Combating Sexism in the Scientific World

Adi Chowdhury:

   “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.”

— President Barack Obama, 2013


Science is the step forward. This brief statement sums up the tremendous potential lurking within the world of science and research. Science is a system unlike no other—built on logical evaluation, evidence-based investigation, free inquiry, thoughtful discussion, and virtually endless everyday applications. From the world of science, bloomed the universe of technology and progress—everything from agriculture to transportation to the device you’re reading this on, can be traced back to scientific research and development.

Adi Chowdhury

This wonderful process of investigation and application, science, is imperative for global progress and the well-being of the Earth and humanity. It is integral for any society wishing to go beyond primitive thinking, and embrace a rational and accelerated view of the world. It is simply irreplaceable for anyone wishing to grasp the genuine nature of reality. Science has served at the forefront of the growth for humanity—it has provided deeper insight into the mechanisms of nature and has achieved higher forms of technology and advancement at every level.

This is why it is especially problematic and disappointing to observe the systematic sexism in the world of science. Growing stacks of research strongly indicate a bias against women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields around the world. Although studies show that girls and boys clearly have equal skills and talents in science and logic, females tend to comprise very small percentages of the workforce in scientific research institutes. Such prejudice is deeply ingrained in society—people tend to perceive women as being unfit for research and scientific investigation. Such beliefs can be traced back to sexist and baseless stereotypes—stereotypes that can be eliminated through education, activism, and efforts for equality.

A report issued by the United States Department of Commerce found that only 1 in 7 engineers in the US is a woman—a startlingly low number. Globally, only 27% of all Computer Science jobs are held by women. In space science as well as physical sciences, women are consistently a minority.

A “landmark” study by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), reveals that there is a clear bias against females in the world of science education and employment. The study was quite clever: the researchers submitted twofake job applicationsto a science laboratory and asked the faculty members to rate the quality of the application (one was male, one was female). While both applications were literally word-for-word the same, the male’s applications was consistently rated higher than the female’s. The “male” applicant was considered to be “more competent, more hire-able, and more deserving of a higher starting salary” by the faculty members, according to the study.

All this, and much more research, strongly points to an explicit bias against women in the scientific workforce. Because of such baseless prejudice, women are deprived of rightful positions in the pantheon of science, and are only hindered in the path to making progress. I have an older sister currently studying biochemistry at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and I can’t express how proud I will be when she graduates and takes great steps in the world of science. I trust that she is destined to revolutionize chemistry and take the world by storm. However, one barrier obstructing her path to greatness is the embedded and intimidating sexist attitudes towards women in science.

I am aware that there are millions, if not more, girls and women across the world with tremendous talent and overflowing interest in science—but unable to make a difference due to the sexist backlash they suffer. Even in progressive western nations that my sister finds herself in, this continues to be a problem. Therefore, this issue should be an immense concern to anyone committed to gender equality, scientific progress, and the future of the world itself.

First of all, at the root of the problem, the perception of “gender roles” within society must be reformed. Men are stereotypically perceived to be more logical and have more leadership roles, thus seen to be fitter for scientific research. Women are unjustly deemed to be more apt for “homely” roles and more emotion-based than logic-based. It is this disparity in gender stereotypes that leads to the sexist attitudes imposed upon women in the world of science—in order to prevent such discrimination, we must revolutionize the way we see gender and get rid of “traditional roles” that we think that men and women should occupy. Let men pursue the interests they want without feeling effeminate or “weak”, and let women pursue their interests without being underestimated and laughed upon.

Secondly, establish more science programs to kindle interest in science, directed towards women, as the Obama administration has done in the past. Such programs can encourage more women to partake in scientific research and pursue bold careers, as my sister has done. In Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, women are actively told that they are unfit for science—and if the women themselves believe that, nothing can be done! Science programs can make scientific topics more accessible and lead girls to realize that they have tremendous potential in the world of science.

As I have emphasized before, science is the safest and surest path to global progress we can embark on. Logical reasoning and research paves the way for an advanced understanding of how the world works. Technology evolves alongside science, making life easier and more innovative for everyone. Science unlocks the reservoirs of talent within each person, channels their curiosity, propels research and critical thinking, and harnesses the energy and intelligence of all people. It is truly a system like no other.

Therefore, as an aspiring scientist myself, it is my vision to encourage women, LGBT citizens, and all underrepresented minorities to partake in science and demolish stereotypes, making science a genuinely open and accessible mission for all people regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation. True science is the free exchange and discussion of ideas, and sexist attitudes only undermine scientific progress. Only when sexism and prejudice are stifled in favor of equality and fearlessness, can humanity be truly free.

The writer is currently a 9th grade student in William Carey Academy. His passions include writing, blogging and debating. 


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