Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office

The New York Times

Hard work and discipline help girls outperform boys in class, but that advantage disappears in the work force. Is school the problem?

Lisa Damour

By Lisa Damour

Ms. Damour is a clinical psychologist.

CreditWenting Li
Image
CreditCreditWenting Li

From elementary school through college, girls are more disciplinedabout their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, the journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that a shortage of competence is less likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of confidence. When it comes to work-related confidence, they found men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

As a psychologist who works with teenagers, I hear this concern often from the parents of many of my patients. They routinely remark that their sons do just enough to keep the adults off their backs, while their daughters relentlessly grind, determined to leave no room for error. The girls don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision.

We need to ask: What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?

This possibility hit me when I was caring for an eighth grader in my practice. She got terrific grades but was feeling overwhelmed by school. Her brother, a ninth grader, had similarly excellent grades, but when I asked if he worked as hard as she did, she scoffed. If she worked on an assignment for an hour and got an A, she felt “safe” only if she spent a full hour on other assignments like it. Her brother, in contrast, flew through his work. When he brought home an A, she said, he felt “like a stud.” If his grades slipped a bit, he would take his effort up just a notch. But she never felt “safe” enough to ever put in less than maximum effort.

That experience — of succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort — is a potentially crucial one. It may help our sons develop confidence, as they see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits. For them, school serves as a test track, where they build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them. Our daughters, on the other hand, may miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual elbow grease alone.

So how do we get hyper-conscientious girls (and boys, as there certainly are some with the same style) to build both confidence and competence at school?

First, parents and teachers can stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades. Gendered approaches to learning set in early, so it’s never too soon to start working against them. Recently, as I read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to my 8-year-old daughter, I stopped at a passage in which Hermione — the fictional poster child for academic fastidiousness — turned in an essay that was “two rolls of parchment more than Professor Binns asked for.” Hermione, I pointed out, doesn’t make great use of her time. She’s a capable student and could probably do just as well without working so hard. “Right,” my daughter said. “Of course she could!”

We can also encourage girls toward a different approach to school — one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they put in. Whenever one of the academically impressive and persistently anxious girls in my practice tells me about staying up until 2 in the morning studying, I see an opening. That’s the moment to push them to become tactical, to figure out how to continue learning and getting the same grades while doing a little bit less. I urge my patients — and my own teenage daughter — to begin study sessions by taking sample tests, to see how much they know before figuring out how much more they need to do to attain mastery over a concept or task. Many girls build up an incredible capacity for work, but they need these moments to discover and take pride in how much they already understand.

Teachers, too, can challenge girls’ over-the-top tendencies. When a girl with a high-A average turns in extra credit work, her instructor might ask if she is truly taken with the subject or if she is looking to store up “insurance points,” as some girls call them. If it’s the former, more power to her. If it’s the latter, the teacher might encourage the student to trust that what she knows and the work she is already doing will almost certainly deliver the grade she wants. Educators can also point out to this student that she may not need insurance; she probably has a much better grasp of the material than she gives herself credit for.

Finally, we can affirm for girls that it is normal and healthy to feel some anxiety about school. Too often, girls are anxious even about being anxious, so they turn to excessive studying for comfort. We can remind them that being a little bit nervous about schoolwork just means that they care about it, which of course they should.

Even if neither you nor your daughter cares about becoming a chief executive, you may worry that she will eventually be crushed by the weight of her own academic habits. While a degree of stress promotes growth, working at top speed in every class at all times is unhealthy and unsustainable for even the most dedicated high school students. A colleague of mine likes to remind teenagers that in classes where any score above 90 counts as an A, the difference between a 91 and a 99 is a life.

To be sure, the confidence gap is hardly the only thing keeping women out of top jobs. Women also face gender bias, sexual harassment and powerful structural barriers in the workplace. But confidence at school is one unequal advantage that we can address right now. Instead of standing by as our daughters make 50 flashcards when they were assigned 20, we can step in and ask them why. Many professional men brim with confidence because they have spent years getting to know their abilities. Women should arrive in the work world having done the same.

Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, is the author of the forthcoming “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.”

