The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

A response to ‘Dear fresher females studying STEM’

It is no longer a question of whether women are underrepresented in science—it is a fact. So why are we still having to defend ourselves?

By

I recently had the misfortune of being sent a Mancunion article entitled ‘Dear fresher females studying STEM’ by the seemingly delightful Elrica Degirmen. As a woman in science I was initially intrigued. In such a male-dominated field, it is always enjoyable to read about the experience of fellow females studying a STEM subject. I cannot say this optimistic outlook stayed around for long.

In spectacular fashion, I was already offended by the end of the first paragraph with what has to be my favourite quote of the article. Quite possibly resembling a soundbite from Donald Trump’s now infamous 2005 tape, she states that just because you are a woman in science, it “does not make you special, princess.”

Obviously this writer has never come across the phrase: ‘If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ I suggest she implement this immediately.

Now, despite her claims that “there is no discrimination in science”, as an individual with a science background I prefer to find evidence to back up my opinions. According to Women in Science and Engineering, only 12.8 per cent of the STEM workforce are female. Also, in 2013, the Higher Education and Skills Agency findings showed that science undergraduate courses were 52 per cent male and 40 per cent female, with the remaining eight per cent non-binary students. For postgraduate science courses, this gap only widens further.

Truthfully, you could argue that these figures are not evidence against the supposed “myth” that is gender discrimination in science. However, these things are not usually defined by numbers, but by experiences. When I first read this article an incident in my past sprang to mind instantly.

Over the summer, between academic semesters, I work in a restaurant back home. One night, I was speaking to a couple about my future plans. I mentioned my desire to do a postgraduate degree (which I am currently doing) and move to London after I graduate. The man, who had stated he worked in the pharmaceutical industry, then said: “But when will you find the time to start a family?”

For a moment, I almost felt like I had transported back in time to the 19th century or prior. It was a question that would have had Emmeline Pankhurst staging a protest, and therefore I felt that it did not warrant an answer. If my silence had not told him enough, he continued to say, “maybe you should just become a teacher instead.”

It is not the suggestion of becoming a teacher that offends me. I think it is a great career path that I would have considered if I had the necessary patience with children. However, it is the idea that, as a woman, I only have a certain amount of choices available to me. Therefore, if people like this still exist in the world then yes, I do think that as a woman in science I am “tackling the ‘patriarchy’”.

Beyond the obvious offensive nature of the aforementioned article, I have to comment on the nice dollop of ignorance the writer has shown. Just because you have not personally experienced something, does not mean it does not happen. For example, the horror that is police brutality against African-Americans; it has not happened to me, but I know it does to other people. Hurricane Matthew, that has devastatingly killed thousands of people across the Caribbean; I was not there. It still happened. My housemate found a fiver on the bus the other day—again, I unfortunately was not there for this joyous occasion, but I still believe that it happened.

We do, surprisingly, agree on one thing: “Diversity comes from your interests, your personality, and the parts of you that make you an individual.” Where we differ is that I consider science to be a part of that. I would like to address the suggestion that you should “never define yourself as a female studying science throughout your university career.” My rebuttal? A simple ‘why not?’

Studying science is one of my interests and part of my personality. It is what got me the position of Science and Technology Editor at The Mancunion, it is what drives me towards my chosen career, and most importantly it influences my personality. I’m not sure my family and friends would look at me the same if I did not come out with ‘boring’ facts about microbacteria or retinal ganglion cells.

Through the blur of emotions, that I was no doubt experiencing due to the fact that I am an unstable woman, I saw the words, “You should feel no sense of pride for doing so, because you have not actually achieved anything yet”; referring, of course, to getting into university. Girl-power at its finest right there ladies and gentlemen. At this moment, I start to notice the slightly self-deprecating nature of this article. For if this contributor is speaking in this oppressive manner to all women, surely this includes herself?

This embittered writer, whose career I feel would flourish at a top-notch media outlet such as The Sun, has written extensively about the absence of demeaning attitudes towards women in science, and has consequently taken on that tone herself, therefore proving the existence of said attitude. Well played.

I could not disagree more that “the reality is that most people could not care less that you are a woman studying STEM”. Well I care that I am a woman in science, and so does my mum, and those are the only opinions that matter to me really. I also have the support of L’Oréal, Nature Publications, many higher education institutions, and most importantly, all of the female editors of The Mancunion. But what do experts know anyway?

Maybe you should call up disgraced Nobel Laureate, Sir Tim Hunt, and share your opinions—or as you so poetically put, “claptrap”—with him.

  • Observer of the debate

    It seems that Georgie Hines has completely overlooked the point that by responding to Elrica’s article, you are the very cliché that Elrica describes. Being offended is completely irrelevant. Making issue of being a woman IN science is not pertinent – that is the entire basis of Elrica’s article.

