What makes positive stereotypes—like “Asians are good at math” or “Black people are good at basketball”—just as damaging as negative stereotypes? According to Kumari Devarajan, a journalist for NPR’s podcast Code Switch, “Once you buy that there’s a connection between race and ability, it’s a slippery slope to the bad stuff.” They point out that many positive stereotypes still have links to negative ones: for example, when we say that Black people are good at sports, we may be implying they aren’t as skilled intellectually. Positive stereotypes make the people who don’t live up to them feel like failures, and steal credit from people who do happen to live up to them. Further, many of these positive stereotypes may originate from a history of discrimination. The stereotype of the “strong Black woman” stems from Black women often having to work long hours and survive with limited resources. When these realities are folded into a stereotype, they get erased. As L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a professor of sociology and black studies at City University of New York, writes, “And if we think black women are strong, then there’s no reason to make the world more fair for them.”
A recent report from the National Council on Disability finds that sexual assault prevention and procedures at colleges “often overlook students with disabilities”—a troubling find, given the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Although women with disabilities experience sexual assault at disproportionately higher rates on campus, the Council reports that not only do colleges “lack policies and procedures to ensure that supports are in place” when sexual assault is reported, but prevention and education programs are often inaccessible. To combat these issues, the Council is asking Congress to “require colleges to report the number of sex assaults on students with disabilities and be transparent about accommodations for those who do experience such incidents.” Wendy Harbour, a member of the National Council on Disability and director of the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, states, “One campus said students with disabilities were not ‘on their radar,’ but it’s time to change that and make national conversations more inclusive.”
A recent meta-analysis of over five decades of “draw-a-scientist” studies reveals that, based on 20,860 drawings, children aged 5 to 18 are drawing more female scientists than ever before. They will still draw fewer female scientists as they get older, but in the 1960s and 1970s, students asked to draw a scientist rarely drew a woman. As of 2016, that 1% of students has grown to 34%; for girls, the number has jumped to 50%. The surge mirrors an increase in female scientists over that time period. Katie Langin of Science writes, “From 1960 to 2013—the percentage of women holding science jobs rose from 28% to 49% in biological science, from 8% to 35% in chemistry, and from 3% to 11% in physics and astronomy.” This suggests that more exposure to female scientists in the media is not lost on children, and will hopefully translate into less stereotypical thinking and even higher numbers of women in STEM in the coming years.