“Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”
Nobel laureate Tim Hunt got a lot of criticism for this comment a couple of months ago.
Surely, the STEM gender gap is getting smaller than ever, and there are more campaigns to involve women in science than ever.
And yet, it is widely believed that men’s brains are wired for science, while women “have wordier brains”. While there are many studies that claim to prove that we are “wired differently” it’s tough to differentiate between what was a difference since birth and what was built through socialising and upbringing. It’s an age old debate of “nature vs. nurture”.
In my personal experience, I have seen no innate limitations in the women scientists I’ve known, nor have I seen any lack of enthusiasm.
Growing up in a girls only environment in both a conservative developing country and then a more liberal developed country, I have had the opportunity to experience two different approaches to girls’ education, and the effects that these have on their decisions for the future.
It seems to me that in an environment where girls are invited to explore any interest they please, many flock towards science. For example, 40% of girls in my current environment take at least one out of Chemistry and Biology, compared to the 10% from my old, more conservative environment.
The sciences are not discouraged for these girls, they are just not celebrated.
And this is the problem. We shouldn’t need to be advertising subjects, trying to “sell them” to pupils. The subjects should be a choice that everyone is free to make. It should not be overcompensated with more people leaning one way or another.
After all, we are all humans with different preferences and it is just as valid to lean towards the sciences as it is to the humanities.
Gender should not define our personalities or our interests, and it certainly should NOT define our professional limitations.
So long as there are people who make comments strongly based on stereotypes and and unfair judgements, women may not be able to pursue the fields they love most. Heck, there will be girls who may not even realise that there is this passion within them.
I’m trying to keep this short and to have a clear point across. The way we get more women involved in science is by realising that there is no trick behind it all. No hidden way of trapping girls into being interested in STEM fields. Girls will be interested if they are given the chance. If they understand that it is a choice for them to make, and especially if we acknowledge that it should be normal for girls to take an interest in science.
There is no space for sexism in STEM. Research is all about collaboration and team work. We need to stop telling women to “go make me a sandwich” because in a lab where cutting edge science is happening, there is no space for this kind of bigotry.
If you ever see a girl pick up a bug, please don’t tell her that it is masculine, or “gross”
If a girl ever tells you that she enjoys maths, do not tell her that maths are for boys.
If a girl ever expresses her love for science (or for any other subject, really) do not trap her down under your own gender stereotypes. Support girls and boys to pursue the things they love.
Passions have no gender.