Friday, February 26, 2016

Sincerely, a feminist

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.


  1. At the end of the day, a competition stops being a competition if you start blocking people from entering. To discriminate against boys and not let them enter and stand a fair chance at winning would be discrimination and EDF have done the right thing in opening it to boys as well.

    We see so many stories where instances of clubs, groups, classes are forced to open up to allow girls to enter, when we see one that has done it to allow boys to enter in a fair way suddenly these so called feminists claim that its wrong.

    I personally think it tells us something about the feminist movement when equal and fair inclusion of boys is considered by them wrong...

  2. Thanks for writing this article. It's good to hear a voice of reason in this controversy.

  3. but then again the girls that lost may just think that it is because they are just not as smart or good as boys in science if they can't even win a simple contest that was aimed at them in the first why even bother? This is a contest for children and just because you see it as fair I can assure you those little girls did not an will not see it like that, instead they are humiliated that once again they were proven the inferior sex.

    1. Does not coming first in a competition prove us inferior? Because perhaps then the issue is changing that attitude than in encouraging girls into STEM. If boys are eligible for a competition, than a boy can win. What matters is that the best project wins, surely? Because if you suggest that they should have allowed a girl to win for her gender as a way to encourage more girls into STEM, all it does is make the winner feel like they did not win based purely on their talent, skill or idea, but because of their gender.

      I can't speak for anyone but I certainly never was deterred from science because I didn't win a science competition and a boy did. In fact, I think people are doing more damage to the situation by ranting on twitter, because all it does is trick these poor girls into thinking the competition was unfairly stacked against them, which it was not. Now that's something that might push girls away from STEM.

  4. Feminism is not about equality for both genders. It's about the fact that equality does not exist for one gender. There's a remedial mandate built into it - as there is for anti-racism, anti-homophobia, etc.
    Presumably this organization was about giving girls a leg up over the imbalances and the highly documented pervasive biases that prevent women from succeeding in STEM. This competition was not even gender blind to the contestants which makes it just another statistic about a female contender losing out to a male one.
    Just teaching young girls early that they are going to lose out to their male counterparts is useless. You don't need a targeted program to do that - it's called every STEM platform ever.

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