Recently, I’ve started doing a small experiment on children. Don’t worry. It’s nothing you need to call the authorities about. It goes like this:
Close your eyes.
Now picture a scientist in your head.
Take a few moments to really work out some details.
Just a few seconds more.
Great. Now open your eyes.
Describe your scientist to me.
Without fail, every child I’ve done this with has described his or her scientist with “he.”
He has a white coat on.
He has goggles on.
He is holding a test tube.
Try it yourself; I’d be surprised if you got different results.
Why do I do this experiment? Because it continually validates for me the need for the project I’m currently throwing my heart and soul into: a children’s series I created called Josie Robin, Science Fiend, a set of science adventure stories about a girl who uses science in extraordinary ways to solve everyday problems. The goal of the series is to illuminate the fun side of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and empower young girls to envision futures without limits.
My inspiration for the project came from my daughter’s bookshelf. More specifically, what was lacking on it: books with female role models who aspired to positions of power. My son had plenty of books with aspiring male role models, why couldn’t my daughter? It wasn’t because my wife and I weren’t buying these kinds of books; it was because so few of them existed.
For decades we've been telling our daughters they can be anything they want to be. And we’ve meant it, we really have! Yet the opportunities for them to achieve their goals have not kept pace with our hopes for them. Part of the blame, I believe, falls on how the power structure of our world is portrayed to our children in media.
Overwhelmingly, men are the ones in control, not women. This is what our girls and boys see, so this is the norm they expect.
While this is still, of course, the case in reality, it doesn’t have to be what we expose our children to. And I’m banking on the idea that a simple shift in depiction can create a huge change in expectation. Let them see an equal distribution of power, and that is what they will expect.
I decided to home my project in on STEM subjects because it’s steadily becoming the most important field of the future. Meanwhile, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that “females comprise one half of today’s workforce, but only one quarter of the science and engineering segment of it.”
Our girls are being left out of these crucial fields. That’s unacceptable.
The same study states that “girls are more likely to choose courses and careers in Math and Science if their interest in these fields is sparked and cultivated throughout the school years.” So it seems simply exposing our young girls to STEM subjects can also do something to help even the playing field. This, hopefully, is where my character Josie Robin’s contagious enthusiasm for all things science-related kicks in.
Under the expert guidance of Electric Yarn, a new Transmedia firm run by three talented and dedicated women, the first installment of the series, an enhanced eBook entitled “A Fungus Among Us,” will be released this fall. Together, we’re leaning in to make it as natural for young people to see women in white coats and goggles when they close their eyes as it is for them to see men.
So that in the future that’s more often what they see when their eyes are open.