Mars Exchange
Why have fewer women been involved in space exploration?

Why have fewer women been involved in space exploration?

by Vince on Wednesday, 3rd September 2014 in Expert Opinions, People, Rebecca Spyke Keiser, STEM

Mars One will be assembling and training teams for its settlement. We have much work to do before the teams are ready, and getting a good match of skills and personalities is part of that work. We've had many women applicants and will be forming teams of two men and two women. Rebecca Spyke Keiser, PhD is Special Assistant to the NASA Administrator for Innovation and Public-Private Partnership. She helps implement a wide range of initiatives in support of NASA's goals. (Learn more about Keiser at One of her initiatives at NASA has been to lead the agency's efforts to involve more girls and women in the study of science, technology, engineering, and math. Mars One Exchange recently asked Keiser, Why have women historically been less involved in space exploration? 

“It really is the case, but it's changing now. There are more women studying the sciences, but it's amazing that physics, astrophysics, and aerospace engineering still lack women. At NASA I’ve lead efforts to get more women and girls to go into STEM fields [science, technology, engineering, and math] and to address some of the issues underlying the disparity."

“There are several reasons for the disparity. First, some of it is related to role models. In medical sciences, biology, and similar fields, we’ve had many prominent females, so girls can see themselves in those women. But in aerospace and physics, we just have not had a lot of women role models."

“Second, part of the challenge is in how we teach these fields. Biology is fascinating and can readily lead to lots of careers, so if you study biology, you can go into medicine, genetics, or many other fields. But in the world of physics and aerospace engineering, most people have their path set from the beginning. It then becomes self-propagating. It’s mostly men already, and women seem less likely to select something where they don’t see others like themselves."

“Third is socialization and micro-messaging. Without knowing it, we give subtle indicators through body language, the way we look, or the tone of our voice. Combine that with gender socialization and it leads to unintentional perceptions, like females are only good at some things. For example, a recent viral video shows a director telling teenage girls and young women to 'run like a girl.' When the director says that, they run in a silly and effeminate way. When the director tells much younger girls to 'run like a girl,' they zoom out and speed fast. You can see that to older girls and young women, 'run like a girl' is considered a negative. But younger, less socialized girls haven't gotten that message yet, so they really run. So we are socialized to think we're only good at some things and not others. A lot needs to be done to change that.”

Tell us what you think. And look for more from NASA's Rebecca Spyke Keiser, who, in future installments has specific suggestions for how Mars One can attract and involve more girls and women in its program and discusses why gender matters.

Story contributed by Vincent Hyman, a writer and Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. 

Photo credits header image:

  • Left: NASA / Bill Ingalls
  • Right: NASA
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