From Mars, From Venus

A Google employee was fired yesterday amid outrage over his controversial statement about the differences between men and women in the tech field. The news summary highlighted the comment about ‘biological differences’ being the cause, the reason for the lack of women in STEM related fields. His comment also, carefully claimed that the comment was not meant to upset the cause for diversity in the workplace. Only that there are biological differences that give reasons for the discrepancies in the real-world demographics as related to tech industries.

The public is outraged and in debate!

Both men and women affirming that there are differences between males and females. Concerning the greater physical strength of a male compared to that of a woman. This much is true, however, what does physical strength have to do with using acquired knowledge of mathematics and software engineering-that requires years of study and brain power? As well,  both cited that males and females have differing interest because one thinks more deeply than the other. To the surprise of other commenters, a woman had stated that men think more deeply than women, since women are able to not think as much. Why, she said? Women are better able to multi-task whereas men need to concentrate more so on a single task before moving onto the next. There was an episode somewhere on popular television afternoon shows that attempted to prove this assumption: women are better able to multitask than men. However, are they better able to multitask because they are women or are they better able due to practice? The examples given on the popular television afternoon shows are housewives versus their husbands. More importantly, concerning the tech field in this case, does software engineering require a great deal of multi-tasking? If not, why is this mundane detail included in the attempt to confirm biological differences as the reason for the lack of diversity in the tech field?

Others liken ‘race’ as being the same ordeal with sex concerning the discrepancies in demographics of an occupation. There were a few that stated that black men are more dominate in football and basketball because of genetics. In reference to professional sports yes there is a dominate commonality in both basketball and football. However, does the commenter recognize that perhaps exposure to those sports in particular-or one’s environment in celebrating those two major sports more so than others-has something to do with the common interest? If simply genetics were the cause for black males being so great athletically, then why only those two major sports? Were black men specifically bred for those sports or are they only great due to exposure within their background since childhood? So on and so forth questioning why is biological differences claimed as a justification for the lack of diversity or the cause of a predominance of one demographic over another in a particular occupation?

Simply put, some people are not great in making arguments that are void of logic and contemporary empirical evidence.

Within the debate, women who happened to be software engineers, mathematicians of some kind or simply have an interest in STEM related fields chimed in. They took to their keyboards to comment on the anecdotal evidence of a few women internalizing sexism. Others took to list their qualifications to speak on the behalf of all women in STEM. Though, more importantly, they voiced themselves as women, the rarity, in STEM related fields. Their concern was addressed by others that disagreed with those ‘not great in making arguments’ as well. There are no biological differences between men and women that causes fewer women to pursue STEM related fields. However, what has been proven through empirical research is that there are sociological differences that causes more men to pursue STEM related fields, while discouraging women.

What is meant by sociological differences?

This simply means that how males and females, boys and girls, are raised in a society determines the outcomes of their interest. As well, this greatly depends on the environment, resources and anything else related that determines the interest(s) held within a society. And by society is referring to you and me, we are the people that determines the behaviors, the norms, the culture, the activities and other aspects and concerns within a society. This is all relative to the period in which we are referring to, and the history of the people that is being referred.

For example, at one period nursing was a male dominated field. Contrasted tot today, nursing is female dominated and often contributed to biological differences as being the cause of this discrepancy in demographics. I just made a point here. Today, biological differences are attributed to the cause of women being more predominate in nursing occupation, however, in centuries past men were predominate in nursing [or something similar in name]. What was the reason given then compared to today to excuse the lack of one gender? I’m regarding to a period in which “biological differences” meant women were so inferior to men that their place was not meant in places determined by men to be more of a masculine pursuit than others.

I may go further back in time. Agriculture, farming was once considered a female endeavor, while the men hunt. Though as the technology became more advanced and farming more complex, men assumed the role of being the farmer, while abandoning the hunter/gather lifestyle. This is true concerning the number of female teachers as compared to male teachers today. At one period men were the teachers, and boys were the students. Overtime, as centuries of activism called for the equal access to education systems and resources, we now see that there are more female teachers and more female students-the higher one may pursue in education.

