The ‘Woman Question’ and Higher Education
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The ‘Woman Question’ and Higher Education

Perspectives on Gender and Knowledge Production in America

Edited by Ann Mari May

This uniquely interdisciplinary study offers a provocative, contemporary look at the ‘Woman Question’ in relation to higher education at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Leading feminist scholars from a wide variety of perspectives and disciplines — including history, philosophy, education, psychology, sociology, and economics — evaluate the role of biology, discrimination, and choice in rationalizing women’s exclusion from fully participating in the process of knowledge production, as well as examining institutional impediments. Contextualizing arguments against women’s inclusion and including contemporary perspectives on gender, this book offers a rich, multi-layered examination and critical insights into understanding the near universal difficulties that women encounter as they seek to participate fully in the process of knowledge production.
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Chapter 5: Women in Science – and Elsewhere

Virginia Valian


5. Women in science—and elsewhere1 Virginia Valian Why are there so few women in science, especially at the top? Hold on a minute. Is that the right question? That phrasing implies that science is different from other fields. But is it? In one way, science does differ from other fields. A smaller percentage of women get advanced degrees in most of the natural sciences (though not biology) than in most of the social sciences, the humanities, medicine, law, business, or nursing. But in another way, science is the same as other professions: women make less money and advance through the ranks more slowly—not just in the natural sciences but in every profession (see Valian 1998; 2005a; 2005b), including nursing (Robinson and Mee 2004). The ubiquity of women’s under-representation at the top gives us important information about where to look to understand women’s underrepresentation in science. We need to look below the surface of any particular field to understand how we evaluate people in professional settings, and we need to understand which features of organizations give men more opportunities to be successful. We have two questions to answer. First, why do so few women reach the top, even in fields like nursing and restaurant cooking, and second, why are women consistently under-represented in most of the natural sciences? I will provide the same explanation for both problems—a combination of gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage. But let’s eliminate two other possible reasons first. One reason...

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