Male computer nerd stereotype prevents women from studying STEM

Nerd Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory”.


Imagine someone who is passionate about computer science, mathematics or technology. What is the image in your head? Do you think of a young, unshaven man who programs all day long in his darkened nursery? Are you thinking of a hyper-gifted, socially incompatible guy like Sheldon Cooper from the “Big Bang Theory” series? Or an outsider like John Nash from “A Beautiful Mind”? Do you think of what most people would call a “nerd”?

It is likely that your answer to at least one of these questions is “yes”. You would then be in the majority, measured against the German population. At least that’s what Yves Jeanrenaud, visiting professor for gender studies at Ulm University, says. The scientist contributed an expertise to the Federal Government’s Third Gender Equality Report. On Tuesday, January 26th, the report is to be handed over to Federal Minister for Gender Equality Franziska Giffey. Gender researcher Jeanrenaud comes to the conclusion in his scientific contribution: The cliché of the male computer freak described above is widespread – and it prevents women from studying computer science.

Dr. Yves Jeanrenaud

Dr. Yves Jeanrenaud

Elvira Eberhardt / Ulm University

“Job descriptions such as engineer or computer scientist still have male connotations,” says Jeanrenaud. “In particular, clichéd role models such as that of the nerd are used almost exclusively for young men. Many women are afraid of losing their ‘femininity’ if they venture into this male-dominated terrain. ”It is not uncommon, the researcher continues, that this leads women to decide against studying computer science – even if they actually do Bring an interest in it.

This deterrent effect is reflected in the statistics, writes Jeanrenaud in his expertise for the gender equality report. Only a third of all students in the so-called MINT subjects – mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology – are women. In the subject of mathematics, the relationship is more balanced, but Jeanrenaud attributes this to the high proportion of student teachers. In the world of work, the unequal distribution is becoming even more obvious: Just one sixth of all employees in MINT professions, writes Jeanrenaud, are female.

Gender stereotypes start in childhood

The researcher sees the reasons for this imbalance to a large extent in the socialization of boys and girls. Even as a child, most people internalized certain expectations that are placed on them – and that are closely linked to their gender.

“Children can assign pictograms to the two genders as early as the first year of life,” confirmed the Hamburg gender researcher Stevie Schmiedel in an earlier interview with “They know they are divided into a gender. And they want to represent this gender perfectly in order to get praise and recognition. ”Schmiedel explained this“ classification ”in the smallest of everyday gestures – for example in how differently adults communicated with boys and girls. “We say to boys: ‘Hey, cool dude’ and to girls: ‘Hey, cute mouse.'”

If a girl has the feeling that she does not fit into the picture of this clichéd “cute mouse” and all the characteristics that go with it, this can be very depressing for the child – and later also influence important decisions such as the choice of study. “If the internalized gender role does not match the current job description or a certain subject culture, there is a risk of turning away,” says Yves Jeanrenaud. The problem is also the other way around, he says: “This applies to men in care professions as well as to women in engineering or IT.”

STEM subjects: Enthusiasm is more important than grades

But who has the power to change that? And above all: how? “We definitely need more female role models and positive role models here!” Says Yves Jeanrenaud. There are not enough of them yet, says the scientist. In addition, it is important not to give the impression that only highly talented supernerds and nerds can be successful in the MINT area. “We have to get the normally gifted female students interested in studying computer science or technology,” demands the gender researcher.

Above all, it is the parents and teachers who have it in their hands to teach children from an early age that they can basically become and learn whatever they want. That it is not their gender that determines it. And especially the parents of daughters can work on their own prejudices – because the gender stereotypes of parents are like a “blueprint” for the stereotypes of their children, writes Jeanrenaud.

What parents can also do: encourage their daughters to be enthusiastic about STEM subjects at an early age. It has been proven that it is precisely this enjoyment of math problems that is decisive for later success in a degree – and not the grades in math lessons.


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