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International Women's Day


Amanda Labuza
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Amanda Labuza

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.

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David Reiner

Thank you for sharing, Amanda. I’m wondering what steps could be taken on the society outreach level. For example, what specific outreach initiatives do AAAS or SfN BrainFacts.org have to encourage young middle school/high school girls to gain interest/confidence in STEM fields?

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Amanda Labuza

That’s a great question @dareiner but I unfortunately don’t know the simple answer. Not yet.

As for AAAS, the workshop was focused on communicating science and skipped over the gender disparities entirely. Like I said, I had to interrupt the presentation to even address it was on the screen. I don’t normally work with AAAS so I’m not sure what programs they have.

I know SfN hosts Brain Awareness Week which is THIS WEEK (Yay!). I have not heard of any BAW activities focused specifically on young girls. Maybe @andrewnchen has since he works for SfN? I do like that SfN has started having workshops and panels at the national conference focused on the challenges women scientists face. But I don’t know of any the society has done externally, so the public can see more women.

I think Girls Who Code is a great organization for young women. I know Microsoft has started providing resources to this cause. I think it would be great to see SfN or BrainFacts come up with similar tools geared towards young girls and neuroscience. Even just a day similar to BAW that is focused on showcasing women and minorities.

I also think that only addresses half the issue though. I think it is very important for young girls to see successful women and have role models. But I also think it is important for young boys to see respectful men who treat their female counterparts with respect. Men who are willing to share the spotlight. It’s why I’m really happy men have been part of the responses. I helped at an elementary school once and had a little punk boy tell me “girls are stupid”. It wasn’t my hurt face that made him stop. It was my male colleague telling him “That’s not cool,” that changed his mind. And the little girl who was with him didn’t care that I was tough enough to take his insult, she cared that her friend believed decided to believe in her. How we make that happen on a society outreach level is something I need smarter people like @mheintz to help me with, because I haven’t dreamed that big before.

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  • 1 month later...

Are we aiming for the day when there will no longer be a need for international women’s day?
It seems like the red carpet is rolled out for international women’s day and by the next day, it is business as usual. What are the indicators or expectations that we have achieved our goals for international women’s day? Just some thoughts from a retired neuroscientista.

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