Gender stereotypes can go divide by 0.

Apparently, teachers perceive their female students as less capable in math than male students with comparable performance. News release from the University of Texas here.

Or, as I’d like to subtitle it: Study finds that pervasive cultural stereotypes are pervasive! I’ll alert the media.

I can’t speak from experience, because I didn’t go to traditional school, but I think reactions like this would just have killed me. Kids aren’t dumb, they know what’s going on. They have a sense for what people think of them.

“The bias teachers revealed against white female students may very well be something they are not consciously aware of, and it’s usually subtle,” said Riegle-Crumb, “but it’s definitely present, per our research findings.”

If a girl and a boy with comparable grades are put in front of a teacher, and the teacher is even “subtly” biased towards the boy, you know what message that sends the girl? Work harder, be better, or you’ll never possibly be good enough. So some girls work harder. It’s part of the hateful web of outside approval as necessary for feeling one’s own self worth that this culture so helpfully provides girls with. For those girls, it makes them work harder. For others, it makes them doubt themselves and curl into little balls who don’t think they’re “smart.”

Would people just figure out already that there is nothing intrinsic about girls that makes them not as good at math as their male counterparts? Can we let go of these outdated, gender essentialist notions that girls and boys are “made” to be better at certain things? All of these prophecies are self-fulfilling. Gender is not what divides us. It can’t be, because women are succeeding more in the sciences all the time. So many, in fact, that certain elements have been agitating that it is because women are succeeding that men are failing.

I’m certainly chastised. Here, I’ll just run back to the kitchen so some strapping young man can have my job. It’s funny, isn’t it, that so many of the same people worry about this as promote the free market as the answer to all our cares. The educational market is speaking, babe, and women are doing better than men. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps, in some measure, because of crap like this. Maybe we’re trying to prove that we can beat the stereotypes, spurred on both by the people who want to help us succeed, and the people who expect us to fail.

What this tells me is boys and girls alike need to have the care taken to give them a chance to learn. I remember talking to a friend who said he was always jealous of the attention the girls got, and the study groups, while he was bullied for being a “nerd.” Smart was, in his school, the arena for the girls. That’s unfair, too. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. We need to build a better world for everyone, not just let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction and raise another generation in resentment and discontent, only this time it’s the other gender that suffers. Or rather, raise both generations in resentment and discontent. Everyone feels guilty and unhappy, everybody wins!

I think not.

Math is hard. But what I wish more kids were learning is that doing the hard thing is very rewarding, and that you can figure out how to do almost anything if you apply yourself. Because you, you are amazing. Doesn’t matter what parts you have on the outside or what demons you have on the inside. You are amazing, and you can do it. Whoever you are, and whatever it is. Maybe there are people who can do it better than you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it well.

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