It’s one of those days, all week, where I set three alarms, wake up for each one, but almost immediately fall deep asleep after hitting stop, fully intending to get up and start the day. I don’t know why they happen, they just do. It’s weird.
(from http://romeo-oh-nomeo.tumblr.com/post/163565046882/im-screaming // credits to the creator, who I think is @meme.queen.satan, but I can’t be sure)
I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. And not in the cliché way like fate or destiny, but rather like after being presented a circumstance or a situation, one might ask why or how it came to be and it is the way it is. I don’t like sweeping and generalized statements proclaiming that it’s simply how it’s done or that’s the way things are. These can be hard to avoid, but mostly for lack of further inquiry into the matter due to time constraint or an insufficient labor pool. But asking questions and contesting “facts” have given us the knowledge about the solar system, the depth of the ocean, provided us with power and electricity, and the infinity of the internet. So I know everything happens for a reason. What are those reasons?
The question I almost always ask myself is “why are girls less (insert almost anything here) than boys?” Last night, peering into the fluorescently lit classrooms of a university’s College of Engineering and Architecture, it was something along the lines of “why are there mostly boys?” Now, my family of four, three out of which either finished or are going through technical, technological, programming information courses, apparently agreed on one thing. That boys are more adept at math than girls. It was, apparently, scientifically proven. I remained silent, and chose to respond in the best way I know how, and always have, research and writing.
Admittedly, I’m not great at math. But having done the research, even just saying that about oneself already impedes ones chances of being a pursuant of STEM fields. STEM being science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Now, imagine being a girl surrounded by pink, purple, and, at times, blue toys that consist of cooking, cashier, dress and make up, and dolls, or being a boy surrounded by mecha-robots, guns and swords, and race cars and sports, and video games, marketed just for you (because capitalism). To the common eye, they seem harmless enough, but these, and everything else gendered prior to these, have sowed the seeds of what they may or may not be permitted to take up in the future.
Whatever the case may be, it’s never been a battle between the sexes. It’s always been about overpowering a certain group of people. Now we like to think that we’ve grown past that, and I will say that we have not, but the fact that we’re making an effort to is commendable, yet we do have to acknowledge one thing. Anyone can be anything. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you can do anything. So when people say that “boys are better at math than girls”, all I wanna know is why. It turns out, they’re not better, they just have a different mentality. And that mentality stems from all of those seeds that were “harmlessly” and unknowingly planted from the moment they were born (hell, even before, if the parents knew the gender from the womb). Let’s take a look at some of the findings, shall we?
Although just as many girls as boys are completing high-school level education, and more women graduate from university worldwide than men, women remain a minority in the STEM fields. In the United States, for example, women earn only about 35 percent of the undergraduate degrees in STEM, a number that has remained unchanged for the past decade, even though they account for almost 60 percent of college graduates. And that statistic hides differences across STEM fields, with women earning about 40 percent of the degrees in mathematics, but only 18 percent of those in computer sciences or engineering.
In 2013, only four countries in Europe could claim to have at least 15 percent of all STEM graduates be female, while in Chile in 2014, it was 20 percent. And even when women manage to get a STEM degree they are less likely to work in that field. According to the latest U.S. census, only 1 in 7 women with a degree in STEM actually works in that area. This holds true for most countries.
The reasons for this systematic underrepresentation are multiple and complex, but three things seem to matter most: 1) Aspirations that are molded by social norms and parental expectations; 2) information failures that affect the decision to enter and stay in a STEM field; and 3) institutional factors that constrain women’s ability to enter a STEM job.
Ingrained biases start at an early age and become even more pronounced as girls move through school and enter into the world of work. Girls are rarely encouraged to study math or science, and often internalize beliefs that boys are simply better in these fields. Parental expectations seem to shift at that age, too. But even if they manage to overcome these initial barriers, young women who do excel in science or mathematics are often daunted by the prospect of being the only girl pursuing a STEM career, as well as by the possibility of future discrimination by employers. There are not many female role models or mentors that can help young women navigate and ultimately overcome these concerns. Breaking the STEM ceiling for girls by Ana Maria Munoz-Boudet and Ana Revenga
More than one-third (36 percent) of boys surveyed said they would pursue STEM careers in the future, versus only 11 percent of girls. Twenty-six percent of girls said they plan to prepare for careers in the arts, compared to 10 percent of boys. However, 24 percent of girls said they are looking to pursue careers in the medical/dental field, vs. only 6 percent of boys. One can interpret the medical/dental field as being a “science” component of STEM.
The top three values for boys, when asked about their dream jobs, were:
- Think it would be fun (28 percent);
- I’d be good at it (21 percent); and
- I’d make a lot of money (17 percent).
Among girls, the top three occupational values were:
- I would help people (25 percent);
- I’d be good at it (23 percent); and
- I think it would be fun (20 percent).
