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Females in Traditionally Male Fields

June 14, 1987|JANICE MALL

A man and his son were riding a motorcycle and got into a serious accident. They were both unconscious and rushed to the hospital. It was established that the son needed surgery immediately. He was wheeled into the operating room when the surgeon walks in and says, "I cannot operate on this patient for he is my son." How is this possible?

The answer seems obvious, but in the view of the Project on the Status and Education of Women, which has issued a report on women entering traditionally male fields, the answer does not come quickly if at all to most people because of stereotypical thinking. The surgeon, of course, is the patient's mother.

This example of how deeply rooted stereotypical thinking is, even in the young psyches of the '80s, is one of a number of issues the project examined. Its report, titled "Looking for More Than a Few Good Women in Traditionally Male Fields," is part of the organization's continuing attempt to find out how the nation's campuses discourage women who are talented in such fields as math, science and medicine and how this can be remedied. The Project on the Status and Education of Women is a part of the Washington-based Assn. of American Colleges.

In its previous reports on the "chilly campus climate" for women, the project documented the kinds of discrimination, both overt and subtle, that plague women in undergraduate and graduate programs.

The recent report looks extensively at the women students in non-traditional studies, who they are and how they respond to prejudice.

According to a 1985 study of undergraduate women who choose to major in science, men and women come to science careers differently. While both men and women who decided to major in science were similar in SAT scores, grades, educational level of their parents and commitment to a science major from their freshman year in college, women's choices seemed to be shaped more by their family backgrounds than were men's. Men were more influenced by their successes in science courses.

Female science majors were more likely than other women to have mothers who work at relatively prestigious occupations. Women students who place a high priority on traditional family and personal goals are least likely to major in science. In something of an indictment of the status of sensitivity to sex equality in high schools, the research found that the college women who reported that they had been influenced by high school teachers and counselors were less likely to major in science than women who did not have such guidance.

The National Science Foundation has found that many women who plan to be scientists, engineers and mathematicians abandon those ambitions before they ever get to college, and this drop-out phenomenon continues through college. Of those women who enter college considering a major in science, only 50% follow through (compared to 69% of men), and women are less likely than men to go on for graduate degrees in science.

The Project on the Status and Education of Women attributes women's failures to pursue "masculine" career studies partly to the daunting effects of discrimination in what are still largely male worlds, and partly to different socialization and styles of men and women.

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