“Geeks and She-eks”: The Relationship Between Younger Women’s Experiences in Popular Geek Culture and Their Interest in STEM Fields
Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
There is conflicting evidence about whether women’s participation in recreational, popular geek culture (e.g., gaming, fandom, science fiction consumption) can help close the gender gap in STEM fields. On one hand, these leisure activities can give women skills and experience that they can employ in STEM activities and culture. However, research also suggests that experiencing sexism while participating in geek culture activities can lower women’s motivation to participate in STEM. This thesis proposed that womens’ engagement in geek culture correlated with STEM efficacy and an interest in the STEM field. However, the type of experiences women have in geek culture were expected to moderate the effect of geek culture engagement on STEM-related efficacy and interest in STEM careers. Specifically, positive, affirming social experiences in geek culture were expected to enhance this effect while, negative experiences (e.g., harassment, exclusion, and sexism), were expected to decrease this effect. To test these predictions, this study employed an online survey of both MTurk users (N=77) and undergraduate university students (N=172) under the age of 30. The results showed a correlation between geek culture activities and STEM career interest with STEM efficacy acting as a mediating variable. Two conditional process models were run to examine positive and negative experiences as separate moderators of the indirect effect of geek cultural engagement on interest in STEM through self-efficacy, but neither model showed evidence that experiences moderated this effect. However, a supplemental analysis showed that positive experiences did serially mediate the effect of geek culture engagement on interest in STEM. Specifically, greater engagement in geek culture led to more positive geek culture experiences, which increased women’s STEM-related efficacy and their STEM career interest in turn. A second supplemental analysis examining negative experiences and STEM-related efficacy as serial mediators was not significant. These findings suggest that women can benefit from participating in geek culture activities in terms of their efficacy and interest in STEM. These benefits are stronger when women report positive and welcoming experiences during their geek culture activities, thus increasing the importance of ensuring geek culture spaces become more inclusive and safer for all. Because negative experiences did not affect STEM efficacy and were associated with greater STEM career interest, this finding suggests that women who have negative experiences in geek spaces may have developed some resistance to toxic geek masculinity, making them able to handle some challenges they could encounter in STEM fields.
Butcher, Madeleine D., "“Geeks and She-eks”: The Relationship Between Younger Women’s Experiences in Popular Geek Culture and Their Interest in STEM Fields" (2021). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8283.
Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication Commons, Mass Communication Commons, Other Communication Commons