Four women walk into a room: two physicists, an engineer, and a well-read historian. This is not a joke, it’s the new Ghostbusters movie. Whether you loved the film or refused to watch it because you didn’t think a remake was necessary, this film is not only changing how women are seen in Hollywood, but strongly representing a sorely underrepresented group, women scientists.
The number of young girls and female college students who are encouraged to go into STEM fields is still incredibly low. With comments like the one made by Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Tim Hunt, who said, “when you criticize them (women), they cry," women have gotten a bad rep for their work in laboratories, both in fiction and in real life.
If life imitates art, then it’s important that we have positive representation in our stories, showing females working in underrepresented fields. According to a 2016 paper released by the White House, entertainment proves a great medium to not only represent, but get audiences excited over certain career choices. A perfect example of this sort of influence was the CSI effect in 2000. ￼After the positive portrayal of criminal science in the popular show CSI, undergraduate and graduate degree enrollment in forensic science almost doubled from 2000 to 2005.
Unfortunately, we don’t see portrayals of women scientists in most of our mainstream media. According to the same White House paper, “in depictions of STEM professionals in family films, men outpace women 5 to 1, and when it comes to portrayals of computer scientists and engineers, men outpace women 14.25 to 1 in family films and 5.4 to 1 in primetime.”
This fictional representation is not far off from the real-life representation of women working in STEM fields. According to the US Department of Commerce, women hold less than 25% of STEM jobs, although women fill close to half of all of the jobs in the US workforce.
So what can we do about this? Continue to make and support movies like the new Ghostbusters movie. Not only is it incredibly funny when Leslie Jones’ character Patty says, “the power of Patty compels you,” it’s really empowering for four women to not be sexualized, and to be shown doing something they are passionate about that makes the world a better place.
In a recent interview with Vulture, actress Kate McKinnon described her experience on the Ghostbusters set as thus: "I wore pants the whole time and my hair was up the whole time. Not one hair on my neck … It sounds like a small thing that I got to wear pants and have my hair up, but it’s actually a really big thing because we were playing scientists. Women playing scientists wearing jumpsuits, kind of ugly jumpsuits. And they made dolls of this! That has never happened! … No cleavage. Dolls."
With great female protagonists such as the Ghostbusters ladies or Rey in the new Star Wars movie, fiction is paving the way to show women in a new light. Not a sexualized light, but a light where you can be strong, smart, passionate and be seen as a complete human being. Children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” with our imaginations and through fiction let’s continue to create great roles for women of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds working in STEM fields and saving the world from paranormal and non-paranormal dangers.
Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She is currently aspiring to be a science and culture writer and debating graduate school. The next big adventure may include digging near Mount Vesuvius, she also loves cats and wants to harness the power of words to save the world.