On Women

by katyhuff

Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzche agreed on little except that the female of our species lacks the capacity for genius, particularly genius in the sciences, mathematics, and formal logic. Modern society trusts these thinkers with higher order logic, and it seems, also our treatment of the second sex.

But, today is international women’s day, so today, let us rethink these men and their ilk.

In addition to this claim about genius, seemingly logical paths have been followed to other appalling conclusions. For instance, the notion that the female is equipped with inferior machinery to that of her male counterpart is a hard one for me to counter. After all, my female body is often slower, weaker, softer and all other manner of inferior to those of many males. Similarly I know few counterexamples to the happy observation that the ability to give birth has gifted women with a singular love for the care of others. The caveat, of course, is that seemingly predisposed to this genre of selflessness and tenderness, females often take up a place in society all too subservient and docile.

Certainly, successful arguments for and against each of these notions may be and have been made, but I am not equipped to make them. Let us speak here of genius.

And of science, of physics, of math, let us also speak of these skills.

A very intelligent cartoonist pointed out, biology is just chemistry, and chemistry is just physics, and physics, of course, is all just math. Ten women have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, four in Chemistry, two in Physics and zero have won the Field’s medal, the Nobel Prize of Math, as it were. With this, we’re left with a plethora of evidence that seems to point to a notion that women are better equipped for the derivative sciences than the fundamental ones.

Clearly, women don’t excel at the ‘hard sciences’, by any measure, in great numbers. However, there are certainly exceptions to be found in the Hypatias and Curies of the world, clearly geniuses in mathematics and fundamental physics. Plenty of women, Lise Meitner, Gertrude Goldhaber, Grace Hopper, have been very near the top, but in a genderless Olympics of science, women rarely win the gold medal.

Of course it’s not innate though. Chemistry is not so unlike physics. It’s full of kinetics and thermodymanics, and has a lot of conservation laws, quirky units, atomic scale phenomena, etc. So, then, with their similarities, why have women excelled in chemistry over the last many decades but continue to blush at physics, math, and computer science?

To wrap this up, I’ll simply direct you to Bertrand Russell. He did not think that “all genius will out”. Rather, he imagined that many of the world’s geniuses are suppressed by unsympathetic environments in their youth, and we never know them.

The environment of today is one with pathetic female media presence, redundant negative reinforcement, stereotype threat, etc. at every turn. Here’s hoping we’ll someday test Russell’s theory of suppressed genius by enacting the counterfactual, a sympathetic environment.