Superpowered STEMinists

23 Nov. 2021

Woman in STEM graphic

Take a moment to think about some of the best or most well-known science fiction movies. What do they all have in common? Maybe it’s the uniqueness of their ideas. Or the relationships built between the characters. Possibly their to-die-for special effects. But one major similarity can easily remain unnoticed behind the scenes: an overwhelming majority of these top films star a male as the lead.

From E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Men in Black to Jurassic World, men are the ones who are driving the plot and calling the shots. As a result, of the top few hundred most popular science fiction films from 2009 to 2013, only 10% featured a female solo lead, 26% with male and female co-leads, the Women’s Media Center reports. With the rise of films that demonstrate the might of women like Star Wars and Hunger Games, however, these numbers have increased to nearly 17% for female solo leads and 36% for co-leads in 2014 to 2018. But how does this phenomenon translate to life off camera?

“I think [the gender gap in STEM] is like, at least from my experience, getting a lot better,” noted Ms. Proctor, who teaches AP Physics 1, 2, and C and computer science courses at BASIS Scottsdale. “Like the whole breaking down the idea of what a woman should be doing has changed substantially. [But] I think there’s a lot more gap once you actually go to get a career than…while you’re in college [and] that the pressures that women feel come from the industry more than our experiences of growing up.”

The pressures Ms. Proctor notices are indeed reflected in society, as the 31% of middle school girls who believe that they would not enjoy a coding or programming job increases to 40% by the time girls reach high school and shoots to 58% when they’re in college, a 2018 study from Microsoft finds. This trend is similar to the level of confidence young women have regarding how they could pursue a career in STEM — the older they get, the less confident they are.

Such self-doubt carries on later in life, creating the gender gap in the STEM industry that has remained prominent for centuries. The progress to make women feel confident and secure in their abilities has definitely improved in recent decades. Making sure this upward trend continues is rooted in the amount of support women are provided throughout all levels of education and career development, meaning that the types of organizations open for middle school girls should be created for all females. This not only makes information taught in STEM courses more accessible and enjoyable for women but also opens innumerable possibilities for the future with the new, unique perspectives women can offer.