Editor's Note: Last year, Virginia high school junior Abby Wheat decided she'd had enough of colleges and universities trying to "feminize" STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in their recruitment materials. So she decided to write about it. Her essay, originally published on Western Albemarle High School's new site, was selected as runner-up out of nearly 5,000 entries in last year's New York Times' Teen Editorial Competition.
With thousands of recently graduated high school seniors like Abby getting ready to start college in the fall, we're featuring Abby's essay as a shout-out to all the girls planning to continue in STEM fields, no "pinkification" necessary. (Illustrations by Laura Grover.)
As a high school junior interested in engineering, I am bombarded with emails and letters asking me to consider various STEM programs simply because I am female. Obviously, I am glad that so many colleges that are looking to increase the number of women enrolled in science and math related majors. However, I am somewhat alarmed by some of the tactics that some of these places use to attract potential female students.
It appears that in order to make the STEM fields more attractive to girls, marketing directors feel the need to “feminize” these areas of study. To me, this is just plain offensive. Is it assumed that I will only be interested in rebuilding the infrastructure of this nation via civil engineering if there is some sort of glittery pink aspect involved? Do people really think that the only way you will ever get a girl to write coding for innovative software is to stick a butterfly somewhere in there? These questions may seem far-fetched, but I have received far too many “lady-centric” emails in Curlz MT font from prospective colleges for that to be true.
And it isn’t just colleges and universities that use these flawed tactics. Even toys targeted towards making little girls interested in engineering are feeling the need to “girlify” in order to make these activities appropriate for females. For instance, the famous LEGO company has started manufacturing kits for girls featuring beach houses and farmers’ markets — things you certainly would not find in a regular, non-feminized LEGO kit.
And I am not against toys meant to spark girls’ interest in the STEM fields. What I am against is the seemingly ever-present stigmatization that the only way to create excitement in girls about traditionally male-dominated things is to bedazzle them with all things “female.”
Women have always been interested in science and math, and this is proven by the presence of historical figures such as Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace. So why are only a quarter of STEM jobs occupied by women? It’s because for centuries, women were not welcomed into technical fields.
However, painting rainbows onto fields of study such as engineering and computer science isn’t going to magically make that statistic larger. What will attract more women to technical jobs is welcoming them with open arms and recognizing that their abilities are completely equal to those of men.
Many women are pursuing and will continue to pursue STEM careers because those are the topics that genuinely interest them.
Abigail Wheat will be a freshman honors student at Fordham University this fall.
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