Neve in my life have I doubted my ability to pursue a career in science, engineering, math, or some other STEM field. But this was certainly not the case for women growing up in the mid-twentieth century.

Growing up, I had access to all the tools necessary for studying science and math. I had plenty of female math and and science teachers, and my gender never seemed to hinder my ability to learn any subject. In fact, there were many times in elementary and middle school where I had the opportunity to attend a “women in science” weekend conference. I remember feeling bad for the boys in my grade, because they couldn’t experience what I considered the best weekend of the year. But as I got older, I began to question why it was only for women. I started to realize that this conference only existed because as a woman, I’m already at a disadvantage in the STEM field.

As I got older, I decided to choose a non-STEM path, and this issue of sexism in science no longer directly affected me; however, as a strong-willed feminist, I still believe it is important to look into why this issue exists and what we can do to solve it. Back in the mid-twentieth century, a woman pursuing a career in STEM was also considered a “woman’s liberationist.” There was no way a woman could simply be called a “scientist” or an “engineer” without some connotation that she was doing something radical and unheard of. According to Amy Bix, women attending school for engineering or science were publicly ridiculed and strongly discouraged from doing STEM. During World War II, many male engineers were called to war, leaving the women to fill their roles. After the war, the men returned home, and women were forced back into their domestic responsibilities.

It is unclear how we went from the notion of the “housewife” to today, where we have programs designed specifically for encouraging young girls to become interested in science. However, these programs are evidence that women need that special attention to pursue STEM. Men don’t need any extra push, as it’s already assumed that they can become a scientist if they choose. While there’s certainly been an improvement for women since the twentieth century, if women and men were truly equal, we wouldn’t need these women-specialized programs. Additionally, the separation of men and women in this way could possibly be detrimental toward the end goal. As we’ve learned from segregation, “separate but equal” doesn’t really mean “equal.”

Adding onto this, brands like Lego and Barbie market their toys differently depending on which gender they are trying to reach. The sets that are marketed for girls tend to be pink and overly-feminine, but if a young girl doesn’t like pink, she might be less likely to want to buy that set and as a consequence be less likely to pursue a career in science. This may be an extreme case, but product marketing can most definitely have an overall impact on a young girl’s interests, therefore continuing and catalyzing a lack of female representation in the lab. In the future, I hope to see a world where women can be equally represented in science without needing anything special to encourage them.