“What we know from the data is what matters most to girls — which is helping people, and being good at it, and enjoying it — doesn’t suggest STEM to them,” said Deborah Holmes, Americas director of corporate responsibility at EY, in an interview. “But it’s worth noting that girls were much more likely than boys to say that they want to be doctors, or work in the medical or dental field.”
Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, said in a statement, “While it’s encouraging to see teens today are giving a great deal of thought to their career aspirations, it’s surprising to learn that there are still significant gaps between boys’ and girls’ interest in careers choice. We hoped to learn that girls, for example, would be more attracted to STEM careers beyond medicine — related to science, engineering, computers and math — since there is virtually unlimited opportunity for talented and qualified professionals in these fields.” Research: Boys Say They’re More Likely to Pursue STEM Careers Than Girls by Richard Chang
The percentage of women majoring in STEM fields at California State University, for example, has remained a steady 37 percent since 2007, even though women make up 55 percent of all undergraduates. At the University of California, women make up 52 percent of enrollment, but only 24 percent of those studying for engineering degrees are women. Still, the numbers have improved a bit: In 1999, only 21 percent of those studying engineering at UC were women.
The numbers are even lower in the workplace, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. About 11 percent of physicists and astronomers are women. Just over 10 percent of electrical and computer hardware engineers are women. Fewer than 8 percent of mechanical engineers are women.
“What this all means is that girls can do it, but they’re choosing not to,” said Carol Tang, executive director of the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco and head of the California Girls in STEM Collaborative, a coalition of organizations that advocate for girls in math and science. “We need a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives in science and math. Every girl who drops out of STEM, we’re all going to feel it.”
Boys consistently outnumbered girls in all high-school math and science classes until the early 1990s, when girls started pulling even and now, in some schools, even outnumber boys, according to a study by the American Association of University Women, although girls still lag in engineering and computer science classes.
General societal changes, such as more progressive attitudes about women’s roles at home and the workplace, have also played a part in the increase in girls’ interest in STEM. But those shifts have not been across the board: the number of women in computer science, for example, has actually declined since the 1980s, according a study by the American Association of University Women. In 1990 women made up 35 percent of those in computer and math professions, but by 2013 that number had fallen to 26 percent.
“Both boys and girls tend to be equally interested in math and science in elementary school, but for some girls there’s a drop-off in confidence once they hit middle school,” said program director Lizzie Hager-Barnard, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. “And then if you’re not taking the right classes in middle school, it sets you behind in high school.”
One obstacle, she said, is that when considering career goals, 5th-grade girls often say they want to help people. When asked about engineering, they dismiss it as boring, she said.
“We have to give girls examples of how engineers do help people – they work with doctors to make better drugs, they make systems for clean air and water,” she said.
Another obstacle is video games, she said. Most video games feature male characters, and girls are sometimes depicted in demeaning ways, either as sidekicks or hypersexualized. A June 2016 study published in the Journal of Communication examined 31 years of female video game characters and found that while female characters were less sexualized than they were in the 1990s, they’re still far more sexualized than male characters.
Some video games, such as Temple Run 2, even charge extra for female characters. So adolescent girls might play less, missing out on learning those computer skills, or get a general impression that girls are unwelcome in the computer world. In 2013, video game developer Zoe Quinn had to move out of her home due to threats of rape and death, sparked by an online screed by an ex-boyfriend. Shortly afterwards, video game reviewer Anita Sarkeesian suffered a similar onslaught of harassment because of a video she made on females in gaming. Several other women in the video game field have reported similar attacks. Girls draw even with boys in high school STEM classes, but still lag in college and careers by Carolyn Jones
Female students’ achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).
The rates of science and engineering course taking for girls/women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).
Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).
Race and ethnicity are salient factors in rates of participation in the science and engineering workforce (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). National Girls Collaborative Project – Statistics
So no, I don’t believe that boys are better at math. It’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that black and white portrait that the standard majority swallow without asking the deeper questions. Thankfully, the minority that do ask the questions have been answering a fair amount of them, which is why parents prefer to keep their baby’s gender a surprise and paint the nursery with various colors of the spectrum, why gender neutral bathrooms are becoming the standard, why breaking the glass ceiling and disproving the stereotypes and empowering women is hella significant, and why feminism is necessary.
As cliché as it is to proclaim “You can be anything!” I do think it’s true. Because the moment you start believing in yourself is when you prove you can do it. It’s always easy to stick to what you know and bask in your comfort zones, but please don’t wait until you are told you can’t do something simply because of who you are. You are not a statistic. You’re a person.
PS: Our internet is still being crappy, but that’s third world standard for you, I guess.
PPS: Spanish school is still going great, but I think I could be reviewing more than I am.
I [try to] update
every Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday night! I’m always present on social media, @thecynicalnerd on Instagram and Tumblr, @nerdTHEcynical on Twitter and Snapchat 🙂