[Once,] I asked my 5‑year‑old who did most of the work around the house, me or her daddy. She said "you." Now, this kid is totally guileless‑-she has not learned yet how to say one thing to one person and another to another, so I'm sure she wasn't just telling me this because I was the one who asked the question. So I said, "What kind of work do I do around the house? In the living room, in the kitchen?" She said, "You clean the kitchen." I couldn't believe it! I might have believed her if she said I occasionally picked up in the living room‑-but cleaned the kitchen? Her dad's domain? Where did that come from????
•Another parent reported:
When our daughter was very young‑-about 3 years old‑-we audiotaped an interview about what she would be when she grew up. After mentioning a number of possibilities my wife said, `What about a doctor?' Jessica replied, `Yeah, I could be a doctor.' Our son who was 5 at the time interrupted saying, `I think you mean a nurse.` `Yeah, a nurse,' Jessica said. My wife said, `She could be a doctor if she wanted,' and our son replied, `I don't think so...I've never seen any, at least not in Iowa.'
Stereotypes also exist specific to the computer world. One paper reports:
We have even found that some young children believe computer games and computers are for boys. In one nursery school, Pratto (1982) asked girls and boys aged 3 to 5 to name the toys they played with. Both girls and boys reported that boys played with Atari; it was never mentioned as a game for girls. We returned to that school and asked 42 children whether they thought computers were for girls, and then we asked whether computers were for boys. Most children answered this question. Although the majority thought computers were for both genders, the boys were not as sure of this as were the girls (71% of the girls and 57% of the boys). Of the minority, more children thought computers were for boys only (14% of the boys and 11% of the girls) than thought computers were for girls only (7% of the boys and 4% of the girls) [Kiesler et al. 1985, page 456].
The point of this section can be illustrated by the following incident:
A group of parents arranged a tour of a hospital for a group of twenty children: ten boys and ten girls. At the end of the tour, hospital officials presented each child with a cap: doctors' caps for the boys, nurses' caps for the girls. The parents, outraged at this sexism, went to see the hospital administration. They were promised that in the future, this would be corrected. The next year, a similar tour was arranged, and at the end, the parents came by to pick up their children. What did they find, but the exact same thing‑-all the boys had on doctors' hats, all the girls had on nurses' hats! Steaming, they stormed up to the director's office and demanded an explanation. The director gently told them, `But it was totally different this year: We offered them all whichever hat they wanted'" [Hofstadter 1986, page 156].
1.1.4 The Effects of Stereotypes on Teachers and Advisors
Additionally, stereotypes influence people who advise students, such as their parents, guidance counselors, and teachers. For example, [Stewart et al. 1989] showed that, when given artificial case studies, high school teachers were more likely to advise male students than otherwise‑identical female students to take courses that would prepare them for post‑secondary institutions. Another study showed that high school girls "said that they had chosen business and commercial courses in order to prepare themselves for clerical jobs because they believed these were the jobs open to women" [Stewart et al. 1989, page 261]. In response to a survey of female scientists,
[M]any women felt they had been given inadequate advice on careers and choices of subject‑-careers advisers seemed to be fixated on nursing and teaching, and some were completely floored by requests for information about nuclear physicists or process engineers [Ferry et al. 1982, pages 27‑28].
Interviews with high school guidance counselors yielded similarly prejudiced advice to girls:
A counselor in her early 30's: `Well, if they bring me their registration card with (an AP [advanced placement] science course) listed I'll check to see if that's really what they meant... but I would never encourage it. I mean, it's usually their last year and there are so many fun things going on. I think they'll be busy enough and they can get into the serious work in college.'
A counselor in her 20's: `I just hate to see a girl get in over her head. I always try to place students at a level where I know they'll be successful. I mean, wouldn't it be frightful to spoil a beautiful record by doing poorly in a course your senior year.'
A male director of guidance, mid‑forties: `Sure, I'm for the AP Program in general, but not for encouraging girls in science necessarily. Have you looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics? It's a contracting market. There are men with Ph.D.'s in physics all over the place who can't get jobs. Why should we encourage girls? Why, if they're successful, they'd be taking jobs away from men who need them. No, it wouldn't be fair to the girls' [Casserly 1979, page 12].
Unfortunately, as the interviewer goes on to report, "these comments were chosen not because they were unique but because they represented all too commonly the attitudes of the counselors in many schools."
Additionally, even when girls are in science classes, teachers sometimes treat them differently, as shown by the following remarks from an interview of junior high school girls:
So this teacher came down from the high school to give a demonstration in physics and said, `Now this is going to make a pretty big noise, so any of you girls who don't like loud noises better cover your ears.'
He said, `Now this is going to be dirty so we'd better have a boy do it.'
