Microaggressions against Women: Decoding Everyday Misogyny in STEM Education

With the discourse around gendered discrimination focusing largely on exclusionary workspaces, this piece aims to uncover the everyday misogyny in STEM education.

Walking into the college corridor, a timid girl entered in with her books tightly wrapped around her arms. She looks around as a crowd of men stare eerily at her as if she was an alien creature. She rushes into her class and settles down as she disappears into oblivion into a world that deems her a misfit. 

In a society that has historically suppressed and denied women equal rights, understanding of oppression needs to be much more nuanced and intricate. The denial of equal opportunity, gender pay gap and the glass ceiling are blaring symbols of discrimination that continue to persist to date. But how does a gender pay gap translate into day to day work dynamics? Wouldn’t the conditioning of women as  “second-class citizens” permeate into vox populi? These are questions that we try to investigate in this piece within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, popularly STEM education.

Microagressions are behavioural or verbal displays of derogatory or hateful sentiments towards members of a stigmatised or marginalised group. Microaggressions against women are often swept under the carpet as “overthinking”, “being overtly emotional”, “problem-maker” and the classic “boys will be boys”.

Imagine this: You wake up, get ready for going to college and suddenly your dad calls you in to do a minor chore, you somehow reach college after dodging a million modes of transport and roads which aren’t “appropriate” for you. And the first thing in the day is your male classmates speaking over you and discrediting your ideas. This is what women face on a daily basis, often in more intense forms. 

There is a lot of sexism (in STEM education), it doesn’t matter where are you are. Whether you study at Harvard or Amity, this remains constant.

Ananya Kumar, First-Year Computer Science Major at Pennsylvania State University, the United States of America in a candid conversation.

One of the major forms of microaggression which women in STEM face is perceived incompetence by educators and peers. The gender of a person is often equated to their abilities as a professional. This is a further manifestation of pay gaps as well as it serves as a reason for the differentiated remuneration scales. Moreover, the assumed lack of knowledge is reflected in the interaction between the student body with women’s voices unheard and not paid heed to. These everyday dismissals of credibility and basic respect comprise the microaggressions which have become a constant in our society. 

One of the unique STEM fields is architecture. It is a blend of aesthetic and appeals with technology and mathematics. What may seem like a structural issue is also inherently a part of the daily struggle of women studying in STEM fields.

In architecture, women are often limited to the aesthetic aspect of the work whereas the mathematical, technical and technological aspects are entrusted and deemed to be the job of a man. Moreover, female professors are seen as more “approachable” whereas the technicalities are addressed to their male counterparts.

explained Sheilee Puntambekar, fourth-year Architecture major. 

To put it simply, STEM isn’t an easy area of study. It is rigorous and time-consuming and a supportive family structure goes a long way in shaping an individual’s body of work. Men usually have the emotional and financial backing of their families and are constantly motivated to do better. Whereas, women are often discouraged from pursuing STEM at higher levels of education and asked to shift to “softer or more pragmatic” occupations. These environmental and “minor”  aggressions are obstructions to the growth of women in STEM education. 

Active recognition of these microaggressions and becoming aware of their effects is the need of the hour. The status quo now hinges on the unwillingness of society to change. 

We thank Sheilee Puntambekar, Megha Joshi and Ananya Kumar for their inputs.

Read Also: https://dubeat.com/2019/03/scientist-is-a-woman/

Featured Image Credits: www.ted.com

Mehul Joshi