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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Uh-oh by Laura N. '09


Yikes. It seems like I may have gotten Wenhao into a bit more trouble than he deserves, so let’s try to reorganize here before anything gets really out of hand.

So, here’s what happened: some anonymous person made some profoundly absurd comment about being “appalled” that MIT would admit “anything” with 2 X-chromosomes. Wenhao posted a different comment, saying “According to Mr. Nance, everyone who is accepted is qualified, and I’m sure that that’s true. However, the disparity between those numbers is a little odd [27% acceptance rate females, 12% males], and I find it hard to believe that girls are that much more qualified than guys. This is not an accusation or an excuse for myself, but merely a curious inquiry.” Now I speak for myself here, but I think he raised a perfectly valid question. I fully understand the arguement that the female applicant pool is more self-selected, and I completely agree. (One interesting thing to note might be the trend in female applicants over the years. Anyone know where to find info on that?) At the same time, no matter how feminist you are, I’m sure that you can see that it can seem a little “convenient” that the amount of self-selectivity in the female applicant pool directly corresponds to a nearly 1:1 ratio in the admitted pool. I’ll admit that I’ve even been slightly skeptical of that in the past.

Anyway, the point I’m getting to here is that this argument is clearly a far cry from saying that every female “thing” shouldn’t be admitted. It doesn’t seem to me that Wenhao was responsible for that particular abomination. I suppose he could be and we won’t ever know since the comment was anonymous. But unless he wants to own up to it, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it was some other anonymous troll who was responsible for that comment.

That said, I guess I might as well throw my own thoughts into the mix. You know, for the record and all. Please keep in mind that I’m only speaking of females in math/science/engineering. I suppose some of my comments could apply to minorities as well, but I’m not a minority and I don’t intend to speak for them.

I don’t think gender should be considered at all. Whether or not MIT (or anyone, for that matter) “stretches” the requirements for girls, the fact is that people perceive that they do, and this causes all kinds of trouble. I think this whole business of making “women in engineering” into a big issue just makes a huge mess. It causes unnecessary tension and questions. I know guys who have waved away every accomplishment I ever made by chalking it up to affirmative action. I know girls who start to doubt their own abilities because they start wondering if they’re only here to be “some Course Sixers girlfriend.” I know you’re thinking, “that’s absurd, no one but that crazy anonymous guy would ever say something like that, stop exaggerating,” but I’m telling you that it’s true. We’ve woven a deep psychological mess for ourselves, and some people can take it pretty hard. Which leads me into my next point.

Wenhao said, “And perhaps it is just my environment, but I don’t see very much active discrimination against women becoming scientists or engineers, I think it’s a choice, and that we all have equal opportunites.” Well, I agree and I disagree. In my experience, I’ve never encountered direct discrimination. No one’s ever said, “You can’t do that because you’re a girl.” I mean, that kind of attitude is pretty thoroughly frowned upon, right? But that doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. There’s a lot of subtle nonsense that goes on just under the surface. Like some of the stuff I mentioned above. Even things like being intimidated. I will tell you right now that sometimes I am afraid to ask questions just because I’m a girl. There’s definitely a stigma about it- a guy can ask a question and he’s just asking a question. A girl asks a question and it’s just because she’s some ditz who only got into MIT so they could report an even gender ratio. I’m not saying that everyone says or thinks that, but given the way we were brought up, it’s always kind of an undertone. On the flip side, some people can be really patronizing. There’s just a whole mess of hidden stuff that goes on. I think if we all just forgot about it and got on with our lives, we’d all be much happier.

Think about it. There’s a huge difference between telling a kindergartner, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up,” and “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up, even if you are a girl.”

Whew. OK so here are my closing comments: everyone be nicer to Wenhao until someone comes forward and claims responsibility for hating on all of the brilliant, ambitious, determined, successful MIT females. (Oh, and attractive. Another topic for another day.) In fact, even then…take it easy. I mean, clearly the statement made is…well I don’t even have the words for it. So you can argue and debate the guy until you’re blue in the face, but is it really worth it? I mean, he’s clearly out of his mind. *shrug*

Enough of this, I have serious amounts of work to do. But before I sign off, one last thing: keep it civil! If anyone posts anymore inflammatory, sensationalist garbage…well I may be asked to remove it, but until then I’ll probably just laugh at you. Just keep that all in mind, k?

