I run a YouTube channel with plethora of nerdy videos about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM for short. It is my goal to make these subjects fun, accessible, and normalized for women and gender non-conforming folks. As a recent viewer asked: Why?
I truly wish that me being good at math and science had nothing to do with feminism and inclusion. I want to do math and physics and engineering because I love them! Unfortunately, throughout my education and career, I have experienced the full spectrum of sexism. The same goes for every other woman and other visible minorities, which means it is especially bad for women and gender non-binary folks of color.
So what does this mean? It means that women and other visible minorities do not see themselves in these fields, which means that is less likely that these folks will pursue careers in this fields. It means that women and other visible minorities are told from very early ages that they are not good at STEM subjects and that it’s “okay” if they don’t understand, which prevents them from trying to learn from the very beginning. It means that women and other visible minorities have to constantly prove that we are capable of being good at STEM subjects.
Here’s a specific example: when I was called into a professor’s office in college, my peers told me it was because he wanted to sleep with me. In reality, it was because I was the top of our physics class and, as a result of my hard work, he offered me a research opportunity. My peers’ comments made me extremely uncomfortable and it meant that they did not see me as a hardworking and high-achieving student, they saw me as an object. Their attitudes planted a seed that has been watered every day by others and our society as a whole until it turned into a monstrous weed that threatened to overcome everything else I’ve worked so hard to build. It has taken me as much time and energy to rip up that weed as it has for me to learn these subjects (which is to say: a LOT). And it is work that is never over, because the sexism never ends.
Generally speaking, the constant barrage of sexism in STEM fields only gets worse as women get higher up and farther into their career, which is a huge reason why the small percentage of women who succeed in STEM oftentimes end up leaving these fields.
I don’t want to have to fight to do the things I love and am good at, it is waste of my energy and my time that could otherwise be spent on learning and doing. Sadly, I do not have a choice. My presence in STEM makes me subject to regular sexism, both in person and online. It is not possible to “ignore” sexism, especially when it results in fewer opportunities and recognition.
But what I can do is to help erase these useless and erroneous stereotypes that hold all of us back. I can be a positive role model who is good at STEM subjects and I can create spaces and opportunities for other women and visible minorities to improve representation in STEM fields. Until these fields are equal, I will continue to focus on those folks who have more obstacles and fewer opportunities.
We are all in this society together, and we will only overcome the challenges facing our world if we create space for diverse voices and ideas from the full and beautiful spectrum of humanity. Feminism is about inclusion and equality, and it is as good and healthy for women and non-binary folks as it is for men. So please, help me to open those doors that have been shut and locked for thousands of years so we can welcome every single person to the table.
We cannot fix everything, but we can certainly build a bigger table.