To this day there are unwritten societal laws regarding gender in the workplace and academia. This goes beyond the infamous, “Women make 70 cents on the dollar,” feminist tagline. Before I go to my biology class, I ask myself if I look too feminine and if people will take me seriously. If something as minute as whether I’m wearing a skirt or not means the difference between being respected in class and being brushed aside, then something is clearly wrong.
Even in today’s generally liberal society, women around the world feel constrained by archetypal gender roles when it comes to choosing a career; a report published by the American Society for Engineering Education claimed that women earned only 18.9 percent of nationwide engineering bachelors degrees in 2012.
All too often, people ask what women should be doing instead of what they want to do, two questions that rarely yield the same response. We are finally living in an era where a woman can do whatever she wants without being reprimanded for it, so why do so many shy away from science and engineering industries?
Naseem Jamnia is a current graduate student and teacher’s aide at DePaul, as well as a woman working her way up in the science industry. She had this to say about her experience.
“I don’t think that science is divided amongst (gender) lines for the future generation,” Jamnia said. “There are definitely older generations of scientists who will raise eyebrows at female scientists – I’ve unfortunately met a few – but I think the up-and-coming generation is no longer concerned with the gender lines.”
Perhaps change is happening now, and for those of us graduating in a few years, things will truly be different. However, one New York Times article written this fall had a completely different perspective on the topic, perhaps based on the fact that the writer, Eileen Pollack, graduated in 1982.
“At the end of four years, I was exhausted by all the lonely hours I spent catching up to my classmates, hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs,” Pollack wrote. “I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.”
The experiences of women around the world will continue to differ as education, technology and gender equality continue to evolve.
There’s no difference in the scientific abilities of a man versus a woman. There are, however, excuses for why women shouldn’t pursue careers in science. Women are called out for being too emotional to research and hypothesize in a detached or objective manner.
However, the ability to think objectively is not something dependent on high testosterone levels. Objectivity is also not something solely related to science. One can be objective when discussing art, literature or interior decorating. It’s about considering facts and using critical analysis to form an output – something that can be done across any field of interest.
It is an enigma to me that prehistoric gender roles are still picking paths for women around the world. These are unwritten rules that hold girls and women back from doing what they love and making a difference in the world. Being a mother is not the end-all-be-all if you’re a woman.
If you’re passionate about science, don’t let that go because women are “supposed” to be mothers. It is possible to do both, or either. But the decision should be up to each individual woman, not a panel of male scientists thinking they have the upper hand – they don’t.