Physics and Society Jul '97 - Articles

Volume 26, Number 3 July 1997


In this issue we welcome Eliza Stefaniw as the new Articles Editor. The articles for this issue are based upon the theme "women in physics: past, present, future". Unfortunately, this subject has raised some controversy among some recent readers of this journal, but raising and exploring such controversy is one of the reasons for publishing Physics and Society. The "past" is represented by the celebration of the physics life of Madam Wu, given at the April 1997 APS/AAPT meeting in Washington. (Given that other theory confirming experiments have been Nobelized, I have never been able to understand why she was not included ,with Lee and Yang,in the Nobel Prize for the overthrow of parity conservation - perhaps this is a manifestation of the "controversy".) The "present" is illustrated by the article on the status of women in physics in Canada, given at the same meeting. The "future" is represented by current women physics graduate students, one of whom talks about possible pitfalls in her path.

Personal Memories of Chien-Shiung Wu

N. Benczer-Koller

The following talk was given at the APS Meeting in April, 1997

It is an honor to be here today to remember Chien-Shiung Wu, a unique scientist, a very special human being and a friend.

It is impossible in the short time available to cover the breadth and depth of her accomplishments. Nevertheless, I will try, through a few examples, to present to you a flavour of the influence she has had on physics and her impact on the personal and scientific life of her students and collaborators. I will mostly talk about the period in her life preceding the momentous experiment that overthrew the time-held belief that parity was always a conserved quantity. What happened after that discovery is well known history. However, I feel that the story of her life up that point in her career serves as a poignant example of how determination, motivation and the sheer curiosity of how nature operates carried her to new intellectual heights.

Chien-Shiung Wu was born in LiuHe, Jiangsu Province, China, on May 31, 1912 to Wu Zhongyi and Fan Funhua, in a family where education was paramount. Her father had had engineering training, but at that time was the Director of a School for Girls. He wanted women to be educated and ``that every girl have a school to go to''. {1}

Chieng-Shiung graduated from this school in 1922 and had to leave home and travel to Nanjing to continue her studies at the Soochow School for Girls. She had enrolled in the Normal School program which was favoured by women pursuing teaching careers. However, she knew already then, that what interested her was science, especially physics and mathematics. She had to study most of these subjects by herself, with books borrowed from other students. Her father's advice, ``ignore the obstacles and keep walking ahead'', was the motto she followed then, as well as later in life, to overcome the many hurdles that arose in her path throughout her professional life.

In 1930, determined to study physics, she registered at the National Central University in Nanjing. Upon graduation, she worked for two years teaching and started research in x-ray crystallography at the National Academy of Sciences in Shanghai. One of her instructors recommended that she consider continuing graduate work at the University of Michigan. With financial support from an uncle she sailed for America in 1936. Her first stop in the US was at the University of California in Berkeley. Within a few days, she had visited the laboratories, met her future husband who was also a student recently arrived from China, was offered the possibility of continuing her studies and found out, in addition, that women were not allowed in the University of Michigan student union building. She promptly enrolled at Berkeley where she worked under the guidance of Ernest Lawrence and the direct supervision of Emilio Segr\'{e}. Her Ph.D. thesis (1940) involved studies of fission products of Uranium and she earned wide recognition through the identification of two radioactive Xe isotopes.

In 1942 the nation was at war. Chieng-Shiung Wu was able to obtain a teaching position at Smith College. But she was interested in research. While it was very difficult at the time for a woman to obtain a position in a research institution, instructors were needed because most men were serving in the war effort. Thus she moved to Princeton in 1943. In the last move of her career, she was hired by Columbia University in 1944 to work on radiation detectors for the Manhattan Project and she was again in the laboratory.

The war had ended in 1945 at which time she was finally able to take the direction of her career in her own hands. As a result of the war work, several faculty colleagues at Columbia started working on neutron physics. She needed a problem that would be hers, and most important, that would make significant advances in our understanding of nature. She felt very strongly that, as C. N. Yang once said, ``if you choose the right problem you get important results that transform our perception of the underlying structure of the Universe.''

Enrico Fermi had, several years earlier, proposed a theory of beta decay, but the experimental results were not in agreement with the predictions or with each other. Chien-Shiung Wu recognized the importance of the problem and its impact on a fundamental interaction. Chien-Shiung Wu had carried out significant work on fission in California and had worked on perfecting radiation counters during the war. She knew that she needed more sophisticated instrumentation. An iron-free magnetic spectrometer had been constructed before the war at Columbia. Realizing the potential of the instrument, she retrieved it from storage, rebuilt the coils that had frozen because of having been stored with water in them, and started her experiments on the shapes of the spectra of electrons emitted in beta decay. Through her exquisite sense of experimental physics, utter care for precision and reproducibility, she realized that what was required to obtain a correct spectrum of low energy electrons was to prevent electron scattering in the source. Her systematic approach to obtaining ever thinner and thinner sources enabled her to complete a series of superb experiments, which confirmed the Fermi theory of beta decay for allowed transitions and, further, showed that the predictions for the shapes of forbidden transitions were also totally confirmed by experiment. As T. D. Lee described her and her work, ``C. S. Wu was one of the giants of physics. In the field of beta-decay, she had no equal.''

