How many of you saw this study about emergence of gender stereotypes and intellectual capacity that came out on Thursday?
Actually, let’s roll back to two years ago when the same group published this study on expectations of brilliance and their relationship with the number of women in scientific fields. The summary is that fields perceived as requiring brilliance or genius tend to be male-dominated, while fields requiring hard work and empathy have better representation of women.
I’m grateful that the authors went back in to try to figure out when this happens; apparently, it’s somewhere between kindergarten and first grade, give or take. Girls start picking up social encoding that boys are the ones who are “really, really smart” and the logical side effect of that is that girls stop pushing themselves to do those things that they think require being “really, really smart.” I suspect this happens in a variety of ways- through the media, through acculturation, through implicit bias. While I didn’t get messages at home that girls couldn’t be “really, really smart” (in fact, quite the opposite as I took everything in the house apart and climbed trees while wearing dresses and wasn’t told that girls weren’t PresidentSurgeonCowgirls), I definitely suffered bias at school in math. Every time we would move- which was frequent as evidenced by 6 elementary schools in 5 years- I would get put back to grade level in spite of documentation that I was usually 2-3 grade levels above. In hindsight, I have to ask, “Would that have happened if I were a boy?” The reality is that the answer is, “Probably not.”
The bigger thing (since y’all know I try to be solution focused around here!) is to think about ways to (1) inoculate our girls against this and (2) “rescue” those who are already older than age 6.
The BBC published this helpful guide the day after the Science study dropped last week. There’s a reference in there to A Mighty Girl, which you can also follow on Facebook. I’ve followed them for a while, and even being a few years older than 6 routinely find their posts to be inspirational. We need to focus on the importance of doing hard work that we’re passionate about, regardless of gender. We need to remind each other when we’re doing hard things well and having brilliant ideas.
Now, let’s all go out there and bust some assumptions, shall we?