The Future is STEMinism

by Risha Sinha, Opinions Editor
graphic by Emily Cheng

Walking into my first computer science class, I was terrified — not only because I was a shrimpy freshman with the courage of a naked sheep, but because I immediately felt like I didn’t belong. As the rest of the class filed in, I became more and more nervous. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I felt so out of place. When the teacher walked in, it all made sense. Ms. Fan and I were the only women in the room.

In CS1, there were three other girls in my completely-full class. In CS2, there were only two other girls, and this year, in CS3, there is only one other girl in my class. Before I continue, I should clarify that I am not afraid of men (though looking through the news, I’d understand anyone who is). I simply decided I did not belong there because I could not connect with anyone at a surface level. 

The lack of girls in higher-level computer science classes is not only demoralizing, but it’s also a symptom of a larger issue all women face in STEM fields.

As young girls, we are told to try our best in all our academic subjects. Simultaneously, we hear baseless stereotypes like “Girls are bad at math” or have our input dismissed when we work in groups. 

Frankly, I had no idea of this stereotype until an inspirational video, ironically presented on International Women’s Day, in fourth grade told me so. It began with something along the lines of: “Y’know the age-old saying that girls are bad at math? Y’know, the one that everyone believes? Well, you’re going to be the one to prove that wrong!”

That’s a pretty daunting task to put on the scrawny shoulders of a fourth grader. Not only did I have to understand fraction and decimal multiplication, but I also had to excel at it in order to combat an age-old stereotype? A budding feminist, my fourth-grade self took this to heart. I couldn’t make a mistake and risk setting myself and my entire gender back. 

As I got older and math got harder, my urge to be correct the first time continued. Not accepting anything other than perfection is a crippling way to learn. If you expect perfection from yourself from the beginning, you will repeatedly be let down when you inevitably, frequently and understandably make mistakes. Feeling insufficient, many girls pivot away from the STEM field, causing some of the inequality in the gender makeup of STEM classes.

The lack of representation in STEM fields is not for a lack of trying. Women — or anyone who is not a white, cisgender, man — are disadvantaged from the start because the systems and conventions in place were not built with us in mind. As women, we must be loud and assertive to get our ideas across, or we risk being seen as dumb. But when we are loud and assertive, we risk being labeled as bitches. There’s just no winning!

Back in my freshman CS1 class, I felt out of place because the sexist rhetoric I heard throughout my childhood had manifested itself as intense impostor syndrome (for more on imposter syndrome, see page 10 😉 ). The pressure to be perfect so as to not confirm unfair stereotypes, combined with a lack of representation I saw inside and outside the classroom, made me feel like I did not belong in a computer science class despite having every right to be there to learn and be comfortable.

My story is just one of many. There weren’t only three other girls in my computer science class because schools give preferential treatment to boys during registration (I hope). Instead, the gender divide in STEM classes, especially in higher-level classes, is a result of the systematic discouragement young girls face as they grow into teenagers with the option of choosing extra STEM classes.

The solution to this problem is a fairly simple one: encourage girls from a young age to pursue futures in STEM fields, showcase more successful women in STEM, and for goodness’ sake, stop saying “Girls are bad at math!” I don’t care what the context is. No one needs to reinforce or be aware of such a gross generalization.

Looking back at my freshman computer science classes, I feel equal parts sad that I had to waste time feeling out of place and proud of myself for persevering and succeeding in those classes. Computer science is something I thoroughly enjoy, and I encourage anyone reading this to give it a shot.  


by Kate Grabowski

In fourth grade, my mom signed me up for an after-school extracurricular math class. When my friend and I walked into the class of 18, I was dismayed to find that we were just two of four girls. I was instantly overcome with dread; I felt like I wasn’t welcome. 

Seeing so few girls made me feel like we weren’t supposed to be there. I could feel the tears welling up, and I hated myself for crying because I didn’t want boys to see me as an emotional and fragile little girl.

At just 10-years-old, I felt the weight of proving my own internalized sexism wrong. In my mind, if I answered a question wrong or expressed emotion, they would be right in thinking I don’t belong. During the entire class, I was scared to talk or try the work because I was terrified I’d get it wrong and everyone would think it was because I was a girl. I ended up quitting after only three classes.

I’ve always been good at math, but at the same time, I’ve always put myself down much more in math classes by refusing to push myself and risk being wrong. Recently, one of my friends explained to me that young boys are pushed to try new things while everyone else is encouraged to give up if they fail once and to strive for perfection, not progress. 

Given the experimental nature of the STEM field, many people who are fully capable of excelling are pushed away. All non-male-identifying people in STEM need to be more fully supported in the STEM fields through mentorship programs and increasing awareness so that they can build confidence from a young age.


by Irene Gonzalez de las Casas

Growing up, my mom always told me stories about her science classes in college. She started as an aeronautical engineer major but switched to a chemical engineering major, and she would recount how she was always the minority in her classes.

Yet this did not stop my mom. She excelled in her classes, but as the years moved on and her classrooms switched to floors without bathrooms for women, she started to notice how outnumbered she truly was.

 I’ve always wondered if I would have a similar experience in my science classes. If I decided to take the STEM route for college, would I have an experience similar to my mom’s? Or are we finally inching toward equilibrium in STEM? I believe having a diverse range of people in any field allows the field to grow, as more voices can be heard.

After over 20 years working in heavy industry, my mom tells me that more and more women are joining the STEM field. This gives me hope that one day, perhaps if I choose to pursue a career in STEM, I will have the opportunity to see a diverse range of people in my classes and in my industry.

As I reflect on my life and school thus far, I can see the slow progression toward change. Higher-level classes are making their way towards some sort of balance. More girls are signing up for these classes, and clubs like the “Women in STEM” one we have here at South allow girls to feel a much-needed sense of community. 

We are fired up and ready to take on whatever challenges are thrown our way.