There’s Something About Women and Science

Craft & Design Science
There’s Something About Women and Science

Maker Faire Ribbons

New York-based artist Kim Holleman exhibited her piece titled Trailer Park, a public park housed inside a trailer, at World Maker Faire New York this year, receiving six editor’s choice and education ribbons.

It seems like every single day I read about a new report, initiative, competition, or program geared toward getting more women involved in science, or investigating why there are not more women in science to begin with.

Just a couple of weeks ago, on October 3, it was announced on culture and technology blogs such as The Mary Sue and Io9 that “Natalie Portman and Marvel are joining together in hopes of inspiring an entire generation of Jane Fosters (Jane Foster, a physicist character played by Natalie Portman ). The Ultimate Mentor Adventure is a program/contest that wants to connect girls 14 and up to meet, work with and learn from the most successful women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”

This seems on the heels of Natalie Angier’s fascinating article in The New York Times on September 2, 2013, “Mystery of the Missing Women in Science“. In it she quotes studies proving girls do as well as boys in math and science and at times even do better, but they still can’t explain why there are so few women in science in comparison to men.

In particular:

Joseph Price of Brigham Young University and his colleagues reported this year that the gender gap in high-stakes math competitions disappeared simply by adding more rounds to a contest. Boys did better than girls in single-shot events, the researchers said, but when put through multiple rematches the boys fumbled, allowing the girls to catch up and often surpass them. … Girls also excel in the classroom. Nationwide, their grade point average in high school math and science is 2.76 out of 4, compared with 2.56 for boys.

And yet, right when he is poised to name the answer to the mystery, it hangs in air to the bafflement of Mr. Derriso — a colleague of Joseph Price, who is getting his doctoral dissertation in psychology: “If boys and girls are equally interested in math and science and feel equally confident about their abilities,” he wondered, “why this humongous difference in intent? I don’t have an answer for that.”

Well, I do — or at least I’ve got one of them.

It’s as simple as representation. This is what a visual thinker will tell you — because the answers aren’t in the data. The answers aren’t in the test results. The answers are in the visual narrative our children are super saturated in daily. All it takes is a single YouTube viewing of little girl Riley‘s scathing critique of the hot pink toy aisle to understand that children learn by seeing. If all you show girls is one thing, then it’s not rocket science to wonder why there are no girl scientists when girls are just as good at science as their male counterparts.

YouTube player

To the casual observer who’s in the group visually represented, nothing is amiss. But if you’re not in the group represented and you see no examples of yourself there, the message becomes starkly clear: “you do not belong here” or “this is not for you.”

Intentional or not, obvious or subconscious, without examples of ourselves out in the world to model and to ascribe to “be,” we can easily understand having a population of girls who have the strong abilities and solid confidence about those abilities, yet lack the intent to use those skills to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Case in point, leading toy company Lego only released a female scientist character for the first time on September 1st of this year! This means that for the very first time, girls will be able to play with a popular representation of themselves as a scientist, and perhaps envision themselves being one from a very young age — literally from the time they are playing with blocks.

But that’s where MAKE and the Maker Faire comes in. Everything that has been described up until now is really an institutional read on this issue of women in science — which is to say it’s a read on what’s wrong with “us,” not what’s wrong with “them.”

power racing series karen corbeilKaren Corbeill of Sector67 hackerspace and the next generation of young female makers.

If you want to see girls in science making themselves and everyone around them proud, then get thee to a Maker Faire! There are plenty of women in STEM fields there — they just haven’t grown up yet. And with the efforts of the people behind Maker Faire, more and more female makers are joining in to represent. Our job, as I see it, is to facilitate those girls and then get out of their way, because they’re about to change the world.


