In the late 1800’s, less than 1% of the female population received a higher education, with only 7% going to college by the 1920’s. One of the reasons behind this was that highly educated women were considered unfit to attract a husband. Historically, men were made to believe they were the smarter, stronger, and more athletic gender. Women who tried to grab a piece of the intelligence and strength normally reserved for men intimidated people who didn’t agree with promoting the equality of women.
Newer research is showing that boys and girls can exceed equally in academic subjects, sports, and future careers. In fact, some research is finding that girls are now on equal or higher levels in some academic subjects historically seen as a boy’s subject, such as math. Women are also catching up to men in sports, with professional women’s golf, basketball, and tennis all showcasing female stars that excel at those sports.
So what is causing this change? Are girls’ natural abilities increasing over the years, or is it something else? Psychologists and educators believe that it’s not due to physical changes, but mental ones. Parents and communities are changing they way they view women and their equality to men. Because of this, more girls are being given opportunities to exceed in fields once dominated by men. And these opportunities are showing boys and girls that it’s not gender that determines someone’s success, but the expectations and beliefs placed on them that help them succeed.
What Parents Can Do at Home
Parents are a child’s first teacher. For this reason, gender stereotypes can be ingrained in a child from the time they’re a toddler. It’s common to hear parents tell a little girl that she shouldn’t play with bugs or get dirty, or tell a little boy to put the baby doll down because boys don’t play with dolls. While these may seem like harmless things to say, they are teaching your child that boys and girls have stereotypical roles that must be followed. In order to increase equality between future men and women, it’s important to practice creating equality at home.
Your words are the most important thing at helping reduce stereotypes. Make sure you praise your daughter for things beyond her appearance. Let her know how important it is to do well in school, voice her own opinions and ideas, and stand up for herself. Teach her things normally reserved for boys. If she’s a teenager who is learning to drive, make sure she knows how to change a tire, check her oil, pump her own gas, and jump start a battery. These lessons teach her how to gain independence from other people, especially since the field of car mechanics is typically male dominated.
Discuss the world around her and see how she feels about the current portrayal of celebrities and how they represent women. Find out what she desires to do with her life and help her seek out activities and opportunities that will help her reach her goals. Sign her up for sports if she likes to play, but foster any creative desires too. By helping her understand that she can do anything she wants in life, you can help her succeed at school, work, and relationships.
What Parents Can Do at School
One common problem parents have to tackle when their children start school is gender inequity in the classroom. Sometimes this inequity is apparent throughout the entire school environment. Other times it’s a teacher who consciously and often times unconsciously favors one sex over another. As long as you are proactive in your child’s education, you should be able to conquer stereotypes in the school environment.
Create a relationship with your child’s teacher and the administrative staff. It’s easier to tackle a problem when you already have a rapport with the people in your daughter’s life. Observe the classroom and see if the teacher seems to be focusing on the boys when she teaches math or the girls when she teaches reading. Discuss any concerns with the teacher or principal. Encourage your daughter to be an active participant in class. Teach her that there’s nothing wrong with being smart and knowing the answers. Use that same lesson, teach her that there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake or asking questions if she doesn’t understand.
If there are no clubs at school that promote gender equality, see how her and some of her friends can start one. For a high school student, see if the school would be willing to allow guest speakers to come into the classroom to talk about gender equality on college campuses and in the workplace.
It’s also important to make sure that your daughter experiences teaching methods commonly reserved for boys. Teachers are quick to give boys lessons that promote competition and girls get cooperative work. But if your daughter is going to be equal with boys when she gets older, she must learn how to foster her own competitive spirit. Encourage her to take advanced classes in science and math, getting her a tutor if needed.
Positive Role Models
There seems to be a current recession of positive role models for girls. Many of the celebrities seen on television or in magazines promote the image that appearance and dress are everything. As a parent, it can be hard to pinpoint the right type of role model for your child. Before you look outward, take a look at your own family and friends for role models. Do you have a grandmother, aunt, or best friend who has been successful at tackling both traditional gender roles? Maybe your mother and father had an equal marriage where both of them helped care for the house and children while holding down jobs. Do you have a brother who went into nursing, even though nursing is a female dominated field, or how about a sister who became a truck driver because she loves to travel? Often times, there are a number of positive role models within your own family.
But because children are often influenced by the glitz and glamour of celebrities, it’s important to help them focus on ones in non-traditional roles. The Williams sister, Venus and Serena, are great role models for girls. They have risen to the top of their sport and have skills that meet or exceed those of male tennis players. Danica Patrick is a NASCAR driver; a field dominated by male drivers, and has helped women increase their standing within that sport. She’s a great role model because she holds her own in a male run sport while still remaining feminine. Girls need to learn that they can have the best of both worlds, without having to choose whether to act and look manly to be accepted.
In the classroom, teachers are finding that girls outperform boys on reading literacy tests. However, girls are also performing as well as, if not better than, boys on math tests. Past research compared the average girl and the average boy. But as mindsets change about gender equality, individual girls with strong math and science skills are helping to raise the bar for all girls in the classroom. In some countries, educators are noticing that the majority of their D’s and F’s are being handed out to boys and the majority of discipline problems are also being led by boys. In fact, boys are now 30% more likely to drop out of school and never return for a GED than girls.
Equality in the workplace has also seen a shift. In 1950, only about 39% of women went into the workforce. In 1998, more than 75% of women were in the workforce. Women now account for almost half of the total population of working professionals. Salaries have also increased, although men still dominate the higher end of the pay scale. However, more women are currently graduating college than men, meaning that the future high salaries may go to females with a college degree rather than men with a high school diploma and work experience. The growth of women owned businesses has also increased as women are looking for a way to have a professional life while still being able to have the time needed for family.
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