According to a study by the University of Washington, if science, technology, engineering and math fields want more women, they’re going to have to drop the Star Trek posters and Mystery Science Theater 3000 fandom that defines their “toxic masucline” culture.
Psychology Professor Sapna Cheryan says that she was deterred from a career in the hard sciences because the boys in so-called STEM classes had a brotherhood defined by Dungeons & Dragons and pop culture references she says deterred female participation.
First of all, this all assumes that there should be more women in STEM fields. I don’t see an equal push for more men in early childhood development fields. As mentioned before, men have more of a pre-disposition to STEM, and also possess testosterone, which allows them the drive to make stuff (like intense learning) happen. Boys also learn to suck it up and tolerate many things on the way to their goals. Apparently the psychology professor above did not learn that lesson, as she let a D&D culture drive her away. But then again, we should not be so harsh on her, as she is not a guy and was not forced to learn the stick-to-itiveness lesson.
That left her with an ax to grind, and so she set out to prove that male nerd culture is toxic to female success. Because never in history has there been a female Star Trek fan, Dungeons & Dragons player, or authentic geek—or a woman with enough wherewithal to handle geeky men without collapsing into tears at the mere mention of Captain Picard
Gratuitous Picard facepalm picture to keep the professor away.
“To draw more girls into STEM fields, it’s not enough to provide more learning opportunities,” Cheryan claims. “This geeky image is at odds with the way that many girls see themselves. Work from our lab shows that when high-school girls see Star Trek posters and video games in a computer-science classroom, they are less interested than boys in taking the course.”
Actually, there seems to be some truth to this. Decades ago, when Computer Science was considered to be just that, a science; there were lots of women in the field. It had prestige. One could graduate and ride the fast track up at IBM or the like. But then Computer Science was invaded (especially on TV and in the Movies) by geeky types. Enrollment in Computer Science by women went down. “Why put in all of the effort to learn Computer Science, especially when I don’t necessarily like it, and work in this field that the public simultaneously likes and mocks?” Probably lots of the women went into other easier fields in order to ride the affirmative action train, perhaps like psychology.
Instead, Cheryan says, science classrooms should put up soothing art and nature posters to attract the feminine eye. Cheryan didn’t, of course, determine whether irrelevant posters featuring works of art and fuzzy photos of leaves would have an impact on male interest—or whether she was implicitly stereotyping women as attracted only to typically “beautiful” things.
Perhaps it should be remembered that Universities and the Classrooms contained in them are for learning. Ideally, students would be learning to think critically; understanding how to recognize facts and apply logic to them. Maybe this is no doubt doubly true in STEM classes.
Cheryan also found that women who had an interaction with a computer science major wearing a “I Code Therefore I Am” t-shirt or who identified Mystery Science Theater as their favorite show, also saw their interest in the major drop, apparently because women are shallow and don’t find geeks attractive.
The Professor is probably right about that; women don’t find these fellas particularly attractive. Apparently the assumption is that women’s majors are very dependent on whether they can find guys that they are attracted to in the classroom there. The guys have no such comparable luxury.
What the women are not considering is the fact that these fellas will no doubt be making good money soon enough. Furthermore, for many, much of their geekiness will fade away. But all of this takes a desire to think logically and plan ahead. Apparently young women have the luxury of not doing so.
She suggests that computer science majors try to attract more women by wearing plain tee shirts and liking The Office. Or perhaps they should just wear man-leggings with their “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts, and admit to scheduling work hours around Lifetime movie schedules.
I don’t think that would be effective. Perhaps Ton might have some suggestions. Once again, women have the luxury of being clueless.
I might suggest that if women want a Computer Science degree, and don’t want to deal with that awful geek culture, should just work on an on-line degree to avoid it. There are many available these days.