Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gender equality, finally?

The wheel of history keeps on turning. Its relentless movement forward has produced the long delayed – but unavoidable – decision of the Pentagon to lift the ban on female military personnel serving in combat roles. So women will now be given an improved chance to die – and to kill – in battle, in the pursuit of much desired “promotion opportunities”; not to mention the prospect of finally breaking some obstinate “gendered stereotypes about war as ultimately the business of men.” These points are made in a Foreign Affairs article which a few months ago urged – from a female perspective – the Pentagon to “let women fight.” If I were a woman, I would probably not mind that war be regarded as a mostly boys’ sport. But my thinking has perhaps been influenced too much by those entrenched gendered stereotypes. And, in any case, such qualms should not be allowed to block the career paths of women who are less squeamish than me. There is at least one area, though, in which men will not give up their superiority without – well – a fight. 

According to a carefully designed recent study, “male scientists are far more likely to commit fraud than females and the fraud occurs across the career spectrum, from trainees to senior faculty.” And another study, by the way, has found a “ten-fold increase in fraud-related retractions” since 1975 of published findings in biomedical research. Unlike previous studies which had blamed such retractions mostly on technical errors, this one concludes that in most cases retractions have resulted from misconduct rather than sloppiness. So, yet another area of significant female inferiority, this time not just perceived but real; which may make female scientists less competitive and willing to lug the burden of a demanding scientific career. Come to think of it, this lingering female weakness could also disqualify many smart women from some of the highest-paying white collar jobs. And this is perhaps a reality no government decree can change overnight.