Romance-Oriented Women Avoid Science

We found what is likely to be controversial news from the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system. Their website has this article: Women’s Quest for Romance Conflicts with Scientific Pursuits, Study Finds. We know we’ve got your attention, so here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Four new studies by researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that when a woman’s goal is to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from academic majors and activities related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Your Curmudgeon, always a gentleman, expresses no opinion. Let’s read on:

The studies, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, were undertaken to determine why women, who have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace over the past few decades, continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of STEM.

It’s not bigotry? Judge for yourself. Here’s a link to the published study: Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes Toward Math and Science. It’s a 16-page pdf file, and you can read it all online. We continue with the university’s news article:

Lead author Lora E. Park, PhD, UB associate professor of psychology and her co-authors, found converging support for the idea that when romantic goals are activated, either by environmental cues or personal choice, women — but not men — show less interest in STEM and more interest in feminine fields, such as the arts, languages and English.

“When romantic goals are activated”? Activated? Egad! Here’s more:

Park says, “When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science. One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms.

We don’t need to excerpt much more, because we know you’re going to click over there to read this stuff in full. One more excerpt should be sufficient:

“Gender scripts discourage women from appearing intelligent in masculine domains, like STEM,” Park says, “and in fact, studies show that women who deviate from traditional gender norms, such as succeeding in male-typed jobs, experience backlash for violating societal expectations. On the other hand, men in gender-incongruent occupations don’t experience the same degree of backlash as women do.”

Gotta love the terminology — “gender-incongruent occupations.” Is it true that men who pursue such are still seen as manly men? Perhaps that’s something for another study.

Okay, dear reader, that’s it. We must confess that we have doubts. It’s always been our sense of it that the lovely ladies who read this blog are — in the jargon of the study — fully activated. We await your tasteful comments.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Romance-Oriented Women Avoid Science

  1. One example of men in “gender-incongruent occupations” is the extremely rare male librarian (of which I am one). The women in my profession outnumber us by nearly 4-to-1.

  2. WebMonk says:

    One example of men in “gender-incongruent occupations” is the extremely rare male librarian

    That one didn’t come to mind, maybe because I always think of the library of Alexandria. I was thinking more of “nurturing” occupations, like kindergarten teacher, or nursing.

  3. One example of men in “gender-incongruent occupations” is the extremely rare male librarian

    English literature and psychology are female-dominated.

  4. Masculine and feminine fields? WTF?
    If we are going to drag out the sexist stereotypes, then frankly the sciences should be considered feminine fields. Lots of attention to detail and perceptually fine distinctions required. If you need a lab assistance who can tell when the solution turns from umber to walnut, which sex you gonna pick?

  5. Human sexuality can be analyzed and dissected – like a frog. Problem is, the thing dies in the process, and the results are unsatisfying to everyone but the kind of purely scientific mind that comes up with sterile phrases like “gender-incongruent occupations.” I’d love to hear author Lora E. Park “talk dirty”, or describe a hot date! Clinical accuracy is great, but it ain’t everything…

  6. RetiredSciGuy

    A more interesting study to me would be one that pursues the historical roots of this gender-bias, and would attempt to answer why it has come about.

    Marie Curie didn’t give a rat’s patootie if her interest in nuclear chemistry would make her appear less than feminine.

  7. I feel very strongly that a STEM background makes a woman more desirable.

  8. James F says: “I feel very strongly that a STEM background makes a woman more desirable.”

    Hollywood agrees. All the disaster movies have a female scientist who really knows her stuff, and she’s always a dish. You’ve seen the films — a gorgeous geologist who knows all about volcanoes, or an astrophysicist who plots the killer asteroid’s trajectory, etc. Lemme tell ya, those ladies are activated!

