Earlier this month Hillary Clinton told a standing ovation crowd at the Women of the World conference in New York that women’s rights were the unfinished business of the 21st Century. She stated that one of the things that will advance the cause of women is to encourage more girls to enter the field of math and science.
Unfortunately, as a society we can’t seem to get beyond the science of their appearance as demonstrated by the recent furor around Elise Andrew, a female promoting her love for science through social media. She routinely posts interesting science factoids on facebook and recently added twitter to her communication outreach. But shortly thereafter, followers discovered she was a woman and immediately started commenting on her looks instead of her content.
Those that succumbed to this behavior should be aware that they are not only hurting the opportunities for women in science, they are thwarting their own financial well-being too. Studies show that when women are given freedom and earning autonomy in all fields, economies grow and everyone benefits. But to do that we have to get over our personal biases- such as science and women don’t gel.
Studies also show that when a woman first becomes a leader that both women and men are dissatisfied with her performance. However, once a female has broken the barrier people become conditioned to it and then treat future women in such positions equally. I believe the same pattern is at work with Elise.
People are uncomfortable with something new and by trying to force Elise back in her box, they are focusing on her appearance to reduce her credibility. It moves her down a peg from a respected position of equality to a sex object. Studies show that the more sexually attractive a woman is, the less intelligent she is believed to be so this not only discredits her – it hurts the perceived value of her work as well.
This behaviour is to no one’s advantage. On a high level we know that women must be treated equally and have changed our laws to reflect this important principle. The next step is to change our attitudes. If we can change our thinking it will change our actions and it will be easier for girls to enter the field of science where we can all benefit from their diverse thought process, their creativity and innovative approaches.
Elise’s followers have a choice- be part of the worldwide equality movement for women and focus on her science rather than her looks or stay stuck in outdated prejudices. Help the world evolve- make the right choice!