Gray, J.B. (2005, August 08). Sugar and Spice and Science: Encouraging Girls Through Media Mentoring
Current Issues in Education [On-line], 8(18). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume8/number18/
Sugar and Spice and Science: Encouraging Girls Through Media Mentoring
Jennifer B. Gray
Studies indicate that long held gender stereotypes lead females to a decreased self-confidence and interest in the sciences. As a result, only a minority of women pursue coursework and careers in science and technology-based fields. Several gender-based studies in science and technology education indicate that mentoring may hold great promise in encouraging young women to pursue careers in the sciences. The mass media, television in particular, plays a tremendous role in our lives, including our conceptions of gender. This literature review and proposal discusses the portrayal of female scientists, engineers, and the like in educational television as a way to provide a form of mentoring via the mass media.
Table of Contents
Sugar and Spice and Science: Encouraging Girls Through Media Mentoring
Kate returns home from school, brimming with excitement about an experiment in circuits that her sixth grade science class completed that afternoon. This is often the case with the young girl, who is engaged and fascinated by everything from the mysteries of biology to the complexities of mathematics.
Several years later, Kate enters high school, and no longer runs home pondering the joys of circuitry, biology, or chemistry. She is far more interested in her other classes, particularly in her English and writing courses, and feels that, perhaps, she is not so well suited to science after all. Four years later, Kate is applying for college. Amidst the social demands of parties, proms, dances, and more academic concerns of papers, projects, and exams, she must make several decisions about her future. She chooses to major in history, and later becomes a wife, mother, and real estate agent. She forgets her once insatiable interest in science.
While Kate’s academic course and choice of profession are by no means unsatisfactory or negative in and of themselves, her experience likely is shaped by outside influences and arguably is shared by countless young women. The implications of these shared experiences are significant. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), gender stereotypes in the sciences, which favor male students in tendency and ability in mathematics, science, and technology, lead females to a decreased self-confidence and interest in the sciences (2000). Many young women lose interest and confidence in their abilities in the sciences as early as the seventh grade (Hansen, 1995). When females leave their grammar and secondary school classrooms, they enter college and the workforce, with only a minority pursuing coursework and careers in science and technology-based fields (Keller, 1985).
Several gender-based studies in science and technology education indicate that intervention and mentoring focused on engagement and attitude change may hold great promise in encouraging young women to pursue study and future careers in the sciences (Levin, Sabar, & Libman, 1991). This research focuses on the implementation of educational programs and improved curriculums, as well as the fostering of self-confidence and self-efficacy (Keller, 1985). It also indicates that mentoring is key in the success of young women’s educational and professional endeavors in the sciences (Davis & Humphries, 1985). Support from a female working in a science-based career in academics or industry provides guidance to a young girl’s developing confidence and abilities, and a female role model in a given field.
In addition to the interpersonal communication resource provided by such mentoring, another possible, complementary resource could be found in mass communication. The mass media diffuses “new ideas, values, behavior patterns and social patterns” at a rapid rate, and the media, television in particular, provides a “symbolic environment” that plays a tremendous role “in our present-day human lives” (Bandura, 2002; pp 125-126). Educational television, which provides a symbolic environment and “symbolic modeling” (Bandura, 2002; p 125) for children and adolescents, has been shown to have significant positive effects in cognition, perception, learning, attitudes, and behavior given certain characteristics in programs and viewers (Rice, 1984; Fisch, 2000). These effects have been shown to cut across gender, in most cases (Fisch, 2002). However, there are few, if any, female characters, in such science and mathematics programming (Morgan, 1987). The portrayal of female scientists, engineers, and the like in educational television may provide a form of mentoring via the mass media. Through the modeling of positive images of females in these fields, based in Bandura’s social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation (1999), educational television potentially could increase its influence on young women, beyond its cognitive and educational influences. An added component of female characters engaged in scientific careers may provide a type of symbolic modeling for young girls, expanding their views of appropriate interests and pursuits for women, improving their attitudes toward the sciences, and influencing their choices in education and profession.
Science and Mathematics: Educational Television Research
Though most media studies in educational television and children have focused on negative effects of exposure to televised content, such as shortened attention spans and increased aggression (Healy, 1990; Postman, 1985), some have observed positive outcomes, such as in literacy, learning, and cognition (Fisch, 2000). Positive educational and cognitive effects have been observed in studies of science and mathematics programming, including improved abilities in problem-solving, critical analysis, specific content, and exploration processes, as well as improved attitudes in math and science (Fisch, 2002).
Studies of mathematics programming have found that viewers have significant gains in mathematics performance (Fisch, 2002). Positive increases in problem-solving ability and mathematical knowledge were found in a study of Infinity Factory, a magazine-format mathematics program for eight to eleven-year-olds, with a particular focus on minority children (Harvey et al., 1976). White children, however, were found to have more gains in mathematics performance than minority children, after exposure to the program (Harvey et al., 1976).
