STEM, pretty and pink

 

I consider myself to be the type of person who doesn’t subscribe to socially constructed expectations of gendered behaviors, and this is not some recent development after getting some liberal college education.

I have dabbled with makeup here and there but overall, I don’t use the stuff. I don’t have a compulsion to buy things because some magazine said it was the ‘now’ trend. I don’t read women’s magazines because they’re full of shit. Sometimes I have fat days, but I won’t starve myself for fear of appearing fat because that’s just stupid. And I don’t clean house because I’m the only girl living with two guys and it’s expected of me, or cook for my partner because I’m a girl.

The idea that girls need overly feminized “role models” is absurd, which makes the idea of using feminized STEM role models to get girls interested in STEM fields is that much more absurd, and I’m not surprised that inundating STEM with Barbie-esque images didn’t quite seem to work.

I’m assuming that the authors of the study weren’t exactly surprised by the outcome either.

While I didn’t pursue a career in any of the STEM fields, I do have an interest in chemistry and biology—and it wasn’t pink, flowers, and female “role models” who spent free time at the spa that got me interested in those subjects. It was how my teachers “sold” it to me.

My second grade teacher was a scuba diver, and we did a lot of activities focused on marine biology. She took us on small field trips to the pier where we looked at shells and fossils and rounded glass. Since then, I’ve had this obsession with marine mammals. My biology teacher in high school was an old fart—which might explain why people started sneaking in vodka in water bottles—but his boring persona aside, the content was intriguing and in some ways I just applied my second grade teacher’s method of curiosity and investigation into learning about biology in general. (Of course, having a better teacher would’ve been nice in 9th grade.)

Chemistry was my next intrigue, thanks to the quirkiness of my chemistry teacher. I don’t understand how schools can hire dull science teachers. Science is supposed to be fun, exciting and engaging—that’s how you get your girls interested in STEM. My chem teacher made it just that. Not only was he animated in teaching, but it seemed like we always had a lot of little projects. Memorizing the periodic table of elements was fun. He was a great teacher.

Of course my pursuit of a non-STEM field is attributed mostly to my lack of self confidence in my math abilities. Teachers can have a tremendous influence on where you’re likely to go and I have to say that my most of my math teachers did not help. But perhaps I can change the outcome now, at least on a level of personal interest.

Girls don’t need Barbie role models. They need role models that will guide them, engage them, and teach them the values and usefulness of different fields—including STEM.

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In the move to get more girls interested in STEM-related subjects, how do you think schools can get more girls interested in STEM in the long term?


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