Women’s alienation from STEM jobs is causing major pains among the more extreme equity feminists and their elite culture allies. When women are under-represented in a particular field of employment, these folks auto-default to the conclusion that women are kept out because of sexism and traditionalist expectations.
Of course, prejudice against women does happen in the workplace, but it is certainly not the cause of all such employment differences. Sometimes it merely comes down to women’s own freely chosen preferences. Most women just don’t desire to work in certain male-dominated fields, so they make other choices. They do so with complete clarity and full knowledge of what they are doing.
Very robust research has shown for some time what most of us simple folk already knew. A brand new study published this month in Psychological Science explains the supposed “inequity” in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields is not a function of social prejudice, but mere personal preference. An analysis of women’s academic choices in 67 diverse countries and regions, it reports that women consistently register lower interest in STEM education and careers compared to men. This fact has remained stable over the decades, despite most developed countries taking “considerable efforts toward understanding and changing this pattern,” explain these scholars.
The More Legal Equality, The Bigger the Sex Differences
This has remained true even as women are far outpacing men in earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees and largely neck-and-neck with them in earned doctoral degrees. Starker even still is in countries where women enjoy greater political, social, and economic freedom, they are less likely to seek degrees and hold careers in science, engineering, and technology. The study’s authors explain that the most gender-equitable countries in the world, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, tend to have the largest gaps between men and women in the STEM fields.
While Finland is one of the most gender-equitable countries, “Finland has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in college degrees in STEM fields, and Norway and Sweden, also leading the gender-equity rankings, are not far behind.” Fewer than 25 percent of STEM grads in these countries are women. These scholars pronounce a clear correlation: the greater a country’s gender equality rating, the greater its gender gap in STEM degrees and employment. As gender equity increases, STEM parity declines.
The Atlantic reported something similar in 2014. Remarkably, women are more likely to seek more technical careers in more patriarchal countries where their political and economic freedoms are more limited. Scholars hypothesize this is because these women feel the need to seek more stable and financially prosperous jobs given their social, financial, and domestic vulnerabilities. It’s not based on their independent desires for such careers. They conclude that women with economic, social, and political freedoms choose such careers because of, get this, the “student’s own rational decisions … on the basis of their strengths and enjoyment.” When given the chance, women are doing what they prefer.
Earlier research in the American Journal of Sociology found the same thing. Looking at data from 44 diverse societies, these two scholars (both females) explain, “As individuals seek to express their essential (male and female) selves, the gender labeling of academic fields intensifies, and the distributions across these fields become more closely aligned with gender-specific curricular dispositions.”
This Is Actually Not a Paradox
Said simply, no matter how much opportunity we create and cultural pressure we apply to the contrary, women will tend to choose the fields of study and work that appeal to them. This common sense is so contrary to most in academia, the fact has earned this title: the gender-equity paradox. Why in the world would women not enter all fields as those fields open up to them? It certainly cannot be that males and females have different interests, passions, and strengths.
This is also revealed in a major New York Times Magazine cover story some years ago entitled “The Opt-Out Revolution.” Young professional women with high-powered degrees from universities like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia—thus having professional opportunities their grandmothers could only dream of—are opting out of their feminist mothers’ ideals of the corner office and partner-tracks at blue chip law firms.
What are they opting-out to? Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University, gets it kind of right. Writing in the Harvard Women’s Law Journal last spring, she laments, “We all know about the glass ceiling. But many women never get near it; they are stopped long before by the maternal wall.”
It’s not because pregnancy popped up unexpectedly in their path like those security spikes at the rental car booth, flattening their corporate tires just as they’re getting going. They understand the seasons of life much better than their mothers did. They desire motherhood and to be professional women making a meaningful difference in the marketplace, but are making different life decisions to be able to do both—in balance. They don’t want their babies to grow up latch-key children, as they were. So they seek a workable balance of motherhood and career, often placing motherhood first and their path to the C-suite on long-hold.
This Is Because Men and Women Are Intrinsically Different
It is anathema to say so, but sex-distinct desire can be deeply rooted in biology rather than social construction. It is not for nothing that leading University of California at San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Louanne Brizendine’s smart book “The Female Brain” features on its cover the image of a human brain with its mass, descending cerebellum, and brainstem fashioned out of old-school, spirally telephone cord. Her cover of “The Male Brain”? Crumpled duct-tape in the shape of a brain.
Often, stereotypes are stereotypes for good reason. Women like to interact with people. Men like to build things. One is not better than another. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, outlines a great many important and primary contrasts between male and female thinking and interests in his deeply researched book “The Essential Difference.” From the first lines of his book, Baron-Cohen is frank with his reader:
The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is: The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.
This does not mean women are incapable of certain things, only that they are hard-wired to prefer different things. Likewise with men. So when given freedoms, women and men make the choices they want to make, apart from social pressures and expectations. Sounds close to true feminist empowerment to me.
This is not only true in studies and careers. Research reveals it’s true in other important areas of life. Anthropological psychologists have analyzed hundreds of personality tests taken by men and women in widely diverse corners of the world. In reporting on this research, the New York Times explains, likely with gut-wrenching pains, that “for the social-role psychologists, the bad news is the variation is going in the wrong direction.”
What does this mean? Similar to what we saw above with career choice, sex-based personality differences and life choices are smaller in more traditional cultures like India and the Middle East while larger in more equitable nations like the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian regions. “The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar job [choices], the more their personalities seem to diverge,” reports the Times. You read that right. Venus and Mars are different, and the more advanced and enlightened the country, the greater the difference.
The More Choices, the More Variety
On top of this research, consider a common sense point of view from the other side of the market place: consumer choices. Think about developments in fashion. What has happened here over the last 50 years? Stores and clothing catalogues are not moving in more androgynous directions as women gain more financial and cultural freedom and the sexes become more equal. Quite the opposite.
In every progressive city on earth, women’s clothing, and the shops that sell them, become delightfully more distinct and feminine. The more expensive the clothes, the more distinct they get. Think about the over-the-topness of the red-carpet photo sessions at the Hollywood award shows. Designers are designing to meet market demands, and these mushrooming markets are being driven by women’s choices.
If you want to go into the shoe business, do you want men or women as your primary target market? Women, assuming you want to sell lots of shoes. And ladies, I’m just a guy, but is it not true that women dress for other women rather than men? So it’s not suspect male expectations for the sexualized or subjugated female at work here. It is increasingly unencumbered female preference.
Consider the outlet mall, a vast sea of stores of nearly every kind, and yet few people from any market culture will have any difficulties picking those most likely to be frequented exclusively by women. Even Bass Pro Shops have a distinct women’s clothing section, not to mention actual pink camo, handguns, and rifles. Women want what women want, and it’s really only the more radical feminists who don’t want them to have certain things.
It’s obvious for all those who’ve never had the benefit of gender-studies enlightenment: women have distinctly different tastes and interests than men, and greater political, cultural, and economic empowerment gives them the opportunity to satisfy and realize them. Women freely choosing to do what they desire most sounds like the feminist ideal. That is empowerment, and exterior ideological forces telling women what they should do, regardless of what they want to do, can hardly be called gender-equality. It’s called gender-prejudiced dominance.