A later study of Square One TV, a magazine-style program employing music and comedy directed at eight to twelve-year-olds, Peel, Rockwell, Esty, and Gonzer (1987), explored problem solving gains and comprehension on various levels. These levels were: “recall, understanding, and extension” with the highest performance in comprehension at the recall level (Peel et al., 1987). The study is thought to be significant largely because it revealed that results of analysis in educational programming could vary greatly depending on particular definitions of comprehension (Fisch, 2002). Significant effects in attitudes toward mathematics were also found. Viewers of Square One TV were more likely than nonviewers to have positive feelings toward, as well as a broader knowledge of, mathematics (Peel et al., 1987). These attitudinal effects were found to cut across differences in gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (Peel et al., 1987).
Science programming for children has been found to have consistent significant effects, regardless of program format, provided that certain key characteristics of presentation are in place (Fisch, 2002). Programs of various genres, such as Mr. Wizard and Beakman’s World, both live-action demonstration programs with scientist hosts, and Science Court, a Saturday morning cartoon, have been studied, all noting significant effects in “children’s knowledge of science, exploration and experimentation, and attitudes toward the subject” (Fisch, 2002; p 400).
Studies of programs such as 3-2-1 Contact (Cambre & Fernie, 1985; Johnston, 1980; Johnston & Luker, 1983; Wagner, 1985), Bill Nye the Science Guy (Rockman et al., 1996), and Cro (Fay, Teasley, Cheng, Bachman, & Schnakenberg, 1995; Fisch, Goodman, McCann, Rylander, & Ross, 1995; Goodman, Rylander, & Ross, 1993) have demonstrated significant gains in children’s knowledge of specific content in science.
Fisch (2002) notes limitations in methodology in the studies of 3-2-1 Contact, specifically a reliance on paper-and-pencil quizzes to assess comprehension of science content at pre- and posttest, but acknowledges consistent positive effects in knowledge gains, regardless of exposure. Children viewed ten to forty episodes, and consistently demonstrated gains in their knowledge of specific content at posttest (Cambre & Fernie, 1985; Johnston, 1980; Johnston & Luker, 1983; Wagner, 1985). Notably, the highest gains were in girls, who have been found to demonstrate lower levels of achievement in science (Levin, Sabar, & Libman, 1991).
Particularly in studies of Cro (Fay, Teasley, Cheng, Bachman, & Schnakenberg, 1995; Fisch, Goodman, McCann, Rylander, & Ross, 1995; Goodman, Rylander, & Ross, 1993;), presentation style has been found to be key in the effects of educational programming on comprehension of science content, as well as in attitudes and interest in the sciences (Fisch, 2002). In a 1995 study of Cro, an animated science and technology series designed for school age children, Fay and Teasley found that episodes with similar distinguishing characteristics of engaging and concrete presentation, clear problem solving demonstration, and educational content central to the narrative plot produced significant differences in comprehension between viewers and nonviewers. The 1995 study also explored the program’s impact on children’s interest in and attitude toward science and technology. Paper-and-pencil measures, interviews, and observations were used in an experimental pre- and posttest design. Viewers of Cro were compared to nonviewers, who watched another educational animated program that did not pertain to science. The viewers of Cro demonstrated greater gains in interest in science and technology at posttest as compared to nonviewers; however, viewers did not demonstrate a significantly greater interest in science and technology activities that were not presented on the programs viewed (Fay, Teasley et al., 1995). Possibly, the young children, ranging from age six to eleven, “did not possess a mental construct of ‘technology’ that was sufficiently broad to encompass all of these types of activities” (Fisch, 2002). Still, the finding could also indicate that basic concepts in technology and science were not sufficiently comprehended by some children to be applied to other science-based activities. Arguably, however, the effectiveness of the presentation style of the program did contribute to significant gains in viewers’ interest in the particular concepts presented.
Similar characteristics in programming style were found to positively influence children’s abilities in hands-on experimentation and problem-solving, but not necessarily their attitudes toward science, in studies of Bill Nye the Science Guy (Rockman, et al., 1996). The program, a live-action series aimed at eight to ten-year-olds, centers around scientific demonstrations conducted by comedian-scientist Bill Nye. In a 1996 study (Rockman, et al.), a series of hands-on science tasks were presented to two groups, viewers and nonviewers. The viewer group then watched twelve episodes of the series and viewers and nonviewers again were given the same set of science tasks. Viewers demonstrated significant improvement in level of scientific knowledge, as well as in exploration and problem-solving processes compared to nonviewers. Significant improvements were not found, however, in the study’s assessment of attitude toward science. Paper-and-pencil measures did not find significant effects in attitude change, but this may be due to “ceiling effects” in that pretest scores in attitude assessment were quite high (Rockman, et al., 1996). Interestingly, parent reports of their children’s improved attitudes in science were positive. Almost all parents tested believed that their children’s interest in science increased as a result of watching Bill Nye the Science Guy, though testing did not demonstrate significant effects in this regard (Fisch, 2002; Rockman et al., 1996).
