Girls’ self-esteem still needs work
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.