I’m the type of person who continues to turn things over in my mind even long after they’ve passed. Seven or eight years ago, I sat at the back of the room not trying very hard to feign interest as six people on stage duked it out in a ‘battle of the sexes’ (gag). As predicted, each team relied on gendered stereotypes to get the upper hand on the other team; the boys asked about cars and sports, whereas the girls asked about make-up and fashion.
There I was, thinking I couldn’t hate this game even more, when one of the boys asks the girl team to “name three female scientists”. Thirty seconds hadn’t even passed before the girl team gave up on even naming one. OOOOOOOOOO. The room was in an uproar; I was livid. To be honest, I couldn’t name three scientists either, “Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall.….Rachel Carson….. uuuuhhh…” I had really good grades in high school as well as intelligent math and science teachers, therefore I was certain that there were a lot of women in science, I just beat myself up for not knowing about them.
“It’s great to have you two here, to really get that, ‘women in science’ perspective.”
I look around the room, surely she isn’t including me is she?
I didn’t realize how much of an accomplishment being a scientist was until I got to college. I found my first quarter of school very difficult as I became adjusted to life and studies in a new place. I started to believe that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a wildlife biologist and I veered paths. Later I learned that a lot of people struggled with science, not just me. Although I knew a lot of women who had STEM majors, it didn’t always come easy. Some women felt a lot of pressure to be twice as good as their peers because any mistakes would be chalked up to “being a girl”. I also knew some that left the field because they felt they didn’t measure up, even though they were just as capable (if not more so) as some of my friends. While the men with C’s still felt confident enough to continue, a lot of bright women with similar (if not better) grades switched majors. I don’t have any statistics, but I wonder how much of this has to do with the stereotype that “women aren’t good at math”.
Despite taking ecology courses in my undergrad, I always feel “not science-y enough”. I enjoy learning about ecology (I would even sit in on lectures that I wasn’t signed up for, just so that I could learn about plants), but fem classes really spoke to me. Very few classes felt so relatable and challenging the way these classes did. Nevertheless, I whenever I am asked what my major is, I usually omit the part about studying feminism. Which is quite funny because when asked about the science major part I’ll say “Oh no, I only got a B.A. (as opposed to a B.S.)”
Confidence takes time and can be challenging, but I am trying to build up that other side of me. Even if I can’t do it for myself, I want to be part of the movement where girls and women feel comfortable in STEM fields.
As I continue on my journey and meet so many inspirational women, I reflect and admire that it wasn’t always this easy. It’s a step in the right direction when I can see women in bio classes, where I work (in high positions too!), and even in the news as awesome role models. In the end, maybe that memory wasn’t so insignificant; this question guides me. What affects women’s participation in the STEM fields? Why is it hard for some women to be able to name 3 women in science, and why don’t we learn more about their accomplishments? Now when asked to ‘name three women in science’ we can answer with “only three?” as you school them on the influential works of Marie Curie, Chien-Shiung Wu, Shirley Ann Jackson, and in the future, maybe even your own work.