It is no secret that men vastly outnumber women in many STEM fields. My class in Mechanical Engineering at University of Illinois is about 35% women, and I boast of how high that is. Fortunately, more and more schools and employers are implementing programs to bring women into STEM fields. I, myself, was lucky that I had a very encouraging engineer as a father, and that my high school had programs in place to let women know that they could be valuable to the STEM community.
I’ve done a lot of work in theatre and dance, which are predominantly female at amateur levels. I watched, especially in dance, how when a boy showed up or showed interest, he was aggressively nurtured and given the spotlight, whereas girls were so abundant that they would work tirelessly and have to out-dance all their female peers to get half the attention of the boys. I sympathize with these boys in that it is hard to break stereotypes and practice a predominantly female artform. My friendwas bullied at school because of this. But the dance teachers knew the boys could add to the team in ways that the girls could not, and did their best to make the education worthwhile.
I wish I saw comparable treatment for women in male dominated fields. While the benefit of including women in STEM is not as obvious as dance, it absolutely exists. Right now, people in STEM fields are powerful members of the community. Women have vastly different life experiences than men; excluding their voices from these conversations about how technology, science, and our lifestyles will change will give an incomplete representation of humanity’s needs.
Many of my male peers do not see it this way. Like the girls at the dance studio, they complain that women’s inclusion is a nuisance infringing on their right to succeed. It saddened me to hear a friend say, “I didn’t get into the program I wanted because I’m not a woman.” This a parallel discourse to that surrounding Affirmative Action. When one’s gender role has groomed them to have a certain position or career, one feels threatened by those who are praised for being interested.
Silvia Federici’s perhaps dated article, “Wages Against Housework,” briefly examines professions that are predominately female, like teachers, nurses, and secretaries, because these extend from wifely/motherly care-taking responsibilities and are historically very gendered. I look forward to a day when work is de-gendered, but I do not believe that day is close. In the meantime, we can push STEM careers to exist in harmony with “femininity.” Teach young girls that they can play with legos instead of barbies, that they can do well in math, and that they can speak up in class. These are not innovative ideas, but they are important ones. Recruiting women who are luke-warm about STEM will only get us so far. We need to instill passion for these subjects, so we do not miss out on any important voices.