Now the question is how do we fix it?
Gender stereotypes are real. No one can deny that. Whatever your stance on feminism and the equality of genders, you have to admit that stereotypes about each group exist. When it comes to the traditional concept of men and women, you know the drill: Men are strong/women are weak, men don’t cry/women are overly emotional, men are smart/women are dumb, and on and on and on…
For years, feminists have been arguing that these stereotypes are self-fulfilling and toxic to our children, and now it looks like they have some truly disheartening proof that these widely repeated cultural beliefs are hurting our little girls.
According to a new study by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian published in Science magazine, little girls as young as six already show signs of internalizing gendered stereotypes about intelligence and abilities. They also found that not only do the young girls start exhibiting internalized misogyny regarding their own intelligence at that age, but those gendered perceptions begin affecting their interests at that time as well.
The researchers explained that while disparity between the representations of men and women in working STEM fields has long been studied at the college level, there has been very little work put in to determining how, why, and when this gap in interest occurs.
Through their research, they seem to have pinpointed the age at which these stereotypes become internalized—and it’s depressingly young. Their assertion is that the breaking point for most girls’ assessment of their own innate intelligence comes between the ages of five and six.
A Stark Change
The study found that, when asked to identify who was “really, really smart” from a selection of unknown adults and children, boys and girls at age five picked adults of their own gender at about the same rate.
However, at age six, boys picked men 65% of the time while girls picked women only 48% of the time. A fascinating caveat to this study, though, found that girls of this age were more likely than boys to associate “good grades” with their own gender, but that academic achievement did not translate to a perception of intelligence, rather it likely spoke to the girls’ perception of their ability to work hard.