When encouragement became a shove: the accidental pressure of the “Girls in STEM” movement

The+recent+push+for+more+women+in+STEM+has+put+many+girls+in+an+uncomfortable+position.

Pixabay

The recent push for more women in STEM has put many girls in an uncomfortable position.

Alyce Brown, Staff Contributor

There need to be more girls in STEM fields, there’s no question. But the assumption that the deficit comes from lack of encouragement fails to consider one thing: simple disinterest.

Women in STEM are seen as heros, which many are, but the lack of any intense recognition being extended to women in non-STEM fields perpetuates an unfair pressure. As books, hashtags, and movies cause young girls to become enamored with the idea of breaking glass ceilings by entering one of these majors, girls who love English or Art can feel like pursuing their passion would just be playing into what is “expected” of a girl.

It happened to me. As an 8th grader who was becoming passionate about gender equality, I tried to convince myself that I loved STEM; I wanted to do my part in reaching equality, and I was convinced that was the only way. Suppressing my love for writing, I attended engineering conferences that I hated and convinced myself that I liked to code, a time-consuming and expensive endeavor that I rarely enjoyed.

Despite the general argument that a lack of encouragement is the problem, research shows that my experience is not isolated. According to a study done on high school students in 67 countries by Leeds Beckett University and the University of Missouri, 51 percent of girls excel in reading, compared to the 24 and 25 percent who excel in science and math. With such a large percentage of girls having non-STEM related talents, presenting an engineering or computer science degree as an exemplar of feminism or strength is simply not fair to intelligent young women who would rather use their talents elsewhere.

And often, a liberal arts degree turns out to have more longevity than a STEM one. In the New York Times article “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure,” David Deming argues that it is harder for STEM majors to keep up with the changing face of their field: “Help-wanted ads for jobs like software developer and engineer were more likely to ask for skills that didn’t exist a decade earlier….Skill turnover was much higher in STEM fields than in other occupations.” In the current environment, a well-rounded liberal arts education, capable of sustaining an entire career, is too often implied as an inferior option for girls figuring out their future.

Women in STEM do still deserve the recognition they receive, but the fight to include more girls needs to be one free of guilt for those who decide not to tag along. Celebrating women in all fields is vital, because STEM professions are not the only place where there is shattered glass.