Culture

University Specialist: Girls Need Safe Spaces to Be Able to Do Science

#CheckYourPeriodicTablePrivilege (Photo: Jacek Chabraszewski/Dreamstime)
Or we could try encouraging girls to succeed in the real world without coddling.

According to one specialist, girls ages 10–14 need a safe space to study science in order to be as successful in the STEM fields as males.

“We need to provide a non-judgmental bridge period until girls are confident enough to embrace the idea of engaging in science and technology,” Dr. Wendy Fasso, a specialist at Central Queensland University in Australia, told EducationHQ.

According to Fasso, the education system needs to “capture [girls’] interests” before they are “bombarded with conflicting messages about stereotypes and gender roles,” such as the idea that science is “boy stuff.”

“It’s crucial that, during the ages they are formulating their ideas of who they are and what they can achieve, and forming their friendship circles, we influence their study interests and ensure they are proud to be science nerds,” Fasso said.   

Fasso said that she has been working in association with a K–12 workshop program called “Makerspace” on a project that teaches girls about science and coding within the framework of things like fashion and hairstyles — and that she’s seen a lot of success with it so far.

“Before our Makerspace project, none of the girls would identify as being a nerd but afterwards all of them were proud to be identified as a science nerd,” she said.

“We need a circuit breaker just before they reach high school to break the pressure that’s on them to avoid nerdiness and to try to be too cool for school,” she added.

Now, I do agree that we should show young people how their interests might align with STEM, and that we should start incorporating interests that usually aren’t discussed in this context, including traditionally “feminine” ones like fashion. What I do not, however, agree with is all of this “safe space” garbage.

Fasso is saying that although the boys can study science successfully in a normal environment, the girls will need special treatment to handle doing the same thing. She’s worried that girls just aren’t “confident enough” to become interested in science because of social pressures, but just how the hell is her girls-are-weaker attitude supposed to increase that confidence? Seriously — how is telling girls that they are unable to study science around boys going to give them confidence to study science around boys? Sorry, but I really reject the idea that drilling into girls’ heads that they are in need of coddling and special treatment is the way to create a generation of she-warriors.

Like it or not, life is full of both social pressures and boys, and trying to shield young girls from them is just delaying the inevitable. They’re going to have to face these things eventually, and it’s better for them to start developing the skills they need to deal with them sooner rather than later. A girl may, as Fasso noted, feel comfortable calling herself a “science nerd” in the wake of a coddle-fest like Makerspace — but will she have the same attitude in the real world, in an environment that’s less comfortable? That might be more difficult, especially after she has just heard people openly expressing their concerns about her ability to succeed there. 

It is true that sexism exists, and it’s true that science and math are typically considered “boy stuff.” But the way to deal with this is not to take girls out of the real world; it’s to instill in them that they are strong enough to be there and to assert themselves. It is to openly address sexism and social pressure, and to encourage girls to give the (figurative, don’t get suspended kids) middle finger to all of it, and to succeed anyway — because they are capable of doing so.

Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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