As a woman engineer, I generally find lists of sexy women in STEM appalling. (Like, if we’re saving the damn world, why is it also necessary for us to be sexy?) I almost didn’t click through when I saw Kyla McMullen’s list of the “Sexiest Black Female Scientists” released a few days ago, but I’m so glad that I did. It’s an incredibly impressive group of women, and right at the top of the article, McMullen explains her motivation for making the list:
“This article exists to change the stereotypical image of what scientists look like, to serve as a reference or resource and to bring visibility to the breadth of beauty in science. On February 25, 2013, Business Insider created an article showcasing The Sexiest Scientists Alive! (As of 6/14/14, there is no 2014 list.). As I scrolled through the article, much to my chagrin, I observed that out of 50 scientists, there were no Black women listed. This would lead the reader to believe that either:
a) There are no Black women who are scientists, or
b) The Black women who are scientists are not good looking
Despite the magazine’s intentional or unintentional exclusion, the purpose of this article is to increase the visibility of Black female scientists and show the world that we do exist.”
Love it! The women on McMullen’s list are people that she knows personally or through a connection. They’re a wonderfully diverse group, with interests ranging from improv theater to furniture repurposing, and fields of study ranging from environmental epidemiology to wastewater treatment system design. Plus, they’ve all managed to find success in STEM fields against the double whammy of both institutional racism and sexism. Very impressive.
Let’s meet just a few.
Brooke Wages is a Facility Engineer for BP US Pipelines and Logistics. Her petroleum experience began when she became a Marathon Petroleum Scholar and worked her undergraduate summers in refineries. Currently, her team assures operating boundaries for equipment and units are understood and managed, and provides technical support for installations and hands-on troubleshooting for onshore terminals and pipelines. She sits on the Youth Works Committee for the NAACP West Chicago branch and spends a great deal of time working with the Young Champions (high school) Ministry at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. In her free time she enjoys painting, karaoke, and learning Mandarin Chinese.
Dr. Talmesha Richards is a Director of Project Partnerships at STEMconnector as well as a Science Cheerleader, who engages children with mentoring and outreach programs. Dr. Richards graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.S. in Mathematics. At UMBC she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and captain of the Dance Team. During her graduate career, she attended the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She received a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and conducted research on novel breast cancer therapeutics. Dr. Richards was an NFL Cheerleader for 8 years: 3 years with the Baltimore Ravens and 5 years with the Washington Redskins. Her last year with the Redskins, 2012-2013, she had the honor of being a captain.
Dr. Elan Hope studies academic and civic development among underrepresented minority youth, from middle school through young adulthood. As an emerging scholar, one fundamental question drives Hope’s research agenda: What makes youth successful and well-functioning members of society? With that, she takes an assets-based approach to explore factors that promote academic, civic, and psychological well-being for racially marginalized adolescents and emerging adults. In her spare time, Hope loves playing the piano and baking. Her favorite dessert is the “croissinnamon roll” a croissant-cinnamon roll hybrid that she says “tastes like heaven!”
One thing I really love about this list is how much diversity is included. As I mentioned earlier, I’m so over lists reinforcing the idea that a women’s primary value is as an aesthetic object. I think oftentimes the attractiveness of women in STEM fields is brought up as an almost subconscious way to neutralize the perceived threat of women stepping outside their gender roles — but I think McMullen has successfully sidestepped that here, and the title makes sense in the context of a response to the Business Insider article. Yes, these women are being described as “sexy,” but it’s an inclusive, stereotype-busting sexy, with a range of body types, ages, skin tones, and hairstyles that aren’t always held up as beautiful in the mainstream media. Even their clothing choices are diverse, from business casual attire to backless evening gowns.
McMullen also has this issue on her radar, planning to put out a mirrored article without “sexy” in the title:
Anyone interested in being included in round two should leave a comment at the bottom of the original article.
Business Insider has not yet responded with answers as to why there were no black women included on their original list.