By Eva Garces
Let’s talk about the gender disproportion of the scientific workforce. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, women comprise 48% of the American workforce but only make up 24% of those in STEM fields. It’s apparent that something is deterring women from the math and science fields, but what, and where is the divide happening?
Could it be at the elementary level? Little girls play with dolls and dresses while little boys tinker with legos and dinosaurs. One is learning how to assemble outfits, how to produce the most aesthetically pleasing compilation of cheap fabric on plastic, while the other is learning to build, to design, to create. As they get older, the girl is now told to sit straight, keep her legs closed, always be polite; the boy is encouraged to be curious, explore the world around him, ask questions. Why must one learn the manners of a secretary so early while the other gets to think like a scientist? Neither is superior but when the two ways of raising children are divided so clearly, openly segregated by gender, something is wrong.
Girls can’t only be driven away from STEM during the early stages of their life however, a lasting result comes from intense and frequent repetition. High school is a time for either extreme interest or extreme dissuasion, more commonly the latter. Almost every time I tell someone that I am interested in pursuing mathematics in college, I’m met with, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher!”; I do not. We need to eliminate this concept of women being restricted to clerical and educational work because it’s harmful to the pride and the initiative of teenage girls, making them question their own ability and strengthening the longheld and outdated notion of male superiority in academics. There is also a social aspect that contributes to the unpopularity of STEM with females. The stereotype of a female scientist is not glamorous; it’s bulky glasses, questionable and overly modest outfits, and social awkwardness. In a society that highly values the beauty and sex-appeal of women, many young girls see this inaccurate caricature and turn away.
Finally, the real world might be the biggest deterrent for females pursuing STEM. The American Community survey also found that, out of the 2.5 million female workers with a STEM degree, only 26% actually work in STEM. This indicates that even if women survive the biased conditioning, integrated sexism, and social standards, they still can’t make it in the workforce. Why? Perhaps men are truly more efficient and reliable at their jobs, leaving women the menial secretarial tasks (this would be a stronger claim if women like Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson, and Jane Goodall hadn’t used their fully-female brains to solve some of the world’s most enigmatic questions). Or perhaps our society simply has a gender bias against women that prevents them from pursuing STEM related careers throughout their lifetime; but how would I know, I’m no scientist… yet.
About the writer
Eva Garces is a high schooler who is wild about her Spotify, her cat, and her rights.
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