Women in STEM and revising the feminine

Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, … devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving, by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable.

Chachra, Debbie. “Why I Am Not a Maker.” The Atlantic, January 23 2015.

As a student in the American school system, I grew up with the abbreviation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics; now sometimes referred to as STEAM, including the arts) firmly ingrained within me. With it came the movement of “Women in STEM,” which hoped to increase the participation of women within applicable fields. And I’m not here to claim there’s anything wrong about that — but like The Atlantic‘s Debbie Chachra, I want to consider the value of complicating that vision.

“Women in STEM”, to me, is one fashioning of the integrate minority, decrease sexism (not to say that women are a minority but that they are a minority within STEM) oversimplification that Chachra describes in “Why I Am Not a Maker.” The notable problem she describes, translated to this topic, is not that it is entirely wrong to attempt to integrate women or minorities into STEM but that it can result in a flattened understanding of the problem of gendered valuation.

I value her consideration of the end-goal of resolving the stigmatized gendered values present in modern American society. “Women in STEM”, I would argue, works to apply the following: “Women can be successful in STEM, just like men.” But the goal of equality is this: “Gender does not determine success in a field, and fields are not gendered.” This is intentionally vague; it removes gender as an element, which, ironically, leads to highly gendered movements like “Women in STEM.” Chachra describes a similarly gendered goal of reassessing female gendered roles, but I think the final goal here is actually the detachment of gender altogether.

STEM is not the specific focus of Chachra’s article. But her frame is valuable. As demonstrated by this article, Chachra’s problematization of inserting women into male-gendered roles without reconsidering the value of female ones is vastly applicable, and I would like in the future to apply it as gender discourse. – Kelly_H


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