By Erin Petti, Guest Columnist June 20, 2016
When asked to write a post about why I chose to make my young, female protagonist a scientist, I was having a tough time with it. It took me a while to figure out why I was having trouble writing this, but then it finally occurred to me. I’m pretty bummed out that the topic is worthy of a blog post. I’m bummed out that a girl-scientist-hero is unique at all.
I want to write: It’s who this character is! Her brain is wired to pick things apart and ask questions. She’s fascinated by the sky, and the human body, and the limits of what is possible.
But then I came upon this short video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson answering a question at a panel. The man in the audience asks: What’s up with chicks in science?
Sigh. Sighing forever.
This white guy is poised to get himself a laugh in a room full of his colleagues, I’m sure. But Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s answer cuts right to the meat of it. I encourage you to watch the short clip, but the gist is that as an African American in science, he has a healthy understanding of how many roadblocks exist in the way of non-white, non-male individuals who want to make it. There are so many opportunities to have ambitions shot down, or just smiled and nodded away, that many non-white, non-male individuals have left the path.
Not only is that unfair and heartbreaking, but it’s simply bad business. If there were more diverse perspectives in those labs, don’t you imagine there would be more progress? Different ideas that could lead to great discoveries? Maybe a girl had a great brain for science and math, but didn’t want to deal with, you know, attending panels at which men ask questions like:
What’s up with chicks in science?
So, yes, it’s important to talk about the fact that my 11 year-old protagonist is a scientist.
I don’t think I was trying to do anything political when I wrote her, but now that she’s in the world I hope that she inspires other girls to ask big questions, to fearlessly investigate, and to grow their love of learning so big and so strong that no one can put them off the path.
There are many male-dominated industries and occupations presenting challenges for woman. How are you breaking down barriers and creating your own path for yourself? Get out there and smash some glass ceilings!
Erin Petti lives beside some very tall pine trees in Massachusetts and loves to read about magic, dinosaurs, folklore, and ghosts. She has a masters in education and a background in improvisational comedy. Erin lives with her husband, excellent toddler, and very helpful cat, Lucy. She is the author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee follows eleven-year-old Thelma Bee on a dangerous journey to save her father from dark magic, all while keeping track of her adventure in her scientific journal, embracing her love of botany, and daydreaming about cryptozoology.