Current psychological research on mixed gender crews in isolated confined extreme conditions shows that women and men have different experiences – for example, they report different stressors, different relations between crew members; women report more unwanted sexual attention and harassment. Gender differences in this literature are usually explained by personality and situational factors.
As a sociologist, I argue that structural level gender inequality also contributes to gendered experiences in isolated crews. Space programs and space exploration is perceived as a very masculine domain. Stereotypically, men are seen as more fit for these missions, because they are believed to be stronger, better equipped for exploring, better at STEM, and so on. Decades of media images of an astronaut as a space cowboy or a militant American hero also strengthen these perceptions.
Decades of research on mundane work groups show that social inequality and cultural stereotypes are imported, reproduced, and reaffirmed in almost every interaction.
In work groups we subconsciously stereotype others, and judge about their abilities based on their gender, race, ethnicity and other observable status characteristics. This happens both in newly formed, and in long term task groups – in latter, stereotypes keep influencing our decisions even if we are aware how well or poorly our teammates have performed in the past.
It is a self-fulfilling prophesy: we know who should be better at a task based on our stereotypical knowledge, and then we let them lead our group and contribute more to the task. But even if we know their actual abilities, stereotypical knowledge will continue to influence the formation of the status hierarchy in the group.
To look at gender inequality in a more systematic way, I use secondary data from the Mars Desert Research Station. Over 200 crews have completed 2-3 week rotations by now. These crews stay in the same habitat, are almost the same size, and each crew has the same roles within itself. This gives me a unique opportunity to explore gendered patterns of interaction within and across crews.
I use crew logs, reports, and participants’ biographies to track who went with whom on most EVAs.
Extravehicular activities (EVAs), or simulated spacewalks, are a crucial part of the simulation. If we know who went on EVAs with who and who did it more often, then we can have an idea who dominates a crew, and whether there is a specific pattern across different crews.
I use social network analysis to map EVA interactions. Each node represents a crew member, and ties between them show how often they have worked together (thicker ties means more times working together). You can explore interactive EVA networks from my pilot study here. An image below shows a patter within one crew. Yellow nodes are women, black nodes are men. C denotes the most central person:
To see whether men are more likely to dominate crews, I calculate the most central person in each crew, and then use logistic regression models to determine whether gender is a statistically significant predictor of the most central person across crews, controlling for their role in that crew.
A pilot study with 29 randomly selected crews (n=177) have shown that men are statistically more likely to dominate (p<.01), even when we take the official crew roles into account. Results showed that men are 2.85 times more likely than women to be the most central people in the group: