Interestingly, girls continually outperform boys in science in school obtaining higher A*-C grades in all the major sciences examinations, however they are less likely to continue this through to a career in science (according to the Science Learning Network). I know why this is, because I was one of the girls who did well in science exams, I persevered longer than most right to the end of a PhD to the point where there was nothing of me left. As a teenager throwing away feminine qualities can be enticing, growing up is so scary and putting yourself out there in front of your peers in school is petrifying. I didn’t do science because it inspired me, I did it because I couldn’t get it wrong, because I could hide in it, because I knew I could retain my image of being a high achiever, it fitted nicely with my black and white way of thinking at the time. Enjoying or feeling inspired was not a factor for me, getting good grades and a degree that could lead to a well paid job was (and I was pretty mis-led in that respect)!
However, as I became an adult I always felt uncomfortable in a science world, like I had to to hide all the things that were real to me, I had to pretend that I like cool, indie music, instead of fun pop and country songs, and I had to enjoy alternative movies instead of cheesy musicals, and I had to keep my mouth shut because I felt like I had nothing to say which was of interest to anyone. A lot of this was personal to me but a lot of it was because there was not a culture of acceptance, there was a culture of one-upmanship where perceived “intelligence” was more important than any other factor.
When I was working for the Royal Society of Chemistry I came across an Athena Swan report that said that women were more likely to stay in academia to do science research where the overall conditions were better, they weren’t interested in trying to prove themselves or going through some right-of-passage so they would rather leave than put up with bad working practices.
However, I believe we can have the best of both worlds, life and learning are about discovery, whether that is through writing, acting, painting, philosophy, science, history, social interactions etc and all that we can ask of education is that it gives us the passion, validation and understanding for discovery. I enjoy parts of science now, I consider myself to be a ScienceGrrl and I love combining it with other things in my portfolio, none of the societal challenges we face will be solved without multidisciplinary approaches.
The science grrl report has a quote that massively resonates with me:
‘our research shows that it is harder for girls
to balance, or reconcile, their interest in science with femininity. The solution won’t lie in trying to change girls. The causes are rooted in, and perpetuated by, wider societal attitudes and social structures.
We also need to think about the whole structure of our education system in england, which essentially channels children into narrow ‘tracks’ from a young age’
Professor Louise Archer, director of asPires, lead coordinatior of TisMe
This is one of the first times where I have read something that not only explains my ideas about girls in science but also my view on feminism as a whole.
So, to come back to real life the science tools that we are developing don’t need to help girls to pass exams – we already know how to mindlessly play that system, they need to help girls (and boys) feel passionate, to give them the validation to discover, like it is possible for them to be part of the change that we need to see in the world, and to help them to understand femininity, intelligence and a strong position in society should go hand in hand.
The answers to this problem are far deeper than science education games that appeal to females, and I don’t know what they are, but I will be continuing to explore.