Women’s History Month

MARCH – Women’s History Month.

I have mixed feelings about women’s anything, unless it’s the feminine care aisle in the supermarket or the OB/GYN specialist.

I remember being in Washington DC during the opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the self-proclaimed “gender specific” museum. I saw a wonderful exhibit of the works of French sculptor, Camille Claudel, as well as works by Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot.

Who thought we needed to build a special museum for the work of these and other female artists? Didn’t they deserve to be shown at the National Gallery of Art, only 20 minutes away by foot.

I almost regretted buying a ticket, seeing it as supporting continuing sexism in art and culture.

Yes, this is another of my rants against separating women’s achievements, singling them out, as if they can’t compete in the real, co-ed world.

Years ago, I was part of a program I’ll call XYZ, to give girls an extra push by having a day of science, for girls only, taught by female scientists. Sounds good, right?

Wrong.

First, there was the giggle factor—boys, young and old, giggling over the fact that girls had to be taken aside and given special attention to learn science. They obviously weren’t good enough to be taught science with the boys.

The guys were right—that’s exactly how it looked.

That should have been enough to kill the program, but it didn’t. I tried several times to change the course of the program, simply by inviting boys to the classes. Let the boys experience female science teachers, too (see above for why that’s important!) I continued to volunteer in the program, constantly petitioning for a change of philosophy and was shot down each time, until I finally quit. I realized that sexism was still rampant, and the powers that be would always consider that girls need special TLC to learn the hard stuff.

The program, started in the 1970’s, is alive and running, and still girls only. I know personally two of the Board members, and I know they “mean well.” But — When I ask, “Why is there still such a thing as the XYZ program?” the answer I get is “Because girls and women are still underrepresented in science and technology fields.”

If after 40 years of XYZ, that’s still true, here’s another possibility:

Girls and women are still underrepresented in science and technology fields because programs like XYZ exist, and encourage people to think girls can’t cut it in the normal learning environment. Because boys who are left out will still go on to be the CEOs and Research Directors and giggle as they look at women applicants and remember those special girls who got together to play scientist.

 

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3 Responses to “Women’s History Month”

  1. Harriette Harra says:

    Concur. You put words to this that I couldn’t. It’s what makes me not wholly embrace those pink, fluffy engineer toys for girls, Goldy Blocks. They can’t cut the regular challenges, so it all gets pink and made to seem a tad silly and downgraded to “girlie”. My mother was a chemist. My first chemistry set in a box wasn’t pink and made for girls. She wouldn’t have put up with that for a second.

  2. Janet Clark says:

    Hear, hear! My father was a chemical engineer and as a child I had my own gas mask with a long, corrugated snout. Wearing my mask and w/ roller skates strapped to my street shoes everyone in the neighborhood took me seriously.
    All that pink princess stuff is criminal. I agree 100%, Camille. Separating females out of the mainstream is the wrong approach.

  3. Gwen says:

    So very true. I think the operative word should be inclusion. I would be all for this program if it worked. Forty years is a long time not to see a true change.
    In the workplace women must compete with men as well as other women.

    It seems the reasonable a preparatory program would mimic that environment. Perhaps the money spent on xyz could be used to educate the science industry on how expose and recruit women to various careers in the science profession spectrum, even if it involved incentives, to get their feet in the door.