After these experiments which placed her at the top of the profession, and brought her world-wide recognition, she was poised to handle the next challenge, presented to her again by T. D. Lee who wanted to know what the evidence was for parity non-conservation in weak interactions and especially in beta decay. After finishing the beautiful and very challenging experiment on non-conservation of parity in weak interactions she went on to carry out equally elegant, albeit not as momentous, experiments in search for double beta decay, conserved vector current, exotic muonic atoms, search for a breakdown of time reversal invariance, and submicrocopic M\"{o}ssbauer studies of the reactions in hemoglobin that play a role in sickle cell anemia. Beauty and aesthetics were major ingredients of her work, of her demeanor, of her relationship with friends, and of her home.

I worked with Chien-Shiung Wu at Columbia as a graduate student and a postdoctoral fellow from 1953 to 1960. She was at the beginning of this period an associate professor without tenure and a key member of the large Atomic Energy Commission contract that had started during the war as part of the Manhattan project. It wasn't until after the parity work that the recognition, honors, prizes and appreciation she so amply deserved finally came her way. At that time she worked very closely with her graduate students. She appeared early in the laboratory and stayed late and expected everyone to be as totally devoted to physics as she was. On the other hand, her students played the role of her extended family. She cared about our lives and relationships, even wrote to our parents to relate good news on our progress and achievements.

I think I speak for all her graduate students in recognizing that she opened for us the doors of the physics community, inspired us with the highest professional standards, endowed our advisor-student relationship with grace, love and affection, showered us with friendship, encouragement, nurturing and continuous support long, long after we had left her laboratory.

Professor Wu has led in many of the discoveries in nuclear physics in the second half of the 20th century. She has been a teacher to many a generation of nuclear and particle physicists. In her role as President of the American Physical Society, she supported the improvement of teaching physics, mathematics and science. She supported efforts to uphold the freedom of scientists elsewhere in the world. In later years, she devoted much of her time to develop the scientific infrastructure in both China and Taiwan.

There has been much progress since Chien-Shiung Wu first landed in California in 1936, both in physics and in the recognition of professional women, much of it due to the perseverance, enlightment and accomplishment of women like her. We will remember the spirit of dedication to science and to her people that characterized Chien-Shiung Wu.

{1} Many of the biographical notes pertaining to Chien-Shiung Wu's early education in China were taken from the chapter ``Chien-Shiung Wu'' by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, in her book ``Nobel Prize Women in Science'', Birch Lane Press, 1992

N. Benczer-Koller is with the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick NJ

Women in Physics in Canada

Jolanta B. Lagowski and Janis McKenna


A recent international study [1] of women in physics showed that the representation of women in physics departments at the faculty level ranges widely --from a high of 47% in Hungary, 23% in France, Italy and Turkey, 6% in the Netherlands and New Zealand, to surprisingly low values of 3% in Korea and the US In general, the proportion of women in physics decreases as the educational degree level increases [2]. This phenomenon is often referred to in the American literature as the "leaky pipeline" [2].

At the 1995 Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress hosted by Laval University in Quebec, an evening session on Women in Physics was arranged, and among the presentations were results of several surveys of women in physics. Several congress participants asked how Canada compares worldwide with respect to these statistics, as Canada was not listed in the international comparison study [1]. Apparently, statistics have not previously been collected regarding the number of women in faculty positions in physics departments in Canadian academic institutions.

A simple survey, sponsored by CAP, was made to estimate the number of female faculty in Canadian physics departments. This survey was never intended to be as exhaustive as that performed by the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP) of the APS, but it is a first attempt to present quantitative data on women physicists in Canada. A brief summary of the recent female physics graduates at the B.Sc. and Ph.D. levels is also given.

The Survey

Early in the Fall of 1995, the CAP survey was sent to 63 physics departments in colleges, CEGEPs, and universities in Canada, including all 54 CAP member physics departments. The CAP survey that was mailed to Canadian academic institutions is shown below.

1. Does your institute grant PhD's in physics? 2.a. How many students have received a BSc in physics from your department from 1993-95? 2.b. Of these BSc graduates, how many were female? 3.a. How many students have received a PhD in physics from your department from 1993-95?? 3.b. Of these PhD graduates, how many were female? 4.a. How many faculty members are presently in your department? 4.b. Of these faculty members, how many are female? 4.c How many tenured faculty members are presently in your department? 4.d. How many female tenured faculty members are presently in your department? 4.e How many tenure-track faculty members are presently in your department? 4.f How many female tenure-track faculty members are presently in your department? 4.g If 4f + 4d does not equal 4b, or if 4c + 4e does not equal 4a, please state discrepancy. 5. If you have any comments on women in physics issues that you'd like to share with us, please feel free to include any comments. Information supplied by: ______________________________ Position:__________________________________ Department of Physics, University:_________________________________ Phone:______________________________________ Email:______________________________________ Fax:________________________________________

Results and Discussion A total of 40 responses to the survey were received in the late Fall of 1995; 25 were from PhD granting institutions, and 15 from non-PhD granting institutions. The survey data [1] are summarized in Table 1. No attempt was made to verify numbers that were provided to CAP. Percentages were tabulated based on the data given without changes or interpretation (e.g. numbers reported by the respondents as "approximate'' were treated the same way as the more "accurate'' numbers).

Table 1: Summary of survey results (received from 40 Canadian academic institutions and collected in the Fall of 1995) on women in physics in Canada.

				All Canadian Physics Departments
			     Total                     Number of         Percentage
                               Number                   Women               Women
                        (Men and Women)
B.Sc.Graduates*         1613                         284                      18
    Faculty              707                           34                        5
Tenured Faculty          621                           12                        2
Ten.Track Faculty         76                           21                      28
*total number of degrees granted in the period 1993-1995
			Canadian Ph.D. Granting Physics Departments Only
			     Total                     Number of         Percentage
                               Number                   Women               Women
                        (Men and Women)
B.Sc.Graduates*         1453                         261                       18
Ph.D. Graduates*         336			     44                       13
    Faculty              612                           27                         4
Tenured Faculty          539                             8                       1.5
Ten.Track Faculty          65                           18                      28
*total number of degrees granted in the period 1993-1995

The survey results show that in Canada, 18% of all recipients of a B.Sc. Degree in Physics, and 13% of all recipients of a Ph.D. Degree in Physics are female. 5% of all physics faculty members and 2% of tenured physics faculty members are women: the "leaky pipeline'' trend is present in Canada, and is in fact very similar to the situation observed by our American colleagues in their country.

The percentage of women faculty at non-Ph.D. granting institutions is somewhat higher (7%) than in the Ph.D. granting institutions (4%). However, it is encouraging to see that approximately a quarter of all tenure-track faculty positions in Canadian physics departments are currently held by women. It should be noted that tenure-track faculty members (of both gender) constitute only 11% of all physics faculty members. Table 2 summarizes results from a similar American survey[2] in 1994 for comparison with the Canadian survey results in Table 1.

Table 2: Summary of results from an American survey [3] similar to the one presented here. The American study provided information on faculty rank (full, associate, assistant professor), which is approximately equivalent to the tenured and non tenured categories presented in Table 2.

	American PhD Granting Physics Departments Only
			     Total                     Number of         Percentage
                               Number                   Women               Women
                        (Men and Women)
    Faculty                   4746                         229                        5
Assoc. & Full Prof.           3584                         132                        4
    Asst. Prof.                592                           60                        10
The CAP survey results also show that of the forty Canadian academic institutions that responded, 80% of them have one or no woman faculty member, and almost a half of the responding institutions (45%) have no woman faculty member in their physics departments. While it is true that the smaller non-PhD granting institutions tend to have fewer physics faculty members, and hence fewer women faculty members, a very large fraction of them have no women faculty members at all (60%) and hence have no role models for their undergraduate women students. In Table 4 these Canadian statistics are compared with the analogous statistics in the US for 1994 [3]. The situation in Canada is indeed very similar to that in American universities.

Table 3: Percentages of Physics Departments with only one or no woman faculty member.

Number of   All Canadian   Canad. PhD    Canad. non-PhD  American PhD
  Women         Physics      Granting Phys.   Granting Phys.    Granting
  Faculty           Depts.           Depts.                 Depts.              Depts.
none                 45%              36%                    60%                 36%
none or one          80%              72%                    93%                 69%


This article should not be taken as a definitive study (see for example footnote 1) on women in physics in Canada. No attempt was made to estimate the accuracy of final numbers. The results of this survey suggest that further studies could be undertaken to address questions such as: (1) What was the effect of Women's Faculty Awards (WFA) (a program sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) on the above percentages? (2) Do women progress to tenure more slowly than men? (3) How would the inclusion of institutions that chose not to reply affect the above results? Answers to questions like these would indicate ways of assessing and improving the situation for female physicists in the Canadian institutions. We conclude by stating that with 5% representation of women in physics departments at the faculty level, the situation for women in physics in Canada is comparable to the US, and notably worse than in many European countries.

Jolanta B. Lagowski is with the department of physics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (St. John's, NFLD, A1B 3X7). Janis McKenna is with the department of physics at the University of British Columbia Vancouver ( BC, V6T 1Z1);


[1] W.J. Megaw, Gender Distribution in the World's Physics Departments, paper prepared for the meeting, Gender and Science and Technology 6, Melbourne, Australia, July 14-18, 1991.
[2] Mildred S. Dresselhaus, "Update on the Chilly Climate for Women in Physics," Committee on Status of Women in Physics Gazette,  Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 1994. Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Judy Franz, Bunny C. Clark, "Improving the Climate for Women in Physics Departments'', published by the American Physical Society and  the American Association of Physics Teachers.
[3] American Institute of Physics; Education, Employment and Statistics Division, data for the year 1994.


1 Some universities (2) did not supply data for B.Sc. graduates.  The faculty total is not equal to the sum of tenured faculty plus tenure-track faculty due to the inclusion of visiting faculty positions, faculty with the emeritus status, and part-time faculty positions which respondents listed as faculty, but neither tenured nor tenure-track faculty.

Points of Derailment: The Making of a Female Physicist

D. Elizabeth Pugel

Being a physicist is not simply an occupation, but a manner of living that carries with it a distinctive mindset. Physicists question, investigate and scrutinize all systems. This same scrutiny should be applied not only towards discussing the interactions of matter in nature, but to interactions between members of our field. We should address any problems in these interactions and determine the nature of these problems. It is through communication that we can come to an understanding of the dynamics within our field. In attacking problems, physicists look for the statistical anomalies and demand explanation for a state. The disproportionate number of men over women in physics is just such an anomaly, worthy of investigation and discussion.

Historically, the number of women in physics in the United States has been small. This fact continues to hold. Even today it occupies a visible position as a "problem" in physics since the answers behind this truth are neither obvious nor well-defined. Currently, 9% of the PhDs awarded in physics in the United States are presented to women[1]. Several articles in Physics Today, American Journal of Physics and other prominent physics journals have attempted to address this issue through statistics but have not been able to elucidate the distinct sociological deterrents for women. Thus, if we are to understand the roots of this dilemma, it seems that the use of statistics alone will not provide substantial insight.

As physicists, we are used to reams of data to characterize behaviors. In the study of the male-female asymmetry in physics, we need to acknowledge that there are few studies currently in existence that are capable of discussing in statistical detail the sociological aspects involved in the process of becoming a physicist. The inability to quantize this problem does not lessen its magnitude. We must scrutinize the education and socialization processes of physicists, to further pinpoint the mechanisms which result in such a small number of women in this field using the results of studies regarding women in science in general, extrapolating it to the field of physics. This paper will attempt to watch the progress of a young female physicist in the United States, from the day of her arrival in to the world, to her schooling, and and on through her entrance into bureaucratic world, attempting to pinpoint the times in her life where she may be derailed from her track to become a professional physicist.

A Preamble: The Motives Behind This Discussion

Many physicists have looked upon this issue as a "feminist issue" or perhaps have not even seen it as a problem[2]. Asymmetries in a physical system force us to question the mechanisms driving the imbalance. Asserting the number of women in physics as "a problem" and striving for a solution is no different from noticing a statistical anomaly in a physical system and searching for its cause. We cannot know that there exists a statistically "true" gender asymmetry until we have looked at all the possible events that may lead to an asymmetry and systematically ruled them out. We cannot simply write off this issue because we are unwilling to think about it or probe further. This would be contradictory to our nature as physicists.

At a time in which there are few positions available in physics, why is this asymmetry a concern? Why should we search for the causes of this asymmetry and seek solutions when it would simply encourage more people into an already saturated field? Times are tough in this field, but this does not justify ignoring this problem. Women as well as men should be entitled to partake in the challenge of physics and perhaps attempt to strive for one of its selective positions. The pursuit of intellectual sports should not be tainted by social mores, which sidle along with the anti-intellectualist stance of the majority in the United States. Rather, the pursuit of intellectual sports for men and women should be celebrated and encouraged. Thus, the search for the mechanisms and perhaps solutions attempts to create an equitable market indifferent to gender.

Finally, why even talk about this issue? It has been said that women stand to gain more if they simply struggle through the system, "get their papers" and achieve. Women, it seems, tend to suffer more than their male counterparts as they pass through the system, for reasons that I will try to address in this article. The point is that women should not have to struggle any more than men should. Physics is a competitive field, it holds no mercy for all those who attempt to become professionals. We must talk about the injustices that we incur in this struggle, not for catharsis alone, but to make our male counterparts aware that we see some problems unique to being different from the majority. Being a statue does not facilitate change. Change is the product of discussion and action.

It is hoped that this article will highlight some of the issues that may contribute to the asymmetry of women in physics and also stimulate constructive discussions.

I. Nature vs. Nurture: The Paradoxical Dichotomy

The first argument for the small number of women in physics rests in the most familiar differences between men and women: the tug-of-war between social and biological forces (nature vs. nurture). This tension has pulled at the potentiality for professional women since the advents of biology, evolution and psychology. Each one of these fields has used its methods to maintain the stereotypes of women, even if unintentionally. The nature vs. nurture issue is sensitive, requiring deep analysis not only into the results, but the methods used to achieve these results.

A. Nurture: Learning On Your Mother's Knee

The nurture-governed destiny to be a physicist (or any scientist) has been distilled by sociologists to four main issues: parental interaction, toy selection, and both child and adolescent interactions with peers.

The first of these socially defining experiences is parental interaction with the plastic mind of the very young child. From the day of birth, Mischel (1966)[3], noted that caregivers treat boys differently than girls.[4] Boys, even as infants are allowed to explore their environment by crawling and grasping, unlike girls, who spend less time independent of their parents or cradles. This is a perpetuation of the boy-child stereotype as "strong" and able to deal with the external environment alone as opposed to the girl-child as "frail" and needful of protection. Mischel's study further revealed that rewards and punishments are administered for specific behaviors which seem to perpetuate parents' gender stereotypes. This conditioning habituates children to react in an expected (read: stereotypical) manner. For example, toddler boys who are thought to be "strong" or "clever" will take on traditionally masculine attributes. Similarly, girls who are complimented as "cute" or "precious" will take on traditionally feminine attributes. Thus, parental expectations direct the child's notions of appropriate or inappropriate behaviors. These expectations set the stage for a life of pre-determined actions, where girls expect to become the passive object of adoration and boys become independent innovators.

