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Gender and Science

Flora's picture

Princesses, Cosmo and Art: Alternative Approaches to Physics Pedagogy

Much has been written on the alternatives to the mystical physics pedagogy paradigm. Serious feminist scholars have critiqued, provided new examples and thought this problem out very thoroughly. However, despite this body of literature, at least one professor at a women's college believes that innovation in upper level physics courses is impossible without an overall culture change throughout all schools. Is it really true that women cannot succeed in physics without following archaic lecture and recitation pedagogical methods? Are modern curricular innovations, common in other disciplines, incompatible with masculine, sophisticated physics? This paper will present several descriptions of what new pedagogies designed especially for women might look like. Keep in mind that these are meant to be humorous. I am interested in exploring stereotypes of women-specific curricula. Hopefully, the absurdity of these approaches will prove the absurdity of the claim that innovative pedagogical methods are impossible. It is possible that a few of the suggestions may be useful, but doubtful. The innovations that scholars have suggested for women and minorities in physics are not groundbreaking. Indeed, the claim that minority-friendly methods cannot be implemented is as offensive as many of the suggestions outlined in this paper.

I. Introduction

Pemwrez2009's picture

Science Report


General Studies 254: Gender and Science

Professors Anne Dalke and Elizabeth McCormack

Paper 4: Final Paper


Abstract: After having met with the two of you I did a lot of thinking about how I wanted my final paper to represent what I have taken from this past term, what I am passionate about, and how I would like to see the world of science—but more specifically, physics transition to becoming a more accessible and rewarding experience for those who struggle in the sciences though still have a passion.

Rebecca's picture

A Feminist Exploration of Ecology

Feminism is the constantly evolving, diverse movement that critiques and works to change the power structures that exclude and victimize groups of people. Feminist wave theory is a framework that divides feminism since the nineteenth century into three main waves. Each wave contains wide diversity within itself but all of the waves share the goal of education reform. Education is a structure in our society that can exclude groups or can empower groups. In this paper, I will discuss the field of ecology in a feminist framework. To begin I will explain ecology and the wave framework that I will be using to explore it. I will end with a creative piece inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s Interactive Phases of Curricular Re-Vision: A Feminist Perspective.

