Wow! That sounds like a really intellectual heading. Actually, it is. This article was recommended by a PPE parent. Funnily enough, I had just read about it a couple of days before on a social media site. It’s really all about the stereotypes we set in children’s minds by our terminology and attitudes.

When I was at school about 100 years ago it seemed like women never thought too much about careers because for most of them motherhood was their aspiration. The jobs that I recall that most women tended to be drawn to were teaching, nursing, secretarial work, banking and store assistants. The Second World War changed the face of all that as women took on jobs vacated by men who went to fight in our military forces.

It was still a man’s world and to some extent still is. It is encouraging to see more women than men training for numerous professional careers these days. The article I am about to quote from says that there are emergent attitudes still that often prevent girls believing they can do the jobs that men tend to be selected for. It states, “Common stereotypes associate high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius etc) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuits of many prestigious careers; that is, women are under-represented in fields whose members cherish brilliance (such as physics and philosophy).”

“Six year old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are ‘really, really smart’. Also, at age 6, according to 4 studies on this subject, girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are ‘really, really smart’. These findings suggest that gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and have an immediate effect on children’s interests. The stereotype that men are better than women at mathematics impairs women’s performance in this domain and undermines their interest in mathematics-intensive fields. It is commonly assumed that high level cognitive ability (brilliance, genius, giftedness etc) is present more often in men than in women.

Little is known about the origin of this stereotype. The earlier children acquire the notion that brilliance is a male quality, the stronger its influence may be on their aspirations. The girls in these studies began to shy away from such activities.

There is not enough space in this blog to fully report these studies, but anyone interested in following this up can find it in ‘Science’, a study conducted by Bian et al, p.389. I do have a hard copy of the reported study. I can duplicate that for you if you are interested in more detail. As parents and teachers we need to be very careful NOT to reinforce the ever-present stereotypes that are still very prevalent. Encourage your girls to reach for the stars.

By Brian Burgess, School Counselor, PPE, Nashville, TN. Thanks to Bian et al and ‘Science’.