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Girls can’t what?!: sexism in STEM classrooms

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By Stephanie Wang

Sure, I see statistics on the clear disparity in the number of women going into STEM fields, hear horror stories of sexism in the workplaces of tech giants, and notice a difference in the amount of girls in math and science classes, but it’s another thing altogether to experience an overt form of gender-based bias at school.

Initially, I didn’t think anything much of the fact that AP Physics C was heavily dominated by boys, fully anticipating that we’d be seen as equals, with our accomplishments seen in equal light. Suffice to say, I was heavily mistaken.

For an end of the year celebration, we were challenged by our teacher to build a catapult and then use it to shoot a marble at a toy monkey more than 15 yards away. My group was the only group that was all-girl. When we asked our physics teacher for a screwdriver, one boy acted as if we couldn’t possibly know what a Phillips screwdriver was. This was despite the fact that unlike his group, we didn’t get a company to build the catapult for us, instead laboriously designing and conducting trials with our catapult. When we turned out to be the only group to hit the monkey, several of the boys – watching from 15 yards away – disputed it, saying it didn’t actually hit the monkey. This is despite the fact that our physics teacher, standing a foot away, vouched and said it did hit. Not to mention, we all heard the sound from the marble hitting the monkey.

Instead of accepting that they’d been bested by a group of girls, they demanded that we go again to “really prove it hit,” and obnoxiously crowded around the monkey and started to film the shot just to ensure that we couldn’t “cheat.” Perhaps the reason they felt like they couldn’t possibly trust the teacher’s judgment was that she was a female, and of course, a group of males with overly fragile egos know better than an incredibly knowledgeable physics teacher who used to be a college professor.

Throughout the entire experience, my group mates and I could only feel shock at the overt sexism we experienced. Here, we saw a clear example of the struggles facing women in STEM. Really, it was an incredibly apt metaphor for how women are expected to do twice as well to gain the same respect and credit. We were all fully aware that had this been an all-boy group that had won the challenge, the class would have congratulated the group, never expecting the group to go again and repeat the accomplishment amidst cameras and jeers. We were all fully aware that had we been boys, we never would have been subjected to comments from teachers and peers throughout high school that they “didn’t see us as engineers.” We were all fully aware that had we been boys, there never would never be comments that we only got an opportunity or got into a school because of our gender. These types of things, in the moment, just seemed to be a fact of life. Even worse, we knew that what we had experienced was practically nothing compared to the bias and prejudice other women in STEM have faced in their careers.

While it’s certainly disheartening, it’s not going to stop us, and to all the girls interested in STEM, it shouldn’t stop you either. If girls don’t continue to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, nothing will change, with the misguided belief that STEM subjects aren’t for women only prevailing and propagating. Pursue your passions, not the career stereotypes society pushes onto you.

My group mates and are using this experience to further fuel us, as a source of motivation to be successful in engineering. And that’s truly the reason why I’m sharing this story: because I hope this will inspire in you the determination that even against odds, that you will hold true to yourself, your passions, and your beliefs. My group mates and I; planning on double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Foreign Affairs, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Computer Science and Economics; know the opposition we’ll face and we’re determined to change both mindsets and the world.

Hey, hot things

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A poem by Ananda Gervais

Content Note: sexual assault, street harassment

I am 13 and I’m walking to my friends house and you honk your horn and role down the window as you pass me, pursing your lips to send me kisses, I don’t understand so I look down and avoid eye contact. I ask myself what I did, what did I do to get such attention, what did I do to deserve this disrespect, I am 13.

I am 14 and I’m walking through the school hallways, and you think it is appropriate to smack your hand against my ass, I do not know you, this is not welcome. So when I turn round I intend to yell at this intruder of my personal space of my body but before I can say anything you get on the defensive. ‘it was just a joke’ you say. No it was not just a joke it was assault. 

I am 15 and walking home with my friend, it is 9 oclock and the sky is black when you start to follow us. There are two of you and we are scared and reminding each other that we just aim for the nuts. You call after us, ‘hey hot things, wanna play.’ No I most certainly do not want to play so we carry on walking. You call again ‘hey, white girls, stop for a minute, I want to look at you’ I turn around and tell you to stop and my friend tells you to ‘fuck off.’ You step forward and I am genuinely scared for my life, but you retreat calling us whores and bitches as you get into your car.  When I later tell one of my friends, she asks me what I was wearing.

I am 16 and you push me up against the wall and tell me to kiss you, I refuse and you push me harder, trying to grope me. I struggle out of your grasp, you call me a prude I tell you to bite me. I tell you if I ever saw you try that again I would break your arm.  An hour later I see you do the same thing to my very drunk friend, she tells you to stop, you don’t. So I push you off her and you stumble to the floor, your friend tells me to relax. I should of broken your arm.

