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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
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Opinion: STEM is a patriarchal tool that undermines success in the humanities

It is time to talk about dismantling the beliefs we are taught about these fields

Articles about humanities and social sciences with “most-regretted majors” headlines are common in the U.S. Many conversations surrounding the future of humanities bring into question whether the fields still play a valuable role in our higher education system. 

Students majoring in humanities (literature, arts, history, philosophy, etc.) often feel pressured to pursue a career path deemed more practical, like those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known commonly as STEM. Getting a degree in STEM has become a common way to measure potential success and intelligence in the workforce. A humanities degree, on the other hand, supposedly signifies a student’s gloomy and unsuccessful future.

It is no coincidence that the humanities field is female-dominated and infamous for breeding failure. Although the gender gap within the humanities fields has narrowed in recent years, such fields have always disproportionately represented women. The patriarchal beliefs that perpetuate negative views on women in masculine positions have excluded women from STEM fields for decades. Historically, most people associate science and math fields with male identities and humanities fields with female identities. This notion of biologically-driven gender differences in abilities further shaped our view of humanities as unworthy of respect. 

The fact that STEM has become slightly more inclusive draws a picture of women in STEM fields as the few who beat the odds and women in humanities fields as the majority, who are doomed. Although women in STEM fields have a lower salary range than their male counterparts, their salaries are still much higher than women in humanities fields. 

After the 2008 recession, almost every humanities-related field faced a rapid decline. The U.S. promoted its pro-STEM campaign and set a goal of increasing STEM graduates by one million in 2022. Students started to gravitate toward STEM more and more as humanities degrees constituted less than 10 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded as of 2020. The number of college graduates with a humanities degree fell under 200,000 for the eighth consecutive year. The number of STEM majors increased by 48 percent from 2007 to 2011, which was more than triple the rate of growth in other degrees. Many universities have removed liberal arts courses from their programs or redirected their funding toward STEM courses. During the coronavirus pandemic, the same pattern followed: universities cut programs central to a liberal arts education due to financial distress.

This success narrative also impacts men in humanities fields; nevertheless, we still see a discrepancy in the fields’ earnings. Why do men still have higher earnings in fields dominated by women and feminine-presenting people? Men who major in humanities have median earnings of $60,000, while women in the field make $48,000. According to a 2018 report, there is a five percent gender pay gap among median earners for humanities majors early in their careers.

Humanities fields are constantly portrayed as impractical, despite the valuable work skills they impart. We need to dismantle this belief system and give humanities fields the credit they deserve. People in humanities deserve more respect as they are vital to comprehending the world and expanding our knowledge of human cultures. These studies facilitate conversations about the human mind and people’s role in society. 

The fastest growing jobs in the last 30 years have required a high level of social skills one obtains from humanities, and 80 percent of employers prefer a strong foundation in both liberal arts and sciences. A degree in humanities provides flexibility in a student’s career path, allowing them to go into multiple fields. 

The foundational skills taught in humanities determine a student’s chances of succeeding in the long run, which also marks the importance of integrating humanities courses into STEM programs. 

If humanities fields were always dominated by men, would a STEM degree still be the only way of proving one’s success? What will it take for us to break out of the binaries and understand that each field carries importance in different ways?

Meliha Ural is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for the Eagle.

This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.

mural@theeagleonline.com 


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