Fisch (2000) proposed a theoretical mechanism for children’s learning of educational television content, the “capacity model." This model posits that “comprehension of educational content depends not only on the cognitive demands of processing the educational content itself, but also on the demands presented by the narrative in which it is embedded” (Fisch, 2000; p 70). Fisch (2000) also argues that the content must be integral to the narrative in order to be effectively processed by the viewer. The more peripheral the educational content is to the narrative of the program, the less likely the content will be processed effectively by the viewer. The processing of narrative content is affected by “viewer characteristics” such as “prior knowledge of the story and characters,” “story schemas,” “verbal reasoning ability,” and “short-term memory,” as well as by “program characteristics” such as the “complexity of the story,” the “need for inferences, the temporal organization, and advance organizers” (Fisch, 2002; pp 401-405). The processing of educational content is also affected by both viewer and program characteristics. The former include “prior knowledge of content” and “interest in content,” while the latter include “clarity of presentation,” “explicitness of content,” and “advance organizers” (Fisch, 2000; pp 401-405). If the narrative content is peripheral to the educational content, the distance between the two modes of processing is great. If the distance is large, the cognitive faculties are focused on the narrative and fewer resources are available to process the educational content. If the educational content is vital to the narrative, embedded into the story presented in programming, “then the two complement, rather than compete, with each other” (Fisch, 2002; pp 398-400).
Fisch (2002) argues that comprehension of television content will be stronger under any of the following conditions: “when the processing demands of the narrative are relatively small, when the processing demands of the educational content are relatively small, or when distance between” the narrative and educational content “is small" (pp 422). Though the capacity model is consistent with a great deal of the literature on children’s learning through educational television (Fay, Teasley, Cheng, Bachman, & Schnakenberg, 1995; Fisch, 2000; Fisch, Goodman, McCann, Rylander, & Ross, 1995Goodman, Rylander, & Ross, 1993), it must be noted that the model has not been tested empirically for predictive validity (Fisch, 2002).
The studies previously outlined, particularly those in science programming such as Cro, appear to produce positive effects in the knowledge and attitudes of children toward scientific subjects (Fisch, 2002). Secondly, these effects often appear to cut across gender lines. Based in the capacity model of children’s comprehension of educational television (Fisch, 2000), educational programming with particular program characteristics, and under the conditions of certain viewer characteristics, will have positive effects on children’s cognition, perception, and comprehension of educational content. Science and mathematics programming with similar distinguishing program characteristics of effective presentation, concreteness, problem solving and educational content central to the narrative plot, coupled with viewer characteristics of interest in and prior knowledge of the subject, arguably will produce positive outcomes in cognition, learning, and attitudes toward science and mathematics in both girls and boys (Goodman et al., 1993). However, in current and past programming, portrayals of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are entirely male (Morgan, 1987). An additional factor in educational television, positive portrayals of dominant female characters in science, may serve as models for young women. Female characters in this capacity may offer young viewers a source of “symbolic modeling” (Bandura, 2000; p 121), based in the social cognitive theory of gender development (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). The characters may offer a diffusion of self-efficacy in addition to positive effects in analytical and critical thinking. Such modeling may mitigate the “gender gap” in education and profession in the sciences.
Gender and Attitudes in Science and Technology
Girls and Boys and the Sciences
According to the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), in1991, women earned 44% of the science and engineering undergraduate degrees, 36% of the science and engineering master’s degrees, 28% of the science and engineering doctoral degrees, and represented 19% of the science and engineering workforce (1993). Such numbers indicate “the well documented trend of women dropping out of science and engineering at all levels of the academic pipeline” (AWIS, 1993).
Studies indicate that gender stereotypes lead females to a decreased self-confidence and interest science, engineering, and technology (AAUW, 2000), and only a minority of women pursue coursework and careers in science and technology-based fields (Keller, 1985). There are numerous theories as to why such effects occur, many noting influences both in the home and in the classroom (Klawe & Levenson, 1995; Lockheed, 1985). During the early school years, girls and boys score equally on aptitude tests in mathematics and perform nearly the same in math in the classroom (Klawe & Levenson, 1995). Though their performance is similar, parents and teachers seem to "underestimate girls' potential in math and science... being less likely to encourage girls who have talent in math and science to go on to develop those talents and skills, and consider occupations in those fields" (Klawe et al., 1995). As a result, girls' confidence drops and they lose interest in these areas.
Research indicates that the home is a factor in the “gender gap.” Parents ideally serve as a source of encouragement to their children and provide a nurturing environment in which a child may freely explore and pursue interests. One way in which a parent can encourage a child's interest in computers, for instance, is to buy a personal computer for home use. This is particularly true for girls. In the home a girl is free to use the computer in a relaxed, non-competitive environment. Additionally, by using a home computer, girls and boys experience and become familiar with computers so that they are not intimidating in the classroom. More boys, however, have home computers bought for them than girls (Klawe et al., 1995). A survey of home computer use showed that 70% of main home computer users were male, and only 25% were female, with the other 5% not identified by gender (Spertus, 1991). As a result, boys are more likely to enter the classroom with a technological advantage of familiarity of use, while girls are more likely to feel intimidated by boys' knowledge and possibly decrease their usage.
The classroom can be equally supportive or discouraging. Similarly, the attitude of the teacher, like that of a parent, may provide a girl with the encouragement she needs to succeed in the sciences, or it may completely turn her away from those fields. Overall, research indicates that the school environment does not foster girls’ interest in math and science (AAUW, 1992; Hansen, 1995; Klawe et al., 1995; Spertus, 1991).
