I’m not going to lie and say that as a kid, watching “CSI” didn’t lead me to seriously consider a career in crime scene investigation. Marathons of the serial crime drama led me to believe that life in the field would be all about examining dead bodies and using pH strips to divulge the murder weapon. Does this even make sense? I’m not a scientist - I’m a journalist, but I think about them all the time.
I started blogging as a TV reviewer and live off the entertainment section of newspapers. I think a lot about TV shows and their relationship to the people who watch them. It’s no surprise that my feelings of wanting to be a female scientist like those shown on “NCIS” or “C.S.I.” would also be felt by girls all over the world. TV shows are culturally responsible for peaking girls’ interests in STEM fields, but only if they see it.
According to an article in the New York Times, “I am woman, watch me hack,” Nikki Allen, a 16-year-old Bronx native knew she wanted to study forensics after judging that the job looked cool in “C.S.I.” It wasn’t until her chemistry teacher recommended a computer science program that Allen found a new calling. Allen, like so many other girls hadn’t formed a basis of understanding on computer science, but after she participated in the eight-week programming boot camp with the non-profit organization, “Girls Who Code,” Allen now plans to major in the subject upon entering college.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reported in a new study that while healthcare in TV is more gender-balanced, with more women depicted in the life/physical sciences (66.7 percent in prime-time TV), there are hardly any women depicted as engineers or computer scientists. It’s no shock why Allen never seriously considered her future career path until she was actually immersed in it.
Only 71 TV characters represent people with STEM careers on primetime TV. Only 21.1 percent of those characters are female, according to the study. Specifically in engineering, there are currently zero women being represented on TV.
TV is doing something, though. Popular shows, while not showing female engineers, do have a strong female leads usually in criminal or medical backgrounds. Shows like “Rizzoli and Isles,” “Bones,” beloved “C.S.I.” and “NCIS” are doing their small part in making these once-male-dominated fields into female-dominated ones.
Recently, on the big screen “Gravity,” made a huge step for women. Sandra Bullock carried the entire movie as Dr. Ryan Stone, medical doctor and newly minted astronaut, without being objectified, sexualized or mystified.
Laura Salas, third-year mechanical and aerospace engineering major, says she wishes she had more women to look up to growing up. Aside from Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus” or Storm of the “X-Men” series, Salas says most of her influencers were men.
“The reason I became an engineer was because of Bill Nye the Science Guy,” she said.
Around the third or fourth grade, Salas said, she realized that there weren’t many women in strong roles, and while it didn’t stop her from pursuing a career in engineering, she said she thinks it would “be awesome to have more female characters.”
“As a girl, when you’re watching cartoons, you don’t exactly relate 100 percent to the character because the character is always a boy,” Salas said. “People always complain about [intelligent female characters], but I don’t think they know what they’re missing.”