When I was around 11, I entered a scholarship program to attend science and math camp at a college a few hours away. As somebody who had no desire to go to “normal” sleepaway camp, it was perfect for me: we slept in dorms, ate in a dining hall and got to do fun classes pertaining to science, math, body image and empowerment. The only thing I didn’t understand, however, was why young women were given such an opportunity for free — why did they feel the need to encourage us so much? And then I realized it when one professor told us that there was a huge shortage of females in science and math, so they hoped to help girls realize that these careers were totally attainable to them rather than just for the guys.
All over the globe, young women are attaining success in areas that had previously been off limits to them. Rather than being satisfied with the pushed curriculum that has led females to not feel like success in math, science and other such fields, girls have risen up to the challenge and defeated it marvelously. In fact, in a test given to 15-year-olds in 65 developed countries around the world, girls generally outperformed boys — with the exception of the United States. It appears that American females in science are still being impacted by gender roles and stereotypes on what is a “feminine” subject versus one for boys.
The test, administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, showed rather amazing results worldwide. In areas of the world we normally think of as being prejudicial against women such as the Middle East and Asian countries, girls outperformed boys. But why?
According to test overseer Andreas Schleicher, it’s in part because of what different countries offer as “incentives” to study hard in science. For more boys that girls in Western countries, it’s shown as “something that affects their life.” In Middle Eastern countries, however, education is seen as the only option for a woman who wants to control her own destiny. Says Schleicher, “For girls in some Arab countries, education is the only way to move up the social structure. It is one way to earn social mobility.”
Then there’s the matter of the “stereotype threat.” Christianne Corbett, co-author of the 2010 report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math thinks grooming for or against certain areas of interest starts extremely young. ”We see that very early in childhood — around age 4 — gender roles in occupations appear to be formed. Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding.”
The rest of the world is decreasing the gender gap. So when it comes down to females in science and math classes, as well as careers, will the United States step up or be left behind?