sky stegall's picture

Herself: An Indeterminate Short Story

Herself.She didn’t know if her cat was alive or dead.It was a common problem, she reflected bitterly, staring at the equations on the page in front of her.  Common enough that almost everyone in the room had been through it, or something similar.  Although really, in this case, “similar” was stretching it.  The page on her desk was vaguely describing a quantum system and asking her questions about it – in a sense, asking whether the cat was alive or dead.  But she wasn’t particularly focused on the metaphorical cat’s morphological status; instead she was wondering about college.  She had applied to several, and finally received letters in return from each, but (having decided she would rather find it all out at once, rather than stretch the process out more), she hadn’t opened any yet.  Yesterday, however, when she got home from school, she had found the very last envelope sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for her.  She had stared at it for a while, then nonchalantly dropped it into the pile of the others, reasoning that it was more urgent to study for her upcoming physics final than to find out about schools.  Besides, she didn’t know yet which one she wanted to attend.That was the problem, really, at least part of it – why she hadn’t opened her letters yet.  She didn’t know what she wanted them to say and was somehow desperately afraid that she would be inexplicably, unpredictably crushed by the results.  She really liked predictability, actually, and had had a great time studying statistics in school and then teaching herself more advanced math in her free time.  She knew her odds for getting into each of the schools to which she applied, but somehow those numbers were not comforting, and they were certainly not making her decision for her.She looked up from the physics exam and scanned the classroom.  Sixteen males (hard to call them boys at this age, but too depressing to think of them as men) and three other females.  That put her in the minority already, but to subdivide further she was the only girl really interested in the subject – certainly the only one applying to college.Ah, college.  Where?  Why?  And what would it be like?  She’d heard horror stories from her mother about college, but she was fairly certain they were fictional, as her mother had never gone to one herself (except possibly for parties, and if that were the case she would never mention those stories).  She had also heard, from her mentoring physics and chemistry teacher, that while college was the challenge you wanted it to be, it wasn’t always fun and it wasn’t often kind.  But it was worth it, he emphasized.  Worth it.  Was there an equation for worth?  She could easily do the math for four years of tuition at each of her prospective colleges: about $40k a year at the small, out-of-state liberal arts college with the amazing physics program, less than half that at the big, in-state research university or the other big university where her sister was becoming a teacher (no physics program at all), and much, much less to live at home and attend the local community college and learn… what?  Was it true that you got what you paid for?  Was it true that the research universities would ignore her as an undergrad, while the liberal arts school couldn’t prepare her for graduate school at all?Could they give her what she wanted?  Did she even know what she wanted?  Had she even gotten in?  How was the damn cat today?  And how long would it stay that way?  She turned, as if remembering, to her physics exam, and began to work through the problems.  At least these have a determinate answer, she thought, even if it is a simplification of the realities involved.  At least it’s determinable.Her Mother.Sara was worried sick about her youngest daughter.  She’d been worried enough when that daughter refused to take home economics and insisted that she needed to learn calculus instead – when on earth would any normal person use that stuff?  Enough math to multiply recipes and calculate discounts, sure, but calculus?  What did that have to do with real life?  Sara couldn’t understand why her daughter buried herself in textbooks as if they were boyfriends and fretted over exams and college applications.  They’d had a loud conversation about college, and Sara had made it clear she saw no need for it and, as such, would not be paying for it.But her daughter had simply smiled, and said, “Alright, mom.  That’s fine.  I’ve got to learn to fend for myself anyway,” and left the room.  Sara was beginning to suspect she didn’t have as much control over her daughter as she’d always assumed, and she wasn’t sure yet if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  Her other daughter had gone to college, of course, but that was to learn about teaching little children, which shouldn’t have required college but that was the law now, so Sara allowed it.  It was one thing for a woman to work hard at helping people and educating children and making the world a safer, better, easier, cleaner place, and another thing entirely to waste one’s parents’ money studying things with names like Chaos and String theoryAt any rate, she certainly couldn’t get her strange child to come out with her on her work, which was so important to the community.  Sara belonged to every church committee ever invented, and ran half of them.  She was a Good Person, really; serving food to the homeless, singing hymns and praying over people at the hospice, organizing Crop Walks and fund-raising 5k’s and youth group lock-ins.  Sara was saving the world, her own way, paying strict attention to what went on in the world and not only voting to use her voice, but also making sure everyone around her knew how she voted, and why, and why they should vote like her, too.She thought about things like calculus, and physics, and how they never solved the world’s problems.  What was physics doing about world hunger?  And what would physics do about her daughter’s hunger, when she couldn’t find a decent job or a decent man who already had one?  Would physics be there for her when she was old and dying, the way Sara was there for the people in the hospice?  Medicine she could have understood – being a nurse was a noble profession, of course, but Sara despaired of her daughter doing anything so useful.Her Boyfriend.John wasn’t always sure about her.  She could be so straightforward one day – smart and funny and interesting and obviously enamored of him – and go completely weirdo the next.  Like, all of a sudden she’s so worried about this college thing.  The concept of college was easy for John.  He was going to his father’s alma mater, already accepted by their ROTC program, and he was going to very nearly follow in his father’s footsteps – instead of the Special Ops officer his father had been, nothing would do for John but to become a pilot.  