    • guz

      Came here to say exactly this, it completely missed the point. There is also a ton of hatred and anger in this article. It’s hilarious how you can sense the indignation and anger of this prissy writer grow through the article. By the end she is starting to realise that being born with a vagina entitles her to nothing so she invokes her own opinion, her mum’s and ‘all the female editors of the Mancuncion’! We really did fall a long way from your assertion at the start that scientists use statistics. As if it couldn’t get any worse you then insult Tim Hunt, but his nobel prize means nothing if he can’t choose a shirt. Shameful article overall and shows just how conceited feminist has made many women.

  • ActualWomanInScience

    As a woman in science, I can safely say that Georgie is right, and Elrica doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or is at least denying it to herself. Elrica does not speak for the majority of our experiences.

    I’m not even gonna begin to touch what the other commenters have said here (although, knowing Elrica, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s made them as anonymous accounts herself).

    • Observer of the debate

      I was the person who originally commented and I no I am not Elrica. As the name suggests, I am an observer, and although I am a student, I dont know either writer personally.

      In what ways is Georgie ‘right’? I am genuinely interested. Why is being a woman in STEM a special case, whereas a man in nursing, medicine, teaching is not?

      Casual (and it seems unconscious ) sexism outside academia (In georgies case, in the restaurant ) is not relevent. That man may work in a science company, but that does not suggest that there is endemic institutional and concious sexism within STEM.

  • Nuna

    >Now, despite her claims that “there is no discrimination in science”, as an individual with a science background I prefer to find evidence to back up my opinions. According to Women in Science and Engineering, only 12.8 per cent of the STEM workforce are female.

    And yet these figures are evidence of discrimination only if there is an even gender split between STEM job and STEM course applicants, which there isn’t.

    >Truthfully, you could argue that these figures are not evidence against the supposed “myth” that is gender discrimination in science.

    They would be evidence if men and women applied for these positions at the same rate. Let us know when the pipe dream of total gender parity in STEM applicants becomes reality and there STILL is a disparity in the workforce.

    >However, these things are not usually defined by numbers, but by experiences.

    So much for an individual with a science background that prefers evidence to anecdotes.

  • ( o Y o )

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/04/women-preferred-21-over-men-stem-faculty-positions

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/14/study-finds-surprisingly-that-women-are-favored-for-jobs-in-stem/

    Women are twice as likely as equally qualified men to be offered STEM faculty positions.

    Please, PLEASE tell me more about how STEM is deeply sexist against women…

  • The Voice

    Science uses statistics — well put — but it does tend to use all of them rather than just the ones it wants to push an argument forward with. Please consider the application rates for STEM courses, and you will see the disparity between male and female applicants is merely a reflection of their disparate application rates. Now, exactly why it is that women apply in fewer numbers to the STEM fields is an interesting question and perhaps one you would be better off asking — a key part of science, after all, is finding the right questions to ask through a proper method of inquiry. Until you do that, however, you’re working with a horrifically incomplete set of data and choosing the option of wilful ignorance of half of it.

    Getting into university is hardly an achievement; institutions open their doors to any of the great unwashed nowadays for some course or other. Actually achieving something in your field — producing original research, creating a new product, advancing the knowledge of your discipline — these are things of which you could be rightly proud, but if your biggest claim to achievement is that you got into university, then you have a long way to go before you’re within spitting distance of acceptable pride.

  • Sam

    As a previous-editor for the Mancunion and current PhD science student I have to say I’m pretty disappointed in this rather snide article. Trying to bully the other journalist by stating you have everyone on your side is such an immature way of trying to discuss something – almost akin to Sun journalism really.

    I personally, as well as other males (and females too), have never encountered gender bias within my field. And that means perception of women – not gender imbalance which is obviously apparent. Usually scientific research at the highest level – not some random corporate pharmaceutical firm which, most likely, produced some old man who, I don’t know, shared his father’s thoughts on ladies in science – doesn’t have time to muck about with gender. CERN, NASA, ITER…these places don’t give a fuck what gender you are, they care about whether you are the best in the world at what you do and whether you can give them a world-class paper. With the shortages in overall scientific education they can’t afford to twiddle their thumbs. For that reason, if you’re a woman in science then indeed you are not special. And neither should you hope to think you are. You should hope to become special by being prolific in your field – not by engineering some unproductive divide between sexes. Science doesn’t care, basically – and neither should it.

    Of course this could easily descend into a shouting match between personal experiences which is pointless. But just because there’s a huge gender misrepresentation in science now doesn’t necessarily mean that there is prejudice against women – at the fundamental level it means there’s some factor(s) which is stopping women wanting to study these subjects. IMO I think the misrepresentation starts at college, not research level.

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