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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gender bending OSU student recruits women into science and engineering

VIDEO: gender bending Oregon State University pre-Computer Science Student Savannah Kay Loberger started a summer camp called "Girls Get It" designed to recruit more women students into science and engineering at OSU is featured in a TV news report by Valerie Hurst, "Tired of being only girl on robotics team, Hillsboro girl does something about it," posted Jul. 8, 2014, viewed on KATU TV news broadcast July 8, 2014 4:48PM.

Fifty years ago, you could probably have counted the number of female students in engineering at Oregon State University with the fingers on one hand, and everyone assumed it was because of rampant sexism in society that expected women to be "barefoot and pregnant" in the kitchen taking care of raising the family.

Over the last 50 years, the women's liberation movement has been successful in bringing parity to most occupations, but not in the science and engineering professions, which are still dominated by men. The percentage of female engineers has risen, but not as much or as quickly as other academic fields. The one exception has been the fairly new discipline of Computer Science where relatively more women have succeeded than in the older engineering disciplines, such as Mechanical Engineering.

The reasons for this gender disparity are not clear because there has been much effort spent by college administrators, professional societies and corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard's college recruiting program that was redesigned decades ago to proactively help females or minority students obtain their college degree and start a successful career.

A foundational postulate of the women's equality movement has always been that all men and women are created equal and neither should be constrained in their choice of profession due to the traditional gender roles defined by society. For example, any man should feel free to become a hairdresser just as any women should feel free to become an auto mechanic.

The assumption has always been that workplace discrimination against women (and even men in a few professions) is only a social construction that can be changed -- and this is a theory that has been bolstered over the last few decades by the rising equality between men and women in many professions that were traditionally segregated by gender.

As a result, it has been politically incorrect for anybody to merely suggest that biological differences between humans might make one person more or less successful in certain occupations.

However, I believe that the gender axis (masculinity to femininity) is an independent variable from the axis of biological sex (male to intersex to female) and it is also independent from the axis of sexual orientation (asexual to homosexual to bisexual to heterosexual).

I am not ashamed to discuss the idea that biology may encourage some people to be attracted to certain professions depending on how butch or fem they are instead of it being related to their biological sex of male or female.

I have evolved to this opinion after decades of watching the gender dynamics of gay people, most of who will insist that they are fully male or female, except for wanting to love somebody of the same-sex. I have also noticed that the gay men, who get the angriest when somebody suggests they are an effeminate queen, are usually the most effeminate acting men and they have been teased about it all their lives about it. Given this sensitivity, I have always been careful not to further traumatize them by letting them know how everybody views them as a nervous nelly swishy hairdresser type.

My point is that gay men prove the idea that biological sex is an independent variable from gender behavior or expression, and the relative success of masculine-acting gay men versus effeminate acting gay men in professions traditionally associated with wither men or women might provide some useful insights for researchers.

My caveat is that what I am talking about are not binary (e.g. yes or no, on or off) variables and they are continuous variables, which makes every human a unique combination of masculine-feminine and gay-straight, but most people like to simplistically pigeonhole everybody into a binary description of being either gay or straight, and either male or female. However, good scientists know that studying continuous statistical variations between groups of humans can yield useful insights and a better understanding of human nature.

For example, it is well accepted that human intelligence can be statistically measured in many different ways to sort people into those who will probably succeed in college and those that might flunk out. However, it is also well known that self-educated individuals, who were cast as being stupid, have gone on to be considered geniuses later in life. Therefore, it would be a mistake to use such statistics to limit anybody, just as it would be to use statistics on masculine-acting individuals, whether male or female, and prevent them from becoming an engineer or auto mechanic.

Instead, I hope that advances in gender identity science will be used to make discoveries that can help everyone, but I realize and accept that this area of research is so controversial that it will take some brave and creative researchers to do make any breakthrough discovery.

Kim Kraemer shown working on a car engine in a newspaper business page story by Mike McCraken, 'Woman mechanic fits in well,' Gazette-Times, Mar. 13, 1980, p. 13

PHOTO: (click photo to enlarge) from 34 years ago, a newspaper article by Mike McCraken, "Woman mechanic fits in well," Gazette-Times, Mar. 12, 1980, p. 13. (See previous post Kim Kraemer auto mechanic 1980 (11/7/09). In the 1970's Kim started as a Mechanical Engineering major at Oregon State University, despite the fact that everyone around her tried to discourage her from trying to enter a "male profession."

UPDATE 7/18/14 -- after I wrote the extemporaneous blog post above on the continuous variable axis of sexual orientation and gender identity, a Portland, Oregon gay newspaper published two, more polished essays on the topic for trans women: