Women in Science

The current issue of Nature features articles and an editorial devoted to pointing out the systematic gender inequality still present in science. It's not only the effect of history: while it's true that women in many places were not permitted into higher education until fairly recently, studies are also finding that exactly equal qualifications are perceived differently depending on whether a CV is labeled with a masculine- or feminine-seeming name. So how do we level the playing field?

"to chip away at this invisibility"

Women scientists can't fix everything themselves, but it helps to stand up and inform people about what we're doing. For instance, Edith Widder's TED talk on filming the giant squid has gotten a lot of people excited.

Looks Like Science collects photos of real modern-day scientists going about their (frequently wacky) lives. Unsurprisingly, many of the young people pictured are women.

How not to do it

Most people reading this have likely seen the awful "Science: It's a Girl Thing" video. New Scientist had an article reminding us of just why (apart from the severe absurdity) it was counterproductive. Young women are found to be put off by the conflation of hyperfemininity with scientific attainment.

"That’s why you have a wife."

Studies of male scientists show that their female partners often take up family responsibilities to primarily support the men's careers, even when the women are also academics. This is frequently presented as the women's completely free decision, but what we've seen so far is that women are systematically disadvantaged in reaching higher-level positions. It's a logical decision as the system stands: bet on the partner who's more likely to attain a better salary. (Relevant video: Inequality Begins at Home.) In a fair system, though, this might also turn out differently.

So if we get professorial parity everything's fine, right?

The loss of women at higher levels is only one of many inequalities in science and society. While we're extolling the virtues of letting women past the glass ceiling, it's also necessary to remember that there are people stuck under the floor. "Trickle-down feminism" is the idea that by making privileged women equal to privileged men, all women will benefit. That's not necessarily true, and if what we want from increased diversity is truly different ways of thinking, we also need to open science by bringing in more people from different economic classes and ethnic backgrounds. Outreach to underrepresented minorities and proper funding for public schools are going to be integral parts of any effort to make science fair.

-- Kylee Peterson

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