The CSI Effect
When CSI aired on television for the first time in 2000, it became incredibly popular almost immediately. Directors and networks were quick to take notice, and thus a whole line of shows focused on forensic science and detective work was born, including Law & Order, The Mentalist, and three official CSI spin-offs. The word "phenomenon" is almost an understatement - this genre of television inspired video games, books, and even board games. As the White House fact sheet explains, one unintended consequence of CSI's popularity was that it exposed huge audiences to the world of forensic science, a world which notably featured a number of successful women. As a result, universities in the US saw their undergraduate and graduate degree enrollment in forensic science programs nearly double between 2000 and 2005. And it's worth noting that this trend of media affecting career choices isn't anything new - even before CSI was encouraging people to pursue forensics, shows such as The West Wing were depicting women as professional lawyers, and a number of women played successful doctors on shows such as ER. Both of these fields also benefited greatly from positive media representation, further underlining the impact that media can have on our lives.
There has also been a substantial amount of evidence to prove that the media's continual adherence to the stereotype of the Caucasian, middle-aged scientist is harmful to audiences, as those outside of that established description find it much harder to imagine themselves in a STEM job. How can they, when none of the scientists or engineers they see on TV look like them? The media we are exposed to and the media that we consume has an undeniable effect on the way we look at the world, so let's take a closer look at the kind of exposure that women in STEM tend to be given.