There are a lot of reasons we see fewer girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. It’s not encouraged in schools, math and science toys are marketed to boys, not girls (though you should definitely check out GoldieBlox, a toy line trying to change that), and the industry itself, like game design, tends to be sexist as well. (Anyone remember scientist Matt Taylor’s choice of a shirt full of scantily clad ladies during the broadcast of the historic landing of a ship on a comet? Classy, sir.) How do we change this? One way Hollywood can help is to give us more examples of women with jobs and interests in STEM.
Geena Davis said it beautifully in the McKinsey Quarterly: “If women are depicted as one-dimensional, stereotyped, hyper sexualized, or simply not there at all, it sends a clear message: women are not as important as men. And that has an enormous impact on business and society.” President Obama weighed in on this as well. He told NBC during an interview, “Girls for example. We don’t lift up models of them being successful in STEM … we very rarely see on television, female engineers.”
Embarrassing as this is to admit, when I was a really little kid, my mom took me to the doctor. When she came in, I kept saying that she was the nurse. In defense of my three-year-old self, why would I have thought any differently? That was all I saw on TV. If we were going by entertainment back then, my career options were pretty limited. I could choose from actress, model, designer and undercover spy. (OK, the last one seems pretty cool.) These things do have an impact on kids. Study after study says so. I’d tell you how many, but math is hard, you guys! There are dozens of shirts that tell me so.
We can talk about how things are getting better, and they are. Look at shows like “Doc McStuffins” and films like “Big Hero 6.” We’ve got fantastic female engineers in that one, but it’s still somewhat jarring to see. When the discussion after the film is all about how cool it is to finally see that, one is struck by the fact that it has to happen at all.
The few great examples for girls are usually drowned out by things like the Barbie book “I Can Be a Computer Engineer.” If you haven’t seen it, the storyline has Barbie trying to design a game and not able to do it without the help of her male friends. There are lines like, “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steve and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.” Oh, Barbie, you silly girl. Go back to your frozen yogurt.
What’s important here is that we make some changes across the board. Maybe the engineer in your favorite TV episode is a woman. (By the way, she doesn’t have to be either super sexy with the bun and glasses or super derpy, because that’s supposed to be what women who choose this career looks like.) It doesn’t have to be an event where a technician who shows up to answer a call is — big reveal — a woman. Shock! Change what the face of STEM careers looks like in entertainment and I guarantee we’re going to see a change in who decides to go into STEM careers.