“Breaking male bastions”- 13 February 2013

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development every three years conducts an exam around the world. This particular test was done in 2009 and the results published in 2012. It threw up some figures that are interesting and of course need further study and probing. The test was given among a representative sample of 15 year olds around the world in 65 developed countries by the O.E.C.D and the results showed that girls generally outperform the boys in science! The results also showed a differential among various countries and continents and found that girls did better than boys in the Asian, Middle East and Russian countries and surprisingly girls did not do well in the United States of America where the boys did better. Researchers explaining this say that cultural forces keep girls away from scientific careers and such forces are strong in the USA, Canada and Britain but far less pervasive in Russia, Asia and the Middle East which have a much higher proportion of women in science and engineering. They say in Jordan for example, girls score more than 8 percent better in science than boys do. What explains the gender gap?

Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the tests for the O.E.C.D., says different countries offer different incentives for learning science and math. In the United States, he said, boys are more likely than girls to “see science as something that affects their life.” Then there is the “stereotype threat,”  he says.“For girls in some Arab countries, education is the only way to move up the social structure,” Mr. Schleicher said. “It is one way to earn social mobility.”

Christianne Corbett, co-author of the 2010 report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”, says “Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding.” She adds that “We see that very early in childhood — around age 4 — gender roles in occupations appear to be formed.”  This is very interesting.

This seems to be the cultural influences that come through the socialisation process of children through the family unit. It is also called nurturing. People would have it believe that by nature girls are poor in cognitive skills as compared to boys and this study refutes that premise. What is surprising about this study is that in countries where boys are preferred and have a definite advantage over girls, the girls have performed better and the countries where we believe that boys and girls are more equal the girls have done poorly compared to the boys. This is a paradox and needs further exploring.

However this is good news for women and amazing news for those that profess stupid ideas like the one that became bestsellers that said that ‘men are from mars and women are from venus’. Biased and notorious statements have been made about women’s inherent aptitude and the lack of it for things that men do typically. Statements such as women cannot do maths, cannot do well in science, do not have the spatial ability to recognise roads and hence cannot drive properly, cannot handle money and finance blah blah! The list of such vehement judgements on women’s talents and the lack of it are rampant. Anybody can make a statement like that even your own son who might say ‘mom this is not your cup of tea please’!

In India I think girls occupy 18% of the seats in engineering. That is a sorry figure. If we believe from what the O.E.C.D says about girls doing better than boys in science in the Asian countries as compared to the North American countries, then clearly we can believe that girls have the talent and the aptitude for science and technology and can do equally good if not better than boys but are not encouraged enough to opt for such courses which are supposedly termed as ‘male courses’. This is the cultural bias operating against the girls. As Corbett says that around the age 4 gender roles in occupations may get formed. Socialisation begins right from birth as the parents especially the mother begins to talk to the child. Reversely, if we want our little girls to get into science and technology, start as early as you can after birth itself in setting right your attitudes towards her career opportunities. We are still in an age where we have a list of ‘firsts’ for women. Mrs. Tessy Thomas became the first woman to head a missile project in DRDO in 2009 and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proudly told the Indian Science Congress that Mrs Thomas is an example of a “woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling.”

To begin with let’s stop the stereotypical thinking of dividing occupations into genders and let’s stop calling science and some other professions as male bastions. For it seems to be our own creation of dividing the sexes into stereotypical professions and certainly not God’s design. He made them equal and man made them unequal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *