The American Gazette

Commonsense political and social commentary from "Flyover Country"

Location: Rural Michigan, United States

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Lawrence Summers Flap

Last week the President of Harvard University created a flap because of remarks made during a conference on women in science. He explored long work hours as one possiblity, however the remarks that caused a flap are the ones where he explored the idea that perhaps women do not have the same innate ability in science and math as men do. One of the women there that opted to get up and leave the conference said she had to do so because she would have blacked out or thrown up had she stayed.

Why it is that her remarks actually irriate me worse than Mr. Summers? Perhaps it is because she has quite simply by her own words and actions shown her inability and by extension, fair or not, that women can't handle emotions.

Before I go further let me be upfront about something. I hate math and science. One may wonder why in the world I am in nursing then. The field requires both. The science is obvious, the science of how the body works and why. The math is for dosage calculations, though by and large single dose medications has vastly reduced the need to hand figure dosage calculations, as have IV pumps for IV medication administration. However, when I went to nursing school we had to take separate math tests and dosage calculations tests and pass them with an 80% or fail out of nursing school. Having done the minimum amount of math required in high school the math tests required in nursing school gave me hives. Literally. In order to get and keep the calculations in my mind I had to study a great deal and also worked with a friend of my parents who had taught math, a man by the way.

Ultimately however, nursing is not a field of math, and it is considered a field of both art and science. Leaders of nursing have grappled with just how much of each part nursing is since nursing became a distinct profession. There are all sorts of nursing theory out there on this that will not be recounted here as even as a nurse I find it all incredibly boring with most of it being utterly useless to the practical application of nursing.

Let me then tackle the question, are women innately less capable then men in math and science? Can't say I really know but my gut reaction is what an assine questiona anyway. I believe that by and large a woman has the same brain power as a man, the real question to me is not whether a woman has the same capabilities the real question is do women have a much interest in it as men. The amount of undergraduates in similar courses that are men and women would lead one to say that on the surface yes. However, once graduated something happens. Less women pursue academic careers dedicated to these professions. It is not unreasonable to ask why, it is after all the purpose of the conference in which Mr. Summers upset so many.
Which brings me to the idea that women are not willing to put in the hours necessary once they have children. To me this brings us down to the brass tacks. Women have children, men do not. Children require much more than a simple caretaker and no matter how great a day care center may be or a nanny or even your own family who watches your children are, there is no substitute for a mother.

For myself one of my greatest regrets in becoming a nurse is the fact that the job interferes with my family life. And not just a little. The health care system cannot run without nurses. It is us that are there 24/7, a hospital is not like a factory where one can shut everything off and go home if necessary. By and large nurses outside of nursing homes work 12 hour shifts. We work midnight shifts like myself and no I do not work either 12 hour shifts nor the midnight shift because I like it so much. It simply is what it is. We work holidays and weekends, we are always there at the bedside because the patient is always there. We drive through storms with tornado warnings out, we drive through blinding snowstorms to get to work because someone has to be there to take care of the patient and we came to work sick. A nurse coming to work sick you ask, why they could give it to the patient. Yep, we could but trust me when I say calling off unless very ill is deeply frowned upon and can easily lose you a job.

Nurses across the country are FORCED into working mandatory overtime to cover shifts because there are not enough nurses out there. Just a few weeks ago in California the Gov. suspended a law that was passed some two years ago and slated to fully go into effect this January that would mandate patient to staff ratios that have been determined to be best for appropriate patient outcomes. Why? There simply are not enough nurses to fulfill those ratios. The HMO system that largely runs the healthcare system in California say it is impossible to fulfull the law, and to a large extent they are right. The problem is that if the law does not provide some relief to nurses the shortage will only get worse and a vicious cycle will be the result.

Nursing is primarily a female field, everyone knows this. Is it fair to say that men simply do not have the innate caring a woman does then? Or would it be more accurate to say that men and women have different interests based on both nature and nurture and that it would be a mistake to erase all differences between the sexes. My husband is currently taking classes so he can be certified as a mechanic and open his own business. One of the reasons he is doing this is that despite the difficulties in having a business, one has more control of their lives and that gives us the ability to be able to have family time that outside employment does not consider or give a damn about. A caring man but not one who would even consider nursing as a profession.

I would prefer to be able to have a job that allows more time for family but I am surely not going to take classes so I can work with my husband in the planned business, he talks about mechanics or his classes to me and my eyes glaze over and nearly roll back in my head. Well, I do at least attempt to hide those things since I love my husband and want him to believe I share his interest, but really I don't. Ranks right up with math and science.

Mr. Summers oops is not that he questioned the differences between the sexes, it is that he questioned whether women are as capable of brain power as men. I think he was attempting to open a dialogue regarding those differences, but worded it all in a poor fashion. Of course the hysterics of I thought I would throw up or pass out didn't do much either. Get a grip. When this woman holds the brains of a vehicle accident victim in her hands like I have once then she might, and I stress might, have cause to throw up or pass out. But someone who thinks they are going to pass out or throw up because of words and doesn't have enough sense to keep that to herself only perpetuates the idea that women are some fragile emotional creature incapable of dealing with the rough and tumble that life is.

Her hysterical finger pointing of Look! sexual bias really is the reason women lag behind men in some areas make me more angry than the ill conceived words of Mr. Summer. It is my guess, and just a guess, that were the career fields being discussed more friendly to family orientation than there would likely be more women in the profession. I think it is ludicious to attempt to engineer society based on what some wish were human attibutes instead of what they are. Men and women are different, women do cut back on work time or hours after having children and instead of attempting to put a round peg into a square hole, why does it seem impossible to change aspects of society so that women are able to have children and also to have a career that allows them to use the brain power that they have?

Feminsts will explain that is all men's fault too. Patriarical society yada yada yada. What they refuse to recognize is that they have put women into the need to make choices between career and family. By insisting that women be like men they have tied the hands of women throughout the country. News flash! Millions of women do not want to be men. Instead of pressing for institutions that make room for child rearing, feminism has done a grave disservice to not only women but the men who have children as well. They also have done a grave disservice to American families and the fabric of American society. By focusing on the remarks of Lawrence Summers that have to do with whether women have less innate ability than men, instead of his remarks regarding the unwillingness of women to sacrifice children on the altar of career so called feminists again miss the boat. Of course they built a leaky boat from the beginning by insisting that women behave like men in order to be successful.

My husband has taken steps that will allow this family more flexibility to raise our children without interference from a corporate, after he has completed his educational requirements our intention is for me to take steps to do the same. For the vast majority of my nursing career I have taken jobs that allowed me to spend the time I needed with my children. That often meant I was working in Long Term Care or nursing homes in laymans terms, something I did not enjoy that vast majority of the time. Not the patients mind you, but the reality that Long Term Care does not provide enough staff or enough resources to actually take care of those patients appropriately. In time those lack of resources drove me from that aspect of nursing, and I currently work the 12 hour night shifts with one day a week of overtime meaning I work 12 hour nights 4 times a week in order to get my husband and oldest son through college. Like millions of Americans we have been forced to realize that it is the rare corporate that gives a damn about your family life or your children. No matter what wonderful platitudes they offer. If that ever changes it will be much more possible for various institutions and corporate structures to take advantage of the brains and abilities that women offer, until then millions of women will opt out in favor of what is more important to them.

And institutions will lose the brain power that could be vitally important to them. What a shame this all gets missed in some innane conversation about whether women are as bright as men.



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