Monday, February 17, 2014

Women in Media

A lot of people puzzled by the disparity between representation of men and women in engineering try to understand the problem better by tracking exactly where girls stop considering technical careers. As children, boys and girls aspire equally to be doctors, astronauts, veterinarians, scientists, marine biologists, and other STEM-centric jobs. But right around the seventh grade, many girls cease to consider these careers or pursue these interests. My personal theory is that we unconsciously emulate the behaviors we see modeled on TV or in movies, and over time, it adds up—and girls aspire to positions in fields that have traditionally been female-dominated, and so are easily stereotyped in television. For women of color, there are even fewer role models in technology shown on TV.

                One of the metrics to determine whether a movie is female-friendly or not is called the Bechdel test. It has three simple rules:  (1) the movie must have at least two female characters who (2) talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. Bonus points if both of the women are named. It seems like this would be pretty obvious, right? Pretty easy to satisfy with blockbuster actresses like Sandra Bullock, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, and so on?
                Shockingly, no. Of the Oscar Nominees for best picture of 2014, only three of the nine pass this test: Philomena, American Hustle, and Nebraska. That seems like bad news, but I think some recent releases are cause for hope. First, Sandra Bullock dominated Gravity (though I’m still not sure why a medical doctor was welding on the ISS) as a strong, driven technical woman who has struggled but finds the strength to carry on. I consider her my inspiration for making it through introductory bio classes. Second, Frozen was a landmark film. Frozen was co-directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and I firmly believe that having a woman in the cockpit made it a more entertaining, character-driven film. Finally, a Disney movie that endorses sisterly love as true love and highlights that sometimes the best person to save a damsel in distress is her sister, not a random guy who thinks she’s cute.  (See: Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc.)
                With Frozen in mind, I attended a screening party for Annedroids, a brand new kid’s show about a girl who lives in a Junkyard and builds robots to help her conduct science experiments. The pilot episode features neighborhood kids exploring the edges of the junkyard to retrieve a lost toy, discovering a giant robot aptly named “Hands,” and meeting a mysterious person in welding gear. They remove their helmet, and lo and behold, it’s a girl! Her hair tied back with electrical clips, she explains that she needs to power up her newest android (a robot that behaves or looks like a person), and that’s why the neighborhood keeps experiencing blackouts. With quick thinking and teamwork, the trio of kids uses a lightning rod to save the day (from behind a safe, non-conductive shield. Very wise). It effortlessly passes the Bechdel test.
                I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to more shows that think outside of the boxes that society tends to put people in.

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