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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:00 PM
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Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

While reading about backlash from a European Girls in STEM initiative, I found this article about female role-models for younger girls. Often times we talk about how to increase female participation in FIRST/STEM, and I feel like role models are a huge part of it.

The article says that the more "feminine/girly" the role model is, the more she discourages younger females in the pursuit of STEM. I feel like this is counter-intuitive, I always thought that if girls could see that loving STEM doesn't mean you have to be less "girly", it would have a positive impact (or at least I appreciated seeing that in a TAs of mine at college).

The reason, the article says, is that girls see being both feminine and STEM-smart as unattainable, and therefor are threatened/intimidated.

Personally, I wonder if the researched asked the girls how "feminine" they see themselves. I think girls [people] don't want to feel pressured to change how they act/dress/etc and so a role-model who is different from them is threatening/hard to identify with.

Thoughts?
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Unread 06-26-2012, 06:20 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

I just read both this study* and another written in 2011**, and examined some of their citations. (One*** struck me as more relevant to your direction in addressing the salience of gendered perception).

This is quite interesting. The distancing from and sub-stereotyping of STEM-skilled women is incredibly robust across STEM-disinterested female [and male] subjects, regardless of age or self-perceived gender salience. Girls/women not already interested in STEM almost universally report decreased likelihood of studying STEM after interaction with an overtly feminine STEM role model, essentially based on the representativeness heuristic. Overtly feminine STEM role models also decrease younger girls' perception of their abilities regardless of their initial interest in STEM or personal characteristics.

As an aside, no one herein found a correlation between salience of model femininity and girls' positive feelings or perceived similarity with them. i.e., "This argues against the idea that girls connect better with feminine women. It also suggests that participantsí reactions to our role models were not driven by perceived dissimilarity" (Betz).

In short, the feminine role model works for you and I because we're already interested in STEM (and believe we can succeed). Overtly feminine STEM models can be encouraging, but aren't eye-opening. In fact, they're actually eye-closing.

*"My Fair Physicist? Feminine Math and Science Role Models Demotivate Young Girls"
Social Psychological and Personality Science, Betz & Sekaquaptewa (2012)

**"Do Female and Male Role Models Who Embody STEM Stereotypes Hinder Women's Anticipated Success in STEM?"
Social Psychological and Personality Science, Cheryan, et al. (2011)

***"Constraints into Preferences: Gender, Status, and Emerging Career Aspirations"
American Sociological Review, Correll (2004)
Note these particular links probably only work if you attend Penn State.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 07:27 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

Being a HVAC - Plumbing Contractor working in homes doing repairs, I have observed the parenting of many young children over the years. If this country wants to bring more females into the stem work force, the problem needs to be addressed at the early child development years. To me it seams that most moms even if they them selves are in a stem career do not nurture stem in their daughters and actual block a fathers efforts. The blocking of play that helps with stem development really increases when they enter the play group stage. Add to that societies perception of what a girl should be delivered thru media and it's not surprising that the large majority of girls do not want anything to do with a stem career. Watch the Disney Channel and other cartoons to see what society tells our children to be. I find it scary the messages in many of these programs. To try and address the problem at the high school years is to late. Girls have already accepted the message of society as to what they should do and the behaviors that are expected by society from them. Find the kids male and female at a young age that have stem leanings and start nurturing them then. Toy selection by parents is critical. Play is critical. The children's media Must change their message. Society must change its message. How do you do that? I would consider any woman in a stem career now to be a true non-conformist. They totally ignored society's message. Just my opinion.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 08:24 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

Don't go too far with that idea. Listen to Richard Feynman talk about trying to encourage both his son and his daughter to pursue science -- it worked for his son, and didn't work for his daughter.

In my family, it worked for some of the boys but not others.

People are different. I'm not convinced that STEM/gender distinctions are all that important, either in recognition or in something that needs remedy. I've got very, very STEM-interested girls in my robotics programs, and I've got boys who I couldn't drag in no matter what.

I think my perspective on this comes from a rather fierce individualism -- peoples is peoples, and likes what they likes. I think it's important to try to get everyone to try new things, just to see if they like them, and to pursue their passions with relentless tenacity -- and I think we should make no distinction based on gender, skin color, creed, geography, socio-economic status, or anything else.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 09:29 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Originally Posted by pfreivald View Post
I think my perspective on this comes from a rather fierce individualism -- peoples is peoples, and likes what they likes. I think it's important to try to get everyone to try new things, just to see if they like them, and to pursue their passions with relentless tenacity -- and I think we should make no distinction based on gender, skin color, creed, geography, socio-economic status, or anything else.
Personally I think this is closer to the root of the issue. Do many peer groups and media sources stereotype STEM as masculine? Yes (see any of above studies for empiricism). Parents, teachers, and other parties may also contribute. But providing contrary role models doesn't change that stereotype (in fact, it creates an detrimental heuristic controversy).

