Motivating girls to do science...

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at
Fri Mar 29 11:14:39 EST 1996

In article <4jab3a$hac at>, anne at
(Anne Carpenter) wrote:

> I wonder where this kind of low self-confidence comes from...I have 
> really noticed it in my own life.  In my personal experience, I wonder if 
> women are more likely to be embarassed and shy about their academic 
> success whereas men are more likely to be proud, or even arrogant.  What 
> causes this difference?  I have heard it said in intro Psychology courses 
> that women are more likely to attribute success in academics 
> (particularly science) to luck, and that men are more likely to attribute 
> success to their high ability.  Where do we women get these unhealthy 
> attitudes?

I hope this suggestion doesn't offend anyone, but where I have seen
attitudes like this coming from most often in this day and age, where
institutional discrimination is less common than in the past, is the
family.  Many families still have different expectations for their
daughters vs. their sons:  the sons will go out into the world and make a
name for themselves, the daughters will get married and have

I was helping to lead an undergraduate seminar last year, and one time the
discussion ranged to "women in science." One undergraduate Asian woman
recounted the opposition she faced from her family in attending Caltech. 
She said they were all very worried about her, about her health, and about
whether Caltech was "too hard for a girl."  Caltech is hard for everyone,
male and female alike.  I think it might be easy in that situation to
think, well, maybe my parents are right, maybe Caltech is too hard for me
because I'm a girl.  I admired this person's conviction and persistence to
keep at it in spite of her family's attitudes.

This kind of thing seems almost impossible to combat, because the
attitudes on the part of the parents may be unconscious; usually they
believe that they just want the best for their daughters when they direct
them down "traditional" paths.  And parents rightly have the final say
about how their children are raised.  Maybe the passage of time, with more
girls and boys growing up in non-traditional roles, with expanded
expectations, will make it easier for tomorrow's kids.


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