If you ask the sort of people who are always angry about other people’s decisions, the wrong people are filling the jobs in STEM. That’s science, technology, engineering, and math. Too many men. A lot of boys have an early interest in STEM, because they’re all about building stuff, blowing up stuff, and building stuff that can blow up stuff. Boys like to sit in front of video-game screens and pretend they’re rampaging across a continent with an inexhaustible supply of ammunition, and for some this leads to an interest in computers. The end result? Apparently, it’s college campuses with He-Man Woman Haters’ Club signs on the engineering building (with the S painted backwards) telling women they’d best steer clear.
Well, if the right people aren’t going into STEM, then STEM must become something else. Say, sociology, tickling, encouraging, meth.
Obviously that’s ridiculous. Tickling violates personal boundaries. And it suggests that girls don’t want to go into science, which is ridiculous. Many do. One of my daughter’s female friends has been building robots for years and will probably attend her 20th high-school reunion by flying into the gym in a custom-made exoskeleton. But she’s not typical. Why? Because women, in general, prefer something else?
Nay: Girls are discouraged from pursuing STEM by the patriarchy. Female teachers in the schools run by female administrators regularly bark “Susie, put your hand down, these are boy topics” when a girl wants to answer a question in science class. And so the girls realize they have to cook and bake and make Instagram accounts composed entirely of pictures of shoes and fancy coffee drinks.
It’s a tragedy. My own daughter is very artistic; always has been. I ask her why she’s not interested in science.
“I am,” she says. “It’s just not what I want to do.” You’re so good at painting, but don’t you think you should stop drawing so much and fill your notebooks with algebra? “Dad.” There are good jobs at the algebra factory, you know. “Dad. No.”
She told me she’d just been talking with a friend about the STEM push in her high school and how incredibly patronizing it seemed. “Girls can do science, too!” she said in a mocking voice of adult condescension. For her generation — and dare I suggest the one that came before? — the idea that women are to be discouraged from anything is preposterous. If STEM means something else to them, it’s “Stop talking empowerment, Mom.” Because they get it, they really do.
I do note that young girls of my daughter’s generation aren’t crazy about signing up for the draft, but that’s another matter.
As with any disparity, the ratio of men to women in professions such as “facility manager for warehouse HVAC system” must be explained by Perfidious Forces. Disparities are never a result of individual choices and preferences; they’re proof that the clammy smothering hand of Society is forcing us to think we’re doing what we want. Once a month the Top-Hatted Capitalists get together at their richly appointed Secret Lair atop the Empire State Building, enjoy their cigars and oysters, sing a few bars of “Dixie,” and then get down to the serious business of Oppressing Everyone. Let’s consult the minutes from a post-war meeting:
“Gentlemen, the brief experience women had during the last world war exposed them to the joys of working in loud, dangerous factories doing repetitive labor. Now they’ve been shoved back into the home, of course, but if something isn’t done, they’re going to demand the right to exchange housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing for eight-hour shifts at a drill press. I fear this generation is poisoned beyond repair, but we can keep upcoming generations stupid and technologically incurious. And so I reveal to you . . . Project Barbie.”
Yeah. Well, Barbie’s hypnotic powers have waned in recent years, but STEM participation still isn’t close to the ideal ratio of 65 percent female to 35 percent male. (That’s the ideal ratio for everything.) So there’s been an alteration. It’s now STEAM. Science, technology, engineering . . . arts, and math.
Arts. It’s like a BLAT — a bacon, lettuce, aspirin, and tomato sandwich.
Or is it? There’s already art in STEM, in a sense. Building a bridge involves art. Designing the best way for the innards of a computer or TV or coffee maker or rocket to fit together requires an elegant instinct and imposes restraints no modern sculptor would accept. There’s art in everything if you do it well.
You suspect that’s not what they mean. A spastic dance devoted to the unsung woman who helped invent blueprints but was erased from history, that’s what they mean.
But say they don’t. Say the proponents of the STEAM term want to emphasize the A to let outsiders know there’s already art in STEM. What’s the harm? Well, it’s annoying to those in STEM, because it suggests STEM is not enough and needs embellishment, and it’s insulting to those considering STEM, as if they needed the step ladder of “personal expression” to make tech interesting to them. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do the hard stuff, like figure out how to get into space. You can draw designs on the rocket!
Recently Wells Fargo ran some ads for Teen Financial-Education Day and made the mistake of suggesting that some professions might have higher social utility than others. “An actor yesterday. A botanist today,” said one ad. “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today,” another proclaimed. Not okay, big evil bank. The world needs ballerinas and engineers in equal numbers, preferably apportioned by race and gender, and until that day comes we will know that everything is horrible and wrong.
Wells Fargo apologized and pulled the ads. Whether they’re hiring ballerinas this year, who knows.
– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.