So I was talking with the lovely Nuz @ Word Contessa and she brought up this idea for a collab post, inspired by the book “I Call Myself a Feminist“. I haven’t read the book (I really want to!) but when she told me about this idea, I felt motivated to jump in and post about a feminist issue really close to my heart: women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
The short version:
I call myself a feminist because STEM fields can be a real boy’s club: gender ratios, pay gaps, and how women scientists are perceived. I want to encourage more science-loving girls to pursue fields that people think are “for boys.” Strike down the idea that a woman scientist isn’t as smart or logical or analytical as her male colleagues! Maybe it’s because they think we’re too #DistractinglySexy. :P
The long version:
I love science. I’ve been in love with science since I was really young, and I am currently pursuing a career in a scientific field. When I was an undergraduate, I took lots of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. I have really good memories of working in the lab with my friends, learning new concepts and actually seeing them in the experiments, and writing lab reports. (Okay, maaaaybe not that last one. :P)
But you know what sucks? The challenges that women in the STEM fields face. Today, I wanted to post about this issue. (Note: most of the statistics I was able to get were from the US. Hopefully I can come back to this topic and make a longer post when I have more time and do more in-depth research!)
- Awarded Bachelor’s Degrees: 18.2% in computer science, 19.2% in engineering, 19.1% in physics, and 43.1% in mathematics and statistics (source)
- Women make up 24% of the STEM jobs (source)
- In engineering jobs, women make up 13% and in computer and mathematical sciences, women make up 25% (source)
Though this is not the story in all scientific fields, there are usually more men than women in the undergraduate courses, graduate school (Cham’s comic focuses on PhD students), and in the STEM workforce. Is it because these fields are seen as more of a “boy thing”? Is it because girls aren’t being encouraged to pursue these fields?
The ratio in computer science is actually pretty ironic considering Ada Lovelace’s work with the analytical engine, and how she is referred to as the “first computer programmer” (source). I remember sitting in elementary school computer class and being delighted when I heard about Ada Lovelace. “A girl! Finally!” I thought, inspired.
I took computer science classes and there were always more male students and male TAs. I had one of the guys tell me to my face that he thought that women were illogical and was actually pretty surprised when I said that I was offended. :| But for the most part, the guys in the class were alright. We learned from each other, worked together, and helped each other understand the material.
I remember looking at this comic for the first time and focusing on that huge green bar on the right. But then I looked at the professors section, and I sighed.
- “For every dollar earned by a man, women in STEM earn $0.86.” (source)
- “… in engineering and architecture, women were typically paid 82 percent of what their male counterparts were paid, or about $65,000 annually, compared to $79,000 for men.” (source)
How women are perceived
Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt was roundly criticised when he detailed his thoughts about the “trouble with girls” at a conference of science journalists. “Three things happen when they are in the lab,” he said, “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.” (source)
This prompted the #DistractinglySexy hashtag, where us lady scientists posted photos of ourselves at work to show just how WHOA DISTRACTINGLY SEXY we are! (See some of them here. Be careful! You might fall in love!)
I’m sure I was #DistractinglySexy during our fieldwork when I was sweating, grunting, and lugging equipment around in a humid tropical climate. Who knows how they coped with me in the lab, running around in full lab safety gear and goggles??? How positively obscene! It’s a good thing I fought back my tears when they criticised my analytical technique! I had to excuse myself and have a good cry in the bathroom, of course!
Then there was the Barbie book entitled “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” where Barbie needs the help of her male colleagues to turn her design ideas into a “real game.” The wonderful Casey Fiesler remixed the book to turn it into something much better. :) The remix is available on her site, and I totally encourage you to give it a read!
Mattel apologised for the book, and I am very happy to see their newest Barbie ad below:
What can you do?
So after all that, what can we do? Encourage them to pursue their dreams and aspirations! I love meeting young kids who love science and say they want to be a scientist, I absolutely LOVE telling them about the awesome things they could encounter in the future. It’s important to instill that math and science aren’t just a “boy thing” and they’re for anyone who is willing to learn.
In fields mostly dominated by men, it’s important for women to support each other and be there for each other. I also think it’s great when everyone in the workplace is open to learning from each other, and being able to do awesome things together. :D
Interesting things to check out:
So what about you, dear reader? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!