The point here being that in each example given about nursing, agriculture and teaching was never about actual differences in biology- that made one sex more suited for an occupation. Instead this sentence here restates the topic:

“I’m referring to a period in which ‘biological differences’ meant women were so inferior to men that their place was not meant in places determined by men to be more of a masculine pursuit than others.”

That sentence is referring to the changes in social norms and the assumption of a task as determined by a man. As similarly compared to date, a change in social norms and the assumption of a task as determined by you and me. We determine whether girls are more likely to choose social work over astronomy. We determine whether boys are to become a doctor, rather than a nurse. We determine that STEM related fields are to be dominated by men because of the assumption that math and other related fields is best suited for males based, again, on a social norm or prejudice.

It’s the individual’s interest, but environment and society are major factors too.

Others within the debate will say that perhaps there is a difference not due to biology per se, though due to an individual’s personal interest. In that they state women are less likely to pursue STEM related fields as it requires [empirical] logical derivations, where men are less inclined towards socially inclined work. And by that they meant most girls simply like the color pink, whereas most boys like the color blue. Here I ask, how does one know of their interest if they have yet to have been exposed within their environment of varied interest? Here I state, we are inclined towards certain behaviors and interest still due to our nurture, rather than nature. For instance, how does a boy like most boys know that they like the color blue if they have never seen it? As relating to occupation, how does a girl know she prefers math if she is constantly encouraged to seek socially inclined task deemed more feminine? He does not know that he likes the color blue until exposed. As she does not know her preference since she is discouraged from one pursuit.

The greater question here: how are we to determine what boys and girls are more inclined to like or dislike, to pursue or to not pursue, when we do not raise them under equal terms?

The most important initiative of our time is equal access and equal terms. We are largely unaware of what an individual may like or dislike, without influences by society. We are not knowing what boys and girls would pursue if given the chance to become exposed to varied interest and pursuits equally. However, we do know that our interest and pursuits are heavily influenced by society and by exposure. What are the initiatives again? To reveal more women in the roles of STEM. Or to encourage programs that focuses on girls wanting to pursue STEM related fields as adults. In our time we are introducing them to an occupation.

That is all that is required to witness an increase in a demographic within a particular field. It’s not a simple matter of disinterest of the individual as, again, our interest are determined by societal prejudices and what we may be exposed to within our environments. It’s not even a matter of biology, as there is not a single DNA sequence that determines what we have determined and created within our society.

For the Teacher

The life of being a bright yet shy student from primary school to throughout college had proved quite a challenge for me. I had grew up in a household, and within a culture, where the opinion and thoughts of a child are irrelevant. And if that child dares speak to challenge the parent, or the elders of the family, then they are being a disrespectful child. The inability to express oneself proves to be a detriment to one’s potential success in school. I wish, only that my family understood that about me as I still become flustered whenever they, now, ask for my opinion. That is a minor reason for my shyness in school. The major reason is that I grew up with intense social anxiety that was evident since I was a toddler. My family enjoy joking about me and my ‘hollering’ for no apparent reason. The more they tell and the more I attempt to understand my forgotten behavior, I see now that it was a early sign of stress and anxiety. An early sign that I cried loudly if I was separated from my mom, and even more so if surrounded by strangers. Throughout my childhood I still remember the discomfort, however, then I became self-aware of the unwanted attention I may draw if I speak or address myself in public. I became then one of those shy, withdrawn, aloof child and student in school. What a challenge this has been for me. I was forever reluctant to share my thoughts and opinions, and would shy away from a challenge. Only to retreat back to my safe place that is my mind-to all of the imaginative wonders of a story dream that I was inspired to create to about the age of 18 years old. I have since interpreted it all as an immature coping mechanism for the stresses and anxieties I had had. What was the challenge in school? The struggle to share my thoughts either written or spoken out loud. The trembling fear I had to present my work in front of a class room of different opinions. So I would purposefully sabotage my projects, accurately calculating that I would make a C letter grade for little effort. As for essay writing, I most certainly had the potential to outperform whatever I had presented. Though, still reluctant to share and too embarrassed to reread my own writing, I left many of my final essays as a rough draft.