Reporting back from the World Maker Faire New York this year at the New York Hall of Science, I’m tremendously pleased to say that there were so many little girls and older tween and teen girls representing themselves at the Maker Faire. From the ultra-orthodox little girls of all religions, the fashionistas, and the so-called “tom boys” to the mini-robotics girls and the girls wearing homemade super hero costumes with capes — most of them wearing flashing LED Maker Faire buttons they soldered themselves — I was overjoyed to see girls of all kinds and ages represented and participating in Maker Faire.

The greatest thing about seeing all of these different girls pursuing all of the sciences at Maker Faire was that these girls show up pre-empowered. MAKE has an all-inclusive, “if you’re a maker, you’re in” modus operandi, and let me tell you: the girls are seeing that. This is what attracted me to to everything MAKE — it calls to the essence of the maker regardless of age, race, gender, nationality, religion, or even social group. Even the branding, colors, and graphic design of MAKE is all-inclusive and draws everyone in.


I’m proof positive. As an artist who’s been warmly welcomed into the maker community, I can attest to this very phenomenon. I’ve always touted the use of science and engineering as a means to make my art better. As a result, my project Trailer Park: A Mobile Public Park has won not only art awards, but was also given a whopping six Maker Faire ribbons this year. But I know that in addition to the great honor of being awarded these ribbons, the most important thing is that all the little girls saw that I got them.

It’s the MAKE seal of approval that will really get the gears turning for these girls. Because let’s not forget: I’m just another girl who became obsessed with all things maker, just as young girls are seeing me and thinking how much they would love to bring a project of their own to Maker Faire. That’s why I made sure to say it over and over again to every girl I met. I’d look them right in the eye, point to myself and say, “One girl made Trailer Park. You can make anything you can think of.” And the greatest thing of all was standing in the center of my project, in the center of the Greatest Show and Tell on Earth and knowing they believed me.

18 thoughts on “There’s Something About Women and Science

  1. Bob says:

    My daughter was never into frilly stuff, or dolls, or “girl toys”, or princesses, or the color pink. She liked Pokemon (to my chagrin) and is now, as a teenager, into Dungeons and Dragons. But despite being very good at science and math, she has never been interested in the techie stuff I exposed her to and has no interest in a STEM career.

    I know this is just one kid and one anecdote. But it makes me think there’s more to it than just what’s in the toy aisle. We know there’s a correlation between little girls and princess dolls, but we don’t really know whether the toys are shaping the kids or the kids are shaping the toys.

  2. Margot Paez says:

    Well, I was that little girl in that video when I was a kid. Except my mother didn’t say, “I don’t know why they do that…” She would say, “because you are a girl and that’s what girls are supposed to like and do!” My father on the other hand, let me be whomever I wanted to be, he let me get dirty and play sports and play with the computers he’d bring home for us to fix.

    My father is a retired chemistry professor and my mother a nurse practitioner. I am keenly aware of what it is like to be told you can only do this or that because you are a girl. I’m only very lucky that I had a father who could see beyond that. My mother isn’t a wicked witch or anything, but she really took to the stereotypes. No, I didn’t grow up in the late 60s, I was born in the mid-80s.

    Now that I am older and I walk through the kid’s aisles, I can’t help but get upset with how the toys are arranged. I do think that subconsciously girls are still being led to believe that they have to be a certain way, and boys another. Girls being interested in technology is still considered a novelty. When I was in graduate school, my best friend (a guy) couldn’t believe how comfortable I was opening a computer.

    The bottom line is that society still has a long way to go before it stops promoting women as soft, sensitive, and too delicate to do technical work. The idea that women could be more than housewives really didn’t take on until the 1960s. 50 years is a short amount of time. I think we need to realize that. 50 years is absolutely nothing. My gosh, we are so lucky to have made the progress we have made. I am so glad we are asking the questions now, because we are starting to realize that there is still much more work to be done.

    Thank goodness for the maker community. Makers are role models for the rest of society which has lagged behind and still clings to these archaic stereotypes. You’d never believe that there was a deficit of women in science and engineering if your only sample was the members of the maker clan.

