BANSAL: Mindset of society can influence gender roles

Opinions Column: Call for Change

As I rode the bus around campus the other day, cramped next to everyone, I overheard a rather disturbing conversation going on next to me between two friends, a boy and a girl. The guy was arguing that the reason we have fewer women in the IT fields and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is because women simply are just not interested in those fields. As he compared it to men not being interested in nursing, I grew more uncomfortable with the idea that he was so confident in society assigning the role of “nurse” to women and “IT consultant” to men. However, what made it even worse was when the girl he was conversing with wholeheartedly agreed.

There is something deeply wrong with society when we accept and encourage these structured gender roles with career paths. There is something wrong about the belief that women just are not interested in IT or that men just are not interested in nursing. The idea that most women do not work in technological fields is not because of their lack of interest, but by the fact that they face a constant discouragement from the society that surrounds them.

As of 2013, women only receive about 18 percent of the total national undergraduate degrees in computer science fields and around 19 percent of engineering degrees. Only around 8 percent of mechanical engineers are women. The statistics are even lower for minority women. Women in minority groups make up less than 10 percent of scientists and engineers. With these statistics, you can’t believe that of every 10 engineers you meet, only one Hispanic, black or Asian woman was interested enough to take the job. You can’t be fooled to think that out of every 100 mechanical engineers working to get a degree, only eight women stepped up from their regular interest in nursing and decided they wanted to work in mechanical engineering.

The truth is that from the day that everyone is born, we are subtly encouraged to follow the structured roles set out for us. A major role in this subtle encouragement is representation in the media. On television, in magazines and books, you usually see women working as receptionists, teachers or nurses, while their male counterparts are represented as lawyers, tech consultants or engineers. It is not factual that women are just interested in being receptionists or nurses, while men are just more interested in taking more successful, money-making jobs. As girls grow up seeing other women working in stereotypical jobs, they are more likely to follow the path that has been predetermined for them.

The same idea goes for men aspiring to be nurses, teachers or other stereotypically female jobs. Although the number of men pursuing nursing has been growing significantly, still only 9 percent of nurses are male. And of over 700,000 kindergarten teachers, only 3 percent of them are men. Because this population of male nurses or male kindergarten teachers have not been represented properly, men are not encouraged to go after these careers. In addition, when this stereotype is broken in the media, it is usually made to be a joke, further discouraging the break of gender roles in our society.

So, in some way, the boy on the bus was right. Maybe women aren’t interested in IT and maybe men aren’t interested in nursing. However, in contrast to what the boy on the bus so passionately argued, women could be interested in fields such as IT. They could be more involved if we changed the mindset that a majority of people have. The media is one of our strongest tools, but as it continues displaying women and men in stereotypical roles, the media is working against us. Proper and serious representation of people breaking gender roles in television shows or books could go a long way. Although we have progressed immensely in this area in the past few decades, we have much more to go. Accepting the gender roles that have been assigned to us through hundreds of years of complex history is an issue. We should never accept the stifling of change. Progress is never complete.

Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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