7 ways parents can teach girls to build one another up, instead of tearing one another down


(Kara Somberg/for The Washington Post)

October 30, 2018

When Ashley Eckstein, an actress and entrepreneur, started performing professionally in fifth grade, the other girls in her class taunted her relentlessly. Now 37, Eckstein recently brought her 13-year-old niece to a girls leadership summit to show her a different dynamic — hundreds of girls celebrating one another’s accomplishments in fields including writing and social activism.

“The cheers, hugs and high-fives literally gave me goose bumps,” said Eckstein, author of “It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen.” “Something very right was happening in that room full of confident girls all doing their own thing.”

The girls may not have realized it, but they were pushing back against a powerful tendency for girls and women to view one another as threats, rather than allies or part of a support system.

“Scarcity theory might lead young girls to believe that there are limits around how many good things can happen to any one person, which could also lead them to believe that their own success will be limited,” said Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert and the author of “Getting Grit.”

When Miller speaks to groups of female professionals, she often asks: Does anyone feel like one of the biggest challenges isn’t just how men have treated other women, but also women shooting one another from inside the tent?

“It’s not half the room raising their hands — it’s 100 percent of the women,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s been communicated to us over the years that there are fewer spots for women — a limited inventory,” added Donna Orender, the author of “Wowsdom! The Girls Guide to the Positive and the Possible.” And teens have their own concerns. A recent survey by Plan International USA, an organization fighting child poverty, and PerryUndem, a public opinion research firm, found that 30 percent of girls ages 10 to 19 see fewer opportunities at school for them than for boys, particularly in sports.

Girls who perceive that it’s a zero-sum game are less likely to support one another, but experts say that if girls band together, they can expand their options. Here are seven ways parents can raise empowered girls who support and encourage each other.

Urge them to use social media for good

Expectations and options for girls are rapidly expanding, but the PerryUndem survey found that girls still believe society most values their physical appearance. Girls also reported feeling tremendous pressure to avoid bragging or seeming overly confident.

Miller started an initiative, “#Share222,” to change that, by encouraging women to share one another’s substantive achievements on at least two social media outlets. This is something teen girls can do, too, replacing selfies and party pictures with shout-outs for friends who have reached personal goals. This kicks off a positive cycle. Girls want to reciprocate kind gestures, and they learn that true friendship and tenacity matter more than popularity or appearance.

Help them use expansive body language

When girls feel strong, they see one another as allies rather than predators, said Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and the author of “Presence.” Even simple changes in posture can build their sense of empowerment. Cuddy notes that when girls are young, they stand with their feet apart and their chests out, but by the time they hit middle school, they start to display shrinking behavior.

Cuddy recommends that parents tell their daughters that they deserve to take up space, and that poor posture will affect their mood and sense of self-efficacy. Ask, “How do you feel when you’re ­sitting like that?”

“Feeling powerful activates what we call the behavioral approach system and makes us more optimistic, generally happier, and more confident and willing to take risks,” she said. On the flip side, “Powerlessness can be really dangerous and make it hard to know who to trust.”

Parents also can show girls images such as the Fearless Girl sculpture, which depicts a girl facing down the Wall Street Bull. “I get pictures from parents of girls all the time who want to be photographed with their chins up and chests out just like the fearless girl,” Cuddy said. “When I went to see it, there were probably 60 girls there. That’s what they want to see, and what we need to be showing them.”

Normalize giving and seeking help

Teach your daughter the importance of identifying sources of support. Orender regularly organizes formal mentor walks to pair tween and teen girls with women working in their fields of interest.

One time, Orender paired all the girls with women who were 65 and older. After the walk, the older women read letters to their younger selves, and the girls read letters to their older selves. “It was such a powerful way to show the girls that they’re not alone, and that intergenerational connection is a two-way street,” she said. At the end of every walk, Orender urges the girls to continue reaching out to their mentors for help and advice, stressing that girls can continue to build one another up throughout their lives.

Emphasize mastery instead of performance

Instead of focusing on whether your daughter ran more laps than everyone else, ask her to articulate a specific goal. The question can then be, “Did you run more laps today than yesterday?”

The organization Girls on the Run helps girls focus on doing their best rather than beating someone else, said Allie Riley, the organization’s senior vice president of programming and evaluation.

