Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

girls, science, and role models

I like to take two articles, smush them together, and see what emerges from the collision.

First, thank you to @adelamaide for this link: Why Aren't More Girls Attracted To Physics?

Sociologists wanted to know why high school girls weren't signing up for physics in numbers equal to boys. When they poked around, they found that there were some communities where this was not the case, girls wanted all kinds of physics. These communities also happened to have more women in STEM.

"What we found is that in communities that had a higher percentage of women in the labor force who are working in science, technology, engineering and math, that in those schools, girls were as likely as boys to take physics, or even more likely."

Riegle-Crumb's finding about the importance of local role models meshes with a broad range of earlier work that shows the decision to pursue math and science is not about innate differences between boys and girls, but about social context and norms.

Second, when researching impostor syndrome earlier this year I ran across this: Could impostor syndrome learn from sports? It's all about how in sports, we get to see everything going on: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat! And then there's science, where we see one thing: winners winning. Dig around, and you find that all great scientists had their defeats: einstien harshly criticized quantum theory, steve jobs had that NeXT company (after he got fired) that was way off the mark. But those stories don't fit into the hero worship. Studies don't make the news when they fail, companies quietly file away products that don't work. From the outside, you'd think that science is all about brilliant people, and if you're a person who wins some and loses some, you won't fit in.

Knowing this, when I talk to kids I always try to point out that I am not a super genius, I was not in honors math classes, did not take calculus in high school, did not finish my multiplication tables first in elementary school. I didn't even like all math. Matrix algebra is tedious bullshit if you ask me. But it's just one kind of math... it's like pie (no pun intended), sometime in the 10th or 11th grade it starts branching out into so many variations there's something for everybody. Don't give up before you get to the good stuff!

But back to my smushing. So much of my life is dedicated to answering the question of why there aren't more women in science, and here are these two articles: one finding a correlation where role models make a difference, and another theorizing that in the absence of role models, science is unique in its ability to look scary from the outside. It backs up the idea that the correlation is no coincidence, there really is something unique about STEM here, and we're right to think that the numbers could shift, if we ask the right questions.
Tags: engineering, feminism, women engineers
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