You may have seen the New York Times article about how sexism in academia is over. The original analytical paper it is based on discusses many potential reasons for different numbers of women versus men in science and math related careers. These run the gamut from differences in “spatial rotation” abilities that may or may not be present at three months of age through sex differences in academic salaries. They suggest based on their analyses that it is women’s choices that result in these differences. While there have been a number of great posts about how wrong this is (including this one by Emily Willingham and this one by Matthew Francis), I will focus on the connection between culture and choice.
The New York Times article says “As children, girls tend to show more interest in living things (such as people and animals), while boys tend to prefer playing with machines and building things.” As the mother of two small boys, and thus a consumer of children’s toys, books, and clothing, I can see why this would be the case.
I know that girls and boys have their innate differences, but I can’t imagine how this can be distinguished in children raised in our culture. At birth girls are given pink headbands, and before they can walk or talk they are given baby dolls. Boys, on the other hand, get dinosaur hats (I am guilty of this one) and toy cars. Even if one attempted to raise their child in a gender neutral way, as soon as they interact with the world they would find out from the other children, the other parents, and the media they are exposed to which kind of toys they should play with to fit in.
These differences in how we treat boys and girls are going to affect their abilities and their preferences. Down the line they will affect their expectations of themselves and others. Is it any wonder that there are differences in their choices?