Maybe it’s because I’m actually intimidating, but I for the most part consider myself fairly lucky as a woman in science. I’ve been fortunate enough to escape the horror stories of exploitation and sexual harassment that fill many of my colleagues’ journals. Yet, the recent story about the lack of medium-sized spacesuits – and the social media chatter about lack of women’s field gear – hit a nerve. It made me question my perceived luck.
I also remembered reading other women’s long list of times gender bias reared its ugly head in a career perfectly devoid of major sexual misconduct. I bet I could write that, I thought to myself. I wonder how long the list would be. So here goes, starting with the most egregious:
A shortened – and less ribald – version of this post was published 24-07-2017 in the International Business Times.
Ah, the transition from middle school to high school… the one part of adolescence no one reminisces about fondly. It’s the time in our lives where mental and physical changes happen at pace without any apparent continuity, and we feel compelled to blend in. This is the same time when most young girls’ interest in STEM stops, and in my educator/zoologist opinion, these events are related.
What does our culture gear teenage girls to prioritize? Making varsity teams, growing boobs to the correct size and at the correct time, and completing enough social jostling to earn the superhuman prom date. Most of the STEM-geared young girls I have worked with couldn’t care less about the above – but the attitude of their peers changes by the end of 8th grade.
Students of both sexes in 6th grade will happily discuss how rainbows are made and share their mutual wonder if the natural world, but those conversations quickly become “immature” when the puberty plague takes hold. It’s also in 8th grade when boys enter a race to the bottom of inappropriate jokes fueled by mutual insecurities. Suddenly, STEM-interested pupils find that their friends are segregating, fashion forward girls to one side and crude boys to the other, leaving a handful who want to discuss the space/time continuum floundering somewhere in the middle.
Then, regardless of where you sit on the social divide, hormones kick in. This critical time is when young people figure out how to create partnerships, what constitutes a good or bad relationship, and the physics of copulation. In addition to this, obtaining a socially higher-ranking partner becomes an unconscious priority. Guess what most young men think is unattractive in women? Intelligence (unless you’re beautiful enough to compensate). YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.