Currently, I've been writing my original, nonfiction book about gender biases in STEM. It's been going great so far!
One of the areas I'm researching currently (and is absolutely fascinating) is how attitudes towards tech change from early childhood to late adolescence. But this isn't an independent event, as it directly influenced by the media and our societal biases. For example, next time you're at the movies, try using the Bechtel Test.
The Bechtel Test was developed in order to gauge female representation in media. It's very simple, and the requirements are as follows – you must have at least 2 female characters, they must talk to each other at some point in the movie, and what they talk about cannot be about a man they are interested in. That's it! Yet an astounding amount of Hollywood movies and popular TV shows fail. Not only is this hugely disappointing, but reflective of a lack of diversity in media itself. And because the media is where much of our opinions are (unconsciously) formed, it's highly important we make an effort to increase representation.
Here's a little snippet off the upcoming book that is related to bias in children's shows:
When I was younger, I constantly watched television. Every day, after waging a tiring crusade in my third grade classes, I would run home to unwind and relax with a bowl of trail mix and fruit snacks. But there was only one show that I truly enjoyed watching – the others were funny and all, but they weren’t as addictive to me as this particular title. You see, I was obsessed with a show called "The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius". Premiering in 2002, it centered around a young, suburban boy named Jimmy, living with his parents Hugh and Judy Neutron, in the town of Retroville. Jimmy, along with his friends Carl and Sheen, traveled the city in search of adventure after adventure. He was, in fact, a literal boy genius. Complete with his own secret lab, he would utilize the power of science to save the day from whatever chaos ensued and would receive steady applause from Retroville's citizens. The trio in itself was dork-like, and as a result, they would often have trouble talking to female peers Cindy and Libby.
The girls were hardly mathematical prodigies. Libby was obsessed with her clothes, constantly stylish, and never untruthful. She would flaunt the newest fashion, perform average at school, and blindly follow whatever plot Jimmy had concocted. Cindy, on the other hand, longingly pined after him. Every episode, especially as they grew older, featured Cindy running longingly beside Jimmy, wishing that they could be together. Although she seemed smart, her priorities were centered around him and not around ‘saving the day’ or being a leader. She was more than capable, however, and the writers made this clear – Cindy Vortex was a smart girl. But her plot line would exclusively develop around Jimmy’s, and where Cindy could have had meaningful input, she was reserved to be placed in the same typecast so many fictional women are directed to: the love interest of a particular someone. She never got to further her unique voice, and was left in the shadows of the male protagonist.
But what does a 2000’s children’s TV show have to do with Grace Hopper, or girls interested in technology?
Our world has made tremendous progress within a variety of issues. However, there is always more road to travel, and in the area of girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), there is still much work to be done. Equality has not been reached – not in numbers or bias. Grace Hopper broke the barriers of women shaping the world through technology, but it is subtlety in examples like Jimmy Neutron that continue building the wall. The significance of this is clear: the problem with the gender gap in STEM is one that can be directly traced to society. But the dangerous property of it is its quiet bias – something that is never apparent in our minds but forever permeates it.