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The lab or love? Catholic women and STEM careers


There is a manifest faith and science conflict that no one talks about, so here goes. Young Catholic women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (i.e., STEM careers) get mixed messages from their two cultures—scientific and Catholic. I am concerned that the ambiguity is harming them and causing a missed opportunity for society in general.

The scientific community emphasizes the importance of women among its ranks. Administrators and policymakers note that STEM fields are historically male-dominated. Experts conduct studies to figure out to what extent discrimination, bias, and the “girls-can’t-do-math” stereotype are the causes of gender disparity. To compensate for the inequality, young women are pervasively encouraged to become STEM professionals. Missing from all the gender-bias dialogue is a defense of exactly what it is that women contribute to the scientific community. More bodies?

In a parallel, but very different, universe, young Catholics are taught the importance of the family in God’s plan, that marriage is ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of the children (CCC 2201). Although there is no mandate that a woman must become a wife, or that a mother must be a homemaker, there is a natural and reasonable expectation that mothers of young children forego demanding careers. In this role as matriarch of the domestic church, the contributions of a woman’s genius to the good of society are strongly emphasized.

So, when a young Catholic woman decides she loves science because it is the study of the handiwork of God, and she becomes enthused about a STEM career, she is faced with two (seemingly) opposing choices: the lab or love. This a false dichotomy, but not one that is clarified much in public.

Science of today needs a woman’s touch. Men are analytically rigorous, focused, and goal-oriented, and that is indeed good. But women nurture. They step back and take in the tapestry. They are adept at systematic thinking, placing the details of projects into the context of the past, present, and future, the local and the global. They ponder things in their hearts. The civilized world is navigating difficult technological and ethical issues regarding the dignity of human life (cloning, euthanasia, stem cell research, CRISPR), the stewardship of our planet (alternative energy sources, public policy), and the betterment of humanity (food sources, water supplies, medical care). Women leaders, especially those who have embraced the practice of virtue, are needed to equilibrate the decisions.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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