It may seem far-fetched at first to believe that parents' expectations for their young child shape the course of his/her future career. The invocation of Melville Feynman's comment to his wife while she was pregnant with Richard Feynman should be sufficient evidence: "If he is a boy, he will be a scientist.[5]" Feynman's father, we are told, started to hone Richard's physical intuition early, showing him patterns in colors of floor tiles when Richard was a few months old and at a few years old providing simple explanations of fundamental physical phenomena, such as why balls roll to the back of a moving wagon. Feynman is an example of parental expectations shaping the course of a child's future.

Both great physicists such as Feynman and mere mortal physicists are shaped by their experiences as young children with toys and with their first friends in elementary school. Before school, young friends and toys are the outlets for personal expression. We see parental expectation for gender and the resulting future behaviors in the selection of toys.[6] It is claimed that toys such as blocks develop logical/spatial skills and dolls develop social skills. This is not so terrible an observation if we assume that the possibility to be a scientist is linked to the development of social as well as logical skills. Unfortunately, parents may falsely assume that the choice of dolls eliminates the possibility for logical thought, limiting their daughter's exposure to physics.

As a young woman enters elementary school, she is faced with not only the elements of parental gender expectations, but also those of new-found friends and teachers. Since the majority of elementary school young women may have already succumbed to parental selection rules for gender-specific behaviors, nontraditional young women, few in their beliefs, may face serious challenges to their belief structures from their new-found peers and teachers.

Female teachers tend to carry their own ideas about gender appropriate behavior. Some teachers come from a generation where science education was less emphasized for women or where their own fears of science limited their knowledge. In fact, the majority of K-8 teachers (predominantly women) suffer from insufficient science training or a fear of teaching science.[7] As a consequence, they may not be able to emphasize science in the elementary school classroom. If they do teach science, they may have difficulty serving as suitable female role models or in articulating that science is a viable career option for young women. Teachers, like parents, come to expect habituated, gender-specific behaviors. In a study by Ernest, most teachers expected male students to do better in mathematics, whereas they expected none of the female students to do better.[8]

As we progress to the middle and high school years, pressure to conform reaches its peak. Young women are enchanted by media images (in addition to peers and parents) to persist in their stereotypical femininity.[9] Granted, this is a problem for male scientists as well, due to the overwhelming anti-intellectual sentiment in this country towards science (the "nerd" phenomenon),[10] but it seems that many male physicists (i.e. Einstein, Oppenheimer) have achieved icon status within American popular culture and there are many more texts to be found which highlight a male scientist's career than a female scientist.

There are few female role models in our popular culture to encourage young women to pursue or maintain their interests in the sciences. When have you seen a female physicist on TV?[11] Those images are nonexistent compared to those of women as supermodels and seductresses. These common images of women are appealing to a female adolescent's natural interest in the opposite sex and thus lure her from a path of science. Guys[12] are conditioned to believe that smart girls are ugly. Girls, interested in guys play down their intelligence and act dumb for the sake of "the catch". To act smart would make girls social outcasts, "nerds". So, the young physicist is lost to the media and conformity.

For those who manage to survive the social aspects, high school holds an equally debilitating social threat: the teacher. It has been shown by Eccles and Jacobs[13] that teachers selectively call on boys rather than girls. To compound this problem, the socialization of boys in earlier stages tends to make boys more aggressive and confident in their capabilities. Adelman illustrated[14] that young men tend to believe that they excel in math and science as compared to young women even if their grades are lower. All of these notions continue to inhibit women as they enter into the undergraduate and graduate levels of education. This paints a dismal picture for the female physicist-in-training. Unless she is a female Feynman with eager teachers and is resilient under social pressures, our young physicist is unlikely to pass through secondary education unmarred by social pressures.

From the nurture aspect we expose three main fallacies, the first is that the development of social skills inhibits the ability to become a physicist. This claim neglects the very basis of physics: to communicate ideas regarding the natural world and validate or disprove these ideas via experimentation and peer-reviewing. The antiquated notion of a scientist working alone is one that exists in the minds of fiction writers and screenplays. As the interdependence of scientific groups rises and international collaboration becomes commonplace, communication is an essential skill. If the child-physicist is subject to play that encourages such behavior, she need not be turned away from physics.

The second fallacy is that social people do not possess the skills to be physicists. This is a corollary to the first fallacy. We often mistake intelligence as a trait that is associated with social maladaptation. Again, we dwell in the minds of the media image of the "nerd-scientist" whose colossal intellect results in an equal, but opposite magnitude of interpersonal skills. The presence of social capacity does not limit the logical skills of an individual. This stereotype often causes male physicists to "write off" female physicists, who tend to be more social than the norm. We must realize that the mind is not polarized: development of one skill does not inhibit the development of another skill.

The third -and most disturbing- of fallacies is that since these differences exist, it should come as no surprise that women are minorities in physics. Social values are dynamic; they are reflective of the mores of the masses. To claim that women are not "geared" for physics because of social perception/conditioning is to believe in the status quo that has persisted for centuries. It is to believe that the techniques to raise and teach children cannot be changed. This is inherently false, assuming we survey childrearing techniques and pedagogical techniques in different cultures. To believe that nuturing is static is to continue to stratify women and men in the way that the lowered expectations of teachers or the pigeonholing of young women due to gender-specific roles has presented women. It is to maintain women as "the second sex."

