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"She Won’t Make Me Feel Dumb”: Identity Threat in a Male-Dominated Discipline

Laura E. Hirshfield


Fields of study in college and graduate school, as well as careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continue to be chosen more frequently by men than by women, contributing to the gendered wage gap.  Using data from interviews with undergraduate physics students, I challenge prevalent notions of ‘critical mass,’ and argue that women’s hyper-visibility in male-dominated STEM fields produces identity threat - concern that their perceived inadequacies are attributed both to themselves and to women as a group. In response, women seek out ‘friendlier,’ less identity-threatening environments, thereby clustering together in female-dominated work spaces. Implications for future research and policy on gender in STEM fields are discussed.




Gender, Science and Technology, Sociology, Self-Concept, Higher Education, Qualitative Interviews

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