“The Persistence of Gender Myths in Math”

Are men better off at math? This paper would discuss the essay “The Prevalence of Gender Myths in Math” by Barnet and Rivers, 2004. Barnet and Rovers contend that the gender disparity between math and STEM courses is the product of societal influences. Most girls don’t think they’re good at math, but they don’t end up pushing those professions. The fewer female students in STEM courses are attributed to male predominance assumptions which have little to do with the inherent characteristics of women. The review will draw from other sources, and this includes the article ‘Toy Story” which addresses the issue of the effect of gender toys on children’s spatial abilities. The second article is “current research on gender differences in math,” the article analyses the factors which contributes to the gender gap in math. Lastly is the article “Math + culture = gender gap” which argues that the gender gap is due to lack of competitive skills in women, gender stereotypes, and teacher attitudes. In agreement with Barnet and Rivers argument, gender gap cannot be explained by innate characters or personal choices instead teachers, and gender stereotypes are to blame for demotivating girls hence, teachers need to observe their roles in increasing the gap.

The author argues that the fact that the number of men in math outweighs the number of women is not evidence for innate male superiority in the subject is a moving statement. There is no particular gender born with different cognitive skills. The difference in spatial abilities is because of the kind of training they get while growing up and therefore, the differences in their math abilities can be attributed to this. The article “Toy Story” concurs with this argument. Bake (34) provides an analysis of how toys instill certain stereotypes in children by using the example of Tetris and Barbie dolls. According to Blake (35), a kid’s brain structure can be developed to think in a certain way and hence affect their performance in certain aspects. For example, exposing a girl child to a game of Tetris at an early age can help in changing the wiring of her brain and hence improve her spatial abilities. Therefore, the brains of boys are wired to think in a certain way basing on the games they play from a young age while girls do not get such training. Therefore, developing such skills in girls can equally enhance their spatial skills and push them towards choosing STEM courses.

Secondly, the statement that choice has nothing to do with women dropping out of STEM courses is equally agreeable. The stereotypes surrounding math and genders have more to do with most girls dropping out of STEM courses. Most of the girls are usually good at math until that moment when they come to learn that boys are better at math than girls are. The stereotypes affect how the brains of the children work and this also evidenced in the article, “Math + culture = gender gap” by Azar Beth. Azar argues that the performance of girls in math is not because of their innate characteristics but negative stereotypes, lack of sense of competition and the attitude of teachers does. According to Azar (2), the performance of girls and boys in math is the same. However, girls who endorsed cultural stereotypes that girls are not girls in math recorded a drop in performance.” Girls are most affected by the society’s way of thinking because they are more likely to pick on the stereotypes unconsciously or consciously than boys are. And the more they accept these stereotypes, the less likely they are to continue pursuing the STEM courses. Therefore, girls dropping out of STEM courses are not by choice but cultural influences which make them feel that specific disciplines are not meant for their gender.

Additionally, the author states that teachers play a role in demotivating the girls to do well in math by instilling the belief in them that adult men are better at math than women are. The statement is convincing because children usually look up to specific adult figures as their role models. Hence, the attitude of this adult towards certain aspects affects the mentality of the kid in a way. The article by Ganley and Lubieski on “current research on gender differences in math” further justifies the statement. The article explains that attitudes and value, spatial skills, strategies of problem solving and teachers anxiety are the reason behind gender gap in math. Ganley and Lubienski (2) state that girls can end up performing poorly in math when they have a female teacher who is anxious about math. For instance, a teacher who keeps implying how boys did better than girls on a math test whenly both of them did exceptionally well, demotivates the girls. Such comments by the teacher affect the girls because they pick up on the gender stereotypes expressed or implied by the teacher.

The author further states that the stereotypes are instilled in children when they are still young which is true. Stereotyping in most cases starts at an early age with the choice of toys given to boys and those assigned to girls. Girls play with Barbie dolls while boys play with advanced problem solving and science toys. Therefore, the children begin believing in the gender differences at an early age. It is easier for children to get carried ways by such stereotypes because “they tend to accept other peoples beliefs about their future, what they should do and what they should not do” (Blake 35) to the extent that it affects significant aspects of their lives such as career choices. They grow up knowing that problem solving is for men and hence tend to shy away from the STEM courses and incline more to other disciplines such as humanities and languages.

Therefore, the author’s state that teachers need to examine their role in promoting the stereotype of the children is a commendable one. Teachers have the most influence on children’s perception of their capabilities. If teachers do not believe that the girls can do better in math than boys, it can negatively affect the performance of the girls, especially in math classes. Teachers should find a way to motivate girls into competing with boys and avoid “differential rating because it negatively affects the performance of girls in math” (Ganley and Lubienski 3). Teachers need to give credit to girls when they perform better compared to boys instead of making them feel not cut for the subject. Doing this will give girls with confidence to pursue STEM courses and confidently compete with boys.

In conclusion, if the society could avoid stereotyping math and the other Stem courses the gender gap could be narrow than how it is now. Barnet and Rivers seek to explain some of the many factors contributing to the increasing gender gap in Math and Stem subjects. The two authors of the article note that that factors such as innate characters and personal choices do not contribute to this deficit instead teachers, gender stereotypes are to blame for demotivating girls hence, and teachers need to observe their roles in increasing the gap. Therefore, such factors are not only affecting girls at an individual level but the economy as well.

Works Cited

Azar, Beth. “Math + culture = gender gap?” American Psychological Association, 2010, 41.7,


Barnet, Rosalind Chait, and Caryly Rivers. “The Persistence of Gender Myths in Math.”

Education Week, 2014, p.1-3.

Blake, Tanya. “Toy Story.” Professional Engineering, 2014, p.34-37.

Ganley, Colleen and Lubienski,Sarah. “Current Research on Gender Differences in Mat.”

Teaching Children Math, 2017, p.1-3.

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