Anette Pico: Tackling gender inequality in the sciences


Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

As a woman, I am often told by my peers what is considered appropriate for me to do with my life. It often surprises people when I tell them that I am studying to be a biochemist.

In a field mostly dominated by men, it's difficult to find someone who would not judge your career choice by your biological sex. Certainly, I have yet to encounter that one person who would not think my major is ridiculous or too big a challenge for a woman.

Although I do as well as my male peers academically, in their minds I am a weakling. Since most of my courses are filled with 90 percent male students, I have learned to ignore the sexist commentaries and attitudes I receive because of my gender. However, if something positive must come from something negative, I would say that the constant criticism has only encouraged me to prove that my academic abilities are not dictated by my sex.

Moreover, I believe that women are intimidated against choosing careers in fields such as physics, chemistry and mathematics, among others. Since these subjects are mostly taught and studied by men, these fields offer very little, if any, opportunities for women to succeed. Due to criticism and discrimination against the female gender, women have become hesitant to attempt a career in fields largely populated by men.

Furthermore, during a brief comparison of UF's science department faculty, I found that in the more quantitative sciences, which require analytical assessments and calculations, the ratio of men to women tends to be greater. However, in the more “organic” and “natural” sciences, women are in either equal or greater numbers than men.

It is interesting how women involve themselves in these fields but choose not to participate in fields where men dominate the environments. This is part of the proper social conduct and standards we have been told to follow by our families and fellow peers.

Unfortunately, in the Western culture we live in, a person's sex will dictate the type of toys they play with as children, their wardrobe, acceptable favorite color, behavior and manners, and career path. Hence, if a person, such as me, breaks these set social boundaries, they will be discriminated against, criticized and ridiculed.

As social individuals we are exposed every day to people and things that will shape our future decisions, a factor that is affecting women's career choices. So, how can this social dictation of women's lives be changed?

First and foremost, gender inequality issues must be made pertinent to the general public in order to encourage individuals to change the social expectations of women. For instance, at UF, the Women's Student Association attempts to empower women and make their social issues relevant. Also, women must be taught not to be afraid of participating in hyper-masculine environments, as well as learning to understand that gender identity should not indicate their social and academic interests. These steps are a few of the many actions we must place in effect as a society to modify sex roles.

The lack of general education about gender inequality is one of the most important contributing factors of ignorance towards women's roles in society. Understanding how to subtly approach individuals and our Western culture with solutions for this issue can be challenging and demanding.

However, this is an essential action that will progressively change the presumptions of sex roles, allowing women to make decisions about their lives free of judgment and criticism, so that they may practice, study and work in their most desired career field.

Anette Pico wrote this column as part of a UF anthropology class, “Sex Roles Cross-Culturally.” To read more columns from class members, visit www.gainesville.com/opinion.

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