Dana M.

TV: The Root of the Gender Gap in STEM fields and the Seed for Future Growth

Problem: Is it nature or nurture that generates the prominent gender divides in our modern society, explicitly painting the spheres of education, work, and activities with the color pink or blue? Whether it is intentional or not, today’s young girls are taught to color in the lines, design sparkly things, and wear bows in their hair. Meanwhile, boys are seen with a hammer in their hand ready to fix a problem or solve a crisis. These cultural schemas penetrate every aspect of modern life, depicting the way we live, learn, and work. Schemas, according to Valian, are mental constructs that serve as the instinctual generalizations and perceptions of gender roles in society.[1] The representations and embodiment of these cookie cutter gender schemas are especially alarming within the televised education programs for young kids.

From an early age, a child’s brain is etched with sounds, shapes, and ideas. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s brain undergoes immense growth during the first three years of life, with the brain’s mass tripling in just the first 12 months. [2] The stimuli experienced during this period have significant effects on the child’s brain development. One prominent source of stimuli for this generation, who was born with their eyes glued to a screen, is television programs designed to educate, encourage and excite young viewers. For infants and toddlers, images on television screens differ significantly from those in the real world. The inability of the child to perceive the difference between the two worlds can have lasting effects on vital functions, including language development, vision and memory, cognitive development and attention. 2

In the 21st century the disparity of interests of young girls and boys is evidenced in the toy isles of your neighborhood Wal-Mart, and echoed in the array of popular Disney channel shows. Whether it is their parent’s iPhone or their home television, kids today are entranced by the characters that dance, sing, and act on the screens that are in front of their eyes on a daily basis. So what are they watching, and what exactly are they learning from these shows? Are the TV characters showing our kids that it is cool to be smart, to think critically, to solve problems, or even to be creative?

Despite the medium of entertainment or the general topic matter of the show, the universal interest of kids is to watch interesting TV characters so that they can later emulate the characters in their own lives. What kid wants to be the geeky computer nerd when he or she can be a princess or a superhero? What we chose to broadcast to our kids now will ultimately determine what life they will lead in the future. In a long-term study that concluded in 2001, researchers observed that preschoolers who viewed educational programs tend to have higher grades, are less aggressive, and value their studies more when they reach high school. [3] Therefore, it is imperative to regulate the shows available to young children as they play a significant role in establishing the foundational pieces of a child’s education.

Goal: In the recent Yahoo article, Sugared Puppy Dog Tail: Gender and Design, writer Elizabeth F. Churchill recounted her fond childhood memories of Lady Penelope Creighton- Ward, a stylish and brazen female British secret agent who starred in the 1960’s British TV series “The Thunderbirds”.[4] Churchill relates Lady Penelope to other iconic female characters of power from Rosie the Riveter to the modern day Powder-puff girls. All of these heroine type characters exude confidence in the way they dress, talk, and act. They represent everything that a young girl dreams of becoming, while encouraging her to dream big and to be confident. This is not exactly the message that is disseminated by modern kid’s TV shows.

A brief overview of current Disney Junior shows reveals that out of the fifteen shows that currently air on TV, nine have a male lead character and only four have female lead.[5] The additional two shows feature a male/female pair. However, the main issue is not that there are only four female lead characters, but rather that the four featured female characters consist of a princess, a baker, a girl who plays doctor with her cute stuffed animals, and a pink calico cat cowgirl who is the town sheriff. In juxtaposition, the boy character leads include a scientist, a pirate, a train, a handy man, a ship captain, a secret agent, a monster, a dashing prince, a monster, and Mickey Mouse.

Not only are the messages of these shows attempting to teach kids about problem solving, friendship, bravery, manners, sharing, and caring, but they also purposefully show them, through the behaviors of the characters, how they should act in their own lives. These are the role models that our children are learning to emulate, sing along with, and dream about. Where are these young boys and girls going to learn about a computer programmer or coder who saves the day or solves a problem with an app? However, this inherent problem that is reflected across the kid’s TV show industry can be solved. There are so many ways to show young kids that technology is a powerful tool for solving problems and that anyone can create new things with modern technology. By creating shows that encourage and stimulate the brains of our kids, we provide them with the technological tools necessary to create the future.

Solution: One direct solution to confront this problem is to change the status quo of kids TV shows by introducing something new.  For example, a new appealing yet educational show that features female characters who are innovative and daring tech wizards that tackle their every-day problems with a can- do attitude, would be a one-of-a-kind show.  A specific show that comes to mind is a YouTube series called Purple and Nine that was envisioned and created by Rebecca Rachmany and her organization, Gangly Sister. [6]This new show seeks to inspire girls and boys alike to explore the STEM fields by encouraging them to follow the actions of the two main characters, Purple Isosceles and Nine Helix. These two girls love to build, explore, learn new things, solve problems by daring to be themselves and face challenges, such as building a 3-D printer.

