Why Women’s History Month?

Remember that old riddle about the father and child who got in a car accident?
The father dies and the child needs emergency surgery, but when they get to the hospital, the doctor looks at the child and says, “I can’t operate on him, he’s my son.”

When I was a kid, this riddle baffled me. The dad died! How could the dad then be at the hospital and alive enough to refuse to operate on his child?

When I finally figured it out – the kid’s mom was the doctor – I was even more baffled. How could I have been so blind? Of course moms could be doctors. Why did I assume it was the dad?

Moments like this are why we have Women’s History Month. 

The Draw-a-Scientist Test, formally established in 1983, is another reason. This test is simple – elementary-aged students are asked to draw a scientist, and researchers examine the resulting drawings to see what kids think of when they think about who is doing science. 

Do you think more kids draw males or females? In 1983, only 24 kids out of 5,000 drew female scientists, and all those kids were girls. In more recent years, about 28 percent of the drawings showed female scientits.

But still. In a country where the number of women going to college for STEM education is on the rise, shouldn’t there be more pictures of women in lab coats? Or on a dig? Or doing surgery? 

And that’s why we have Women’s History Month. Not only to work at fixing the perception that men do more science, but also to learn about women making strides in other fields – politics, arts, psychology, engineering. 

It’s a chance for young women to examine role models they might have missed. Representation matters. When young people see their own gender, race, or ethnicity making strides in different fields, they form a model of their own potential future. Little girls who learn about Sally Ride, Dorothy Vaughan, and Grace Hopper are more likely to choose astronomy, engineering, or programming as a profession.

And what do boys and men get out of Women’s History Month? The same thing. Knowing that women are equally capable and deserving of achieving their dreams makes for a culture of acceptance and celebration instead of one that applies limits to any single person because of their gender, skin color, or other difference.

*image credit: Katie Crampton (WMUK)

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