From 1957 – 1975, the USSR and USA vied for supremacy in space exploration. Following the Sputnik program, both USA and USSR governments threw hundreds of millions into educational programs to foster a new generation with understanding of space and technology. We are very much past this all now. However, I do see an equivalent type of need for funding and education for young girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Women have long battled incongruities in pay, representation, advocacy and overall understanding in the work place. For the most part, however, I think we have come a long way despite there being much more to do.
Yesterday, I read an article on Salon about an idiotic host on Fox, Stuart Varney, who wondered on air whether something about the female brain deterred women from succeeding in the technology industry. I don’t know Stuart, but something is probably fucked up with your brain – that’s one thing for sure.
He has one thing right: there is an obvious lack of women in the STEM fields and this is due in part to a number of factors which extend beyond this.
Arguably, since our upbringings, girls have been pushed towards domesticity, staying at home, being homemakers. Though this is a very antiquated notion (very 1950s – 1970s), it’s still very much reflected in today’s modern society. Just think: Upper East Side WASPs / Park Avenue stay at home moms, trophy wives, to name a few extreme examples. But this mindset started even before schooling – just look at the marketing of toys. I wonder how many guys out there grew up with Tonka Trucks and Hot Wheels and how many girls grew up with doll houses and Easy Bake Ovens. I also wonder the alternate: how many girls grew up playing with “masculine” toys like Hot Wheels, and how many boys grew up playing with “feminine” toys like Easy Bake Ovens and dolls? Watch the 1992 Barbie Fold N’ Fun House commercial and tell me that doesn’t promote the retro cult of domesticity. Then watch the 1992 Tonka Truck commercial and tell me that doesn’t promote a homogenous singular view of masculinity that should be the norm for all young boys. Boys can build things and play with cars. Girls can interact with things and learn how to make a home. This is extremely confining for both little boys and girls. Simply because it shows a constricting, stereotypical view of how all boys and all girls should behave.
Lack of role models.
I have a lot of women I look up to as writers. I want to be like them, I want to write as eloquently as they do, I want to express myself like they can in text. That alone, encourages me to keep writing, to take in what I learn and inspires me. What do girls breaking into the STEM fields have? Do they have a Joan Didion to idolize? A Tina Fey to be like? The short answer is no. Sure, there are CEOs like Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) and Michelle Peluso (GILT), female scientists and engineers that are plenty admirable. But at least in my case, I have no idea who they are. What their names are or what companies they work for. It’s hard to delve into a field of study where you have no one to look up to, no one to directly or indirectly foster your education and growth.
Lack of representation.
Forget role models and women to look up to – why would females want to start in a field where they’re subject to uncomfortably being the only woman in the room? As great as it sounds, when it comes down to it, not many people want to be the pioneers and trail blazers… because well, its hard. At risk of sounding annoying, in all of the computer science classes I’m in this semester (Interactive Computing, Database Development and Design, Web Development) the unfriendly female environment is even shown. Guys typically outnumber the girls in these classes by three times. Group projects? Maybe its because I’ve been studying Communication, but I’m supporting that stereotype that most math/comp sci dudes are relatively anti-social / lack social skills. It’s hard to communicate, let alone work together when some of these guys don’t know how to effectively get their point across.
On the subject of stereotypes, the women in the STEM fields are typically seen as frumpy, tom boyish, grungy, anti-social, nerdy, etc. This view is very constricting – girls thinking of entering the fields may be dissuaded by this stereotype, thinking I’m not like that, or I don’t want to be perceived like that. While other girls who do enter the field and do not necessarily fit this stereotype are not taken seriously by their counterparts. Its a tricky, fine line.
Being your own worst enemy.
This is very much a sensitive time for women in these industries. That being said, its a huge opportunity for growth and for ladies to take advantage of this discrepancy of females in the STEM fields. Which means, this is the time for women to rock it – get out there, promote themselves, advocate for themselves – to set the stage for young women to come. There is a lack of it. Moreover, there’s a lack of aspiration. I sit in computer science classes of my peers and I wouldn’t be lying if I said the males seem more ambitious than their female counterparts. These guys want to be CEOs/COOs of startups (if they haven’t already began their own already), whereas the women in my classes just want to work in a lab, work as a back end / front end developer. Which is fine, but good god – if I was actually good at this Computer Science / Web Development stuff, the sky would be the limit! The fact of the matter is: every company is looking for females in the STEM fields and will pay generally 33% more than their male counterparts. So what are you doing about it ladies?
Why do we need more females in STEM?
Personally, out of all the gender discrepancies today – the biggest one I have a problem with is that we can only base our knowledge on the authority of scientists, doctors and engineers who are primarily male. Particularly in terms of bioethics and bioscience. Yes, the lack of females in leadership roles in the government etc. is a problem – but it all starts as being seen as educational/academic equals. Females need to be seen as the authority on these topics, lest we want to continue to live in a male-dominated society.
As we see a USSR/USA Sputnik like push to put more women in the STEM fields through White House initiatives (Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act) and other kickass foundations and groups like Girls Who Code (this in particular I hold near and dear to my heart) we can only hope to see a mirrored increase of girls being motivated to enter the fields. I absolutely LOVE this GoldieBlox promoting “girls” toys to encourage young girls to build and engineer. Their campaign is what prompted this post. Check out their videos below:
GoldieBlox Breaks into ToysRUs
GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys “Princess Machine”