Ubiquitous Messages

As Women’s History Month approaches, I find myself thinking back to this wonderful series the NY Times had a few months ago. They took 7 days to discuss issues facing women. Ok, it’s better than 0 days, but really, 7 days, 1 month or 1 year of dedicated discussion would not be enough to unravel the centuries of women’s history and subsequent issues. Still, the writing was illuminating and I appreciated reading pieces by women I admire.

In the article, “In Her Words: 7 Issues, 7 Days.” On day 1, Emma Goldberg focuses on all the ways the world is made for men. She reports that researchers at Boston University and Microsoft found that a software program developed on text from Google News associated women with domestic work. When asked to complete the comparison statement, “Man is to computer programmer as women is to X”, the program responded, “homemaker”. As much as we might like to deny the ubiquitous messaging about what it means to be a girl, the computer program couldn’t help but see it.

If overt and implicit biases can be infused into a software program, it is not surprising that such biases are developed in children, often as young as five years old. Both the software and children are receiving stereotypical information on what it means to be a boy or a girl.

Studies have shown that in schools, boys still receive more attention in the classroom than girls, view games favored by girls as less desirable and assume positions of ownership on the playground. From an early age, children separate themselves into distinct gender groups. From an early age, both boys and girls minimize the value of perceived female qualities.

In 2021, there is an energy that signals major pivot points for positive change in our society. As we look toward making the world a more equitable place, let us begin at the earliest ages to broaden children’s development of opinions and attitudes about what it means to be a girl.

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