Gender Stereotypes in Science and Technology
The experiences we have and the ideas we formulate as children can and do have a tremendous impact on what we do with our lives as adults. One thing that we studied during this course was the differences between toys that boys play with and those that girls play with. When little boys are given things to play with like chemistry sets and erector sets, they are given tools to develop skills like mechanical ability and spatial perception. More importantly, in my opinion, this sets up a stereotype about what activities are suitable for boys and which activities are suitable for girls. Just as boys who play with dolls are seen as being unusual, little girls who do "boy things" and play with boys toys are seen as being weird and are therefore discouraged from doing so.
When I first began researching this project I was looking for information on tomboys. I was hoping to answer the following question: How does having the label of a tomboy as a child effect what career choices a woman makes as an adult? It was my belief that if young girls think of tomboys in a negative light, girls who are labeled tomboys by their peers will be discouraged from engaging in activities that perpetuates that image of them. If these activities include playing with legos and building forts, then women who may otherwise have gone into technological fields like engineering and computer science will be deterred by the fact that these fields are sterotypically male.
An initial literature search yielded disappointing results. The articles which I found fell into basically two categories: first-person narratives about growing up as a tomboy in magazines like Redbook and Southern Living and a few scattered articles from academic journals about sex-role identification in children and teenagers. None of the articles from the latter category were published after 1980.
One of the more interesting articles which I found was entitled "Masculinity, femininity, androgyny, and cognitive performance: A meta-analysis," and was published in volume 100 of Psychological Bulletin. In this study, Margaret Signorella and Wesley Jamison evaluated the hypothesis set forth by SC Nash in the 1975 article "The relationship among sex-role stereotyping, sex-role preference, and the sex difference in spatial visualization." Nash found that sixth and ninth graders who showed a preference for being male performed better on tests evaluating spatial relations, and she proposed that children will perform better on cognitive tasks typically associated with the gender which matches their personal self-concepts. Signorella and Jamison found that high masculine-low feminine self-concept scores were associated with better performance on math and spatial tasks for both girls and boys.
Both mathematical and spatial skills are necessary for technical careers such as engineering and computer science, and these results suggests that girls who show a...