When one thinks of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention and coercion are two of the first words to come to mind; however, this is only the tip of the iceberg. 90% of all sexual harassment stems from inappropriate and demening gestures that are meant to belittle an individual based on their gender. Women, being a primary victim of this assault, are constantly being made to feel like they do not belong with subtle exclusions, hostility, and obscene gestures. Specific to the STEM field, it is these actions that have resulted in women slowly disappearing from the occupation, or in other words, "leaking through." According to Sangheeta Bhatia — an MIT professor — in her freshman undergraduate class, nearly half of the students majoring in STEM related areas were women. Approaching her graduation, however, Bhatia observed that this number dropped alarmingly — of 100 students graduating, only 7 women remained. Although this loss of students could be a result of various influences, many women have openly shared that instances of sexual harassment and gender discrimination have driven them to leave the field behind. These acts, if done consistently, can be just as emotionally detrimental as other forms of harassment.
Along with discouraging prospective scientists everywhere, current scientists are having to experience misogyny in the workplace daily. Whether in the form of gender wage gaps or repeated slights to ones persona, ⅓ of women in STEM have surveyed reports of sexual harassment (2015). Raychelle Burks, an associate professor of analytical chemistry at American University, shares her experience:
"You know, for a long time, you try to fit or put the face forward that you are this, whatever they’ve built science to be. And you talk a certain way, and you look a certain way, and you try to fit into that. And even when you do all that, you’re still not considered one of them. But you just get used to that. You get used to being invisible in the sciences."
Even with the rapid growth of STEM jobs over the years, women participation has remained stagnant, staying well under 50%. This underrepresentation of women is not only discriminatory, but it is also costing the field of science. By discouraging women from pursuing this line of work, plenty of brilliant minds, along with their would-be discoveries, are lost.
In order to combat a problem such as gender discimination, it must be tackled at its root: the media. It is evident to us all that the media tends to greatly impact the beliefs, views, and thought process of many. The gender-based stereotypes that have been promoted online tend to create implicit biases. In reference to Locke's Child Development Theory, when a child is born, they are inherently neutral. Their minds can be compared to that of a "blank slate." If a child is continuously exposed to visuals that are developing a connection between only the male gender and scientists (Bill Nye the Science Guy, Doc Brown, Jimmy Neutron, etc.), this implicit bias cultivates, fueling the stereotype. With little to no change from the 2007 study conducted, in 2017, the Lyda Hill Foundation and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that of the STEM characters on television, men outnumbered women nearly 2 to 1. This lack of depiction makes it less likely that a woman decides to pursue a role in STEM and further, fuels the growth of unconscious gender bias. As a result, women scientists are viewed as unskilled and incapable in comparison to men in the field. If this pattern is not interrupted through forms of advocacy, policy, and publicity, driven women everywhere will continue to be stripped of opportunities and the statistics will remain stationary – as they have for the past two decades.
“Portray Her:” See Jane, 30 Mar. 2021, seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/portray-her/.
Picture a Scientist. Directed by Sharon Shattuck, performance by Raychelle Burks & Sangheeta Bhatia, Heising-Simons Foundation, 2020. PBS. www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/picture-a-scientist/
“Breaking Barriers: Unconscious Gender Bias in the Workplace.” Research Note: Breaking Barriers: Unconscious Gender Bias in the Workplace, 31 Aug. 2017, www.ilo.org/actemp/publications/WCMS_601276/lang--en/index.htm.
“Are TV and Film Creating Scientist Stereotypes?” Futurum, 15 Feb. 2019, futurumcareers.com/are-tv-and-film-creating-scientist-stereotypes.
Joan C. Williams, Kate Massinger. “How Women Are Harassed Out of Science.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 July 2016, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/07/how-women-are-harassed-out-of-science/492521/.