Despite the fact that we have cleared the air regarding some of the fundamental social issues in the development of a female physicist, the struggle continues. We must now argue along the lines of reproduction and evolutionary biology.

B. Nature: Learning on Charles Darwin's Knee

" Nature herself perscribed to the woman her fucntion as mother and housewife and that laws of nature cannot be ignored...without grave damage which...would especially manifest itself in the next generation."

Max Planck, 1897[15]

Biology has been an oft-abused tool to deter women from entering into the intellectual world. For centuries, women were thought of as members of a "lesser species," incapable of surviving in the mental world of their male counterparts due to the effects of menstruation and the "inherent frailty of the female[16]". Women's "biologically determined[17]" roles as wife and mother were justified by scientific methods. The few women who managed to be physicists during the early ages of Victorian science in Europe, the golden age of Quantum Mechanics or even during the post-war era in the United States went unnoticed or were thought of as "men" or genetic aberrations. Biology was a science which spoke truths regarding the division of the sexes, not only physically, but in the intellectual realm. Thus, women were restricted from participation. Collectively, biologists went as far as to say that evolution delineated the intellectual roles of men and women. Even now, remnants of the abuse of biological theories remain in the guises of premenstrual syndrome theories and in misinterpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The issues of menstruation and reproduction were thought to negate the possibility of logical functioning. Thus, our young physicist, having survived the brutalities of socialization was forced to conclude by the tenets of her sister science, biology, that she was born into a life of emotional irrationality and fragility.

Back in the dark ages of biology, menstruation was thought to be a crippling, logic-dissolving state. Changes in hormones made women into a new being: an illogical, impulsive beast, hardly the logical, rational mind needed to be a physicist. She was physically weakened by the loss of blood, thus unable to work for long periods of time. Her only choice: to suffer the irrationality, her birthright.

Where are we now? Today there is still controversy about Premenstrual Syndrome. Medication has made painful menstruation and anemia due to blood loss a controllable fact of life, not a "condition" or a "crippling malady." Studies regarding hormonal fluctuations tend to agree that there is little correlation between drastic alterations in logical faculties and PMS.

In the dark ages, maternity excluded her from work and the lack of child-care banished her to the home, unable to work until her children were grown. Now, work during pregnancy is encouraged. The issue that remains in maternity is child care. Taking off large amounts of time to care for a child would certainly put our young physicist behind the rapid pace of research. Theorists might have it easier, since it may be possible to conduct work via phone or email. Also, both child care and maternity leave policies at most universities are progressing. Many universities & companies encourage maternity or paternity leaves and have established sites near or on site to provide child care. Thus, our young physicist can move forward with the knowledge that family life may be possible for her.

Despite the progess, she must challenge yet another great scientist, Charles Darwin, and his ideas regarding the evolution of social structures in our primate ancestry. The impact of evolutionary biology on social dynamics and thus, gender asymmetry in physics claimed to have been solved through the study of non-human primates. Studies of primate hierarchical structures led primatologists to extrapolate observed behaviors to human interactions and thus explain the existing differences between male and female structures. In particular, baboon studies have noted that the matriarchal systems are not structured on position and hierarchy, rather community. Chimpanzee studies indicate a bias in patriarchal systems towards a pecking order and an aggressive struggle for power.[18] These studies conclude that by associating in community, females do not thrive on competition and power, the staples of any burgeoning scientific field such as physics. thus, our ancestry dictates our destiny.

Primatologists have gone as far as ascribing deeper aspects of these social qualities to social human dynamics. They have made gross errors in the attempts to trace the nature of gender-specific behaviors and apply them to the current societal state. For example, the male, as the hierarchical leader, has no social commitments. He need not be present for the maintenance of the young. In fact, it is genetically advantageous for him to distribute his sperm to as multiple partners. He may do as he pleases, searching lands, conquering animals and women. Some claim this wandering-conquering behavior is the root of the stereotypical nature of the inquisitive, exploring male.

To continue along this line of reasoning, it is not advantageous for the female to stray from the den in which she is raising children. She is thus relegated to a life of childbirth and nurturance of new generations. Additionally, the apparent behavioral effects due to menstruation and pregnancy hindered her ability to think rationally at times. Thus, the desire in women to explore their environment is stifled in one fell swoop.

Critical thinking is necessary to evaluate the results of these studies. Many of these field-based primate studies were challenged and found to contain far too many errors to be considered seriously[19]. The leap between non-human primate and human social behavior is indeed a large one, one which more often than not is left to the subjective (and often imaginative) mind of the primatologist and sociologist.[20] The idea that acquired traits are heritable, created by the biologist Lamarck, is the challenge to Darwinian theory of evolution. In this theory, even social traits can be passed from generation to generation in an evolutionary sense, thus supporting from the beginning of primate existence, the nature of the asymmetry of women versus men in our field. Although Lamarckian theory is again in vogue, there is no evidence for the passage of social traits via conventional evolutionary means. Furthermore, the power of Darwinian theory diminishes the possibility for belief in Lamarckian theory. It is absurd to assume human social behaviors stem from non-human social behaviors by the sheer application of evolution in a Lamarckian guise. This is an abuse of scientific knowledge. An illuminating approach would be to explore human behaviors on a grand sociological scale.

