Sandra Naiman

For My Mother: Don't Let Larry Summers Lead the World Bank

Life has a way sometimes of throwing two superficially unrelated things across your path simultaneously in a way that forces you to contemplate their underlying connections.

Even at this late date, press reports suggest that President Obama is still considering nominating Larry Summers to be the next President of the World Bank.

Yesterday morning, my mother passed away.

So, as I'm contemplating the sweep of my mother's educational, professional, and personal accomplishments across the course of her life, I'm also contemplating reports that President Obama is still thinking about nominating the guy who suggested that women innately can't compete at the top of math and science to be the next President of the World Bank.

I can't offer my mother as a direct counterexample to Larry Summers' infamous suggestion that you can explain the relative absence of women in the top reaches of math and science on the basis of innate differences between men and women, at least in a narrow sense. As it happens, my mother did not especially excel in math and science.

But the arc of my mother's professional and intellectual life is evidence of a broader and more fundamental counterclaim, one that should by rights stand in the ranks of "obvious insights," but which political experience shows must be continuously nailed to the wall of public consciousness: the life choices that people make and the aptitude that they display in different arenas are massively and continuously shaped by their perceptions of social expectations.