“You can be competitive without thriving on doing better than someone else,” she added. “Otherwise, it’s, ‘I can do well or you can do well, but we both can’t do well.’ ” At 5Ks, the members of the team pace themselves to run in with a girl who is struggling, or two girls will try to cross the finish line together. Girls can transfer these lessons about empathy and mutual support to other areas of their lives.

Identify fierce but kind female characters

Girls often struggle with healthy aggression, but competition helps people accomplish goals they otherwise wouldn’t complete. Being competitive and supporting others aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. “We’ve been so militant about getting girls to be nice, they don’t even know there’s such a thing as healthy competition,” says psychologist Lisa Damour, the author of “Untangled.”

When Marina Passalaris, the founder of Beautiful Minds in Australia, conducts confidence-building workshops for girls, she emphasizes that you can be a good person with goals without harming anyone. “Socially, we have this weird idea that a nice girl is quiet and submissive and doesn’t chase her dreams,” she said. You can bring fierceness to competitive situations, then return to being a good sport and friend. Damour points to Mulan as a good example. Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in animated Star Wars shows, refers to Hera and Sabine, powerful female characters in that universe.

“They’re part of a crew who work together to overcome the empire,” Eckstein said. “They’re girls working together, overcoming, doing great things.”

Urge them to be loyal

Girls can commit to having one another’s backs even if they drift apart or develop different interests. As Cuddy pointed out, “We make romantic commitments, so why not make friendship commitments?”

That said, parents should help their daughters choose friends with care. “Focus on the people in your corner, and only bring new people into your life who cheer you on,” says psychologist Lea Waters, author of “The Strength Switch.” “It’s okay to befriend someone who’s willing to fight it out with you in the arena, but avoid the ones in the stands throwing things at you.”

Encourage them to join a team

When girls play sports, they learn to set their egos aside and invest in one another’s success. Sports also may buffer them against that deflating posture. “When you’re on a team and social status is based on your strength, power and ability to do well for the team, that becomes what’s valued,” Cuddy said.

Girls who aren’t interested in sports can join another group with a shared vision. Consultant Jon Gordon, author of “The Power of a Positive Team,” recommends activities such as drama club or marching band.

“In theater, you have to make it about what’s best for the performance, and in a marching band, you have to trust that the person next to you won’t hit or step on you,” he said. “It’s all about being better for each other — no one achieves greatness in isolation.”

Phyllis L. Fagell is the counselor at Sheridan School in the District and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda. She tweets @Pfagell and blogs at phyllisfagell.com.

One School’s Conversation About Open Gradebook

NAIS

October 01, 2018

By Jess Hill, Buffy Baker, Armistead Lemon, Jenny Jervis, Maddie Waud, and Adam Wilsman

In the fast pace of what we do in our schools every day, every week, and every year, it is increasingly difficult to carve out time to research or even reflect on any change of policy that may be heading down the pike. We often hear or read about an educational trend or what another school is doing, or we may hear from a few parents that we should do [insert latest trend], too. At Harpeth Hall School (TN), we talk to faculty and to students, if appropriate, and take the time to consider what we think is best for our students within our school culture. Then we make a recommendation whether to change a policy.

In our wonderfully diverse coalition of girls’ schools, we espouse many different paths to reaching the summit of engaging, educating, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring our girls and young women. It comes as no surprise that the mention of an open gradebook—giving each student and parent online access to all of a student’s grades in a teacher’s gradebook, all of the time—is concerning to some girls’ school administrators. To others, it is something they incorporated years ago and are now off to consider newer trends and best practices. This topic was a clear fork in the road for us.

As one of only two girls’ schools in Nashville, with a robust community of independent, magnet, charter, and public co-ed schools, Harpeth Hall may be the only school that doesn’t have an open gradebook. We believe that considering this question within the context of our mission as an all-girls school is essential and a decision not to be taken lightly.

The Pros and Cons of Total Transparency

On the surface, a system that provides both students and parents uninhibited access and feedback on a student’s letter grade would appear to be an improvement. Students can keep track of their assessments and can easily see each grade and whether they have any missing or late assignments. There are no report card surprises; rather, the parent and student can always be aware of the student’s average and take action accordingly. An open gradebook allows for conversations between parents and students, and gives both parties an up-to-date view of the student’s achievements in each class.

