The New York Times recently published a study conducted by NYU researchers stating that girls overwhelmingly start to doubt their intelligence at the age of six. In order to prove this, the study created an experiment in which girls and boys were asked to play a board game. The children were told that the game was intended for smart people. Up until age six, girls and boys were both eager to take on the challenge. However, after age six, girls did not believe they could play a game supposedly for smart people. Unfortunately, this trend has nothing to do with the actual intelligence level of girls; instead, it is due to poor female representation in media and education.
A large part of the problem is due to the lack of brilliant women in the media. In popular fiction, most characters who are geniuses are male. Though most gifted male characters are now accompanied by a female character who is just as smart — take Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah-Fowler from “The Big Bang Theory,” for example — the men still overshadow the women. There is not enough representation for the independent female intellectual. Although one could argue this simply mirrors the overall underrepresentation of women in the media, this specific trend is particularly damaging to female confidence. Recent movies like “Hidden Figures” have started to correct this issue, but Hollywood must go further.
In terms of education, NYU is a part of the problem. While the university recognizes its female academics as equals to their male peers, the university should have more classes that focus on brilliant women in different fields such as literature, science and politics. Though the Department of Gender and Sexuality has fascinating lectures, teaching about women solely in the context of gender and sexuality puts a spotlight on women not for their impressive accomplishments, but for their gender. Intelligent women should receive the same recognition as intelligent men, and it should be done in classrooms across all departments. However, this problem is understandable when considering the issue exists even in middle schools, where achievements — such as a woman’s discovery of DNA — are attributed to men. Emphasis on female achievement is key in order to correct the clear confidence issue young women face.
To create a world in which young girls are just as confident as their male counterparts, equal emphasis has to be put on female and male potential. The aforementioned study proves the confidence difference is not innate; it is conditioned. This must be corrected with exposure to strong women throughout the world. After all, as Leslie and Cimpian wrote: “Early and consistent exposure to such protective factors — and to the countless contributions made by women — may have the best chance of convincing little girls that they are, in fact, smart enough.”
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