33 SES 14, Including Girls Through Supporting the Development of Their Identities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Despite decades of initiatives, women continue to be underrepresented in science, especially in the areas such as physical sciences and engineering. Many find it difficult to see science as something that is ‘for me’, which has implications for their learning and participation. The challenges of identifying with science are increased for girls/women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; research has found, for instance, that girls performing typically working class ‘girly’ femininity are among least likely to aspire to careers in science, in part due to tension with masculinity that is dominantly associated with the subject (Archer et al., 2013). Studies have predominantly focused on examining the difficulties for working class girls’ to engage with science, with fewer exploring what makes this possible. In this paper, I discuss the findings from a study with 15 working class girls aged 11 to 13 from diverse ethnic backgrounds, which was part of a larger project aiming to understand how young people from diverse backgrounds engage with science. Data for this study were collected in two inner-city secondary schools in London and Manchester (UK) over the course of one academic year through interviews and discussion groups with the girls and interviews with their science teachers. Data were analysed through a post-structural gender lens, including the theories of Judith Butler’s (1993, 1999) gender performativity and gender intelligibility, and considering how gender intersects with social class and ethnicity. The focus of this paper is on the discourses that enabled and supported working class girls to identify with science. The five science-identifying girls (i.e., those who considered themselves to be ‘sciencey’ as well as aspired to science-related careers in the future) negotiated their identification with science through the following discursive strategies: (1) rendering gender invisible, (2) drawing attention to the presence of women in science, (3) reframing science people as caring and nurturing, and (4) cultural discourses of desirability of science. The paper discusses what these discourses depended on, what they enabled, and what some of their limitations were – and considers the implications of the findings for policy and practice.
Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2013). Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 21(1), 171-194. Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of sex. London: Routledge. Butler, J. (1999). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. London: Routledge.
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