Painfully true

I keep referring to this cartoon in conversations and people keep telling me they have no idea what I’m talking about so I’m just going to put it here with the hope that it spreads to more and more folks.

It’s amazing how well it tells so much. It reminds me of specific experiences throughout my life from high school through graduate school (although the latter not in my department, to be fair). Plus one encounters this type of attitude online all the time.

Thanks to XKCD. I’d buy this one on a T-shirt, but it’s not in the store. The college-style XKCD is tempting.

4 Responses to “Painfully true”

  1. Sarita Yardi Says:

    I’m wondering what forces sustain this attitude in the U.S. I’m not sure it exists as strongly in other cultures?

    Do you think initiatives to encourage women (or minorities) in STEM can inadvertently perpetuate the above stereotype?

  2. Frances Says:

    Strange, I’ve never encountered this behaviour. Maybe the fact that I was top of my class for maths did something for equality. ;-)

    What did happen, was that I chose to study “soft sciences” in the end (I’ve got a degree in ethics and am a primary school teacher) and not the more male oriented hard sciences — even though I excelled in those.

    I think the problem we encounter, isn’t so much the stereotypical “girls can’t do math or related sciences”, but that girls don’t tend to choose math and sciences as a career. They still go for those subjects that’ll land them a job with less career opportunities and less pay. I seem to have fallen in the same trap, even though I love my job. :-)

  3. eszter Says:

    Sarita – I have no idea where your suggestion comes from regarding other cultures. Every experience I’ve had in other cultures (European ones) suggests an even stronger such attitude elsewhere. As to initiatives, it would depend on what type they are, but no, I don’t see why they could not be helpful. (Also, we may be reading the cartoon differently.)

    Frances – I’m shocked that you have never encountered this behavior in life (whether in the realm of math or something else). The cartoon isn’t really about math per se, it’s about how a specific incident with one person is then applied to a generalization about a whole group he or she is a member of (gender and math are a specific case here to illustrate a more general point).

    And why do you think it is that girls and women don’t pursue math and science careers when attitudes and generalizations of this sort are what they encounter throughout their lives?

  4. Frances Says:

    eszter: Thing is, I don’t seem to have encountered it this blatantly. But of course there is a tendency of categorising behaviour as male or female. Maybe I didn’t “get” that at first while reading the cartoon, because these projections are often positive. “Women are so good caretakers. Women can juggle different tasks at once better.” Blatant negative comments on the “female nature” is something that is not done.
    The attitudes and generalisations are never overt. Choosing then seems to stem from a will to conform to implicit social norms (but that’s probably what you said anyway). This works both ways: my job is almost 100% feminine, because the guys don’t tend to choose for a teaching career in primary school. In the higher echelons of education on the other hand, the ratio is turned around. We can take the question further then: How come we seem to prefer, both regarding pay and standing, those jobs mainly done by men?
    An interesting addition: Technopolis (a science museum here in Belgium) had technology labs for girls where they could work with tools etc. These were girls-only because they noticed when there were boys the girls would still ask them to drill holes. I do think initiatives like this exist abroad.