Now they say certain phthalates also impact on the developing brain, by knocking out the action of the male hormone testosterone.Dr Shanna Swan and her team tested urine samples from mothers over midway through pregnancy for traces of phthalates.The women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, were followed up when their children were aged four to seven and asked about the toys the youngsters played with and the games they enjoyed.Girls’ playThey found that two phthalates DEHP and DBP can affect play behaviour.Boys exposed to high levels of these in the womb were less likely than other boys to play with cars, trains and guns or engage in “rougher” games like playfighting.
This is fascinating stuff, but also likely to be controversial.
So much of the current narrative around women in technical fields says that, yes, fewer women want to enter certain fields, but that this gap is largely caused by societal pressure for girls to play with certain kinds of toys, and encouraging boys to play with other “power” toys.
This research contradicts that narrative by that by showing that biological differences strongly influence preferences. So it could very well be, as many have proposed, that a much smaller percentage of women find technical fields interesting compared to boys because of this.
So rather than wringing our hands about how to force more women into these fields, we might be able to say that some considerable amount of the difference in interest (and thus the resulting outcomes in tech representation) are a result of natural biology and preferential differences.
This doesn’t mean we should discourage girls and women who do have interest in these fields (we shouldn’t), or that it’s ok to mistreat the women who are already in the fields (it’s not). Just because most women don’t prefer these fields doesn’t mean we should treat poorly the women who do. This should apply to any gender or field where tradition or preference has more women or men.
So, it’s two things:
- Don’t deny the truth that fewer woman may want to do these technical fields for biological reasons, and that this may explain much of the gap in STEM job representation. That’s political correctness out of control and it must be stopped.
- Don’t discourage women from doing what they find interesting, regardless of whether their interests don’t match “most” women. This isn’t the 1950’s. We’re humans, and gender doesn’t need to control what what can want, or should want from life.
The current narrative wants us to believe there are only two choices: either women are biologically inclined to dislike STEM and it’s therefore ok to discourage girls and women from tech, or it’s all a massive conspiracy and women like STEM just as much as men do.
It’s a false dichotomy.
The far more likely truth is that preferences do exist, but that they’re not absolute, and thus many people of any gender or group will prefer things that don’t match what “most” in those groups prefer. And in a civilized society in 2015 we should be encouraging those with diverse interests, not prodding them back into line like cattle who have wondered from the herd.
- Image from telegraph.co.uk.