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7 social media trends that show us what it’s like to be a woman in STEM

09 March 2022

In celebration of National Careers Week and International Women's Day, we take a look at different styles of TikToks that remind us that women not only belong in STEM, but excel in these fields.

7 social media trends that show us what it’s like to be a woman in STEM
Content creators on TikTok often use the social media network as a place to share their experiences. Image credit: Cottonbro/Pexels

It's National Careers Week in the UK (7-12 March 2022), which got us thinking about what inspires young people to choose a career in civil engineering, or STEM in general.

With International Women's Day falling within this week (Tuesday 8 March 2022), we decided to take a look at what it's like to be a woman in STEM, from the view of women who've joined the industry recently.

And what better way to understand what the youth are up to, but with TikTok!

The following trends on the social media platform give us some insight into what it's like to study or have a career in STEM.

1. “Girls, come on! Leave designing the world to the men? I don’t think so. I don’t think so…”

@abby_maltese Nope👍🏼 #womeninstem #femaleengineers #femaleengineer #aerospaceengineering #aerospace #engineering #engineeringstudent ♬ original sound - edits

This audio features the line above, followed by M.I.A.’s song, Bad Girls (‘live fast, die young, bad girls do it well…’).

In the captions, content creators usually swap out the word ‘designing’ for their specific subject and/or profession. For instance: ‘Girls, come on! Leave the engineering to the men?’

The women in these TikToks will mouth the words before launching into a montage of their work in STEM, normally featuring some the highlights of their career and achievements that they are proud of.

It’s a great way to celebrate their hard work and acknowledge that success is achievable within STEM, regardless of your sex.

This trend isn’t saying that STEM should only be pursued by one sex. Rather, the message is this: just because an industry is male-dominated, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join it!

2. “You are Elastigirl! Pull yourself together!”

@typehouse representation matters ‼️ #computerscience #csmajor #coding #womeninstem ♬ Pull Yourself Together - H

Captions for this type of TikTok can often reveal some stark realities about STEM. In the above example, the young woman reveals she’s the only girl in her computer science class.

She uses this fact as a motivation to keep working hard, even when she gets tired of coding.

Everyone gets tired at some point, regardless of what profession you’re in. But it’s important to remember that your presence in an industry can be ground-breaking and an inspiration to those who'll follow you.

These clips use an audio from the movie The Incredibles, where Edna Mode, the fashion designer for superheroes, gives Elastigirl a pep talk to remind her that she’s a superhero in her own right.

Just because she’s married to Mr Incredible, she shouldn’t forget it!

3. “Women do earn less in America because they choose to… WHAT?!”

@intertidalkendy follow these women in marine science: @mckensea @sofishtication @carissaandclimate #MarineBioTok #womeninSTEM♬ kam 2020 - Luna

These TikToks respond to an outright misogynistic audio from an interview where a man claims that women choose to earn less because they'd rather stay at home or attend children’s piano recitals instead of getting ahead in their careers.

The voiceover is full of misconceptions that disregards the hard work it takes to be a stay-at-home parent, and reveals outdated views of a woman’s role in society.

TikTok creators respond to the audio by superimposing the song ‘Humble’ by Kendrick Lamar onto the audio and using video montages to reveal their career success.

Like trend #1, it includes career highlights that demonstrate that women can also have highly successful careers in STEM (and any other profession), despite what some people with archaic thinking might say.

4. The ‘I created it’ reveal

@alanabalagot #softwareengineering #womeninstem #mansplaining #humor ♬ Enter Kofi - The Slayer

These female content creators tell anecdotes of ‘mansplaining’ (where a man assumes they don’t know something and decides to explain it to them in a condescending way).

These clips use background music that slowly builds to a guitar riff, which accentuate the reveal that these women created the systems/methods these men are trying to explain to them.

The assumption that women don’t know these things and that they need to have it explained to them is offensive.

You might not know, but you can always ask first.

5. “Mama said that it was OK, mama said it was quite alright”

@youcancallmekait #greenscreen You try telling her that! 😅 #engineering #womeninstem #dreambig We ❤️ @engineerleen ♬ Mama Said - Lukas Graham

These TikToks usually feature before and after photos or video footage of the content creators, from when they were children and then from adulthood.

Some examples feature a quote, something that the creators could have sadly heard while growing up: “Little girls can’t grow up to be engineers”.

These quotes are juxtaposed with the audio, ‘Mama said that it was OK, mama said that it was quite alright,’ from Lukas Graham’s song ‘Mama Said’.

This reveals that these little girls grew up to become successful engineers, perhaps due to the support and encouragement of their parents, particularly their mothers.

6. “Look at me, I’m swabbing the bathroom!”

@emilyynoel You can see the pain in my eyes #Stem #womaninstem #college #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - 💗 NITA 💗

This trend is similar to #2, in that it confides that careers in STEM can in fact be difficult and tiring, but that it’s worth doing. Not just for personal fulfilment but because it means more women are joining these industries and increasing representation.

The videos feature an audio from the children’s TV show, Spongebob Squarepants, where he says: “Look at me, I’m swabbing [cleaning] the bathroom. At night… OW! I BURNED MY HAND. At night…”

The creators use captions to add sense to the video. In the example above: “Look at me, I’m studying chemistry. As a woman in STEM… Gets 2800% error on my lab report. As a woman in STEM…”

The TikTok highlights that studying STEM isn’t without its difficulties, but it’s worth it!

7. Sharing struggles

@hannahswor1d yikes #womeninstem #engineering ♬ All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor's Version) (From The Vault) - Taylor Swift

This last one isn’t a specific style of TikTok, it's more just something people do on the platform quite generally.

Sharing one’s struggles helps people relate to one another and offer support, so that they know they’re not alone.

This example shows how easily women get disregarded in STEM. Something as simple as ignoring someone’s name in an email, or including it in as an add-on, rather than an essential, could perhaps be considered a microaggression.

Details matter! Be careful with how you communicate.

Do you know of any other TikTok trends that you’d add to our list? Let us know!

  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE