Minor thoughts on Margaret Meads Gender Image

Submitted by philipp on Thu, 02/08/2018 - 18:23
A text snippet from Mead and Metraux's text.a

Recently I wrote an article on school students' mental models of computer science and computer scientists. The article is methodically based on research published in 1957 by the now famous Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux.

In their article "Image of the Scientist Among High School Students: A Pilot Study" they studied school children's image of scientists in general (Mead & Metraux 1957).

At various schools, pupils of different ages were asked about their ideas and their "image" of scientists. The responses were systematically evaluated and showed that the image of scientists in students is subject to stereotypes.

One central quote from the article is:

The scientist is a man who wears a white coat and works in a laboratory. He is elderly or middle aged and weary glasses. He is small, sometimes small and stout, or tall and thin. He may be bald. He may wear a beard, may be unshaven and unkempt. He may be stooped and tired.

Even though the work may seem antiquated in places, it was still groundbreaking at that time. The work and the resulting article has influenced numerous scientists and is the basis for a large number of other studies; including mine.

Funny though is the gender image of that time: Boys were asked to define which kind of scientist they would like to become. Girls, however, were (also) asked the describe the kind of scientist they would like to marry.

Fair enough, girls were also given the opportunity to dream of becoming a scientist themselves. Still, this differentiation between girls and boys in Mead and Metraux's survey appears a bit outdated today. But hey, the work is from 1957 at luckily the world has changed slightly.

Reference: Mead, M., Metraux, R.: Image of the Scientist Among High School Students: A Pilot Study. Science. 126, 386–387 (1957).