Summers Is A-Coming In, Loudly Sing "Cuckoo!" the experts say
Harvard President Larry Summers has apologized for his cuckoo suggestion that the absence of women in the higher echelons of science and math might be due to women’s “intrinsic” weakness. But why President Summers resorted to speculation in the first place remains as incomprehensible to me as, well, math. There are — to paraphrase romance novelist Barbara Cortlandt — an “innumerable number” of reasons, right under his very nose. Here are just a few:
  1. Women are judged by their looks, both by prospective spouses and prospective employers, which is why nine out of ten women are on a diet at any given time. This means keeping a running tally in their heads of the number of calories they consumed that day, dividing the overage by x to determine how many calories they must subtract from their diet and over how many days (y) to achieve the weight loss necessary to fit into the red dress they bought two (2) sizes too small. Who has time for calculus?
  2. Little girls are too good at math. It’s their precocious grasp of math that leads them to realize when reading “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” that
    1. there are only two kinds of men in the world, dwarves and Prince Charmings; and
    2. the odds of them finding the Prince are seven to one.
    That’s why little girls don’t do math; it’s too depressing.
  3. Even if little girls do soldier on, K-12 math problems show an unconscious bias towards boys, who, for reasons best known to Freud, are fascinated by trains rushing towards one another at variant speeds. Why not pose problems that might interest girls? Read Ivana Trump’s explanation of how she buys bras:

    “I go to Bloomingdale’s, to the 9th floor, and I buy 2000 of the white, 2000 of the beige, 2000 of the black…Then six months later, I go back and do it all over again.”

    Now multiply 6000 by two, divide by 365 and multiply again by two to solve for: How many breasts does Ivana Trump have?

    Little girls solving problems like these might grow up to be economists, solving even more important questions, like “Is it possible to have too much money?”

And speaking of economics, President Summers might have also turned for an answer to why women are absent in the higher echelons of science to the things women are good at, like, well…
  1. Economics. Okay, maybe not Rational Choice, a school of economics which is rigorously mathematical (i.e. which excludes any reality that doesn’t conform to its mathematical models), but Behavioral Economics, which looks at how people actually behave. While Rationalists got caught up in the irrational exuberance of the 90’s bubble, women looked at how the A-list traders spent their nights — stuffing C-notes into the G-strings of exotic dancers — and decided to invest in real estate. They don’t need to teach.
  2. Women are good at history. They remember the “science” of Phrenology, in which measurements of the skull “explained” the inferiority of non-Caucasian peoples. They remember the words of that eminent Victorian Matthew Arnold “explaining” that the thicker lips of people of African descent made it impossible for them to pronounce Latin correctly and therefore to teach Latin. They are therefore suspicious of any science which is more narrative than fact, particularly when the narrative serves to justify discrimination or at least to make discrimination moot, like the psycho(evolutionary)babble that led President Summers to pose his ill-considered question. Because finally, women are good at…
  3. Logic. Taking the logic of evolutionary psychology to its own extreme, the evolutionary advantage of evolutionary psychology is to tell a story that pleases the people in power, to wit, a story that reinforces the prejudices and paradigms that keep them in power.
Come to think of it, that could answer the question I started out with, why President Summers resorted to speculation in the first place.

Or is that too cuckoo?

Read the response of KC Cole, author

Read the response of Ellen DuBois, Professor of History

Read the response of Jonathan Rowe, director of the Tomales Bay Institute

Author KC Cole says, “As the physicist Wolfgang Pauli once said to an eager student who asked the great man if he thought the student's theory was wrong: ‘It’s not even wrong.’” Read on
Professor Ellen DuBois says, “Everything that Emily Levine writes is just cuckoo enough to be true.  I’m surprised she left out the old joke used to explain women’s sudden loss of skill at math...” Read on
Jonathan Rowe says, “It is not entirely whacko, or cuckoo, to suggest that there are innate differences between men and women...’” Read on