The following is a blog post in response to a report by the BBC about a science fair where a boy was awarded first prize. I would suggest that before reading this you refer to the article to understand what I have to say.
Now, this is probably a controversial opinion, but I feel it has to be said. Below is my understanding of the key details of the situation regarding the EDF Science Competition controversy.
- EDF Energy science and technology competition was originally for girls only but later opened up to boys too.
- It had the ambition of encouraging girls in STEM.
- The competition was gender neutral and the adjudication panel contained a majority of female members.
- A boy won, and three of four runners-up were female.
My question here is, what is the problem? Boys were eligible to enter the competition, and the best project in the eyes of the adjudication panel won. Yes, the competition had the intention of promoting girls in STEM, but who’s to say it hasn’t done that? It’s not about the prizes, it’s about the involvement. I’m sure most of the participants of that science fair came away from the experience with pride, enthusiasm and of course, many new ideas.
To those criticizing the idea that a contest to promote females in STEM would have a male winner, I ask: is allowing a girl to win by default really a way to promote girls in STEM? There is no worse feeling on earth than feeling like your success is because of your gender, or feeling like the token female and I have been in that situation more times than I care to count. I would truly hate for a fellow girl in STEM to ever feel the same.
The first two times I entered a science fair (the BT Young Scientist) it was won by first an individual male and then a group of two boys. Did that discourage me? NO. I marched up to their stand, quizzed them on their projects to see what made them better than mine, then went back to the drawing board and made improvements to my own project, until eventually myself and my teammates were good enough to win.
Us girls have more grit and determination than to just give up because we don’t win a competition. We are not dolls that need to be rolled up in cotton wool and placed on a shelf, protected from the outside world. Please give us more credit than that.
If we try to promote girls in STEM by making ‘female only’ competitions or insisting that girls should win science fairs rather than boys, all we teach them is that they aren’t good enough to stand their own ground and fight their own battles. We teach them that they aren’t good enough to compete against the men.
So if you really care about increasing the rate of STEM uptake in females, why not be a bit more tactful about it. Don’t say ‘a girl should have won because she’s a girl.’ Instead, track down the three girls who came runner-up and use them as the role models. Why not celebrate their success? Don’t forget about them – because who knows, maybe next year one of those girls will take first place.
Let’s not forget what feminism is about guys: equality for both genders. We fight against the elevation of one gender over another, but we cannot be seen to want to tip the balance the other way as it undermines our cause.
A feminist, and a girl in STEM.