And he (a high school science teacher performing a demonstration to a sixth‑grade class) said, `Now this will help you boys who fix your own bicycles, so pay attention!'
(See also [Marriott 1991] and [Hall 1982].) The girls then go on to describe the difficulties they had in getting their parents to buy them tinker toys and chemistry sets, which are routinely bought for their brothers [Casserly 1979, page 9].
1.2 Ways that Males and Females are Treated Differently
In addition to the people who consciously believe women less capable, there are those who acknowledge that women can succeed at engineering but consider female engineers to be "somehow suspect" [Turkle 1984, page 200]. I will examine several aspects of this problem: First, based on their preconceptions of women, people often exhibit subtle forms of subconscious bias that cause them to treat women differently from men. Second, men and women are often held to different standards. Strange as it sounds, behaviors‑-such as succeeding‑-are sometimes considered attractive in men but not in women. Third, there is something about our culture's view of male‑dominated fields such as engineering that causes female aspirants to be considered unattractive.
1.2.1 Subtle Bias
In [Sandler 1986, Sandler 1988, Hall 1982], there are summaries of several studies of subtle, subconscious bias‑-that is, people observably acting in a biased manner but unaware of their doing so. I was apprised of the importance of subtle bias by the number of respondents who objected to my call for "egregious examples," writing that they thought the subtle behavior to be more damaging. [Hall 1982, Sandler 1988] report the following biases, of which both men and women are guilty:
•Women are interrupted more than men.
•Faculty members make eye contact with male students more often than with female students.
•Faculty members are more likely to know and use the names of their male students than of female students.6 •Women are often asked fewer or easier questions than males.
As Sandler writes, "Singly, these behaviors probably have little effect. But when they occur again and again, they give a powerful message to women: they are not as worthwhile as men nor are they expected to participate fully in class, in college, or in life at large" [Sandler 1988, page 149]. Unfortunately, the message appears to have sunk in. Studies have shown that, when engineering students are asked to predict the academic performance relative to that of male and female colleagues, "both sexes anticipated that men would outperform women. This was paradoxical, since the average female student had both a higher grade point average and higher class rank from high school than the average male" ([Ott 1975] in [Zappert et al. 1984, page 4]). Another study found that, when male and female college students were asked to predict their midterm test score before taking it, men had higher expectations for themselves than women did for themselves, even though the two groups actually performed the same [Erkut 1983, page 229]. Studies have found that women are more likely than men to attribute success to luck instead of skill [Deaux et al. 1974] and to attribute failure to lack of skill [Ernest 1976, page 599]. Women's lack of confidence, and one consequence, is illustrated by an incident at Columbia, reported by Professor Joan Birman:
I learned last year, to my astonishment, that for about four years running the honors calculus course had been all male, in spite of the fact that admission was based on an open competitive examination. This fall, one of the senior mathematics majors and myself made an intensive effort to encourage women to try the exam! The typical answer was, `I know I won't pass it,'‑-to which we replied over and over, `Well, if you try it, at worst you will confirm what you already know, and only an hour of time will have been lost.' After three days of such advising, the big day came, the exam was given, and this year the class has five men and five women! [Ernest 1976, page 604].
Not surprisingly, girls at single‑sex schools study physical science and math more than in comparable coed schools, "even though girls' schools frequently have less adequate laboratory provision than mixed schools" [Kelly 1982, page 497]
Even more ominously, [Sandler 1986, page 6] reports:
In one study, first done in 1968 and then replicated in 1983, college students were asked to rate identical articles according to specific criteria. The authors' names attached to the articles were clearly male or female, but were reversed for each group of raters: what one group thought had been written by a male, the second group thought had been written by a female, and vice versa. Articles supposedly written by women were consistently ranked lower than when the very same articles were thought to have been written by a male [Goldberg 1968, Paludi et al. 1985, Paludi et al. 1983]. In a similar study, department chairs were asked to make hypothetical hiring decisions and to assign faculty rank on the basis of vita. For vitae with male names, chairs recommended the rank of associate professor; however, the identical vita with a female name merited only the rank of assistant professor [Fidell 1975].
Anti‑female bias is strongest in traditionally male fields [Top 1991, pages 96‑97].
When discussing the results of such studies with fellow students, I found that the males have tended to be more surprised than the females, because many females recalled specific instances of biased behavior, several categories of which are represented below.
In some cases, a woman was viewed as less serious than a man in a similar position:
•A female computer science graduate student had the following experience:
I was working at a fairly small company whose communal coffee was awful. A group of 6 of us (4 men, 2 women) bought our own coffee maker and had decent coffee which we paid a few cents for to defray the costs of coffee and cream. Anyway, I usually bought the coffee and my male coworker usually bought the cream. A new member to the group (male) approached me and told me we were out of cream. I told him that M2 usually bought the cream. Later that same day, M1 again comes up and tells me we are out of cream. I once again tell him that M2 gets the cream. To this he says, `But how can I bother M2 with something as insignificant as buying cream?' Needless to say, I told this fellow exactly what I thought about that...
