences and engineering workforce. Speech. Retrieved August 29, 2006, from
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