Women in Mathematics: Gender Stereotypes in Education
Gender stereotypes often dictate "appropriate" behaviour for boys and girls. For example, some people may believe that girls are emotionally weak and that boys should never cry. It is common for people to think that women belong in domestic or nursing professions. At the same time, men are better suited for industrial jobs. Girls are often told to play with dolls, while boys are encouraged to play outside. These stereotypes can damage people's ability to express themselves freely. It is important to be aware of the impact that gender stereotypes can have and to avoid perpetuating them.
There is a growing trend of gender stereotyping in academia, especially in STEM subjects like mathematics. Only 15% oftenure track positions in mathematics are held by women. This is one of the lowest percentages in the whole of sciences. In general, women are stereotyped as less mathematically aligned. Even when on par with men (based on academic/professional positions/qualifications), women are often referred to as "Mrs" as opposed to an omnipresent "Dr." for men. From Aspasia(470-410BC) to Emmy Noether(1882-1935), women have for long actively contributed to the subject, however, they are not regarded as such. A deeper understanding of such stereotypes and their effects on women was forwarded by feminist thinkers who questioned this rampant male patronization in education and industries.
1. What is a stereotype?
2. How do stereotypes form?
3. Gender stereotypes and Education
4. Why is combating gender stereotypes important?
5. Combating gender stereotypes in Mathematics
What is a stereotype?
Before understanding the trials and tribulations that gender stereotypes avail to women in academia, let us work out some basics! To start with, let's clear out what stereotypes are really about.
According to social psychology, a stereotype is a generalized belief about a particular category of people (Wikipedia).
So to put it in simple words: a stereotype will try to highlight differences between groups. Often, stereotypes are formulated upon inaccurate ideals due to the isolation of one group from another. This results in unfair and rigid beliefs of one obout the "other" group. In an experimental study, 628 American men and women were required to describe men and women on a range of dimensions. This included concern for others, sociability etc. Results indicated that male raters generally described women as being less agentic than men. Such restrictive understanding of another is due to the stereotypes that a group attaches to others.
How do Stereotypes form?
But the question then is: why did stereotypes even form in the first place?
Well, apparently stereotypes form from heavily influenced beliefs about internal variables. To put it simply, people find non-observable characters and associate them with beings or things because of their inability to precisely describe and/or maintain views on those stereotyped. Stereotypes may be gender-based, race-based or religion based.
According to Social Role Theory, when people observe a group of over-represented individuals in certain roles e.g. women engaging in domestic chores every day, they then extrapolate these as their traits and believe that they are enacting their arbitrary roles.
Gender stereotypes and education
See, stereotypes affect personal, educational and social aspects of the victim individual. In our modern society, the most heavily stereotyped groups include travellers, refugees and foreign workers. Women from these groups face the heaviest consequences of these stereotypes.
Quite notably, the impacts of stereotyping can be found as follows:
Stereotypes not only frame and force others into a designated pedestal but also affirm and legitimate those who stereotype. Both the stereotyped and the one who stereotypes the other partake of definite identity.
The stereotypes may not only bolster the superiority complex of those among whom the stereotype circulates but also act as a means of validating elements of an existing social order or cultural hierarchy.
Positive stereotypes can also improve others' negative impressions of one group.
It impairs learning and prevents women from fulfilling their full potential.
It eliminates individualism from society. It lowers one's self-assessment and sense of competence i.e. a person's self-concept (Marsh and Scalas, 2011).
In the western world, many women still believe that STEM subjects and professions belong to men (Nosek,2009). This impacts the career choices of women which ultimately costs the economy and socio-politics of the society. These stereotypes are further reinforced by women in their poor assessment of their own ability in STEM fields (Dresel,2007).
Why combating gender stereotypes is important
Gender stereotypes firstly pose as social constraints that may make attaining a good education difficult. The main claim under these ideas is that certain positions are gender specific. Historically, women have rarely been allowed to be involved in the Sciences or Mathematics, these were rather handled by men.
Throughout centuries, women have been represented only as a mother or a housewife. To begin with, such images can be found in primary school textbooks, where women appear limitedly and that too to only appear as a family member (Demir & Yavuz, 2017). In patriarchal societies, men are considered the primary breadwinners and women are expected to rely on, submissively co-operate and follow these "leaders" of the household. Stereotypes thus pose an obstacle in the path to equality. Such ideas although present all around the world, limit an individual to their roles which are inherently destructive since it forces the victim to lose any sense of individualism and belongingness to a community.
Combating gender stereotyping in Mathematics
Stereotypes of any kind present harmful stigmas toward their victims. It destroys any civilised fabric in society by proposing ardent prejudices and thus hampering the performance of the affected individuals. It is quintessential to do away with this social evil.
For any problem, the best way to combat it is by looking at it objectively, not subjectively. The following thus emerge as possible solutions to this ongoing epidemic in academia:
From the beginning of an individual's developing years, it must be conveyed that diversity is valuable to us. Specific allocation of certain fields of study should be eliminated, and diversity should be emphasized.
Intergroup interactions provide a means to level this gap. Better understanding or another emerges with the interactions of different social groups across the table. This will eliminate the isolation of one group from another.
Textbooks and teachers must be neutral towards gender roles.
One another research and work must be acknowledged equally by the men and women in the field.
Education is the great equalizer, but only if we allow it to be.
Education is an important gateway to economic and socio-political sovereignty for any civilization and stereotyping is one of the obstacles in its way. Although all around the world, equality is debated and promised however it is far from being implemented in practice. It's high time that we implement and not just shake off this responsibility. Education should be used to present a healthy community to the world, not to discriminate based on one's social class.