Once in School, Girls See Women as Inferior

Gender stereotypes, in which superior intellectual abilities are attributed to adult males, begin among American children at an early age, but not until they go to school, according to a study published in the journal Science. In it, young girls are found to change their beliefs about the gender identity of high-performing adults: as early as the ages of 6 or 7, girls abandon the stereotype of women as “brilliant” adults and instead transfer it to men.

Preschoolers, shown photographs of adult women and adult men, and told that all were “really smart”, were asked to choose the one who seemed most “brilliant”. In most instances, the pre-school girls chose a woman and boys chose a man. Once they started school, however—and presumably became more familiar with societal biases—their opinions changed. Similarly, preschool boys and girls were equally likely to want to play a game for “really, really smart” children, whereas by ages 6 and 7 the girls (but not the boys) tended to opt for a game for “children who try really, really hard”.

The researchers looked at 400 children ages 5 to 7; the study, titled “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests”, was co-authored by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian, who offer no opinion on the source of the shift in stereotypes, while acknowledging that “these stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers.” Perhaps more to the point, it would appear that young girls, once they begin attending school, rapidly lose confidence in women’s standing and come to believe that they belong to a second-class gender– a self-conception that likely will pervade every aspect of their lives.

Do you work with children and their families? Will this study have an influence on your continuing education and the way you approach practice?

Piece by Robert Booth.

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