“We need to encourage women in STEM.” If you hear it enough times, that statement can start to lose its meaning. When you come from a privileged upbringing, where your dreams of becoming a surgeon have never been questioned, only encouraged, the idea of a woman in STEM seems obvious (duh, why couldn’t you do it?), rather than a rarity.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of girls with two parents who never accepted any academic difficulties as “just how our brains worked,” but instead pushed us to practice and make ourselves good at the things that challenged us. In seventh grade, the last thing I ever wanted to do was pre-algebra, and when my refusal to do homework resulted in falling grades, my teacher suggested to my mom that maybe I had just “reached my peak” in my math abilities. While I was more than happy to accept that explanation, my mom wasn’t. She took it as a challenge, and pushed me, not to be perfect, but to tap into the abilities she knew I had that I wasn’t wanting to use.
The reason I say we need to encourage women in STEM specifically, is because for whatever reason STEM careers have become a man’s world. In my year and a quarter of being in college, every science and math class I’ve taken has been taught by a male professor. My freshman year physics courses were, predictably, predominantly male, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had someone “mansplain” a math or science concept to me when I clearly knew what I was talking about.
While that stuff has ceased to bother me, I’ve heard too many stories of girls who declare that they just “aren’t STEM material.” Which, if it’s a matter of interest, is fine. I have zero interest in graphic design and can barely use Paint. But when it comes down to a matter of ability, that’s just not true. Everyone can “do STEM,” it’s not an intrinsically born gift, it’s the result of effort. The idea that women are inherently not wired the same way men are for math and science is silly and discouraging. Effort beats talent every time, and every single girl has the potential to be just as good, if not better than our male counterparts.
To all the girls out there who doubt their capabilities, or who have never been pushed to challenge themselves, this is me challenging you to try. You may not end up being a mathematician or rocket scientist (I sure won’t), but you’ll gain valuable experience, and learn how to navigate a world that at first seems unfriendly, but one that you can learn to make your own.