What do Temperance “Bones” Brennan, Hermione Granger, and Abby Sciuto have in common? They’re all inspiring female characters who are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals in movies or on TV. They serve as role models for girls who may have never considered a profession in those fields or for grown women who are having trouble navigating the “boys’ club” attitude that many STEM careers still maintain.
In 2011, the Entertainment Industries Council presented their inaugural Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Awards commending the entertainment industry for its encouragement of STEM. That inspired me to ask our staff here at AAUW to submit their favorite women characters who can inspire a girl’s interest in STEM.
Here were some of our favorites:
The forensic scientist on NCIS does database searches and DNA analysis without falling into the drab, dorky stereotype we often see scientists take in the media. Her quirky personality and gothic fashion sense make the forensics side of crime-scene investigations seem a lot cooler.
On Bones, she worked as a forensic anthropologist at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C., before she began consulting with the FBI when they needed her to identify murder victims.
On the reality show MythBusters on Discovery Channel, little girls and grown women alike can love Byron for making STEM fun. Not only does she blow things up, but she can also explain how and why.
Harry Potter’s closest female ally, Granger was a master in her potions class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If she hadn’t been recruited for magical training, she may have been one of the best chemists that fictional Europe had ever seen.
In Avatar, she pulls samples from the trees of the alien planet Pandora and explains the biological neural network that connects the native people to their environment, all while running the Avatar program.
Jodie Foster plays this character in 1997’s Contact. The sci-fi movie is largely based on Jill Tarter, who was the director of the most comprehensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence, Project Phoenix. Tarter credits her inspiration to help women in STEM to an AAUW meeting she attended in the 1970s.
Sandy Cheeks, SpongeBob SquarePants
Camille Saroyan, Bones
Angela Montenegro, Bones
Ellie Sattler, Jurassic Park
Penelope Garcia, Criminal Minds
Susan Test and Mary Test, Johnny Test
Maddie Fenton, Danny Phantom
Megan Hunt, Body of Proof
According to a recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, of the 81 percent of girls who report interest in STEM careers, only 13 percent say it is their first choice. Our 2010 research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics found that a girl’s perception about a gender-appropriate job can affect her career choice in the long run.
Media can be a massive influence on a child’s perceptions of the world. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that in 2009, the average 8- to 18-year-old consumes about four and a half hours of TV each day, peaking with 11- to 14-year-olds, who watch more than five hours a day.
The Entertainment Industries Council was established to improve the messages entertainment sends to these viewers. Its Picture This: Engineering publication focuses on the impact entertainment has on our country’s call for more STEM educators and workers. It also provides suggestions to entertainment creators on ways they can inspire viewers and improve the outlook on STEM.
Who else is a great STEM role model for girls and women? Tell us your favorites and learn about the SET Awards nominees at www.eiconline.org.
This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.