SOCIAL ROLES AND GENDER STEREOTYPES

According to the Social Role Theory, the cause for division of gender roles in society and the development of gender stereotypes are the physical differences between men and women. As a result, women are seen as primary caregivers, while men are seen as breadwinners. Consequently, more caregiving-type careers (such as nursing and teaching) are seen female-specific, whereas more strength-type careers (such as construction and engineering)are seen as male-specific. Furthermore, children learn these stereotypes, and proceed to adapt themselves to the societal expectations (e.g., girls playing with dolls whereas boys playing with mechanical toys). Starting from younger ages, women who hold unconscious beliefs that men are better at math have an implicit negative bias towards math tasks.

Parents have the ability to influence their children from a very young age, and thus they can affect the future of society. By adhering to certain stereotypes for boys and girls, parents may have a negative influence on their daughters’ interests in STEM. Because math and science is seen as male subjects, parents may encourage their sons to head down that path instead of their daughters; however, it has been found that if either parent works within the STEM field, this predicament is solved. 

Various socio-cultural expectations also influence women’s attitudes about STEM. The image that female scientists are nerdy and alone can deter adolescent girls who are gifted in maths or sciences from pursuing a scientific career.

The discussion that there are biological differences between women and men’s intelligences has been varied. It has been found that the genders have different cognitive weaknesses and strengths. Boys usually perform better with tasks which involve visualization and spatial orientation, such as quantitative tasks. Girls demonstrate better ability with verbal skills, such as writing, memory tests, and perceptual speed. However, the difference in skills are not proof for more intelligence. There is no difference in the average IQ between men and women, thus there is no “smarter sex.” Because boys are generally better with spatial skills, their abilities seem to be more appreciated in engineering fields; however, there is no definite connection between these skills and success in STEM. Therefore, the ideal that boys are born biologically to be better at STEM is a false claim, and instead it is a falsity which holds women back from exploring a field that is within their reach. 

Many STEM classrooms and professors unintentionally produce chilly environments for their students, especially towards the females. It has been found that STEM professors were described as less responsive to their students’ questions and needs, instead focusing more on lectures. These chilly educational settings carry into workplace conditions too. Within many STEM work environments are negative biases towards women which create a hostile setting, and interferes with their abilities to develop strong work connections and experiences. A survey done by Servon and Visser found that from the over 2000 women surveyed more than half of the participants had unsupportive and exclusive cultures within their workplaces, specifically “predatory behaviors.” These behaviors include exclusion from in-group discussions, targeting and blaming, and ignorance of worker contributions. Workplace environments are vital for success in a career, and the ambiance in STEM jobs are a major deterrent for women. In addition, many organizations do not provide the necessary resources to provide support for women who are the targets of stereotyping.

BY PELIN ENSARI

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