Female scientists are not regarded as role models to women today according to various studies.
A study by Girlguiding UK shows that girls tend to emulate famous figures that are featured in reality TV and celebrity gossip shows. “The type of role models that they were talking to us about tend to come from the world of television, lavish lifestyles and personalities, rather than the broader range of role models, like women who work in business, sport and other walks of life,” Tracey Murray of the BBC said.
Media coverage plays a crucial factor in the publicity of female scientists and the recognition of their work by the general public. The current phenomenon is the amount of buzz which frequently surrounds the latest movies and music by top celebrities rather than the most recent scientific breakthrough by women in science. “It ‘s hard to report about scientific achievements than writing news about a new song by Beyonce,” said by Dr. Castro Alverado of City University London when asked about the factors contributing to this trend in the media.
Despite the participation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) profession are steadily increasing these past few years and achievements by female scientists have been acknowledged accordingly, women, in general, are unable to name any significant figure of their gender in which they can emulate. According to another survey conducted by women in science advocacy group Sciencegrrl in 2014, more than one in ten respondents named male engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel when asked to give an example of famous women in any STEM related field. The survey also highlighted that 68% of respondents named Marie Curie when asked if they can name a female scientist.
This further fuels public perception that engineering is a “job for boys “and the lack of well-known figures in the field are discouraging women from participating in STEM related careers. The overwhelming mention of Marie Curie shows that contribution of other famous women in science such as Ada Lovelace, Jane Goodall and Dorothy Hodgkin whose achievements are just as significant as Curie’s have yet to be properly acknowledged.
This phenomenon is reaffirmed by a survey by EDF Energy as part of their #prettycurious campaign in which Curie has the third highest mention behind male scientists Stephen Hawkings and Albert Einstein. The survey also shows that one-third of the respondents who are girls between the age of 11 and 16 did not think they are smart enough to be a scientist. “There aren’t many visible role models who can explain how exciting and rewarding these careers are,” said Ruth Wilson of the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign.
Another yardstick to measure society’s acceptance to women in science is their exposure on social media. A quick search on the internet shows that celebrities like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift dominating the Twittersphere with up to 80 million followers. In contrast, planetary scientists Carolyn Porco currently has up to 31,000. This pales in comparison with male astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson who has 2.4 million followers according to a survey by the Science Magazine which compiles the top 50 scientists on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, there are only four female scientists who made the list. Astronomer Pamela Gay, also an active Twitter user with 17,000 followers said that women are more likely to face sexist attacks which discourage their participation in the online medium. “At some point, you just get fed up with “why you are hot” and“why are you ugly” comments.”