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Putting the Sexism in STEM


BY: Osayma Saad

This month, women on a polar arctic mission aboard the ship the Akademik Federov were subject to a dress-code policy. Halfway through the mission, passengers were told that “thermal underwear” was not permitted as outerwear in common areas. It escalated the next day, however, when the mission’s leaders announced that, "no leggings, no very tight-fitting clothing — nothing too revealing — no crop tops, no hot pants [and] no very short shorts" would be allowed anymore. 


This was not only an inconvenience to the women on board (who had packed little else to wear for the mission), but also disrespectful. The women were told that, “there are a lot of men on board [the] ship… and some of them are going to be on board this ship for months at a time.” They were told that the clothing policy was a ‘safety issue.’


Thomas Krumpen of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, the mission’s chief scientist, confirmed that there had been numerous allegations of sexual harassment aboard the ship just days before the policy was announced. Several female participants had reported that they had been harassed by a group of men aboard the ship, including technical contractors. This resulted in some members of the crew being barred from contact with several women on board. 


Thomas Krumpen of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, the mission’s chief scientist, confirmed that there had been numerous allegations of sexual harassment aboard the ship just days before the policy was announced. Several female participants had reported that they had been harassed by a group of men aboard the ship, including technical contractors. This resulted in some members of the crew being barred from contact with several women on board. 


By punishing the victims of sexual harassment instead of the perpetrators, it institutionalizes and normalizes rape culture in the workplace. It can be no surprise then, when the growth of women in STEM is stunted across the board. 


In 2015, women represented half of the college-educated U.S. workforce in science and engineering, but only 28% of workers in those occupations. Since 2005, women have received more Ph.D. degrees in life sciences than men, but fewer women than men progress through the academic ranks, and only 31% of U.S. National Institutes of Health grant recipients are women. Although these statistics are centred on the United States, the numbers don’t look much better for any other country. These numbers can be paired with a study that revealed that an average of 58% of female academic faculty and staff in North America have experienced sexual harassment. 


So how can we say that women truly have a place in S.T.E.M. when they are still not treated with dignity? The sheer amount of sexual assault reflects deeply misogynistic institutions, and it must be acknowledged. 

To truly eradicate sexism from STEM fields, we need to acknowledge how sexism can create challenges for girls and women pursuing STEM careers. Those in charge and the majority of people stay willfully blind to recognize the impact of sexism today. 


We can’t keep making excuses for people and not carving out safe spaces for women in higher academia. This is exactly the reason so many women leave the sciences.


Not only are they suffering as a society because of their struggles, we will miss out on opportunities for advancement by losing half of the great minds of our generation. Is that really what we want? Do we really want corrupt institutions to be the leaders of academia, responsible for training the next generation? Ultimately it results in a vicious cycle of oppression and misogyny, which we will never escape from if our habits do not change. 


We don’t deserve to be afraid for our lives and security and jeopardizing our careers while countless men get away with laying their hands on another person. 




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*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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