North-Central Section - 50th Annual Meeting - 2016

Paper No. 25-5
Presentation Time: 9:20 AM


JOHNSON, Beth A., University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, 1478 Midway Rd, Menasha, WI 54952,

Although scientific issues and programming have become a staple in our popular consciousness, there appears to be a gap between who geologists are and what they do with what the public thinks they are and thinks they do. This gap is particularly profound for women in geology. But, what are the public perceptions of a woman in geology in 2016? This project examines the numerous ways people are exposed to scientists, particularly geologists, in order to focus attention on how the perceptions of geologists come across to the average person and the likelihood of that geologist being female.

A general query in an image search engine using the term “scientist” brings up a number of images that share the following traits: people in a sterile lab setting, all wearing a lab coat, and either examining a microscope or chemicals. However, separate queries using the terms “geologist,” “male geologist,” and “female geologist” bring up a number of images that share the following traits: people in the field wearing floppy hats, baggy clothes with many pockets, examining rocks, and often holding a rock hammer. This perception is very similar regardless of the gender of the subject.

Hollywood has fallen short in their representations of women in geology in both scripted television as well as movies. At this time, the only network program with scientist characters in lead roles is The Big Bang Theory, which is noted for one character’s negative comments about geology as a science. The show itself has featured only one character who was a geologist, who was not portrayed in a positive light. Although geologists are staple characters in many disaster movies, very few are women and those movies that do contain female geologists are often rated as “Rotten” on This means that fewer people would have the opportunity to see women in these roles in popular fiction.

 Many women are fighting back to ensure that women are being seen as scientists and role models. Such endeavors include “The Bearded Lady Project” and as well as articles highlighting the achievements of specific women. Unfortunately, the emphasis of the projects listed here is on women in paleontology, so more work needs to be done to promote women in geology as a whole.