Girls’ self-es­teem still needs work

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

Women and men en­joy equal rights in this coun­try and many other ad­vanced na­tions in the world, don’t they? The an­swer is murkier than one might think at first. There may be equal-pay laws and wide­spread ac­cess to birth con­trol, which al­low women a free­dom they have never had be­fore. But in­side the minds of chil­dren six years old and up, it’s still a world where Dick trumps Jane.

This has been shown by a study from New York Univer­sity in which psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor An­drei Cimpian stud­ied 400 chil­dren aged five to seven. They were shown pictures of well­dressed pro­fes­sional-look­ing men and women, and pictures of boys and girls. The sub­jects were asked to iden­tify the per­son who is “re­ally, re­ally smart.”

Here’s the heart­break­ing part: At age five, the chil­dren gen­er­ally chose the pic­ture of the per­son who matched their own gen­der. At age six and seven, the girls started choos­ing the pictures of males.

In an­other part of the study, two board games were of­fered. The chil­dren were told one was for chil­dren who are “re­ally, re­ally smart,” and the other for chil­dren who try “re­ally re­ally hard.” Five-year-old boys and girls were equally likely to want to play the game geared at “smart” kids. But at six and seven, there was a no­table shift. Boys still wanted to play the game that was iden­ti­fied as be­ing for “smart” kids, but girls were opt­ing for the other ac­tiv­ity.

The re­searcher con­cluded that girls, be­liev­ing they are not as gifted as boys, tend to shy away from de­mand­ing, pres­ti­gious ma­jors and fields. That leads to lower as­pi­ra­tions and less chal­leng­ing ca­reer choices.

Some aca­demics sug­gest that once they are ex­posed to for­mal school­ing, girls be­gin to see that the ge­niuses who built our so­ci­ety are pre­dom­i­nantly male. There is no deny­ing that from Plato to Noam Chom­sky, from Bach to Bill Gates, the in­tel­lec­tual, cre­ative and po­lit­i­cal tow­ers of our times have been al­most ex­clu­sively men. That’s not be­cause women are less gifted, but be­cause so­ci­ety de­nied these op­por­tu­ni­ties to them un­til very re­cently.

We should be ed­u­cat­ing our­selves and our chil­dren bet­ter. When there was a dis­cus­sion last year about which woman would be fea­tured on Cana­dian currency, many peo­ple had un­for­tu­nately never heard of some of the fi­nal­ists, in­clud­ing civil rights ac­tivist Viola Des­mond of Nova Sco­tia, who will be fea­tured on the $10 bill start­ing next year.

Teach­ers should be en­cour­aged to high­light the achieve­ments of the brave few – women like poet E. Pauline John­son, sci­en­tist Marie Curie, and po­lit­i­cal leader Golda Meir – who de­fied so­cial con­ven­tion and claimed the same work as men long be­fore it was widely ac­cepted. Dis­cussing these achieve­ments in the con­text of their times would be a welcome step as we start dis­man­tling those last, elu­sive bar­ri­ers to com­plete equal­ity.

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