I recently saw a magnet that said “I am too pretty to do math” in pink, bubbly letters. My immediate reaction was frustration. I felt sad that such a magnet exists, and mad at the company who produced it. This stereotype about girls and math has been circling for too long.
Nevertheless, in the last century there has been an evident increase in women in the math field. For example, in 1983 the top one percent in mathematics had an alarming ratio of 13 boys for every girl. In 2007, that ratio changed to about 3:1. This year, NCAI’s AP Calculus AB class has a 2:1 ratio, and last year’s class had only one more boy than girls.
The problem is not girls’ performance in math. The underlying issue is seen when deciding a career. Even though girls have the same ability, statistically speaking, less girls decide to pursue a career in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field. In 2013 in the United States, only 19.3% of bachelors of engineering were women, 17.9% in computer sciences, and 39% in physical sciences. The underlying issue is that girls lack the confidence to excel in higher education STEM courses. According to University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde, PhD, “Even when girls are getting better grades, boys are more confident in math. It’s important to understand what might be sapping girl’s confidence”.
As early as in second grade, children are able to distinguish what is socially acceptable for boys versus girls. Sadly, math and sciences has fallen into that categorizing, as those fields are primarily seen as for boys only. From a young age, girls are culturally inclined to play with barbie dolls, while boys are introduced to the STEM field through toys like Legos. There is nothing wrong with this. Playing with dolls in and of itself is not bad. If a girl genuinely enjoys it, then it’s alright. It becomes an issue when we limit the spectrum. It’s a problem when the stereotype becomes “all” girls can do. This mentality, from a very young age, really drops the confidence of a girl regarding the maths and sciences.
For example, I tend to understand math quite quickly. It doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated or confused at times; it just means math is one of my strong suites. In my sophomore year, I started looking for careers. In my search, I found Biomedical Engineering (BME), which is basically the technological side of medicine. By the end of my junior year I started having doubts about my career choice. Some of it had to do with what I want to do with my life, and the other part was my confidence.
As I was looking into it, I felt my SAT score wouldn’t amount to the expectations of the required field. I started having doubts towards my abilities to succeed in such a competitive atmosphere. Additionally, I was also truly exploring other passions I have, such as writing. Really, both of these factors played a role in me deciding that I wanted to get a Creative Writing major, and that BME simply wasn’t for me.
When I told my parents my decisions, they weren’t very pleased. My father especially pushed me towards still considering getting a BME degree. He repeatedly told me I was perfectly capable to excel in such a career. So, we had an agreement that I would double major in BME and Writing. Even though I still have doubts towards this, I know that it was the reassurance of my abilities and potential that I needed. It made me realize that if I ever decide to not major in BME it’ll be because I’m not interested, not because I think I’m incapable.
Now, I am not saying that one career is more successful than another. Certain careers have a greater income than others, but that doesn’t define your success. And I am not saying any young lady out there that doesn’t choose a STEM career field is a disgrace. No, I myself wanted to back out, but just as my dad told me, never back out because you don’t think you can do it. If your passion is raising chicken, go do it. Do the career that you have a passion for. Do it boldly; do it proudly.
Overall, ladies, please do the career that you are interested in and explore it. Pursue an unrelated double major like myself if you are truly interested in both careers. But never back out of a STEM field because you think you are not capable of doing it. I am young, too. I am also afraid and uncertain. Just find the people that will help you overcome your fears. Likewise, gentlemen, you are brilliant, and don’t be hesitant to pursue the arts if that is your passion.
Never be afraid of getting a few cuts in your fists when you break that glass ceiling.
Adams, Richard. “Girls Lack Self-confidence in Maths and Science Problems, Study Finds.”The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2017.
Azar, Beth. “Math + Culture = Gender Gap?” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, July-Aug. 2010. Web. 07 Jan. 2017.
“State of Girls and Women in STEM.” National Girls Collaborative Project. National Girls Collaborative, 2016. Web. 07 Jan. 2017.