Women and STEM

I am getting a little sick of hearing how STEM hates women.  I have heard all the tradition responses to that statement.  Perhaps women have different abilities and interests that make them less likely to go into STEM.  Maybe women choose different career paths for personal reasons.

Women in STEM

But I’m not posting to rehash those arguments over again.  Instead, I am going to prove that STEM, and engineering in particular, has done more for women’s liberation than all the hairy leg, bra burning, feminist protesters in history.

First, what needs to be understood is what life was like in the 19th and early parts of the 20th century.

Housework consumed an enormous amount of time.  Heat was provided by wood or coal burning fireplaces and stoves.  Those required constant maintenance.  They had to me cleaned and the ashed shoveled out.  Cleaning was done by hand.  Not just sweeping the floors, but rugs had to be hauled outside and beaten.  Laundry was washed by hand and hung to dry in a grueling, day long chore.

Common foods like bread were regularly made at home rather than bought.  The lack of cold storage meant that meat either had to be purchased fresh or, in rural locations, was killed fresh.  Butchering the family hog was another day long event as much of the meat had to be cured or preserved to make it last as long as possible.  Cooking was done on a wood burning stove or in a wood burning oven which required near constant tending, as temperature control was limited and could start fires.

Clothes for children were not commonly purchased and were often made by hand stitching, which again, would take a whole work day worth of time.  In rural areas or in poorer households, even adult clothing was made by hand.  In (one of my favorite books) Where the Red Fern Grows, which takes place in the Ozarks of Oklahoma in the early 20th century, a pair of store bought dungarees were a luxury good.

The lives of wives in rural and middle America was backbreaking working, described as  drudgery and toil.

All of this was just regular housework, and doesn’t include other chores, repairs, and tasks that might crop up day to day.

In poor areas, housework was still done by hand by women after WWII.  The BBC show Call the Midwife shows – quite accurately – what women’s work was like in the working class docklands of London in the 1950’s.

So what changed?  What liberated millions of women from slaving in front of stoves and washing tubs?


The electrification of America round about WWII and part of the New Deal paved way for every home to have electric appliances.  Electric stoves brought about the age of “set it and forget it” cooking, freeing up time.  Laundry now takes an hour or two per load, and only about 5 minutes of actual work (loading and unloading machines) because of washing machines and dryers.  Dishwashers and vacuums freed up much time needed for cleaning.  Refrigerators allowed longer food storage before spoiling, making the need t0 purchase of groceries a less frequent event, and allowed for the preservation of leftovers.  The microwave allowed for meals to be made ready to eat in minutes.

And that is only on the domestic front.

Industrial changes in manufacturing meant that clothing for all ages could be bought cheaply, and it was easier to throw out worn items than patch and repair them.  The grocery store made the purchase of household items a one-stop trip, rather than having to go to the butcher, baker, green grocer, dry goods, etc.  Mass manufacturing has reduces the cost of domestic goods to the point where they are available to even the poorest homes.

The result is that the average woman only has 11.5 hours of housework per week, which isn’t particularity strenuous, down from the dawn-to-dusk backbreaking labor their grandmothers and great grandmothers did a century ago.

Notice that the rate of women’s participation in the workforce shot up as time saving domestic devices became more widely available.  When daily housework requirement go from 12 hours a day to 2 (or less) what did women do all day?  They went and got jobs.

Mechanical engineering, electrical engineers, industrial and manufacturing engineers, machinists, linemen, welders, miners, and all the other people in power production and distribution, manufacturing and assembly, and all forms of heavy industry, created the goods that freed women from the home.  The wall outlet, washing machine, and microwave did more to liberate women than all the campus marches of the 60’s and 70’s combined.

The next time a feminist gripes about how women are oppressed by engineering, politely reminder her that the reason she has time to complain about female oppression on Tumblr, is that she is not having to spend all day washing the panties she currently has in a knot, by hand in a wash tub with water boiled on an open fire, because some team of engineers at Whirlpool and GE designed her a washing machine and water heater to do that for her.


12 Replies to “Women and STEM”

  1. What the hell does this have to do with guns? Isn’t there a MAN-STEM blog available for this sort of stuff?

    Why don’t you post about how sick you are hearing about how gun culture hates women? I actually heard a talk at The Tactical Conference by Kathy (Cornered Cat) Jackson, in which she draws on research about women in STEM to give gun guys suggestions about how to get women involved in gun culture. https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/the-cornered-cat-kathy-jackson-on-what-women-want/

    You should let her know how grateful she should be that male dominated gun culture allowed her the time and space to share her views!

    1. Because when Miguel invited me to blog on his site, the restrictions I got was “no naked ladies or cat pictures.”

      I do focus primarily on guns. But occasionally venture out into economics, history, and general politics. So does Miguel and the other people he invited to blog here too.

      As a member of the STEM community, I occasionally feel the need from the need to defend my field and my friends who work in it from the Social Justice Types who attack it.

      Miguel and I have both blogged about how Gun Culture 2.0 is embracing women while it is the antis who do their best to make women seem helpless in the face of guns.

      I blog about things in guns and politics that are of interest to me – and often in response to things that get my ire up. I’m sorry that you want to narrow the scope of what I write about.

      1. I know that you are probably sick of hearing about Kathy Jackson already, but since you seem pressed for things to write about concerning guns, why don’t you read Kathy Jackson’s comments about women in the gun community since she draws on research about women in STEM fields to show that gun guys are NOT embracing women.

  2. Well, I enjoyed the article here AND the GC2.0 article (thanks, David, AND J.Kb)

    I think Ms Jackson makes an entirely valid point about “welcome guests” vs “belonging members”, it is a fine distinction (from my POV, at least) but a real one. I’m going to talk to my fellow instructors at my club’s ladies’ night program about it ASAP, in fact.

  3. Tons of female engineers, scientists, and mathematicians where I work. Many of them are bosses. Our department head is female. I don’t get why there is an issue. All who wish to do so can work. Is it 50%? No, but it could be. It’s a personal choice made by individuals. All three of my doctors and my dentist are female. None of this would be true 50 years ago. We have made great strides. I think a little history lesson is in order.

    Now, there aren’t that many female members of my gun club. But, that’s because most of them are married to male members of the club, and so are members because member’s families are included in membership. Some are better shooters than their husbands. Nobody makes a big deal about it.

    1. The only people keeping women out of STEM fields are the feminists who claim that women who go into STEM fields are the subject of bigotry and bias. And they’ve ruined no small quantity of lives through their lies. (Especially the lives of young girls who want to go on to create something one day)

      Hey ladies, you want to know a secret? If you want an intelligent man who treats you like a human being, go into Engineering. Men like a woman who can keep up with us, mentally and physically.

      And the “men” who don’t? A certain wise wolf once said, “Foolish men prefer weaker women.”

  4. Replace “women” and “STEM” with “minorities” and “police” (or any other topic) and it’s the same — the folks who complain the loudest are often the folks who have no interest or ability to actually do the work. It’s far easier to complain about something than to get involved and become part of the solution.

    1. LOL, so true! I was just talking about this in class today — all the male Yale alumni who complained about young men who would be deprived of a Yale education when it went co-ed in 1969! And they still let George W. Bush in because of his daddy.

  5. Also politely inform that (hypothetical?) feminist on Tumblr that she wouldn’t have that account unless the engineers who made her computer (and all of its component parts; microprocessors are amazing bits of technical genius!), the Internet, and web sites — many of whom are no doubt women — did the ground work on the products she now has the privilege of using to attack those very professions.

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