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Boys Are Good at Math, Girls Are Just Lucky

freerangephotostockOver the weekend my wife attended a seminar put on by the Texas Association of Gifted and Talented, a parent and teacher group focused on educational opportunities for gifted and talented students. The takeaways from this event were 1) our current public school system is hopelessly F’d up beyond repair and 2) boys are good at math, while girls are just lucky. No, really, I’m serious here people! (Yeah, I was shocked too.)

This statement concerning the mathematical proficiency of boys and girls came courtesy of Dr. Patricia Gatto Walden, in her session, Turning Your Parenting Skill Towards Family Harmony. Now, before everyone starts looking the good doctor up on Google to sacrifice, allow me to put things into context.

For starters, how well children of either sex has nothing to do with gender whatsoever. What Dr. Walden was referring to is something known as Imposter Syndrome. Basically put, Imposter Syndrome is this constant feeling that your talents and subsequent achievements are downplayed as being a matter of luck or good timing more than anything. Apparently, there’s some debate as to whether men have this or not, but in any case, it is at least stronger for women if not exclusive to them.

According to Susan Pinker, who wrote the book, The Sexual Paradox: Troubled Boys, Gifted Girls and the Real Difference Between the Sexes she believes that,

 

Imposter Syndrome is purely limited to successful women; successful men apparently never feel like they are frauds.  Researchers in a subfield of cognitive psychology called causal attribution have long known about the persistent sex difference in attribution style.  Men are more likely to attribute their success to internal factors (their ability and effort) and their failure to external factors (task difficulty and luck), whereas women are more likely to attribute their success to external factors and their failure to internal factors.

 

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa allowed for men to be affected but generally agreed. In the Psychology Today article “Why Do So Many Women Experience the ‘Imposter Syndrome’?” he and Kaja Perina offered a slightly different perspective, though, focusing on what defines being successful in the first place.

 

We suspect that one reason why so many women but very few men experience the imposter syndrome may be because the definition of success in the evolutionarily novel contemporary society is biased toward males.  Nobody recognizes women who are successful in female terms.  So part of the problem may be definitional.  If we are right, then any man who receives worldwide accolades as a wonderful father or friend should also experience the imposter syndrome, even though we would not expect anyone to receive such recognition, once again, precisely because “success” in our society is defined in male terms.

 

Bringing this full circle, to illustrate the concept of Imposter Syndrome for students, Dr. Walden explained that in her research and experience, a boy will do well on a multiplication test and think he’s good at math. A girl in a Gifted and Talented (GT) program, however, can get an A for the entirety of a math class, and still think of herself as being lucky. The crux of this, according to Dr. Walden lay in the internal struggle between what a girl is told she is supposed to be versus who she really is as gifted student, which if not addressed, makes them averse to risk.

I realize that through all of this, so far, some of you may be thinking how lousy things are because it’s a man’s world. I’m not necessarily going to disagree with you, although our society has encouraged that to some extent if you look at the history of fatherhood. However, what I found to be the most interesting part of Dr. Walden’s talk was what she felt was a primary solution to countering Impostor Syndrome—dads.

According to Dr. Walden, fathers play a huge role in encouraging their daughters (and stepdaughters) to be proud of their talents, and to take risks. Dads should be reaffirming while also being a huge support in those times when their daughters don’t always succeed.

This made all kinds of sense to me. However, it‘s also somewhat ironic too. Men may carry a large portion of the blame for the injustices associated with a male-dominated society, yet it’s dads who can play a part in fixing this by encouraging their daughters to become strong capable women.

 

* * *

Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.

Photo Credit:  FreeRangeStockPhotos

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