22 responses to “Uh-oh”

  1. Maddie says:

    As far as the 27% admit rate for females and the 12% admit rate for males, it’s not that females are more qualified than males, but that are are significantly less females applying to MIT than males. Therefore, when the admissions committee admits roughly equal numbers of men and women, the percentage for women admitted is obviously higher because there were fewer women to pick from in the first place.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I took part in a discussion very similar to this at CollegeConfidential a while back – it’s really…interesting, to say the least, to think about where this sort of bias comes from. Do girls just inherently tend to enjoy humanities more than math, or is our society placing unconscious expectations for girls to be into history and english rather than math? I go to an all girl school, and while there are quite a few girls who like science, but I can count on one hand the number of girls in my grade who like *math*. It’s… interesting. Hmm.

  3. Sulinya says:

    This is wierd. I come from a school where it’s even, there’s no bias towards or against girls in math or science, and in general, I’d say the average girl is better than the average boy… So I can only conclude that in other corners of the world, people are brought up with the mentality that girls are inferior (on the flip side, I know girls with parents who started them off on competition math really early on and they are nothing short of amazing). I also find it strange because math is something I’ve loved as long as I can remember… and in school, I can’t really say that too many people share this sentiment, be it boy or girl. I also think that people are so concerned looking at the best of the best that they fail to recognize that the lower end has far more XY than XX… ok that’s just my two cents.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Your quick temper means nothing and you gotta accept the fact that the rejectees are mad.Just because you got in you’re pretending to…lol

    if it’s truely aba match then how can a student not be a good match at one time and a good one at some other time(transfer or grad school)Stop lying to us.There’s some other reasons.Hmm one day….lol

  5. Anonymous says:

    hey, something looks wrong to me. If acceptance rate for girls is 27% and for boys it is 12%, then the overall rate must be something between 27 and 12. we all know that the rate is about 14%. that means that the number of male applicants is 7 times the number of girls applicants. am I right?? what do you think?? well, to be honest I feel I would be wrong..! somebody please explain it to me.

  6. Anonymous says:

    please ignore my typo on last comment. girls applicants —> female applicants

    and also note the 1:1 ratio of girl:boy at MIT

  7. Vicki says:

    Wenhao, I want to apologize to you. I misread your message and thought you had written the original, inflammatory statement. I now see that you were admitting to asking a different, and perfectly acceptable question on another board.

    Again, I apologize.

  8. Sidra says:

    Just wanted to stop by and say congrats on your new job. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, and I can’t wait to work with you, grin.

  9. Wenhao Sun says:


    Look at what I’ve done.

    First let me come off and say that I did NOT make this statement:

    “I am disgusted and appalled that MIT is taking anything with two X chromosomes, and directly discriminating against asians. The fact that I was rejected for factors that I could not control infuriates me. And for what? For the sake of ‘diversity?’ So some course 6 nerd can have a girlfriend?”

    I don’t know who did, but anyone who has been following my posts during the last several months can tell that that is not my voice nor my tone of writing. If you’d like, visit McGann’s blog and ctrl+f “Wenhao” and read what I’ve written, if it’d plase you. And so, Vicki and Shen, I stand right by you when attacking the clear misogynism in that original statement.

    That being said, thank you Laura for standing up for me.

    As for this particular blog, I have to agree with everything that Laura’s said. I guess I haven’t witnessed any outright discrimination towards females in engineering/science/math, but what you’ve said certainly makes sense and I’m sure that as a guy I’m not as acutely aware of it as the females (ha, obviously). The self-selection idea makes sense as well, although I still can’t help but wonder if there is indeed any preference played toward females. But I guess we’ll just have to speculate, unless Matt or Ben comment on it. Anyway, good post, enlightening read (at least it was for me). Take care.

