Girls must be seen and not heard.
Girls are not worthy of receiving an education.
Girls are not strong enough to lead a nation.
Girls are born not to satisfy themselves, but to satisfy others.
Girls are just dumber and less athletic.
From the moment the doctor says, “It’s a girl,” females are stereotyped.
All around us, females, such as you and I, are constantly bombarded by gender stereotypes portrayed in the media, in movies and TV shows, and even in schools and homes. In fact, parents play a huge role in the perpetuation of gender roles and stereotypes.
The toys and colors we are first introduced to indicate the early nature of these stereotypes because they place an uneven importance amongst the genders. While boys are taught to be strong, resilient, and athletic, girls are taught to be quite, pretty, and meek.
Why does this happen? Why does society treat the everyday female differently from her male counterparts as soon as she enters the world? More importantly, how can we prevent girls from falling prey to this issue? Alas, the answers are complicated and nothing is easy to understand. The best we can say is: don’t let anyone get to you.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Even for the most confident girls, the girls who are completely comfortable in their skin, stereotypes pose a threat to their well-being. Indiana University even conducted a 2015 social experiment on this topic, where they found that the fear of conforming to gender stereotypes causes women to perform worse on STEM-related tests than men. In the study, 150 men and women of relatively equal aptitude were given ten minutes to solve seven extremely challenging math problems.
Before the test, a negative stereotype about women was introduced by telling participants that the researchers were trying to find out why women are generally worse at math than men. When the study case ended, the results found were analogous to previous studies conducted at Stanford, finding that female test-takers performed worse and reported greater anxiety and lower expectations about their performance compared to men when negative stereotypes about gender were introduced.
Furthermore, the researchers found another startling conclusion: “While both sexes expected female test-takers to experience greater anxiety and pressure to perform under the influence of negative gender stereotypes, both male and female observers expected women to successfully overcome these roadblocks. Observers expected stereotypes to increase women’s anxiety…”
All of this goes to show just how pivotal one’s perception can be in relation to one’s own performance. Think about it: if the introduction of only one stereotype contains enough power to undermine the confidence of even the brightest individuals, what effect must hundred stereotypes have? A thousand stereotypes? A million?
What it boils down to, at the end of the day, is how we perceive ourselves. And to all the girls who feel as if you’re not good enough, as if you are worthless, or as if you are not important, I want to tell you this: you are not a stereotype. As a girl, you can be weak and strong; smart and dumb; and kind and stubborn. You can be whoever you want, and as long as you are true to yourself, you truly are a human being - a living, breathing, important individual who can and will change the world. I believe in you.