Really, I’m asking. As a young, white male, I know I don’t understand a lot about feminism, but I try to be generally inclusive and open to other opinions. This article, posted early this morning, got me thinking about how to solve a problem I know nothing about. I want this to be a friendly discussion, where any misinformation I have is open to correction (though I would prefer you be nice about it).

So I’ll share a bit of my own experience and then my questions about the article before listening to your thoughts in the comments.

My Experience with STEM and Women

I went to a Catholic liberal arts college in NH, where I graduated with a degree in Mathematics, alongside 3 women and 2 other men. At first glance that is as statistically perfect a sample you can find, but if you dig deeper you’ll find that 4, all 3 girls and 1 guy, were getting an education minor. I got a minor in accounting and the last guy got his minor in CS.

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The gender gap (probably not the right phrasing?) appears to exist and is even more obvious, when you look at the school’s most popular major... nursing. Out of the ~85 nurses that I graduated with (from about ~450 graduates), only 5 were male. Interestingly, those 5 men (and ~80 women) were the only ones to receive their Bachelor of Science degree, while the rest of us received our Bachelor of Arts.

Being someone that bows down at the alter of Big Data, Steve Levitt and Nate Silver, this sort of skew in the data can make things interesting and more difficult to draw conclusions from. For this reason, it is often very easy to manipulate data for your own agenda (as you can do with pretty much anything). So just so we’re clear, I’m now treading lightly into the unknown and throwing out any data that isn’t supported by logical thought as well.

The Article

It may very well be that I was not the intended audience for Mika’s article, but I walked away from the article not wanting to read the comments, contribute my own thoughts, and thoroughly confused. I get very frustrated with the “Us vs. Them” mentality in every application of the thought process. I will leave my opinions on politics, religion, unionization, etc. out of this in the attempt to focus (which is hard for me when I get into this mindset).

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I think I agree (again I’m open to persuasion) with some of the nitpicks that Mika has with the IBM campaign, but I think I disagree with the way she is going about it. For women already in a STEM field, like her, it is probably very easy to feel marginalized (patronized?) by the IBM campaign and I get that, but isn’t the point of the campaign to foster new growth? It seems like the people in the field offended by it could just brush it off as another bad PR move by a big corporation, while if it gets even a few more women into STEM then it’s a good thing.

Edit: Jinxe has corrected my priveleged ass and nicely pointed out that the above couple statements are very ignorant. Carry on and if you feel marginalized (patronized? I still haven’t figured out which) speak up.

I do like some of what she says in the final paragraph so I’ll share it here:

You want to help women in science, IBM? Sit down with L’Oréal. They’re a makeup company, but they know how to make actually-worthwhile promo videos, and they pony up the cash for science fellowships. Want a hackathon where women turn up? Take a page from Science Hack Day and actively recruit women at the start of the process instead of as afterthoughts. Treat women as diverse humans with individual interests, hobbies, and skills instead of some amorphous mass of beauty-junkies.

To me it seems that the majority of the article should be focusing on this. Complaining about the current state of things will change nothing. I want to hear more about these ideas and maybe some of you can help me with that. Punishing somebody for a misguided action is less productive than helping them to understand the right direction.

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I know the old (not that old) adage about feminism that comes down to the statement: if you believe that women everyone should have equal rights, then you are a feminist. I have a feeling people are turned off from the label because of the stigma of being associated with the “Us” (or the “Them” depending on your level of ignorance) in an unnecessary dynamic.

There will always be the issue of trying to solve this for PR (or page views!) versus working toward progress, but that’s why this should be a discussion, not an argument.

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Full disclosure: I don’t particularly like to associate with the culture around outspoken feminists; I feel like some of them stand on their soapbox and call themselves tall (I know there is a metaphor in there somewhere). The climax of my dissociation with this group is the word microaggression*. Seriously. Fuck that word. (Or persuade me otherwise)

So yeah... discuss.

*If you are studying gender equality or something similar, fine. Declare it a technical term. Technical terms should not be used to make those not in your field feel uneducated. My doctor doesn’t need to explain lung cancer on a cellular level for me to know smoking is bad.

Sorry, I’m beginning to ramble.

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Edit #2: Antipodes actually taught me how to think about microaggressions and I retract the former statement: “Fuck that word.” Read her comment. Carry on.