Invisible occupational barriers need to be broken down
As a researcher of gender equality, I pay special attention to the ratio in scientific fields, including senior positions. For the past few years the ratio of women in the scientific research field generally has been increasing steadily. At present, there are more than 20 million female scientists, accounting for about 40 percent of the total, which represents huge progress.
However, we can see that in senior positions, such as at the national academy level, only 5 percent are women. In many areas there is still a glass ceiling. The reason I pay special attention to the field of scientific research is because it offers a typical example of how cultural development can influence individuals and groups.
For a long time people tended to think females were not fit for scientific research because they are usually emotional and subjective, which does not suit the requirements for research. Scientific operation mechanisms were also under male authority for a long time, and even today women hold fewer than 10 percent of the top positions in the science world. With this in mind, the term “female scientists” ran counter to the masculinity of science and the male authority system. An expert on feminist science history, Margaret Rossiter, said that the perception of female scientists, which is rooted in the 19th century, is paradoxical because scientists are assumed to be rational, serious, non-individual, unemotional and competitive, while women are considered to be the exact opposite. Becoming a scientist is masculine, so women in science face contradictory choices: Being a true woman means she is not scientific, and being a scientist means she is not female, so they have to make adjustments between these contradictory roles. In this view, there is a conflict between females and science, so the number of female scientists in China and their development can show the progress in our society and culture, as well as help us better analyze the situation of gender equality. In modern science, there are still disagreements over whether there are differences in the brains of men and women. Yet there is no convincing evidence that shows women are not fit for scientific research. In fact, more and more research proves that the differences between gender are fewer than we thought. Even though there are differences, we cannot say these will bring advantages or disadvantages. So the concept that women are not fit for science is groundless. The gender ratio in China’s universities and graduate schools are quite balanced, which has helped increase the number of female scientific researchers. Moreover, the great achievements of women such as Nobel laureate Tu Youyou have made society realize that female intelligence and their capabilities in scientific research are no less than that of a man. The increase in women in the field of scientific research, as well as the low number in leading positions, to some extent show China’s social culture.
On one hand, people are recognizing that there are few, if any, differences between the genders as the social culture develops. On the other, in terms of long-term career development, the glass ceiling is still obviously there. We cannot solely rely on the improvements in education to remove the glass ceiling.
What is needed is to break down these invisible gender identifications in occupation; for example, nurses and secretaries are feminine positions, while architects and leaders are more masculine. On the road to gender equality, we not only have to break through stereotypes, but also the outdated ideas of genderspecific occupations.
In fact, more and more research proves that the differences between gender are fewer than we thought.
The author is associate professor of sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai.