Monday, March 11, 2013

STEM sell

In June 2012 Kara Arnold was crowned Miss Utah. Her “platform issue” is “Step Up with STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering & Math”. She specifically wants to help get female students interested in science. This strikes me as an interesting platform for a miss America contestant.

Because.... in what universe is beauty pageantry consistent with empowering young girls to successfully pursue a career in science or engineering? I'm sure a good argument could be made that these two goals are, in fact, quite inconsistent.

"You can put all the cello-playing rocket scientists you want on the runway, but men--and women--like seeing drop-dead gorgeous girls. That's what I give 'em--beauty beats brains any time." – Donald Trump (owner of the Miss USA beauty pageant)

Kara plays the piano with flair, struts around onstage in a bikini and high heals, and smiles. And does she ever smile. She smiles in interviews with little giggles, or a headlight greeting glare, or even, when she talks about the lord's blessings in her life, a far off “eyes were watching God” smile. She must have to slather her teeth with Vaseline to get her lips to slide across them so effortlessly throughout her ever-changing moods.

Most media coverage of Kara's platform lasts just long enough to get in a picture of her in a bikini and high heals. Sometimes they will pop in a clip of her playing piano for balance. Unfortunately they don't delve too deeply into the question of what a beauty pageant has to do with science.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – Kara Arnold

Kara is not the only Utah beauty pageant contestant to choose helping female students discover science as her platform. I fond a video application of a contestant for miss UVU named miss Rachel Kearl (and who coincidentally was another dark-eyebrowed blond like Kara) who had a platform “supporting women in science”. So, apparently, one popular pathway to success in science for women is for them to take off their clothes and strut their stuff on stage under the big lights.

Perhaps dedicated females who want to go into engineering should spit their time between studying for AP science tests and working up a pole-dance routine?

I'm not as adept at balancing inconsistencies between this the science-career message of this popular brand of stereotype-breaking modern feminism and what I see my own daughters doing to pursue their interest in science. I am actually at a loss for how to distil any worthwhile message out of Kara's platform despite the fact that my two daughters might be the most perfect audience for her message.

Kara, however, is well practiced at balancing inconsistent messages. She has graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Biochemistry. This is a tough major from a good school. She did this while maintaining a deep-seated belief in all things Mormon. She calls her stint as Miss Utah a “mission with a crown” or the lord's calling.

“Everything I'm doing right now felt so in line with what my patriarchal blessings said. One of the things it said was about me becoming a mother and a wife, and I see that that's the biggest calling I will have in life. “ - Kara Arnold

Unfortunately the message that is Frankensteined together from her beuty pageant winnings, her devout Mormonism, and her science education is not conveniently hidden in a closet of rational horrors. Every day, often several times a day, she is paraded out in front of groups of kids where she smiles convincingly about the importance of science education, and pursuing careers in science. Especially if you are a young girl and can rock a two piece bathing suit.

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