I have female friends in STEM fields who were told, some at a very young age, that “girls aren’t good at math.” Some said that adults expressed surprise at their abilities in math and science, because that was strange for girls. Even my husband remembers being aware as a child that girls weren’t supposed to be good at math. In the readings from “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele, the gap between women’s and men’s success in math is mentioned many times.
Honestly, this is all very strange to me. I was a girl who loved math, now grown into a female engineer, and I don’t remember a single time before high school when anyone told me anything negative about girls and math. I remember being encouraged to enjoy math by many female teachers (I don’t think I had a male teacher until seventh grade). I remember being called a “little engineer” by my parents at a very young age (normally in exasperation when I did something that made perfect sense to me, but apparently didn’t to the rest of the world). I remember being the fourth grade “fast math” champion and being inordinately proud of a skill that, I realize now, is really not very useful. I remember doing a report on Grace Hopper (the inventor of the first computer compiler) in sixth grade and being more impressed by the fact that she was a Navy admiral than the fact that she was a female computer scientist (my father was in the Navy).
I realize that my childhood was out of the norm in this way. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t hear about this incredibly pervasive stereotype. In light of the studies Steele discusses, I do wonder if or how this has affected my academic performance. Did anyone else have a similar experience?