So despite the claims of her forefathers, our young physicist survives the years of training only to enter into a bureaucracy that seems inherently biased with male "rules". She will be put to the test again...

II. A Gender-Biased Bureaucratic System: Who is the Favorite Child?

" A man can always command his time under the plea of business; a woman is not allowed any such excuse."

Mary Sommerville, 1780[21]

Our young physicist has suvived to achieve her PhD and is now deeply involved with "the system," organized Western bureaucracy. Perhaps she is seeking a postdoctoral position, tenure or an industry position. In all of these situations, she will encounter an organizational structure that maintains her work environment. In most of these situations, she'll notice that the members of those structures are predominantly male and that the policies which govern the structure tend to exclude the needs of women.

Sparse policy on maternity issues, child care as well as sexual harassment do little to promote women to senior positions[22]. It is true that the system is in a state of optimistic metamorphosis, but there is much to be done. With few support structures in place, it seems that the edifice of the bureaucratic/academic system implicitly favors those who have someone to care for children (if they exist), someone who is not pregnant, has no glass ceiling and is not different from the other members on the board: men.

Our young physicist must struggle once more to understand this system and either change it or suffer through it. To change the bureaucratic system while in the thick of it is a delicate task. It can put one's position at risk, stir up ill-feelings or stereotypical behavior in male colleagues, or worst of all, have no effect whatsoever. It seems then that it is best to change the system once one has made it to a higher position. Many women neglect this option and ignore the issue of bureaucratic bias in the physics academic (and other) realms. This is known as the "Queen Bee Syndrome" where women who have "survived" and have attained senior positions do not use their power to assist struggling women or to change the system that they have struggled through.[23] These women who choose to struggle through in turn tacitly validate the "male" system. To do well in this system shows the male authorities that the system is hospitable to women, no change is required by the male authorities.

Change, however, is the essence of survival for women seeking arrival among the bureaucratic ranks. Often, in conjunction with struggling, there is a denial of one's femininity, known as internalized sexism.[24] To succeed, as stated earlier, is to avoid pregnancy, children and a glass ceiling. It is to avoid dressing feminine, associating with women, discussing issues regarding the state of women or being proud to be female. This is an early stage of the "Queen Bee Syndrome" and furthers isolation between women. The possibility of support and advice from other women is curtailed. Hence women who work through the male system are less likely to survive carrying any traits of "femaleness" are less willing to support other women and succumb to the "male" scheme of interaction. These traits are seen as survival methods to make it through the system, at least until the glass ceiling is hit.

The glass ceiling: full-time lecturer, associate professor, technician. A high percentage of professional women end up with these unlike their male counterparts who usually end up in full-professorships or in senior researcher positions.[25] Our young physicist's dreams of a full-professorship or senior scientist are dashed by a system which has decided that the traits of a woman do not make a full professor. Bureaucrats who follow such policies are living by the logic presented in the first section of this paper: woman as social being, incapable of the harsh competition inherent in the research venue, incapable of sole responsibility for a laboratory or research group.

Our young physicist is confused. She desires success in the bureaucracy. She wishes to punch through the glass ceiling, achieve tenure or a senior position, perhaps even have children. History had its unfortunate toll on organizations such as universities and corporations: they are male-dominated, with few considerations in place for women's and family issues. The existence of a glass-ceiling limits her ability to rise in the bureaucratic ranks. She wishes for change within the system for herself and for the women to follow. What can be done? She has perservered against the odds, it is our duty to analyze the reasoning behind such a system and save our young physicist!

Any growing system requires competition to survive. One must have the willingness to make some sacrifices and deal with their consequences, indifferent of gender. Denial of femininity, however, does not seem beneficial for the young physicist or for the system. These successful women, who have flown through the glass ceiling, must be immune to the "Queen Bee Syndrome" in order for progress to occur. They must be willing to talk with male counterparts about benefits for women and men during and after maternity, reasonable options for child-care and perhaps even a different mode of achieving tenure for women who choose to have children during that time. Since the system has been predominantly male, with male-based standards, it is time for it to be fair to all people. Policies that are gender-sensitive or gender free will be the policies that support our young physicist and her sisters of the future.

III. The Idealist Speaks Out: Gender-Free Thinking, The Present and Future

"Scientists ought to be interested in things, not people."

Marie Curie

"I believe that men and women's scientific aptitudes are exactly the same."

Irene Joliot-Curie

Looking to Marie & Irene Curie, our young physicist realizes that becoming a physicist should be about becoming a person: a bright, competitive innovator in touch with nature. This genderless approach, where we acknowledge people, not men or women, has been mentioned as a possible solution to the small number of women in physics. This is a lofty goal, one that requires generations of change in order to be fully operational. Right now, we are far from a gender-free society and must deal with the current conditions.

To live in today's society in terms of a genderless model would commit the flaw of internalized sexism. We must acknowledge, for now, that society still thinks in gender-stratified terms. Thus, using a genderless model with the standards and stereotypes that the majority holds would be devastating rather than helpful in promoting women to study physics.

