Women Scientists: Call of the Time


Women of China (English) - - COLUMNS |专栏 -

Irecently read a report about a sample survey, conducted by China Association for Science and Technology, among fifth graders of primary schools, second graders of junior middle schools and second graders of senior middle schools from 23 provinces (autonomous regions and municipality directly under the central government).

The respondents were asked to choose what they hoped to do in the future from among 11 occupations and professions — being a worker, farmer, government official, scientist, engineer, doctor, teacher, soldier/police, journalist/lawyer/writer, singer/film star/sports star and manager/entrepreneur.

The results were interesting; 14.8 percent of the students wanted to be managers or bosses, 13.4 percent wanted to be soldiers or police, 9.6 percent wanted to be teachers, and 9.5 percent wanted to be doctors. Only 7.3 percent wanted to be scientists, which ranked scientists seventh among the 11 professions. That indicated the profession doesn't appeal to teenagers very much, even though science plays an increasingly important role in modern society.

From a gender perspective, only 3 percent of the girls wanted to be scientists. Only 1.5 percent of junior middle school girls and 1.9 percent of senior middle school girls wanted to be scientists. The proportions were much lower compared with that of boys: 11.5 percent of boys wanted to be scientists.

Stimulated by the survey's results, I reread the Investigation and Research on Psychological Disposition Difference Between Boys and Girls in Middle Schools, which was conducted by famous educator Zhong Luzhai (1899-1960) 80 years ago (in 1937). The purpose of Zhong's research was to study the various differences and different needs among students, and to teach students according to their aptitudes and needs. The respondents included more than 600 students in five middle schools, and roughly an equal number of boys and girls. The contents of the survey included academic interests, extracurricular activities, basic necessities of life, marriage and family, politics and religion, and other aspects. I was particularly interested in the students' career preferences, and what kinds of people they admired.

According to Zhong's research, in terms of career preference, the common choices of boys and girls were doctors, merchants, scientists and photographers. Girls also chose to become nurses, primary and middle school teachers, silkworm breeders and embroiderers. Compared with the girls, boys have broader choices of careers, such as customs officers, sailors, journalists, soldiers, bank managers, lawyers, livestock raisers, farmers and engineers.

In terms of the people they admired, both boys and girls admired scientists, farmers and writers. Girls also admired musicians, doctors and teachers. Boys also admired workers, pilots, sailors, musicians, doctors and engineers. The types of people they admired were closely related to the types of professions they preferred.

Zhong believed, due to social environment and individual capability, there was a gender difference between boys and girls when they chose careers, and when they admired people. But one remarkable point was that, regardless of the students' gender, being a scientist was their most preferred profession. They also admired scientists the most.

Over the past 80 years, China has changed from a semicolonial and semi-feudal nation into an independent socialist country, and China has also transformed from an agricultural country into the world's second-largest economy. In the 1930s, girls only accounted for 16.02 percent of all middle school students in China. Nowadays, boys and girls receive all levels of education, on an equal basis. The gender culture of "three obediences" (in ancient China a woman was required to obey her father before marriage, her husband during married life and her sons in widowhood) and "four virtues" (fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and efficiency in needle work) has been abandoned. Women now hold up half the sky. Science and technology have played a significant role during these dramatic changes. Eighty years later, why have primary and middle school students, especially girls, changed their career preferences? I'd like to ponder that question from a gender perspective.

First, against the background of ideological pluralism, the traditional gender culture of men working to earn money and women taking care of the family has invisibly eroded the concept of gender equality. The former stubbornly shows itself during a person's entire life cycle.

In terms of family education, Chinese parents usually buy toy guns for their sons, and they buy dolls for their daughters. Chinese parents also tend to raise their sons in a poor way, and they raise their daughters in a rich way. Chinese parents also have different roles within the family; as the lyrics of a popular song suggest, "talking about life-related issues with the mother, and discussing work-related issues with the father." It is hard for children to receive the family support they need to break through their traditional roles.

In terms of school education, traditionally, women are considered to be good at learning the humanities, while men are considered to be good at learning science and engineering. That seems to have become the "golden standard" in China for educators to teach students based on

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