[Edu-sig] Acadmic gender gap (was Thoughts)

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Tue Dec 7 22:41:11 CET 2004

> By contrast, the big struggle with many of the male students who are
> having difficulty is to convince them that they do not *yet* understand
> it. It is an odd contrast -- males seem to assume that of course they
> get this stuff, females that of course they cannot.

What I often find about smart kids (and this is *definitely* just a rule of
thumb -- lots of exceptions), is they have an aggressive stance toward what
adults want to teach them.  Like, I have this friend Jerritt, a much younger
guy, who happens to be brilliant.  He'll study something for a little while,
get the gist of it, then, likely as not, he'll burst out with "that's just
*absurd*, like that's so *stupid*, like why would people *do* it that way?"

Boys may have an easier time being smart in this particular way because
they're encouraged, more, to be up front with their aggression.  Girls are
supposed to be more covert, i.e. mean but in a more subtle/skillful and
verbally artful kind of way.  Boys are more likely to just dish out
uninhibited sass.  

Of course these are well worn stereotypes -- indulge me, if you please.

> Whenever I, with my modest skill set, have been asked to help a friend
> with their computer problems, the pattern is similar. Generally, my male
> friends have goofed something up, fuelled by a mistaken belief that they
> understood what was at issue. My female friends often have very minor
> difficulties that they actually do know how to resolve, save that they
> are convinced they don't. Instead of just fixing the problem, I
> generally try to help them find the answer on the 'net or in a manual
> and walk them through the fix. They end up saying something like "I'd
> just assumed I wouldn't understand." And this is often from people
> happily pursuing a PhD (in something non-mathematical).

Yeah, it can be a big surprise to discover the stuff is actually
comprehensible.  For decades, guys have excluded the women from the shop
talks, letting them huddle in the kitchen, with shop talks of their own.

But when the gender barrier comes down, and women catch up in the field,
they find, sometimes to their surprise, that they're now in a position to
lead the pack.  "Whaddya know, I could be the next CTO of my company!" -- so
true, girlfriend.

> The look on their faces when my friend turned around and confronted them
> and they realized that she was, indeed, a she, was utterly priceless.
> Didn't make up for having heard them go on (or my discomfort/regret that
> as the TA I'd not been confronting them myself). But it came close.

Yeah, priceless.  And for everything else, there's MasterCard.


More information about the Edu-sig mailing list