According to a study by the University of Washington, if science, technology, engineering and math fields want more women, they’re going to have to drop the Star Trek posters and Mystery Science Theater 3000 fandom that defines their “toxic masucline” culture.
Psychology Professor Sapna Cheryan says that she was deterred from a career in the hard sciences because the boys in so-called STEM classes had a brotherhood defined by Dungeons & Dragons and pop culture references she says deterred female participation.
That left her with an ax to grind, and so she set out to prove that male nerd culture is toxic to female success. Because never in history has there been a female Star Trek fan, Dungeons & Dragons player, or authentic geek—or a woman with enough wherewithal to handle geeky men without collapsing into tears at the mere mention of Captain Picard. (Note to Cheryan: I recently ordered a Starfleet Academy varsity jacket.)
“To draw more girls into STEM fields, it’s not enough to provide more learning opportunities,” Cheryan claims. “This geeky image is at odds with the way that many girls see themselves. Work from our lab shows that when high-school girls see Star Trek posters and video games in a computer-science classroom, they are less interested than boys in taking the course.”
Instead, Cheryan says, science classrooms should put up soothing art and nature posters to attract the feminine eye. Cheryan didn’t, of course, determine whether irrelevant posters featuring works of art and fuzzy photos of leaves would have an impact on male interest—or whether she was implicitly stereotyping women as attracted only to typically “beautiful” things.
Cheryan also found that women who had an interaction with a computer science major wearing a “I Code Therefore I Am” t-shirt or who identified Mystery Science Theater as their favorite show, also saw their interest in the major drop, apparently because women are shallow and don’t find geeks attractive.
She suggests that computer science majors try to attract more women by wearing plain tee shirts and liking The Office. Or perhaps they should just wear man-leggings with their “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts, and admit to scheduling work hours around Lifetime movie schedules.
The point, lost in Cheryan’s Star Trek screed, of course, may be that tailoring career counseling to individual students and helping them to understand that workplace culture is an aspect of vocational choice, is key to helping both male and female students pursue their individual educational goals.
Unfortunately for Cheryan, her suggested structure limits choice for women who don’t fit her carefully contrived pre-conceptions, and her dragnet will carry under plenty of female Star Trek fans.
By the way, ladies, that varsity jacket is only $50.