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domingo, 13 de julio de 2014

How to discourage the few women that choose STEM careers.

I am not going to pretend I know a lot about Richard Feynman. Yes I knew he was one of the major contributors and figures of modern physics. And yes I have heard he was kind of sexist that's it. So this is not going to be a post about him, rather a post about things that came to my mind while reading all the activity on my Twitter TL the last few days. This was specially inspired after reading Janet D. Stemwedel'sHeroes, human “foibles”, and science outreach.

There's a lot of discussion about how very few women chose STEM careers. People like +DN Lee are great advocates about what we can do to keep girls interested in science through their middle school and high school years. There is no way to deny that we have a lot of work on this front and there are still way to many things we can do to change the constant discouraging of young girls towards STEM careers.  But I want to dedicate this post to the women that DID CHOSE A STEM CAREER. 

As I mentioned in my last post I don't come exactly from the kind of background that promoted a science career. Despite that, I studied Chemical Engineering and even though I had several discouraging experiences with the opposite sex I kept telling myself that was not the REAL SCIENCE WORLD it was just my bad luck that I happened to meet bad men that happened to be scientists. But the more I read on twitter and experience academia the more I have to admit it IS THE REAL SCIENCE WORLD and that is time to speak up. Maybe the more of us that tell our stories the more people will realize we haven't made that much of a breakthrough regarding leaving sexism as just a part of society's past. 

There was a professor at college that the first day of class chose two people. The most beautiful girl in the classroom and the ugliest guy. The beautiful girl would be called  "Miss Chalk" for the rest of the semester and the ugly guy "Mr. Eraser", also the girl would get an A+ no matter what she did the rest of the semester and they guy would have to run errands and erase the blackboard the rest of the semester. The professor's logic behind this, as he explained semester after semester at his class, was that on the one hand the girl was beautiful and therefore all her life she would get ahead and get benefits wether she deserved it or not just because she was beautiful. On the other hand the guy was so ugly that he will have to struggle the rest of his life even if he was smart and good. I did not take class with this professor but my experiences were not better than Miss Chalk. 

I happen to have a C on Physics I, the reason was that the professor I had always gave women C's and only if AND ONLY IF you begged, flirt or wore a mini skirt he changed your grade to an A. So he abused his position of power to boost his ego. I also had a professor that once told me I was too pretty to study a SMART CAREER that was only for ugly girls I shouldn't try so hard. During a group project our male classmates asked my friend and I to wear a miniskirt or really tight leggings the day of the presentation so the professor would give an A to the whole team. Needless to say that the opinions we had during the development of the project weren't taken in account and they only wanted us on their team to give the final presentation. Finally once I came to class and one of my male classmates told me I got the classroom wrong that was a engineer's class and I certainly didn't belong there.

I got trough all that with my head high. It was Mexico, a traditionally macho country. It was an engineer major there has always been a struggle for women to prove they are worthy engineers I just had to hold on to and someone would notice I was truly good not just a pretty face. But semester after semester the amount of girls that stayed engineers diminished. 

Suddenly it happened, I started working for a PI that gave a damn, that treated me seriously and that seemed to look beyond my face. Long story short to this day after I found out he had a romantic interest (if we can call it that) in me I don't know if he accepted me in his group because I was smart and good or because from the very beginning he thought he could get into my pants. And that is the real problem.

I said no, he didn't treated me bad, he didn't force me, he just went after the next girl that would say yes. So according to many of the comments I have read the last few days, not only was I lucky, he was a bad man but not a bad scientist and his actions didn't hurt science. He was just a man with the manliest hobbies of all: chasing skirts. The problem is this: He had a type. He didn't went after every girl in his group, but all the girls he ended up chasing had physical and personality traits in common. I fit the type perfectly. So to this day I don't know if he really thought I was good at my job. And it affected me. I did consider not studying a Ph.D because of that experience. And I did have to do a lot of personal job to overcome it. 

Yes, here is the part where women everywhere and even some men will tell me that a man or a series of men don't define what we women are. That part of the problem is exactly that, that we women allow men to define if we are good or not. And I do agree I shouldn't be wondering if I'm good or not. I should be confident enough to know that I was good I just happened to fit his type.  I'm not playing the victim here BUT I WAS ONE, I just happened to go on with my life after that. 

The problem is that once again the responsibility lies on women and not on the men we face. Like #yesallwomen we wore the short skirts or danced provocatively or were too pretty for our own good. If we get discouraged to keep our STEM majors is because we let men get to us. Because we weren't strong enough and we let men define who we were. But is not like that. Those situations, the ones I lived, the ones lots of women face everyday shouldn't be happening on the first place. And things are not going to change until we make men in science and academia responsible for their actions.

Few women chose STEM careers and fewer get STEM majors,  even fewer stay in Academia. If we keep doing the same things, justifying behaviors, making us totally responsable of the situation and protecting important men because of their scientific value we are going to keep getting the same results.

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