I’ll admit it: I’m a disgruntled jobseeker. I came to Carleton four years ago with a few suitcases and big dreams for the future. Like many of those around me, I didn’t know what I was going to study, but the course catalog was my oyster, and I was ready to go shucking. We’ve all heard the familiar phrases: “Pick any major you want. A well-rounded liberal arts education can prepare you for anything!” I decided to follow that advice, perhaps somewhat naively, and I ended up majoring in Sociology and Anthropology, a field that I hadn’t even considered before coming to Carleton, but was something that I enjoyed more than the biology and economics classes I had taken. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the academic experiences I’ve had as a SOAN major, and I don’t regret my decision at all. What I didn’t realize, however, is how difficult it would be to find a job after Carleton when every other posting I see explicitly calls for a degree in computer science or economics.
This story isn’t (only) meant to be a sad lament about my current lack of employment – I know I’ll find my place eventually. I use my experience, and the experiences of those like me, to foreground a more important issue brewing in the world at large – namely, the unfettered premium placed on an education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields that comes at the expense of other types of knowledge. It’s no surprise that employers are increasingly seeking to hire graduates with a background in quantitatively focused fields. What may be less apparent, however, is how the characteristics we associate with these fields are so closely linked with our conceptions of masculinity and femininity (and by extension, good and bad).
It would be easier to illustrate this with an example: an education in engineering is generally associated with certain principles like rationality and objectivity – these are all traits that have historically, and continue to be, associated primarily with men. Anthropologists, on the other hand, are trained to acknowledge subjectivity, bias, and qualitative information – things that society has deemed feminine, and therefore, less than. Of course, these things exist on a spectrum, but the academic world is filled with numerous examples just like these.
Our tendency to assign gendered assumptions to particular qualities, occupations, and types of knowledge makes anything other than the masculine ideal seem less important. Society’s underlying patriarchy has left its mark on schooling, and with it comes the systematic devaluing of expertise in the humanities, and much of the social sciences, due to their focus on qualitative theories and methodologies.
My intent here is not to engage in a battle of which discipline is better than the other (for there is no answer to this question). Instead, I merely hope to encourage some discussion about why it is that these types of knowledge are seemingly privileged over others. Is it because quantitative fact-based data really is more useful or, dare I say, even better than qualitative context-specific information? Or does this difference come from the unconscious gendered notions we have about objectivity and subjectivity? Either way, we should carefully weigh the effects that this denigration of an entire swath of academia will have on our future, and the message that it sends to those, of all genders, who come after us. Schools across the country are already diverting resources from the humanities to promote an emphasis on STEM fields, and I would hate to see a future generation of Carls come to campus and think that they had to major in biology or economics to be a contributing member of society.