Elevating Images of Women in Science
A Case Study on Depictions of Women in STEM Movies & Series

Elevating Images of Women in Science

A Case Study on Depictions of Women in STEM

A Case Study on Depictions of Women in STEM

Since the 1990s, portrayals of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) have radically expanded in mainstream TV and film. So, we at Latitude decided to take a closer look at some of the most iconic ones, to better understand what makes these characters compelling to audiences.

When it comes to mainstream depictions of female scientists, the 1990s was a watershed moment in TV and film, spearheaded by the iconic Dr. Dana Scully of The X-Files. While Dana Scully was not the only female scientist to take to the small screen (or the big screen) during that time, her legacy in popular culture remains unparalleled. Since her debut in 1993, she has been widely cited as an inspiration to many real-life women now working in STEM fields – a phenomenon formally known as “The Scully Effect.”

Since that time, portrayals of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) have radically expanded in mainstream TV and film. So, we at Latitude decided to take a closer look at some of the most iconic ones, to better understand what makes these characters compelling to audiences.

The Study

Using our Lumiere platform, we invited 300+ US teens and adults to watch two of the following six examples of women scientists and provide feedback in the form of open-and closed-ended questions. We also asked them to indicate moments they found particularly enjoyable or compelling with our on-screen emoji feature.

Dr. Dana Scully, Dr. Elllie Sattler, Dr. Ellie Arroway, Dr. Amy Fowler, Dr Temperance Brennan, Shuri

Here are some of the things we learned!

Passion is Paramount

After each scene concluded, we asked viewers what made these portrayals work well for them; in a majority of cases (4 out of 6), demonstrated passion for the work rose to the very top of the list. Passion also came in a close second (at 54%) when we asked viewers to select what makes for a good portrayal of women in science, ranking just behind intelligence at 56%.

Passion scores highest compared to other values

Black Panther’s Shuri Outshines the Competition

Out of the six scenes we tested, Shuri was the most likely to be selected as a favorite among our viewers (likely in part, due to her youthful passion for her scientific work). Moreover, out of a longer list of fictional female scientists, Shuri ranks at number one for being the most liked character relative to the total number of people who’d seen her. A whopping 93% of Black Panther viewers enjoyed Shuri’s particular combination of scientific innovation, sense of humor, and bright personality. For a look at where the rest of our list fell out, check out the data down below!

93% of black panther viewers liked Shuri as an example of women in STEM

Women & Men Agree on the (Un)Importance of Gender

Surprisingly, men and women patterned similarly around the issue of whether gender ought to be important to the storyline (or not). Women were only slightly more likely than men (25% vs. 22%) to say they feel the gender of a scientist is significant to the storyline.

In general, what do you think makes a character a good example of women in science? Women see more importance in gender.

Women Feel More Strongly About Overall Characterization

Compared to men however, women showed a notably stronger preference for depictions of female scientists that highlight the character’s competence, passion, creativity, and complexity as characters.

In general, what do you think makes a character a good example of women in science?

Women see more Passion, competence, creativity, and complexity.

What our audience thought of each scientist
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Want to know more about what made these depictions appealing to our audience? Or what they might enjoy most about your content? Reach out to us!

More Case Studies

Want to know even more about what audiences found compelling in these clips? Or what they might find particularly engaging in your content? Reach out to us!

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