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Friday, February 6, 2015

Princess Awesome Kickstarter

First, I'll tell you to click here to visit the Kickstarter's main page.

Second, I dare you to tell me those dresses aren't cute.

Third, I'll explain why this is important to me.

A young lady in the "Pi" print play dress
Gender biasing in academia is slowly, slowly dissolving. I'm lucky to be going through college at a time where women are encouraged to go into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. This infographic from 2013 describes that women in undergraduate studies earn 50% of all bachelor's degrees in Science and Engineering. There are many disparities within STEM, for example, men earn 82% of bachelors degrees in engineering, while women are more likely to major in psychology or biology. But even with the disparities, there is no denying that women are (finally) becoming a true force in the STEM fields.

Even so, when I tell aquaintances that I'm majoring in mathematics, I can't count how many times I've heard something like "Just math? No business?" or "Wow, you must be so smart," or "That's so brave!" There's always a tone of surprise.

When my male friends describe their engineering, math, or computer science majors, they get more of a classic, "Oh that's cool," response. We have to do the same work, we take the same classes from the same professors. Why am I any more brave than my guy friends for majoring in math?

A sample play dress from the collection
We're doing a better job than ever of encouraging women to move into STEM, but the gender bias won't truly disappear until women receive an average response like the men. But in order to normalize women in STEM, we have to make sure young girls know it's just as "normal" for girls to like math and science as it is to like princesses and ponies. These young girls should know it's okay to like both. In fact, much like I did as a child, it's awesome to like both.

I strongly believe that if these girls grow up understanding that it's completely fine to like both dinosaurs and princesses, or black and pink, or trucks and carriages, then when they enter middle or high school they'll understand that it's normal to like "traditionally male" subjects like math or science. 

Rebecca Melsky and Eva St. Clair of Princess Awesome feel much the same as I do. On their Kickstarter page, the pair describe how the project came to be. Rebecca "passed the girls' section [at a mainstream store] and glanced through the dresses.... 'It's too bad,' she thought, 'that there are no dresses with robots on them, because [my daughter] would totally wear one. Or a dress with a truck. Or a dinosaur.'" But those dresses simply do not exist in the mainstream stores. So Rebecca recruited Eva St. Clair and the two created a first batch of play dresses, skirted onesies, full-skirted dresses, and special occasion dresses which can all be seen on their website.

The new dino print. Any aspiring paleontologists out there?
This Huffington Post blog post by Cailin O'Connor discusses the negative effects of stereotypes on women in math and science. It's true that there are still many more men than women in the math field in particular. American girls in middle and high schools hear these stereotypes in social media or from peers and link "women are bad at math" to "I'm terrible at math" without a second thought. However, studies linked within the blog post give strong evidence that "innate differences in mathematical ability [between men and women] has been strongly overstated." These differences have fluctuated widely over time and across cultural groups. In Iceland and Indonesia, for example, women far outperform male peers in mathematics. O'Connor's article calls attention to different cultures' perpetuation of stereotypes that have little scientific backing. These stereotypes make women feel less able, and so their performances suffer.

If we work to take stereotypes like "women are bad at math" out of the public eye, young girls won't be discouraged from exploring math and science. We'll have even more women in the STEM fields than ever before. While of course it is beneficial to applaud women for entering these fields as brave or as pioneers, to truly remove gender bias it needs to just be as normal to see a woman as it is to see a man as an engineer, scientist, researcher, or mathematician.

Projects like Princess Awesome will help create path.

All images used with permission from Princess Awesome.

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