Innately Inferior

Harvard University President Larry Summers reportedly suggested at a conference this past weekend “that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.”

Wow. Summers told The Boston Globe that “he was discussing hypotheses based on the scholarly work assembled for the conference, not expressing his own views. He also said more research needs to be done on the issues.”

I personally would love to know what serious researchers are out there still suggesting that women do not succeed in maths or sciences because women’s brains are somehow ill-equipped to deal with mathematical and scientific concepts. It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that women were not considered innately able to be teachers, nurses, soldiers, businesswomen, politicians, or historians for that matter. It seems that the stereotype of the young girl unable to do well in math or science is the last stereotype that needs to be broken, and now a man who is in a position to use his immense bully pulpit to stamp this stereotype out told an academic audience that “one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral upbringing. Yet he said she named them ”daddy truck” and ”baby truck,” as if they were dolls.” In Mr Summers’ calculus, Daddy is Mr Math and Science; Mommy looks after the babies.

Mr Summers has thus far refused to release a tape or a transcript of his remarks, which allegedly led some audience members–women–to get up and leave. As a Harvard woman, I now suggest that Summers make his remarks public. After all, I would like to know just what my university president thinks I am innately capable of.

If Mr Summers does not release his remarks, perhaps we should remind him that women like Shirley Tilghman and Elaine Tuttle Hansen have proven that women are innately capable of leading academic institutions. Perhaps if Harvard really wants to improve the number of tenured women on the faculty, it might start with the President’s Office.


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