OPINION: Women have as rightful a place in STEM as men

Young girls are taught they’re ‘too emotional’ for science; this is not okay



Though society tends to paint certain fields as masculine or feminine, anyone should be able to pursue a career they want, no matter their sex.

RAINY SHARMA, Evergreen columnist

When talking about the fields of math and science, one thing that should be discussed is the low number of women we see in STEM fields.

Why is there such a low count of women in these fields? Are women not logical enough to understand the complex data structures or mathematical computations? Or are they not strong enough to get into the “real” world of technology?

Of course the answer to both of these questions is no. It’s not about the abilities of women, it’s about societal stereotypes.

If one wants to know the cause of an activity, it is better to reach its root. Going back to the stone age, we see both men and women carving wood into wheels, hunting animals and lighting fire.

Here, there seems to be no discrimination between men and women in performing different kinds of tasks. So when did this start?

“In history STEM has always been considered a male-dominated field and I feel the reason that there are less women in STEM fields is that it is really hard to break the barrier,” said Rachel Johnson, president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at WSU. “It is really hard for an 18-year-old girl, a freshman engineer to enter a class that contains only five girls.”

Today, it seems that certain tasks are being decided based on gender. Whenever we talk about something artistic or creative, it seems those fields are designed for women, but when it comes to the STEM fields, we assume that women don’t fit in.

STEM fields involve a lot of critical and logical thinking, analytical reasoning and statistical computations; this is what makes them different from other fields.

“It is something that needs to be taught to girls from a very early age that they can also work in STEM fields. It is not something that is only made for boys,” SWE Vice President Ayumi Manawadu said.

It is our brain that is trained to perform analytical reasoning. It is not a software that is pre-installed to which we will operate accordingly. It is our mind that functions in accordance with what we do, and we have told our minds that girls can’t think logically.

Hence, women feel sidelined in these fields because they do not feel confident enough to survive in them.

Sometimes this may be due to the lack of support they get from their peers or parents. It could also be due to feeling low in the not-so-welcoming environment of science and math and the lack of other female companions to share their thoughts with could take a toll.

Analytical skills are not something we are born with. It is something that we learn. If a woman is thought to be naturally good at cooking, then the logic follows that if she can accurately prescribe the correct quantity of ingredients while cooking and transform it into something delicious, she can likely analyze the amount of data that needs to be inserted or deleted from a particular file, distinguish the amount of material that needs to be mixed with concrete or determine the power of x that needs to be substituted in a particular equation.

The only difference is that in a kitchen, ingredients are calculated in terms of teaspoons, tablespoons and grams. In other fields, the units are measured in bits and bytes; essentially, they are the same.

If it weren’t for the contributions of women, we would not be using a graphing calculator today, an invention by a woman, (Edith Clarke). We would not be living in this world of wireless communication – which was the result of the technology developed by Hedy Lamarr, an actress as well as an engineer.

Just imagine, we likely couldn’t connect to people at mobile locations if wireless communication was never invented. Could you imagine computing the complex calculations and graph designing without a graphing calculator?

Some of us may still think that these inventions and technologies would eventually be developed by someone else or that these women were not alone while they created these technological advancements. But the point is that even in a team, a woman majorly contributed to these inventions.

“It is not that women do not fit in engineering, it is just that we need to break the stereotypes and provide the support and backbone to women for pursuing a career in STEM fields,” Manawadu said. “If they find more role models in these fields, the coming generation of girls will move towards pursuing their career in [them.]”

It’s not impossible to expect numbers of women in these fields to increase, but we as a society have to do work for that to happen.

“In the coming future, hopefully we might see equal numbers of men and women in the STEM field,” Johnson said. “But [today] there are organizations like Society of Women Engineers and many companies [that have] networks for women engineers are also becoming very prominent and more established, so hopefully it will create stronger communities for the minorities in the STEM fields.”