Girls and mathematics

It is not in our genes nor in our hormones that we, girls and women, are not good at maths. It is the gender bias that makes us believe that. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy when we dismiss a bad grade in maths as something due to our sex. Humans are all different in their gifts and passions, but it has nothing to do with being born a girl or a boy. Men and women alike can be equally gifted to excel in playing the piano or in rugby or in programming space flights or in caring for the elderly. There is only one difference, we have to accept: men develop more muscles than women and generally they grow taller. But boys do not develop a more gifted brain for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM disciplines.




So why are so many women convinced that they are hopeless for maths? It is our families, our friends, our teachers, it is society as a whole that models each of us from birth on to conform to certain biases. One of the biases is that women are incapable of certain disciplines. This is one of the facets of gender stereotyping. Gender stereotyping happens all the time without us really noticing. It defines our place in society. This happens in all cultures to the better or the worse of women and men. It is normal that young people don’t want to stand out for fear to become isolated, to be without friends, so they willingly do what they perceive as being expected from them. They repeat and copy what they see and hear around them. You cannot find your place in society if you behave blatantly outside the mainstream. A girl fulfills the expectations towards her when she dismisses maths as dull and difficult.



It is not easy for teenage girls to stand up for themselves, to excel in maths or physics, to be better than the boys of their class and to like calculations and complicated mathematical reasoning. It is so important that girls self-consciously pursue their passions and that they believe in themselves. This is difficult in view of all the prejudices against women in STEM. What can be done?




Society itself can shape its own general mindset. This happens all the time, but it is slow and needs a lot of lobbying, of speaking up. It is up to us, Soroptimists, to take up the fight against gender bias. It must become a matter of course that girls go for STEM disciplines, including programming, just as 100 years or so ago they started to become doctors and lawyers.


Our organization, Soroptimist International, strives for an equal education for girls. This includes equal opportunities and equal encouragement for all disciplines. Never should a girl hear that being female explains and excuses bad grades in maths.


Let us all help to eradicate this discriminating belief.


Girls are not less gifted for maths, no, no no!


Bettina Hahne,

SIE Advocacy 2021-2023