•One female graduate student in mechanical engineering sent the following two stories:
1. When I first started the [graduate] program, the head of the department (male) was assigning desks to graduate students... ([T]here were two entering females to the particular program at that time.) As he ran out of desks, he said, `Well, just put the girls together on a desk.'
2. That same professor put me (a newly graduated math major) into the slower (undergraduate) statistics class, and put a guy who had had a vague introduction to stats 8 years earlier in the faster (graduate) class.
Both events took place in the past two years, a time period which she has found "very frustrating."
•A female computer consultant wrote:
Most of our users ask for and accept help from whichever consultant is available, but some insist on talking with one of the male consultants (only 2 of the 10 consultants are male). One user persisted at this, even after Alan explained to her that he didn't know the package she was working with, and that she would be better off asking me because I specialize in that particular software. Another user did ask me her question, but when she didn't like the answer I gave her (I explained what she could not do and why), she insisted on taking her problem to David (a higher authority?), who proceeded to tell her exactly what I had just explained. What is interesting about the latter incident was that she did not seem to be after a second opinion, because she could have gotten that from a number of people (all female). She apparently specifically wanted a male opinion.
•When a female computer science undergraduate visited one of the graduate schools to which she had been admitted, she and a male prospective student met with a male graduate student to discuss the school. Whenever the woman asked a question, the graduate student directed his answer to the male prospective instead of to her, i.e. by making eye contact and gestures toward the male prospective. This treatment surprised the woman, as she had not encountered such behavior at her undergraduate institution. After the meeting, she delicately pointed out the behavior to the graduate student, and he apologized profusely and sincerely, clearly unaware of the bias while it was occurring. When they met later in the day, his behavior was markedly better. The same woman, however, in a later meeting with two other graduate students, one male and one female, found herself addressing most of her questions to the male until she recognized her behavior and corrected it.
1.2.2 Different Expectations for Men and Women
The following examples show how people sometimes expect women to be less interested or competent in technical areas than they actually are:
•According to a survey of female scientists:
Women in mainly male environments are always being taken for secretaries or junior laboratory staff: queries may be addressed to a male technician rather than his female boss. An engineer offering to help a telephone caller was told `No dear, this is a technical enquiry. Can I speak to someone who can help me?' [Ferry et al. 1982, page 28]
•A female computer science professor told me this story:
I was visiting a university and arrived before my (male) host. I approached the departmental receptionist to try to make certain arrangements. In one case, I suggested that my host might have made some provision‑-`or,' I said cordially, `maybe not.' `Oh, probably not,' replied the receptionist. `After all you know those professors...' Boy was her face red when she realized what she'd said.7 •A female undergraduate at a women's college wrote:
The summer after my first year at [X] I took Linear Algebra at [a coed college] nearby. Out of probably twenty people in the class, I was one of two women. I found that the mood of the class was stifling. It was obvious that the men of the class expected me to sit quietly in my chair and contribute nothing and ask no questions. It was also made obvious to me that, in general, they felt they were far superior to me. Because I had had no contact with them outside of the classroom, I must assume they were basing their decision solely on the fact that I am female. In addition, I found the material relatively easy and was getting an A in the class, so they could not be basing it on my academic performance. One day as we were going over a difficult problem set we had had for homework, the professor asked if anyone was able to do a particular problem which I had been able to solve. When I raised my hand, [a student made] the comment `What?!?! How could you have solved that problem!?!?' He in no way hid his hostility or his feelings that if he, a far superior man, could not solve the problem, I could not have. I was completely shocked that he could make such a comment. No one else seemed to be. It is no wonder that women tend not to contribute in a male‑dominated classroom.
•A female computer scientist sent me a copy of the cover of a prestigious computer periodical that showed a family (parents and a boy) looking at a computer. A bubble next to each shows what they are thinking. The mother is imagining her son using the computer to learn math and the father using it to figure taxes. The son and the father both imagine using the computer to play space war games.8 These diverse examples illustrate how women are sometimes treated as less capable or interested in technology than men, instead of being treated as individuals. Of course, there exist professors and administrators who treat their male and female students equally as well or even devote extra effort to encouraging women. However, negative events are still common enough to be of substantial concern. Moreover, the above behaviors are the symptom of a more fundamental problem: lower expectations for females. Many of the above events are too blatant to have the insidious effect of subtle discrimination (which probably accompany them). Even if the perpetrators could be coerced into not so openly displaying sexism, it would not eliminate the fundamental biases which would be displayed less directly.
