Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation

1-2021

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department

Biology

Degree Program

Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Fuselier, Linda

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

McFadden, Justin

Committee Member

McFadden, Justin

Committee Member

Eason, Perri

Committee Member

Perlin, Michael

Committee Member

Jackson, Kasi

Author's Keywords

Biology education; gender essentialism; Queer curriculum theory; androcentrism; critical contextual empiricism

Abstract

This dissertation exposes one manifestation of the hidden curriculum of gender bias in the biological academe and explores the impacts of implicit essentialist perspectives on biology curricula and student understanding of an important evolutionary concept. Chapter one introduces the concept of gender essentialism and its relationship to the hidden curriculum of gender bias. I conclude the introductory chapter by reviewing tenets from queer curriculum theory and suggesting that applications of the theory may provide educators with the pedagogical tools required to counter implicit essentialist perspectives. Chapter two describes a textbook image analysis informed by previous textbook analyses to examine the visual presentation of sex roles in current undergraduate Animal Behavior textbooks and an 11-edition series. I found that most textbook images failed to highlight the significant shift in the scientific community’s understanding of animal sex roles in recent decades by highlighting classic sex roles through a lens of androcentrism. Communicating tacit gender essentialism and bias through sex stereotypic images in biology textbooks risks the perpetuation of scientifically inaccurate, determinist dichotomies that function to disenfranchise women from societal and scientific endeavors and thus inspired the studies detailed in chapters three and four. Chapter three describes a photo-elicitation study in which undergraduate students were asked to describe images similar to those they would encounter in the chapters of biology textbooks covering sexual selection theory. I found that students consistently include anthropomorphisms and human gender stereotypes in their descriptions of non-human animals, and that student perceptions of animal behaviors were influenced by a number of factors, including the context provided, the taxa depicted, and levels of existing implicit bias. Finally, chapter four examines the relationship between student essentialist perspectives and their understanding of sexual selection theory. Results from this study indicate that strong essentialist perspectives may impede student understanding of sexual selection concepts that highlight variation and flexibility, and that some students benefit from being presented with a more complex view of the theory. Collectively, the works detailed in this dissertation expose the hidden curriculum of gender essentialism in biology education and highlight an opportunity for science educators to facilitate an inclusive discourse that interrupts the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes.

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