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Girls’ internalizing of traditionally feminine gender roles discourages them from participating in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by their late adolescence or early teens according to a report by True Child, Bust Magazine reported on Thursday.
Girls feel like they must choose between femininity or STEM, according to the study. Participants in the focus group first said they could be both feminine and smart, but later responded that they could not be feminine, smart and popular with boys in junior high, because they had to “dumb it down” as they became more interested in boys.
Elementary school girls score as well as boys in STEM subjects. In societies where math and science success is not divided by gender as it is in the U.S., girls continue to perform well throughout their educational careers, True Child reported.
Participants in the study agreed that one reason for the decline in girls’ STEM performance is the pressure on looking pretty. Comments included, “Girls focus more on ‘oh, he wants me to be pretty.’”
Some participants complained that the time and effort they were spending on their appearance left them little time and energy for schoolwork.
Other studies have found links between internalized gender roles and academic performance. One study found that female engineers feel forced to choose between their identities as “real engineers” and “real women.”
Reasons that researchers have cited for the institutional and interpersonal barriers to girls’ STEM participation include the absence of female role models, negative parental attitudes, “chilly” classroom climate and teaching that privileges logic and objectivity.
“When a plant fails to grow one looks first at the soil, water and sun; one doesn’t start by blaming the plant,” the report quotes Eileen Byrne.