Empowering Girls (& Boys): Reading and Math


By Tracee Sioux

Girls suck at math and boys can’t read.

Studies prove there is a gender gap in reading and math. But a new study tells us it’s not a biological fact, but one of social conditioning based in gender inequality.

This matters because we have limited control over biological factors, but we can seriously effect our childrens’ social conditioning.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development conducted a Programme for Internatinal Student Assessment (PISA) performance study of 400,000 15 year olds in math, science, reading, and problem solving. Their main intent was to discover science aptitude, which we discussed here on The Girl Revolution yesterday.

The most significant part of the findings for me was that girls are performing on par with boys, but experience much lower confidence in their science abilities to male counterparts. As a parent that encourages me to build confidence in the scientific area.

In the areas of reading and math however, boys and girls had significantly different scores.

Girls Suck at Math

However, the study indicates a sociological disparity in math scores as opposed to a genetic one.

The gap between how girls and boys performed in math was less in countries with high scores in gender equality, like Sweden. In countries where gender inequality is significant, such as Korea, the gap between girls scores and boys scores was more extreme.

The more gender equity we achieve, the better our girls do at math.

Peggy from Women in Science explored the implications of the math gender gap.

There is also an article in Arse Technica about the math gap.

An article in The Boston Globe says Girls Don’t Want to Do Science.

Girls don’t want to do science though they’re capable? The article says it’s because girls like people and boys like things.

Perhaps this is because girls receive toys as babies that encourage their interaction with people and their focus is almost entirely on seeking the approval of people through beauty and dress and manners. Gifts to my daughter before even turing two were books about relationships and dress up clothes, and household caretaking items like kitchens.

While boys are exclusively given action toys like tools and cars and trucks and actively forbidden interaction with relationship toys like dolls and play kitchens?

By the time they turn two the gender scripting is complete, unless parents actively challenge gender roles.

Boys Can’t Read

We should note, however, gender differences in mathematics were less than one-third as large as for reading, 11 points on average across OECD countries. This statistic hasn’t changed since the study was performed in 2003.

Perhaps it’s safe to assume that since the women’s movement and the focus on gender equity in education that girls are making significant strides in math, but we’re not doing so hot in engaging boys in language.

Our gender expectations from the second a child is born explains both gender gaps for me.

Last week, on Blog Fabulous, I wrote about the unenlightened idea that we disallow care-taking and nurturing behaviors by forbidding boys to play with dolls. Thus creating emotionally unattached and unempathetic husbands and fathers for future generations of women and children.

I would take that argument a step further and say we’re disallowing boys full access to language.

How can we expect them to be great readers when we have a minefield of rules regarding how we allow them to express their feelings using their language skills?

Much of reading is about empathy and compassion regarding characters, yet we disallow outward learning activities – like playing with dolls – that teach compassion and empathy in boys. We forbid expression of such “feminine feelings” of sadness or affection even.

No wonder they are disconnected from the reading experience.

My hypothesis is that when we allow boys the same emotional and relationship vocabulary as we allow girls we’re going to see boys engage in reading on par with their sisters.

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