Recently, I found an article in an online magazine about the lunar eclipse of November 8th. I opened it, expecting information about where the eclipse can be seen, what times, and when the next lunar eclipse will occur. The article discusses the appearance of the lunar eclipse for one sentence, then proceeds to talk about horoscopes and spiritual shifts. Its thumbnail looked great, but it was unfortunately a gorgeous image of a solar eclipse, not a lunar eclipse. So where was the information on the lunar eclipse? This digital magazine in question boasts well-researched articles about politics, entertainment, career advice, and health, so why make an exception for the space sciences?
In recent years, there has been increased interest in astrology, particularly among millennial women. Why is this, and how does astrology differ from space sciences such as astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics? The dictionary defines astrology as “the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs”. Astronomy is “the science that deals with the material universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere”, cosmology is a branch of astronomy that studies “the general structure and evolution of the universe”, and astrophysics the branch of astronomy that “deals with the physical properties of celestial bodies and with the interaction between matter and radiation in the interior of celestial bodies and in interstellar space”. What separates astrology from the others is that it assigns meaning to the movement and orbits of celestial bodies to our lives and personalities. While it acknowledges the actual movements of celestial bodies in our solar system, it is not rooted in science.
In turbulent times, many seek hope, comfort, and security in their world. For some this is organized religion. For others, this may be astrology. After all, the stars and planets were here before us, and they will be here after us.
Statistically, who is the most likely to believe in astrology? One study found that science majors, seniors, and students who had taken more science classes were more likely to believe that astrology is not at all scientific. The same study found that women are more likely to believe in astrology than men.
Couple this with the fact that there are fewer women in STEM than men. In 2020, significantly more astronomy and astrophysics degrees were given to men than women. Fellow CU students, please note that this difference is even greater for our school.
In summary, women are underrepresented in space science studies, but are more likely to believe in astrology. It would be inaccurate to assume that women are less interested in space as a whole, and people can absolutely be interested in space without majoring in astronomy or astrophysics.
Are space sciences and astrology marketed differently? Find your favorite online magazine, and try to notice if it is marketed toward men, women, or both/neither. Enter the word ‘retrograde’ or ‘eclipse’ into the search bar, and see what types of articles appear.
Science magazines, which are marketed toward neither men nor women specifically, discuss the science behind solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, and retrograde motion of planets. Certainly, science magazines should be reporting science in their articles. Interestingly, magazines marketed towards men did not discuss space or astrology when searching for ‘retrograde’ or ‘eclipse’, articles about watches show up instead. Magazines marketed towards women discuss astrology when it comes to eclipses and retrograde motion. These magazines are not science magazines, but use cited sources and well researched arguments in articles on other subjects, such as politics, health, and entertainment, but make exceptions for space sciences. In the same way that a political science degree is not needed to write an article on politics, a STEM degree is not needed to write an article on a STEM subject.
Based on how astrology is marketed to women, women appear to be interested in space, but information on space is not as readily available as information on astrology. Given that women are underrepresented in STEM as is, why continue to market pseudoscience to them? Information on eclipses and retrograde motion does not need to be complicated, nor written by someone with an astrophysics degree. There are several articles and YouTube videos explaining in plain English that a solar eclipse is where the Moon is in between the Sun and Earth, a lunar eclipse is where the Earth is in between the Sun and Moon, and retrograde motion occurs when one planet laps another in orbit around the Sun.
Women are just as intelligent and curious as men. Content for women does not need to be dumbed down, and women should not feel that they need to be STEM majors in order to be interested in science. While I love reading science articles in science magazines, I would absolutely love to see more articles explaining a scientific concept in plain English in magazines marketed towards girls and women.