Although Rachmany and Rubin are adamant that this series remains non-commercial, the topic matter, setting, and plot line has the potential to combat the stereotypical messages sent to young girls in other shows, such as Disney’s Princess Sofia. If Disney opened their eyes to this opportunity of growth, they would be able to diversify the Disney Junior show and provide young girls with two new realistic role models.

Rachmany and her co-founder Ofer Rubin designed these two characters to be fun and realistic models of kids that believe it is cool to be creative, curious, unique, and independent. [7] When asked about the show Rachmany stated, “The world of TV has odd assumptions, for example, that you need a villain to make a plot work, or that girls relate to boy characters but boys don’t relate to girl characters. With Purple and Nine, we break a lot of the traditional rules of television and animation. We know the rules, but because we aren’t from the industry, we have a lot of freedom to break them.”6 Additionally, Rachmany believes that this show dives into the deeper issue of how kids form unrealistic self-images because of the things they are exposed to at young ages, namely TV and movies. She says, “If you look at TV and you see the ‘geeks’ are portrayed as socially inept, your subconscious will push you away from that. Nobody wants to be a social outcast…. It’s just crazy, but I (as a kid) had gotten a strong subliminal message that you could be gorgeous or smart, but not both.”6

 A show like this on the Disney channel would transform the means of stimulating kids interests in the fields of science, engineering, math, and even medicine. Referring back to Churchill, the product creator is responsible for embedding a gendered norm into certain facets of life, such as cooking versus coding.[8] Although most of these cultural schemas in kid’s TV shows are inadvertently reproduced cultural norms, the only way to change the status quo is to dare to create something new. Characters like Purple and Nine are the perfect example of this. Not only do so few of these types of female characters exist, but the ones that do seem to apologize for being different. Instead, Purple and Nine are proud of their unique gifts, and flaunt them as something that makes them cool. If we can teach our kids that it is cool to design 3-D printers, to invent edible play-dough, or even to design a robot that does your homework then we are really stimulating their brains and hardwiring their futures for a path of limitless creativity and growth. The future of women in the STEM fields starts with these foundational building blocks of a child’s education. By teaching young boys and girls alike, through educational, compelling, and realistic TV programs such as Purple and Nine, we can ingrain within them the belief that anyone, no matter your age, ethnicity, or gender, can be an engineer, a teacher, a nurse, a coder, or a CEO. This integral mindset plants the seeds for future growth of the STEM fields, and opens the doors of possibility for a future that stems from technological innovation and ingenuity.

References:

[1] Valian. “Schemas that Explain Behavior.” pg. 2 Accessed December 7th, 2014

[2] Holden, Martha. “How Does Television Affect the Brains of Young Children?” Demand Media. Accessed December 6th, 2014. http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/television-affect-brains-young-children-20676.html

[3] Raise Smart Kid. “The Good and bad Effects of TV on Children.” Accessed December 7th, 2014. http://www.raisesmartkid.com/all-ages/1-articles/13-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-tv-on-your-kid

[4] Churchill, Elizabeth. “Sugared Puppy Dog Tails: Gender and Design.” Yahoo News. March- April Edition (2010) pg. 52. Accessed December 5th, 2014

[5] List of programs Broadcast by Disney Junior (US). Wikipedia. Accessed December 5th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_programs_broadcast_by_Disney_Junior_(United_States)

[6] Gangly Sister LLC. “About Us” Page. (2014) http://www.ganglysister.com

Accessed December 5th, 2014.

[7] Bradford, Laurence. “Rebecca Rachmany: CEO and Creator of Purple and Nine TV Show.” (2014 June 18) Accessed December 5th, 2014.

http://learntocodewith.me/women/rebecca-rachmany/

[8] Churchill, Elizabeth.

Cover Image: http://www.eknazar.com/News/uploaded/GA4051_3iboytv.jpg

Coding ABC’s (it’s easy as 1,2,3)

Throughout the past semester I have learned to accept the statement, “Anyone can learn to code” at face value. There is plenty of evidence that suggests this claim to be true, especially with all of the online coding programs such as code academy.  In class this semester, we have discussed how even young elementary age children are able to learn coding basics, just as they learn the alphabet or how to tie their shoes. However, despite the semester long discussion concerning the importance of introducing the basic principles of coding to girls and women in particular, I was still extremely hesitant to make an account and begin coding at codeacademy.com. Before taking this Women in Technology class my misinformed perception of coding stemmed from my minimal understanding of technology. This misconception was supplemented by my extremely stereotypical association of coding with a restrictive culture of computer geeks who stared at screens all day long typing in an enigmatic language called code. Long before I knew what code really was, I determined that I simply wasn’t coder material, nor did I think it was possible to understand something so complex on my own. Although have a completed less than two hours of coding, I am finally cognizant the reality of what coding actually entails.  After spending the last two hours learning the basics of coding with HTML, through the hands on instruction in the Code Academy program, I have de-mystified the concept of the fundamental code language and realized that I too can learn to code.

