In­vis­i­ble oc­cu­pa­tional bar­ri­ers need to be bro­ken down

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

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.

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