His only trepidation about it was the math.  The recruiting officers were quite impressed with John’s scores in his math classes, since that was apparently important for the job, and he had of course never mentioned that his girlfriend helped him on all his homework.  John firmly believed that men and women were wired differently, and that even if his girl was a fluke in the math department, she would never be the kind of pilot he knew he could be.  It was a matter of potential, as far as John could see.  He had it and she didn’t, no matter what their teachers said, because everyone knew men were better at math, and spatial relations, and anyway the recruiting officer had told him they were phasing out their female pilots because they hesitated too much on the simulators.  So even though he was quite confident about his own future, he couldn’t quite see where his current girlfriend fit into it.  They’d been together for a couple of years now, and he was working on a way to break up with her.  The problem, of course, was her damn college decision – if she chose the same school he was going to, which she had of course applied to, then they could stay together until something better came along for him.  Otherwise, breaking up would be fairly easy – time, distance, and new interests and commitments would pull them apart like magnets aligned north to north.Anyway, they’d never work out in the end, because both of their chosen professions – assuming she ever did make it to being a tenured physicist at a university – would involve a lot of moving around.  He’d have to go through years of training and then tours of duty, of course, and she’d talked about graduate schools, plural, and post-doc’s, and how long it could take to find a position… no.  John would prefer a woman who followed him around or, better yet, stayed put with the kids, someone he could come home to.Her Physics TeacherTom was so proud of her.  He’d watched his students mostly slog out the door after their exam, and had carefully watched his one star pupil (knowing she’d never know that about herself; he certainly wasn’t going to tell her!) leave a little more thoughtfully than the others.  He figured today was the day she’d make her college decision.  Tom knew about her resolution to open all the envelopes at once, since as her favorite teacher he was also a kind of mentor and she told him that kind of thing.He rather liked being her mentor.  She was a brilliant mathematically-minded student, and asked really good questions when she visited him between classes or during lunch.  It was hardly odd that she never spoke in class – most high school students don’t, not in physics – but he looked forward to their short and almost daily chats.  She was someone to discuss physics with in a small, rural, under-educated area, even if she was still on such a low student level.He’d told her once she was a novitiate in the grand mysteries of physics, and she had seemed so pleased.  She worked hard and studied hard and Tom appreciated her dedication to the discipline.  He knew she’d never make it to her desired spot, of course – who gave women tenure, even now?  Well, to pushy, unfeminine women of course, they were all feminists and lesbians and she didn’t seem to be either one.  He had great hopes for her in graduate school, however, and felt sure she would become someone’s prized assistant in due course.Tom had tried to encourage her to go to the same big research university he’d attended, and while she had agreed to apply there was no telling if she would decide to go there.  It was not a matter of getting in, of course, because Tom had excellent work there both as an undergrad and a graduate student and had retained a lot of his connections.  It was how you got things done in this business, as in so many others.  And anyway, pulling strings wasn’t nepotism if you really did have the skills to get the job.  And she had the skills, no doubt about that.  She was even beginning to crack the complex codes of quantum mechanics, an area of physics her burnt-out classmates could only struggle half-heartedly with this late in the semester.  Tom couldn’t really believe she understood it fully, however, because she insisted on determinism when there wasn’t any, and resisted the idea that one might find any kind of mysticism in science, especially in physics, even though Tom knew that’s where most of it lived.  What could be mysterious in chemistry, the other class he’d taught her in?  Only the parts of chemistry that crossed over into physics and became quantum mechanical were, and they hadn’t had any of that in the chemistry curriculum.  Now, however, he had time to show her some of the secrets of the universe and was enjoying seeing her grasp them slowly.Her Guidance CounselorGail had positively beamed as she wrote her college application recommendations.  Here was a girl who wanted to do physics!  Here was a girl willing to stand up to the injustice in the system and fight back!  And here, of course, was a girl just sane enough and just determined enough to make it work.  Gail thought back to her own days in college and remembered what she had faced.  She had wanted to be a chemist, but that was not an option for her, not in that time and place.Gail’s mind floated over old, painful memories – being harassed and teased, having her homework stolen out of her professor’s drop-box, being told she couldn’t do science, being called a “silly little girl” and told to go home.  Gail hadn’t gone home.  She’d gone back to her dorm and cried to her unsympathetic roommate, who was majoring in Boys with a minor in Fine Arts and had no idea why anyone would willingly subject themselves either to science classes or to the hell women caught for taking them.  As old as those memories were, and as long as it had been since Gail really looked at them, they were still pretty painful.  Still, she reminded herself, times have changed.  This girl will never have her dorm room plastered with pictures of naked women while she’s working in the lab.  This girl won’t have drinks spilled on her “accidentally” at parties when some dumb jock asks her what her major is.  And maybe she’ll have a decent advisor, not the sullen, resentful man Gail knew so briefly.  Gail had switched majors after two years.  She changed to child development, not only because she couldn’t stand the chemistry department any longer, but also because she had decided that if she herself couldn’t do science for a living, she was going to help and encourage other girls to do it.  She found being a guidance counselor thankless, for the most part, but not hollow enough to quit – there was always one in every class she really thought needed her.