Short of altering the entire culture at large [not that I don't advocate that], the thing that changes this is inspiring kids' confidence in their own individuality. If they like what they like and have the self-worth to stand up for it--or to search for it, and/or just deal with the peer pressure in general, it won't matter what those peers or anyone else says. Elementary and middle (and high, and post-secondary) schools, at least the ones I went to, are filled with girls/women--and men--that say 'I wanted to do that, but it just wasn't ok'. IMHO, that's what needs to change.

In short, yes, if you can raise your kids to follow their dreams no matter what anyone says, and the rest will go a lot smoother.

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People are different. I'm not convinced that STEM/gender distinctions are all that important, either in recognition or in something that needs remedy.
Here I have to disagree with you. Of course, as in anything, there are some girls that love STEM (the board is full of them) and some guys that hate it. But whether there's a quantitative gender gap in STEM? Statistically, there's no doubt there is. At least for myself, I can't see a way that it's entirely individual/internal. There's an external biasing going on here, and I do feel it needs a remedy.
Women hold 48% of all jobs but only 24% of STEM. They earn more than half the undergraduate degrees in the US but only hold 27% in STEM (and many of those in biological sciences only). Only 1 in 7 engineers is female. The list goes on.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 09:55 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Elementary and middle (and high, and post-secondary) schools, at least the ones I went to, are filled with girls/women--and men--that say 'I wanted to do that, but it just wasn't ok'. IMHO, that's what needs to change.
Yup.

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Here I have to disagree with you. Of course, as in anything, there are some girls that love STEM (the board is full of them) and some guys that hate it. But whether there's a quantitative gender gap in STEM? Statistically, there's no doubt there is.
Absolutely. The question is whether or not that matters. There are those who will cry that of course it matters, and they have a host of reasons why they will say so. To me, if any given person does/does not go into STEM because they are pursuing a passion that does/does not coincide with STEM -- for whatever reason -- that's totally fine. The problem is, IMO, people who choose to chase no passion, or at least not insofar as it requires hard work and dedication.

The trick is showing kids that STEM is at least a possibility, and give them the opportunity to develop a passion for it if they choose to do so, regardless of physiology.
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Unread 06-26-2012, 10:13 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

Katie, take a look at these few articles. I firmly believe that the heart of the the problem is, like you said, not having enough female role models in industry

My favorite quote about the matter, "Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, you will need mentors at every level of your career" - Jane Reckelhoff

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org....opms.r1000084
and more recently
http://www.usnews.com/education/high...le-stem-majors


oh and btw, thanks for being one of those female role model/mentors
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Unread 06-26-2012, 02:59 PM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Originally Posted by Gdeaver View Post
Being a HVAC - Plumbing Contractor working in homes doing repairs, I have observed the parenting of many young children over the years. If this country wants to bring more females into the stem work force, the problem needs to be addressed at the early child development years. To me it seams that most moms even if they them selves are in a stem career do not nurture stem in their daughters and actual block a fathers efforts. The blocking of play that helps with stem development really increases when they enter the play group stage. Add to that societies perception of what a girl should be delivered thru media and it's not surprising that the large majority of girls do not want anything to do with a stem career. Watch the Disney Channel and other cartoons to see what society tells our children to be. I find it scary the messages in many of these programs. To try and address the problem at the high school years is to late. Girls have already accepted the message of society as to what they should do and the behaviors that are expected by society from them. Find the kids male and female at a young age that have stem leanings and start nurturing them then. Toy selection by parents is critical. Play is critical. The children's media Must change their message. Society must change its message. How do you do that? I would consider any woman in a stem career now to be a true non-conformist. They totally ignored society's message. Just my opinion.
This...actually could have been the answer to one of the essay questions on my women's psych final last semester.

At very young ages, children start to seek out people that are similar to them and may attempt to mimic that behavior. Children as young as 2 years old develop some form of gender identity. There was one study that showed that, by 24 months, children already produce more gender-typed words (i.e. "truck" for boys vs "doll" for girls). They learn through play and through socialization. Even if parents take caution in not reinforcing stereotypes in their own homes, other children outside the home have been "taught" the norms for their gender. As they grow older, the pressure for gender conformity increases--you'll often notice girls who were once "tomboys" shift to being more "feminine" around middle school age as that pressure increases.

As has already been discussed in this thread, STEM is almost always cast as being more "masculine" so I won't go into how that, along with gender development, create the sort of problem we see today.

It really is a societal problem. Richard Feynman's story may be a case of this. Though he was telling his daughter one thing, everything else in the world was going against that.

