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We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Stick-figure Scientists and Backyard Bobsledding (California-Style): Proof That Female Representation Matters
by Samantha Chaffin, Webmaster & Online Content Manager
During a study conducted in the 1960s, researchers asked a group of 5,000 children to draw a scientist. According to this article in TIME, “the kids drew scientists of all kinds: some with white coats, some peering into microscopes, some with facial hair. But out of the 5,000 children, just 28 — less than 1% — drew a woman.”
The “Draw-a-Scientist” study has been reproduced in various forms throughout the years, as in this “draw an effective leader” exercise referenced in the New York Times in March, where the result showed “both men and women almost always draw men.” However, only recently are the drawings beginning to show more equal gender representation. Why is this? Researchers are suggesting that it’s not that children have changed, but rather that their associations are shifting. The world has been gradually changing since the ’60s, with movements emerging for a greater female presence in the sciences (and in other disciplines), and it shows in the way that children in the “Draw-a-Scientist” study are associating gender with this particular career.
At Westridge, we know it goes deeper than that.
I’ve been on staff at Westridge for a little over a year now, and I still daily feel the marked shift in dynamic that comes with setting foot on this campus full of independent, smart, talented young women. It’s not a feeling of leaving the outside world behind so much as it feels to me like something the outside world can aspire to be. When it comes to having female leaders in practically every role (from head of school to student body president), Westridge is absolutely lightyears ahead of every workplace and every school I’ve ever been or attended. Witnessing the confidence-bolstering effect that female representation has on Westridge students, it’s not hard to guess at the reason; I believe that Westridge knows, and has always known, that female role models are far more important to healthy and aspirational self-development than the Draw-a-Scientist researchers might have guessed in the ’60s.
This year, Westridge alumna Lauren Gibbs ’02 won a silver medal for bobsled in the 2018 Winter Olympics, after transitioning from a business career to professional athletic competition. Gibbs’ story is inspiring because of her hard work and dedication, but also because she is a powerful female athlete making waves in the world. Historically, female athletes haven’t been nearly as celebrated as male athletes in the media (in their 2013 study, the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport found that women’s sports received a mere 4 percent of all sports media coverage). But like many other female-led victories, Gibbs’ win meant so much to the girls watching at home. Indeed, after seeing Gibbs stand on the podium in Korea, a Westridge girl named Claire back in Pasadena asked her dad to push her on a homemade go-cart “bobsled” in their yard.
(This really happened. Check out the video clip below shared with us by Claire’s mom!)
Recently, Gibbs visited Westridge to speak to the community, and it was incredible to watch the reaction in the room as she described her journey to representing the U.S. in PyeongChang. I could have sworn that the women and girls all sat up a little straighter — I know I did — as she spoke and especially when she lifted her medal high.
Representation matters, and not just in science and athletics (or other traditionally male-dominated fields), but in the arts, as well. When I was in middle school, I lost count of the number of times I was teased for being the only girl in my entire school to play the cello — a hulking instrument, especially for my size back then. The jokes were mostly well-meant, but it was also admittedly hard not to let the constant laughter at how funny I looked playing an instrument that was bigger than I was, get to me. I mostly kept my head down, and I was far too embarrassed to tell my male cello teacher how insecure I felt as a musician, even though I’m sure he would have reacted kindly. Cut to years later, this morning I helped two Westridge students take their cello cases out of their cars during morning drop-off and I couldn’t help but smile to myself as the girls’ called each other’s names, and lugged their cases down the sidewalk together, side by side. It seems that these girls are not only finding role models in their teachers and school alumnae, but they’re also finding role models in each other.
And isn’t that exactly how it should be?
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