I got a splash screen message that “only four percent of teen girls plan to major in science.” This, I am apparently supposed to conclude, is problematic, not okay, or what have you.
One of the primary causes championed by modern feminists (other than getting men to sit correctly on the subway) is persuading more young women to study things they’re not interested in. The reasoning is that women should take careers in science at the same or roughly the same rate as men, and that their failure to do so reflects societal inequality and stereotypes that girls, themselves, have internalized.
But does it? In order to draw this conclusion, don’t you have to start with the assumption that girls and boys are identical, and should have identical career choices? If asked, would the average feminist not say the ideal ratio of men to women in the math and sciences is one-to-one? Of course they would.
Why, though? Science, in particular, is a time-consuming career choice that requires years of extra study, a rough schedule, and a relatively work-cloistered life during the years when most women would like to be starting families. Additionally, it involves skill-sets traditionally more prevalent, (though by no means exclusive) to men: a head for numbers, an innate desire for discovery, an emphasis on concise and technical over expressive communication, and a love of creepy-crawlies and things that go boom. It’s not that difficult to see why so many women choose another career path.
Yet, as with the dreaded and mythological “wage gap,” we are supposed to assume that this is unnatural, unhealthy, and probably due to some kind of discrimination. In other words, it’s an artificial state of affairs that has been foisted on girls, not something they would willingly choose, all things being equal. If people deviate from the prescribed ideal, it must be due to nefarious outside forces imposed upon them, not personal choices.
This is where the reasoning breaks down. I read a great passage yesterday from Thomas Sowell’s “The Vision of the Anointed.” In it, he points out how virtually the entire progressive project is based on cherry-picked statistics and the assumption that disparity equals discrimination. African Americans, he points out, go to jail, are turned down for home loans, and flunk school at higher rates than whites. “See!” progressives cry, “Discrimination!” “Systemic racism!”
But then Sowell points out that the same comparison between whites and Asians reveals a similar discrepancy. Whites go to prison, are turned down for home loans, and drop out of school at higher rates than Asians. If progressives were consistent, they would have to conclude that we live in an Asian-privileged society that systematically discriminates against white people. But surely that’s obvious nonsense. The comparatively better outcomes of Asians represent a complex of economic, social, and educational choices that have become ingrained as part of a culture. They are not due to society actively trying to keep white people down.
But such data doesn’t fit the narrative, so it’s discarded, while data that often comes from the very same studies is trumpeted as the smoking gun of discrimination. At the heart of it all, the hand-wringing over girls in STEM fields, the outrage over the gender wage gap, the cries of “white privilege,” or the outrage over transgendered individuals committing suicide at 12 times the national average–lies this immovable notion that differences must reflect discrimination, not choices (whether good or bad). People are merely malleable lumps of clay, whose lives and decisions are predetermined by the society in which they live. This seems to be one of the most fundamental blind spots of the secular, progressive worldview. This lack of imagination is at the heart of nearly every contemporary debate, and dismantling it is key.