“Women in science” is a term that has many different layers of meaning for me, and how I relate to the idea of being a female in a typically male-dominated field has evolved a lot over the last few months. I had the amazing experience of growing up with a lot of very strong, successful women around me, and I was exposed to the world of science both through my engineer father as well as through a few key female scientist role models. This awesome combo is unfortunately a rarity for many little girls growing up, and today I realize how amazingly fortunate I was. In addition to constant exposure to gender-stereotyping and subtle hints that girls aren’t good at things you need for science (like math), young girls today don’t have a large selection of female scientist role models to pick from, leading to a lack of beneficial counterexamples to prove the stereotypes wrong. But why don’t more girls have science-related female role models like I did? Where do all the awesome female science students go, if not into science? In the past few months I’ve become more aware of some of the hardships that women in this field – or any other male-dominated field, really – are exposed to simply because of their gender, and it’s been eye-opening and extremely disappointing (for a particularly poignant example, read about the DNLee debacle here or look up the hashtag #StandwithDNLee). After hearing anecdotal stories of discrimination and even sexual harassment, and becoming aware of some of the specific pressures that female scientists are under (especially around the topic of starting a family, and balancing work and family life), it comes as no surprise to me that many female science students never go on to achieve higher-tier academic positions. How do we fix this? How do we convince more young girls that they do indeed possess the ability to do some badass science just like their fathers, brothers and male friends, and how do we continue to foster a positive environment for women actively pursuing careers in science?
Turns out there are A LOT of amazing people asking (and answering!) these questions, and I am in awe of many of the female scientists and science writers I’ve watched address these challenges in the last few months. One super cool example I want to share with you guys that inspired this post in the first place, is geobiologist Hope Jahren’s (@HopeJahren) transformation of the twitter hashtag #ManicureMonday. This hashtag was originally started by Seventeen Magazine for women and girls to post pictures of their manicures (and there are some BOMB manicures out there, let me tell you). When Hope stumbled upon it, she started posting pictures of her manicured hands doing cool science things! The trend caught on, and now the hashtag brings up just as many pictures of women whose hands are conducting science experiments as it does pictures of women’s crazy cool ombre manicures. If you have a twitter account I really encourage checking out the results for #ManicureMonday, some of them are pretty awesome.
The reason this particular example of someone addressing the “women in science” issue has really made an impression on me is that, like Hope herself says in her interview with MSNBC, it emphasizes the importance of what a girls hands are doing, rather than just how they look. I think this is a message that needs to be much more prominent in pop culture, that what women do is much more important, much more noteworthy, much more valued, than how they look. Additionally, I really like that this promotion of women in science incorporates femininity, instead of trying to downplay it to make women in science “fit” into the stereotypically male description of a scientist. The typically male-associated qualities of being analytical, good at math, and assertive are NOT mutually exclusive from the typically female-associated qualities of being nurturing, creative, and communicative. Women can be badass scientists, work really well with our hands, AND be wearing pink nail polish while we do it. I hope more examples of empowerment for women in STEM fields continue to crop up, and that young girls everywhere take notice, get their hands dirty, and take pride in their brains just as much if not more than in their beauty.