I once had a teacher tell me that I was never going to be good at math because I’m a girl…
It struck me as funny because while she was explaining this to me, I remember thinking, “You’re a woman and you’re teaching math…so if you can comprehend it, then why can’t I?” She had no response when asked this question, and thankfully I was moved out of her class a few weeks later.
Unfortunately though, this is an all too common stigma attached to young girls and women in society. We are told almost from the get go in school that we will never be able to understand math, science, or anything complicated when it comes to numbers or technology simply because we are girls. Without realizing it, we begin to internalize these comments and start to actually believe that we will never be good at math or science or engineering, etc. Telling girls they can’t do something simply because they are girls is like telling someone, ‘just because it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck it IS NOT actually a duck’ even though we all know it really is a duck.
Something else starts to happen as well. If you look closely, you will see that there are not very many women in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 47% of women make up the total workforce in the United States, but in the STEM area the numbers are even more alarming: 39% represent chemists and material scientists, 28% are environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16% are chemical engineers and 12% are civil engineers. Why is that? According to a 2010 study by the AAUW, there are a number of factors that influence why women tend to stray away from the STEM field, including: stereotypes, gender bias, and the overall atmosphere of the STEM departments in colleges and universities.
How do we change this stigma? It would be easy to say accept the fact that girls in society today are no longer abiding by the traditional gender roles assigned to us so long ago. We are breaking barriers, going after and achieving our dreams. To tell us we cannot do something because we are girls is ridiculous. We need to start changing attitudes and it all starts within the education system. According to Time magazine, a recent study done by Girl Scouts of America suggests that, “Teenage girls often do not feel welcome in STEM classrooms [and] they do not have many role models for STEM careers such as engineering or computer programming.”
More schools are beginning to implement STEM specific programs to encourage young girls to participate and go after their dreams of working as an engineering, computer programmer, and so on. The earlier we expose young girls to the STEM field is critical and by changing the way society perceives women in STEM is the only way to grow the number of women in the STEM field.