1.2.3 Different Standards for Men and Women
As Sandler writes, the same behavior is viewed differently in women than in men:
He is `assertive'; she is `aggressive' or `hostile.' He `lost his cool,' implying it was an aberration; she's `emotional' or `menopausal.' Thus, her behavior is devalued, even when it is the same as his [Sandler 1988, page 151].
This claim can be illustrated by a recent lawsuit by a woman who "repeatedly heard that she had not been given a partnership at [a] huge accounting firm because she was too macho, universally disliked and in need of `a course at charm school'" [Lewin 1990]. This is despite having brought in more business than any of the other 88 candidates for partnership. "Comments from the lawsuit [say] that she should wear makeup and jewelry and learn to walk, talk and dress `more femininely'" [Lewin 1990]. A survey of female scientists found:
Most think their male colleagues are more forceful and aggressive than they themselves want to be; some have resigned themselves to low status rather than changing their personalities, while others have decided to fight with men's weapons‑-and are often labeled unfeminine as a result [Ferry et al. 1982, page 30].
One study found the same behavior judged more harshly in female professors than in males:
[According to] Susan Kay's classroom studies... male students were far more likely to give lower ratings to those female faculty perceived to be hard graders... This finding is consistent with a series of experiments at the University of Dayton that indicated that college students of both sexes judged female authority figures who engaged in punitive behavior more harshly than they judged punitive males... ([Martin 1984, pages 484‑485] in [Koblitz 1990]).
See also [Kierstead et al. 1988] and [Bennett 1982].
A "halo" effect seems to exist where people tend to interpret behavior according to their preconceptions. The same action is often interpreted differently, depending on whether it is performed by a woman or a man, as the following stories illustrate:
•When a high‑ranking female engineer was at the airport to make a business trip, she saw a male acquaintance who worked for the same company. He asked where she was going, and she answered San Francisco. He then said something like, `Oh, going to do some shopping?' She told me how angry his remark made her, as she works extremely hard at the company, putting in long hours and taking frequent business trips, with too little free time for her to go on out‑of‑state shopping trips even if she were inclined to do so.
•A female computer science graduate student told me that it is common to see different reactions to men and women dropping a class. According to her, when a woman drops a class, people remark that the class must have been too difficult for her; when a man quits, people say he must not have found it interesting.
These examples are troubling because they show one way in which stereotypes are perpetuated. In each case, someone interpreted the actions of a woman based on their prejudices, reinforcing their own stereotypes.
Additionally, women at American universities are often the victims of other cultures' stereotypes. Foreign nationals outnumber Americans as students in doctoral engineering programs [Widnall 1988, page 1740], and there are many foreignborn professors. In one survey, female graduate students at MIT "reported that foreign‑educated faculty‑-many from cultures where women are not held in high esteem‑-pose problems for women in graduate programs, both in class and in research" ([MIT 1987] in [Baum 1990, page 49]).
1.2.4 Career‑Related Success Unfeminine
Not only are some strong traits considered unfeminine, but "femininity and individual achievement continue to be viewed as two desirable but mutually exclusive ends," a shocking position argued in [Horner 1970, page 46], based on empirical research and interviews. In one of Horner's studies, females were given the sentence "After first‑term finals, Anne finds herself at the top of her medical school class." Males were given a similar sentence with a male name. Subjects were asked to write a story about the student. While only 8 of the 88 male subjects exhibited fear of success through negative stories, 59 of the 90 females did. Horner divides the negative stories into three categories and includes sample stories, of which I include a subset:
1. Fear of Rejection‑-"Anne doesn't want to be number one in her class. She feels she shouldn't rank so high because of social reasons. She drops down to ninth in the class and then marries the boy who graduates number one."
2. Concern about Normalcy or Femininity‑-"Anne is completely ecstatic but at the same time feels guilty. She wishes that she could stop studying so hard, but parental and personal pressures drive her. She will finally have a nervous breakdown and marry a successful young doctor."
3. Denial‑-"Anne is really happy she's on top, though Tom is higher than she‑-though that's as it should be.... Anne doesn't mind Tom winning" [Horner 1970, pages 60‑62].
Additionally, when questioned about Anne, "[m]ore than 70% ... described Anne as having an unattractive face, figure, or manners" [Horner 1970, page 63]. Females thus consider success to lessen their femininity, a sacrifice many are not willing to make [Horner 1970, pages 69‑72]. See also [Mednick et al. 1975].
This attitude can also be illustrated by the following incident, reported in [Franklin et al. 1981, page 20]:
One woman earned high grades in a traditionally male field. Her professor announced to a mostly male class that this represented an unusual achievement `for a woman' and was an indication, first, that the woman student was probably not really feminine, and, second, that the males in the class were not truly masculine, since they allowed a woman to beat them.