Harvard President Needs a New Attitude

By
February 3, 2005

What are the ramifications of the president of Harvard viewing, and therefore presumably treating, women as genetically inferior to men?

Despite his persistence that his comments were meant to provoke discussion, one must presume that he does indeed believe this unfounded, and confounded, point of view. What is clear is that these prejudicial attitudes lead to women’s resistance toward careers in the fields of math and science, rather than a greater biological challenge to overcome as Summers seems to have implied.

Many have argued that his comments have opened a too-often ignored dialog on reasons why women (statistically) do not succeed in math/science careers, and we agree, but would like to remind those who support his comments for that reason, that attitude like that may be the reason women don’t ENTER those careers, and therefore will never statistically be seen to succeed in them.

Another thing we have to think about is the lack of initiative women take in challenging those pre-disposed conceptions that women cannot perform as well as men in the fields of math and science. While numerically there are fewer women in those fields, it does not mean they cannot achieve the same things that men do.

We can also question the difference between upbringing of boys and girls. Schools do not encourage girls in the same way they do men in the fields of math and science. Girls are held to a different standard than boys when it comes to math and science. This incident displays the way in which society views women’s capabilities in math and science. It gives girls in schools the belief that they cannot succeed in those fields and that it should be left up to men.

It is unacceptable for anyone, but particularly an educational leader, to make such statements. Had he made that statement about any ethnic group, he would be out of work today – why is it allowed in reference to women?

It is perhaps one thing for these social constructs to be displayed in secondary schools, it’s quite appalling that they are still being displayed at the college level. It is even more disturbing that this is being played out at Harvard University, a leader in math and science education.

Until we escape these sexist and unfounded views on women’s ability, we must be willing to fight in what may seem to us like a tired old argument, but one which obviously persists today despite logic and research.


Harvard President Needs a New Attitude was published on February 3, 2005 in Editorial

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