Can Girls Be Pretty AND Good at STEM?

A number of studies suggest that by the time they reach adolescence, girls—even those who formerly liked STEM courses and  did well in them—feel they have to choose between being feminine and STEM. And STEM loses.

To explore this further, TrueChild convened several focus groups of young women of color, to ask them what they thought. And the results were both obvious and mind-opening.  Obvious, because any mom with an 8-year-old daughter already knows the responses. Mind-opening, because the responses touched on a part of STEM that we so seldom hear.

When we asked girls whether they could be feminine AND good at STEM, one group responded together, Yes, but not in junior high! This was followed by group laughter.  Another group related the story of a girl who was very pretty with long straight hair, but no one would talk to her because “she’s like a nerd because of her continued interest in science.”

Girls know the reality. Boys don’t exactly flock after girls who groove on soldering motherboards on the dining room table or doing trig problems for fun in their heads.

Okay, these examples are over the top. But the problem remains: girls come under tremendous pressure to “girly” it up if they want to be popular and romantically desirable, and that doesn’t include STEM. And we are doing nothing to arm them against these pressures, to help them think critically about them… or to change how boys think about such girls.

A recent article by Soraya Chemaly in Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/math-gender-gap_b_5268866.html) noted a new study that showed that U.S. girls are among the world’s worst math and science performers. In fact, in most countries, in math girls outperform boys. Chemaly sites a number of well-known barriers to girls’ STEM achievement.

You have to wonder if it isn’t time we started recognizing that feminine norms should be among them.