  3. ka1axy says:

    Being the engineer (nerd) parent of a daughter meant I had quite an adjustment to make when she was born. I was raised by my (unique, but I didn’t realize it at the time) mother with a single brother. No young girls in my family. They were alien beings.

    I decided that I would do everything possible to treat my daughter exactly the same as my son. I let my wife take care of the clothes and shoe shopping trips. I taught them both how to solder and the three of us built a shortwave radio kit together. They both got cast-off PCs from work as they grew up, and I made them do some of the maintenance themselves (by refusing to do it myself!).

    It has turned out pretty well. After completing a Bachelor’s in English Lit and Women’s Studies, she went on to get a Master’s in Museum Studies. Well, OK, it wasn’t MIT or Stanford, and it wasn’t Engineering, I thought, but perhaps there’s still hope, I thought. Then, she snagged a job, a month out of grad. school, as the IT Project Manager for a museum. My jaw dropped. This just doesn’t happen nowadays, I thought. With full benefits?

    Yeah, OK, it’s an admin job, but the reason she got it was that she wowed the hiring manager with her can-do attitude. All that work on her own PC (she had a Linux machine in grad school, because I was tired of the problems she kept having with XP) and the hours she spent doing stage crew in High School paid off. Plus, she’s quite intelligent.

    Yeah, proud Dad. Great daughter.

  4. Andrea Beaty says:

    This article makes me happy. There is an absolute tsunami of enthusiasm and opportunity for girls to explore everything that interests them. Which is pretty much everything! This is goodness.
    Andrea Beaty

  5. Ian +2 says:

    Women are the first and most important Makers hands down. How many 3d printers do you know of that can grow and give life to an entire working, living, breathing human? Then make the food s/he will need to survive wherever. Without women we’d have all been extinct a long time ago but for millennia cultures have tried to wrest this and other powers away from them. What a great article.
    Kids in general already know math and science are fun. We need more teachers that can keep it that way.

    Ian +2.

    1. colin says:

      I think the point here is that children/tweens/teens should be encouraged to pursue STEM education (or any other education) regardless of sex and gender. Unfortunately, we now have to push harder to make up for marginalizing young girls in the past.

      While your comment is certainly positive–and I agree that we need more STEM teachers and mentors at all levels–comparing a woman to a 3D printer and subsequent food maker dehumanizes the very people you’re looking to support.

  6. marc rosenblatt says:

    It is great to see more great news about women in science. I am sad to see we are still congratulating people for stuff we should be taking for granted at this point in the 21st century.

  7. Syndi says:

    It’s more than just “the pink aisle”. Teachers also send signals with messages like “girls don’t do that”. Boys also intimidate girls. Bullying is a big problem, and it doesn’t stop in school. Men also intimidate women, not always in a consious way, but sub-consiously. Also, it has been shown that women are more easily intimidated when having to present ideas to men rather than to other women. So, if you are trying to break into a field dominated by men, it is a daunting task for a women to stand tall and proud. Finally, let’s be honest. There is a truism that says “If a man speaks people listen, when a women speaks, they look first to see if she is pretty. If she is pretty, then they will listen.”

  8. cknich5 says:

    Reblogged this on NoCo Maker Faire.

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Kim Holleman is a mid-career interdisciplinary artist who attended The Cooper Union for The Advancement of Science and Art in New York and The Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Holland. Her award-winning work, Trailer Park: A Mobile Public Park debuted at The Storefront for Art and Architecture in 2006. It has been on display at multiple galleries, events, and conferences in New York. ​ Holleman has developed an interdisciplinary practice that allows her work to relate the concerns of several disciplines. Her work placed in the international ONE Prize architectural competition, and Holleman recently had the honor of presenting her work at theTEDx conference at The Cooper Union.  Holleman lectures, teaches and arranges workshops on the themes of sustainability and art, nature and the engineered eco-system and contemporary sculpture and model making.

For more information about Kim and her work, please visit

View more articles by Kim Holleman


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