This behavior to underperform and to be so aware of the differences of opinion reflected in my school work and classroom learning level placement. I have experienced the classroom environment for remedial students; classrooms for the average student; classrooms for the slightly above average students; then the classroom for the truly gifted or privileged. If I were placed in a remedial class, somehow I would ‘snap out’ of my safe place to prove myself otherwise. The classroom materials there were too easy, repetitive and redundant. I’m in need of a challenge. I would then be placed in a classroom for the average, where I would compete with the brightest student. Still, then the lessons were to easy for me. Later on I would be placed with the slightly above average students. I had one experience where it bothered me in a way. In second grade I remember being one of the few black students in an English and literature art class. A classroom full of students regarded as bright, or just simply privileged. There was a time where the teacher would ask a question and, I’ll be honest here, I was too busy daydreaming to pay attention. The teacher would call on one of us, one of the black students to participate because we rarely voiced ourselves. The times she would call on me I would give her an honest answer ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know because I never paid attention to the lesson or instruction, to her, to anyone else other than my mind. Of course this reflected to the letter grade C, which then gave her a thought to set aside time for the students that were struggling. We were the black students. Sitting around a small table we were reading a book, attempting to interpret the subject I suppose. The teacher would, again, ask us questions we could not answer- for very different reasons. What was I doing instead? I was making ‘googly eyes’ at my class friend beside me. The issue that I am addressing here is not that black students felt more insecure compared to their white or privileged peers here. No I was not ever aware of the ‘race’ factor, meaning that my childhood was color-blind. In my mind, and the issue here, is that I was disinterested. I never tried, never attempted, however the assumption being that I needed additional help to understand was a decision made without discussion. I was not in need of help, instead I was need of something interesting. As I needed something interesting, I needed someone to help me with my anxieties, insecurities and the stresses that they caused.

I think now that it was only until I entered high school did teachers silently came together and saw that I was need of a challenge. I assume they had discussed me in some way, since teachers have mentioned to their class that they discuss particular students and their performance. This includes one time I was approached by the principal who had asked me ‘do you find your classes more challenging now?’. I was taking advanced placement courses for the first time by my junior year. Honestly, I was ready and excited to finally be challenged, and to finally be more interested in learning. Of course, I still dealt with insecurities. I was one of the many that raised my hand when the AP English teacher asked ‘do any of you think you’re not smart enough to be here?’ The sun that once glowed had since died once I experienced classroom life with the truly gifted or simply privileged. By my observation they were simply privileged. How so? The AP government teacher thought to set the first day with a bit of ego inflation. He exclaimed that ‘you guys are the cream of the crop, the smartest there is and I believe in you’. Towards the end of the semester he was bitterly disappointed in the AP test scores. He muttered one day ‘I cannot believe it, some of you didn’t even try’. How can you not believe it sir? From what I remember, the majority of the classroom were given grades based on who their parents were exactly, though we all gave the same amount of effort or none at all. The majority of the class have teachers for parents, or parents present on the school  board, or an uncle who is the principal for our high school. And since I had underprivileged parents my letter grades were within the ‘C’ range. Now compare that to the letter ‘B’ grade given to the girl who drew butterflies for answers because she- like everyone else besides three others truly bright and dedicated-didn’t try and did not care. I have no place for dishonesty here, this actually occurred and offended me so. By that point I was dealing with depression-had been diagnosed and medicated. I had stopped trying because I had become more sensitive and emotional about other factors in my life. I didn’t care to try because the environment for which I was to be challenged, was not challenging in the least sense. I was sorely disappointed, so by my senior year I had become one of the ‘above average’ students. At least then I knew that the challenge was fair.

