Here at sheMD, we believe in the importance of practicing Evidence-Based Medicine. We believe the same principles apply to discussing Gender and Medical Education. Therefore, we are bringing you an entire Journal Club series! Our series will focus on foundational and new literature within the gender and medicine space.
Today, we will be discussing the article entitled, But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist!: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists.
Why is this article important?
Women are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM fields, in part due to gender bias in these fields.
There is a perceived incompatibility between femininity and science that negatively impacts women in STEM fields, which includes ideas and judgements made based solely on appearance.
What they looked at:
This study evaluated natural variations in physical appearance and whether they had an impact on the perceived likelihood that a female is a scientist.
How they measured things:
80 female headshot photos of caucasian faculty (to avoid confounding) of top institutions in STEM fields were used as stimuli for participants to evaluate the likelihood that the person was a STEM scientist vs an early childhood educator. Participants were asked to rate the headshot from masculine to feminine, likable to unlikable, and unattractive to attractive.
A second study had participants estimate the likelihood of a male or female headshot being a journalist (gender neutral), scientist (masculine), or early childhood educator (feminine).
What were their outcomes:
Female scientists were rated as significantly more likely to be teachers. As the femininity rating increased, the rated likelihood of being a scientist decreased (p<0.001) and the likelihood of being a teacher increased (p<0.001).
The femininity rating of female headshots was negatively correlated to the rating of likelihood of being a scientist and positively correlated to the rating of likelihood of being a non-scientist (p<0.001).
Why do we care about this article?
What does this mean?
This research concluded that a feminine appearance affected career judgments for female scientists but had no effect on judgments of male scientists. They found increasing femininity decreased the perceived likelihood of that female being a scientist and increasing the perceived likelihood that the female was an early childhood educator. Past research has suggested that femininity and attractiveness are viewed as INCOMPATIBLE with science!
How does this apply to us?
So for #womeninstem, feminine appearance may erroneously signal that they are not well suited for science. Role incongruity theory tells us that if a person does not “fit” within a career because of a mismatch between that person’s gender role and the career role, then they may experience more prejudice. According to the article, "a woman who is more feminine in appearance than other women will elicit stronger perceived role incongruity and will therefore experience more prejudice than their less feminine counterparts."
Take Home Point
Should we try not to look feminine? NO! Be you. Look the way you want to look. As a wise friend always says, "YOU DO YOU GIRLFRIEND!" We just need to know that this gender bias exists. And that we will encounter it and have to defy it during our careers!
For further reading on the topic, check out these articles!
Ashton-James CE, Tybur JM, Grießer V, Costa D. Stereotypes about surgeon warmth and competence: The role of surgeon gender. PLoS One. 2019 Feb 27;14(2):e0211890. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211890. PMID: 30811457; PMCID: PMC6392236.
Bergsieker HB, Wilmot MO, Cyr EN, Grey CB. A threat in the network: STEM women in less powerful network positions avoid integrating stereotypically feminine peers. Group Process Intergroup Relat. 2021 Apr;24(3):321-349. doi: 10.1177/1368430219888274. Epub 2020 Jan 3. PMID: 33958955; PMCID: PMC8054113.
Dream S, Woolfolk M, Chen H. Gender role incongruency in general surgery applicants. Am J Surg. 2022 Sep;224(3):900-902. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2022.04.037. Epub 2022 May 7. PMID: 35562201.