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Hairdressing in space: Depiction of gender in science books for children

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Stereotypes in the media both reflect and perpetuate the notion that science is a masculine pursuit. The aim of the current study is to explore whether such stereotypes extend to imagery within children’s science books. To determine the extent of stereotypes in gender representation, both quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted. Results demonstrated that females were under-represented in images across the books surveyed. Analyses of images of adults demonstrated under-representation of women in both physics and mathematics books, but images of children showed no significant difference between genders. Analyses of the target age of the children’s books revealed that books targeted at older children contained fewer images of adult females. Qualitative visual analyses revealed that books about space exploration trivialized women’s expertise, diminished their perceived technical competence, failed to acknowledge their contribution or presence and represented them in a manner that suggested that they were passive, lower status and superficial. Books about science that are currently available to children in libraries are not balanced in terms of their representation of gender. More balanced imagery in children’s science books of women actively participating in scientific occupations would help to demonstrate that careers in these areas are meaningful, fulfilling and achievable for women.
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Keywords: career aspirations; children’s science books; gender-STEMM stereotypes; trade books; unconscious bias; visual analysis; visual discourse; women in STEMM

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Huddersfield 2: University of Cumbria

Publication date: 01 September 2018

More about this publication?
  • Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction. The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society.

    Working with a distinguished international board, the Journal of Science & Popular Culture aims to create a unique forum in which to analyse, chronicle, and interpret this diverse landscape through original research articles, editorials, book and new media reviews, notes and essays. The journal also provides a site where emerging and established scholars can access salient knowledge and cutting-edge research. Contributions from academics, scientists, communicators, industry professionals, and practitioners with an interest in the science and society interface are invited. Any scholarly approaches or disciplines may be used and the Journal of Science & Popular Culture strongly reinforces interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, opening up new possibilities for inquiry across and between the humanities and sciences.

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