Yes, girls do enjoy and can excel in STEM classes
Date: Saturday, March 7, 2020
Author: Yifan Zhang
As a girl in China, I have experienced many gender stereotypes in my life. During my childhood, I was told by the people around me that girls are naturally better at memorizing information than doing calculations and other tasks that involve a lot of thinking. I was told that girls are likely to choose humanities classes and do well, while boys are likely to succeed in science classes.
For a long time, I deeply believed what my parents and teachers had told me. I felt unconfident about the science and math classes that I took at school. When I faced challenges, I even told myself that the reason I could not do the work was because I am a girl.
However, 10 years later, as an International Baccalaureate student who is enjoying environmental science and calculus classes, I realize that such ideas are totally wrong. After I transferred to a private high school and enrolled in high-quality STEM classes, I began to change my ideas and I started to gain confidence.
The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) offer me new perspectives of looking at the world. I really enjoy learning about human biology, ecology, chemistry. One class that really changed my perspective is called Environmental Systems and Societies, which combines environmental science and biology with humanities and social sciences. I find that science is just as interesting as humanities and that we cannot analyze global issues without discussing it.
In fact, I am not planning on a STEM career. I intend to major in humanities and social sciences when I go to college, and I want to do research on gender inequality in China and how the current educational system worsens such inequality. I talk about STEM here as an example of the harmful nature of gender stereotypes. There are other examples, like boys are better at writing essays because they are more logical and boys should be the leader in club activities because they are better at making decisions. Gender stereotypes exist in many fields, not just in STEM.
I worry that these stereotypes are now so widespread that they have nearly become a norm in society that every woman should follow. And not everyone has the opportunity that I have had to realize the harmful nature of these stereotypes.
The Beijing Platform for Action says education is a powerful weapon for breaking these long-standing stereotypes.
I believe that there is an urgent need to integrate gender education into the school curriculum. It is important to show female students portraits of women who have demonstrated strength and leadership in different areas, from STEM to humanities and business. By writing stories or creating documentaries about those women, we can convince students that it is possible for them to achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. When faced with difficulties or social resistance, they will then have models to look up to.
Gender education not only empowers young women but also makes everyone in society aware of the huge potential and strength of women that has been underestimated and even ignored.
For my part, I am planning with my teacher to start a new club at the school that will encourage female students to express themselves and to practice public speaking.
It might be hard to change the situation in a short time, but just as the old Chinese saying goes, “Small steps get us to faraway places.”
Yifan Zhang, 16, is a Year 11 student at YK Pao School in Shanghai. As an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, she is taking gender studies online courses while participating in volunteer activities after school. Recently, she founded ForHer, a non-profit project that raises funds to provide personal sanitary products to overworked female doctors and nurses in the hospitals of Wuhan.
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