When they were 8 and 10, Kimberly and Rebecca Yeung had to choose who to send to space. The spacecraft the two constructed in their garage only had a payload big enough for one action figure. The sisters decided on Rey, the heroine of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens.This is a weak form of the cargo cult, that if you put images of people doing things on the screen, then people will be willing and able to do them.
With Rey in the captain’s seat, the Yeung sisters’ spaceship lifted off. It was powered by a helium-filled balloon and was outfitted with solar panels, GPS, video cameras, and sensors to capture data and relay it back to Earth in real time. Their hope: reach the stratosphere at roughly 40,000 feet. Instead they soared even higher, to 101,000 ft. They had reached beyond their dreams, to the very edge of space.
Rey may be a fictional character, but to Rebecca and Kimberly she is a very real role model. “We know that sometimes people have said that things like technology and science were only for boys,” Kimberly says. “But knowing that there are people who are role models for us makes us feel good about our interests and what we like to do.”
The characters we see on-screen play a significant part in determining the roles we occupy off-screen. In a recent study, only 15% of K-12 students remember seeing women performing computer science tasks "most of the time" in film or TV. This is reflected in real life where women make up only 17% of computer science majors – a steady decline from a peak at 37% in 1984. There are many reasons for this decline, but stronger female representation in programming, coding, and engineering roles on the big screen can help everyone envision women filling those roles in real life. This is an issue Google's Computer Science in Media team has been focused on for years, working with creators and producers to improve the portrayal of these fields in TV and movies.We know the reason for the decline: feminism and wealth. The greater the wealth, the greater the choices available to women, and the more they gravitate to "feminine" jobs.
If you raise your daughter without television or movies, would she be more or less likely to take up computer science?
Two daughters are raised by a single parent, one by the mother, the other by the father. Which one is more likely to study computer science?