Here at Science Solutions, we have 5 fathers in the ranks. They certainly deserve to be celebrated!
Each year, Father’s Day falls within a few days of the International Women in Engineering day – 23rd June.
There’s also a reason this video went viral. It it all connected?
What does Father’s Day have to do with science, we hear you ask? Really, it’s fathers, parents and carers in all capacities who have a lot to do with science. Father’s Day just happens to fall at a topical time for us to specifically discuss women in STEM.
The origin of Father’s Day
Mother’s Day became a commercial holiday in the US in 1908 and partially thanks to retailers, who were quick to spot a potential for profit in the holiday, Mother’s Day caught on immediately. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson approved a resolution that made the second Sunday in May a holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”
Still in 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday.
The next year, a woman from Washington named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by her father, a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910.*
In the United Kingdom, Father’s Day is not a public holiday, but follows the American rule of falling on the third Sunday of June.
Father’s Day and women in STEM
Wendy Sadler, Founding Director and lecturer in Science Communication and Engagement at Cardiff University, speaks about the importance of recognising fathers and male role models, in what can otherwise be a topic that tends to focus mainly on women:
“For years, the discussion of how to remove barriers from girls interested in engineering has been focused on providing more female role models. But I think we overlook the importance of male role models, and the impact they can have, at our peril.”
Children spend the majority of their time with their parents or carers, so it would seem sensible to look at home environments first. A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that dads who do the housework will have more ambitious daughters.
“Researchers found fathers who help with chores are more likely to raise daughters who aspire to less traditional, and potentially more lucrative, careers like accountancy and medicine.
The study findings, published in the journal Psychological Science,indicate that how parents share dishes, laundry and other domestic duties plays a key role in shaping the gender attitudes and aspirations of their children – especially daughters.”**
Wendy expands on this idea, in her blog about male role models for STEM careers:
Behind every great woman…?
We often hear of successful women, who partly cite their success as down to having a supportive and flexible partner who take their share of the chores and the childcare. Many have said they couldn’t have got where they are without it.
It is about actions speaking louder than words. These girls (and boys) just grow up seeing an equal division of labour and an illustration of non-stereotypical roles so it is accepted as the norm – even though society as a whole may not quite have caught up yet!
One of [Wendy’s] inspirations is Professor Karen Holford – a motor-sports enthusiast, highly regarded professional engineer, and now pro-Vice Chancellor of the College of Physical Sciences at Cardiff University. Her Dad encouraged her to get involved with cars and her husband was able to take the lion’s share of the childcare due to his flexible working pattern. Arguably, she would have been hugely successful anyway, but she can’t be the only successful woman who has openly acknowledged the part that the men in her life have played in that success.
Wendy often discusses the importance of toys and marketing in shaping these stereotypes that society insists on imposing. As the parent of a boy and a girl, and an avid supporter of the @lettoysbetoys campaign, she hears plenty about the damage that can be done when construction sets and science toys are marketed only to boys (as her previous blog here discusses).
But equally, she argues that we are doing serious damage to boys when we deprive them of the freedom to play with toys that encourage nurturing characteristics and an interest in housework! She knows many boys who love to hoover and play with dolls houses and kitchens when they are little – but as soon as they start school this becomes uncommon and a cause for being teased.
Behaviour problems and mental health issues for boys and men are a growing concern, and we can’t rule out the fact that boys are just conditioned by society to ‘man up’ and not talk about problems, feelings or admit to any weakness. This is the flip-side to us telling girls that they should only be focused on being ‘the fairer sex’. If men feel single-handedly responsible for everything, and that it isn’t acceptable for them to ask for help, or admit they are struggling, they will eventually suffer.
Toys that help develop communication about feelings and nurturing should be considered gender-neutral if we are ever going to tackle problems of gender inequality.
Wendy remembers feeling sad to hear in a meeting that a man asking for time off work to look after his sick father was asked; ‘didn’t he have a wife who could do that?’ before being (eventually) given the time off.
Tackling this inequality in the way boys and men are stereotyped is every bit as important as tackling the Barbie stereotype for girls.
So as we celebrate the brilliant Dads in our lives, and the brilliant women in engineering, let’s consider how the two things may not be entirely unconnected.
Happy Father’s Day 2019 to all the dads, carers and role models out there doing a wonderful job at paving the way for the next generation!
If you are interested in STEM resources for parents, you may find the following resources useful:
SciGirls is a PBS series for kids ages 8-12 that showcases bright, curious real tween girls putting science and engineering to work in their everyday lives. Each half-hour episode follows a different group of middle school girls, whose eagerness to find answers to their questions will inspire your children to explore the world around them and discover that science and technology are everywhere!
Best wishes from all the team at Science Solutions.
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