“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” – Dr. Mae Jemison, first African American woman astronaut in space
Do you too still hear that small voice that tells you that you are not as capable, as qualified, as intelligent because you are female, even if you are realistically just as qualified as the men sitting at the table? There are plenty of women politicians who get voted out of important offices not because they are less qualified, but because their gender puts them at a disadvantage before they even speak.
No matter who you are, you can change your intelligence level and develop your capacities toward excellence in your chosen field because your intelligence is not fixed.
Research that studies geniuses and great creative contributions suggests that talent alone cannot explain these phenomena. Instead, what sets individuals who become geniuses apart from their other peers is the deliberate practice and efforts they devote to their activity.
The pre-conceived ideas that women are less capable, less intelligent, less capable in math are rooted in environmental conditioning rather than genetic abilities. Any deficiency can be overcome through hard work and dedication to a growth mindset, rather than abdicating to the soon-to-be-expired bias that women are naturally less gifted and intelligent than men.
I’m dreading to take an advanced statistics class so I keep pushing it back to the next semester. Why? I hate math and I know I am not good at it. But perhaps, it is my self-defeating belief that I’m not good at math that blocks my capacities to learn math, and BECOME good at it.
Although it is true the male brain is larger than the female brain, the difference in size only accounts for the physical difference of body sizes. Our brain is proportional to the size of our body.
A 2010 research shows that women test as high in math performance as men across six nations, including the United States (Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010). Unlike we are told by society that girls should stick to drawing, taking care of babies, and sewing, it seems that the belief that women are not innately good in math affects their own ability to get good at mathematics – not their natural, genetic tendencies.
As we internalize negative biases about our intelligent capacities in math and science, we become less likely to put forth efforts to practice as the false stereotype about our gender will rush back into our mind, as we tell ourselves that the stereotype was right all along, creating a vicious circle, as opposed to scratching the false attribution, and identifying what we can do to learn and improve.
When we run into failure or a setbacks, women can tend to internalize it, thinking that the error is a reflection of our ability. Individuals with a growth mindset tend to have a healthier and more positive re-framing of the situation: they attribute it to lack of efforts instead of innate lack of ability, finding more motivation within themselves to re-route their efforts and increase their dedication to improvement, instead of making it about their intrinsic weakness, staying down and giving up.
The less we see ourselves as brilliant, capable, intelligent, the less likely we are to enter masterful practice and to enter a field we feel insecure about.
In the 1980s, American psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles expanded on the expectancy-value theory, positing that motivation was informed by one’s expectancy of success and if they valued that knowledge. If we expect to fail at something, we most certainly will.
The only evidence shown by science that there are significant biological differences between males and females are in the realm of spatial abilities and physical performances such as throwing distance and speed abilities in running (Linn & Petersen, 1985).
Perhaps then it is our very own mental investment in those stereotypes that keep us women from the fields where women are most needed to shift from the violent, pro-war, pro-gun violence, Earth-deteriorating model that is costing us the eco balance of our planet and of our species.
My point is that research and my personal experience suggest that it is your perception of your intelligence that sets you back, rather than your natural capacities to learn and grow in your expertise.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do.
Else-Quest, N., Hyde, J. S., & Hyde, J. S. (2018). The psychology of women and gender: half the human experience. Los Angeles: Sage.
Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2010). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(1), 103–127. doi: 10.1037/a0018053
Linn, M. C., & Petersen, A. C. (1985). Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: A meta-analysis. Child Development, 56(6), 1479–1498