Hidden Agendas?: STEM, Women, and Sexism

This evening it occurred to me (when I wasn’t trying to have any new ideas!) that it would be worth thinking through the recent specific emphasis on STEM programs (I first heard about this push in 2011) and its cultural, intertextual relationships with people we call women and with sexism and college enrollment patterns. A few of my thoughts on this subject are below. 

Increasingly, as you know, women outnumber men in the United States’s colleges and universities, and this has been the subject of concern for some. People ask: why aren’t men attending college? Because of sexism, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics have long been considered to exclusively belong to the male domain of homo sapiens.

Enter: Does the national focus on and push for STEM have a hidden or not-so-hidden aim to undo women’s success and women’s numerical majority in higher education enrollment? It’s not like the importance of STEM disciplines has just suddenly become important; although, news would suggest otherwise.  

Additionally, while people we place into the socially constructed sex binary of either “woman” or “man” are all absolutely equal academically and intellectually (if you remove socially-created barriers, see the excellent, Delusions of Gender), because of how powerful sexism is historically, psychologically, and socially, women are often at a disadvantage. Stereotype threat is real. Without meaningful on-going conversations and training–informed by theory–with students, professors, administrators, employers, and other stakeholders about such issues, women will be at unfair disadvantages. Without an equity program of some kind, women will be at unfair disadvantages. Since such conversations are not happening nationally or anywhere else as far as I can tell, STEM is automatically by default and by design structured to significantly encourage and privilege men and at the same time discourage women. 

Enter: Does the national focus on and push for STEM have a hidden or not-so-hidden aim to undo women’s success and women’s numerical majority in higher education enrollment? Such a focus, even if unconsciously, encourages men much more than it encourages women. Men in STEM courses and careers will have easier and more plentiful opportunities and higher paychecks. 

(Nursing–still dominated by women–might be a quasi exception in some regards, but nurses get paid ridiculously low wages and work insanely long hours in hazardous working conditions.)  

So, I ask, and please don’t immediately listen to instinctual responses, what hidden agendas exist between our cultural emphasis on STEM and “our” cultural emphasis on still maintaining Male Privilege every step of the way.

I look forward to the day when Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and when History or Literature are emphasized equally! 

Thanks for reading! 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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2 replies

  1. “I look forward to the day when Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and when History or Literature or (sic) emphasized equally! ”

    And you get to see that in your courses, but most of us in STEM positions miss the role of the Arts (etc) in scientific advances. Have you heard of the STEAM movement? (e.g. http://malina.diatrope.com/2016/12/17/is-steam-to-steam-a-new-idea-vapor-ware-or-or-just-hot-most-air/). The “A” stands for “Arts.”

    Liked by 1 person

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