I am 17 and am walking in the darkness with my best friend as we had decided to be fun and spontaneous and surprise another friend of ours when you drive up to us, there are 4, maybe 5 of you in that car and as you yell at us I assure my friend that everything will be okay. I’m not sure what words of abuse you hurled at us but when we stayed silent and walked on you yelled at us to at least be polite and have a conversation with you. Are you actually telling us to be polite, because to me that’s the greatest irony of all.

I am 18 and my bus stops, I get off, noticing you, who had been staring at me for the last 8 stops are also getting off the bus. I clench my fists and speed walk through the dark streets, my house seeming further away than usual. You follow me at my first turn and then the second, I immediately accept my fate. Dialling my mother’s number and leaving her a message to tell her I love her. As I hang up you turn a corner away from me and I let out a breath of relief.

I like being a girl, its fun and slightly complicated and I would never wish to not be me, not for an instant. But in instances like these and many like it, I do not want to be a girl. For a flighting second I wish to be you, I wish to not have to walk alone in fear and to not have to worry about how my choices in clothing might be interpreted, but sadly, wishes rarely come true.

Some Politicians Have Boobs. Deal With It.

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By Amy Callaghan

It should really come as no surprise that, yet again, the Daily Mail has published a shockingly sexist portrayal of female politicians. As if the hugely patronising ‘Downing Street Catwalk’ article in September 2014 wasn’t enough, the Mail has decided to undermine the value and importance of female politicians once again. This time, however, the Mail have managed to reach even more sickening and misogynistic heights, actually claiming that female politicians intentionally use their bodies and their ‘curves’ to make political advances. In their article, published in print and online on the 18th of March 2016, the Mail claims female politicians know that ‘moving a hemline up or a neckline down can be a powerful political tool’. The article cited 11 specific examples of female politicians – from current Home Secretary Theresa May to Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South – who have apparently dressed provocatively and subsequently seen political advancement. The Mail provides a rundown of what exactly the politicians wore, what body parts were specifically exposed, and the ‘resulting’ promotions or political gains achieved.

I find it unbelievable that in the year 2016 one of the most widely read newspapers in the country is publishing this toxic and sexist garbage. Female MPs occupy just 151 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, and this kind of vitriolic misrepresentation is perhaps one of the reasons why we still don’t have equality in Parliament. As a young woman studying International Relations and interested in politics as a career, seeing female politicians portrayed in this way is nothing short of discouraging – clearly, their achievements and political merits are not taken seriously. In fact, we’re led to believe that anything they have managed to achieve is because they’ve flashed a bit of thigh to the right crowd. This is so demeaning, both to these clearly very accomplished politicians, and to women everywhere whose achievements are belittled and written off in this debasing way.

Sure, the Mail article is an extreme example and the assumption that women have only achieved anything because they can use their bodies and sexuality is so astonishingly sexist and outdated. People may argue that it shouldn’t affect how female politicians actually do their jobs – and it likely doesn’t, as they are professionals. It’s also true that publications such as the Daily Mail and the Sun, which persist in this ridiculous representation of women, are frequently called out on it and are of course not taken seriously by everyone. Yet it is something we see all too often and this toxic portrayal of women no doubt permeates the minds of a wide readership.

It is ridiculous enough that the number of male MPs in the House of Commons at the moment outnumbers the total number of female MPs in history. Only seven cabinet ministers out of a total of twenty-two are female. Women are clearly underrepresented in politics, and it’s no wonder. Not only are women likely discouraged thanks to ridiculous stereotypes perpetuated by institutions such as the Mail, but superiors and those in positions of power – statistically, more likely to be male – may subconsciously be influenced by this image of women and thus not take them as seriously as their male counterparts.

This blatant example of sexism towards female politicians in the media points to a much deeper and long-lasting problem. Girlguiding, a charity focused on and driven by girls and young women, carried out some research in 2015 proving that young women are put off by the portrayal of women in the media. Fifty-five % of 11 to 21-year-old girls said that in the past week they had seen the media talk about a woman’s appearance before her achievements or job. It is evident that the media’s often sexist portrayal of women is obvious even to younger girls, and may influence the way they view themselves and other women. If female politicians, some of the most successful and powerful people in the country, can’t escape this appearance-based scrutiny, then girls might wonder, what are the chances we can?

