I support the women’s movement. I recognize that there is a great deal of gender inequality in the United States. Females are greatly underrepresented in politics and corporate upper management. Many women in the U.S. are overworked and underpaid because of their gender.
I recognize these injustices. I also acknowledge the extent to which the media objectifies women. I do my best not to support this. I don’t buy products when I find their advertisements objectionable. The last magazine I bought with a centerfold was an issue of Air & Space (Check out those turbo-props. Yeah baby!)
All that said, after two and a half years at UCSB I am still unsettled by professors using obscenely outdated statistics to make points about gender inequality. I’ve been troubled by this ever since my freshman year when I took my first course in gender relations. The professor used statistics from the 1970 census.
That’s a bit absurd. While it’s true there are still gender gaps in many areas of our society, I believe that in the battle for gender equality, as in any fight, people deserve to know where their advantages lie. Using outdated statistics masks the areas where women have progressed.
The largest myth perpetuated by outdated statistics is that of a gender gap in education. It’s true that at one time, a large gap did exist.
In 1950, only 24 percent of bachelor’s degrees were being awarded to women. In 1958, when UCSB was established, this number had risen to only 33 percent. This school was no exception to the rule. The campus’ first science building was built with only one bathroom per floor because it was assumed that no women would be majoring in technical subjects.
Women are still underrepresented in many science and engineering majors, but they’ve come a long way.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 663,000 of the roughly 1,184,000 bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. went to women in 1997. That’s 56 percent — a solid majority. In fact, the majority of bachelor’s degrees have gone to women every year since 1982. The number of women in grad school has also exceeded the number of men since 1984.
Of course, figures from the 1980 census won’t show this, and figures from 1970 would suggest an atrocious inequality. Still, many people would perpetuate the myth of a gender crisis in education, and this comes at the expense of feminism.
Many of you will remember the scare of the early ’90s when educators were crying “Save our girls.” This was the result of a number of studies published asserting that girls were being shortchanged in classroom situations and suffering great damage to their self-esteem as a result.
Today, most of this research has been debunked. Much of it was based on individual interviews with adolescent boys and girls, rather than on statistical data. In some cases, interviews even seemed to have been done selectively to produce a desired outcome. In other cases, researchers mysteriously lost their research data when confronted or claimed that it was “too sensitive to be released.”
At any rate, most statistical data from the same time period obtained with publicly accessible research methods directly contradicts the “girls in crisis” thesis.
The American Association of University Women conducted a survey of school children in 1990 with the following results: 69 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls said that teachers viewed girls as smarter. Eighty-one percent of boys and 89 percent of girls said that teachers complimented girls more often than boys. Ninety percent of boys and 92 percent of girls said that teachers punished boys more often.
Some people also point to a gap in SAT scores between men and women. The fact of the matter is that fewer men take the SAT. More women overall are attempting the test, including at-risk and learning-disabled women. This lowers their average score in comparison with men, but masks the fact that more women than men are making an attempt at higher education.
Women have a perfect right to be upset over gender inequality in society. But in order for discontent to have any effect or for activism to make any impact, it is necessary to focus on current and specific problems. Presenting modern women as disadvantaged on every front not only encourages a victim mentality, but makes feminism ineffective.
Women should be angry over their lack of representation in politics and upper management. They have a right to question their objectification in the media. The fight for gender equality is far from over, but women should also know that, in many respects, they have won the battle for higher education. I congratulate you. Keep fighting the good fight.
Josh Braun is the Daily Nexus’ science and technology editor. His column, “Red Tape,” runs every Monday.