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 7.29.53 PMThe Code Academy program has numerous features that makes it extremely accessible and informative. For starters, it is free, which allows anyone to test it out for him or herself. Secondly, the concise step-by-step directions makes it easy to write the lines of code step one part at a time. This feature makes the overall task less overwhelming, especially when the steps get more complicated. Additionally, there are hints and supplementary explanations provided in case something is confusing or too complicated. I was a frequent user of these clues, because my first attempt at writing code was far from flawless. Not only is the program instructive, but it also encourages you to continue on with the lessons. Now that I know for myself that coding is truly something that anyone can learn, I will definitely continue to deepen my understanding of coding basics with the Code Academy program and encourage others to do the same.

Much like our discussions in class, my recent coding epiphany represents just the starting point for future growth in the field of technology. Although the coding program and the challenging real-world situations, such as the Gamergate conflict, are likely to get more complicated as technology continues to develop , the only way to find a solution is to address the problem. Coders and non-coders, males, females, kids, college students, CEO’s and high school dropouts all around the world must open their eyes to the realities of technology in our world today. I believe that everyone should try out this or another coding program because it creates a foundation for understand all forms of technology.  Such technologies increasingly define the way we live, interact with others, learn, and improve our everyday lives. I am certain that my new level of coding proficiency will only continue to enhance my overall perception of the technologies that are intertwined with my everyday life, and I hope that other “non-coders, like myself, open their minds to the language of code through the Code Academy program.

Dr. Amber Hutchins

amber

Dr. Hutchins serves as an Associate Professor of Communication at Kennesaw St. University where she teaches a variety of public relations classes such as PR Campaigns and Social Media for PR. Her research is concentrated around PR ethics, social media, and media criticism. Her background as a social media consultant for government, public, and non-profit agencies has provided her with a deep understand of the interdisciplinary role of social media.

She previously taught in the Communication Department at Trinity University. Dr. Hutchins earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University, with a specialization in PR. Her Ph.D. dissertation was focused upon the intersection of public relations and journalism ethics at the University of Utah.

Dr. Hutchins is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America Educator’s Academy and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Public Relations Division.

1990’s

As the last decade of the 20th century, the 1990’s saw the both the emergence and primary recognition of numerous female mavericks in the expanding fields of technology, computer science, and engineering.

#1

wit photo 1

http://www.olpcnews.com/people/leadership/goodbye_mary_lou_jepsen.html. Posted by Wayan Vota, Dec. 31, 2007

Mary Lou Jepsen, a pioneer and early advocate of small screens in the tech industry served as the co-founder of MicroDisplay in 1995, and as the co-founder of the nonprofit organization One Laptop per Child.

Visit http://www.maryloujepsen.com/#!resume/c46c for more information about the technological contributions of Jepsen.

#2

wit photo 5

http://ghcbloggers.blogspot.com/2011/08/amazing-grace-hoppers-2011-milestones.html posted by Bill Doughty on Naval Reads Blog. August 9th,2011.

Just twenty years ago, on September 16th, 1991, Grace Hooper became the first individual women to be awarded the National Medal of Technology for her pioneering work in the development of computer programming languages that simplified computer technology and opened the door to a significantly larger universe of users.

For a full coverage of Hooper’s lifetime of achievements and pivotal contributions to modern tech visit: http://navyreads.blogspot.com/2011_07_01_archive.html

#3

new  wit pic

http://www.space.com/17169-mae-jemison-biography.html Taken by NASA Sept. 1992

Pursuing a childhood dream, and following in the footsteps of Sally Ride, Mae Jemison became the first African American female astronaut to travel to space on the Endeavor mission that orbited Earth in early September of 1992.

For more information visit: http://space.about.com/cs/formerastronauts/a/jemisonbio.htm

#4

wit photo 3

http://www.networkworld.com/article/2202492/lan-wan/living-legends–radia-perlman–layer-3-wizard.html NETWORK WORLD. Dale Stephanos. May 9th, 2011

A holder of more than 100 patents, and often referred to as the “Mother of the Internet, Radia Perlman is credited for development of spanning tree protocol making it possible for the creation of massive internet networks using Ethernet. In 1990, Perlman patented her idea of a bridge like internet router using IP router systems and individual devices.

For a complete list of her patents spanning from the 1990’s, into the 2000’s visit: http://patents.justia.com/inventor/radia-j-perlman?page=6

Also, see the following site for the full backstory on Perlman’s spanning tree protocol: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/radia-perlman-dont-call-me-the-mother-of-the-internet/284146/

#5

wit photo 4

http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/phantasmagoria/phantasmagoria.htm. Screenshot of Phantasmagoria by Kurt Kalata.  Oct. 19, 2012

One of the most influential PC game designers, Roberta William’s game Phantasmagoria, released in 1995, is a pioneer in the graphical adventure game genre.

