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Can you be a feminine scientist?

What being feminine means needs to change as a matter of national security.

Eileen Pollack’s claims girls don’t pursue degrees in the sciences for three main reasons. First, their professors don’t acknowledge their accomplishments. And these academics don’t encourage girls to earn advanced degrees in these disciplines. In some cases they are discouraged to even take the classes if they encounter difficulties with the material. Lastly, the idea of being feminine has been confused with caring what others think at the exclusion of doing what makes you happy. In no way am I a scientists, but I am a student of the risk taking involved in being a scientists, artist, and athlete. It saddens me to think that men and women, teachers and parents continue to further the stereotype that being a scientists isn’t feminine or what good girls should do.

I was taken by Pollack’s connection that girls who are tenacious enough to pursue degrees in physics, chemistry and other sciences don’t “care” about being girlie, feminine or what other people think of them. She even goes so far as to mention the CBS hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory” characters as examples of the negative social connotation of being a female scientist. (After I finish my dissertation, I think I want to conduct a study of how female scientists are portrayed in television.)

One thing I really liked about Pollack’s article – she gave a great “shout out” for the power of all girls’ schools. More on that in a future blog post.

I don’t completely agree with how Pollack places blame for the lack of women in the sciences, but I do agree that the conversation needs to be elevated. Men and women, mothers and fathers need to engage with both girls and boys in a conversation about what it means to be feminine and what it means to be a scholar – especially one who excels in the sciences.

The global economy continues to move in the direction of being dominated by “knowledge” jobs and the STEM sector is growing every second. The shortage of qualified U.S. citizens for the available STEM jobs continues to grow as well. More females are attending and graduating from college than males. Therefore, we need more females to pursue STEM related majors and careers to keep the U.S. economically competitive. Increasing the number of women scientists truly is a national security matter. I wonder if this type of thinking is what it will take to lessen the bias that young women face when they want to be scientists.

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