Every now and then I’ll have a conversation where the topic flows into women throughout history. The conversations can become frustrating because according to some, if women were in fact equal by nature then history should reflect their accomplishments. The oppressions of the patriarchy are always dismissed as a minor obstacle that the truly great women of history should have been able to overcome. The specifics of the conversation generally go something like this:
Man (it’s usually a man; I am not trying to be stereotypical): If women were really just as good as men we would hear more about women in those fields through history. If women are just as good why don’t we hear more about women scientists and mathematicians?
Me: Those fields are historically dominated by men because men were the ones to have education in math and science. Or education at all.
Man: But there are always the cases where a woman is a genius. Why don’t we hear about those women?
Me: We do, they’re just not talked about as often as their male counterparts because the fields are incredibly sexist and gendered. Women are not naturally worse at math and science.
Man: But they are, otherwise we would hear about more of them.
By this point I don’t know what else to say. it’s enough that the conversation is working from the starting point that women are not equal, but it continues to degrade women by talking about ‘special cases’ where a woman is a genius. Apparently only geniuses are good with math and science. Women in male dominated fields are barely talked about because women’s history is designated to one month of the year and that’s good enough. The patriarchy considers women to be another minority to be designated to second class status. This might be a news flash to some people, but women are half the population and have talents just as widespread and immense as men.
To paraphrase a quote from Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, women are given ‘trifling employments’ and therefore are ‘triflers’. This was true in 1792 when the text was written and it is true today as well. Girls are raised to play house and play with dolls, while boys are building lego cities. Is it surprising then that more men are architects and engineers? That more men have developed the critical thinking skills of math or science? Historically speaking, when women were not allowed a proper education outside of the home and family life, is it surprising that women scientists and mathematicians were a rarity?
My room mate is a math major. I know tons of brilliant women majoring in the hard science. They are not exceptions to the rule that men dominate in math and science because that rule does not exist.
What do you say in a conversation where the opposing party is so set in his or her ways? I’ve had this conversation with my brother before and it is perhaps the most frustrating topic to dig into. If you have any incite into how to handle these sexist discussions or would like to share your own stories about how ‘men are logical’ and women are ’emotional’ I would love to hear from you.