When it comes to gender stereotyping, how much of a difference can one year make? According to new research, a whole lot actually. From ages five to six, young girls are shifting their opinions about who is “smart”. The worst part? They have no idea it’s happening. When you ask these girls, “Are you really smart?”, they are quick to say “Yes!” But when you describe a “really smart person,” their subconscious associates that person with a male figure. Heart, meet broken.
Me too, Beyoncé, me too.
You can watch Megyn Kelly’s full segment of “Get Smart” here. In it, you’ll see bright, bubbly kids ages five to seven. The girls are excited to tell Kelly they are “very” smart. And surprisingly, one boy even only recognizes himself as “medium” smart. However, when you view a sampling of the study that was originally done by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian, you’ll see a much different reaction. The five-year-old girls think the story they are hearing from a researcher about a smart person is about a woman, and the boys assume it is a man. This seems to make sense, as we tend to like people like ourselves. But by age six, just 12 months later, most girls think the story is about the MAN, and unsurprisingly, the boys’ results remain the same. So, what causes this shift in thinking for girls between ages five and six? Here are three questions we should all be asking ourselves to identify the problem and brainstorm solutions.
1. How are kids exposed to male/female relationships?
Parents – What are the parents like in their own families? Their friends’ families? Do these families identify the “mom” with being equally as smart as the “dad?”
Media – Who are we praising? The CEO? (Oh you mean another man?)
TV Shows – What’s the female/mom/girl doing? Is she even the main character?
If a tree grows in a forest, but you don’t see it, is it really there? (OK I fudged the saying a bit, but you get the idea.) If little girls aren’t seeing “smart” women, do they really exist? To a kid, probably not. They have wild imaginations when it comes to unicorns and superheroes, but with reality, they only believe what they see. That leads us to the next question…
2. How can we show girls more powerful female role models?
It’s OK to not be the smartest, most powerful woman on the planet (side note, I think you are anyway!). But there ARE brilliant women who are doing amazing things! So, let’s show them off! At Science Cheerleaders, we engage young fans, boy or girl, and celebrate their talents and achievements. We are all STEM-minded women who want to share our passion for our careers, and be the living role models of “smart” women that young girls don’t see enough of. The more we talk about these women, the more kids can hear about their stories and accomplishments and hopefully think: “that’s cool, I can do that too!”
See it. Try it. Almost do it (I believe in you little girl!).
3. What can I do to help?
If you are a parent who wants to optimize your child’s engagement and learning potential, there are some exciting hands-on activities you can do with your kids, followed by stimulating questions to spark their thinking. First, start with a similar experiment as shown on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly to find out how your children perceive the term “smart” (good for girls and boys), and then ask them why they chose that person. Get your kids thinking about their choices, addressing the stereotype, and exploring head on the reasons behind their perceptions. Next, try to expose your kids to more female leadership (even Barbie‘s an engineer now). Find a Science Cheerleaders event in your area, contact us to get in touch with a member in your region to whom you can reach out, or read them an article about a female leader. Women have played key roles in science and discovery throughout history, so focus on those stories when learning. Ever seen Goldie Blox? We love their message and interactive toys to get kids engineering their ideas!
If you’re a professional, there are unlimited opportunities to help. Make a conscious choice everyday. If you’re a writer or artist, consider a female lead who embodies all of the powerful characteristics that are usually assigned to men. If you are a woman in STEM, find local opportunities to volunteer with kids and share your background. Gique is a great example of an organization perfect for local events and exploring how science is in everyday activities, such as dance. If you have a project going that you would like to share with the Science Cheerleaders, partner with us!
We can all play a role in inspiring the next generation. As men and women, it’s up to us to show boys and girls that we ALL are capable of anything.
Special thanks to Gique for helping us write this article!