3 thoughts on “Women Aren’t Good at…”

  1. I don’t know that it’s just a “people are sheep” thing — I think math, like writing, is something that’s much, much easier when you approach it as a game, as something enjoyable. “Stereotype threat” makes any exercise fundamentally unpleasant, and it’s hard to operate at full capacity when you’re enduring unpleasantness.

    Speaking as a woman who took the Physics GRE while fully cognizant of the fact that there was (at the time) a 30-point historical percentile gap between the median scores for the two genders (and NOT in my favor), it was very distracting to be constantly wondering “Is this test somehow designed to favor someone with an inherently male cultural experience? Is my brain somehow fundamentally lacking in the architecture required to make me a good physicist? Why am I even bothering, again?” It’s not that math is really all that hard — it’s that it’s hard to do math when you’re busy doubting your own abilities.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Well, but I wasn’t disagreeing with any of that. Isn’t all that just still part of the general people are sheep comment? I didn’t mean to be disparaging — it’s just fascinating to me the extent to which what we humans *can* accomplish is influenced by what we *think* we can accomplish.

    If only we could all become our own sheepherders too, and put some of that unconscious power under conscious control.

  3. Well, I do think people are sheep. And I do believe that you can influence a person’s confidence in their own abilities — and their enjoyment and pursuit of those abilities — by telling them that they are good or bad at that activity. Social conditioning, absolutely.

    However, I would argue that not all aspects of “stereotype threat” fall under that kind of social conditioning: in the case of a standardized test, a lot of it is simply distracting the test-taker by occupying their brain with unrelated, outside concerns. Standardized tests take a lot of brain-power and a lot of concentration; if you distract even a small corner of the test-taker’s brain by inadvertantly invoking all of their outside insecurities during the testing session, it will have a predictably large impact on their scores.

    Which is not quite as unconscious as the “living up to social expectations” effect that I think you’re pointing at — I was fully conscious that I was handicapping myself by not focusing completely on my Physics GRE questions.

    I was, however, completely unable to stop myself from doing it. And I do think that the “social conditioning” thing goes on, too. Absolutely.

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