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“Girl” Science

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I love xkcd!

How to get girls into science. Let’s see…

  • Make sure girls know that they’re different: check.
  • Make them feel like there must be a division from boys for a reason: check.
  • Only give them simple experiments that work 100% of the time, so that when they get to classroom situations (or real situations) that don’t, they’ll have unrealistic and demoralizing expectations: check.
  • And make sure their equipment is dumbed down (and pink!) so that girls will understand it: check.
  • Give them things to work on at home to “boost their logical skills”, like cooking and memorizing lists: check.
  • No, wait, let’s not really give them science: check.
  • And give them only truly exceptional role models as superheroes, so that they’ll feel inadequate unless they achieve Nobel-prize status: check.

Perfume and soap classes drive me nuts. They’re fine as classes, and there’s a lot of science behind cosmetics, but don’t bill them as science when the class consists of stirring random stuff together with no thought process as to why it turns out the way it does. Throw in a lab notebook of some sort, and I’ll be placated.

What’s wrong with encouraging everyone in science? Why the need to recruit boys and girls separately? Is there a reason to separate (i.e., make distinctions and put kids in gender-based groups) the sexes, especially at younger ages? There’s now evidence that if girls want to do science, they do it really well. I like to think that there’s no longer doubt (at least in most first-world countries) about whether girls can or should do science. But there still seems to be a lot of doubt about whether girls want to do science. I like this blog quite a bit (new experiments once or twice a week!), but why it’s billed as “for girls” doesn’t make any sense to me (although, they do only simple things and are mostly foolproof and have few suggestions for further study, to make it more, ya know, science-like instead of following directions).

As I’m not the most eloquent person in prose (but just read my lab reports!), here’s Zombie Marie Curie via xkcd to explain how just working on something will make you great.

I mean, I’m female and in science. My story is this: I was in school, minding my own business, when, out of the blue, a spectacular female rockstar scientist appeared and said, “YOU should do SCIENCE!” and I was inspired and I went and got through school, pushed my way through the male-dominated big, bad world and did science!

xkcd rocks!

But that’s not my story.

I had very little science in elementary school, like a lot of elementary schools. Teachers of young kids are just scared of somehow doing science wrong (and really afraid of math). I had strange science teachers in middle school for biology, earth science, and physical science (all male). I had a terrible bio teacher (female), a fantastic chemistry teacher (female), and a great and terrifying physics teacher (male) in high school. Most of the math teachers were male. In college, half of the chemistry department was female. Most of the math department was male, and the female teacher and I didn’t get along very well. The teachers I worked with most closely were female, but I didn’t consciously decide on female teachers… they also happened to be the younger and more in-touch people. I don’t know that I saw a science-female-role-model and thought, “gee, now I think it’s possible!” but I also don’t think I was ever discouraged in sciences.

So how do we, as a society, encourage girls and boys to go into science? AND, if they’re not interested, that’s okay! I’d rather have really enthusiastic people in the field they love than half-hearted drones working on paychecks.


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