Let the future of Physics look more ‘female’

Jemisha Bhalsod, Aspiring Quantum Physicist

As one of the only Asian females in my A Level Physics class, we are, more often than not, put into boxes.

After all, there aren’t many Asian women who aspire to become physicists, especially when we are made to feel like we don’t fit in, that we must fight against nature’s perception of women and the inherent ‘maleness’ of physics, which continues to pervade society.

You might think that in a supposedly more enlightened age, we would find less-cliched, less paradoxically deprecating and conflicting ways of empowering more girls to get involved in physics, who currently only make up 20% of those studying the subject. Yet the insinuations in the narrative that we have all come to know, “We love girls who can do a bit of science, and a bit of computing and can make it look good” are endless.

We have got these unconscious biases from cultural influences, entrenched within us from when we were kids. And we need to dissolve these, when it has been found through research, that it is around the age of 6 that girls typically lose interest in maths and science, and are expected to acquaint themselves with standardised notions of beauty, sexuality and gender instead.

Girls need to be challenged for this type of thinking and should be empowered to feel that their intelligence holds much more weight. For this to happen, we need to make women who exude confidence in science more visible. The names of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr and Marie Curie should be just as familiar as Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking. We can inspire the next generation of female scientists by:

1) Getting younger girls to see the value of science, for example by making programming on raspberry pi’s a core part of the school education system, thus allowing them to work with technology on their own terms and see the value of lateral thinking.

2) Introducing more female role models in the classroom that will dissolve these deeply entrenched ideas of the ‘maleness’ of physics.

3) Assuring women who have been offered places to study physics and STEM degrees that they have been judged on their academic prowess, instead of their gender, and not how many boxes they ‘fill’.

4) Assuring girls that it is okay to get things wrong — that it won’t tarnish people’s opinions about our ability to do physics well.

5) The stigma begins in schools, with positive discriminatory comments. Stop conditioning girls away from ‘hard science’ and teaching them to become nurturing and sociable like their barbie dolls (that they are somehow expected to derive satisfaction from).

After all, we are trailblazers, without whom science cannot survive.

Jemisha Bhalsod is currently in the final year of her A-Levels and is an aspiring Quantum Physicist. Being inspired by the incredibly powerful and resilient female physicists, she hopes to continue deconstructing the stigma that surrounds women in STEM through writing, empowering more women to study Physics further.

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