Girls shun science when they have choice

His Royal Mouthpiece for the Liberal Media, Prince Harry, and bride-to-be Meghan Markle spent International Women’s Day encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and careers. Like much of the public, poor Harry has swallowed the lie that female underrepresentation in STEM is the result of gross gender stereotypes.

Real empiricists will know that there hasn’t been much evidence to support this hypothesis, which has become all too fashionable in recent times. Our country has a huge obsession with gender equality – and diversity, generally – as a measure of a progress. It is not that simple, though – and we all need to wake up and think a bit. Controversially, a recent study shows that in societies with more wealth and egalitarian policies, women are less likely to select STEM degrees. This has been called the “gender-equality paradox”, and it’s something most feminists don’t want to talk about.

Gender stereotypes are a brainless theory for STEM disparity, not least because girls do so well across academia. Aside from last year’s A Level results, they almost always outperform boys at school and university level education. This gives them more choice than their male counterparts to follow different career paths. That they do not pursue STEM is likely to reflect their own interests and ambitions over anything else.

When I was at school, I have to say, there was nothing that I wanted to be less than a scientist. Most of my teachers in this subject were oddballs – one had a poster about “The Dangers of Snogging”, among other quirks – and staring at bunsen burners did not exactly light my fire. The only thing that forced me away from STEM was the boredom of the periodic table.

Girls are much pickier than is acknowledged about what they study, and it’s time people stopped treating them as passive participants in the process of their education. One of my main bones of contention with modern feminism is that it is so focused on ideology that it sometimes overlooks stark reality. Its proponents are unable to form nuanced conclusions about data, which inadvertently makes women look less good at science. It’s not simply the case in STEM that “lots of men” = bad and “more women” = good. Disparity may be the consequence of a free society, not an oppressive one. It can be reflective of choice.

Third-wave feminists have a narrative to prove – that women are victims – and so will always try to explain gender inequality through these terms. This is a shame because education is one area where women are very much winning; we should be popping our champagne bottles over girls’ achievements, not acting as if Peter Stringfellow had become Minister for Education.

The truth about STEM, as I suspect Meghan Markle will know herself – is that many scientific careers simply aren’t that appetising to women. Staring at petri dishes all day? No thanks. Equations on the blackboard? Zzz. On his ‘STEM’ tour, Prince Harry rather hit on a point when he said of engineering: “we want to get away from [the idea] that it’s all men in overalls and oily rags”. Isn’t that the point? Personally, I wouldn’t want to be Billy Joel in the Uptown Girl video. But Christie Brinkley on his bike? Yes please.

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