It’s time for college. At 18 years old it was time to make a decision about my life when I had yet to deal with my emotions, and other insecurities. A time where I did not know what I wanted to do and felt somewhat ‘pushed out the door’ to do something with my life. So sudden of a decision, I chose college. I chose history as my major, yet again unsure of what I wanted to do. A ha!, to write and to write well; to research and to research something in particular that I will figure out once I get there. I find myself regretting to make a decision so suddenly. Instead I should have taken a year off to study myself as I had come to find out that old habits die hard. My habit is to sabotage my work and to underperform whenever I feel insecure. To have a professor tell me ‘perhaps you should visit the writing center, since frankly you cannot write’. I would take offense, certainly, ‘snap out’ to prove otherwise. I had asked my mentor if I could take one of his upper level classes as a freshman. Anxiety had overtaken my emotions, my entire body, as I shook like a leaf every day. Five months had passed, yet I have not so much entered the library or the eating venues out of fear of the many strangers that I would have to encounter. The silent judgement that was only a present fear created in my mind, ‘you do not belong here’. I needed to find proof and my proof was found my freshman year taking an upper level course. I was the young black with the afro sitting far back in the corner, always on the right side. I was always the quiet one, not once voiced myself out of shyness. But I was intrigued, in love with the lecturing style of my mentor and professor, in awe with a truly challenging environment. Although I was quiet, I truly enjoyed my time.  The challenge then was to write a semester long research and analytical essay about the technologies of medieval Europe. I will tell you that I had stressed over and re-written that essay in its entirety six times, all thirteen pages. The reward was most deserving, the highest grade I had ever received on a paper, a 98. I do not know why but as time moved forward I continued to fall into bad habits, become overly shy once again, then to ‘snap out’ once I had found a purpose or my confidence. Especially so, when I had found interest in the subject I would try my best and would succeed.

A terrible habit that has caused some questions by others that didn’t quite believe my words to be my writing. I was the quiet one, the one too afraid to speak in front of others with different opinions. Not only different opinions, but of others who were older and far more experienced and knowledgeable than I am in the subject. Since I had begun tackling the upper level courses early on, I did not travel with those of my age group who would have been more understanding of my nature. I didn’t speak, too fearful to speak. As you would assume, hated doing presentations with so much passion. If I had known that presentation was required for my major in excess I wouldn’t have attempted. Perhaps I would not have attempted college altogether considering the constant attacks to my anxiety and unforgiving financial debt thereafter. My writing is my own. I state this as I anticipate including my research analysis writing here for my blog, less tame in length. I have found a compromise. I do not speak often and I am unable to articulate myself well while speaking. However, I am just as bright and inquisitive as I will appear on paper or on screen. I have ideas to share and a much needed alternative viewpoint on all subjects. And I type even this self reflection as I contemplate about my future career decisions.

I reflect back on this time as a student, since I am to become a teacher for the time being. As of August 2017 I will apply to a college, yet again to find a stable career path way. I am to become a teacher but as a teacher I wish to be fair to students, and to be sensitive to the needs of students like myself. The shy student, or the bright and shy student. The introvert, as I am too, but not to be conflated with shyness. There are special talents and great insights a student may be able to give, however always finding discomfort with either their self or discomfort with the demands of group-oriented and opinion sharing environments. The lessons are to prepare students for college and/or for the working world. I understand that too now, however is it necessary? I do agree as I disagree. For now I will provide an article that fits and fights best: I Argued That Class Participation Was Necessary. Then I Heard From Introverts.

Upon reading a short article titled Stories from the Trenches: Why Don’t Students Participate in Class?, I thought to share my experience first. Why students do not participate in class is dependent of that individual student. Some do so politely because they are taught it is inappropriate to speak or to ‘know more than one’s professor’. Others do so because they are shy, or they are bright yet shy like myself. Then those that cannot get a word in with their peers blurting their opinions with or without relevance or substance. The reason could be a disorder, or selective mutism as I am inclined to believe was my issue. The reasons are all varied and intersecting. There are no sure way to help every student adequately as some issues are outside of the teacher’s domain. Like myself in dealing with social anxiety and depression, I was in need of counseling or some sort of therapy. I could not expect my AP high school teacher to understand that that is why I was among the many that refused to try.  In becoming a teacher, again for the time being, I wish to be sensitive to students as I am to require certain expectations. As well, I require that teachers now to be more sensitive.