Shocker: IWF defends Summers’ comments on women and science

The Independent Women’s Forum never fails to make me want to fucking kill someone. Nice job, ladies.
The Independent Women’s Forum today defends statements by Harvard President Lawrence Summers. Summers suggested the possibility that innate differences between men and women contribute to there being fewer women in science and engineering at colleges and universities.
“President Summers is being vilified for telling the truth about women,” said Nancy Pfotenhauer, president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum. “Women have children and choose to raise those children and neurobiology shows us women are better in certain fields than men and tend to gravitate towards those fields they do better in. Men, likewise, gravitate to fields they excel in.”

But lucky us—the IWF is conveniently giving contact info. Call away…
Contact: Louise Filkins
Phone: (202) 419-1820

Join the Conversation

  • Voxper

    I am outraged by her suggestion that women and men may not be biologically identical! Outraged!

  • Ms. Niki

    I’m miffed that they lump males and females into these generalities labeled “Men” and “Women” and honestly belive everyone does/should adhere to those standards. Show me a man who stucks at writing and excels at math (or vice versa), and I’ll show you a woman at the same level.

  • Kassidy

    The article continues on to validate the excuses executives make for paying women less – more flexibility to be with family, etc. Totally absurd! I am sick of society dictating how much I should make or the career I should pursue because I have a vagina!!!

  • Olivia

    I think you should check out this Op-Ed from the Washington Post ( called “Raise Your Hand if You’re a Woman in Science…” which rebuts Summers’ claim of “innate” differences. She argues that it’s the way we raise boys and girls that makes the difference. In our culture, we naturally expect better of boys, especially in math; in other cultures where boys and girls are expected to perform equally well, such as in Japan, girls perform much better (though they still lag behind Japanese boys). As a matter of fact, says Valian, “one study, comparing the United States, Taiwan and Japan, found that Japanese girls in grammar school scored almost twice as high on certain tests as American boys and almost always scored distinctly higher.”

  • Olivia

    Egads, the link doesn’t work. It should be:
    I also find it odd that in spite of this, she acknowledges that boys are better at “higher mental rotation.” Is it really that difficult to “look at a picture of a three-dimensional block figure and imagine it rotated in space”?

  • Amanda

    No, it’s not. I think most of those are timed tests. But it’s funny that’s the ONLY thing that they come up with to justify the position that men are smarter than women. You’d think that was like the entirety of the SAT’s or something. “Here–rotate this in your mind. You have 5 seconds.” I wish the test were that easy.
    For all the sucking up to conservative men the women of the IWF do, I hope they are getting good sex or a nice meal once in awhile or something. But somehow I doubt it. They are just a bunch of cowards.

  • Chris Tessone

    Summers and the IWF should take a vacation to sunny Krasnodar, Russia, and visit the university I studied at. A little fewer than half the philologists and music faculty were men, and right around that same percentage on the physics and math faculties were women. I guess there must be something in the genes of Russian women alone that make them capable of doing math, right?

  • Zed Pobre

    It’s difficult to look at an *actual* three-dimensional block figure and imagine it rotated in space — or at least it’s difficult to do it accurately. One of the exercises in some undergraduate drafting courses is to draw the hidden side of a displayed object.
    It’s significantly harder than you’d think, even when you’re intimately familiar with the object. I wouldn’t know about any associated gender issue, though… a former girlfriend was much better at this than I am.
    That brings up a big point, though… has anyone actually been documenting their references, on either side? The IWF makes claims about studies showing this and that, and then fails to disclose exactly *which* studies. The news sources and blogs covering this topic haven’t been any better. Does anyone actually have a list of which studies say exactly what?

  • Olivia

    Zed, I’m a bit of an expert at finding needless information on the web, so I came across this:
    This study is few years old, written after the infamous MIT sex discrimination scandal. It’s a report written by a researcher, Judith Kleinfield, who essentially argues what Summers did: that the reason for low percentages of women in math and science are more complex than sex discrimination, blah, blah, blah, and so on. Only she gives evidence from various articles, studies, and books which are listed at the bottom of the page. The report is pretty short and you should definitely read the whole thing. I suppose those are the “studies” that IWF is talking about.

  • Amanda

    It doesn’t hurt, of course, that boys are encouraged to practice skills like that by playing with building blocks instead of dolls, I would think.

