Collage by Katie Ward
I have always thought that space was a cold, uninhabitable void. Aside from watching Interstellar, our unfriendly universe had very little attraction to me (Matthew McConaughey, however, has a lot of attraction to me, thus my choice of film). That is, until recently, when scientists discovered that acid-loving microbes may be living in the clouds of Venus. Like these microscopic creatures, I too thrive on an acidic atmosphere (it’s why I study law), and like their volcanic home, believe I am the brightest object in the sky (I’m an only child). I therefore began to consider a career change to astronomer, in order to better acquaint myself with my new Venusian idols.
I began to investigate my career prospects by checking out NASA’s pathways programs. As it turns out, each year only 37 per cent of NASA’s new hires are women. I couldn’t even draw inspiration from pop culture as a remedy since 83 per cent of characters in a STEM career in top-grossing films are men. Apparently, women are incapable of even acting the part of a scientist. Clearly, the traditional disparity in the numbers of men and women working in STEM-related areas continues to this day (both on- and off-screen). I was surprised by this, as I had assumed that all the men in power who had praised Hidden Figures had actually pondered implementing some policy change to strive towards equality. Shockingly, this was not the case.
There are many factors that contribute to this disturbing gender gap. Of course, there is a pipeline issue, with fewer girls choosing to study STEM subjects at high school. There are also entrenched gender stereotypes that lead teachers and parents to encourage their daughters to pursue non-STEM pathways. And most importantly, in my experience, the arts lecturers are simply more attractive than their science-faculty counterparts (I’m only here to scout potential husbands).
But what is the real root cause of this marked inequality? This writer believes that the answer lies in the inherently masculine basis of the astronomical field, represented by the legend of the Man in the Moon. In the tale of the Man in the Moon, we see evidence of the deeply-rooted prejudice held against women in the field of astronomy. It is only by changing this cultural zeitgeist of lunar masculinity that we can resolve the STEM gender disparity. Indeed, based on a poll of five people conducted by the writer herself, 100 per cent of respondents did not believe in the Man in the Moon, never mind a Woman in the Moon!
The Man in the Moon — for those not versed in these complex scientific, astronomical, and all-round spaced-out matters — finds its beginnings in a longstanding European tradition, according to which the man was banished to the moon for some crime (and, oh honey, aren’t there some men I would just love to send up to that celestial being).
And yet, many lunar deities are women! But are these goddesses necessarily good role models for women in STEM? In Greece, we have Artemis, goddess of the moon, but also, famously, a virgin huntress, all of whose companions also had to remain virgins. Therefore, if you want to fuck and be an intelligent, engaged woman astronomer, you’re going to be in for some slut-shaming. Meanwhile in China, we have Chang’e, a woman who was stranded on the moon after drinking a double dose of an immortality portion. The only way that men will let a woman rule the moon is to punish her for her addiction to Olay Regenerist! Clearly, the only woman men appreciate in astronomy is Venus. The Madonna/whore complex strikes again.
The inherent bias of these myths and legends patently forms the basis of an anti-feminist culture in astronomy, and STEM more broadly.
However, there are strong arguments in favour of having more women in astronomy. Our periods can be regularised by the lunar cycle, so we have an inherent gift when it comes to lunar studies at the very least. Imagine how much grief men could avoid from menstruating women (whenever we’re irate, it’s because the painters are in, obviously) if we were just given the chance to find a scientifically sound way of making it a full moon all the time.
Need another reason to why astronomy may be a good field for you? Consider how useful mastering that whole black-hole concept could be! Nothing escapes a black hole once it’s sucked in: not radiation, not light, and certainly not that Tinder boy who texts “you up?” at 2am. Swipe right to the theory of general relativity ladies!
And when you do come across a normal(ish) man, you’ll have a whole new world of sexual innuendo at your fingertips. Just imagine: “Want to discuss the theoretical existence of naked singularities with me? Or would you rather just let your superflare explode in my vicinity?” Now that would definitely get my universe accelerating. It’s a well-known fact that a man in possession of a scientific education must be in want of a wife, and this is the perfect way to slide into his DMs and fulfil your duty as a woman by entering the holy state of matrimony.
Despite my concerns about launching my new career at NASA (is doing psychology in year 11 sufficient scientific education?), my research has reminded me that our universe is a beautiful thing. It’s also absolutely bursting with dark matter, so even the most jaded of us can feel at home in it. So, harness your inner intellectual goddess (virgin or not) and STEM the flow of gender inequality.