Dr Caroline Ford, co-founder of the Stemminist movement, shares her thoughts on how a supportive and empowering space for women and minorities in Stemm has been found in an unexpected place
Even your grandfather has heard of Stemm these days.
There has been a huge focus on Stemm (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) education in recent years, and a myriad of initiatives launched to encourage more girls and young women to pursue careers in these areas.
A career in Stemm can be incredible. There are not many careers where you get to follow your instinct, try new things and do things no one else in the world has done before. Those who think science is dry and boring really just don’t get it – it is one of the most creative and thrilling careers you can choose.
But what about the women already working in Stemm, dealing daily with a system that historically did not value them or even want them there? Remarkable women who encounter unconscious and outright bias in their workplaces, and systems that are built to benefit and promote a model of a scientist that doesn’t look or act anything like them. Responding to these numerous challenges, an online community of women in Stemm has been brought together through an unexpected medium – a very modern book club.
Discover a world of inspiration.
The STEMMinist Book Club was founded online in January 2018 and has already amassed more than 1,700 members from 25 countries. The online discussion takes place on Twitter, allowing members worldwide the flexibility and opportunity to join the conversation. Twitter has become an important medium for scientists in recent years, with scientists the third most regular users, following journalists and politicians. It can be a supportive and empowering space for women and minorities in Stemm, particularly for those working in more isolated environments.
As well as online discussions of key books about women in Stemm and feminism, group members meet up physically in cities around the world including Sydney, Dublin, Istanbul, Montreal and Oxford. Meet-ups are a welcome opportunity for groups of like-minded Stemminists to get together in a relaxed atmosphere, to network, discuss some of the current challenges for women in Stemm and share solutions and solidarity. In just a few months, new friendships and research collaborations have already been established between members, and the sense of warmth and shared purpose is strong.
The first book chosen for discussion was Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science that Shows it by UK-based science journalist Angela Saini. Inferior is a blistering analysis of how science itself is subject to bias, and how ideas about female intellectual inferiority have been promoted by poor science, interpretation and presentation of data.
Angela’s book sheds light on the untold experiences of women whose advocacy and research transformed our preconceptions about men and women. It highlights the experiences of women such as Caroline Kennard, who, after hearing that On the Origin of Species was being used to support the idea that women were intellectually inferior to men, wrote a furious letter to the ageing Darwin, urging him to set the record straight.
Sadly, Caroline’s worst fears were confirmed when the acclaimed scientist reiterated his belief in the intellectual inferiority of women – but her efforts inspired other women, who worked relentlessly to change the way the scientific establishment viewed women. These stories and shared experiences connect women of the past and present in a remarkably powerful way.
Those who think science is dry and boring really just don’t get it – it is one of the most creative and thrilling careers you can choose
The book instigated a great deal of discussion and debate among members worldwide and got the STEMMinist Book Club off to a roaring start in January. Subsequent books: Stop Fixing Women by Australian journalist Catherine Fox; and Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Professor Cordelia Fine, have continued to spark vigorous discussion online via Twitter and at meet-ups.
“I am thrilled to see how the book club blossomed from nothing to many hundreds of members all over the world in such a short space of time” says Saini, author of Inferior. “Women in science clearly want change, and I think we’re finally starting to see it happen.”
These stories and shared experiences connect women of the past and present in a remarkably powerful way
The STEMMinist Book club has rapidly become not just a forum for discussing books about Stemm and feminism, but also a tight community of kick arse women (and a few men!) who are passionate about gender equity and instigating real change in Stemm.
Interested in joining the Stemminist army? Follow @stemminist on twitter, use #STEMMinistBC to search previous discussions, and join the conversation. A world of brilliant, motivated and intelligent Stemminists are ready to greet you!
Dr Caroline Ford is a researcher of gynaelogical cancer, a lecturer, a mother and a feminist. She lives and works in New South Wales, Australia
Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science that Shows it, by Angela Saini, is published by 4th Estate.
Featured image: Christin Hume