Cultural norms affect women’s aptitudes

While little boys are encouraged to build things, girls are told to play with dolls.

This is in response to Tim Miller’s Friday letter that comments upon women, scientific proficiency and physical difference. I’d like to express my views on why this topic prompts such impassioned response from women in general and young feminists, like me, particularly.

For all of you thoughtful young men who would like to investigate whether intellectual differences between women and men are a natural extension of physical difference, I’ll ask you to imagine yourself as a female child in a television and toy-store culture such as ours.

Can you see how consistently society (including parents, teachers, educators and corporations) provides the male child with ample opportunity to develop an affinity for science kits, cars, mechanics, messy exploration of the outdoors and experimentation in general?

In the same stores and television programming, the female child overwhelmingly finds frills, sparkles, “soft” colors, makeup kits and dolls that speak prophetic words: “math is hard.”

Often when girls express our own affinity for science kits, reptiles, big trucks and risk-taking, we are labeled “tom boys.” In overwhelming numbers we start to leave experimentation to the boys; we drift into a social world that encourages us to satisfy others rather than pursue our own interests.

Many times, our latent interests are discouraged before they have a chance to develop.

It might seem like such a natural process, but I promise that for every female child who acquiesces, there is another girl whose sense of rebellion is stifled, turned in upon itself and expressed only in a profound depression.

Miller might think it’s important to investigate what ways female intellect might differ from male intellect. However, if such investigation were to take place, it would not be done in a culture in which all people are treated equally as individuals.

Rather it would take place in a culture that already enforces disparate interests between male and female children. These disparities are more than child’s play, they eventually channel brilliant female minds away from jobs with high levels of prestige and compensation.

Karen Carmody is a graduate student. Please send comments to [email protected]