Countering Gaslighting in STEM with Empowerment– Hannah Nguyen

Gaslighting is a form of abusive psychological manipulation that forces one to doubt themselves and their sanity. When you’re the target of pressure and persuasion, gaslighting is bound to occur - whether it’s from your boss, your coworkers, or even your friends.

If I had a piecewise function, and f(x) represented generic statements made against women, f(x) would equal: “There’s no issue, it’s just your imagination--stop fighting for something that’s not there”; “When will you fail?”; “Why are you so bossy?”; “Women should stay in the kitchen, where they belong”; “You should’ve gotten married”; “Why can’t you act more like a woman?”; and more.

This function is infinitely limiting, like a form of eternal gaslighting, or a run-on sentence that won’t end, no matter how many times you try to stop it with a period. But notice - all of these “arguments” are based on the same thing; the image of an “ideal” woman that has been circulating and emphasized for centuries, just slightly modified once in a millennium. Thus, it plays a role in STEM and business as the number of working women in these fields falls short of the 50% that many other women and organizations currently strive to reach.

Take for instance, the AP Computer Science A (APCSA) class that I enrolled in this previous school year. The ratio of girls to boys in that class was absurd, with about 5 girls to 23 boys, while the ratio of the other APCSA class was even more bewildering, with about 2 girls to 25 boys. However, this was not the first time that I had experienced this large of a gender gap in school. Jumping two years back, my regular computer science class consisted of only two other girls who decided to not continue on into STEM after incessant discouragement from teachers, counselors, and their own parents with one question: “Are you sure?”

This is gaslighting. The function depicted earlier also classifies as gaslighting. It is detrimental to mental health, and should not be utilized - especially when concerning one's career interests. Moral of the story? Don’t gaslight, invalidate, or discriminate against someone and cause more doubts and insecurities for them to deal with; there’s always a better solution. Namely, empowering and supporting, which is particularly essential in closing the gender gap within a community such as STEM.

Nothing negative will come out of reaching out and empowering others in their decisions or opinions; empower your family, empower your peers, and empower yourself. If you fall to rock bottom, then climb your way back up. If you are just starting from the ground, then you can begin by building yourself up. The essence of living and success depends on trial and error. If you send in your best and receive back a no, don’t give up until you get your yes.

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