Monday, June 1, 2015

The Struggle for Women in STEM

In my research of my junior theme topic on women in science, I came across some startling numbers. In 2012, the percentage of women that indicated an interest in majoring in science and engineering fields in college was 33.5%, while the percentage of men who indicated the same interest was 45.8% (National Science Foundation). These seemed like perfect statistics to begin my paper - why was the science career gap between genders so wide three years ago, and can we still see it today? For the answer to my first question, I turned to the media - specifically, commercials.

In my experience in being constantly bombarded with advertisements for all sorts of items on TV, I have found that it's not uncommon for ads to be geared towards a specific gender. For example, Barbie doll ads are usually geared towards young girls, who are shown playing with the dolls, while some other toy like superhero-themed Legos are geared more towards young boys. Many companies fall prey to these gendered ads, and in the 1970s, Apple was no different. The first home computer was released by Apple in 1977, and the commercials advertising the product were wildly gendered. I watched a couple of them, one that aired in 1985, and took notes on it. The young male character named "Brian" (who, we find out, wants to be an astronaut) goes to school and uses an Apple computer while the narrator says: “Whatever Brian wants to be, an Apple personal computer can help him be it” (YouTube). What I found very fascinating about this ad was the way the young male character leans over to the young female's computer and fiddles with her program, as if to mess her computer up. Even as I viewed it, the message that the commercial sent out was that boys were allowed to play with computers, while girls would only ever be subject to someone messing their program up and wouldn't become "an astronaut or marine biologist" like Brian (YouTube).


I was linked to this video from an NPR article titled "When Women Stopped Coding," which suggests that the gendered commercials may have had an impact on how many women went into science in the 1970s. A graph displayed on the website shows that since 1965, the amount of women in medical school, law school, and the physical sciences steadily rose - but later in 1985, the amount of women in computer science dropped drastically because “as personal computers became more common, computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home” (NPR). However, many times the only students that grew up with computers were the boys, thus making them more able to keep up with their professors because they came into a class knowing how to use a computer, while the girls had been left behind and now struggled to understand the computers the way their male counterparts did. My interviewee, Jessica Kinzelman, supported this theory that gendered commercials contributed to the fall of women in computer-based careers, as she had entered into Texas A&M as a chemical engineering major, only to find that she was the only woman in her class and "didn’t even know how to turn the computer on" (Personal interview).

Obviously, this is only one theory out of many possible ones that can explain the fall of women in STEM classes or careers, but I do think that it is a very valid argument to be made.

What do you think about gendered commercials and how they contribute to the lack of women in STEM? Do you think this argument should be considered when analyzing how to get more women back into STEM careers?

1 comment:

  1. Phoebe, Nice job blogging overall this term. You offer a strong # and a strong range of posts. This post nicely offers links, a pic, and some emphasis choices in language. You might focus the post a little further -- start with the NPR piece, or else readers will wonder what occasioned this harkening back to the JT -- but overall good work.

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