Such ease of access and total transparency mirror the 24/7 online world that we live in. An apt parallel might be online banking: Log on anytime to learn your balance. The critical difference is that at Harpeth Hall, and most likely any all-girls school, we know a student’s numeric average at any given moment will never provide the whole picture of her educational journey. We have many high-achieving students, and we must consider whether such a system would best serve our particular community, or whether it would undermine our goals as an institution.

For the student who experiences anxiety about any uncertainty with regard to her grades, an open gradebook will allow for a superficial level of control via constant transparency. What might be the cost of this transparency? Right now, teachers are aware of their students’ specific anxieties because of the one-on-one conversations that happen around grades. Students can already ask for their average, grade, or test result at any time and be accommodated. More importantly, when students ask teachers directly, critical face-to-face conversations often reveal nuances for a teacher about how a student is processing an experience or developing in a class. The current system, while technically old-fashioned, preserves the teacher-student relationship and still allows students to have ownership. At this time, we can find no research showing that open gradebooks have improved students’ grades or helped teachers know their students better.

Minding the Confidence Gap

We do, however, have plenty of research on girls and confidence. Over the past four years, our school has focused on this research, namely the disconcerting truth that girls and young women who perform well in school do not always meet with the same success in the workplace. In order to address this confidence gap, we have identified several primary inhibitors we see in our students. Three of these five inhibitors could be exacerbated by an open gradebook.

Perfectionism: High-achieving students with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to equate their self-worth with their grades. Grades become powerful extrinsic motivators for these students, who begin to value successful performance over learning. Over time, the joy of learning diminishes as they focus narrowly on the numbers and improving the numbers. We are concerned that an open platform will drive students’ focus further toward numbers. At Harpeth Hall, we never want a student to define herself by a number.

Comparison: Equally concerning is the possibility of promoting an obsessive-compulsive behavior focused on results. Teenage girls are already online all the time, checking the number of likes on Facebook and Instagram. Refreshing the open gradebook page is an added reality for many girls across the country today, and we might spare our students from this option by giving them the space to think about something more than their grades. Tendencies toward perfectionism exist without an open gradebook, and we think they would worsen without the intervention of teachers should we go to an open system.

Fear of failure: Research shows that girls are especially prone to the fear of failure because of “good girl” conditioning. Girls avoid risks and value image over learning, and this avoidance diminishes confidence. Yet we are learning that college admission is becoming increasingly more interested in a prospective student’s ability to handle disappointment, adversity, and struggle rather than just seeing a grade point average. Girls who develop perseverance, tenacity, and a healthy sense of risk-taking are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This leads to a more successful experience in college and beyond. We hope our girls will have healthy, successful life experiences, and thus we want them to take safe risks in our classrooms, to have an opportunity to experience and recover from failure, and to develop skills that allow them to persevere.

Every day our faculty members are on the frontlines of our students’ emotional health and well-being. Harpeth Hall remains a progressive school with innovative teachers, and yet we hesitate to adopt the latest open gradebook trend. Based on our research and experience teaching girls, we question how an open gradebook would benefit our students’ well-being and emotional health or increase their ability to own their successes and failures, take risks, or succeed dramatically better in the classroom or more importantly, at life.

A Sacred Heart Graduate’s Dedication to Social Justice

Mary Grace Henry, Sacred Heart Greenwich class of 2015, was recently featured on the CBS show Hidden Heroes for her work to educate girls around the world.  Mary Grace, through her years at Sacred Heart and her 8th grade Making History project, created the Reverse the Course Foundation and has sold more than 16,000 hair accessories to fund 251 years of school fees for 115 girls who live in extreme poverty.

Here’s a link to the video

Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart

NPR

Researchers are trying to tease apart the reasons why girls are less likely to become scientists and engineers.

Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says his lab’s previous work showed that women were particularly underrepresented in both STEM and humanities fields whose members thought you needed to be brilliant — that is, to have innate talent — to succeed.

