For a good few years now, like many young women and men out there trying to make their mark on the world, I’ve been a victim of gender bias and gender discrimination. I say this because bias and discrimination can go either way, for or against an individual’s interests.
Have you ever been pressured to pursue a different career than your dream one simply because of your gender? I have, and I’m not talking about the pressure to become a nurse instead of a doctor, or a smiling secretary instead of a manual laborer.
No, I’m talking about STEM fields: Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math. I’ve been encouraged numerous times by people around me to pursue a STEM-related career simply because I’m female, without any regard to my interests or my proficiency in STEM subjects (enumerated as follows).
- All throughout my grade school career, I got reasonable grades in math, but the only science class I truly enjoyed was a conceptual science elective where we analyzed pseudoscience concepts presented in old works of (PG-rated) pulp fiction. I didn’t enjoy these subjects enough to really retain much more than what I needed to get through the tests, and then it went out the other ear.
- I use technology. I’m not technophobic. In fact, I use the computer to make most of my art these days, whether it’s using graphic design programs and tools, or simply writing my thoughts down in word processing documents in hopes that they’ll become books in the end. But I don’t see myself programming or assembling or designing tomorrow’s technology for some other artist to use.
- Lastly, I’m not averse to engineering, but in a practical sense, it’s just not my thing. Several of my family members are engineers and I’ve learned a thing or two about the field just growing up around them. My dad says my amateur propsmithing endeavors are a kind of engineering, but like my use of technology, it’s really just to make art. I don’t see myself making real-life useful things for people; just the occasional cosplay prop. I can think like an engineer but I’m not interested in being one.
In high school, a bunch of female students (myself included) were signed up for a special program provided by the Byron Academy. They’re an online institution which teaches young girls the skills they’d need to pursue careers in STEM. The specific class I was enrolled in, with a bunch of other girls from around the world, was an introduction to programming.
At the time, Byron Academy’s promotional and introductory materials made primarily two assertions:
- Young girls and women want to pursue STEM subjects and fields, but are being held back by oppressive gender norms.
- Girls are statistically proven to be better at STEM subjects than boys.
In fact, according to the program, girls are supposedly better than boys at a lot of things, including hand-eye coordination. (Saying “you throw like a girl” should be a compliment!) Not this girl…..
After the first couple of web conference classes, I quickly became lost and confused by what they were teaching, and I became increasingly annoyed at the increasingly misandrist ideology I felt they were pushing. I really don’t think pitting girls against boys is going to help our society become more egalitarian than it already is.
Eventually, I quit the program. While their intentions to empower young women in the workforce are honorable, it simply wasn’t a good fit for me. I felt like I was being sought out to attend the course solely because I’m female, based on a generalized presumption that all young females want to get into STEM fields, but are being held back by external factors (i.e. gender bias and social conditioning since childhood). I bet a lot of other young girls and women do – but not all of us. Certainly not this girl!
Eventually, on my own, I tried to study coding from various places, like CodeAcademy and Harvard’s CS50 program. Maybe Byron Academy simply didn’t teach the subject in the best way for me to understand. But I still got so lost every time I tried again. Heck, I even tried programming with Scratch, and I got confused with that! I’ve retained enough knowledge to do some basic HTML and CSS modifications to my blog pages, but that’s about it. I’m simply not one of those amazing girls who code.
But that doesn’t stop people from bringing it up all the time. “You should pursue a STEM career,” people who barely know me (and then some who do) insist, “because there aren’t enough girls in those fields!” When I’m told this sort of thing, I feel like I’m being objectified, sexually. Because of my sex. But not in the usual, perverse sort of way. I’m being discriminated for, with good intentions, but it’s still discrimination!
Long story short, I may be female, but whether you’re progressive or conservative / traditional in your mindset, please don’t assume my interests and aspirations based on my gender alone.
Don’t assume, based on my gender and other demographic factors, that I want a life of stay-at-home-mother-of-eight-hood, and don’t assume I’m being held back from a career in STEM either. Some of us might have other callings, even multiple at once. I get that, historically, some of us have retreated to the arts as a safe haven from the oppressors, but there are also people who actually want to be here, or in nursing, or secretarial jobs.
If women are to shatter glass ceilings in STEM fields, we should be sending qualified women into these fields, not artsy daydreamers like me. Sometimes girls who do have potential in these fields need a push to get there, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean all girls, with no regard to their unique interests, need to be shoved to it against their will and against their interests.