It's a special honor to have Carolyn Ritterson Lew guest blogging with us today. She's an amazing Couragion role model!
As a woman who works in a cancer biology lab with mostly male coworkers, I sat down and thought about how it was that I got here while so many other girls did not. The simple answer: I didn’t know any better. In my case, that was a good thing. I was lucky enough to have parents who were just as happy to enroll me in kickball and soccer as they would have been to put me in ballet and gymnastics classes. Of the ten people enrolled in my entering class in graduate school, seven of them were women – really smart ones at that. In other words: I got lucky. It wasn’t until I got to my current position that I realized I was outnumbered, but you know what? At this point, I know I’m just as good as the guys. The goal now is for girls like me not to be the outliers, but the norm.
Society has a way of telling girls it’s better to be pretty than to be smart. A recent study in the UK showed that most girls think that STEM subjects were too hard for them and that boys were better suited to excel in these areas. But why? Is it because we’re programming them to think this way? Is gender inequality just ingrained into our culture? Even in Hollywood, far away from the STEM world, female movie stars are asked more about the designers they’re wearing, their workout routines, and their skincare regimens than they are asked about the roles they play – a problem their male counterparts encounter much less frequently.
Luckily for the next generation of girls, there’s hope! A couple of organizations have recognized this cultural gap and have decided to do something about it. First, sick of stereotypical girls’ clothing that suggests girls should think more about how they look than how they think, the companies associated with Clothing Without Limits aim to encourage kids to express themselves and their interests through their clothing. They make kids clothing for girls (and sometimes boys too!) that allow them to do so. Bonus: they come in other colors BESIDES pink and purple.
TV is getting in on the action, too. Project Mc2 is a miniseries for tween girls that aims to show them that the labels “smart”, “pretty”, and “cool” are not mutually exclusive. The series follows four female students,each of which excels in a different area of STEM, helping them save the day when they are recruited to a secret spy organization. The show aims to provide girls with female role models their age who are kicking butt and taking names using their STEM smarts. The girls’ mentor in the show is Danica McKellar (Winnie from “The Wonder Years”) who, in addition to being a successful actress, graduated summa cum laude with a Math degree from UCLA, has authored several academic research papers, and has written several math books with a young female audience in mind. Talk about a great role model!
Things aren’t perfect for smart girls yet, but they’re improving. Here’s to whole new group of them that just don’t know any better.
Dr. Carolyn Ritterson Lew, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow training in the Theodorescu Laboratory at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, where she studies novel drivers and suppressors of bladder cancer. Her interests include alterations in cancer metabolic pathways and targeting these pathways for novel treatment options. She majored in Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Bucknell University and completed her Ph.D. work in Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Boston University. Outside of the lab, she enjoys traveling, hiking, playing and watching sports (Go Eagles!), and spending time with her family.
Hollywood Reporter, February 2015, “An executive producer for E! red-carpet coverage and the creator of #AskHerMore weigh in on the questions asked of women at the Oscars.” http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/oscars-red-carpet-2015-battle-775698
Huff Post Parents, December 2014, “You Are What You Wear”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/dangerous-lessons-from-sexist-shirts_n_6102096.html
Clothing Without Limits http://www.clotheswithoutlimits.com/
The Mary Sue, August 2015, “Project Mc2: Netflix’s Science-Loving Secret Spy Girls” http://www.themarysue.com/project-mc2-netflix/
The Associate Press: The Big Story, August 2015 .”Tween series 'Project Mc2' puts smart girls in the spotlight”, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/2871bb352cec47cf96657447954a20e9/tween-series-project-mc2-puts-smart-girls-spotlight
Amazon, July 2008, “Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, http://www.amazon.com/Math-Doesnt-Suck-Survive-Breaking/dp/0452289491