“You might think these stereotypes start in college, but we know from a lot of developmental work that children are incredibly attuned to social signals,” Cimpian says. So they decided to look at kids from ages 5 to 7, the period during which stereotypes seem to start to take hold.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments that included 400 children. In one, they took 96 kids and asked them a series of questions about brilliance and gender. For example, they were told a brief story about a person who was “really, really smart” and then asked to pick the protagonist from four photos, two of men and two of women.

Across the various questions, 5-year-old boys said their own gender was smart 71 percent of the time, compared to 69 percent of the time for girls. Among 6-year-olds, the numbers were 65 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls. And among 7-year-olds, it was 68 percent for boys and 54 percent for girls.

“The surprising thing is that already, by age 6, girls and boys are saying different things,” says Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington who wasn’t involved with the research. “Before they’ve heard of physics or computer science they are getting these messages.”

Another experiment showed that even as older girls were less likely to associate their own gender with brilliance, they (correctly) assessed that at their age, girls were more likely to get good grades in school.

And another experiment asked 6- and 7-year-olds about the appeal of two similar imaginary games, one intended for “children who are really, really smart,” and one for “children who try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested than boys in the game aimed at smart kids but interest was similar in the game for hard workers.

The research can’t explain how these messages are getting to kids or how they could be changed, says Cimpian. He is planning a long-term study of young children that would measure environmental factors, including media exposure and parental beliefs. That would give a better idea of what factors predict the emergence of stereotypes, and what levers are available to change attitudes.

Research does suggest that role models might “inoculate” women and members of other underrepresented groups. So the movie Hidden Figures, about female African-American mathematicians at NASA during the late 1950s and early 1960s, could inspire girls and teens of color to pursue STEM fields.

But it’s also important to step back and ask what the goal of any intervention should be, says Cheryan.

Girls, after all, were split about evenly in associating brilliance with their gender, she notes. The boys were more likely to make the association with their own gender. So do girls need help in thinking more like the boys, or vice versa? Cimpian says it’s important not to fall into the trap of always assuming it’s the girls who need to change. But he says that girls at this age are usually overwhelmingly positive about their own gender, so any deviation from that baseline may suggest the beginning of negative attitudes.

Another approach is to change the characterization of the academic fields themselves, namely that certain areas require inborn brilliance rather than hard work.

“Stereotypes are all about who has an innate ability,” says Cimpian. If kids were instead exposed to the idea that success comes not because of fixed ability, but because of hard work over time (a so-called “growth mindset,” the idea developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck,) maybe those stereotypes would lose their punch.

Kids might also benefit from being exposed early on to fields like engineering, which aren’t typically studied in high school, to demystify them, says Cheryan.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson.

Raising My Daughter to be a Warrior of Love & Justice

The Huffington Post

In my family, we ain’t raising no princess.

09/16/2016 

EVAN ZISLIS
JunoWarriorChild

My daughter started taking martial arts when she was five years old. I think it’s helped teach her confidence, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Life isn’t always cream puffs and unicorns. When dire circumstances warrant acute awareness, hyper-focus, and rapid response — kids trained in resilience are far more likely to endure hardship and advocate for peace with poise.

In my family, we ain’t raising no princess. We’re revolutionaries and unyielding warriors of justice. We do our research. We know where our food comes from. We’re intentional and informed with every purchase. We talk about environmental preservation, human rights and civil liberties. We look at labels and shop almost exclusively second-hand. We vehemently reject playground and corporate bullies seeking to profit on the backs of the little guy. In our house, we relentlessly root for the underdog and those doing the right thing. In our community, we show up with blood, sweat, tears, gluten-free chocolate chip banana bread, and baskets of homegrown organic veggies for those struggling to survive the day.

At our dinner table, no topic is taboo. We name the elephant in the room and promote discourse on all things controversial. We respectfully provide opportunity for everyone to express opinions, vet ideas, and workshop viable resolutions. When something makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up, we talk about it. We understand that safety is an illusion and control is a fairy tale; that on any given day, precious life is precarious, hanging in the balance like a feather on the wind. We reject hate-talk and dismiss fear-mongering. We embrace the practicality of living every moment — because life’s too short to pretend it’s not.