The teacher plays a critical role in supporting his or her students. Girls often are not treated in the same manner as the boys. Teachers are more likely to: remember more men's names than women's; call on males more often than females; ask males more, or more difficult, questions; give males more positive feedback and females more negative or no feedback; and make eye contact with male more often than female students (AAUW, 1992; Spertus,1991). Repeated experiences such as these arguably have a profound impact on a female's self-esteem and outlook. Her self-confidence is decreased, she speaks out in class less, and she expects to do worse than the males do on exams. The dropout rate of females in science fields is much higher in undergraduate and graduate schools than it is for the males (Klawe et al, 1995).
Preferential treatment, intentional or not, may lead to male dominance in the classroom. This is often manifested in computer usage, for example, which is often on a “first come, first served” basis. This type of usage is a tremendous barrier to girls, who are socialized to be less aggressive than boys (Reinen, 1993). The more aggressive male students will take over the computers before girls can have their turns, providing less of an opportunity for the girls to increase their computer skills (Huff, 1987).
In a 1995 article, Geppert notes that in order to compete in such a climate, the female often has to be an "exceptional" student, whereas "any old guy can be an engineer." This places "unfair pressure on women" to do well, especially given that professors generally "do not pay as much attention to the average female student as they do the average male student” (Geppert, 1995; pp 41-43). This added stress may discourage the female from entering the sciences or crush her efforts in a given scientific field (Geppert, 1995).
Another imbalance includes the lack of acknowledgment of the contributions and accomplishments of women in scientific textbooks, and the lack of females teachers and professors in the sciences. As a result, female achievements in the sciences are often "ignored or marginalized” (AAUW, 1992). Only one out of ten of the most frequently assigned books in high school engineering courses is written by a woman (AAUW, 1992). Coupled with the relatively small number of female science, computer science and engineering professors (Reinen, 1993), female students are not exposed to women’s successes, and thus, are left without female role models.
Models and Mentoring
Several gender-based studies in science and technology education indicate that intervention and mentoring focused on engagement and attitude change may hold great promise in encouraging young women to pursue study and future careers in the sciences (Levin, Sabar, & Libman, 1991). This research focuses on the implementation of educational programs and improved curriculums, as well as the fostering of self-confidence and self-efficacy (Keller, 1985). It also indicates that mentoring is key in the success of young women’s educational and professional endeavors in the sciences (Davis & Humphries, 1985). Female role models and mentors are essential to a female’s success and happiness in the sciences, in both her academic and professional careers. Support from a female working in a science-based career in academics or industry provides guidance to a young girl’s developing confidence and abilities, and a female role model in a given field.
Female professors in the sciences show students that faculty positions can be obtained by women (Pearl et al., 1990). Young girls being taught math and science by a female teacher are likely to emulate their teacher and are more apt to do well. Talking with or being exposed to knowledge of successful female scientists shows young women it is possible to overcome the obstacles that lie before them and obtain a degree in a scientific field (Pearl et al., 1990).
Even more important than role models are female mentors. Pairing undergraduate females with graduate women and graduate women with female professors gives students the advice and support needed to complete educational endeavors and pursue future professional goals. Female role models also serve the purpose of "providing a living example of a successful female scientist” (Spertus, 1991; pp 45-46). Research indicates that "female graduate students who identified female professors as role models viewed themselves as more career oriented, confident, and instrumental than did female students identifying male role models" (Spertus, 1991; pp 56-58).
Though mentoring appears to be an excellent strategy for encouraging girls to pursue studies and professions in the sciences, there is a dearth of female scientists, engineers, and university professors in such fields. There are alternatives, such as bringing successful female scientists to schools as guest speakers to enable students to meet prominent women, a program currently being practiced across the nation by the National Science Foundation. Also, there are CD-ROMs currently being developed which enable students to watch interviews of women computer scientists and engineers (Klawe et al., 1995). In this same vein of audiovisual media, another possible alternative, though arguably, not preferable to interpersonal interaction, may be found in educational television. Educational television has a wide audience, reaching millions of young girls and young women worldwide (Fisch, 2000). One female scientist or female scientist character on one program could convey a message of “a living example of a successful female scientist” (Spertus, 1991; p 67) to millions. Educational television has significant effects on children’s cognition, perception, and attitudes (Fisch, 2000) and thus can provide girls with increased self-confidence through gains in knowledge. The medium also potentially could provide female role models of women in science-based careers, through symbolic modeling, a form of observational learning encompassed in the social cognitive theory of gender development (Bandura & Bussey, 1999).
Media and Symbolic Modeling: Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development
Social cognitive theory explains psychosocial functioning in terms of “triadic reciprocal causation” (Bandura, 1986; p 43). In this view of self and society, “personal factors in the form of cognitive, affective, and biological events, behavioral patterns, and environmental events all operate as interacting determinants” that influence each other to create conceptions of social reality (Bandura, 2002; p 56). The process is one of observational learning.
A component of this theoretical perspective is “vicarious capability” (Bandura, 2002; p 122), a term noting the ability of human beings to acquire new knowledge through observational learning. According to Bandura (1986; p 44), “humans have evolved an advanced capacity for observational learning that enables them to expand their knowledge and skills rapidly” and “virtually all behavioral, cognitive, and affective learning from direct experience can be achieved vicariously by observing other people’s actions.” Symbolic modeling has a great “psychosocial impact” in that a single model can transmit new ways of learning, doing, and seeing to any number of people in a wide range of locations. This impact is of particular portent in the context of the mass media.