Even if we "fix" this sort of problem, there are theories that some "feminine" (or as some psychologists prefer to call them "expressive") and "masculine" (or "instrumental") traits are inherent and that, regardless of the socialization or non-enforcement of stereotypes or what is in each child's gender schema, girls will almost always go towards dolls and boys will always go towards trucks. I don't think I am one to support such a theory--just saying that there are some like it.

Going back to the original post, perhaps having overly attractive and "feminine" STEM role models brings up the other insecurities that many girls already have about themselves. We've all heard about the impact the messages in the media do to girls, especially when it comes to their appearances and their bodies. Maybe presenting them with these overly feminine, good-looking women just plays right into that as well. They might see them and think "Look how much better this woman is than I am" rather than "Wow! I can be a girl AND a scientist!"

And, Siri, yes the links only work if you go to PSU. Thankfully, I was able to find them via UMD's catalogs as well.
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Unread 06-27-2012, 10:20 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Find the kids male and female at a young age that have stem leanings and start nurturing them then.
Emphasis mine. This is really the key. If you show a girl who doesn't want to be a scientist a picture of a female scientist, they aren't going to be motivated to be a scientist. It doesn't matter if the woman on the poster is as stunning as a supermodel or as ugly and masculine as a cave troll, the kid ain't gonna wanna do science. But for girls that do want to do STEM, it's a real toss up. From my personal experience:
When I was young(er), I hated the overly feminine STEM ladies. It didn't stop me from wanting to be an astronaut, but to me, it didn't seem realistic. I honestly couldn't fathom how someone who liked dolls and Disney musicals could be an engineer. My role model was Eileen Collins, the baddest of badasses, and so intimidating that she got into the first class of female test pilots despite being half an inch too short. (I asked her about this in a phone conversation once. She apparently gave the guy measuring her a death glare and he wrote down the minimum height instead of her real height. WHAT A GAL) But when I joined FIRST I met Victoria Sprague, a girl who liked dolls and Disney musicals and somehow enjoyed engineering. She preferred feminine role models, and hoped to be one herself (and succeeded the next year by making team captain and getting several "girly-girls" to realize they wanted to be engineers).
My point is that the people who make these motivational posters and videos need to be balanced in how they portray female STEM role models. For every video of how science makes your makeup, there needs to be a Rosy the Riveter out-muscling linebackers with a wrench or Sam Carter fixing old motorcycles after coming home from a hard day of interdimensional wormhole physics. And more to the original point of this thread, realism is the key here. The video from the original article? Faker than all the noses in Hollywood combined. That will turn most girls off simply because of how silly it all is. Kari Byron firing a minigun in a gorgeous evening gown? Even my super girly friends think that it's perhaps the coolest thing anyone's done in opera gloves, because that's how she is in real life. Little kids are very perceptive. They know when they're being lied to, and the study suggests that these girls would rather see real women from the industry instead of pinups and bad acting. It also suggests that girls who don't have the right mindset for STEM see these fake scientists and assume the worst, which is troublesome because, through peer pressure, girls who might have been interested are influenced to also assume bad things about ladies in STEM.
Just my insanely disorganized thoughts. I'm glad this is a topic of concern right now.
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Unread 06-27-2012, 11:04 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

At the core of STEM is the desire to discover/create something cool, and that desire must take precedence over image, or it comes across as fake. Someone with an obvious passion for a scientific endeavor, and oh, by the way, they happen to be good-looking, too, works. But a video which demonstrates someone who has obviously expended their best, most serious time and effort into looking attractive, and oh, by the way, in their leftover time, they're into science, too, leaves a bad taste. This applies to both women and men, but especially so for women, because physical attractiveness has historically been emphasized for them.

Most STEM pursuits take time and effort that require sacrifice, and for many, it may require "looking bad" in one way or another. When my son was about 5, we went to a park with a group of moms and kids, and the kids began the day digging in the sand. After 5 - 10 minutes, all the kids but my son ran off to the play equipment. Mother after mother (thinking him anti-social) asked him, "Don't you want to join the other kids?" to which he answered, "No, thanks, I'm doing something." After 30 minutes, he gave a shout of excitement -- he had dug his way down to the water table, and was tunneling underneath the sand. Upon this discovery, all the other kids returned to this new "cool" activity. But whether the kids thought him cool or not, he would have preferred his solitary endeavor.

We cannot motivate kids to STEM with the carrot, "If you engage in STEM, you'll look cool." Rather we should entice them, "If you engage in STEM, you'll discover/create something cool, and what you discover/create is more fulfilling than how you look.

