Looking through magazines aimed specifically at women (including most parenting magazines), you might be forgiven for thinking that women have no interest in science or technology. I’m not the demographic these publications are aimed at, of course: I’m not even a parent, much less a woman. Of course there are plenty of magazines consumed by women and men alike, though I can also think of some that are far too guy-focused. That’s not what this is about: for a busy woman who doesn’t have time to read much, women’s magazines and woman-oriented blogs may be a primary outlet.
Women working outside the home still spend a lot more time doing housework than men in similar situations, so obviously there are societal pressures that limit leisure time for reading for many women. However, in my view, that’s an even stronger argument for expanding the content of women’s and parenting magazines. Moms aren’t one-dimensional creatures, focused entirely on domestic matters: they are full human beings with wide-ranging interests. (That I’m even saying this is absurd. Come on, society. You suck.)
My friend and colleague Elana (with whom I’m collaborating on a research project) is an applied mathematician currently working in mathematical biology. (Here’s an explanation of one aspect of our project.) She is also mother to a young boy, and she writes: “I may actually read the parenting magazines if they had something about advice for science activities and teaching science to kids. They are SOOOOO stupid and boring.” I imagine she’s not along in that sentiment; even people who read the parenting magazines primarily for advice on potty training may also wish for sciency goodness as well.
I care deeply about public science education: science is for everyone. When I was planetarium director, obviously a lot of parents brought their kids in for shows, and I made a point of trying to reach both the kids and grown-ups in the crowd. After all, kids are going to ask questions of their mom or dad, and Mom deserves the dignity of knowing and providing those answers herself.
You might ask whether woman-oriented magazines and blog networks are the right venue, but I say “why not?” Most of us don’t subscribe to or buy that many magazines; I bet that magazines could increase their subscriptions (and possibly even advertising revenue) if they expanded content, and they probably wouldn’t lose anybody. In fact, Elana reminds me that women’s magazines used to have science sections and puzzles, which have mostly vanished over the years. I can’t imagine anyone saying “I’m not interested in science, so I’ll stop subscribing to a magazine because they run one article per issue about astronomy.” Really the only argument against expanding to include stuff like this is a belief that women are dumb one-dimensional creatures, who care for nothing but home-making. (Emily Willingham on Twitter used the phrase “monolith of maternity”, which is a truly excellent description of that stereotype.) Try that one, editors. See how far insulting the intelligence of your readers gets you.
The fracturing of media into niche markets has its good and bad points, but if you think “Mommy” with no interests outside the home is a legitimate market, you relegate a huge section of the world to irrelevance. Not every mom is a scientist, and not every kid with curiosity about the natural world (which is every kid!) will become a scientist. However, to have an educated population, you need to reach everyone, and talk about things that aren’t just how to remove stains, important as that knowledge is to parents and pet owners.
Mothers are role models to their children. Mothers are also human beings with their own needs and thirst for knowledge. The sooner we as a society acknowledge all of that, the better off all of us will be.
(Many thanks to Elana Fertig, Dawn Everard, and Emily Willingham for helping me shape this post, whether they knew they were helping or not.)