Thursday, 7 February 2019

STEMinist – Girlfriends

As a woman in STEM and the reluctant inheritor of a resting bitch face, paychecks and imposter syndromes have been easier to navigate than the perplexing relationship I’ve had with other women. I have found that I generally get along more easily with men than with women. I am aware that I am not the only woman who experiences this phenomenon, and that there are many factors which may have contributed to this, but I do believe that a rather large number of women in STEM fields seem to feel the same way.

While there are undeniably women in every field that face similar situations with fellow women, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of them in fields related to science, math and technology. Personally, I’ve always had to make more effort to connect with most other women than with men, and the ones I did well with seem to face the same struggle. For the longest time I thought it was just a personality thing, which it perhaps is, in part. But being surrounded by other women from STEM who think like this makes me believe that our choice in careers may have had something to do with it.

For one, I’ve mostly been around men while studying and at workplaces. The simple lack of women in my life may have made it tougher to understand how women prefer to communicate, versus how men do. One isn’t better than the other, but exposure to one more than the other would have surely determined how I learned to express myself in public.

With permission from Rebecca Abrantes, a computer engineer who had an all-male bridal party

Secondly, I think there’s a certain amount of awe that the society places on women in such fields, something we must strive to change in the next few generations by making the presence of women in STEM a common occurrence. Perhaps that extra attention or respect from society causes these women to sometimes face the contempt of other equally hard-working, talented and professional women and may even lead the former to develop a feeling of superiority, which further causes rifts in communication and understanding.

Lastly, I think being in any male-dominated field (not just STEM fields) and any discrimination within these fields forces one to develop a sort of an impermeable outer layer as a shield of protection. Being constantly asked to “man-up” doesn’t exactly encourage a free flow of expression and emotion; this can be a hindrance to forming relationships with anyone, not just women. To take it a step further, some women in male-dominated fields even end up buying into the culture of toxic masculinity and wind up perpetrating the abuses of male patriarchy onto their female peers. Call it toxic femininity, if you will.

As I took stock on how being in a STEM field has impacted my ability to connect with other women, I had lengthy discussions with the female engineers, mathematicians and scientists in my circle. It wasn’t astounding that almost all of them could empathize. Most of what I heard was:

“Women can be too judgmental and stand-offish about us; guys don’t really beat around the bush and are a little more straightforward.”

“Maybe it’s just the severe lack of women that I never really learnt how to talk to one.”

“Women compete with other women, as men do with men. Maybe men don’t consider us competition, which is sexist, but it makes talking to them easier. The landscape would be very different once they start viewing women as competition.”

“Some women in STEM are territorial; like males in a group who are both type A personality. They’re used to being the only ones in a group.”

“Women were mostly in clerical jobs in the last century; very few made it into what they call a “thinking job”, labelled as intellectually superior. The labelling continues although women have come so far in every field. Doesn’t help.”

“Maybe women in STEM actually consider themselves superior. STEM fields are given a lot of reverence in society.”

“We’re all in our own cocoons so we don’t talk much about things.”

I also spoke to a doctor who could not relate, so we’re clearly not all like this, thankfully! But I imagine that there is little way forward in the advancement of equal rights until we learn to better connect and bond amongst ourselves than we currently do.

The reason this disparity occurs can be broken down as follows: not enough women in STEM results in those who are in STEM fields struggling to connect with other women, making it harder for them to be “well-socialized” role models able to inspire more women to enter these fields.  It’s a vicious circle. Encouraging both boys and girls to enter every field unabashed, and exposing them to the possibilities of the world early on by degenderizing toys and hobbies, seems to be one of the fastest ways to break this cycle. We cannot begin to relate to each other until we stop enabling toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. And we cannot unite under the umbrella of a common goal if we cannot relate to our peers.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

This is Part Three in Shreyasi's STEMinist series.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists Inc. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics. 

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