  9. Okay, what’s wrong with this picture? Their report states (and I quote):

    Four new studies by researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that when a woman’s goal is to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from academic majors and activities related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

    How about “men do the exact, same thing” And Hollywood tends to agree. Forget Pierce Brosnan in “Dante’s Peak”. What is the typical Hollywood stereotype of a STEM male? How about a nerdy-looking guy with black plastic-rimmed glasses that has a 1/2″ diameter of rolled tape around the bridge. Hair that was combed (or combed over) last February. And a pocket protector that weighs a full pound from all of the pens, pencils, protractors (otherwise known as “the three Ps of engineering”), rulers and $7 available-in-the-checkout-line-at-Walmart basic calculator. Flood pants, accessorized by white socks and black shoes.
    And I don’t think Hollywood is alone in that thinking. That’s probably the thinking for many people. Frankly, as I was toiling through engineering classes, all the good looking guys with the hot prospects were going for their business degrees.
    This isn’t a female issue. This is a cultural issue. We love our gadgets and, perhaps by proxy, the engineers who build them. But we want the engineers to be sight-unseen.
    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

  10. Actually I think that increasingly STEM is one of those “jobs Americans won’t do” we’re always hearing about.

  11. RetiredSciGuy

    Gabe, I agree with you. Unfortunately.

  12. Archaeology is an odd profession being not quite a science and not quite an art. This may explain why there’s so many dirty old men like me and dozens of scantily clad young nubiles at excavations. God I love my job…..

  13. Pete Moulton

    I’m with James F on this one: STEM careers make women more attractive, at least to me.

  14. I’m sure I don’t represent most women, but I did learn as a teenager that boys didn’t tend to ask the smart girls out. I loved science and took classes dominated by guys. I enjoyed being different, but still tried to get the guys too. I was a mess in high school and early university. I thought my job was to find a husband, and that that goal was more important than developing a career.*

    I did start university in the sciences, but met a guy who wasn’t a student and moved away with him before finishing. That didn’t last and when I went back to university I ended up in liberal arts. I did finally get a BS, but not with as much of the S as I really wanted.

    I was a fool, but our culture puts a high value on marriage and the pursuit of same. I think married women are still more highly regarded than unmarried ones. This does not seem to be true for men.

    *I never even learned how to “develop a career”.
    I’d like to think that this has changed since then, but I’ve heard my college graduate niece and her younger sister talk about “finding a husband” too often to think it has.

  15. Lynn Wilhelm says: “I did learn as a teenager that boys didn’t tend to ask the smart girls out.”

    That depends. For example: Olivia Judson and Lisa Randall.

  16. Do you know that these women got dates? I don’t know anything about their personal lives, but their careers are fascinating.

    Or, it could be just me! :-)

    I don’t care what others think now, I’m looking for a more science-based career now. Wish I’d done it years ago, though. Maybe I’d have been where Olivia and Lisa are now.

  17. I’m sure I don’t represent most women, but I did learn as a teenager that boys didn’t tend to ask the smart girls out.

    So ask the boys out instead. I can’t imagine your typical 18-yr-old science girl’s yes-to-no ratio would be any worse than, say, mine (was at that age).

  18. Eric, that was rarely done when I was a teenager. It would probably have done worse things to a girl’s reputation, than going without a date. Just the Sadie Hawkins dance.
    I’m teaching my daughter differently now, though.

  19. Lynn, my wife’s high intelligence and technical adroitness were exactly the things that attracted me. Of course, I’m not exactly a prize…

    In any case, if I were female and young and romantically inclined, I’d be all over getting an engineering degree, where I’d be outnumbered by the guys by 20:1 and getting hit on more frequently than a Gold Gloves boxer.

  20. My experience is that guys in my field (molecular bio/ neuroscience) are thrilled to have me there. I’ve dated several scientists. Guys outside of science (or really, academia in general)– not so much. They often don’t like having a girl smarter than they are. But on rare occasions there are guys who love it.

    So I date those guys!

    And all this gender stereo-typing seems questionable.

  21. LRA says:

    My experience is that guys in my field (molecular bio/ neuroscience) are thrilled to have me there.

    We never doubted it.

  22. Just ran across an interesting titbit though. Due in a large part due to CSI and Numbers, women declaring biology, or maths, as their major now outnumber men for the first time.