“Everybody dies” is a common mantra in our home. Not for fear of death, but as a compassionate reminder that in life there is no permanence. Our soulful six year old has given elaborate burials to expired honey bees found in our garden, respectfully thanking them for their invaluable contributions and wishing them safe passage to future endeavors. Living an active outdoor lifestyle in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, she’s become an avid student of wildlife biology, horticulture, and ethnobotany. True to her namesake, our astute Juniper is diligently learning the nuances of the food chain, life cycles, and the interconnectedness of all things.

We don’t have television. Juno’s exposure to cliché Disney princesses has largely been limited to the fiery, redheaded archer Merida from the movie “Brave.” Our favorite bedtime stories are about hardship, adversity and redemption, where the heroine needs no rescuing. Books like “The Paperbag Princess,” by Robert Munsch reveal protagonists’ inner strength and self-determination we want to nurture in our own daughter. Parents looking for inspiration can check this greatbook list (for older readers) with female characters who promote the kind of bravery and perseverance we should all seek to cultivate from an early age.

As a professional organizer and author, it’s my job to help people simplify, discover clarity, and become inspired by a rewarding life of purpose. You bet your ass my wife and I will be raising our daughter to be an independent thinker, a compassionate warrior, and a paragon of stewardship and integrity. Simon Sinek brilliantly reminds us, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” In my home, we’re far from perfect and that means approaching every heart-felt effort with humility and a commitment to personal growth. Will Durant’s famous interpretation of Aristotle states, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

At six years old, Juno’s well on her way to understanding that intentional habits grounded in compassion, generosity, and getting after it like a warrior — will reliably deliver hard-won results now and for the rest of her life.

Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared?

The New York Times

By CAROLINE PAUL FEB. 20, 2016

21paul-master675

Credit Lauren Tamaki

I WAS one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. For more than a dozen years, I worked on a busy rig in a tough neighborhood where rundown houses caught fire easily and gangs fought with machetes and .22s. I’ve pulled a bloated body from the bay, performed CPR on a baby and crawled down countless smoky hallways.

I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: “Aren’t you scared?”

It was strange — and insulting — to have my courage doubted. I never heard my male colleagues asked this. Apparently, fear is expected of women.

This fear conditioning begins early. Many studies have shown that physical activity — sports, hiking, playing outdoors — is tied to girls’ self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk.

One study focused on, coincidentally, a playground fire pole, is particularly revealing. It was published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and showed that parents cautioned their daughters about the dangers of the fire pole significantly more than they did their sons and were much more likely to assist them. But both moms and dads directed their sons to face their fears, with instruction on how to complete the task on their own.

I spoke recently to a friend who admitted that she cautioned her daughter much more than her son. “But she’s very klutzy,” the mom explained. I wondered, wasn’t there a way even a klutzy child could take risks? My friend agreed there might be, but only halfheartedly, and I could see on her face that maternal instinct was sparring with feminism, and feminism was losing.

I had been a klutzy child, too. I was also shy, and scared of many things: big kids, whatever might be under my bed at night, school. But I pored over National Geographic and “Harriet the Spy.” I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who wandered the countryside swearing oaths of bravery and honor. None of these characters talked about fear. They talked about courage, exploration and exciting deeds.

So I biked down a steep country road (and hit a car). I sledded down an icy hill (and hit a tree). I don’t remember my parents freaking out; they seemed to understand that mishaps were part of childhood. I got a few stitches, and kept biking and sledding. Misadventures meant that I should try again. With each triumph over fear and physical adversity, I gained confidence.

I recently asked my mother why she never tried to stop me. She said that her own mother had been very fearful, gasping at anything remotely rough-and-tumble. “I had been so discouraged from having adventures, and I wanted you to have a more exciting childhood,” she told me.

My mom is an outlier. According to a study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology last year, parents are “four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful” after mishaps that are not life-threatening but do entail a trip to the emergency room. It seems like a reasonable warning. But there is a drawback, and the researchers remarked on it: “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.” This study points to an uncomfortable truth: We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.
Nobody is saying that injuries are good, or that girls should be reckless. But risk taking is important. Gever Tulley, the author of “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” encourages girls and boys to own pocketknives, light fires and throw spears, arguing that dangerous activities under supervision can teach kids responsibility, problem-solving and confidence. It follows that by cautioning girls away from these experiences, we are not protecting them. We are failing to prepare them for life.

