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Is the Fight for Women in STEM Over?

A Breitbart article written by Milo Yiannopoulos in 2015 seems to think it is. Yiannopoulos is adamant that a cap on the number of women who can be accepted into STEM, medicine and law programs would benefit the population as a whole.

He says that many women who pursue these degrees end up dropping out of school or choosing an unrelated career path, implying that they should not be offered these positions to begin with. “This is a disaster for the men who missed out on places, and it’s a criminal waste of public funds,” Yiannopoulos writes.

The problem with this thinking is that women who do follow this pattern still end up gaining valuable experience through their degree programs. Yiannopoulos cites an article by Computer World describing how many women leave STEM careers between the ages of 35 and 40. What he fails to mention is the article’s explanations for why they leave.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who studied the phenomenon for the Harvard Business Review, told Computer World writer Kathleen Melymuka about the causes for this sudden drop. “We found that 63% of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment,” Hewlett said. “They talk about demeaning and condescending attitudes, lots of off-color jokes, sexual innuendo, arrogance; colleagues, particularly in the tech culture, who genuinely think women don’t have what it takes — who see them as genetically inferior.”

It can be incredibly difficult for women to tolerate this negative environment, so this may be why many of them leave STEM. Despite the age they leave at and what many males in the field might believe, these women are not leaving their careers just to start families.

Yiannopoulos continues on to insist that women simply do not want to pursue STEM careers without providing solid, empirical proof. He believes the strong campaigns in recent years to encourage girls to study these areas is nothing more than a bullying tactic. “‘Girls in tech’ advocates are wholly misguided if they think that bullying young girls into science courses will have any effect on the overall number of women in the workplace,” he writes.

He cites a Cornell study that shows women are hired as assistant professors twice as much as men, but he also attaches his own prejudices to the conclusion. “Study after study confirms that men with the same qualifications are routinely passed over in favour of girls, at a ratio of 2:1, because employers of every stripe are so desperate to trumpet their diversity credentials. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?” he asks. Nowhere, however, does the study indicate that the surveyed labs are hiring women to fill any sort of female percentage or quota.

As a teenager in a majority-male STEM magnet program in high school, I have found it difficult to be in classrooms where I feel inferior to the boys around me.

Yiannopoulos does have it correct that certain branches of science are popular amongst women, especially the biological and social sciences (which many in STEM fields do not consider to be a branch of science at all). However, an advanced chemistry classroom should not only consist of one girl and 20 other boys. While women are still involved in scientific fields, many of them are still shut off to “just the boys.”

Perhaps if Yiannopoulos spent more time around women, hearing their concerns and working to address the sexism in our society, he would be less willing to support limiting the number of women who could enter STEM degree programs. When we open up opportunities equally for men and women, the possibilities for what they can accomplish together are limitless.

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