Gender Divide

Amina Abdulkareem, Staff Writer

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Pink versus blue. Barbies versus action figures. Dance versus football. There are gender stereotypes linked to each of these words, associations often made without malice or conscious prejudice.

But the truth is that they are stereotypes all the same, so ingrained in our culture that shaking them is often difficult, especially in high school.

For example, there tends to be a gender gap in arts classes, as Harry Epstein ’15 has experienced first hand.  In his senior year, after taking three years of art at Staples, Epstein found himself in AP Studio Art-Drawing with only girls. “I would probably prefer to have at least one male in my class,” Epstein said.

Similarly, there is a gender gap in the sciences. Angie Parmar ’16 is one of 10 girls in her AP Chemistry class, and she noticed the gender divide is significantly higher in non-required science courses.

“No one ever really says anything about the difference,” Parmar said, but she notices it even on the class Facebook page. “Boys have posted 27 times, while girls have posted only eight times,” she said.

However, some people, like science teacher Nathaniel Dewey, believe, while the gender division is often evident in research, here at Staples, the stereotype of girls only being interested in English and social studies courses is not as prevalent.

One example of Staples breaking away from biases came this year when a group of six Staples girls advanced to the finals of Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, a contest in which over 1,000 teams wrote papers answering an open-ended, applied math question.

Still, Dewey acknowledges that some classes do reflect gender stereotypes, reporting there’s sometimes only one or two girls in his programming class.

Elaine Schwartz, head of the guidance department, sees how gender divides play out when students make their schedules. She has seen splits, especially in electives like Technical Education, but she thinks students largely choose classes based on interests and not stereotypes. She encourages students to follow their passions and teacher recommendations, not the societal norms.

However, gender bias often can play a role in our understanding of men and women and shape thoughts and behaviors. For instance, Jason Frangenes, an eighth grade science teacher at Bedford Middle School, says he sees a difference in how boys and girls act in the classroom.

“Failure of an experiment can teach a student a lot about what needs to be modified and ultimately improved,” Frangenes said. “It sometimes appears that boys may have less of a fear of an experiment failing and girls are sometimes more cautious with failure.”

Similarly, Justin Berg ’20, notes, “Girls can be shyer than boys when the teacher asks the class a question.”

However, according to psychology teacher Rob Rogers, gender is a social construct, and our brains do not have different wiring dependent upon our biological sex. Instead, we are taught through media what is male or female.

“If there are more boys in the math and sciences, it is due more to how the world is presented to us, not how our brains are wired,” Rogers said. “It comes down to society and our own abilities.”

Physics teacher Carrie Veigas can testify that her interests overcame the gender bias. To fight future repercussions of the gender divide, Veigas purchased GoldieBlox, a toy that aims to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire future generations of female engineers” through feminine-styled engineering toys, for her 5-year-old niece.

“I want my niece to know she’s capable of doing it,” Veigas said. “The little role I can play is being an example of a woman in science”

Ken Asada ’15 also sees the influence of society on forming gender divides.

“If our society idolized artists the way we do sports, for example, there’d be a lot more guys taking drawing and less doing varsity sports,” Asada said. “If most doll sets were Barbie playing football, you would see a lot more female athletes.”

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