Researchers found that middle school-aged girls signaled little interest in science, technology, engineering and math when presented with successful female role models who specialized in those fields and displayed feminine characteristics, such as wearing makeup and dressing in pink clothing.
By contrast, successful female scientists portrayed in a gender neutral manner —wearing glasses, dressing in dark clothing and reading— had a greater motivational effect on the students, the study found.
For more, go here. (Thanks, J-Bro!)
7 thoughts on ““Feminine” scientists less motivating as role models”
Totally not what I would have expected.
I haven’t started teaching my own classes yet, but studies like this one have prompted me to think about how to dress in the classroom, and I’m left pretty confused. The standard advice for women seems to be to dress “professionally,” i.e., not a T-shirt and jeans, and probably some jewelry and makeup and heels if you look younger than you are (as in my case). But these are items that really play up feminine characteristics, and I wonder how the results of this study might apply to perceptions of female instructors (I’m sure there’s a ton of research out there; I’m just unaware of it).
Hmm… The language has it that pink=feminine and reading=gender neutral, but there are a lot of things that ‘pink’ is and a lot of things that ‘reading’ is. What if the article were titled, “silly, “clownish” scientists less motivating role models than those who pursue intellectual activities” Not newsworthy, perhaps, but… at least as likely to reflect the real correlative meaning of the data.
Pink, huh- I never got why it was considered a “feminine” color.
A U of Mich article explains it a bit more:
The underlying conclusion appears to be that girls are turned off by the idea that to be a good scientist you also have to excel at traditional femininity. Behind this is the perception that it is just too hard to be tops at both.
Without seeing the images, I have no clue what to make of this research. Given that *marking* oneself as feminine is a particularly contorted exercise, eoshea may be right: the result simply shows that people who seem obsessively preoccupied with their own appearance (at least, in a field that’s decidedly not about appearance) don’t actually direct attention to what’s exciting about their work.
Furthermore: psychologists can’t achieve a fully “controlled experiment” with human appearance variables. The models either were or weren’t the same individuals in the contrasting photos. If they weren’t the same models, all bets are off (variables other than feminine clothing, etc., may be at work). If they were the same models, they each either did or did not “wear” the feminine look well (and they also either did or did not “wear” the lab role fluently, if they were simply models). You couldn’t doll me up and put me in a lab photo and have it look anything but weird. Appearance is not simply a stack of independent semiotic markers; it is a composed whole that either does or does not project the coherence of personal engagement.
CC, as a Psych Prof is my mid-thirties who has been teaching for about 10 years I’d say that students take me MUCH more seriously and are generally more respectful when I dress in more gender neutral attire. I know I’m only a sample size of 1 and maybe I act differently but it is becoming more obvious as I get older that attire makes a difference.
Maybe it has nothing to do with engineering, science, math etc. Maybe “feminine” looking people are generally taken less seriously than less feminine looking people.
It would be interesting to find out how the girls would react if they tried this with a feminine looking man vs. a less feminine-looking man.
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