Is Gender Equality a Special Need?
Though gains have been made, females still report unequal access and encouragement to pursue careers in science. This it is not a women’s problem; it appears to be a cultural problem linked to how females are socialized in the mainstream of society; often, males and females, by age 11, have developed strong sex-stereotyped attitudes concerning socially appropriate behavior and gender roles in society (Chivers, 1986). Although improvements have been made, many people still attribute cultural differences to gender. Cultural gender differences play an important role in career selection.
How Does Culture Affect Females in Science?
There may be cultural disincentives for women to pursue careers in science, technology, and mathematics. Proportionally fewer women and minorities have been encouraged to develop a sufficient background for scientific careers, and they are underrepresented in these careers, although more women are employed in science careers today than during the prior decade. The current concern for gender inequity has arisen from several factors, some of which still persist despite the enlightened efforts of many to improve conditions and to encourage more females to pursue science. Consider the following:
- Parents, teachers, school counselors, and peers discourage females from pursuing scientific careers (Elfner, 1988).
- Most early childhood elementary teachers are women who lack a strong background in science; their lack of confidence can reinforce children’s beliefs that women are not supposed to like science (Chivers, 1986; Shepardson & Pizzini, 1992).
- A shortage of appropriate female science and engineering role models reinforces the belief that science is a male domain (Jones & Wheatley, 1988; Hammrich, 1997).
- Though studies do report inconsistencies, young males tend to report more positive attitudes toward science than young females do; females report less confidence and more fear of success in careers like engineering; females report that physics courses are too difficult (Jones & Wheatley, 1988; Kahle & Rennie, 1993; Hammrich, 1997).
- Some studies suggest that females may not be socialized at home or at school to develop and demonstrate scientific skills and may not be encouraged to develop practical ability, independence, and self-confidence. Several studies reveal that skills and characteristics associated with scientists consist of high intellectual ability, persistence at work, extreme independence, and apartness from others. Females may be hesitant to pursue science because they do not wish to fit these common perceptions of scientists (Jones & Wheatley, 1988; Shepardson & Pizzini, 1992; Hammrich, 1997). Even the toys that are typically given to boys require more assembly and manipulation than the toys that are given to girls.
- When women have problems, some suggest that they tend to blame themselves for the problems or the inability to solve them, whereas when men have difficulties, they tend to place the blame outside themselves (Jones & Wheatley, 1988).
- Teachers reflect the values and expectations that are thrust upon them by the dominant society and can unintentionally perpetuate gender stereotypes in science. In addition, gender bias can be observed in the practices of teachers and the assignments of science teachers. Female science teachers usually are assigned to introductory science classes and biology, whereas males more often are high school department chairmen and are assigned to teach such advanced science classes as chemistry and physics (Jones & Wheatley, 1988; Kahle & Rennie, 1993).
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