I’m Not A Female Scientist, And I Feel Guilty

While we lament about the lack of women in STEM, I always wonder where I went wrong.

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This is what you get when you Google “woman scientist.” Stock photography is…the worst?

Dear Emily,

It’s okay that you aren’t in the field of math or science.

We spend a lot of time encouraging more girls and women to stick with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields—and that is fantastic. Women are underrepresented in those fields.

But that’s not your fault.

So you’re a writer. Guess what? Women writers are underrepresented, too. But without even worrying about that—I just want you to know that it’s okay. I know, you want to beat the odds. You want to be the woman fighting, not the woman joining the throng. And when people talk about how girls are discouraged away from math and science and go into softer fields, you feel guilty, and start looking around suspiciously at the adults in your life, wondering which one of them did this to you—which one of them turned you into a pathetic, girly writer?

Was it Dad? The nights he stayed up reading aloud with all the voices? Or maybe Mom? Who read everything you wrote and announced that you were the most creative person ever? Was it Mrs. Dvorak? Who gave you creative writing prompts that made you so excited and yet so mad because your fourth grade writing comprehension level didn’t have enough words to describe the story you had smoldering in your brain? Yes…yes. That must have been it. They’ve ruined you. They’ve done this. It’s their fault you always loved writing.

You’re actually not bad at math, it just seems like you’re bad at math now because you’re bad at tipping, which is the only math anyone has to do as an adult: mental math. Then again, you’re also bad at the equivalent in writing—that is, writing something in your head on the fly while people are waiting. Whether it’s numbers or words, you’ve always needed to see the thing laid out. Your brain is a terrible place for organization—it’s a confused, disorganized mess that doesn’t remember anything. Why would you want to do math up there?

So you’re not a computer engineer or a microbiologist or some other male-dominated occupation. There’s nothing you can do about that now. (I mean technically you could go back to school but ugh.) Maybe it was all the encouragement from the adults in your life that made you a writer. Or maybe there was subtle, internalized discouragement that steered you away from STEM. But I seem to recall hundreds of conversations where people told you “women aren’t as funny as men” that you didn’t believe and you didn’t listen to. So maybe you listened to the things you wanted to hear, and followed your heart. Maybe for you, science was never in the cards.

That doesn’t mean you can’t encourage more girls and women to do those things. You can still support them and give them as much respect as the men in their field. And if you have a daughter one day, you can read her books in all the voices and tell her how creative she is, and buy her beakers for her at-home chemistry set. And then let her decide what makes her happy.

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