In Defense of English Majors

I have always supported the efforts of teachers, parents and politicians to guide more girls into STEM subjects; it’s true that women are woefully underrepresented in most math and engineering fields, and trying to bridge that gap is extremely important to women’s social rights.

But more often than not, this idea is taken much too far. I have heard more than once, “You’re so smart, have you considered engineering?” My answer was always something along the lines of, “I’m not that into STEM stuff.” Recently, I have taken to saying that I can do the S and sort of the T, but when it comes to E and M, I’m pretty much lost.

What lots of adults–especially parents–seem to forget is that not all girls want to be engineers, just like not all girls want to be teachers, secretaries or stay at home moms. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we will.

I can vividly recall an interaction I had with a girl around my age after a swim practice once, in which I expressed my interest in going to a liberal arts college, assuming she knew that my choice was based on the availability of small class sizes and opportunity for a well-rounded post-secondary education. I was instead met with a frantic shout of, “No! Science! Engineering! Math!”

Two responses came to mind immediately. The first was a gentle reminder that lots of liberal arts schools have very good science programs. The second was, “Is it really your business what I decide to do with my life?”

My young and not as sassy self decided to go with the first and less volatile option, but it lingered in my mind the whole ride home that she really thought there was nothing worth doing but STEM subjects.

Now, I have no little interest in majoring in anything she would disapprove of– History, English and Music were off the table. But what would we do without English teachers, historians and musicians? Sure, those aren’t as lucrative as the fields opened up by studies in STEM, but not everything is about money… and it definitely isn’t about making someone else happy.

There are of course teachers, parents and friends that will encourage a girl to do whatever she wants with her life, but what stands out more is the sneaky sexism present in the push for women in engineering.

Though it doesn’t come up often, it’s very clear that girls who declare their interests to be of a STEM persuasion are more respected, more often congratulated for their academic performance, and ultimately valued higher than girls who might want to go into more traditional professions for the gender, such as pediatrics or elementary education.

While STEM is highly valued among men as well, no one is going to tell a high school boy who loves to work with kids, “I don’t think you should become a child therapist. You can definitely aim higher than that.”

I personally love science, but the rest of the STEM doesn’t branch out into what I want to do with my life, and there are plenty of girls who feel the exact same way.

If you love STEM, I won’t begrudge you your renown and full bank account. But if you’re into Shakespeare, don’t feel bad about becoming an English major. We need those too.

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