During last week’s class, we discussed the substantial lack of females in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries. Consequently, when I read Drew Filus’s Lean In story about writing sci-fi stories with STEM-savvy female leads, I immediately thought back to our classroom discussion. A popular topic for us was why gender imbalance in STEM exists. We mentioned reasons such as gender-specific interests, biological excuses, and the unwelcoming atmosphere for women in STEM companies. However, we didn’t bring up the lack of STEM-savvy female leads in popular culture.
Big Bang Theory and Breaking Bad are two television shows that land right at the intersection of popular culture and STEM. Big Bang Theory follows the lives of four geeky yet hilarious physicists and engineers, and Breaking Bad follows a chemistry teacher and a former chemistry student as they use their scientific finesse to produce and sell meth. Both of these wildly popular shows make science, technology, engineering, and math seem extremely cool. Who knew that rebellion could be so deeply rooted in chemistry? Who knew that physicists and engineers have social lives just like you and me?
Evidently, popular culture is an important player in breaking STEM’s negative stereotypes. That’s why I’m appalled that popular culture so often depicts STEM fields as “for men only”. For example, the four physicists and engineers in Big Bang Theory and the two chemists in Breaking Bad that I previously mentioned are all male. In my opinion, this sexist depiction is a huge step backwards against reaching gender equality in STEM. It only perpetuates the idea that women don’t belong in STEM fields. If we can’t even imagine a world where both women and men dominate the STEM industries, how will it ever become reality?
In Filus’s Lean In story, Filus recounts an experiment where he asked children to picture a scientist, work out some details, and then describe the scientist. Every single time, the child described his or her scientist as a “he”. In response, Filus decided to “lean in” by creating Josie Robin, Science Fiend, a series about “a girl who uses science in extraordinary ways to solve everyday problems”. (Filus)
Popular culture needs to “lean in” in the same way. In order to reach gender equality in STEM, we need to change the way people think, and in order to change the way people think, we need more Josie Robins.