Today is international women’s day. It is the perfect day to mention something that has been weighing on my mind. During a communication workshop last week I learned the Center for Public Engagement at AAAS asked the public what words they would use to describe a scientist. Among words like “smart”, “intelligent”, and “nerdy” was also “male”.
MALE?! Seriously! I was so upset I interrupted the presentation. The presenter was focusing on communication and skipped over the fact that scientists are described as “male”. That is not okay! It needs to be addressed.
I hate that I can work so hard and still be treated invisible by the public. I hate that I can tell my uber driver I am a scientists and be told “You don’t look like a scientist”. Why? Because I am not an old man with white hair and thick glasses? And I hate that after working so hard in lab some one in a bar can say “You’re too pretty to be a scientist.” What does that even mean? That I have to be ugly and disheveled to be a scientist? What does my appearance have to do with my intelligence? It is beyond frustrating.
Sadly, when the public says that scientists are males, they aren’t even that far off. The majority of tenured professors are male. In my university I can only think of 3 senior professors who are female. There are just 19 women to win a nobel prize in science. It is a slow transition to reach equality.
The world has gotten to used to seeing pictures of Einstein, shows with Bill Nye, and interviews with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But women are being left behind. We need to get out more so the world can see us.
So what do we do about it? Clearly female scientists need to be more visible in the public. I know that, like me, some of you are already trying. For that, thank you. But we need to keep working at it.
Consider helping next week with Brain Awareness Week. A study by Microsoft showed that while girls gained interest in STEM subjects at age 11, they lost interest by age 15. Most girls only get to know the joy of unashamed, bold, scientific curiosity for just four years. They need role models to inspire them. They need to see what their future could look like. I want to be one of those role models.
Keep fighting. Keep your head held high. Keep supporting one another, male or female. We can’t do this alone.