Stem to STEM
Kathryn A. Craft
I first heard the word rikejo a few months ago, and since then I've seen it everywhere. I've seen ads for rikejo tours, websites and magazines devoted to rikejo, and posters for tech schools that are trying to recruit rikejo. I've heard that some universities have rikejo cafes and rikejo clubs, and they hold rikejo fairs to attract high school students.
At first, it seemed to me like this was progress! It seemed like everyone loved these smart science girls. But when I asked some of my students what their impression of rikejo was, I got mixed reactions. A few said they look up to these smart women of science and think they are pretty cool. However, most of the people I talked to described rikejo as plain-looking girls in glasses and lab coats. Some went further and said rikejo don't wear makeup and don't care about fashion or what they look like. Some said rikejo are smart, but they're too logical and they think like a man. Others said rikejo are too interested in science and neglect their social life. After hearing all this, I couldn't help thinking how little has changed since I was young.
When I was growing up in the Midwest, my family moved a lot. My dad worked for a big company and got transferred regularly, so about every two years or so, we packed up all of our belongings and moved with him, which is not unusual in the States. For my mom, that meant setting up a new house. For my sisters and me, that meant starting a new school.
I didn't mind changing schools. I liked school and I made friends easily. Besides, I wasn't stressed about my schoolwork since I always got good grades. It wasn't that I was some kind of brainiac or a nerd who spent all her time with her nose in books. It was just that each new school seemed to be behind my last school, so schoolwork was always easy for me.
I liked getting good grades, of course, and so did my friends. But at some point, I'm not sure when, I started hiding my test papers and report cards from my classmates. My grades hadn't fallen. In fact, I still got straight As. That was precisely the problem. I knew that if the other students found out what my grades were, I'd be labeled a know-it-all, the teacher's pet, or Miss Smarty Pants.
Yes, as crazy as it sounds, getting good grades was something to hide, especially for girls. In those days, we girls knew that if we wanted to keep our girlfriends and someday get a boyfriend, we shouldn't be seen as too smart. I think it was around sixth or seventh grade that I noticed some of my girlfriends seemed to have lost interest in school, while others seemed to be purposely trying to get lower grades. One friend told me she had stopped studying hard because she didn't "want to be different." I wanted to fit in, too, but I still wanted the good grades, so I chose to keep studying and to keep my grades to myself.
That was more than thirty years ago, and a lot has changed. In the U.S., young women now outnumber young men in college. Even so, women are still greatly outnumbered in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The same is true in Japan. But if society decides that being a rikejo is cool, more young women will go into the STEM fields.
But what can influence the way people perceive women in science? To answer that, we need to look at what inspires people in any field, and one answer is a high-profile role model. Take Neil Armstrong, for instance. He made a generation of kids dream of going into space. Likewise, Amelia Earhart inspired women to follow their dreams. You don't have to go back in history to find inspiration, though. The snowboarder Ayumu Hirano's recent win at the Olympics is sure to make hundreds if not thousands of kids want to take up winter sports. It's amazing, really, how big an impact one really popular person can have. So what Japan needs is a rikejo superstar, and for a while it looked like they had found her.
This would-be superstar is Haruko Obokata. Her rise in the scientific community was quick. At age 30, she became a household name when the news broke about her research on a special kind of stem cells called STAP cells. No doubt because she also happens to be young and beautiful, Obokata quickly became a minor celebrity in Japan. She could have inspired lots of little girls in Japan to become rikejo.
Now, however, that seems unlikely to happen. Soon after it was published, Obokata's team's research came under scrutiny. Since then, Obokata herself has been found guilty of misconduct based on evidence of falsification and fabrication. Now, she is seen by many as lacking ethics and integrity. Of course, there may be some who wonder if she isn't being used as a scapegoat, but I doubt there are many young women looking up to her as a role model. I hope this scandal hasn't tarnished the image of rikejo too much, and I hope it won't be long before a true rikejo superstar is born.
 tech school 技術系の専門学校．
 rikejo fair リケジョ向け説明会．
 (laboratory＞) lab coat 研究着，白衣．
 set up a new house 新居（での新生活）を構える．
 It wasn't that . . . …というわけではなかった．次の文冒頭と呼応．
 brainiac 非常に頭のいい［知的な］人間，頭脳人間．漫画の「スーパーマン」に登場する超知的異星人の名より（研究社『新英和大辞典』第6版）．
 with one's nose in books 本にかじりついて，本とにらめっこして．
 behind (進度が)おくれて．
 straight As (＝A's) オール5，全優．
 Miss Smarty Pants 著者が男性であったら Mr. Smart Aleck だろう．
 as crazy as it sounds おかしな話だが．
 fit in 溶け込む．
 前の文中の outnumber と態（voice）が異なることに注意．この outnumbered は後に by men が省略されている．
 STEM これが何を意味するかは続く of 以下で示されている．
 make a generation of kids dream ある世代の子どもたちに夢を持たせる．
 Amelia Earhart（b. 1898）は米国の飛行家．女性として初めて大西洋を横断飛行（1928）．1937年世界一周飛行中太平洋上で消息を絶った（前出『新英和大辞典』）．
 この would-be は英和辞典の訳語はさておき「［スーパースターに］なるかもしれなかった（人物）」くらいの意味に解すべきであろう．
 no doubt 本連載の第7回（おひとりさま）の注11を参照．