I have to say that I was genuinely surprised by the statistics about women in the geosciences that have been posted across the geoblogosphere this week. All logic says I shouldn't have been surprised, I guess, since I've certainly heard people talk about how the hard sciences are a boys' club, how girls are socialized to not like science, and all those similar things. Logic says people would be making these points for a reason. Not to mention I've heard similar lame/pathetic/infuriating statements about "womanyness" (to steal Eric's term) and lower aptitude in other contexts. But I was still really surprised to hear it about the geosciences in particular, and it took me a little while to put a finger on why.
One of the reasons, I think, is the geoblogosphere itself. I found out about its existence from Maria, finally stopped being chicken about commenting thanks to an entry in Kim's, blog, got into a comment-conversation with Tuff Cookie almost right away, and so on. I guess, silly me, that I assumed the non-internet version of the field would have the same proportion of intelligent, knowledgeable, and articulate female scientists to whom a lot of other people pay serious attention that the blogosphere does.
Part of it might have been the people from whom I got information (or inspiration) on the earth sciences before I decided to apply to formally study it. When I was six and totally obsessed with volcanoes, I had a video of the National Geographic special about Maurice and Katya Krafft, which I watched constantly. Katya had just as much scientific input and daring in the field (and just as much of a deathwish) as Maurice. And far more recently, when I first moved to California and wanted to go poke the faults, the book I regarded as indispensable was Finding Fault in California, by Susan Hough (who I got to meet this week - more on that in another entry). Woman geoscientists and definite authorities, both. They gave me no reason to suspect imbalance. And on a much smaller authority scale, two of the three geoscience teachers at my high school were women.
And a lot of it definitely has to do with the department I'm involved with now (I'm going to refer to it as my department, even though they haven't sent me that official letter yet). The head of the department is a woman, for one, and while there are still more men on faculty than women, it's not a hugely skewed proportion. It's even more balanced among the graduate students. My department has also gone above and beyond in terms of gender awesomeness in that there is a pre-transition female-to-male transgendered student in the department, and everyone has been incredibly respectful and accepting of him. I know there's no further statistics in that regard in the Nature article, but it doesn't strike me as something the Old Dinosaur Boys would be fans of either.
So I had this pretty concretely formed idea that the geosciences were less gender exclusive than some of the other physical sciences. In a way, I guess it's good that I've had this buildup of situations and role models that made hearing the real statistics surprising rather than old news, but that doesn't come even close to making up for how unfair and imbalanced the field really is.