Why Women In The Humanities Are Just As Important
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Why Women In The Humanities Are Just As Important

Being a woman in STEM is all the rage these days; but let's not forget about the humanities either.

Why Women In The Humanities Are Just As Important

As someone who completely supports all things girl, the new focus on and support of women in STEM fields—especially in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry—is absolutely thrilling. After all, there’s something inspiring about seeing women holding up a Nobel Prize in medicine, or smiling next to their accomplishments in NASA on the news. And this kind of mold-breaking should be wholeheartedly supported: a person’s dreams or enthusiasm for anything should never be quashed by assumptions made about their race, gender, creed, sexuality—or any other means of identification.

Yet as we move forward with women in STEM, we shouldn’t forget about the women in the humanities departments either.

I speak from experience when I say that there’s something disheartening in telling someone, “Oh, I want to be a singer,” or, “I might want to major in creative writing,” and seeing that light of interest go out in their eyes. You can almost hear them say, “Oh, here’s another one,” as they put up a semi-interested front just to be polite. It almost makes me wish I had been smart enough to understand all that physics jargon when I was in high school or studied just that little bit harder in calculus. Then I could be proud of my genre of intelligence, not just “another girl.

But that’s where there should be a pause as a couple of questions arise: Are you really smarter if you get the intricacies of string theory over Plato’s philosophies? Does being a woman in the hard sciences really make you a better person?

And the answer is: no, it shouldn’t.

Everyone has their strengths and shortcomings; that variety is the spice of life. Imagine if everyone could only play sports and no one knew what a piano was. The world would be terribly boring and tuneless—not to mention covered in huge sports fields and stadiums. The same should go for women: if everyone studied the hard sciences, we’d have so many doctors and scientists but not a single historian or actress in sight. Besides, by pressuring more women into STEM fields by way of unspoken shame, aren’t we just creating another standard for girls to force themselves into?

Not only is standardizing an issue, but it takes just as much brain power and skill to analyze and deconstruct an enzyme as it does to brainstorm and construct a poem. Not everyone can build an accurate scale model of a glycosyltransferasetrust me. That was one of the most stressful high school projects of my life. But at the same time, not everyone can write a poem that sounds beautiful or changes the way you view the world. A firm grasp on the polarity and construction of amino acids doesn’t suddenly give you an understanding of the rhythm of the English language.

There was also a recent study completed in Japan which finds that the structure of people who study humanities differs from those who study the sciences. While students who study science tended to have more gray matter in their prefrontal cortex, students who study in the humanities usually have more white matter around their right hippocampus. This abundance of gray matter in science students' brains is closely associated with a higher capacity to systematically organize. However, the trade-off is that they have lower empathy levels. In extreme cases, this increases the likelihood of autism. In less severe situations, a lack of empathy often leads to issues in social interactions and relationships—which ultimately leads to a lack of cooperation. Even in the science and mathematical fields, working together is vital to making any progress. This is where students in the humanities come in. Because they have less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, humanities students have a greater ability to navigate through social situations and higher overall empathy. This allows them to then take leadership or communication positions—both of which are vital for advancements in any STEM field.

And if it isn’t to help the progress of technology, then humanities students are excellent at innovative ideas and overall entrepreneurship. As pointed out by a recent article in the Washington Post, the US may be behind in their science and math test scores, but we are still leading the world in science, technology, and innovation. How? With our high levels of creativity and optimism, which encourages us to try new things—what if this? What if that? Not only that, but students coming out of the humanities change the world just as much as students in STEM fields. Take Mark Zuckerberg for example. He had studied Computer Science and Psychology at Harvard but cites psychology and sociology as being just as valuable as technology when it came to the creation of Facebook. A multitude of artists throughout the centuries—such as Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo—have completely changed the way people saw the world with their art. Political figures like the late children’s activist Princess Diana and Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi have brought attention to societal issues without becoming deeply involved in science or math. And then there are the writers—such as George Orwell or, recently, Suzanne Collins—who question society with controversial books and ask us to challenge what we accept as "normal."

Some may argue, though, that the low number—and recent decline—of women in STEM fields should mean that more support should be going towards getting girls interested in science and math. This way, there will be more women in STEM fields when the present finally graduate. But it seems like a recession is already pushing women towards higher paying jobs in STEM fields. In fact, the shift from humanities to STEM jobs occurs more often with women than men.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about pitting women in humanities against women in the sciences. If anything, this is a call to do the exact opposite: everyone should support women regardless of the field they choose to enter or the job they aspire toward. Because, being in either field, they’re going to need the support. Just look at the history of the Nobel Prizes awarded: out of the 862 people and organizations given the prize, only 43 of them were women as of 2012. I can’t imagine that only 43 women over 110 years were deserving of international recognition of their work.

So the bottom line? There are better things to do than argue if women in STEM or the humanities are better. Go out and study whatever the hell you want, girls. There’s no shame in choosing to become an artist or a screenwriter instead of a doctor or an economist. Just go out there and dazzle the world; we could all use a lot more women leading any field anyway.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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