Angela Farmer: Understanding gender bias early


Angela Farmer



While most every Kindergartener starts school with the same, basic curricula, it doesn't take long before the options diverge. Many of these options are based on gender. For example, flyers for ballet class are most likely to be given only to the girls while little league football applications go home with the boys. While this, in most cases, offers parents the traditional comforts afforded by stereotypical roles, it is important to recognize that not every child chooses the typical path.


For example, without access to her passion for sports, Mississippi's own Sarah Thomas would never have been able to follow her dream to become not only a football official, but the very first female to officiate the Super Bowl! In an interview offered by CBS, Ms. Thomas attests to the fact that her aunt asked her if she planned to play basketball. "No," she offered. "They don't have a girls' team." "Well," said her aunt, "I guess you'll just have to go out for the boys' team." Role models like this afford young women and men the opportunity to recognize that gender should never be a limiting factor when it comes to following one's goals.


According to Sheryl Sandberg, author of "Lean In for Graduates" and current Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, there are six, specific forms of bias to be recognized. There is performance bias, attribution bias, likeability bias, maternal bias, affinity bias, and double discrimination bias. Performance bias where one may imagine that girls may not be able to perform tasks as efficiently or effectively as boys. In this bias, girls' performance is typically underestimated and boys' is overestimated. One example of this bias was evidenced when orchestra auditions were amended to "blind" auditions where the judges couldn't see the applicants. The odds of females being selected past the first round increased a full 50%.



Attribution bias is similar to performance bias, separate only as females are typically seen as less competent; therefore, they are more likely to be blamed and less likely to be given credit than men. This often plays out in the classroom where girls are more likely to be talked over and interrupted than their boy counterparts. There is also likeability bias. In this situation, girls are more likely to be called "bossy" or "too aggressive" in situations where boys are applauded for their leadership skills. As they grow up these same girls often face maternal bias. This comes along with the incorrect assumption that mothers are likely to be less committed to their work, a bias nowhere associated with fathers who work.


There is also affinity bias. This is a difficult scenario, in particular, as it seeks to perpetuate itself. In brief, people tend to choose those most like themselves for any number of opportunities. As girls mature and find themselves in the world of work, it is often difficult to secure positions where males have dominated the landscape and are more likely to perpetuate the lineage with people most like themselves. Finally, there is double discrimination. This is perhaps the most complex type of gender bias as it is not limited only to one's gender. It may be an issue of one's gender as well as her heritage, her skin color, and/or her sexual orientation. Research shows that females with minority representation in any of these categories face compounded challenges in school and eventually in the workplace.


The good news is that the more adults are informed about intrinsic biases that can impact girls in classrooms and eventually women in the world, the more likely they are to help diminish these situations in a proactive manner. By advocating for all students to follow their dreams, rather those play out on an athletic field, in a STEM career, at a board meeting, or even some combination of those, students of both genders and all ethnicities will begin to recognize a somewhat amended declaration of independence where "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."



Dr. Angela Farmer is a lifelong educator, an author, and a syndicated columnist. She serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors Education for the Shackouls Honors College where she can be reached at [email protected]


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