“Balancing acts'': Elementary school girls' negotiations of femininity, achievement, and science



There is international concern over persistent low rates of participation in postcompulsory science—especially the physical sciences—within which there is a notable underrepresentation of girls/women. This paper draws on data collected from a survey of more than 9,000 10/11-year-old pupils and 170 interviews (with 92 children and 78 parents) from a 5-year study of children's science aspirations and career choice in England, to explore how gender interacts with girls' science aspirations. The research found that even though most children aged 10/11 years enjoy science, the majority already see science careers as “not for me.” Using a feminist poststructuralist theoretical lens, this paper explores the identity work undertaken by the minority of girls who do identify with science and who express science aspirations at this age. It is argued that dominant associations of science with “cleverness” and masculinity pressurize girls to balance their science aspirations with performances of popular heterofemininity to render them “thinkable” (and that this occurs only within narrow parameters, through identity performances as either “feminine scientists” or “bluestocking scientists”). The paper concludes by discussing potential challenges girls may face in sustaining “thinkable” identifications with science and wider implications for encouraging greater female participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 96: 967–989, 2012