How STEM can do better: advice from a biogeofeminist

Dr. Sarah Myhre is a brave climate scientist who dares to bring humanity to her work, despite the harassment she often endures for doing so. As a science communicator, women’s rights advocate, and someone who refuses to separate social justice from her work, she’s a threat to the status quo. In the wise words of her colleague’s young daughter, Dr. Myhre is a biogeofeminist.

Dr. Myhre’s most recent TEDx Talk, “Take Your Humanity With You,” was released on Thursday, and it is powerful. Dr. Myhre has a knack for sharing personal stories that help you understand her lived experience as a woman in STEM. But she doesn’t stop there — she calls for moving the narrative forward by centering intersectionality in our feminism and diversity work, and calling for STEM professionals to fundamentally incorporate human rights and equity into their roles.

Here are seven ideas that we took away from her talk, and her quotes that are just 🔥🔥:

1. Women’s bodies and humanities are considered a problem.

“When we tell women that online harassment is not real harassment, or that pregnancy is a professional risk, or that the lack of representation is a pipeline problem rather than a failure of leadership and courage, what we’re actually telling women is this: Your bodies and your humanity are a liability. And if you want to succeed inside these doors, you need to check your body and your humanity outside.”

“How do women ever win inside of systems that see us and our bodies as inherently problematic? We never win inside that system, but what we end up doing is relegating our basic humanity again and again in public to systems that do not see us as worthy of fair and equal treatment.”

2. In your fight for justice, be aware of your privilege.

“Now as a white woman scientist, I have experienced harassment, and abuse, and gaslighting, but I’ve also experienced profound privileges and protections that have allowed me to pursue science from the very beginning.”

“For example, English was my first language. I have had the privilege of a middle class buffer and safety net for when I got sick or when my car broke down. My family has never been incarcerated when I was a child. I have never been touched by the intergenerational trauma of gun violence. And I have the profound privilege of walking through the world holding a length of pipe, bag of Skittles, or a cell phone and not be murdered by the police state.”

3. “The frame of women’s rights is never enough.”

“The frame of women’s rights is never enough. And how could it be? The compounding intersections of injustice that characterize our culture right now, in terms of race, gender, sex, and socioeconomic class mean that injustices occur at intersections, and specific people are targeted.”

“And I have learned through women of color that are leading our culture right now, including the #MeToo movement and the women’s movement, that if your search and fight for social justice is not intersectional, it’s not authentic.”

4. STEM professionals should be advocating for social justice.

“This is where you might be like, ‘why is this white lady scientist talking all this social justice and feminism?’ So, my career as a scientist is a product of a society that values information and trains a generation of scientists, tech, engineer, and math, to pay back that investment of public taxpayer money. I am exactly the person who should be, along with my generation of STEM professionals, stewarding public policy, building public institutions, and protecting public interest.”

5. We all pay the price for racial and gender discrimination in STEM.

“When I speak in public as a PhD scientist and receive misogyny, or I have to advocate for other women scientists, there’s a direct cost to that interaction, and that cost is negative. And that cost plays out in a couple of ways. The first way is: I pay a cost as an individual. My public brand and authority is degraded.”

“Second cost: women in public pay a cost, universally because of the sexist reframing of our voices as hysterical, our contributions as irrelevant, our work as decorative, and our leadership as unwanted.”

“And third, the entire population, we together pay a cost because this represents a loss of taxpayer investment in the scientific workforce. Indeed, marginalization and discrimination cost us real dollars, and they degrade the scientific process.”

“White supremacy and patriarchy erode institutions from the inside, by rewarding the mediocrity of some, and punishing the excellence of others. For example, just this week, there was a report out in a journal called Nature GeoScience. Hard numbers on the fact that in 40 years, earth science has not had any progress in racial representation. The loss of that number is astounding. It should take your breath away. Because what that actually represents is an incalculable loss of the scientific frontier. We would understand the world in fundamentally different ways if men and women of color were fully represented in the geosciences. And we would know how to steward the planet in fundamentally different ways if they were there as well.”

6. The “galaxy of scientific diversity” can be compared to the galaxy of identities that each scientist brings to her/his/their work.

“In science we have an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary worldview, which means we know if you want to solve a complex problem, you’re going to need a lot of different scientific expertise in the room. Complex problems require complex solutions.”

“The diversity of scientific expertise should take your breath away. There is a galaxy of scientific diversity out there and that intellectual diversity makes science the frontier of basic science stronger and better and it also makes the real-world application of science stronger and better.”

“The same is true for scientists. We, too, are galaxies — of racial, social, economic, gender, sexual, socioeconomic identities. And we are never separate from that humanity. We are always coupled to it. It is always an inherent part of the work we do. And we need to speak to this basic truth in public, because if we don’t have the courage to stand up for our humanity then, how will we ever have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the people that science is meant to serve?”

7. It’s time to redefine what it means to be a STEM professional.

“So here’s what I suggest. Instead of checking our humanity at the door to be professional, why don’t we just take it with us? Unapologetically, lovingly, brazenly, taking our humanity with us.”

“What if we viewed those voices inside of institutions that are criticizing the shortfalls on human rights and social justice inside those institutions not as problematic, but as voices that are in deep love and alignment with the health of those institutions?”

“What if being a scientist meant that you fundamentally advocated for human rights and equity in every aspect of your professional service? And you viewed that as inseparable as the way you operated as a professional? Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is the most effective and efficient way to function as a STEM professional?”

“In this moment I am reminded of a quote from the poet Audre Lorde who said, ‘Your silence will not protect you.’ This is true. We may all be professionals, but we’re people first. Have the courage to bring your humanity with you.”

Watch Dr. Myhre’s TEDx Talk here:


Sister is an independent media platform amplifying the voices of gender minorities in STEM.

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