EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

Are women an oppressed group in science and technology?

In Cooperative Blog Posts on November 26, 2013 at 9:20 am
(by Colby, Erin, & others…)
Joyce Nyhof-Young is a researcher and scientist at ELLICSR, as well as an associate professor at the University of Toronto, and an adjunct professor at Ryerson University, she received her Ph.D in curriculum teaching and learning at the University of Toronto. Judith K Bernhard is a professor of early childhood education at Ryerson with a special interest in the education of disadvantaged groups, she received her Ph.D at the University of Toronto.
Together Bernhard and Young have written an article on the education and participation of women in the sciences. Their thesis is based around the idea that women are disadvantaged and oppressed in the educational system. One thing I found salient was their complex interpretation of oppression. It’s particularly interesting that instead of relying on specific theoretical framework, they weave varying interpretations of oppression throughout their analysis. The most striking feature of this for me is the way they interpret how power and oppression are formed. I particularly enjoyed the way they develop power relations stating, “Power relations between groups and subgroups form the basis of society”(2), and that “power lies in discourse”(2).
For me, this identifies some of my essential beliefs about how power and oppression are informed maintained and unfortunately inevitable. Because we interact as a social creature, with socially held ideas and notions, it is that case that our sense of power is “a consequence of the often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well meaning people in ordinary interactions” (2). I think it is easy to view the exercise of power as malicious, but the article does an excellent job of positing the oppression of women as an exercise of power that is insidious per se.
In their paper Bernhard and Nyhof-Young state that educational disadvantages to women, specifically in the fields of science and technology, reflect a more general denial to women of professional opportunity and consequently also higher social status and income. In particular, disciplines dominated by women (frequently related to fields of health, social sciences, humanities and education) tend to be treated differently and thus less respected than programs chosen by men. However, according to the authors this exclusion of women from many science and technology related fields is highly detrimental to the economy and many worker shortages could be relieved if women were more openly permitted to enter these fields, thus boosting the economy. Furthermore, despite common belief of innate gender differences, it has been shown that in science and math performance differences are in fact far greater cross-culturally than between genders. Differences that do exist between men and women are perpetuated and reinforced directly due to the presence of gender stereotyping and socialization priming which occurs with children at a very young age, pigeonholing them to some extent into predetermined futures.
Being a young female with a degree in biological sciences this topic really resonates with me. I see great value of society becoming more accepting of women in science and technology roles and believe it is very important to model this to students starting from a young age. Children need to understand that despite societal undertones, genders don’t determine careers. In my opinion, the existence of differential expectations for students based on gender is something that needs to be further examined and addressed so we can get to the root of the problem. Nowadays, many females have the same (if not more extensive) educational background and experiences as their male counterparts, yet still it is unusual to see women becoming promoted to leadership roles in the science/technological fields. Clearly if we want to live in an “ideal” society with a fully functioning economy the reason for these discrepancies needs to be examined.
Bernhard and Young designate a portion of their chapter to discussing the role of teachers and their role in influencing the socialization of women.  The first factor explored is the biased attitudes of teachers. The authors suggest that some teachers hold pre-conceived notions of what are appropriate occupations for men and women. It comes as no surprise that within the context of this article the authors states that many teachers believe it is more important for men to learn about computers, which consequently leads to a lack of interest in science and technological fields on the part of women.  The authors claim that men are given preferential treatment in science and mathematical fields where women are often ‘over-helped’ which tends to result in a lack of confidence in the field.  A lack of teachers in elementary education with a science background is seen as another contributing factor to lack of interest in technical fields by women as well.  Bernhard and Young believe a lack of funding and administrative support to address issues of gender equity in our school system continues to perpetuate the cycle of male dominance in technical fields.
Towards the end of their chapter Bernhard and Young do provide a glimmer hope, stating that there appears to be an awakening of minds in relation to gender equity in schools. Workshops and courses related to gender equity are becoming more common for teachers and this is seen as a starting point for a paradigm shift. I believe it is important to note that this article was published nearly twenty years ago and based upon personal experience I believe gender equity in relation to the fields of science and mathematics in primary and secondary education is less of a concern today than at the time this article was published.
Question: Recall your own primary and secondary school experiences; do you recall any examples of gender inequality in your science or mathematics classes? If so, try to explain why these conditions were present.

Question: Is this analysis of power a correct or even a good one, is it too simple, or too confused?

  1. In my own primary/secondary school experiences, I believe all of my science teachers were male. I can’t be sure whether this was coincidence or if this follows a pattern of a male dominated field. As for math, I would say I had a fair split between male and female teachers. In my AP calculus classes, I found that there were more females students than males. I don’t particularly recall any notable inequality in terms of teaching or attitudes, but they may have been there and just hard to recognize.