  • Zed Pobre

    Thanks, Olivia. The key spatial visualization and mathematics distinctions seem to be coming from “Utility of predicting group measurement…” ( ) which is unfortunately much longer reading than the summary you pointed me at. Testing methodology is fairly well explained, but the tests were performed on (presumably untrained) high school students, who were then tracked over the next 11 years.
    Amanda has a point in that development of these skills will have been affected by gender-biased childhood play (from Legos to video games).
    Some immediate thoughts:
    1) So far, the study does seem to imply that gender-related differences in skillsets *as measured from high school graduation* may have a stronger effect than gender bias in a hiring committee on whether women are hired at all. (As for the pay/promotion differential afterwards? Well, I’m afraid you may be fighting subtle, perhaps even subconscious biases there for a few more generations.)
    2) There appears to be no measurement of how women at these high schools were encouraged to proceed, and thus how they chose to subsequently develop their skills.
    3) For what it measures, the study appears well-constructed.
    4) If you don’t encourage girls to acquire these skills by the time they hit junior high, they may end up with a disadvantage that is difficult to correct. Remind me to buy Legos if I ever have kids.
    5) A second study potentially tied mathematical, spatial, and verbal skills to sex hormones; I was unable to find an actual copy of the paper, so I can’t comment on it directly.
    6) None of this explains why the gap is so much larger in the US than in some other countries (Russia comes to mind, though if it’s a choice between facing sex discrimination in the US and dealing with the plumbing in Russia, stay in the US. Other countries may be just as good without having to deal with Russia’s problems; I don’t have the charts handy.)
    7) I am inclined to believe “that the reason for low percentages of women in math and science are more complex than sex discrimination, blah, blah, blah, and so on”, at least for values of “sex discrimination” equal to what you see after high school. On the other hand, sex discrimination can begin at home, and can be persistent. I have a memory of my aforementioned ex-girlfriend receiving encouragement from a professor while she was studying aerospace engineering, but I also remember her mother telling her, “Why don’t you drop engineering and go into psychology? You did so much better in that psychology class,” when she was struggling in one of her harder courses. The “underachievement is okay for girls” form of sex discrimination is subtle, deadly, and begins early.
    8) This is getting long enough that I think if I have any more thoughts I should just write up an analysis in my own blog and then just link back here.
    I hope that wasn’t a waste of space. Thanks again for the link.

  • Katha Pollitt

    dunno about kisses or steaks, but the IWF women get plenty back in return for their absurd rationalizing of sexism. They’ve gotten many govt and think tank jobs, lots of money (big grant to educate iraqi women in the joys of the free market) plus lots of op-ed real estate, fame, and instant credibility as pundits. Anti-feminism totally sells today, and these women are not just any old anti-feminists: Many of them are married to powerful rightwing men (Danielle Crittenden to David Frum,for example) . How’s that for independence?

  • Amanda

    True, true. Too bad real feminism doesn’t pay nearly so well.

  • Voxper

    When boys are ahead in an area of education, it’s because the system is unfair to girls and privileges boys.
    When girls are ahead in an area of education, it’s because they’re just smarter and they earned their ranking fair and square, proving that the system is biased against girls in the areas that they’re not ahead.

  • elfy

    Actually, I come from Russia, and I remember having a physics teacher who kept giving me an equivalent of a “B” grade until my mom, who had Master’s degree in Physics, came to talk to him. She questioned his last “B” grading on my theorem proving, and he said that I didn’t do it the way they showed it in the book. My mom pointed out that I did it still correctly, and my paraphrasing proved that I actually understood the theorem vs. repeating it. He told her, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think girls can possibly know physics on “A” level.”
    A couple of seconds later he had to eat his words, but the point is, if in Soviet Union, where gender equality was one of the specified goals of the Communist Revolution (yeah, did you know that, free world?) and where abortion was legalized in 1954, there were quite definite mysogenist ideas and if not for my mom sticking up for me, I’d get fed up with getting my grades unfairly cut and give up on math and physics.
    How much you would like to bet that these, possibly subconscious ideals don’t soak up the system in US?
    In addition to boys playing with spacial objects from birth while girls engage in more social games, and thus developing different parts of their brains, how many teachers subconsciously discourage girls from doing their best?
    My point is, you can have as many legal tricks and blocks, but if you do not educate people (and I would start with how one raises kids), the gender biases WILL be there, always.

  • puckalish

    wow, great posts elfy, zed, olivia… and, yo, elfy, big ups to your mom for standing up to that sucka… so you live in the states now or you still rocking out in west asia messing with particle accelerators or something?
    this thread is a lot more educational for than i thought it would be… for real, props to all y’all…
    and, uh, voxper, how about you go back to your room? how many times do i have to hear you and your boyfriends make the same ignorant and unsupported response to a serious issue?

  • angellinjones

    IWF vice-prez Carrie Lukas critiques of Mary Koss’ groundbreaking study of rape prevalence. Lukas’ target is Koss’ finding that 1 in 4 college women has experienced either rape or attempted rape since age 14.
    Jewish Social Network

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