A recent article in Nature featured a survey asking researchers to rate how long they expected to write their own female-focused research papers.
Only a few months after the article was published, the research was already being taken down by Google for violating the company’s Community Guidelines.
“The response is so much higher than what I would expect for an article that would normally have an audience of more than 20,000 people,” says Stephanie Muehlbauer, a scientist at Cornell University who conducted the survey.
“It seems to be a big difference.
This is not just a few people saying, ‘Oh, this is sexist,’ it’s an actual audience of tens of thousands of people, of which maybe 50 or 60 percent of those who responded were women.”
The problem is that, when you’re a journalist, you’re supposed to be writing about women.
So how do you balance the expectation of people reading your work and the impact that your work has on them?
“You have to be very careful when writing about things that aren’t women,” says Susan Mazzucchelli, who writes about women and science for The New York Times and the Atlantic.
“Because I don’t think I would ever write a piece about women who didn’t have their own experiences.
I’m not going to tell you, ‘You’re just not as talented as a woman because you’re not as beautiful as a man.’
I’m going to say, ‘There’s something that makes you different from men that makes your experiences less equal.'”
In a study released in March, researchers at the University of Michigan found that women in STEM fields like physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics all reported more positive perceptions of themselves as women than men.
This suggests that the more people see themselves as female, the more confident they are in their own abilities, and the more likely they are to report feeling like they can contribute to the field.
The problem with this idea is that women who are in science are not necessarily expected to be women.
They’re not expected to feel like they have a natural place in a field where the gender of the scientists and the fields themselves are a bit of a grey area.
“The reality is that for a lot of people in STEM, there’s a lot more of an expectation that they’re not going the right way,” says Mazzucci.
“Women are seen as the less-experienced, less-intelligent, less competent women, which is very damaging to women in the field,” Muellbauer adds.
Muellboer says that while the gender gap in STEM research is a problem, it’s not necessarily a barrier to women achieving success in their careers.
“When you look at the women who have gone on to do the best work, those women were women who had already been doing this for decades, and it’s a fact of life,” she says.
“I think it’s the fact that there’s an expectation of women that women shouldn’t have, and that they shouldn’t be, that has created a real challenge for women.”
What does this mean for women in other fields?
Mueldsauer says that, while it’s difficult to say exactly what the impact will be for women and girls in science, she thinks the impact of the Gender Gap will be more than enough to motivate researchers to rethink how they present their research.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for scientists to be much more creative about the kinds of research they do,” Muhllbaus says.