  10. Evan says:

    So, how about a new topic then? The repetition that I find when trying to uncover the root of this debate line is giving me a bit of a headache. As far as I can see, Laura should be getting the last word on the topic as she’s the one keeping the blog, and she’s the one who’s in MIT. Some of us commenting may be accepted, but we’re not in the school yet.

    Anyhow, I’ve been to the MIT campus a few times over the past year to run errands for my boss (an MIT prof), but I’ve never gotten a chance to really explore the campus. What’s the ambiance like there, Laura? Although I may never find much time to investigate the outdoors after getting sucked into labs and lectures, I’m still curious about what I’ll get to see on my walks from classes to cafeteria and from cafeteria to bed. The views I recall seem to vary a great deal: I can remember pleasant, green park spaces when I went in with my brother when he was touring colleges (he didn’t end up applying to MIT, but ah well), but the Vassar St. sights that I get near my Boss’s building – Building 13, if I remember correctly – were much more industrial, I guess is the best way to phrase it. The architecture on some of the buildings there is rather stunning to study, but the atmosphere is still decidedly urban.

    Any thoughts on the visual qualities of the campus? Something to consider when your workload permits, in any event.

  11. It’s interesting that I know a couple of girls here who admit that men are, in general, smarter than women.

    Now, I do not want to engage myself with so controversial an opinion here in those blogs, but… (as an old song goes) what can I do? (It’s actually WHAT! can I dooooo) (the song, that is) I mean, after all, the only reason I now have to hang around here is the pleasure of reading your blogs, and I don’t see a reason to not tell what I think.

    So, OK, I do think that we are smarter (he – he, probably because I am from the “we”). Even if we look at the SAT – I once read somewhere that men usually did a little better in verbal and a lot better in math than women. Now, even if the verbal part is not true, even if we are equal there, I am quite sure that about math there is no doubt who is better. Science, too, actually – just look at the Nobel Prize winners and see for yourselves. Actually, I don’t think there is need for more examples, because the ones who agree with me probably can themselves find a lot examples everywhere and the ones who don’t won’t change their opinion even after a million examples (most of them are women, after all, and women are usually single-minded) (another observation of mine) (and they also don’t like being wrong).

    And another think I have noticed – even if a girl can compare academically with a boy, it is usually with a much greater effort on the girl’s part than on the boy’s. Here you have an advantage – we are way lazier, and will not sit long studying something that we do not find interesting – you, on the other hand, can study everything, if you think that it “is important”. However, when it comes to something that really interests us, we can sit with hours occupying ourselves with it, and we are usually way better at those things – I don’t know, we have a somehow stronger insight into the matter while you only absorb what is given in front of your eyes and do not seem to go deeper (but do this more efficiently, exactly because of your assidiousness that I mentioned).

    OK, perhaps this is becoming too long a piece of writing, but… well, since no one stops me, I may continue a little more.

    Now, I do not want to offend anyone (man or woman) with those stereotypes, but they are something that I believe is obvious if we look unbiasedly (is there such a word?!) (sorry, English is my *second* language). Although I cannot myself claim that I am looking unbiasedly (especially when the overall evaluation seems so much in my favor), I told you that I know a couple of girls who partially or wholely agree with me.

    Finally, I agree that girls find geography, history, literature and the kind way more interesting than math and science – I mean the better part of the girls. I doubt that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy (I hope that this is the translation of the expression in English), perhaps there is a neurological explanation (and perhaps there is no explanation at all – who knows?).

    So, again, please, girls, do not be offended. I know there are a lot of smart ones among you, that there are girls smarter than me, too (ouch). But in general… well, you read what I think in general above (or at least I hope you did) (if you havent, scroll, scroll, scroll and read!).

    That’s all from me for now.

    PS: I don’t want to sound like a sycophant or something, but, Laura, you look really cute on the picture above…

  12. Alia says:

    Momchil Minkov,

    You say that you do not want to offend anyone with your words, but do you think that you are doing anything other than offending not only females, but also males who view females as equals?

