Morrison: Sexism hinders women in STEM fields

Six Russian astronauts began a rigorous eight-day experiment in a mock spacecraft on Oct. 28. This space test is in preparation for an all-female 2029 Russian Moon mission. The implications of this mission are not only incredible for women in the general sense, but especially for women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The six women—Yelena Luchitskaya, Darya Komissarova, Polina Kuznetsova, Anna Kussmaul, Inna Nosikova and Tatyana Shiguyeva—are all highly esteemed biophysicists, psychologists and doctors. Despite being brilliant scientists hand-selected by the Russian space program, the women still faced ludicrous, sexist questions during an Oct. 28 press conference.

One reporter asked, “How will you deal with being without makeup for eight days?” Another reporter asked how the women would handle being without a male presence on the mission. The women responded professionally, but with clear exasperation. “We are doing work,” Kussmaul said. “When you’re doing work, you don’t think about men and women.”

This isn’t the first time that professional women have been victims of inappropriate, sexist and condescending questions. It is especially astounding when taking into account the incredible intelligence and capability these women have displayed. This, however, is not nearly as important to reporters as their beauty regimen. Apparently, volunteering to be in total isolation for eight days doesn’t prove that you are brave enough to live without makeup.

Fellow scientist Igor Ushakov wished the women “a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.” Ushakov’s sexist remark not only assumed that women are too emotional to work together in a high-stress environment, but he also evoked the misogynistic trope of a woman’s place being in the kitchen.

In a similar situation, actor Robert Downey Jr. was asked questions regarding his character and methods of acting during an interview promoting the release of the film Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the other hand, actress Scarlett Johansson was asked if she had to go on a specific diet regimen to get in shape for the role of Black Widow. This blatant sexism is harmful to both actresses and astronauts alike.

Seemingly harmless or even “humorous” questions such as these are indicative of something much more insidious. People still assume that women are highly emotional and silly beings that are only obsessed with their appearance.

Furthermore, women are highly underrepresented in scientific fields—something clearly demonstrated in the Russian space program. According to the United States Department of Commerce, women make up almost half of all jobs in the U.S. economy. They hold, however, less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math jobs. Additionally, women with degrees in STEM fields are less likely than men to end up in careers related to their degree. The few women who are able to find success in these fields often have trouble being taken seriously by their male counterparts, as this area of work is still largely male-dominated.

It is unbelievably aggravating that women are still not taken seriously for their brilliance and achievements because of the stereotypes and implications of their gender. In all professional fields, women’s work is completely overlooked, as the media focuses on things like their physical appearance or their personal lives.

Not only is it extremely hard for women to break into STEM fields, it is clearly just as hard for them to be taken seriously once they are successful in these fields. Apparently, women will literally have to be launched into space to avoid this constant sexism.