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Motivating girls to do science...

Linnea Ista lkista at UNM.EDU
Wed Mar 27 11:11:43 EST 1996


I was thinking about the question that Anne Carpenter posed aboutwhat 
causes girls to doubt their abilities/start to underachieve.  I remember 
something from my youth that perhaps we have overlooked.  When I was in 
grade school, I hung out wiith a group of girls that was ocnsidered 
"intelligent" we all got good grades were not afraid to speak out in 
class, etc. When we got to junior high I noticed that some of my friends 
no longer spoke up in class, were much less excited when they did well on 
exams and in general just kind of "played dumb". I finally asked one of 
my friends why she said she didn't know the answer to a question posed to 
her in class when I knew darn well that she knew the answer because we 
had studied together.  "I want to get dates" or something to that effect 
was her response.  And it was true, all through Junior High and High 
School she got dates, I didn't. My friends (male and female) said that I 
intimidated the boys because I was "a brain" and didn't try to hide it . 
Interestingly I had boys who were friends, but no dates.

Somewhere along the way girls get the idea that smart is not feminine or 
attractive and (at least at my school) it is  desirable to be those 
things. This got me thinking about how  a couple of weeks ago when I was 
in a department store looking at wedding dresses [yes, I finally did get 
a date ;-)] I saw in the juniors'  section a shirt that really upset me.  
It had a logo that looked like the "Dairy Queen " logo except that the 
words were changed to "Ditzy Queen". As we were going down the escalotor, 
three teenaged girls wlked up saw the shirts and said "Oh look "Ditzy 
Queen " ! Isn't that cute." Am I being oversensitive, or is this, in light
 of what we have been talking about, part of the problem?  
I did call the retailer (Dillards) and complain, but I don't know if it 
did any good.

 I guess what I am saying is although we can and should do our best as 
educators, mentors and adult friends of school aged girls to encourage 
them, we need to also address the prevailing culture whose message 
unfortunaltely (still) is that it is more desirable to be attractive and 
desirable than smart.

What can we do? I think the suggestion from the one mother who pointed 
out to her daughter at chess matches that there were other girls there 
who were cute and smart is important, but I think we need to somehow 
break out of the cycle that cute is so important.

Any comments or suggetstions?

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