Feminism has played a key role in framing inequality within STEM communities, particularly with regard to the stories about gender disparities shared through #WomeninSTEM. However, the visible and most commonly shared stories of diversity in STEMM are largely centered on the experiences and achievements of white, cisgender, and able-bodied women. Women’s history month is not only a great time to register the advances of women in STEM fields, but also to reconcile how STEMinism (STEMM x feminism) can be more inclusive and intersectional.
STEMinism should be gender inclusive
There is no doubt that gender and the politics of gender are complicated within our world and within STEMM communities. However, centering the diversity and inclusivity initiatives solely on the experiences of white cisgender women erases the reality of how trans women, queer, non-binary people, and women of color experience gender-based disparities and inequality in STEMM. Likewise, men also experience interpersonal interactions and institutions in ways influenced by their gender, particularly trans men and men of color.
Feminism isn’t exclusive nor important only to cis women and neither should STEMinism. Feminism is for everybody (and if you haven’t read bell hooks’ “Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics”, you really need to!)
STEMinism should be intersectional
The concept of intersectionality has existed in feminism for decades and was popularized in this age by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw in describing how black women experience intersecting patterns of racism and sexism yet are not represented within discourses of feminism or antiracism.
Intersectionality is important to STEMinism because the theory wrestles with how the multiple intersections of one’s identities shapes how one experiences STEMM education, communities, and participation. A STEMinism that is inclusive is fundamentally concerned not only with gender, but also with race, class, disability, sexuality, age, religion, and immigration (and by all means this is not an inclusive list of the ways oppression can affect a person.)
For instance, scientists with physical disability can face barriers in participating in learning or research in wet lab spaces or inadvertently left out of networking opportunities at conferences without accessibility accommodations. Another example are immigrants who were once practicing licensed physicians in their home countries may give up their medical careers if they do not have the means to pass institutional barriers of additional medical licensing or even cultural differences like learning a new language or navigating a new country’s healthcare employment system.
STEMinism should operate in anti-oppressive frameworks
Compartmentalizing diversity, equity, and inclusivity practices to designated spaces or to the roles of chief diversity officers within academic departments or companies minimizes advancement of progressive and equitable spaces. STEMinism that is intersectional should also be fundamentally rooted in anti-oppressive frameworks. These frameworks account for how we recognize and subsequently try to rectify structural inequality within STEMM.
Much of STEMM history and community development is rooted in teaching, mostly white, cis men, to take up space and assert their observations in fiery debate. These models of masculine performances (à la toxic masculinity) incentivize everyone within STEMM communities to assimilate into cultures of grilling one another for content expertise and hyper competition. Even comics meant to encourage girls to get into science imply the necessity of masculine identity.
We should reject the notion that we need to assimilate into oppressive models of discourse. In addition to dropping assumptions of who folks in STEMM are look like, encourage spaces where all identities, including all genders, can thrive. Stop using language like, “Hey guys!” to address groups of people when other gender-neutral greetings exist (see “y’all”, “folks”, and “everybody.”) Rethink doling out self-help advice, such as the popular and problematic wisdoms from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, that are predicated on pillars of class and race privilege.
TL;DR: STEMinism that is intersectional and rooted in anti-oppressive frameworks can change STEMM communities.