The mass media is increasingly encroaching on everyday life. Society is buffeted by images that can skew and create perceptions that are incorrect and even harmful. The media is very adept at spreading stereotypes which shape how people perceive groups of people and how they should behave in different social settings. One group that is particularly vulnerable to negative or stereotypical portrayal by the media is women, especially women in the sciences. In films and on television women scientists are not shown on equal footing with their male peers. Even in the non-fiction media women struggle for equal recognition and respect. Women scientists in the media both fictional and living are stereotyped by their actions or in the perceptions of others around them.
In the film Proof, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the brilliant mathematician Catherine who has given up her education in order to care for her father who is suffering from mental illness until his death. Catherine exhibits moments of emotional instability which is interpreted by her sister as mental illness. When Catherine gives Hal, her father’s colleague – with whom she has started a romantic relationship – access to a notebook containing a groundbreaking mathematical proof it is immediately assumed that her father must have been the genius behind it.
When Catherine tries to take credit for the work both Hal and her sister are doubtful that she could have done the work. Her emotional response and erratic behaviour are believed to be an indication that she has inherited her father’s mental illness. It is not until Hal takes the notebook to be studied and it is deemed unlikely that her father would have written it that he begins to believe Catherine.
Everything is stacked against Catherine; she is living in her father’s shadow even after his death. Her emotion outbursts are assumed to be signs of mental illness by others around her. They could just as easily be symptoms of her grief for her father or signs of stress from years of single handedly caring for her father while her sister stayed away. The film never makes it clear why she behaves the way she does so the viewer is left with a picture of a brilliant woman who is otherwise broken.
Medicine Man tells the story of Dr. Rae Crane and her personal journey of self discovery, lead of course by a man. Dr. Crane is a highly educated, high ranking biologist who somehow managed to get to her position with very little actual experience. She is whiny, demanding and completely unprepared for the environment she finds herself in. She is ridiculed by the older Dr. Campbell who takes every opportunity to point out her lack of qualifications. He doesn’t even respect her enough to call her by name, instead dubbing her Bronx.
At first Crane is infuriated by Campbell disapproving of his drinking and rude behaviour. She soften toward him after seeing how he interacts with the local people, he shows her the beauty of their surroundings. She especially...