Professor Cheryl Bartholomew from George Mason University told a group of mostly female engineering majors that gender distinctions continue to pervade society, concentrating on the fact that the gender gap in science is increasing.
“Forty-five percent of girls take four years of mathematics as compared to 64 percent of boys,” she said. “Women and minorities comprise less than 10 percent of the engineering force.”
Bartholomew’s discussion Tuesday at the Davis-Hodgkins House was titled “Impact of Culture on Gender” and dealt specifically with the psycho-social development of women and how that development is affected by societal gender roles.
“Girls are the only cohort population who test higher in achievement, aptitude, and self-esteem prior to going to school than when they leave school,” she said.
She said girls start out competing in math and science in their early years but then begin to give up in high school.
Gender role messages play a huge role in that shift, she said.
A popular belief among youths is that gender distinctions do not affect people as much today, but with just a few exceedingly simple examples, Bartholomew tried to show gender distinctions continue to infiltrate society. A comparison of greeting cards showed just how clear the messages to girls and boys are, she said.
All of the cards to girls were pink or purple and had fuzzy animals, usually eating something like ice cream or cake, on the cover. Most of the girls’ cards also contained the word “sweet,” whereas the boys cards showed trains, kites, airplanes, trophies and books. Even the cards for adults had a distinct difference. Cards to a father had him coming home from work, golfing or working at a computer, whereas the cards to a mother contained flowers and images of empty chairs.
Computer icons portray women as Barbie doll-like figures, even the ones in business suits, but the icons of men showed a man working at a computer, helping another person, Bartholomew said. She presented the audience with typical girls’ toys: a baby doll, a fake blender, a brush, a Barbie, a purse, and the card game “Old Maid.” Then she showed typical boys’ toys: a fire chief hat, telescopes, chemistry sets and a model airplane.
These small things reinforce the message that men are encouraged to do something with their lives, she said. Men are encouraged to be productive and fly planes and work at computers, while the girls are encouraged to be sweet and nice, Bartholomew added. These factors contribute to the lack of women in the math and science fields because women tend to give up when involved in a subject of study dominated by males, she said.
Mandisa Turner, president of Women Engineers and treasurer of Delta Sigma Theta sorority planned the event, and she said she was pleased with both the program and the turnout.
“I think that this is an important message that she had to say,” Turner said. “I think her examples are things that normally we wouldn’t think about or take in a negative way, but the way she presented them makes me more conscious about the way I’ll go about dealing with younger women and women my own age in the future.”