The Mail’s article is a disgusting and extreme example of the sexism women face from the media, but it is by no means the only example. This kind of toxic and misogynistic ‘journalism’ has to stop. Has there ever been an article that equates male politicians’ attire and their resultant political successes? Why do we insist on treating our male and female politicians so differently, when they hold the same merit and do the same incredibly difficult job equally well? It’s archaic, sickening and it has to stop, if we ever want to see a truly equal society. Stop discouraging women from going into politics with this repulsive nonsense. And stop belittling them and degrading them when they get there.

 

 

 

Kim Kardashian and the Right to Bare All

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By Amy Callaghan

It seems like we have a new Kardashian social media blowout every few days. From Kanye’s debt to rumours of Kourtney’s romantic attachment to Justin Bieber, the media can’t leave everyone’s favourite love-to-hate family alone. Typing the word ‘Kardashian’ into Google garners around 206 million results. But this isn’t another article preaching about the degeneration of media or questioning why, exactly, the Kardashians are famous. I want to discuss the latest Kardashian ‘scandal’–Kim’s naked selfie—and what exactly the fuss is about.

It’s almost impossible to have missed the photo or the backlash. If you haven’t seen the image itself, you’ve certainly heard about it, thanks not only to the usual anonymous trolls but to numerous high-profile celebrities who have made their contempt public news. Bette Midler for example, wants us to know that we’ve seen it all before. ‘If Kim wants us to see a part of her we’ve never seen, she’s gonna have to swallow the camera’, Midler jokes, referring to the infamous 2003 sex tape, leaked without Kim’s consent. US actress and model, Chloe Grace Moretz, argues that Kim should be using her platform as a celebrity to show young women that women are more than just their bodies.

In different ways, Midler and Moretz exemplify the very toxic misogynistic issue at the heart of this debate. Midler said later that she was not trying to slut-shame Kim, but it certainly sounds like slut-shaming to me. Moretz implies that a woman who is empowered by her sexuality and her body cannot be a good role model to girls and young women– both a problematic message and objectively untrue.

There’s clearly a double standard at play here. When Kim’s sex tape was leaked non-consensually thirteen years ago, it was hugely popular and it’s still watched today, despite the fact that Kim did not want it to be shared or seen by anyone. Yet when a confident and sexy Kim makes the decision to post a selfie, suddenly no one wants to see any more of Kim Kardashian.

Criticism of the Kardashians is nothing new, but I think what really bothers people is the fact that Kim is an empowered and self-assured women unafraid to share her pride and confidence in her body with the world. Women’s bodies are big business. Young celebrities like Emma Watson, like so many other girls and women, are threatened and intimidated by “revenge porn” from former partners. Unauthorized sex tapes become big news and big business. Yet when women take ownership of their bodies and post scantily clad pictures or selfies they are subject to vile, hateful insults.

Clearly there’s a huge issue with the way in which women’s bodies are viewed. As long as they are saleable and pleasurable and controlled by others they are acceptable, but if women give even a hint of being confident, of taking back that control, then she’s the problem. What’s alarmingly apparent is that these sorts of images and videos are sexier, more pleasurable, more attractive, if they are nonconsensual, if the woman in question is a victim.

Kim wrote an inspiring essay on her website in which she argued that she feels empowered posting pictures of her body when she feels good, owning her flaws, and showing her confidence to the world. This does not make her any less of a role model, particularly from a business perspective (she makes millions of dollars from her apps, clothing lines, and most obviously her reality television franchise). Kim has proven that she can be a successful businesswoman as well as front woman for a massive dynastic franchise, while still owning her sexuality and feeling powerful and confident in her body. She has shown that even in the face of malicious and toxic backlash from the media and others, she remains secure in herself. This is, in my view, a much more inspiring and powerful message than that put forward by those who judge and ridicule her. Not once does Kim say that a woman is required to be sexy in order to be successful – just that she should allowed to be sexy and successful, and show this off to the world if she wants to.

Kim closed her essay with a powerful statement: ‘I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy.’ As a young woman, I find this message inspiring. Kim doesn’t care what others think of her – she’s going to continue being herself and being proud of it. Regardless of the hate and insults, she is confident and unafraid. She is, as she defiantly captioned a photo after the backlash she received, #liberated.

 

Some thoughts on safe spaces

Author:
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By Issy McConville

You know that scene in ‘About A Boy’, where Hugh Grant turns up to the ‘Single Mothers Alone Together’ meeting in order to meet women, despite not being a woman himself, or even a parent at all? The audience is like  – Hugh! What are you doing there! That is so bad! If you recognise that it is wrong for Hugh Grant’s character to sneak into a women’s support group with underhand motives, then you are understanding the basic concept of a ‘safe space’. A safe space is (more…)

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