Geez, research like this makes women seem stupid and it’s so irritating:
This geeky image is at odds with the way that many girls see themselves. Work from our lab shows that when high school girls see Star Trek posters and video games in a computer science classroom, they are less interested than boys in taking the course. When the classroom is devoid of décor, girls still opt out. It is only when an alternate image of computer science is presented by replacing geeky objects with art and nature posters that girls become as interested as boys.
All this matters a great deal because optional courses not only reinforce current gender divides—they magnify them. Because boys are more likely to opt in to pre-college experiences with computer science, when they get to college, they dominate introductory courses. Girls who come in without the same knowledge tend to believe they are worse at computer science and not cut out for the field.
If a woman/teen girl/young girl shows an interest in the STEM fields, she better get used to geeky men who like geeky things like Star Trek and sci-fi. It goes with the territory. Why? Not because it’s sexist but because men have a more natural facility toward science and engineering and math.
Some years ago, I took an aptitude test that put my ability to see in three dimensions and higher math skill in above the 9oth% percentile for women. Amongst men, I was only slightly above average. Skewing this engineering ability was my personality which was highly social and verbal–tending to a task like drawing and figuring the angles of a bridge is solitary work and not given to lots of words. So, while I could do the work, I’d be competing against men who were much more skilled and like being alone while completing the task–something that would be dissatisfying for me day to day.
P.S. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, and sci-fi generally. Plus, I’m a Tolkien nerd and played D&D as a kid.
While I’m nerdy, my career choices were driven by my aptitude and personality. Sexism had squat to do with it. Science and biology, though, did. The science is this: an average man will tend to have higher natural mathematical and engineering capability than the above average woman. Conversely, the average woman will tend to have a higher natural verbal reasoning, empathy, and social ability than the above average man. These are biological trends.
The reason there are more male engineers and more female therapists and teachers is not sexism, it’s because people tend to gravitate toward what they’re good at because it feels easier. It takes less time and effort to become an expert. The success cycle is self-reinforcing.
That does not mean that women cannot be great engineers or that men cannot be great teachers. In fact, the men and women who filter into those fields tend to be extraordinary because they tend to have way above average aptitudes in those fields. That makes them special.
If a girl is put off a STEM course like computer science because she sees a Star Trek (or other geeky) poster, I would suggest that she isn’t that inclined to be in the STEM field, period. Engineers aren’t known for that level of social sensitivity because they’re stronger mathematically and visually. There are far greater hurdles to achievement in the STEM fields than posters. First among them is that the young woman will be competing against men who are more naturally inclined to the profession. She’ll have to get used to it.
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