As society relies more and more on technology, and the media becomes a greater portion of human experience, conceptions of reality are greatly influenced by “vicarious experiences, by what” is heard, read, and seen, “without direct experiential correctives” (Bandura, 2002; p 77). Bandura (2002) notes that the vast expansion of video and other forms of media technology have greatly expanded the availability of models for members of society and that “new ideas, values, behavior patterns, and social practices are now being rapidly diffused by symbolic modeling worldwide" (p 77). The symbolic environment of the media has increasing social impact as it becomes a greater source for images of reality (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976).
Under this theoretical perspective, Bussey and Bandura (1999) have addressed gender development and differentiation. They propose that “conceptions of gender are constructed from the complex mix of experiences and how they operate in conjunction with motivational and self-regulatory mechanisms to guide gender-linked conduct throughout life.” People contribute to their gender development by making certain choices and taking certain actions within systems of outside influence; conceptions of gender and gender roles are the products of social influences “operating interdependently” in a number of social subsystems (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; p 681).
In the context of television and gender, the theory has significant implications. The media, television in particular, is a large part of human experience that has greatly multiplied the availability of models influencing conceptions of reality (Bandura, 2002). Thus, models of gender have increased due to the prevalence of the mass media (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Courtney & Whipple, 1974; Dietz, 1998; Harris & Voorhees, 1981; Jacklin & Mischel, 1973; Miller & Reeves, 1976; Thompson & Zerbinos, 1997; Turner-Bowker, 1996). Models are often relegated to stereotypical portrayals of males as “venturesome, enterprising,” and active, and women as “dependent, unambitious, and emotional” (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; p 701). These models also offer relatively more male models of perceived self-efficacy and confidence, and also, more models of males in high status careers (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Durkin, 1985).
Bandura and Bussey (1999) posit that modeling of gender roles has a great influence on conception of gender. They attest to studies in which females are portrayed in non-stereotypical ways, which indicate that such portrayals expand children’s aspirations and the range of role options they deem appropriate to their gender (Ashby & Wittmaier, 1978; Bandura & Bussey, 1999; O’Bryant & Corder-Bolz, 1978). According to several studies (Flerx, Fidler, & Rogers, 1976; Ochman, 1996; Thompson & Zerbinos, 1997), repeated viewing of the symbolic modeling of equal roles for men and women significantly reduces gender role stereotyping in children.
Such research indicates that the symbolic modeling of positive, non-stereotypical portrayals of women in television, such as female scientists, engineers, and other such characters, has the potential to expand the range of options young girls deem appropriate for their gender (Bandura & Bussey, 1999). Sadly, though other research indicates that television viewing has significant effects on perceptions of gender (Morgan, 1987; Signorielli, 1989), the available models to young girls are largely stereotypical, and arguably, hardly adequate to expand their options in educational and professional pursuits.
Research in Gender, Television, and Educational Television
While television representations of women have changed greatly in the last twenty years alone, it largely represents the views of the dominant ideology, namely patriarchy (Gunter, 1986). Television is regarded by many viewers to be the most “real” form of media (Gunter, 1986), and certainly is the most used form. Robinson and Godbey (1997) have noted that television is the dominant feature of American free time. If this is the case, then it is important to question how real the representations of women are on television and how this affects the attitudes of the many that are watching, particularly those that are shaping their own perceptions of the roles of women, young girls.
Women are typically seen less often than men on television and much less frequently in central dramatic roles (Signorielli, 1989). For example, figures show that in television drama women are outnumbered by men three to one, in cartoons ten to one, and in soaps seven to three (Morgan, 1987). Children’s television, including educational programming, is dominated by males, with 75 to 80% of characters being male (Gunter, 1986). Television arguably presents its audience with a very masculine perspective, leaving young girls with few role models beyond those enveloped in stereotypes.
Gunter (1986) notes two forms of stereotyping on television, one form involving sex roles, and the other, sex traits. Sex role stereotyping reflects the changes in beliefs about the value of family, child care, the role of the woman in marriage and the possibility of self-fulfillment through work. Generally, in the world of television, women tend to be confined to a life dominated by the family and personal relationships far more than men, both inside and outside the home (Gunter, 1986). Sex trait stereotyping reflects commonly held stereotypes about women's characteristics, such as the notion that women are more emotional than men.
Given the prevalence of stereotypical characters and traits, as well as the limited number of strong, leading female characters, in television programming, it is not surprising that women are not represented in particular genres or roles (Morgan, 1987). Women are largely underrepresented, or are not represented at all, in television portrayals of female scientists, engineers, and other scientific professions (Gerbner et al., 1981). And, as previously stated, male characters account for 75 to 80% of the characters in children’s programming (Gunter, 1986).
Research indicates that television viewing has an effect on the perception of gender roles and views of women (Morgan, 1987; Signorielli, 1989). Bandura (2000) proposes that the media plays a role in the development of gender identity. If television has effects on such fundamental forms of identity for developing young women, what indeed are they learning, if women are underrepresented, misrepresented, or not represented at all?
