Today, February 11th, is International Day for Women and Girls in Science. Today is a day to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. I’ve talked about women in science on this blog before, and honestly, I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post at all today. I figured I’d just be repeating myself, and at the same time I’m sort of thinking that I’m preaching to the converted – most of the people that read this (as far as I know), are pretty happy with initiatives to improve working environments and opportunities for women in science.
(A note before I start – when I refer to ‘women in science’, I mean every person that identifies as a woman, whether that’s the gender they were assigned at birth or not. To be honest, celebrating and encouraging non-binary people in science should be included in the International Day… title too, but I don’t think the world (i.e. the UN and UNESCO) have come that far yet. That’s a fight for another blog post, but know it’s something that we as a community should be aware of.)
So, why am I writing this blog post at all? Well, today I had a bloody brilliant day. I went to We’re The Furballs – the dog petting cafe that I mentioned in a blog post a few days ago. I was feeling pretty happy with myself because yesterday I did lots of cool science/art related exploration for my Fellowship, and today was a break day that featured a corgi called Waffles, a toy poodle called Lulu, and a sausage dog called Slinky. I also went book shopping, and found the local Sephora – all in all an excellent Monday. That being said, I stopped for ice cream on the way home from the dog petting cafe, and checked Twitter. At the top of my timeline was a post from Hana Ayoob (if you’re not following her, I suggest you remedy that immediately – she also has a wonderful Etsy store) drawing attention to this:
Does anything about UNESCO’s tweet look a little off to you?
No, I’m not talking about spelling errors or unfortunate hashtags, I’m talking about the fact that every single woman in their graphic is white. This made me really, really frustrated. So frustrated in fact that I pretty much forgot about the whole dog petting cafe thing for about 10 minutes.
The whole “we need more women in science” thing is one thing that irritates me on a consistently low level – telling women that we need them in science is not going to make them build a career in science. When I was a teenager choosing my options for subjects at school, the fact that I might be selecting subjects that would push me into a field where there would be less women than men did not encourage me to choose STEM subjects. I wanted to know that women in science were given the same opportunities as men, and the fact that there was (and still is) a shortage of women in science did not fill me with confidence on that front.
ANYWAY. Back to the issue with the graphic above. It’s terrifying that I feel the need to say this, but all women are not able bodied slim white women. This fact should not come as a shock.
If the 7.5 billion people in the world was represented by just 100 people:
50 would be women
50 would be men
14 people from the Americas
1 would be dying of starvation
11 would be undernourished
22 would be overweight
So if we’re going by what the world looks like, even 1 out of the 5 women in the graphic being white would be an over-representation.
The representation of women in science in the media needs to change. It’s really not that hard – look at the image below.
Every single young girl should be able to find someone that she identifies with, and that she can look up to.
If you’re asked to name a woman in science, only being able to name Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin or Ada Lovelace, isn’t a good thing! All of the women in science that I’m seeing being held up as champions and ‘inspirations’ to get girls interested in science are white. That’s not ok.
I don’t want to work in an environment that is full of white women just like I don’t want to work in an environment that is full of white men. I want to work in an environment that is multicultural, heavily diverse, and full of passionate people of all genders, shapes, hues and sizes, feeling supported in the work that they are doing.
I’ve just written 300 words to explain why working in diverse environments is good for science, but I’ve deleted them because we should not be pushing for diversity because it’s good for science. We should be doing it because it’s human decency. As a cisgender able bodied white woman, I am absolutely done trying to explain the advantages of diversity to other privileged people; opening science up to everyone is just fucking ethical.
From UNESCO’s website: “This Day is a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and technology communities and that their participation should be strengthened. The celebration is led by UNESCO and UN-Women, in collaboration with institutions and civil society partners that promote women and girls’ access to and participation in science.”
UNESCO, here’s a reminder that all women and girls play a critical role in science, not just the slim able bodied white women that you have used your sizeable platform to highlight. Do better.