For additional information about this adventure video game: http://www.giantbomb.com/roberta-williams-phantasmagoria/3030-4327/

Building the Future of Women in Technology on the Global Stage

The disparity of women in the fields of computer science and technology is much more than a national issue. The distinctly unbalanced ratio of men to women in the technology field is a global pattern that spans from modernized first world societies like the U.S. to developing African nations like Ghana.

In the U.S., the recent surge of increasing the participation of women in the areas of programming, critical thinking, coding, and executive level leadership has taken key steps to meet the growing demand for technology professionals. Recognizing the lack of encouragement for young girls to become interested and passionate about STEM fields, many programs from Google’s Made with Code program, to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Code Camp, and even local startups such as the San Antonio VentureLab, have begun to address this issue by targeting younger generations of girls.

The U.S seems to be on the forefront of the global movement to integrate women in STEM fields. With approximately 82% of the population having Internet access in the U.S, the accessibility of getting young kids, particularly girls, involved with educational programs is highly achievable.[1] In comparison, African nations represent only 9.8% of the total world’s population with Internet access. [2] These conditions are particularly discouraging for the advancement of women in STEM fields in African nations, mainly because of the lack of resources that are critical to teach younger generations about technology. African women and young girls in particular are at a severe disadvantage, as they are not often encouraged to pursue a professional career in general. However, the first ever pan-African Women in Tech took place recently on August 2, 2014, in which multiple live viewing events in Uganda, South Africa and Ghana connected women across the African continent to discuss matters of technological initiatives to raise awareness and reach potential African women interested in STEM related fields. [3]

As these tech initiatives begin to gain momentum in the U.S, other countries look to follow along with startup organizations of their own. One noteworthy recent startup is gaining momentum in African nation of Ghana. Here, Regina Agyare has taken Ghana’s first steps to invite young women into the world of technology with her mentorship program, appropriately named Tech Needs Girls.[4] Recognizing that the technology industry is a fast growing and highly lucrative field, Agyare feels it is imperative to introduce young girls to critical thinking technological-based skills.

Building upon her personal experience in the technology industry- Agyare was the first female IT specialist at the International Bank of Ghana in Accra- she knows first-hand how difficult it is for women to break into this male-dominant field.[5] After six years of working as an IT specialist for the International Bank, a very high paying job for a woman in the technology business, Agyare left her job in 2012 and begin her own software development company called Sornoko Solutions.[6] Literally translated, Sornoko means unique in Agyare’s native language of Twi.

Agyare, the company’s founder, and lead software developer, has continued to expand Sornoko Soultion’s very unique mission of integrating technology into Ghanaian communities so that individuals can learn to use technology to enhance their everyday lives.[7] In particular, Sornoko has developed apps and software for the disabled. Recently, Sornoko has been working on developing an app that will convert text into sign language for deaf individuals.[8] In the non-profit sector, the skills development program, Tech Needs Girls, aims at teaching the next generation of women to “speak up and stand tall” while claiming their place in the STEM fields, according to Agyare. [9] Agyare’s involvement in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders encouraged her to use an interdisciplinary approach when introducing younger girls to the technology field. [10] The incorporation of technology skills with fields such as engineering, design, math, social planning, and entrepreneurship broadens the horizon of potential careers for young girls involved with Tech Needs Girls, and other similar programs for girls around the world.

Entrepreneurial tech companies such as Sornoko, in association with programs teaching younger generations, such as Tech Needs Girls, have begun to build a foundation for advancing the female percentage in STEM fields. As this trend spreads from the US to African nations like Ghana and to other parts of the world, there is great hope for a future of women in technology because of the efforts and leadership of women like Regina Agyare.

 

[1] Internet User Trends. (2014) Provided by International Telecommunication Union , United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India, and The World Bank. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

[2] http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ (see footnote 1)

[3] Ninyeh, Albert A. ( July 30 2014) “3 Countries Team Up For First Pan African ‘Women In Tech’ Meetup” InfoBoxDaily. http://infoboxdaily.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1672-3-countries-team-up-for-first-pan-african-women-in-tech-meetup

[4] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (26 March 2014). “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/tech/5-reasons-tech-needs-geek-girls/index.html?iref=allsearch

[5] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[6] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[7] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[8] Soronko Soultions. “Apps for the Disabled” http://www.soronkosolutions.com/apps.html

[9] Kermeliotis, Teo and Jessica Ellis (see footnote 4)

[10] U.S. Dept. of State. Young African Leaders Initiative: Meet the Fellows https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/meet-the-fellows-regina-agyare/