Wednesday, April 17, 2019

With all the conversations going on about girls in STEM, I am always surprised to see how few girls participate in STEM-related academic competitions. When Smarty participated in science bee Nationals in March, she only saw one more 8th grade girl among the participants, and I saw fewer than 10 total between all participating grades (elementary school and middle school). It was the same thing in MATHCOUNTS - maybe about 5% participants were girls.
I chatted about this lack of girls in STEM events with other parents during a social event thrown by our local organization for gifted children, and they confirmed my observations. They were talking how their girls are more interested in writing, art or music and also how they are more interested in the activities and events where individual competition is de-emphasized in favor of teamwork. But even then, many said that their schools' robotics or LEGO teams hardly have any girls, not even when female coaches are available.
I still wonder if this is some sort of American phenomenon brought about by mass media and reinforced by parents and teachers. When I was growing up in the former Soviet Union, participation in such events was a lot more equal. But it seems that here we have double standards where girls are not expected to be competitive, they are expected to be nice, helpful, and excel at teamwork. Don't get me wrong - I want Smarty to be helpful and kind, but I feel that we are shortchanging our girls when we subtly discourage competition, because "someone's feelings will be hurt." Participation in individual competitions (not just winning them) can lead to feeling of competence, confidence, and desire to improve. I really hope that more will be done to encourage girls to participate in events not explicitly marked "girls only", so next generation of girls grow more confident in their academic abilities.

Your Turn

Why do you think girls are less interested in STEM competitions?


Joyful Learner said...

There is no doubt that girls and boys are socialized differently in the U.S. Oftentimes when there are girls in STEM fields, they are Asian girls. I think what we need in our society is not only encourage competitions (which boys tend to favor in the U.S.) but a cooperative environment that leads to better leadership in communities and companies. When women do become leaders in business, they bring different soft skills that enhance the workplace. Rather than taking a black/white approach, it's better to offer both competitive and cooperative opportunities to attract more women in STEM.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I'm not sure if it's still true in schools or not, but when I was in middle and high school in Canada and the States, if you joined those types of classes as a girl, and competed to the best of your ability, you could pretty much count on going single to the prom. If you wanted to date, you had to either learn to play stupid (or at least not too smart) or wait and meet guys during the summer. That was never said out loud (or not often) and girls were encouraged in school to do their best, it was just one of those little unwritten rules that seemed to be true. I'm not sure if that's still the case today - but of my oldest daughters, the one that didn't care about school at all is married, the one who is earning honors has yet to be ask out to a movie.

Ticia said...

I don't know, I definitely don't think it's because they aren't given opportunities. There are a plethora of STEM opportunities for girls. My experience is, left to themselves, they don't choose the STEM activities for the most part. Looking at the interests of my daughter's friends, most are interested in the creative arts with one or two really interested in science or math fields.