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Lucie de Nooij | NIKHEF | The Netherlands

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Powerchick II

The question whether it is a problem that there are fewer women than men in physics, is very subjective. Even only asking the question raises a paradox. It suggests that there should be more equality, namely better emancipation would lead to more women in technical professions. But to achieve this equality you need to treat girls differently from boys, which contradicts to the aim for more equality. In response to my last blog, Zoe writes: “I was told by one university that ‘entry requirements won’t matter because you are a girl’ “. Nobody feels better if you are accepted for other reasons than your relevant capabilities for the application.
In another response to my blog (on email), my mother sarcastically notes: says: “more women in physics, less women in justice”. This makes me realize that the discussion physics is not the only branch where the fraction of men and women is out of balance. In the Netherlands, more than half of the judges are female. Recently a member of parliament argued that punishments were become less strict due to this effect (see the picture). Apparently crime is perceived differently by men than women. In Dutch universities the female medicine students outnumber their male colleagues grandiosely. This is considered a problem, because all these doctors will want to work part-time and nobody will be able to care of the baby-boomers when they grow old.
Personally I think if people are pushed to make a certain important decision, they will reconsider. You cannot make a girl finish her physics bachelor and you cannot force the successful male attorney to become a judge. In the Netherlands the publicity for physics had become from mildly biased to downright unfair: what is my head doing on the master of physics poster? (I like my head, of course, don’t get me wrong) In the little booklet five of six interviewed students are girls. This makes future students skeptical: “they seem to want to prove something”.
I think everybody benefits from honesty. Male and female.

Translation: (above) "Fokke en Sukke so not understand Eerdmans" (left) "Women cannot punish tough enough?!" (right) "I don't think that guy is married!"

Translation: (above) "Fokke en Sukke do not understand Eerdmans" (left) "Women cannot punish tough enough?!" (right) "I don't think that guy is married!"

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3 Responses to “Powerchick II”

  1. ingrid says:

    I think this is a very interesting discussion, but probably one where we will not find a conclusion. We are not that many women in Physics, true. But compared to 100 years ago we are a lot. And here we have to thank all the women, who fought for the right to allow women at universities and other hurdles present in the last century.
    I always would like to see more women in science and I am sure that most of our male colleagues also like the idea. But I am also strongly against some “quotas” for example “50% of the staff scientists should be female” or something like this. There are only ~15% women studying Physics (except in Italy) so then, if at all, the quota should be at that level. It just should be handled fair, so that all people have an equal chance.

    And what I would always like to understand is the fact that in some countries the number of female Physics students is so much higher, for examle in Italy? In Germany there are many programs, from summer universities for teenage girls to get an idea about a technical subject, as well as tutoring programs etc. All this to convince the jung girls to go for such a subject. But I have the feeling that the overall number is not increasing significantly. We were 10% when I studied and there are still 10% …

  2. Zoe Louise Matthews says:

    Ingrid, I agree that pushing for 50% women (or as some men have suggested to me, >50%) is not the solution. When people today complain and blame the low numbers on sex discrimination a little bit of me thinks, come on, look around you. Complaining about what women all those years ago fought for, what they achieved. We have the choice to do what we WANT with our careers. There’s no social stigma, in fact its actively encouraged. Those of us who choose to be physicists and work for it should be proud of making the most of what women once couldn’t. Some male attitudes are still sucky about successful women – they will learn. But positive discrimination certainly won’t teach them.

  3. Zoe Louise Matthews says:

    Oh, also I work with a woman from Italy who once explained the more women phenomenon to me but I have forgotten some of the story. I think it has something to do with scholarships – research in Italy is funded very well and more women choose to do it so they can stay there. I’ll ask her to remind me and I’ll let you know.

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