Perhaps, like me, you are tired of hearing people say “how would you explain that to your grandmother?” when they probably mean something like “How would you explain the idea in a clear, compelling way so that people without a technical background can understand you?” In other words, “How would you explain that to a novice?”
You may also have heard the saying “That’s so easy, my grandmother could understand it.”
I would like to counter the implication that grannies (gender + maternity + age) might not easily pick up on technical/theoretical ideas. As a start, I’m planning public awareness / art projects using grandmothers’ pictures+names+connections to STEM. This blog is where I’ll collect the info.
Let me emphasize that I do not think that people who use the phrases above are doing so out of malice. For example, in response to Cory Doctorow’s provocative comment on boingboing, “I’ve never understood why geeks hold their grandmothers in such contempt,” one reader responded:
I’m glad that Grandma got STEM is helping people reconsider their language and attitudes toward senior women.
I’d also like to note that there are many ways to make contributions in the world — one is through the STEM fields. My goal is to celebrate women’s work in STEM, not to diminish the contributions of anyone else.
The project has sparked new conversations. Some readers have said, “I think my Mother/Grandmother did something with STEM, but I never really talked with her about it. I’ll get in touch with her and get back to you.” I’ve also heard from a number of enthusiastic grandmothers (STEM-mas) directly.
Many people have asked… My grandmother did “X” does that count? My answer so far has been… Certainly!!! I intend to be very inclusive with a broad definition of STEM. Senior women who are not grandmothers have also been included.
A buddy also said “Don’t forget the arts! STEAM!” But people rarely are skeptical of women’s involvement in very very very important fields such as arts and humanities. So for now, I’m gonna stick with STEM.
I hope you will consider responding to the call for submissions below. The project is ongoing – no deadline.
Thanks for your help.
Rachel Levy, Harvey Mudd College Mathematics
Call for submissions
Call for submissions – Grandma got STEM. Are you a senior woman working in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) – related field? Know any geeky grannies? Email name+pic+story/remembrance to Rachel Levy: ggstem (at) hmc (dot) edu. Follow on Twitter: @mathcirque #ggstem Project site: http://ggstem.wordpress.com