Effect of stereotypes

Katherine Kaye katherine.kaye at geography.oxford.ac.uk
Fri Nov 3 12:30:34 EST 2000

On 2 Nov 2000 bmartin at utmem.edu wrote:

> In article <3a015ee2$0$56656$392904a7 at news.execpc.com>, patricia bowne
> <pbowne at execpc.com> wrote:
> > Pretty chilling stuff, though I guess women shouldn't feel 
> > as bad as old people -- the same article says that old people
> > who'd been exposed to the stereotype of decrepitude were less
> > likely to accept life-prolonging medical intervention.
> > 
> > Anyway, it raises the interesting possibility that some of the
> > bias that's thought to be inherent in tests on which women
> > or minorities score poorly may be not in the test but in the 
> > stereotype that women and minorities will score
> > poorly. One study cited found that women did just as well as
> > men on a math test if they were told beforehand that women did
> > just as well as men on that particular test. 
> And what were the results of the study in which males were/were not
> told they scored better/worse than females?
> Is this a response to stereotypes or just a normal response of humans?
> B. Martin

B. Martin's response misses the point: yes, humans respond to
stereotypes. That doesn't mean that the universal response implies that 
the stereotype doesn't exist.

Here in the UK - and also in the US - the stereotypical unifying of
masculinity with a requirement to eschew involvement has meant that boys
find reading and general scholastic achievement 'uncool': achievement
means involvement and involvement is feminine therefore boys don't
read. This, in turn, feeds an expactation on the part of teachers that
boys will be difficult to teach, particularly after age eight (8) in state
schools, where peer pressure tends to operate more strongly than in
private schools.

Proposed solutions include re-expansion of single-sex schools into the
system - because boys and men are highly conscious of observation and
display tactics and will react to being observed by their peers in
'girlish' behaviour - and to try and recruit more men into primary-school
teaching so boys will see that Real Men Can Read. However, recruiting men
into a feminised, low-status, low-pay profession runs counter to many
men's [stereotyped] perception of success, so the recruitment approach is

Maybe I'm just too old, but the research finding originally referred to
isn't really 'new' news: feminist research 30 years ago, and indeed
throughout the 20th century, confirms that people live down to expressed
expectations, and that girls and women just happen to carry a
disproportionate load of those negatives in many societies. These days men
carry some negatives to and they don't much like it <surprise><!>

The reason there were women scientists making a mark in the 19th century
was because women's brains were considered to be too inferior to handle
classical studies (the 'Greats' degree at Oxford, for example) but the
then-inferior status occupied by science (a merely practical study) was
within our compass and thus accessible through university studies.

And, of course, in studying chemistry one wouldn't be exposed to all that
Greek and Latin smut! In the Bodleian, the two categories of literature
still restricted in availability are classified by the Greek letter 'phi',
pronounced "Fie!", or as phi, phi ("Oh, fie, fie!") because they are the
most graphic texts... and at one time (decades ago!) were simply not
issued to women users of the library at all. Nowadays both men and women
need to provide a good reason in writing, confirmed by their supervisor,
tutor, or whathaveyou, that these are required for genuine research
But I digress.

The point is that stereotyping is just not new, cuts all ways, and
underlying it all is not politics but simple morality. Teachers, do as you
would be done by!

Dr. Katherine J. Kaye
School of Geography
Oxford OX1 3TB

ubi Deus, ibi pax; ubi caritas, amor.

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