Can girls do math?



          Friday has finally come and next week we will be writing mainly from BlogHer. Before we get into our week of fun at a place that, by the nature of its title, makes a distinction between women and men bloggers, let’s look at how we raise these little boys and girls in this benevolently sexist world.


          Paul says: When we think about sexism, the usual image that comes to mind is a balding, middle-aged white guy with a pot belly and a lecherous stare but, in the reality of our society, that guy is not the big threat. The more probable culprits of sexism and gender stereotyping are mom and dad.


          In countries defined as sexually inequitable, it is not surprising to see active, negative sexual beliefs but what might be more shocking is the role that positive beliefs play into sexism. Things like teaching your sons to be good gentlemen or your daughters how to nurture can be just as sexist and detrimental as teaching them to whistle at girls or lower their heads in the presence of a man.


          In a study by psychologists Peter Glick, PhD, of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and Susan T. Fiske, PhD, of Princeton University, they looked at 16 nations with a reputation of being less egalitarian where gender is concerned. What they found was both extremely negative and positive opinion’s of gender behaviors. In other words, they found the negative beliefs like ‘men are arrogant’ and ‘women are weak’, which we would expect from these countries but they also found positive beliefs. Opinions like ‘men are strong’ and ‘women are sensual’ are part of ambivalent sexism theory.   


          Ambivalent sexism says that there are two components to sexism; hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. We’re not really going to talk about hostile sexism since this is the type of sexism that gets to big press. This is the Rap singer, possessive garbage that most semi-enlightened people rail against. Benevolent sexism is more insidious.


          Are boys good at math? If you answered yes then you are both correct and benevolently sexist. If you look at the top scores in standardized math scores, 4 boys hold the position for every 2.8 girls. This is a huge improvement to the 1980’s when the ratio was 13 boys for every girl. The gender gap between sexes has brought about a lot of nature/nurture debate. They have done brain scans and shown girls brains lighting up differently than boys and tried to conclude that that is the reason for the differences in math scores.


          Psychologist Dr. Janet Hyde of University of Wisconsin published results of her studies in January’s edition of Psychological Bulletin which indicate that the reason for the math gap in genders is self-confidence. In her research of school aged students, she found that boys are more aggressive in answering math questions even though they are less accurate than girls. Girls had a tendency to use manipulative, like finger counting, and were concerned with accuracy.  


          Putting this into a day to day context, boys answer all of the questions on a multiple choice test, though less accurately, were girls run out of time. Boys are the ones that are more likely to raise their hands to answer the question in class and, again, whether right or wrong receive the positive attention of the teacher. When they get home they show mom and dad the new math things that they learned and the parents are overjoyed with the effort if not the accuracy.


          Whether purposely or not, we are training our boys to attack the world with enthusiasm and gusto then we teach our girls to go back over the boys work and do it right. Is that the lesson that we meant to teach?


          Lee says: I didn’t marry Paul for him to carry heavy things for me but to do quadratic equations and to handle irrational numbers (Oh, and for sex.)

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