Pages

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Feminine role models in math/science: It's not very effective

Found an interesting article: My fair physicist? Feminine math, science role models do not motivate girls (posted April 24, 2012)

Summary: Presenting women engineers/scientists as feminine results in girls having less interest in math/science/etc.  This was determined in a study involving middle school girls who identified themselves as liking math and science.  The girls then read articles about female college students, some of which were described in feminine ways (for example, wearing makeup) and some described in neutral ways, and some were described as successful in a science-related field, while the others were described as successful in their classes in general.  The "feminine" "STEM role models" resulted in the study participants being less interested in pursuing science-related fields.

It seems to me like the stereotype "you can't be feminine and good at math/science/engineering" is working from several different angles here.

Oh, and by the way, I'm a female engineering student.

Is it that girls themselves subconsciously believe that feminine women won't be good at engineering?  So when they see the example "role model" who likes to wear pink, she appears less like a real engineer and more like a cute gimmick?  So instead of "look, you can be feminine AND an engineer" it comes across as "girls have to be feminine like this, even if they're engineers, so they can't be real engineers"?

I'm speculating here, but I know that I subconsciously have that stereotype too- I tend to think that if some female professor or engineering student seems more feminine, she's not as smart.  WHICH IS WRONG OF COURSE- dude, I'm a freaking female engineering student, and I want to be beautiful and feminine and awesome, and write code forever.  And I still subconsciously believe that stereotype.  That's so DUMB.

No seriously, how do I get rid of that?  That's the dumbest thing ever.  Of all people...

I've always said the "we need to get more girls in math/science/etc" thing seemed dumb- as if there's some God-ordained magical quota.  If girls want to do science, great, if not, great- people should pursue what they're interested in, and who knows how the ratios will work out.

But the problem is when girls who are interested in science and would be really good at it decide not to, through some combination of cultural influences, sexism, assumptions, and personal choice. 

My question for you: How do you interpret the results of the study in the article?  What is your experience with the stereotype that femininity and engineering skill are opposed?  What is the effect of this stereotype on society?

4 comments:

  1. >I've always said the "we need to get more girls in math/science/etc" thing seemed dumb- as if there's some God-ordained magical quota. If girls want to do science, great, if not, great- people should pursue what they're interested in, and who knows how the ratios will work out.

    The idea is more like, "We should not actively discourage women in Math and Science" which is what we are currently doing.

    Here is a good post on the matter as it related to my profession (Computer Science): http://mattgemmell.com/2012/04/20/misogyny/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool, thanks for posting the link. My favorite part was "being treated as a student, rather than a 'girl', is very important in building confidence"- which should be obvious, but people are dumb. -_-

      Delete
  2. I originally wrote this four years ago. I have since been head mentor of an all-girl high school robotics team, but my thoughts haven't changed much:

    Bottom line: girls shouldn't have to work any harder to do what they want. That one's a fault of the guys and the attitudes. A lot of them are unintentional and subconscious. It is harder to accept a girl as "just one of the guys," so to speak.
    On the other hand, there's a stigma amongst girls too. I really don't want to believe that girls are "naturally" disinclined toward science, technology, math, machining, or robots. However, I think if you did a survey, many more girls would call this kind of thing boring, stupid, uninteresting, or (in the case of manual work) dirty. Why is this? Society, women included, has decided that women don't like this kind of thing.
    Until we stop talking about "woman engineers" they will always be a novelty. By that I mean that they can't be a spectacle, a statistic, or a quota. They need to do this because they want to, and we (as a whole, women and men) need to accept them because of their skills and enthusiasm, not their gender.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said. I think one could argue that since there's prejudice/stigma specifically against girls, there should also be encouragement/recognition/rewards specifically for girls, in order to counter that. I don't know how that should be played out in a practical sense though- for example, I don't want any special recognition, I don't want any "here's an award for girls who do math." Because I didn't do anything special- I just realized the obvious fact that there's nothing else as interesting as math and engineering, and I never had any doubt about that.

      So yeah. In summary, I have a lot of opinions about this, but no actual solution. ;D

      Delete

AddThis

ShareThis

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...