The piece below (from Laura Bates on the Guardian) shows a few examples of the everyday sexism that feeds into children’s education - “One [parent] referenced their son’s physics homework, which used examples of men pushing vans, lifting weights, climbing trees and shooting arrows. The sole female example was a woman pushing a pram. […] Numerous questions involved men doing active, strong tasks such as driving or playing sport, while women cooked, cleaned or, in one particularly bizarre example, simply “sat on a rug”.”
So far so predictable and more on that later. First, though, the results from a study published the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research. The abstract is (emphasis added):
In this paper, we estimate the effect of primary school teachers’ gender biases on boys’ and girls’ academic achievements during middle and high school and on the choice of advanced level courses in math and sciences during high school. For identification, we rely on the random assignments of teachers and students to classes in primary schools. Our results suggest that teachers’ biases favoring boys have an asymmetric effect by gender— positive effect on boys’ achievements and negative effect on girls’. Such gender biases also impact students’ enrollment in advanced level math courses in high school—boys positively and girls negatively. These results suggest that teachers’ biased behavior at early stage of schooling have long run implications for occupational choices and earnings at adulthood, because enrollment in advanced courses in math and science in high school is a prerequisite for post-secondary schooling in engineering, computer science and so on. This impact is heterogeneous, being larger for children from families where the father is more educated than the mother and larger on girls from low socioeconomic background.
I cannot, unfortunately, access the full paper to check the study’s methodology but according to the guardian piece, “the study saw several groups of students take two exams, one marked blind by outside examiners, and the other marked by teachers who knew the students’ names. In maths, girls outperformed boys on the anonymously marked exam, but boys outperformed girls when assessed by teachers who knew their names, suggesting that they may have overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls.”
Let’s accept for now that the study is sound and reliable. Consider then what Bates is saying below (again, emphasis added):
One referenced their son’s physics homework, which used examples of men pushing vans, lifting weights, climbing trees and shooting arrows. The sole female example was a woman pushing a pram. Another parent described an assignment where children were directed to use a particular biographical research website, only to find that of the 21 historical personalities listed just two were women. One person’s son had even been asked to compare the qualities of a “good wife” from Biblical to modern times (with no similar exercise discussing the merits of husbands). Numerous questions involved men doing active, strong tasks such as driving or playing sport, while women cooked, cleaned or, in one particularly bizarre example, simply “sat on a rug”.
To those who cry “overreaction”, a new study published this month by the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that gender bias at primary school may in fact have long-term implications for pupils.
Of course, many teachers actively encourage girls into Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. And gender stereotypes are not only passed on at school, but also proliferate in the advertising, television, books, magazines and conversations that children are exposed to from a young age. One parent recently recounted to me the moment that their three-year old daughter picked up a toy stethoscope, only for another well-meaning adult to swoop in and comment: “Ah, are you going to be a nurse?” Not, of course, that it wouldn’t be a fine choice of profession, but what would the corresponding comment have been had a little boy chanced upon the same toy?
That young people might be deeply influenced by the gender stereotypes thrust upon them should give us all pause. How often do we heedlessly shower little girls with platitudes about prettiness and looks, or comment on how “big and strong” their brothers are growing? We hear comments about the sweetness and politeness of daughters, while sons are proudly described as boisterous, instead.
In the strictly segregated aisles of many toy stores, blue shelves mark off chemistry sets, dinosaurs and building tools as the domain of boys, while girls are left holding the (plastic) baby.
Each individual incident is easily dismissed as harmless. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with an individual child choosing to identify with any of these roles. But it’s the assumptions made for them that matter. Young children are not always equipped, as most adults are, with the critical tools to analyse and probe information – what is presented as fact is often absorbed without question. This might seem extreme, until, as I have, you visit a variety of primary school classrooms and start to realise just how many under-10s genuinely think that girls simply aren’t allowed to be footballers, or doctors, or lawyers. Ask your nearest small friend about these matters – you may be unpleasantly surprised.
(Orig. posted on)