Kids and Scientists: Media Stereotypes and Gender-bias

7 years ago

With all the talk of sex discrimination in science, I found this post over on Restructure to be an interesting one. It shows kids drawings of what they think a "scientist" looks like before and after a visit to Fermilab. Before the visit, scientists looked a lot like this:

And afterward they look a little more like this:

You should really look at the actual drawings, they are pretty cute.

As I blogged before, I am pretty convinced that the (inaccurate) way scientists are portrayed in the media even from a young age, (for example Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Disney's Phineas and Ferb, a current fave in the LabFamily household) influence our kids' ideas much more than even close contact with actual scientists.

image courtesty of dragoart
Even the LabChildren (who have both a female and male scientist parent) would identify a scientist as a crazy man in a white lab coat. Mommy and Daddy are just way to "normal" to be scientists. Yes, they have been to where we work, they have seen the test tubes and beakers, and they still believe all we do is play on the computer all day. In their eyes "real" scientists clearly do all their work in dimly lit rooms with strangely colored backlighting and insta-output DNA sequencers (a la CSI). Or they must be busy constructing giant ray-guns in order to remove the underpants of their unsuspecting arch-nemesis. (I mean, isn't that what scientists really do?) So what does that mean for gender bias down the line? As much as we may not want to admit it, I believe that if children continually hear that scientists are typically men they have no other reason to believe other wise. Why wouldn't they believe that women are inferior in those types of careers if no women are portrayed as successful on TV or in the movies? Now granted, as kids get older they will intellectually understand that there are female scientists (just like, disappointingly, there are no underpants-removing ray guns), but there will always underlie that subconscious gender bias. The silent (and sometimes even spoken) assumption that any scientist who is truly successful must be a male. And as the Fermilab experiement shows, it is going to take a lot of exposure therapy (aka Bring our kids to work day) to change those beliefs, since I doubt you are going to see a huge shift in mainstream media anytime soon.
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