    I ask that you challenge the weight that you place on SAT scores and that you consider the discrimination and discouragement that women in science have faced for centuries. This could explain the lack of females Nobel prize winners. I also ask you to challenge your statement that women are “usually single-minded” and “don’t like being wrong.” I really don’t understand how you can make a statement like that, and yet ask that the female readers not be offended.

    I really hope that you can refine your definitions of intelligence, and that you develop a more accurate potrayal of women, since you will probably have to work with a few in your lifetime, in school, career, and whatever else you do.

  13. Evan says:

    Hmmm… I guess the topic isn’t easily switched. The first question that comes to my mind after reading what’s transpired is… well, good luck convincing me that te boys in my grade are more intelligent than the girls. You can blame their immaturity – maturity is a trend that women, in general, develop more quickly – or perhaps the teachers, but the bottom line is that I’m one of two guys in the top ten of my class – one of five in the top twenty. My SAT scores were beat out by at least five other people in my school, only one of whom was male (and he had some seriously sketchy records surrounding that score).

    So maybe my school’s a blip; that is a possibility. However, I really think that trying to generalize intelligence is a disservice to everyone. Averaging test scores and trying to break down figures just doesn’t fly in my mind. Intelligence, Learning, and Experience are all very personal qualities. Every person has different drives and levels of motivations for acquiring any or all of the skills that life has to offer; using gender as a divisive explanation is ludicrous. Maybe more men are into science and math than women in our present society; can you base the dichotomy solely on gender?

    Consider the external influences of our society, which we present through ads of women in less than decent clothing on magazine covers, juxtaposed with the big guy in a suit on a business journal. Also take a look at the sports stigma: Men do the playing (be it football, basketball, wrestling), women do the cheering. And again with the skimpy clothing. I can cheer just fine for a girl in a karate gi, which allows the same mobility and keeps the focus on cheering for the game, not a view (just as an example, something I have experience with at least)…

    Anyways, These presentations in society may influence some people, though not everyone.

    I myself fall in the second, uninfluenced category. As far as my interests go, there’s a simple experiment I keep going back to. I sat in my room flipping a coin idly one day. I started paying attention to the side that came up after a while; out of 50 tosses, 43 were tails. Chromosomes are a great deal like these coin tosses. The Y chromosome has no particular affinity with a “mathy” or “sciency” chromosome (greatly simplified, I’m aware, but te analogy holds). If you insist that more men are into science than women, and that people aren’t influenced by media, then just flip coins.

    How corny would it be to say “there’s my two cents” …? I guess I’ll just leave it as my tip.

    As for the sycophant line, Minkov, I’ll leave that to Laura. just… *shudder*

  14. Shannon says:

    You know, I really don’t know about the whole “do women like humanities more thing”- my AP Bio class is all women except for 3 guys, 2 of whom sit in the back and talk all through lectures. However, when I go to math competitions it’s definitely almost all male. I’d hazard a guess that maybe 5% of all the people there (including coaches) are female. Maybe women are more inclined towards science (the whole want to know why thing) and men are more inclined towards math. You know, it’d be interesting for someone to do a study on this. Huh.

  15. Um, I just want to add some things:

    First, when I use something like “*harfvoe*” I mean that the word is stressed (because I see you use asterisks for another purpose).

    Second, I should probably apologize for what I said and let it go, but I still have some hopes so I will wait and see if someone says something more on the topic (perhaps it would be better if no one did, yet I hope someone does).

    And third, Laura, thank you for mentioning me in another thread of yours:

    “So Momchil, here are my thoughts, short sweet, and to the point: Everything you just said is wrong.”

    It is an answer, after all. So is it wrong that there are a lot of smart girls, because I said that too? Please do not read selectively…

  16. Arturo says:

    Hey everyone! I was reading this blog and that question about percentages of admission between men and women came to life once more in my thoughts. I have a theory myself… although some parts of it have already been sort of outlined here.

    I first thought “well, it’s way easier to get into the MIT as a woman”. You know, that’s sort of the idea that the percentages give you the first time you see them, I think. However, I firmly believe that there is a tendency in some societies (at least mine and apparently in the US) to expect humanists from girls and mathematicians/engineers from guys. I would say that that derives in two things:

    1) There is less encouragement in the first place for women to apply to technology-focused schools such as the MIT, however, given this statement, it could result that

    2) Those women who do apply go beyond that, which probably makes them outstanding right from the beginning.

    That being said, I think that the female pool could definitely be more selected than the male one. Therefore, if you have a more dense concentration of… I don’t know, talent, qualifications, MIT-ness in the female pool than in the male pool (which could be more heterogeneous), picking a higher percentage from the female pool would seem like an obvious choice. So… that’s what I think could happen.

    Another possibility would be that both pools are equally qualified but the 1:1 ratio needs to be maintained, so they just go and admit more from the female pool. Now, I don’t think that’s bad, because of reason 1 stated above. Admitting proportionally to the percentages of male and female applicants would mean admitting far less women than men. That wouldn’t encourage a change in current tendencies of less women applying to the MIT, because cultural beliefs could be interpreted as ‘confirmed’. Therefore, in order to change this, the 1:1 ratio seems like a good idea.

    Still, I like the first theory better.

    Oh and about that thing regarding girls going into humanities while guys go into math/sciences, well… I don’t know, where I live, the biggest university and the best in Latin America has far more women than men in Biology and Chemistry, for instance, but far more men in Engineering, Math and Physics. Also in my IB Math HL class there we were six guys and only one girl… as someone said before, it would be interesting to dome some research about this whole thing. Culture? Genetic differences? Society?

    Mmh… this post has gone waaaay longer than I ever intended it to be… well, if you are still reading, let me inform you that an EMT exam I was supposed to present two weeks ago was postponed until today! So wish me luck, eh?


  17. Yep, so I guess I do like to go into controversy, because I knew there was going to be some (there were going to be ourtraged people) (there are, obviously) (I hope that I do not misinterpret your ardour in criticizing my post, as I think some might have misinterpreted my ardor in the above words).

    Anyway, I’d better start answering you one by one.

    “You say that you do not want to offend anyone with your words, but do you think that you are doing anything other than offending not only females, but also males who view females as equals?”

    I don’t think that, I was hoping of the opposite – I was hoping that a discussion with no prejudices on either side’s part and without anyone being offended would occur (something like you telling me what you agree and what you don’t agree with in my post and I telling you that I respect your opinion as much as you respect mine).

    “I ask that you challenge the weight that you place on SAT scores and that you consider the discrimination and discouragement that women in science have faced for centuries. This could explain the lack of females Nobel prize winners. “

    Oh my, I place a really small weight on the SAT scores, I know that standardized tests often show nothing. But I just thought of giving you an example with something that everyone of us has faced, something world-wide. After all, I could have told you, for example, that here in Bulgaria there are hardly any girls participating in Computer Science or Mathematics tournaments, and even less winning those tournaments, but you probably could have thought, and probably will think now “Bulgaria? How old-fashioned and savage a country is that?”

    Um… I agree that women were handicapped for centuries. But let’s look what happens in recent years, when you are more or less free from this handicap (what? I said that I agree that there are smart women, too…) Check out this:

    Since 1964 there has been no woman Nobel Prize laureate in either Physics or Chemistry…

    “I also ask you to challenge your statement that women are “usually single-minded” and “don’t like being wrong.” I really don’t understand how you can make a statement like that, and yet ask that the female readers not be offended.”

    What, is it so wrong to not like being wrong? This was something that I could least have thought would offend you.

    “Consider the external influences of our society, which we present through ads of women in less than decent clothing on magazine covers, juxtaposed with the big guy in a suit on a business journal.”

