Men are from Mars and so are Women // Jessica Johnston, M.A.

This month’s edition of the APA Monitor on Psychology included a description of a study whose results indicated that young women were more interested in enrolling in a computer science class when they were presented with imagines of a classroom that did not match the computer science stereotype (e.g., nature posters vs. Star Trek posters hanging on the walls). These researchers found that young women felt a reduced sense of belonging in these stereotyped environments. Many STEM fields have traditionally placed barriers deterring the involvement of women, figurative signs plastered across the hallways of math and science buildings bearing the slogan “no girls allowed”. However, there are several examples in the media in more recent years that have worked to shatter these barriers and stereotypes, including The Martian, a novel by Andy Weir that was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon.
            Now, I know what you’re thinking: Starring Matt Damon? I thought this article was about the advancement of women in STEM fields. And you’re right. The movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test because the majority of the film is centered on trying to figure out how to get an abandoned male astronaut off of Mars. However, I do have to acknowledge the film’s effort to avoid many of the cinema stereotypes of women characters, such as the damsel-in-distress or girl-next-door-sidekick-turned-love-interest.
            The movie had several strong female characters. Commander Melissa Lewis is a geologist and commander of the manned mission to Mars. She makes several controversial and important decisions throughout the film and is well-respected by her team. Beth Johanssen is the system operator and reactor technician on the Mars mission and does an excellent job managing all computer-related crises in space. Annie Montrose, the NASA spokesperson and director of media relations, is assertive with her male colleagues and is devoted to her job throughout the film. Finally, Mindy Park, a satellite planner for NASA’s mission control, is the individual responsible for discovering that astronaut Mark Watney was alive and left behind on Mars. These women play crucial roles in the film to ensuring the safe return of Mark Watney and certainly demonstrate the need for and competence of women in STEM fields.
            In the real world, women are making a bigger presence in space exploration; Russia is currently working on the first all-female space crew. However, we still have a long way to go to help women feel comfortable in STEM fields, such as reducing experiences of sexism. Some changes need to be made, and I’m not talking about putting pink Bic pens for women in math classrooms. When I watched the movie, I felt so genuinely excited about our potential to explore space and continue to expand our knowledge of our galaxy. It was exciting to read a novel about theoretical science in space. I felt very connected to the female characters in the novel and was proud to be a woman in a science field. And get this? The book cover wasn’t even pink.

Written by Jessica Johnston, M.A. 
Counseling Psychology Student at Texas Tech University

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