The sexism-laden stereotype that Science is a “male” field in which men are better than women has existed since the dawn of time. Women used to be prohibited to even enter a university building, let alone to be involved in academic activities. Nowadays, however, men and women are ensured fairly equal chances to pursue career and education they desire. The myth that girls are innately worse in Science has been long since debunked, and gender differences and segregation have gradually disappeared from many academic setting, especially in developed parts of the world.
However, this does not seem to go hand in hand with how women are currently being portrayed in Science. Despite many efforts done to balance the scale, young women are generally very underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study and labor markets. UNESCO’s Institute for Statistic (2012), for instance, reported that the representation of women in Science research is less than 50% in nearly all regional, with the highest being in Latin America and The Caribbean where females comprise 45,2% of the researchers. Not to mention that since the Nobel Prize was established in 1901, from 853 Nobel laureates, only 44 of them are female. With women being half of the world’s population, this fact suggests a gap that is interesting to be investigated.
An even more interesting finding was reported in Vansteenkiste, Soenens, Sierens, Luyckx, & Lens (2009) about a correlation between autonomous motivation and gender. They claimed that female students tend to show ‘a more adaptive academic pattern of functioning’; they are less likely to procrastinate and cheat, are more efficient in using time and environment, and tend to obtain higher grades than their male counterparts. In short, girls can be really great learners if they want to. Yet in Science, they continue being inferior to their male counterparts. If it is already established that it is not a matter of opportunities or genetic, and girls apparently do not lack in motivation either, what could possibly be the reason behind this gender gap in Science?
Indeed, most educational institutions in recent decades will not openly condone any form of gender discrimination, and the ones that do are easily faced with scrutiny by their fellow educators. Yet it probably has to be noted that policies by educational institution probably only comprises small percentage of the total influence in a student’ educational achievement. Each race, nationality and its respective society has their own perception on what field is deemed suitable for each gender, and this presumption affects an individual’s expectation of success and achievement. Women are less likely to pursue science related careers if they grow up in an environment whose gender expectation for women put less subjective values on these fields (Eccles, 1994). On the other hand, there is also a positive correlation between a daughter’s educational performance and their mother’s education and career, suggesting intergenerational transmission of gender identities from mothers to daughters (San Roman and Goiricilaya, 2012).Therefore, gender roles in society definitely has some influence on the involvement of girls in Science. It is very likely that if in a certain society a woman’s right is oppressed, their contribution in Science will not be much appreciated either.
Such gender discrimination is mostly identified with developing countries, yet in developed, modern countries where women are granted equal rights as men in all walks of life, similar trend is still apparent. In regard to this, Osborne, Simon and Collins (2003) have defined what they called as an attitude toward science as “the feelings, beliefs and values held about an object that maybe the enterprise of science, school science, the impact of science on society or scientist themselves”. Findings of various studies (Osborne, Simon and Collins; 2003) confirmed that the girls generally have less positive attitude toward Science than boys. They avoid being involved in Science although they have the potential to be as successful as boys in it, and are provided just as much of opportunities.
A lot of causes can be behind this negative attitude. Firstly, Science is often perceived as practical subjects with no cultural significance. Since Science is compulsory in school, teachers are less pressured to promote their subject and consequently, it comes across as something useful instead of something fulfilling (Osborne, et al, 2003). Students’ involvement in it are ensured while they are in school, but it declined as soon as they enter college and continued to during their career, since for most young people in modernized countries, education and job are entitled to self-fulfillment and self-actualization (Osborne, et al, 2003; Schreiner and Sjoberg, 2005).
Secondly, they simply assume that Science is not the right path for them. This self-perception can go in two different ways. First, it is because they think they are good at something else. Girls are reported to be able to compare various fields, progressively contemplating their ability and choosing what objects will suit them best (Osborne, et al, 2003). Girls also tend to have strong both verbal and math skill, and consequently are attracted to different careers (Azar, 2010). Second, it is because they believe they are not good at Math. Girls are prone to anxiety and they who endorse the negative stereotype about women in Science tend to show a drop in their performance (Azar, 2010) which later manifests into avoidance toward Science related occupations.
Thirdly, they do not want to be identified as a ‘Science’ person. Young woman recognize the importance of Science for society, yet they are not interested in becoming a scientist or working in science (Schreiner and Sjoberg, 2005). It is because from their point of view Science is portrayed as boring practical job, and girls are more interested in jobs that offer late-modern values such as creativity or money (Schreiner and Sjoberg, 2005).
It is apparent that the lack of involvement of women in Science is not a matter of cognitive ability, motivation, or opportunities. Both developing and developed countries have similar problem. Gender-role during the upbringing of a girl gives a lot of influence on how she might or might not take opportunities handed to them. On the contrary, in cases where gender-inequality is practically nonexistent, girls’ attitude toward science takes turn on the steering wheel instead. In the end this will cause chain reaction because to have more women in Science, a more positive and attractive portrayal of Science are essential, and that can be attained by the involvement of more women in Science.
Azar, B. (2010). Math+ culture= gender gap. American Psychological Association, 41(7).
Institute for Statistics (2012). Women in Science. No. 23. UNESCO.
Eccles, J. S. (1994). Understanding women’s educational and occupational choices. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 585-609.
Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: a review of the literature and its implications. International Journal of Science Education, 25(9), 1049-1079.
San Roman, A.G & Goiricilaya, S. 2012. “Gender Gap in PISA Test Scores: The Impact of Social Norms and The Mother’s Transmission of Role Attitudes.” IZA Discussion paper no. 6338, February 2012.
Schreiner, C., & Sjøberg, S. (2007). Science education and youth's identity construction - two incompatible projects? In: D. Corrigan, J. Dillon, and R. F. Gunstone (eds.). The Re-Emergence of Values in Science Education (pp. 231-248). Rotterdam, Sense.
Vansteenkiste, M, et al. (2009). Motivational Profiles From a Self-Determination Perspective: The quality of motivation matters. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 671-688.