    Well, what can I say – women are beautiful, we are not. We just cannot be beautiful – we may be cute, sweet, hot, but women are the ones who are really pretty. Now I don’t say that it is right to see women in, as you put it, less than decent clothing, because then sometimes the emphasis is shifted from the beauty and is put on the vulgar. But women *are* beautiful and I don’t see why their beauty should not be used for adornment. (if this, too, sounds offensive, please take into account that here, especially, I am not trying to say anything, *anything* bad, but I am not sure how some of you might interpret the word “adornment”).

    “Also take a look at the sports stigma”

    Um, I actually find it very interesting watching women playing, and I hadn’t even thought of appreciating them as a view instead of as players… Actually, I do not want to go deep here, so I will just move on.

    “The Y chromosome has no particular affinity with a “mathy” or “sciency” chromosome (greatly simplified, I’m aware, but te analogy holds).”

    Or does it?

    I like coin flipping a lot, too, by the way. There are a lot of things you can find out by getting 12 out of 12 heads, for example. But that’s not the point of the discussion.

    “What were you thinking by making this comment?”

    I was thinking what I was writing (naturally)…

    “so which is it? Do both girls agree with you or is that your own opinion?”

    It sounds quite clear to me – they both agree that men are in general smarter thatn women and they wholely or partially agree with all the other statements that I made.

    Now, as a conclusion I want to say something related to this:

    “As for the sycophant line, Minkov, I’ll leave that to Laura. just… *shudder*”

    First, you can call me Momchil (if you want).

    Second, that was the *non-sycophant* line.

    Third, with this line and with all the others with which I was trying to give a lighter mood to my post, I was also trying to show that I am not some women-hater, or someone who looks down on women, or anything. I think women are great. I know they can achieve *a lot* academically, and when I see a really smart girl I do not dismiss her as a “probably-not-so-smart” person. But, while Einstein is a man, I don’t think I will be able to change my general view.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Momchil Minkov, Oh my!! What were you thinking by making this comment? How can you begin with ..It’s interesting that I know a couple of girls here who admit that men are, in general, smarter than women. Then later state…I told you that I know a couple of girls who partially or wholely agree with me., so which is it? Do both girls agree with you or is that your own opinion?

  19. Sarab says:

    To give my two cents, I don’t belive that MIT is sexist. Honestly, at the risk of being branded sexist myself, let me say that fewer girls are enchanted by the hard core science MIT seems to represent. Besides, hell, I personally feel a person should be considered on his/her merits. All right, someone’s attractive, say so. But… I’m rambling, so that’s it for me.

  20. Obviously, I can’t just let it go.

    So, can someone answer me just one short, sweet and to the point question, just like Laura’s thoughts:

    Why are the best female chess players no match to the best male chess players?

    What, discrimination and discouragement again? I, for one, don’t think so.

    Sending you all the best from nice little Bulgaria,

    Momchil Minkov.

  21. Besides that I don’t know why responses are given in other threads instead of in this one, which concerns directly the topic, I will just say:


    How could I even have thought of starting an argument on the topic, big or small? Obviously, it is prefered by all of you to just dismiss everything I say as the epitome of all stupidity. Somehow I always feel misunderstood. Just so you know – you might decide to read what I wrote once again (but I doubt it).

    Anyway, just to note, I have no doubts about your intelligence, Laura, even though I know almost nothing about you, because the sole fact that you study at MIT is enough for me. And by noting that you look cute on the picture I meant nothing besides noting that you looked cute on the picture.

    By the way, just to clarify, my point, wich seems so impenetrable, is that Einstein is EINSTEIN, a word that has been equal to “genius” for me since probably the time I knew what neither meant, while Marie Curie is just Marie Curie – yet still a great physicist.

    But I see that no one wants to be engaged into an argument. So, the argument ends before it even started… Well, at least I tried…

  22. Zaira says:

    Momchil, do you really know what Marie Curie had to live through? She faced terrible obstacles because her society did not accept that women could excel in science too. Now, look at Einstein; did he face this kind of situation? Did he have anyone saying “Oh, no, little Albert, you can’t study physics because you are a boy.” I don’t think he did.