Education Stereotypes Are Dangerous for Girls’ Self Esteem and Academic Achievement

By Carmen Staicer

“I’m with Stupid.”

“Math is Hard.”

“Future Trophy Wife.”

For years, parents have been up in arms over smarmy and suggestive slogans on their daughters’ t-shirts. Many of the most polarizing slogans emphasis beauty over brains and youth over wisdom, and J.C. Penney premiered a doozy last week, just in time for back to school shopping.

The long sleeve shirt reads “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me.” Paired with the description of the shirt on the J.C. Penney website—”Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.” Well, many parents and teachers alike are outraged.

Heather Krys, M.Ed, a middle school teacher in Virginia, is one such person. “My parents taught me, that above everything else, I should make the time to educate myself. I have a great husband who is supportive – financially and (usually) emotionally and was all for me getting that Master’s degree. I was driven primarily by the desire to be a good role model for my 2nd grader (also a girl) who happens to be smart AND cute. But she could have some unfortunate happening and lose the cute- then she’s left with the brain- and she knows how to use it.”

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Girls Shy Away from Math Because it’s not “Feminine”

Have you heard the old “fact” that boys are better at math and science than girls, but girls are better at reading and writing? For a long time, I thought this really was the truth. However, in reality, the two genders are actually equal in all fields when they begin elementary school.

Sadly, by the time the students are in 8th grade, boys are twice as likely as girls to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and the careers that can be formed from these education tracks. By high school, many girls are even less interested in these subjects and, therefore, are less likely to take AP classes while also more likely to have lower SAT scores on the math section of the tests.

So why do girls seem to have less of an interest in these subjects? According to True Child, it is because “these trends are connected to girls’ perception of STEM as masculine and their internalization of feminine norms. Girls are caught in a ‘double conformity’ bind, in which they must opt out of femininity or opt out of STEM.”

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Walk to School for Better Test Scores

How many of you are resolving to do better in school this year? I’m also inclined to believe that your New Year’s Resolution has something to do with diet or fitness. Why not go for a two-for-one New Year’s Resolution deal? Seriously though, new research suggests that girls who walk (or bike) to school not only reap the physical rewards of exercise, but they also perform better on tests.

The results of the study prove that commuting to school through physical activity (as opposed to a car or bus ride) gives girls a more competitive edge in the classroom. The more time spent walking or biking to school also equaled greater improvement. Those who walked more than 15 minutes scored higher on tests than the girls who walked less than a 15 minute commute. The findings held their credibility even after compensating for overall fitness and age.

Improved test scores could be due to the fact that walking and biking to school provides increased blood flow to the brain, not to mention additional time to reflect on the test to come. It’s widely accepted that exercise increases mental faculties. Memory, clarity and concentration are among the many brain functions that are said to be improved by exercising. It seems only logical that this would translate to higher test scores when taken advantage of first thing in the morning.

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Girl Effect Aims to End Poverty and Malnutrition Through Education

There are 100 million fewer women than men around the world. In impoverished areas of the world, if a girl survives to adolescence, often times social constructs and even laws put them at a disadvantage to men. Poverty, poor medical care, lack of sexual protection, childbirth, and several other factors that prey on women all contribute to their shortened life expectancy. It is a viscous cycle; education can reduce poverty, but poverty causes education to become less of a priority or possibility.

Girl Effect aims to attack poverty, disease, war, social equality, and the world’s economy by educating girls in the developing world. It may sound idealistic, but there is much research behind the hypothesis that when girls are given any additional education, they are less likely to marry early, have children early, die from childbirth, contract HIV, and live in poverty. The Girl Effect also recognizes the different impact that women have versus men on their children and families. According to The Girl Effect Fact Sheet women reinvest 90 percent of income into their families, while men only reinvest 30 to 40 percent of income into their families. That means that educating a young girl and giving her the opportunity to earn an income will make her 50 percent more likely to reduce poverty in her family than if a young boy was given additional educational opportunities. Women can make powerful changes when given the opportunity.

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One Piece of Advice for College Girls

A good friend of mine is a contributor for and recently featured a “guest post” written by Chiara Atik, a graduate of NYU‘s department of dramatic writing. I just so happened to stumble upon it and thought it would be nice to share. Sorry, boys, this one’s for the ladies…pajamas

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“It goes without saying that you should try to meet as many people as you can, because it’ll never again be as easy as stumbling up to someone at a party and saying “Is this the line for the bathroom?” Read the rest of this entry »


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