Up until recently, the majority of human development literature on masculinity and femininity has held to the assumption that males and females are inherently different from one other (Schock & Schwalbe, 2009). That is, research has spent an ample amount of time focusing on constructing and disseminating the concept of “gender roles”. This view of male and female as different and opposite has deep historical roots that affect the types of research questions scientist study, thus affecting the material that the general public recieves (Mustin & Marecek, 1988). Science forwarding the concept of “gender roles” has numerous implications in forwarding gender stereotypes and social inequality. More specifically “gendered” research is a convincing explanation that has been offered for explaining the gender gap in engineering, mathematics, computer science, and physics (Hyde, 2013).
One way that scientists can begin address the issue that women are underrepresented in STEM, is by examining traditional “gender-role” conceptions and research methods. Instead of researching questions that focus on why differences exist (asking questions such as, “what are men like”) researchers should ask questions concerning why gender inequality exists. For example, when observing a toddler play with their toys, a scientist could look beyond the questions of what toys a male toddler gravitates towards (e.g. trucks, blocks) and instead focus on gender-relevant cues or ways in which the male is socialized to play in that specific manner. This data would be useful in examining how our culture forwards social inequality, and provide insight into how to adapt traditional methods of gender socialization.
If scientists are concerned with the lack of female participation in STEM, it is their responsibility to utilize socially-just research methods (dismantling the “gender-role” framework, including contextual analysis) to fight social inequality.
Hare-Mustin, R. T., & Marecek, J. (1988). The meaning of difference: Gender theory, postmodernism, and psychology. American Psychologist, 43, 455-464.
Hyde, J . S. (2014). Gender similarities and differences. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 373-398.
Schock, D., & Schwalbe, M. (2009). Men, masculinity and manhood acts. Annual Review of Sociology, 3, 277-295