Science, Women's History Month, and You
Women's History Month, celebrated in March of each year, is a time to reflect on and spread awareness of women's achievements. In STEM, for instance, groundbreaking female scientists—such as Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, and Maria Mitchell—who had been erased by history are finally gaining the levels of recognition and appreciation that they deserve. These efforts have been spearheaded by women hoping to right these injustices.
But in addition to highlighting achievements, Women's History Month is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the injustices and oppression that women around the world still face every day. One of the greatest barriers facing girls and women is in education: access to quality education at even the elementary level is often extremely difficult for girls in developing nations. Even in countries where access to education is relatively robust, like the United States, test scores at the K–12 level have shown boys outperforming girls in science and math for decades. In 2008, average boys' and girls' scores on the SAT Critical Reading section were only four points apart; on the Mathematics section, however, boys outscored girls by over 30 points on average. These enormous differences in achievement cannot be ignored.
In the same vein, differences in test scores at the high-school level appear to contribute to underrepresentation in some STEM fields in higher education. While women now earn a higher proportion of bachelor's degrees in the United States, women are still vastly underrepresented in certain scientific fields in university, such as mathematics, the physical sciences, engineering, and computer science. Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that as recently as 2010, women of underrepresented races earned less than five percent of all doctorate degrees in the sciences.
These disparities in men's and women's achievement levels do not exist because of an innate difference in scientific or mathematical ability: they exist because there are myriad barriers in education and in the STEM fields that serve to keep women down. These barriers to women's achievement constitute misogyny.
The reality is that helping women and girls—in STEM, in education, or in any form of achievement—reach their full potential must begin with recognizing and confronting misogyny. Women's History Month is a great way to showcase what girls and women have achieved despite the barriers to their success. But it's also necessary to work toward eradicating these barriers to make sure that girls and women will continue to achieve.
Originally posted on AAAS Science NetLinks.