In the context of educational television, there are little to no female characters in major roles. Research in this genre indicates that viewers of educational television demonstrate increased positive cognitive and educational effects (Fay, Teasley, Cheng, Bachman, & Schnakenberg, 1995; Fisch, 2000; Goodman, Rylander, & Ross, 1993; Fisch, Goodman, McCann, Rylander, & Ross, 1995). If educational television has significant effects in educational gains, in changing attitudes and interests in particular subjects, it also stands to reason that the genre has, or potentially could have, other effects as well. Viewing could have a profound influence on the development of gender identity and the mitigation of long held gender stereotypes. As previously stated, Bandura and Bussey (1999) propose that modeling of gender roles has a great influence on the conception of gender. They attest to studies in which females are portrayed in non-stereotypical ways, which indicate that such portrayals expand children’s goals and their perception of professional and educational options available to their gender.
Research suggests that symbolic modeling of positive, non-stereotypical portrayals of women in television, such as female characters in science-based careers, has the potential to expand the range of options young girls view as feasible (Bandura & Bussey, 1999). A worthy question, which has not been satisfactorily addressed in the literature, is: Could positive female characters in scientific roles in educational television improve young girls’ attitudes in science and provide positive female role models via a type of symbolic modeling? Given previous research in educational television, as well as the models of Fisch (2000) and Bandura and Bussey (1999), such portrayals in educational television have great potential impact for young women.
Television and its Potential for “Media Mentoring” in the Sciences
Research has shown that mentoring and modeling are key in the development of a young woman’s sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy, particularly in male- dominated fields such as the sciences (Davis & Humphries, 1985). According to the AWIS (1990), “mentoring means more scientists.” However, the need for mentoring of females in the sciences is complicated by a relatively small number of females in scientific fields. To increase the number of females in scientific fields, potential scientists and engineers must be counseled and guided by successful females in these fields. This factor places interpersonal mentoring and modeling in a kind of circular bind. Educational television may offer one potential alternative. Research has shown that girls as well as boys gain in their knowledge of science and mathematics through educational programming that has certain viewer and program characteristics (Fay, Teasley, Cheng, Bachman, & Schnakenberg, 1995; Fisch, 2000; Fisch, Goodman, McCann, Rylander, & Ross, 1995; Goodman, Rylander, & Ross, 1993). The symbolic modeling of gender in such programming may offer young girls even more. Through the portrayal of non-stereotypical female characters, engaged in scientific careers and pursuits, educational television could offer young women an opportunity to model conceptions of gender that will improve their attitudes and interest in science and mathematics. Such symbolic modeling may serve as a kind of “media mentoring,” or “media modeling,” for young girls.
Girls, Science and Technology and the Connection to Television and Gender
Gender stereotypes in the sciences favor males in mathematical and scientific ability. This favoritism leads females to a decreased self-confidence and interest in the sciences (AAUW, 2000). Only small number of women pursue science and technology-based academic and professional careers (Keller, 1985). Research indicates that intervention and mentoring have great potential in encouraging young women to pursue study and future careers in the sciences (Davis & Humphries, 1985; Levin, Sabar, & Libman, 1991). Support from a female working in a science-based career in academics or industry has been found to be particularly important. It provides guidance to a young girl’s developing confidence and abilities, and a female role model in a particular scientific field.
Given the small number of such female mentors available, the mass media is a possible alternative resource. Television in particular provides a great deal of our sense of reality and plays a huge role in our lives (Bandura, 2002). Educational television, which provides a symbolic environment and symbolic modeling (Bandura, 2002) for children and adolescents, has been shown to have significant positive effects in cognition, perception, learning, attitudes, and behavior given certain characteristics in programs and viewers (Fisch, 2000; Rice, 1984). These effects have been shown to cut across gender, in most cases (Fisch, 2002), and are largely based in Fisch’s capacity model of comprehension (2000). Science and mathematics educational programming, given the viewer and program characteristics noted in the capacity model (Fisch, 2000), may provide girls (as well as boys) a resource for improved knowledge and ability in the sciences, increasing self-confidence and self-efficacy in these subject areas. Leading female characters in such programming could provide another source for improved confidence and self-efficacy, through the symbolic modeling of positive portrayals of gender.
There currently are few female characters in such science and mathematics programming (Morgan, 1987). The portrayal of females in scientific fields in educational television may provide a form of mentoring via the mass media. Through the modeling of positive images of females in these fields, based in Bandura’s social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation (1999), educational television potentially could increase its influence on young women, beyond its cognitive and educational influences. An added component of female characters engaged in scientific careers may provide a type of symbolic modeling for young girls, expanding their conceptions of what is possible and appropriate for their gender. This influence may have profound effects on their future choices in education and profession, as research has linked self-efficacy in a certain field to the probability of an individual choosing that career (Hackett, 1985).
“Media Mentoring”—Future Research
A survey of literature in the field did not indicate research in the impact of educational television on girls’ attitudes and interest in the sciences. Future research may incorporate female characters, such as scientists, engineers, and computer technicians, into existing or original educational programming exhibiting the viewer and program characteristics of Fisch’s capacity model (2000) and test the attitudes of viewers and nonviewers at pre- and posttest. A variety of measures, including paper-and-pencil tests and in-depth interviews, may be most useful. A typology of symbolic modeling of gender in the sciences via the mass media, based in Bussey & Bandura’s social cognitive theory of gender development (1999), may be tested and refined to develop a later theory of “media mentoring,” or “media modeling.”
