Challenging Implicit Gender Bias in Science: Positive Representations of Female Scientists in Fiction

By Merrick, Helen | Journal of Community Positive Practices, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Challenging Implicit Gender Bias in Science: Positive Representations of Female Scientists in Fiction


Merrick, Helen, Journal of Community Positive Practices


Abstract: Despite decades of research and affirmative action, women continue to be under-represented in the sciences. Cultural assumptions and stereotypes are a key factor impacting women's entry into and retention in the sciences, indicating the need for improved role models for girls in science education. This paper reviews the critical research on Media representations of female scientists, and argues that more positive role models are found in fiction. This research examines the kind of cultural work such representations might perform, analysing a diverse sample of texts from 1905 to the present. These images of female scientists provide numerous examples of positive, non-traditional role models, examples of egalitarian scientific cultures, and critiques of contemporary science. Informed by this analysis, the article considers how these representations might be used to challenge stereotypical assumptions concerning women's role in the sciences.

Key-words: Gender, science education, female scientists, representation, role models

For more than three decades, researchers and scientists have debated the "women in science" issue. Despite improvements in their position, the status of women in the sciences continues to provoke concern, as women remain underrepresented in most areas of science, have low rates of retention and are less likely to reach the higher echelons of research and academic positions.

I. Representations of women in science

As the 2006 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences noted, 'Neither our academic institutions nor our nation can afford such underuse of precious human capital in science and engineering' (NAS, 2006, 1).While these trends are mirrored in most of Western Europe (and other countries such as Australia), The Unesco Science Report 2010 shows that despite their pre-eminence in terms of research output and expenditure, the U.S. and Western Europe are outperformed by other countries in terms of gender equity (Schneegans, 2010). Women form close to 50% of science researchers in a number of countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southern Asia.1 In contrast, while US women's share of undergraduate degrees has soared in some areas, across most of the sciences women are less likely to continue on to advanced degrees or scientific careers. A 2011 National Science Foundation report shows that while women in the US now account for well over half of undergraduate degrees in areas such as biological sciences (59.8%) and medical science (84.5), they remain a minority in areas such as Engineering (18.5%) and Computer sciences (17.7% - down from 28% in 2000). Further, while women's share of graduate studies has improved in the last few years, these figures don't flow onto senior academic and career positions.2 Women's share of S&E occupations is roughly half that of their participation in the general workforce, with a much lower percentage of jobs in professions such as Physical scientists (32%), Math/computer scientists (25%), and Engineers (11%) (NSF, 2011). So why do US women continue to fall foul of the "leaky pipeline"?

The example of countries which have achieved gender parity suggest that it is not lack of interest that keeps women out of science, but rather a complex mix of social, cultural, economic and political factors. The extensive body of research into the women in science question has documented numerous factors which impact on women's ability and desire to follow a career in science (Eisenhart & Finkel, 1998; Lederman & Bartsch, 2001; Rosser, 2004; NAS, 2006). A central concern are the factors influencing girls' early education choices, and how these are shaped by gender schemas, cultural stereotypes, and peer influence (NSF, 2003; Stake & Nickens, 2005; Dweck, 2007; Halpern, 2007; Hines, 2007). The 2006 NAS report, Beyond Bias and Barriers confirms that the existence of 'implicit biases' continues to play a central role in women's under-representation in Science and Engineering (NAS, 2006, 3).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Challenging Implicit Gender Bias in Science: Positive Representations of Female Scientists in Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.