Regarding the U of M study, I think one component to the turnoff is spotlighting only the highest-achieving STEM women, without showing the range of STEM opportunities at the lower and middle levels. Many moons ago, I attended U of M and worked for 2 years at the Kresge Hearing Research lab there. It was obvious that my BSEE/MS BioE would be insufficient to continue working long-term in that capacity (I would really need a PhD), and the long hours (sometimes until 2 am) were not conducive to having the kind of family I wanted. I ended up getting a MA in math and have taught part-time at a junior college, while raising my family almost full-time. Still STEM, less prestigious, but more sustainable over the long haul for what I wanted to do. Some of my adult algebra students have told me, "I'd like to be a math teacher, like you" and are now teaching at the elementary and high school level. If they thought that being in STEM required getting an engineering degree, it might have scared them off.

I think it would be helpful to think of STEM in broader terms -- just as auto mechanics and computer technicians perform engineering/technical work, medical personnel, including the array of nursing and medical assisting jobs are science-based, and bringing them under the STEM umbrella makes the field more approachable, attainable, and familiar. Many of us know a mechanic, nurse, or high school science teacher that could inspire us to think, "I could do that," and they don't have to be "gender-locked."
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Unread 06-27-2012, 04:12 PM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Originally Posted by Astrokid248 View Post
My point is that the people who make these motivational posters and videos need to be balanced in how they portray female STEM role models. For every video of how science makes your makeup, there needs to be a Rosy the Riveter out-muscling linebackers with a wrench or Sam Carter fixing old motorcycles after coming home from a hard day of interdimensional wormhole physics.
...
Little kids are very perceptive. They know when they're being lied to, and the study suggests that these girls would rather see real women from the industry instead of pinups and bad acting.
Of everything you mentioned, I'm just picking out these two points... I completely agree - truth and balance are really important here... I mean, as a girl interested in STEM and now the captain of my team I want to be a role model to girls... but the message I would like to portray is that ANYONE can do it - it's not limited to any particular demographic... gender, age, race, whatever!
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Unread 06-27-2012, 04:39 PM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

We have wonderful role models, we just don't do a great job of promoting them.

Jane
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Unread 06-28-2012, 01:57 AM
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

I never thought about girls being turned off to additional standards, which does make sense. Why would anyone want to have more pressure? I really do appreciate all the additional articles added to this thread. This is something I've become incredibly interested in in the past few weeks.

After reading all of this though, I now wonder what effect I have on younger girls that I see/mentor. As someone who would like to be a positive role model, I wonder if I am having a positive effect. Am I too girly? Not girly enough? Am I giving girls in engineering a bad name?

There is an additional pressure that I have (that I don't think many male mentors think about)* that I must accurately portray what a strong female can look like. I never want my students to think that I am being quiet because girls are quiet or that I am being vocal because I am overcompensating. Now I will also be worried that I am either setting an unattainable of unattractive goal. I don't know if this is a concern or many female mentors or not, because its not something I've discussed with any other EM females.

*I want to clarify** that because they are so few female EMs, what each one does is far more representative of our group than one male EM. Its is similar to how in a group of 6, each member has a sixth of the responsibility, whereas in a group of 100, each member has a hundredth of the responsibility. I hope this makes sense as to why I (and maybe other female EMs) think I am more pressured to be a positive role-model and representative for girls and other female EMs.

** I am clarifying to prevent others from posting that I am "victimizing" myself or unnecessarily adding these pressures to myself without understanding why I think the way I do.
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Unread 06-28-2012, 08:31 AM
Jessica Boucher Jessica Boucher is offline
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

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Originally Posted by Katie_UPS View Post
After reading all of this though, I now wonder what effect I have on younger girls that I see/mentor. As someone who would like to be a positive role model, I wonder if I am having a positive effect. Am I too girly? Not girly enough? Am I giving girls in engineering a bad name?

Woah, woah, woah. Don't drive yourself nuts here. Your students will choose who they look up to, not the other way around. Just be yourself, be honest, and most importantly, be present. The best role models are the ones you can relate to.
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Unread 06-28-2012, 09:04 AM
Jon Stratis Jon Stratis is offline
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Re: Research says: Feminine STEM role models do not motivate girls

Working with an all girls team, I know the team feels like they should be role models to younger girls and girls on other teams. We do that a few ways. The students strive to be the best engineers they can be, the entire team strives to maintain a positive outlook and high, productive energy levels. Lastly, the students are honest with other girls about what its like being on the team.

As a role model, all you can do is be yourself. If you try to impress too hard, you'll end up turning people off. We all know sports figures who tried really hard to get their names in the press and stay "popular". The other side of that are the sports figures who try their best in the game and have natural talent that everyone looks up to. They give credit to their team, and don't try overly hard to impress in front of the press. Which do you look up to more?

Regardless of your own personal style, students will be inspired just by working with you and being supported by you and other mentors in the program. Remember, it's not our job to tell them the "one and only" way to be an engineer. It's our job to get them interested and excited about engineering. They'll figure out their own style as they go.
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