This is really interesting and it’s interesting to read everyone’s responses to it. I think to some extent men are more naturally inclined to think in the way necessary for STEM subjects. That doesn’t mean that there are women out there who can do it and maybe do it better. While I think it is sexist to call things men’s subjects and women’s subject, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that men tend to be more factual and logical thinkers, necessary for STEM. It is the way we are as humans, just like the desire for families tend to be more inherent in women. And yes, this creates an inbalance in the field.
I loved math and physics in high school, and in college continue to study physics as a minor. I never felt faced with the stigma that these were boys’ subjects and I never felt bad that I wasn’t as good in English or arts. My dad always wanted me and my sister to do well in all our classes, but especially in math. Even though I knew that STEM fields were more populated with men, it never made me stop and think that I didn’t want to be interested in science and math.
Perhaps it is true that careers in these fields interfere more with women’s lives when they want to have a family. The want of children is more inherent in women. However, there are a lot of fields that would interfere with having a family if a woman really wanted to advance in it.
Maybe there is a stigma deep in everyone’s subconscious. One person said that when a teacher is approached by a girl who is having difficulty in math or science, the response is that it is okay, but when approached by a boy with the same problem the boy receives help and encouragement. Maybe the teacher doesn’t even realize the difference in response. Though I would hope a teacher would deny no students help.
I think it becomes a problem when there is an active social pressure that tell girls no to science. This is not something I have experienced. And I have many friends going into pre-med and pharmacy and know several girls studying to be engineers.
The more I re-read this study, I keep coming back to two thoughts (all generalized, of course):
1) The idea of there being “feminine fields” that are non-science seems a bit sexist to me, although I am not a female and not uniquely qualified to judge such things.
2) Despite the undertones I am picking up on from the study, there does seem to be something underlying women’s reactions to science. Some sort of cognitive dissonance is setting in. Somewhere in the subconscious, their imagery (even though it may not be true imagery) of what it means to be a female scientist doesn’t match up with what they think/want/feel … on some level, anyway.
The findings come from a series of studies, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, that were undertaken to determine why women, who have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace over the past few decades, continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Lead author Lora Park, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, and her co-authors found converging support for the idea that when romantic goals are activated, either by environmental cues or personal choice, women—but not men—show less interest in STEM and more interest in feminine fields, such as the arts, languages and English. The research is described in the article to be published in the September issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science,” says Park. “One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms.”
More subtle social pressures having huge effects on women’s role in STEM fields. Of course, if more of the romance of science were apparent, if the drama of the journey to discovery were made more clear, perhaps this could be different?
I mean, science (and scientists) is/are sexy, in their own way. Some people hate the use of sexy in this way, but how else do you describe the primal excitement of discovery and learning, the rush of satisfaction? And the lab coats … so hot, amiright?
The above study is evidence of past failures in the imagery of science put forth, but not an unassailable problem. We can put our hearts in this along with our minds.