Our young physicist is living in a time of transition, where her forefathers have realized the importance of supporting women and her foremothers have realized the poor logic used to keep her from pursuing her dreams. She lives in a time where people are starting to acknowledge that stereotyping at any stage from birth along the way of career development is neither helpful nor appreciated. People are beginning to comprehend that the pursuit of physics (but not the facts) may have socialized roots in gender, race or ethnicity[26], each aspect holds validity in the understanding of nature.

IV. We're Not Just Buzzing Around: Solutions to Promote Structural Change

Our young physicist cannot be a queen bee. It is simply not enough for her to discuss this issue. She must act upon her ideals and promote change at several possible levels.

Returning to her beginnings, she can raise her children (male and female) to be curious about the world. Knowledge has no gender-specific limitations. She can encourage their interests, be they physics or non-physics and insure an education that does not carry with it a gender-based bias. She can mentor middle, high school or college women to buffer their struggles and to provide a challenging intellectual environment. She can even argue for representation by the mass media, so that young physicists can find inspiration from her work or life.

In the bureaucracy, she can strive for equal standards for pay. Perhaps a shift in the age for tenure in women could be achieved. Child-care, maternity policies, standards for admitting and retaining female graduate students could all be addressed.

Our young physicist, aware of the struggles involved, can stay on course in pursuit her heart's desire, working within a system in transition and seeking to change not only her understanding of nature's interactions, but interactions among members in her field.


The author sincerely acknowledges the countless hours of discussion with colleagues, faculty and friends. In particular, she would like to acknowledge the contentious stamina of Ben Mathiesen, Sharif Razzaque, and Jack & Rebecca Sadleir whose ideas and willingness to banter were invaluable in the creation of this paper.

1 Button-Shafer, J."Guest Comment: Why so Few Women? American Journal of Physics, vol. 58, No. 1, January 1990, p 13-14.

2 Wallace, J.L., What Really Keeps Women From Physics? (letter), Physics Today, September, 1993, p11-13. Zaziski, P. (private communication).

3 Mischel, W. (1966). A Social Learning View of Sex Differences in Behavior . E.E. Maccoby (Ed.) The Development of Sex Differences, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

4 I use the terms boys and girls to denote male and female infants and toddlers. The terms young women/men will be used in the primary and secondary school classifications.

5 Gleick, James ,Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, Pantheon Books, NY, 1992, p 25-26.

6 Maccoby, E.E. (1966). Sex Differences in Intellectual Functioning, in E.E. Maccoby (Ed.) The Development of Sex Differences, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

7 Weiss, I. (1993). Science and Mathematics Briefing Book (Vol. 4). Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research.

8 Ernest, J. (1976). Mathematics and Sex. American Mathematics Monthly, 83, 595.

9 American Association of University Women. (1991). How schools shortchange girls. Washington, DC: B.M. Vetter.

10 Wallace, J.L. (1993).What Really Keeps Women From Physics? (letter) Physics Today, September, 11-13.

11 Based on WIPHYS newsgroup forum, October, 1996.

12 I use the terms guys and girls to emphasize the stereotypical attitudes that come along with these colloquial terms.

13 Eccles, J.S. & Jacobs, J.E. (1986). Social forces shape math attitudes and performance. Signs, 11, 367-380.

14 Adelman, C. (1991). Women at thirtysomething: Paradoxes of attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Development.

15 Krafft, F. (1978) Angew. Chem Int. Engl. Ed., 17, 826

16 Delaney, J., M.J. Lupton et al (1976), The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, New York:E.P. Dutton and Company, p40-48.

17 Cayleff, S.E. , (1990), She Was Rendered Incapacitated by Menstrual Difficulties: Historical Perspectives on Perceived Intellectual and Physiological Impairment Among Menstruating Women, Menstrual Health in Women's Lives, A.J. Dan and L.L. Lewis (Eds.), Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

18 Sperling, S.,(1996). Baboons with Briefcases: Feminism, Functionalism and Sociobiology in the Evolution of Primate Gender. Gender and Scientific Authority, B. Lassett, S.G. Kohlsted et al, (Eds.), Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

19 Hyde, Meta-Analysis of Gender Differences, (1996), Gender and Scientific Authority, B. Lassett, S.G. Kohlsted et al (Eds.), Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

20 Sperling, p. 373.

21 Osen, L.M., (1974) Women in Mathematics, Cambridge, MA, and London, MIT Press.

22 note: the author is aware that such issues as child-care, harassment and the glass ceiling are becoming more important to males and thus may carry with them similar problems. However, these are less likely to pose difficulties in career advancement of males.

23 Mierson, Sheela and Chew, Francie, (1993),Dismantling Internalized Sexism, A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women, D.C. Fort, et al, Washington, D.C.: Association for Women in Science.

24 Ibid.

25 Vetter, B.M. (Ed.) (1994) Professional Women and Minorities: A Total Human Resource Data Compendium (11th Edition), Washington, D.C.: Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, Table 5.1.

26 Fox Keller, Evelyn,(1996), Feminism and Science, Oxford, Eng: Oxford Series on Feminism in Science.

D. Elizabeth Pugel is a graduate student at the James Franck Institute, University of Chicago