Have you ever wondered why most engineers are men and more than 70% of translators are women? You might think that men are just more naturally talented in sciences and mathematics and women, in languages and arts. But it is far from being that simple.
It has been proven that boys and girls are slightly different biologically. Our brains are working in a specific way if we are males, and in another one if we are females, because X and Y sex chromosomes do not carry the same genes, which affects the neurons. However, the social beliefs about men and women influence a lot more their decisions and career choices than their biological specific features.
In France, a survey carried out by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) proved that even when girls are as good as boys in mathematics, they feel anxious and lack of self-confidence whenever they are exposed to mathematic problems. If six-year-old girls feel like this, imagine how they consider their abilities in the field by the age of twenty, after their concern has grown up with them.
On the contrary, boys are not judged “male” enough if they like reading, writing and associated activities (that relate to languages). This is due to the common idea that boys cannot express emotions. The act of writing implies feelings, which are totally opposed to the public notion of masculinity.
In an article that I just read, the solution proposed to improve boys’ results (except for mathematics, girls get better results than them in school) is to separate them from girls in school. Their courses would be in accordance with the social ideals for each sex.
Although this would increase boys’ marks, the individual tastes and abilities of many would be totally discouraged. We would then lose the few successful female engineers and male translators we know.
I think that it is particularly important to write, act and talk against those stereotypes, because they can affect very badly one’s general happiness and well-being.
Note: My main inspiration for this article is another article published in the specialized science periodical “Science & Vie” (Science & Life).