Perhaps future research may lead to strategies that encourage more young girls, such as our hypothetical youngster, Kate, to pursue interests in the sciences, taking the joys of circuitry or biology with them from the sixth-grade classroom to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Harvard Medical School.
1132 Cooper Drive
Lexington, KY 40502
Jennifer B. Gray is a doctoral student in communication, with a primary focus in health and instructional communication, at the University of Kentucky. She is also a medical editor. She has worked on education and medical grants, edited education and medical research publications, and has worked in and with the mass media, as an editor, writer, reporter,
and public relations officer.
American Association of University Women . (2000). Tech-savvy: Educating girls in the new computer age.Retrieved April 11, 2003 from http://www.aaw.org.
American Association of University Women. (1992). The AAUW report: How schools shortchange girls-summary.
Asamen, J.K., & Berry, G.L. (1998). Research paradigms, television, and social behavior. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ashby, M.S., & Wittmaier, B.C. (1978). Attitude changes in children after exposure to stories about women in traditional or nontraditional occupations. Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 945-949.
Association for Women in Science. (1997). Creating tomorrow's scientists: Models of community mentoring. AWIS Magazine,26, 33-40.
Association for Women in Science (1987). Gender and science. Washington, D.C: AWIS.
Association for Women in Science (1981). How stereotypes about science affected the participation of women. Washington, D.C: AWIS.
Association for Women in Science. (1993). Mentoring means future scientists. Washington , D.C: AWIS.
Ball, S., & Bogatz, G.A. (1973). Reading with television: An evaluation of The Electric Company. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Ball-Rokeach, S., & DeFleur, M. (1976). A dependency model of mass media effects. Communication Research, 3, 3-21.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A. (2000). Exercise of human agency through collective efficacy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 75-78.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Penguin.
Bandura, A. (2000). Self-regulation of motivation and action through perceived self-efficacy. In E.A. Locke (Ed.), Handbook of principles of organizational behavior (pp. 120-136). Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp.121-153).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Bussey, K., & Bandura A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713.
Bransford, J.D., Brown A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Cambre, M.A. & Fernie D. (1985). Formative evaluation of Season IV, 3-2-1 Contact: Assessing the appeal of four weeks of educational television programs and their influence on children’s science comprehension and science interest. New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Clifford, B.R., Gunter, B., & McAleer, J. (1995). Television and children: Program evaluation, comprehension, and impact. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Comstock, G., & Paik, H. (1991). Television and the American child. New York: Academic Press.
Courtney, A.E., & Whipple, T.W. (1974). Women in TV commercials. The Journal of Communication, 24, 110-118.
Davis, B.G., & Humphries, S. (1985). Evaluating intervention programs: Applications from women’s programs in math and science. New York: Teachers College Press.
Detterman, D.K., & Sternberg, R.J. (Eds.). (1993). Transfer on trial: Intelligence, cognition, and instruction. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Dietz, T.L. (1998). An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior. Sex Roles, 38, 425-443.
Dines, G. and Humez, J.(1995). Gender, race and class in media. London: Sage.
Durkin, K. (1985). Television and sex role acquisition. British Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 101-113.
Entwistle, D.R., Alexandre, K.L., & Olson, L.S. (1997). Children, schools, and inequality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Fay, A.L., Teasley, S.D., Cheng, B.H., Bachman K.M., & Schnakenberg, J.H. (1995).Children’s interest in and their understanding of science and technology: A study of the effects of Cro. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh and New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Finson, K.D. (2002). Drawing a scientist: What we do and do not know after fifty years of drawings. Journal of School Science and Mathematics, 102, 335-367.
Fisch, S.M. (2000). A capacity model of children’s comprehension of educational content on television. Media Psychology, 2(1), 63-91.
Fisch, S.M. (2002). Vast wasteland or vast opportunity? Effects of educational television on children’s academic knowledge, skills, and attitudes. In J. Bryant & D.
Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp.397-426). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Flerx, V.C., Fidler, D.S., & Rogers, R.W. (1976). Sex role stereotypes: Developmental aspects and early intervention. Child Development, 47, 998-1007.
Geppert, L. (1995). The uphill struggle: no rose garden for women in engineering. IEEE Spectrum, 40-50.
Gerbner, G. (1972). Communication and social environment. Scientific American, 227, 153-160.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (2002). Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 43-67). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1981). Scientists on the TV screen. Society, May/June, 41-44.
Goodman, I.F., Rylander, K., & Ross, S. (1993). Cro Season I summative evaluation. Cambridge, MA: Sierra Ranch Associates.
Gunter, B. (1986). Television and sex role stereotyping. London: John Libbey.
Hackett, G. (1985). Role of mathematics self-efficacy in the choice of math-related majors of college women and men: A path analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32, 47-66.
Hansen, L.S. (1995). Growing smart: What's working for girls in school. American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation.
Hall, E.R., Esty, E.T., & Fisch, S.M. (1990). Television and children’s problem-solving behavior: A synopsis of an evaluation of the effects of Square One TV. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 9, 161-174.
Hall, E.R., Fisch, S.M., Esty, E.T., Debold, E., Miller, B.A., Bennett, D.T., & Solan, S.V. (1990). Children’s problem-solving behavior and their attitudes toward mathematics: A study of the effects of Square One TV (Vols 1-5). New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Harris, M.B., & Voorhees, S.D. (1981). Sex role stereotypes and televised models of emotion. Psychological Reports, 48, 826.
