- Capa comum: 288 páginas
- Editora: Beacon Press; Edição: Reprint (6 de setembro de 2016)
- Idioma: Inglês
- ISBN-10: 0807083445
- ISBN-13: 978-0807083444
- Dimensões do produto: 15,2 x 2 x 23,1 cm
- Peso do produto: 454 g
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The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club (Inglês) Capa Comum – 6 set 2016
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What I discovered shocked me. Although more young women major in physics at Yale than when I attended school there, those young women told me stories of the sexism they had encountered in junior high and high school that seemed even more troubling than what I had experienced: complaints about being belittled and teased by their classmates and teachers, worries about being perceived as unfeminine or uncool. . . . The same forces that caused me to feel isolated and unsure of myself at Yale continue to hem in young women today, acting like an invisible electrified field to discourage all but the thickest skinned from following their passion for science, a phenomenon that turns out to be less true in other countries, where women are perceived as being equally capable in science and math as men.
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The first sign that something was wrong appeared in the book's preface:
"Even women who grow up to be feisty, successful feminists spend much of their adolescence obsessing about their appearance, romance, sex, and their popularity with female friends. ...girls may dumb them themselves down, hide or repress their interest in classes or activities their peers deem nerdy. <b>They may develop crushes on their teachers and other older men, who don't see them as threatening and are all too happy to reciprocate their affection. A boy might pursue a subject because he respects the man who teaches it, but unless he is gay, he won't fall in love with that teacher, as so many young women do." (p. xx)
My reaction: WHAT?!
Her words reminded me of biochemist Tim Hunt's offensive statement that female scientists shouldn't work with male scientists because "You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry." Pollack's statement implies not only that sexual attraction will create problems for female students of science, but that such problems are common. That will only deter male scientists from mentoring female students!
It only got worse as Pollack revealed again and again that romantic attraction motivated much of her scientific pursuits. While I appreciate her honesty, in this context honesty is damaging, especially because she portrayed her own motivates as commonplace instead of unique to her personality. Her story creates the impression that many women pursue science for male attention, and that romantic tension is a regular occurrence in interactions between male professors and female students. That is not only inaccurate (from my experience, anyway), it is incredibly counterproductive to the mission of getting more women in STEM fields.
This was such a theme in Pollack's story that I started a document to record unsettling and/or offensive quotes from the book. I nearly stopped reading altogether when I reached page 35, when Pollack reveals she had a romance with her high school debate teacher. I was disgusted. Three pages later, she describes how she visited Yale after receiving an offer of admission, and she decided to go there because she was attracted to a male physics professor after watching him lecture.
The last few chapters of the book depict solidarity among women who want to pursue STEM until they're discouraged or turned away, but this comes too late. Earlier in the book Pollack made it clear she disliked and felt competition with other women as a student. She had awe and respect only for men and wanted nothing to do with other women:
"But the women's movement seemed to mean women ended up spending more time with other women, and something called 'consciousness-raising groups,' and the last thing I wanted was to spend more time with women. If women ran the world, society would be less competitive. But I loved competing. How else could I prove to the brilliant, powerful men who rules the world but I was as smart and strong as they were?" (p. 21)
This passage was particularly offensive:
When describing the only other female physics major: "And as much as I enjoyed the sight of her shining, smiling face, I can't say we were friends. If a person's self-worth derives from being the only woman in the field, how much affection can she feel toward another woman who might challenge that claim to fame? Erika's decision to pursue a bachelor's of arts degree rather than the more demanding bachelor of science struck me as cheating. It was as if we had signed up to be marines, and here we were at boot camp, each wearing the same uniform, but Erika got to stay in the barracks and buff her nails while the rest of us jogged fifty miles in the rain." (p. 47)
Holy s***! Majoring in physics isn't easy, even if you're pursuing a B.A. instead of a B.S. The analogy she used--Erika buffing her nails, Pollack jogging fifty miles in the rain--was so insulting. Clearly Pollock thought very well of herself. Far from being a proponent of female representation in STEM, she wanted other women to abandon the field. She wanted to be the only woman in physics because it made her feel smart and special.
At this point, I was disgusted by Pollack, and I often paused my reading to vent to my husband whenever I encountered another offensive passage. But I kept reading, and it became more and more obvious that Pollack's pursuit of physics was at least partly motivated by a desire to attain men.
"Could anything be more exciting than carrying a pristine notebook embossed with 'Lux et veritas' to a lecture hall where I would finally begins the life I had been waiting eighteen years to start? My status as one of only two women in the auditorium struck me as less frightening than erotic; it was like going to a movie with 118 dates. I was even more excited when the professor turned out to be the same dark, bearded young man whose class I had visited the spring before." (p. 53)
"My new powers of understanding might have flowed from nothing more than Professor Zeller's voice murmuring seductively in my head: 'You can do it. Stick it out.'" (p. 58)
"My attraction to my professors kept me working to please them long after I might otherwise have given up." (p. 128)
Despite these criticisms, there were many things I did like about this book. Pollack describes the subtle ways women are discouraged from pursuing STEM, and the firsthand accounts of other women's struggles were great. I heartily agree with the message of this book, and more people need to know why we have too few female scientists. But at the same time, Pollack's own story could be counterproductive. Normally I appreciate honesty, but I wish she hadn't disclosed these things about herself. If readers assume her romantic motives are present in other women, it will exacerbate the problem.
In addition to her apparent disdain for other women (she only respected men's opinions), Pollack also derogates scientific disciplines that aren't physics. This passage angered me:
"As to why there are more female chemists then physicists, my hunch is most chemists aren't looking to explain the universe, only to produce a fabric that doesn't wrinkle or absorb odors, a vanilla pudding that tastes more vanilla-y, a bacterium that eats up oil." (p. 202)
She just insulted the ENTIRE FIELD OF CHEMISTRY! That is so offensive! As if physics is the only real science, the only one that truly requires intelligence and passion.
My last complaint about this book is how woefully it covers scientific research on gender disparity in STEM fields. (Ironic, isn't it?) There are hundreds of psychology experiments on this very issue. She briefly mentioned one study on stereotype threat (without describing the phenomenon of stereotype threat itself), but she completely ignored a vast literature whose inclusion would only bolster her arguments. For example, social psychologist Amanda Diekman has conducted terrific research on why some women avoid STEM and how to change this. (See: htt[...]) But you know what? I bet Pollack doesn't even consider psychology a science.
Again, I'm totally on board with the mission of this book, but I wish it had a different flag-bearer.
Eileen Pollack crystallises so many unspoken ideas, zeroing in on some deep set problems in how we teach ideas, differentiate between boys and girls, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. This book is full of stories of tragedy and lost opportunity in physics and astronomy - an unflinching indictment on me and all my colleagues who love this field and who claim to want to pass that excitement onto others. However, there is hope for the future, both in the small things we can all do to mentor and encourage, and in the deep societal changes needed to meet the challenges of the future.
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