At birth, there is no gender gap. Girls usually develop quicker than boys: recognised in pediatry as more robust babies, they learn to talk, count and read earlier. Until approximately age 12, they surpass boys in grades and achievement tests. But surprinsingly enough, only 26% of the diagnosed gifted children are girls
What happens to gifted girls then?
- Cultural expectations lower their aspirations
Societal messages are subtle but do weaken aspirations of talented young women. The doctrine of the natural inferiority of women has been and is thoroughly ingrained in our psyches. Look at Hipercor controversial campain Foto for example: Clever as Dad, Beautiful as Mum
I still remember at school statements such as: Boys have hability, Girls just work harder..
So no wonder there is a very disturbing belief that there are more gifted males than gifted
- Overadaptability of girls prompts late diagnosis
Most of the gifted boys show disturbing behaviours at school which attracts the attention of teachers and parents. Whereas most of the girls are seen as good achievers and usually fit in discretely. Gifted girls who are quietly hiding their intelligence many not be seen as needing assessment.
- During puberty, the internal dialogue turns into: Who cares if I am smart? Am I thin enough?
Adolescence is a precarious period for everyone but even more for highly able girls. Without warning, confidence fades and is replaced with self-doubt and lowered aspiration. This it the period of accepting limitations, learning what it means to be feminine and how to fit into the prescribed roles of women in our society. This is when gender-role socialization makes its mark on their psyches, telling them that they are only valued for their appearance and sociability. This changes the priorities of talented girls; since they are less valued for their achievements than for their attractiveness, they place less value on those achievements themselves.
The highly able young women is therefore faced with a Sophie’s choice:
If she chooses to be true to herself, to honor her drive for achievement and self-actualization, she breaks some unspoken rule and faces disconnection, taunts and rejection from both male and female peers. If she chooses to give up her dreams, to hold herself back, to redirect her
energies into feminine spheres—preoccupation with boys, clothes, appearance, observing her
tone of voice, choice of words and body language, remaking herself to become attractive to
the opposite sex—she is accepted and rewarded for her efforts. Since there is little immediate
value in choosing achievement over social acceptance, a girl would have to have incredible
self-assurance to make that choice. Extracted from What Happens to Gifted Girls? 2013, Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, University Aarhus, Denmark 2013
- Lack of female so-called recognised role models
Given the few women who are publicly recognized for their contributions,(8% only of Nobel prize being female), no matter how extraordinary, even the most capable girls end up believing that achieving recognition is a hopeless goal.
What can we do?
1. Being aware of this societal pressure
2. Hold high expectations for girls as well as for boys
3. Provide for challenging experiences from early in life
4. Coach on self esteem
5. Coach for self personality
6. Fathers, you have a huge role to play for your daughter’s aspirations and the way you value women around you
7. Mothers, show your results being smart and maybe take less care of your diet!
8. Teachers, go one step further. A good pupil is not necessarly the one who is fitting within the frame of school.
9. Speak to girls about their brains, not their appearance: How to talk to a little girl