Predicting The Future: Women In STEM

According to Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Tor UK, only 22% of sci-fi submissions are from women. From all accounts, the situation in the US isn’t much better.

Why is this a big deal?

Because science fiction is really science at play. It’s science, reaching beyond itself. It’s science, dreaming of the future.

And women are conspicuously underrepresented in those dreams.

The issue is not that women are inherently disinterested in or bad at math, technology, science — or science fiction. Study after study after study has shown that women excel in these fields, but are actively discouraged from participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) by a constellation of factors, including a hostile, biased environment; stereotyping; marginalization; and the subtle and overt attempts by both men and women to discourage a young girl’s interest in the world of science.

In a world where technology is increasingly vital to earning potential, these assaults have a devastating effect on women’s careers. And with half of the population marginalized or hounded out of STEM careers, it’s increasingly harder for Americans to meet the growing demand for tech professionals. Already, less than one fifth of PhDs in physics are awarded to women, and more than half of those women are foreign students. Overall, women hold less than 25% of STEM jobs.

He-Man Woman Haters ClubThe same factors that discourage women from STEM careers are reflected and reinforced in geek culture. The computer gaming industry has permitted an increasingly violent, increasingly misogynistic environment to thrive. Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem at conferences. Brogrammers celebrate sexism while a 9 year old girl sits in the audience. Female sci-fi authors are marginalized and attacked by bigots.

But while these incidents are despicable, the response to them was heartening.

  • Anita Sarkeesian was sent threats of rape and death in response to her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games proposal. But thousands of supporters rallied to her cause, and her Kickstarter campaign raised $158,922.00 — more than 25 times the initial goal. The Tropes project was then expanded to include a free classroom curriculum.
  • In the wake of Vox Day’s rant in which he declared that women are destroying science fiction, Lightspeed Magazine launched their Women Destroy Science Fiction issue, authored entirely by women. Their $5,000 Kickstarter campaign raised $53,136.00, and spawned Women Destroy Horror and Women Destroy Fantasy.
  • Conventions worldwide are adopting strong anti-harassment policies, and awareness of the issue is squarely in the public spotlight. Men and women are speaking out against harassment and are confronting inappropriate behavior.
  • Racists, misogynists, and homophobes are discovering that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences; actions that would once be supported with a wink and a nudge by organization leaders are now being publicly condemned, and those who use their positions to promote platforms of discrimination and hate are being removed from those positions.

If pop culture is a bellwether of society as a whole, then attitudes are slowly shifting in the right direction and we can predict bigger changes in the coming years. But as Alan Kay famously said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Invent a future where our daughters are given the acceptance, respect, and opportunities they have earned. Support women in STEM, women in publishing, and every venue where women are struggling to gain equality.

Encourage bold dreams, and help our children to reach for the stars.

For more information on women in STEM

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist... John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.
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  1. I deal with many doctors, and almost all are men. I have wondered if male culture isn’t part of what keeps more women from joining the ranks. Even when no one sets out to exclude a different population segment, the homogeneity of what’s in place can be intimidating.

  2. Sadly, this is a problem in medicine as well. Very disappointing that it’s gained such a toehold in so many technical fields, but I’m hopeful that awareness will start to break up those self-perpetuating attitudes.

    Here’s an interesting perspective from one female doctor:

What are your thoughts?