29 November 2012

Studies Focused on Women & Math: A Contrast in the Politics of Gender

Authors of two different studies (2011; 2012 respectively) attempt to understand the difficulties women encounter in entering STEM fields. What unites both groups is a desire to create positive change in the experiences of women in STEM fields, and so it seems we may assume the best of intentions in both studies.

Yet there is for me a remarkable difference in assumptions, questions, and expectations between these two studies. In short, the politics of these studies appears to me to be separated by an enormous perhaps insurmountable distance, even as both studies ostensibly aim for the same end.

Am I wrong that these passages fundamentally demonstrate the functionalist-structuralist divide?

Conclusion 1
The present research demonstrated that the activation and pursuit of romantic goals has distinct and far-reaching effects on women’s attitudes, preferences, and involvement in activities related to STEM. Using ecologically valid methods, we found that college women showed less interest in STEM when the goal to be romantically desirable was activated, either by environmental cues or by personal choice. Together, the findings from this research highlight the value of examining everyday romantic goal pursuit in understanding why women show diminished interest in pursuing the male dominated fields of STEM.
Lora E. Park, Ariana F Young, Jordan D Troisi & Rebecca T Pinkus, 'Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women's Attitudes Towards Math and Science' Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2011) here
Conclusion 2
In summary, we conclude that gender equity and other sociocultural factors, not national income, school type, or religion per se, are the primary determinants of mathematics performance at all levels for both boys and girls. Our findings are  consistent with the gender stratified hypothesis, but not with the greater male variability, gap due to inequity, single-gender classroom, or Muslim culture hypotheses. At the individual level, this conclusion suggests that well-educated women who earn a good income are much better positioned than are poorly educated women who earn little or no money to ensure that the educational needs of their children of either gender with regard to learning mathematics are well met. It is fully consistent with socioeconomic status of the home environment being a primary determinant for success of children in school. 
Jonathan M. Kane and Janet E. Mertz, 'Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance' Notices of the AMS 59:1 (2012) here

I find the distance here breathtaking. I wonder if I'm alone?

1 comment:

  1. You are not alone! The other thing about the first one is that it does not interrogate the structural and cultural factors that would result in women with romantic ambitions disavowing mathematics. It isn't just natural that men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.