    I felt this article was fair in its analysis of power. It may potentially have been a simplification of the underlying issues, but there definitely seems to be a disconnect between the number of females and males who find a career in the sciences. I can definitely say the female population diminished significantly in my Math and Physics courses at the university level. In a science education course I’m taking we specifically looked at a study on students perceptions of what a scientist looks like. In the study, the majority of students drew/described a scientist as being male. Although the study is 18 years old, I’m sure these conceptions still exist to some extent.


  2. I don’t recall ever experiencing gender inequality in science or math. This could partly be because whenever I was not being taught the way I felt I needed to be, I chose to do something about it rather than just blame my failure on the fact that I’m a girl. I would agree that there are certain careers and circumstances where males dominate, but there are also areas where females dominate. I do remember my dad telling me that soon the boys would start doing better at math than me, because it was normal for boys to get better at math during high school. I believe that a lot of what the article says is outdated and the issue of gender inequality is not as much of a problem today as it was when the article was written. As teachers, I think that it is important that we give our students the confidence that they can pursue the career of their choice according to their skill and interest not gender, rather than focussing on what society thinks they can or cannot do. Maybe our female students will not want to pursue a career in math and science just because they are not interested in it, in which case it would be important that we not pressure them into pursuing math and science.

  3. The only gender inequality I can recall during my education before University was in high school gym class. I can remember my one phys ed teacher, who was a woman, would make up different rules for girls when playing games, For example, I remember when we were playing baseball she would allow girls to have a shorter running distance between bases than boys. As an athlete myself, I remember feeling overwhelming anger and refused to play by these “girl rules”. I’m not sure why the teacher thought it was necessary to impose these rules. I don’t remember anyone actually having difficulty making it to each base, or being called out too often. It doesn’t makes sense to me that she would make up those rules that clearly undermine the athletic ability of the girls in the class… especially because she is a woman!

  4. I found that some of the articles we covered in class on Tuesday were the antithesis to this article. The articles in class were more recent than this one and I believe provided a more realistic view of the current state of primary/secondary education in the fields of math and since for women. The correlation between girls achievement in primary/secondary math/science classes and the lack of enrollment in science and technical fields at the post secondary level appears to be more of a deeper societal issue rather than gender inequity issues during primary/secondary education.

    • I agree, these articles seem to indicate a shift away from a lot of the forms of oppression mentioned in the reading. The reading still addresses these issues on socialization though, and I think that the lack of involvement in STEM courses at the post-secondary level by females is indicative of this.

  5. […] Are women an oppressed group in science and technology? (societyandeducation.wordpress.com) […]

  6. In my junior and high school careers, I had more women teachers than I did men for science and math courses. I have never had a male teach me math, which is abnormal, according to this article. However, for my pure math 30 course, there was only 4 guys of 25 students, and my physics 30 class was very similar as well. This can be attributed to many things, but the main reason why there were more girls than boys in the class boiled down to post secondary choice. Many of the men in my high school class went on to NAIT, and many of those programs only needed one science, and a 20 level math, where as many of the girls needed 3 sciences and both 30 level math classes. At the same time, although the numbers were skewed in the girls favor, I never felt as though the boys got more attention or the teachers spent more time with them.

  7. I find this one hard because I am a math major Bio minor. So it seems natural to me that I would not have felt oppressed in anyway. I also kind of felt like I was looked to by some of the male students because they knew I was passionate about learning both subjects.

    So I would say not in my math and bio but like Katie’s response I saw it in my gym classes. Also, I took a construction class and I definitely was treated like I needed extra help … I didn’t I have always helped my dad but the point is that different treatment.

  8. The idea of gender neutral classrooms was brought up in class last week. What are everyone’s thoughts on using that approach to break down gender barriers in education?

  9. I think gender neutral classrooms are a good idea, theoretically. In practice, however, a neutral classroom may be a difficult approach to utilize. When considering the biological and culturally inherent differences between boys and girls, it is difficult to treat them from a gender neutral perspective. I’m not advocating that they are ranked and treated favourably, I just think students should be treated accordingly in a way that retains their gendered identity.

  10. I grew up in a rural school (kindergarten through grade 9) and attended a small high school. Within the school environments I was raised in I didn’t notice gender inequality in my science or mathematics classes.

    Throughout primary and secondary school I excelled in math and science and often worked my peers that were struggling. This was the school environment I was raised in one where you help your peers to achieve the greatest level of equality. We were not differentiated based upon our gender. Our teachers focused more on the effort we put into everything then any other differences.

    As I entered post-secondary into the science program with a mathematical sciences major and physical sciences minor this power separation became more apparent. Some teachers were very good at trying to prevent any gender biases while others blatantly preferred males. I had one professor that would give me little time in his office hours to ask questions however he was open to having discussions that were unrelated to the course with the male students. Throughout my program I also noticed as the courses got more advanced there were fewer females. I believe this may be a result of society’s stereotypes of science and math being a male subject that females cannot excel at.
    I think the power exists in society in general but a specific teacher can either assist or hinder the effects of gender dominance and power in the classroom by their own pedagogical choices and personal beliefs.

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