eli's picture

The Story of An X (Twice Told)

A Story of an X

A Twice Told Tale

By Liz Newbury



When two letters love each other, after a time they will naturally create a wider vocabulary. This is what happened in the case of O and P. They were expecting to create a charming little N or a curvy little C, something that would fit well into the scheme of science. That was where all the good letters went, you know. Into science or engineering or chemistry. They were quite surprised when the nurse came out and declared,

rmalfi's picture

Lunch Time Talk: A Performance by R.Malfi & Sky

Description of final performance:

Sky and I decided to stage one of our regular post-class lunch discussions for the class. The conversation took on the form of the discussion we would be about to have after our last Gender and Science class. We thought this would be an entirely appropriate format, given that we actually did extend our conversations beyond the classroom in this way. I can’t say that I have done that with many other classes, which is a shame, because it felt really good to have those very stereotypically “college” conversations. It was a sign that I was learning a lot from this course.

rmalfi's picture

Feminism: The Ecological Practice of Science

Feminism: The Ecological Practice of Science

Rosemary Malfi

I. Introduction: Ecology and the Feminist Critique of Science

Like many successful lesson plans, I choose to start this piece with definitions. Let us take a look at the etymology of the word ecology. The prefix eco- comes from the Greek word oikos, meaning “house” or “dwelling” and –ology refers to logia, which means “study of.” Therefore, the field of Ecology is literally “the study of the house or dwelling.” You might be asking yourself, “Isn’t ecology about plants and animals? What does a house have to do with it?” I answer this question with another, albeit less ancient, definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ecology is “The science of the economy of animals and plants; that branch of biology which deals with the relations of living organisms to their surroundings, their habits and modes of life, etc.” In some rudimentary way, ecology is about plants and animals, but more accurately, ecology encompasses the study of all living organisms on this earth, small and large, and how they interact with each other and the environment.

Flora's picture


I have three hours to complete my digital clock in my last advanced Physics lab of the second semester of my junior year. In front of me, I have a soldering iron, a partially completed breadboard and ten fingers that are shaking. The shaking makes the chips on my violet nail polish even more revolting. I sit on my hands, now a barrier between myself and the lab bench. The seven other seats in the lab are each filled with a male college student plugging in their iron, pulling out more solder from its sweet coil, studying their circuit diagrams (neater than mine) and not seeing the hands of the only female student shake because I am sitting on them. Problem solved. But how to get through the next three hours handless?

Pure science does not need hands. That's what he told me. Professor White did, my academic knight in shining armor. After that first semester, no, the first exam freshman year. Pure science is not about hands or things, he said, but thought experiments. Einstein-theoreticians predict the world before hands discover it. Your hands, your body is not what is important. He did not know-- the years at the barre, the exquisite pleasure of watching, no feeling, no both, your leg curving, the calf muscles clenching into the pointed toe. But ballet was not a profession; college was for professions and there was no ballet major here. Just now, this required physics course. He did not know-- Your grade on this final is so high, if I curved to you, everyone else in the class would fail, he said. I write the exams expecting everyone to fail. But you, you are brilliant, no your mind is brilliant. I don't know how you knew that much without coming to class regularly-- I knew: 3 days and nights alone with the text book, alone feeling the pot of coffee imbibed sawing its way through my temple, alone reading the theories until fluent in the symbols and equations, alone with the constants, unreal numbers that do not change (genius. what other truth does not change?), the laughing voices of the drunk girls in the hall searing my heart till I cry on the calculator, why this need to be perfect?

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