She’s Just Not that Into it: Women’s Difficult Relationship with Science

women in science

Author: Himika Chakraborty | Image: pintofscience.co.uk

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Every time I read some mind-numbingly stupid comment about women and science on the Internet, I always end up feeling justifiably angry and indignant. But also, somehow a little guilty.

I didn’t have science in higher secondary school myself and by some twisted sense of self blame, I sometimes feel that by studying literature, I am subscribing to the tradition of women being fit only for the humanities. But despite knowing that no discipline is inferior, I can’t help but think of the difficult relationship between science and women, even when there has been a favourable increase in the number of girls excelling in science.

Science is often a boys’ club, starting from middle school all the way up to higher education, and therefore, it’s no wonder that girls feel like they don’t belong.

Surveys have shown that girls are likely to rate themselves less innately intelligent (with the opposite being true for boys), and since intelligence is tied to aptitude – in science and in common belief – many girls feel like they got good grades in science only because they slogged. I distinctly remember feeling that way, and hearing my friends discuss about the girls getting good grades in the same vein. Right from school, math clubs, science clubs and science exhibitions were dominated by boys, to an extent that it would make me wonder:

“Do girls just suck at science in general?”

The worst part is that as a result, this creates a vicious cycle of exclusion – fewer women study science, even fewer get into STEM and a smaller number still, will go on to be recognized as imminent scientists. This gives a free pass to sexist pseudo-intellectuals like Google’s James Damore to derive the faulty conclusion that women are innately averse to the sciences and technology. It also provides little encouragement for young girls to take up science – making the sordid circle complete.

If that wasn’t enough, the narrative is skewed to glorify the men too. Haven’t you ever wondered why we read extensively about likes of Hawking, Newton, Dalton and Darwin in our text books and get to see films on John Nash, Einstein, Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla and even the desi Srinivasa Ramanujan but hardly ever read or consumed other media about Cecelia Payne, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Jane Goodall, Vera Rubin, Rosalind Franklin?

2016’s biographical drama Hidden Figures finally brings much needed representation and recognition for contributions by women of colour to math and science.

How will we inspire young girls to chase careers in science if we don’t tell them stories of phenomenal women scientists who actually lived and excelled in the field?

Last but perhaps most importantly, the inclusion needs to begin at home and from an early age. At the stage where we hand out LEGOs to the boys and Barbies to the girls.

Let’s not forget that every time society assumed we sucked at something, we’ve always proven them wrong. They said women couldn’t be good authors till Jane Austen took up her pen, they said women couldn’t be doctors till Elizabeth Blackwell put on the stethoscope. Today ,even after our Curies, Asima Chatterjees and Emmy Noethers, the naysayers think women and science aren’t just into each other.

Well, I see no reason why we can’t prove them wrong again.

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About the Author:

Himika is an English Literature student at Jadavpur University.

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