Hawkins, R.P., & Pingree, S. (1982). Television’s influence on social reality. In D. Pearl, L. Bouthilet, & J. Lazar (Eds.). Television and behavior: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for the eighties (Vol. II, pp. 224-247), Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.
Hawkins, J. (1985). Computer and girls: Rethinking the issues. Sex Roles, 13, 165-179.
Healy, J.M. (1990). Endangered minds: Why our children don’t think. New York:Simon & Schuster.
Jacklin, C.N., & Mischel, E.E. (1978). As the twig is bent—Sex role stereotyping in early readers. School Psychology Digest, 2, 30-38.
Johnston, J. (1980). An exploratory study of the effects of viewing the first season of 3-2-1 Contact. New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Johnston, J., & Luker, R. (1983). The “Eriksson Study”: An exploratory study of viewing two weeks of the second season of 3-2-1 Contact. New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Keller, E.F. (1985). Reflections on gender and science. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Keller, E.F. (1987). The gender/science system: Or is sex to gender as nature is to science? Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 2, 33-44.
Klawe, M., & Levenson N. (1995). Women in computing: Where are we now? Communications of the ACM, 38, 29-44.
Krendl, K.A., Broihier, M.C., & Fleetwood, C. (1989). Children and computers: Do sex-related differences persist? Journal of Communication, 39, 85-93.
Lampert, M. (1985). Mathematics learning in context: The Voyage of Mimi. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 4, 157-167.
Levin, T., Sabar, N., & Libman, Z. (1991). Achievements and attitudinal patterns of boys and girls in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 315-328.
Liebert, R., & Schwartzberg, N. (1977). Effects of mass media. Annual Review of Psychology, 28, 141-174.
Lockheed, M.E. (1985). Women, girls, and computers: A first look at the evidence. Sex Roles, 13, 115-121.
McGhee, P.E., & Frueh, T. (1980). Television viewing and the learning of sex-role stereotypes. Sex Roles, 6, 179-188.
Miller, M.M., & Reeves, B.B. (1976). Children’s occupational sex-role stereotypes: The linkage between television content and perception. Journal of Broadcasting, 20, 35-50.
Morgan, M. (1987). Television, sex-role attitudes, and sex role behavior. Journal of Early Adolescence, 7(3), 269-282.
O’Bryant, S.L., & Corder-Bolz, C.R. (1978). The effects of television on children’s stereotyping of women’s work roles. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 12, 233-244.
Ochman, J.M. (1996). The effects of non-gender role stereotyped, same-sex role models in storybooks on the self-esteem of children in grade three. Sex Roles, 35, 711-735.
Pearl, A., Pollack, M.E., Riskin, E., Thomas, B., Wolf, E., & Wu, A.(1990). Becoming a computer scientist. Communications of the ACM, 33, 47-57.
Peel T., Rockwell, A., Esty, E., & Gonzer, K. (1987). Square One Television: The comprehension and problem-solving study. New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Perry, D.G., & Bussey, K. (1979). The social learning theory of sex differences: Imitation is alive and well. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1699-1712.
Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death. New York: Penguin.
Reinen, I.J., & Plomp, T. (1993). Some gender issues in educational computer use: Results of an international comparative survey. Computers Education, 20, 353-365.
Reiser, R.A., Tessmer, M.A., & Phelps, P.C. (1984). Adult-child interaction in children’s learning from Sesame Street. Educational Communication and Technology Journal, 32, 217-223.
Rice, M.L. (1984). The words of children’s television. Journal of Broadcasting, 28, 445-461.
Robinson, J., & Godbey, G. (1997). Time for life: The surprising ways American use their time. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Rockman, E. et al. (1996). Evaluation of Bill Nye the Science Guy: Television series and outreach. San Francisco, CA: Author.
Rosenthal, T.L., & Zimmerman, B.J. (1978). Social learning and cognition. New York: Academic Press.
Signorielli, N. (1989). Television and conceptions about sex roles: Maintaining conventionality and the status quo. Sex Roles, 21(5/6), 337-356.
Singer, D.G., & Singer, J.L. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of children and the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Spertus, E. (1991). Why are there so few female computer scientists? Cambridge, MA:Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Thompson, T.L., & Zerbinos, E. (1997). Television cartoons: Do children notice it’s a boy’s world. Sex Roles, 37, 415-432.
Thorson, E., Reeves, B., & Schleuder, J. (1985). Message complexity and attention to television. Communication Research, 12, 427-454.
Turner-Bowker, D.M. (1996). Gender stereotyped descriptors in children’s picture books: Does “Curious Jane” exist in the literature? Sex Roles, 35, 461-488.
Wagner, S. (1985). Comprehensive evaluation of the fourth season of 3-2-1 Contact. New York: Children’s Television Workshop.
Weisbard, Phyllis (Ed.). (1993). The history of women and science, health, and technology. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin System Women's Studies Librarian.
Wilson, B.J., Kunkel, D., Linz, D., Potter, J., Donnerstein, E., Smith, S.L., Blumenthal, E., & Gray, T. (1997). National television violence study (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.