Posted by Renee Schmidt

Must Women choose between science and femininity?  Are we really choosing?  I was going through recent tweets by WITI (Women in Technology international) and I came upon an article re-tweeted by them titled:  ‘New Report Says Girls Feel They Must Choose Between Femininity and Sciences

The article states that boys and girls perform equally in math and science testing when they begin elementary school, and show about the same level of enjoyment of the subjects. However, by 8th grade, twice as many more boys than girls, are interested in STEM careers, (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Considering that STEM careers beget the highest salaries, these statistics beg the question: What could be causing elementary school girls who excel at math and who love science, to suddenly lose all interest or develop low grades in these subjects, in their late adolescence and early teens?

An article by posits, that Internalized Feminine Norms Depress Girls’ STEM Attitudes & Participation because of “girls’ perception of STEM as masculine and their internalization of feminine norms” and thereby “girls are caught in a ‘double conformity’ bind, in which they must opt out of femininity or opt out of STEM.”

“True Child asked a focus group of young girls of color why this might be, all participants agreed that that was the time when “they start noticing the boys,” and several girls made remarks explaining that girls start to realize at that point, that they can’t be both pretty and smart. And apparently being smart is the less appealing option. The gender gap only widens with age. Some girls also said, that in middle school the time spent on their appearance (ex. getting up at 4 am before school) cut into the time they could spend on their schoolwork. Later on, adult women with careers in engineering, are also found to often feel conflicted about choosing between proving that they are “real engineers” or “real women.”

I don’t buy in.  I think these findings are anecdotal, at best- and quite frankly, a cop-out for not having to be smart if pretty.  What I feel True Child has overlooked, is the blatantly obvious: what happens to boys and girls around the age of 8th grade?  From a scientific standpoint, this is the age at which children go through puberty; namely, the male brain is flooded with Testosterone; a hormone closely tied with “attention, memory, and spatial ability.” Research has also shown that testosterone creates an analytical mind, one interested in processes and mechanics (a simple example of why boys like playing with toy cars, Erector sets and gadgets).  Could there be correlations between STEM careers and Testosterone?  Sounds about right to me.

PS: I’m a woman in high-tech, and I love to play with gadgets, cars and bikes; so by no measure do I mean to posit my theory as a steadfast rule –but it’s a plausible generalization.