By Mary Ann Stewart
At about the time the U.S. Women’s National Team won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, Misty Copeland was promoted to principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater, the first African-American woman to do so in its 75-year history. A few weeks later, NFL’s Arizona Cardinals named Dr. Jen Welter as their first female coach. It’s wonderful to see these “firsts” for women – but in 2015 we have a long way to go in supporting young women and girls today so they become confident and effective leaders tomorrow.
A recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education reinforced this.
The study focused on perceptions of middle and high school boys and girls about gender and leadership and revealed that the gender gap persists. We already knew this, but it’s good to have the data.
Nearly 20,000 diverse middle and high school students from public and private schools in the US, Canada, and international schools, and 1,200 parents took part. Most of them didn’t see women as leaders in most fields, or only in fields stereotypically female, as shown in the graphic below, taken from the study:
Gender stereotyping is pervasive in media and culture, surrounding boys and girls with pernicious images that hinder ability and limit choices and opportunities. For girls, this can erode confidence in their leadership and also cultivate and reinforce biases in boys. Ultimately, we all pay the price of such limiting behaviors. Indeed, we are paying the price now.
Adults and parents must confront and challenge their own gender biases, then empower boys and girls to identify and actively combat them, too. Media literacy for all can help. Media literacy provides a framework to challenge and empower children, youth, and adults from stereotyping and build essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. Until, and unless we do challenge these biases, we will continue to be surprised every time a woman becomes a “first.”
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This blog is cross-posted at Mary Ann Stewart’s blog.