The Importance of Strong Female Protagonists with STEM Backgrounds in Media Narratives

Contributed by Rayya Deeb

Our youth live in an increasingly STEM-driven world, so it’s crucial that we provide them with relatable characters and role models who evoke interest in these fields. It’s especially important that we encourage girls to excel in this world, as females we are historically underrepresented within it, but so urgently needed.

The statistics speak for themselves, as we see on the NGPC website. The need to support minorities and women in STEM fields is clear, and it makes eminent sense to me that writers and other influencers in the arts and entertainment arenas create character journeys and stories that inspire in this way. We should encourage the next generation to do great things, and they will carry it forward. If not, who will help cure diseases? Who will discover another universe? Who will create the next global social media network?

When I became the mother of two girls, I was even more deeply inspired to lead them into a world in which they are fully empowered. A female protagonist who has feelings of self-doubt can overcome obstacles and become a heroine. That’s why Wonder Woman is iconic and little girls (and boys!) are obsessed with Frozen’s Elsa. The stories and characters in the books, television shows and movies that we grow up with can have a profound impact on our lives.

Seneca Rebel Book CoverAs a storyteller who is fascinated by emerging technologies in medicine, physics, astronautics, communications, and beyond, I’m especially dedicated to seeing girls excel in these fields. Thus, The Seneca Society was born: a story world that presents a near future that I perceive to be challenging but within reach, experienced and narrated from the perspective of a strong teenage girl. In the first book in the series, Seneca Rebel, the protagonist, Doro Campbell, is flawed (like we all are) in her own unique way. She’s a reluctant math genius until her skills are aligned with hope and a hard-won belief that she can make a difference, and she comes to recognize her own capability to change the world. It’s fun to root for Doro, and I think experiencing her success will inspire others, especially those who are also interested in math and technology.

I’m excited about the efforts of women who are making strides with this initiative to promote a healthy youth and female presence in STEM. We can draw on inspiration from trailblazers like Jane Goodall to promote new leaders and specialists like Caltech biochemical engineer, Frances Arnold. I was so happy to see Arnold recently become the first woman to win the $1.1 million dollar Millennium Technology Prize, for her work on directed evolution. The odds were against her but she persevered.

And there are many women in media making conscious moves to elevate our representation in these fields with their work online, in books, television and film. From Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, to Julie-Ann Crommett’s focus at Google, to the work of film producer and Women in Film member Susan Cartsonis, and many more. The importance of strong female protagonists in fiction narratives has entered the forefront of discussion and things are happening! STEM is a crucial piece of all of this.

Rayya Deeb is a Virginia Tech Hokie, born in London, England and raised in Northern Virginia. Rayya has worked in television production and film development, but her true passion is writing. She has spent over a decade screenwriting, collaborating with world‐renowned directors, actors, and producers. Most recently she wrote her first novel, Seneca Rebel.