Am I a Bad Feminist?: My Confusing Relationship with STEM

I, Maggie Bradley, did not come to Kenyon to be a Math major. I didn't come to major in Biology, Physics, or Economics. My original plan, like that of so many Kenyon students, was to major in one of the things Kenyon does best: English. In high school, English was always my favorite subject. It was the subject whose work I loved to do every night. I never feared reading novels and writing essays; in fact, I relished such work. Writing papers can be stressful, but in the end, I always felt proud to turn them in. I always had strong opinions that I wanted to share about what we read, and it felt good to express my thoughts and arguments in a well-formed and eloquent way. It made sense to me, and so it was no surprise that English was almost always the highest grade on my report cards. 

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“Ok, Maggie, but none of this is a problem,” you may be thinking. Well, no. There’s nothing inherently wrong with really liking English. But, still, something would nag at me in the back of my mind when I thought about majoring in it and pursuing a career in the literary field. My brain said, “Don’t be such a stereotype. Don’t you know how many bookish brunettes with glasses are out there trying to major in the humanities? It’s not even lucrative. Why can’t you like something that will get you a real job?” The problem is that a large part of me sees subjects like English, Art, Music (and really, any department considered one of the humanities) as a less worthy area of study in comparison to anything in the STEM field. And I’m not alone in that; if you Google “Are the humanities useless?” you’ll find page after page after page of articles, blog posts and opinion pieces on how the humanities are a dying trade and STEM is the only right way to go. Of course, this is really silly. The humanities are awesome and can help provide you with tons of great, important life skills like creativity and the ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner. Also, it can be argued that the only reason such an opinion of the humanities was only formed was because it started to become a female-dominated space, which for some suggested that it was an inherently less challenging and worthy field of study. 

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So how does feminism play into this? Well, it’s a pretty universally acknowledged truth that women are regularly underrepresented in the worlds of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and for me, this plays a large role in why I felt like such a lousy person when I considered studying something else. I didn’t and still don't want to let future generations of young women down. I want them to see themselves represented in all fields, especially those that have been traditionally considered more lucrative and which have been dominated by men. So, I decided to pursue a major in STEM. Except, well, the field that I was most drawn to and most passionate about, Environmental Studies, isn’t even considered a science here at Kenyon. So now I feel like a fake STEM major, even though I truly believe that Environmental Studies is one of the most important and necessary fields in STEM, as it helps us to understand and work towards healing our rapidly changing planet. I mean, how can you properly study any science without a thorough understanding of how various ecosystems interact and work together to form our planet? 

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Essentially, I face a struggle that I believe many women in my generation also battle. I love what I study, and I wouldn’t change my major for the world, but I also can’t help but wonder what I would have done instead if societal feelings towards the humanities were different. Would I have pursued English instead of Environmental Studies? Possibly. It’s too late to say now. But either way, I think that society has a long way to go when it comes to the inequality between STEM and the humanities and the gender disparities in either field. If society is so intent upon telling children to follow their passions and pursue happiness as a life goal, then there should be an equal appreciation for all fields of study.