Accepted paper:

Meeting gender in space: visual imagery in children's science books


Elizabeth Caldwell (Lancaster University)
Susan Wilbraham (University of Cumbria)

Paper short abstract:

Children's books about different science subjects show variation in the visual portrayal of gender. Maths and physics books have significantly fewer images of women than men, but biology books are gender balanced. Female astronauts are pictured doing less technical work in space than men.

Paper long abstract:

Previous studies of both adult and children's media have found significant gender imbalances in the way that scientists are portrayed visually, with women under represented and depicted as having lower status. However, these studies have not examined the portrayal of gender between different scientific professions or in children's books about different science subjects. This study investigates the depiction of gender in children's science books through analysing the images in 160 science picture books for children. Firstly a content analysis was conducted of images of humans in maths, physics and biology books. The content analysis revealed that images in children's biology books had an even gender balance, while maths and physics books contained significantly more images of men than women. The second phase of the study involved a qualitative visual analysis of images of two professions popular with children: astronauts and doctors. The analysis revealed subtle differences in portrayal of the work of astronauts of different genders, which resulted in de-emphasising the technical responsibilities, and abilities, of female astronauts. In contrast, images of doctors showed no such differences and both male and female doctors were pictured performing the same tasks. Despite the efforts to include some pictures of female astronauts in children's books, the differences in the way that male and female astronauts were portrayed undermined any message about equality. For children's science books to contribute to addressing the paucity of women in the physical sciences, more consideration of these subtle aspects of visual communication is required.

panel E04
Meeting the visual