In the past couple months, we have seen many events and exhibitions to mark 100 years since legislation was passed in the UK which allowed (some) women the democratic vote.
Despite this step, and many more since then, women are still paid less than men for doing the same job. Nowhere is this more apparent than in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) related careers.
The New Scientist has recently undertaken a large-scale survey of science and engineering salaries, showing women are paid an average of a fifth less than men in these fields (£33,000 compared with £41,200). The World Economic Forum has bleakly predicted that gender parity in pay will continue for another 217 years (Treanor, 2017).
Sociologists and Anthropologists have long analysed culture to investigate female subordination. One influential paper by Sherry Ortner (1974) argues that one of the reasons behind female’s universal subordination is that humans consider ‘culture’ as superior to ‘nature’ and, by aligning men with the former and women with the latter, consider women as inferior to men.
This ‘structuralist’ approach presupposes that universal patterns in cultural systems are derived from invariant structures of the human mind. There are problems with her argument, several of which she anticipated. Henrietta Moore has criticised her generalising approach, arguing that the way in which ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are mapped on to gender relations varies widely between different contexts (Moore, 1994).
One of the more valuable insights in her paper, however, is that two approaches are necessary to address the issue; we need to not only change social institutions, but also challenge cultural assumptions.
‘STEMettes’ is a wonderful organisation that seeks to show ‘the next generation that girls do Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths too’. Girls and young women who are interested in Sciences, Maths, and tech-related subjects are encouraged to investigate some of the resources they offer. If you are within the STEM industry (any gender) and would like to volunteer or contribute, we also encourage you to get in touch.
Gender studies is a multi-disciplinary area which spans the Arts, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. Oxbridge applicants who are interested in Philosophy, Law, History, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Politics, (Human) Biology, and Archaeology will find more subject-specific recommended reading in this reading list for Cambridge University’s MPhil.