Monday 1 August 2011

Women In Science... Again

To those who are not interested in promoting the interests of female scientists, I probably sound like a broken record. It was only a few weeks ago that I was bemoaning more gender stereotyping in the press. This time it is research from the fabulous UKRC that suggests women are being put off science by the stereotypes surrounding female scientists.
"UKRC research suggests women scientists are stereotyped either as frumpy, glasses-wearing cartoon geeks or uber-sexy, Bond-film glamour pusses - who shake their hair out of their specs once they have split the atom."
This is taken from the BBC news story, because I can't find the paper on the UKRC's website!

I suppose I'm more towards the "frumpy, glasses-wearing cartoon geek" end of the stereotypical spectrum. Even on shows that show science in a positive light, many of the female scientists are shown as a bit weird and utterly socially inept (exhibit A, Dr Temperance Brennan, "Bones", and exhibit B, Abby Sciuto, "NCIS"), or alternatively processing crime scenes in Armani suits and heels (exhibit B, pretty much any female character from "CSI").

Katherine made a wonderful point at Endless Possibilities v3.0, when she showed the Google image searches for various scientific disciplines. And it was very interesting to see the stereotypes of female chemists. Incidentally, the stereotypical female biologist is still in the lab coat and gloves, with test tubes and pipettes instead of conical flasks!

It seems what is needed is a concerted effort to show all manner of female scientists (and yes, I would also like to see more profiles of younger non-white male scientists who have control over their hair and who are not megalomaniacs), and to provide opportunities for young prospective scientists to interact with them. If nothing else, The Rubber-Lipped TwatTM's Dream School showed us that students respond best in a one-to-one situation with someone they find inspiring.

What this video doesn't show is what went on once the blonde girl, Danielle, was the only one left, and she had the opportunity to talk to Jane Poynter about science and research (although her profile is a little disheartening). I'm not a scientist - I just play one at conferences from time to time. For some young women, though, I am the only scientifically-minded female they know, and I'm probably not considered a great role model or mentor. I've lost track of the number of times students have said "But miss, you're really clever - you could have been a doctor. Why are you a teacher?" - suppose that shows what they think of my career choice!

Then again, perhaps specific role models can be unhelpful. After all, women do themselves no favours by attempting to morph themselves into the female scientist they admire most. Biochem Belle put it well when concluding the Scientiae Carnival on inspiring women in STEM:
The goal isn’t to become those who inspire us. It’s to find a spark of motivation, an element of respect, and - most of all - the knowledge that through all our exploits, we’re not alone.
Zombie Marie Curie puts it another way:



  1. I co-sign and the Faces of Biology contest presented by the American Institute of Biological Sciences is a great opportunity to 'show' people who biologists are, what we really look like and what we do. Would love for for young ladies to submit to this.

  2. I did read about that a couple of weeks ago - I think that's a fantastic idea. I've put a link on my teacher Facebook page to get some of last year's leavers to look through their photos. I won't see any more of my students until 12th September, which is a tight deadline!

  3. MischievousBastard11 May 2012 at 17:49

    One for the lab wall, perhaps:


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