When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone. Soon many situations are considered too scary, when in fact they are simply exhilarating and unknown. Fear becomes a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will. By the time a girl reaches her tweens no one bats an eye when she screams at the sight of an insect.

When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making. We try to counter this conditioning by urging ourselves to “lean in.” Books on female empowerment proliferate on our shelves. I admire what these writers are trying to do — but they come far too late.

We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, “I’m too scared.”

When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning building.

Caroline Paul is the author of the forthcoming book “The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure.”

Schoolgirls Are Facing More Threats, U.N. Reports

Attacks against girls attending school or seeking access to education appear to be increasing around the world despite legal protections of gender equality, the United Nations said in a report issued on Monday.

The report, posted on the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council, said attacks on schools have occurred in at least 70 countries from 2009 to 2014, and that many of the attacks were “specifically directed at girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education.”

It also said that based on United Nations data, an estimated 3,600 attacks against educational institutions, teachers and students were recorded in 2012 alone.

Although constitutional guarantees are enshrined in more than 140 countries and a global consensus prevails on the right to education for all, the report said, “attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increased regularity.”

The report, conducted by the Women’s Human Rights and Gender section of the Human Rights Council, was an assessment based on a compilation of research, including by other United Nations agencies and outside rights groups and academics.

It did not provide year-by-year or country-by-country data to substantiate its assertion of an increase, but highlighted some of the brazen assaults on women and girls in school that have captivated the world’s attention in recent years.

They included the Pakistani Taliban’s assault on a school in Peshawar last December that killed at least 132 uniformed schoolchildren, both boys and girls; the abduction last April of nearly 300 schoolgirls in northern Nigeriaby Boko Haram, the radical Islamist insurgent group; the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for her education activism; and numerous episodes of poisoning and acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan between 2012 and last year.

In conflict zones, the report said, women and girls have sometimes been abducted or forcibly recruited precisely because they were educated. It cited as an example the Lord’s Resistance Army, the renegade guerrilla force of Central Africa, which has captured secondary school girls in northern Uganda known for their literacy and mathematics skills, making them “valuable recruits for military communications work.”

In addition to attacks on schools, the report said, “many more girls around the world routinely experience gender-related violence and other forms of discrimination that limit or prohibit the free exercise of their right to education.”

In Central America, for example, the report said, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has documented cases of sexual violence, threats and harassment of girls by criminal gangs, forcing them to abandon school.

The report also spoke of what it called the ripple effect from attacks on girls’ education. Not only do they affect “the lives of the girls and communities who are directly concerned,” the report said, “they also send a signal to other parents and guardians that schools are not safe places for girls.”

The report is to be submitted for use in a coming United Nations study on the role of women in peace and security since 2000, when the Security Council adopted what is considered a landmark resolution on gender equality.

The study is being led by Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer, rights advocate and former under secretary general who has specialized on issues concerning children and armed conflict and violence against women. It is to be released before a high-level United Nations review, scheduled for October, on progress since the Security Council resolution 15 years ago.

All Around The World, Girls Are Doing Much Better Than Boys Academically

Huffington Post

Posted: Updated:
MUSLIM GIRL IN SCHOOL 

Girls are academically outperforming boys in many countries around the world — even in places where women face political, economic or social inequalities.

A new report from Dr. Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Glasgow in Scotland andDavid C. Geary of the University of Missouri found that in 2009, high school girls performed significantly better on an international standardized test in 52 out of 74 studied countries.

The researchers set out to explore the connection between academic achievement and a country’s levels of gender inequality, speculating that girls might do worse on the Programme for International Student Assessment in countries where they are typically treated unfairly. On the contrary, researchers found that girls have been consistently outperforming boys for the last decade, regardless of countries’ treatment of women.

“In a lot of these countries women are not allowed to do a lot of things, but what’s interesting is even in these countries girls are doing better in school,” Geary told The Huffington Post over the phone. The study notes the results extend to strict Muslim countries where there tends to be a “lack of opportunities for girls and women.”

