“Stop acting like a girl.”
“Don’t be wimp.”
“You’re such a sissy.”
We’ve all heard these expressions (and many more) telling men and boys to shy away from allowing their actions to imitate that of a girl’s. Acting like a girl, i.e. acting weak, soft, emotional, inferior…and the list goes on and on.
Society has created many stereotypes of girls and women, and in the education department, there’s no exception. The infographic “Brilliant Minds: Women and Girls in Math” from OnlineColleges.com highlights a few stereotypes of females when it comes to mathematics, their impacts, and some of the women who broke them.
The infographic starts off with a commonly held belief that says men are better at math than women. Although we’ve all heard (and probably, for many, accepted) this as true, the infographic points out that this is only partially true. In timed contests, boys performed better than girls, yet this is where most studies stop. When competitions had four subsequent rounds, girls did as well as or better than boys.
Stereotypes of women and math negatively impact women as a 1998 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that women who feel criticized for their math abilities often perform lower, even when they were initially doing high-level math.
Like in wages and senior-level positions, a gender gap exists in graduate degree programs. Although in 2011, 58 percent of women were enrolled in graduate programs compared to 42 percent of men, only 29 percent of women were enrolled in math and computer science graduate degrees compared to 71 percent of men.
The infographic does provide a few examples of successful women in these fields. For example, Amalie Noether invented a theory uniting symmetry in nature and universal laws of conservation (Noether’s theory). Even Einstein called her “the most significant and creative female mathematician of all time.”
To conclude, the infographic offers a few ways to encourage girls in math, such as exposing them early on, matching girls with women mentors in the field, and encouraging them to participate in special school programs.