PISA is a test that has been distributed around the world since 2000 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Researchers found that on the 2009 test, girls performed better than boys in reading, math and science in 70 percent of studied countries.

Geary noted that the top male performers tended do better in math on the exam than the top female test-takers, which feeds into a focus on the gender gap in STEM-related jobs. But at the same time, he said, there has been a lack of focus on the fact that girls seem to be performing better on the whole.

“All debate and fretting over STEM stuff, where boys go into STEM fields and do better at math, that is all at the upper end of achievement,” said Geary. “But there’s a whole lot of other kids in the world that are never going to go into STEM. When you look at all of those other 95 percent of the world’s kids, we see boys falling behind girls pretty much everywhere.”

Geary said he worried about the study’s implications for an increasingly complex labor market. Especially in non-developed countries, he said, there’s going to be “a lot of boys who are going to become young adults with few employable skills.”

“If you have countries with a large percentage of these types of men, crime rates go up,” he said, including violent crime.

Geary said he hopes the findings bring more attention to the issue of boys falling behind in school.

“The boys’ problems are overlooked,” said Geary. “It’s an important problem and a worldwide problem, and potentially has some serious implications … it just hasn’t been addressed and is not even on people’s radar to even figure out why this is the case.”

Why Single Sex Education Is Good For Girls

Forbes

This article is by Caroline Erisman, Head of School at Dana Hall, an all-girls independent day and boarding school for grades 6-12 in Wellesley, MA. 

While it was heartening to see that Maryam Mirzakhani, born and raised in Iran, just became the first woman to win a Fields Medal in mathematics, it is unfortunate that the breaking news in this story wasn’t necessarily her accomplishment, but that she was, in fact, a woman.The Boston Globe recently ran a story about this achievement, and raised a common question: why does our country lag behind others when it comes to encouraging female talent in mathematics, especially when research has shown that mathematical talent is fueled by nurture, not nature?  It is an interesting thought, especially given recent coverage of a studyhighlighting how top male professors in life-sciences tend to hire fewer women than female professors do in the same field.

Women make up 50 percent of the population and account for 59 percent of the college-educated entry-level workforce. Today, we can look up to some of the most powerful women in the nation: three Supreme Court justices, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to name a few. But the numbers are not as high as they should be when it comes to female leadership.  According to the Center for American Progress, women still only make up 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and a mere 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. In Massachusetts, The Boston Club released a report showing that nearly 14 percent of the 100 largest public companies have women as directors, which is below the national average of 17 percent.

Despite these discouraging statistics, there is reason for optimism. Earlier this year an article in Forbes, “11 Reasons 2014 Will Be a Breakout Year for Women Entrepreneurs,” set forth evidence that explains why the numbers of women-owned firms have increased significantly in the last couple of years.  According to research, women are able to build better, more effective teams. Women cooperate and communicate effectively, which are both important qualities of a strong entrepreneur. And women are more proactively seeking visibility these days because they recognize the importance of public speaking, and are beginning to network more aggressively.

While this information is encouraging, it is meaningless unless we ensure that these small gains turn into larger wins. So how do we take what we know and make it mean something?  The answer begins with middle and secondary education for girls.

If girls are exposed to and schooled in these skills during middle and high school, they can refine them in college and be prepared to compete on a more even playing field at that level, and when launching a career. We need to cultivate this type of skills-based learning in our girls at an early age. To create female leaders, we need to raise them as leaders. We need to integrate courses into our curricula that go beyond basic English, math and science classes, such as ones geared towards the principles of engineering, or classes that explore the central role of science and technology in shaping human life, civilization and thought. We need to incorporate into our program business-oriented courses that teach our students at a young age how to succeed in the work force. Otherwise women are disadvantaged when they leave school and enter the employment market. We need to continue to foster all-girls programs that provide an atmosphere where girls excel as leaders without a male presence, because research shows that girls are more engaged, and exude more confidence and competitiveness in single-sex environments.

We as women have come so far, and have made such strides towards success and equality, but it is frustrating to know that in the 21st century, barriers continue to block us from the highest achievements. However, if together, we as educators, parents, and mentors, start early enough, and give young girls the right tools to succeed in the future through early education, then generations of girls to come will use these tools to break down the barriers that currently stand in our way.