It seems that for decades there have been an endless debate as to whether or not the male species is superior to the female species. This ongoing debate is better known to the public society as the “battle of the sexes. ” Further investigated, this debate can focus on the many differences found amongst men and women.
The constant competition between men and women has been continually evolving as society becomes more curious as to the relevant differences amongst men and women.
One particular difference that has had society puzzled for many years is the fact that men and women differ highly in the subject area of mathematics. This debate is a classic example of nature versus nurture due to the fact that it has been difficult for researchers to determine the actual cause for differentiation in an individual’s mathematical ability. There are many issues that affect mathematical ability directionally and in directionally. Addressing the many trends and factors of gender differences in mathematical ability between boys and girls is an issue, in particular, that needs to be recognized.
Along with the many trends contributing to gender and mathematical differences, issues of, where the trends come from arise, and the factors that influence these trends play an important key role. At one end of the typical nature versus debate, Jim Duffy et al. (1997) believe that “those who take primarily an evolutionary approach to gender differences believe that genetic differences lead to hormonal differences that may also lead to structural brain differences” (p.
Duffy’s approach enforces that it is indeed nature that decides individual mathematical ability. Also, considering the opposite end of the scale in regards to the nature versus nurture debate, Steven J. Spencer et al. (1999) argue that “these differences reflect gender-role socialisation” (p. 7) intending that it is indeed nurture that decides an individual’s mathematical ability. Arguing this ongoing debate has become a difficult task for researchers who experiment the fact that biology plays an important role in a human beings’ mathematical ability.
Studies by Duffy (1997) showed that “males performed better than females on mathematical problem solving” (p. 478) and also suggested that by taking the evolutionary approach to gender differences in mathematics that “genetic differences lead to hormonal differences that may also lead to structural brain differences” (p. 478). According to Kimball (1989), “when sex related differences occur in samples of young children, girls often score better on tests of computation, and boys score better on tests of problem solving, applications of mathematics and math reasoning” (p. 98).
Also, Duffy (1997) consistently found that “males performed better than females on mathematical problem solving” (p. 478). With both of these researchers indicating that there is an actual concrete difference of mathematical test scores amidst male and female individuals, this biological approach does not necessarily mean that the whole sociological approach to gender differences in mathematical ability is impossible.
The biological approach to gender differences in mathematical ability simply denotes that biology plays a key factor to the outcome of test scores, however, it employs that this particular component of mathematical ability contributes in a very subtle manner. While taking a closer look at the nurturing side of the mathematical gender debate, Loeb (1977) claims that from “the moment a baby is born, the attending doctor determines whether the baby is male or female. If it has a penis, he announces ‘It’s a boy. If it has a vagina, he announces ‘It’s a girl. ‘
From that point on, under customary circumstances, the parents take over to make sure the infant will become a little man or little woman” (p. 11). This declaration from Loeb goes to prove that the actual beginning of stereotypical attitudes and behaviours amongst male and female individuals begins with the attending doctor and that is where a male individual will grasp the male concepts of life and a female individual will grasp the female concepts of life.
Amongst these concepts, both male and female individuals will learn the influencing factor that sex-role conflict has on mathematical ability. Sex-role conflict oppresses women as a form of “discrimination against girls’ and women’s participation in math and from perceived or experienced conflict between parental and career goals” (Kimball, 1989, p. 208). This sex-role conflict often results in females being discouraged from gaining mathematical training and “more males than females electing to participate in higher level, more intensive mathematics courses and related fields” (Taylor, 1996, p. ).
This gender-based discrimination causes many women to feel that they do not belong in math oriented courses or math related careers and the very few women who do pursue math-related career are treated as inferiors. There is an “underepresentation of women in mathematical-related careers such as engineering and the physical sciences” (Hyde et al. , 1990, p. 299) which is also a contributing factor to the question of women’s subordinate rank in mathematical related vocations. “Girls hold more stereotypical views of mathematical as being a male domain” as presented by Hyde et al. 1990), and “these stereotyped views deter them from pursuing courses or careers” (p. 310). During an individual’s years and time as a student, he or she is often tested on several occasions in many different subject areas’ specific maths. A required amount of studying prefaces these tests in order to achieve complete mathematical academic success. It is the study time that will either make or break a student’s academic achievement or especially mathematical grades. Study habits do vary amongst individuals; some individuals need a great deal of study time while other individuals need very little study time.
The greatest difference of “self-regulated learning (SRL) can be seen between female and male individuals as girls have lower preferences for challenge, more frequent failure attributions to ability, and greater debilitations when they experience failure” (Ablard et al. , 1997, p. 188). Stated into simpler terms, Ablard (1997) was interpreting that girls are more likely than boys to have a goal or ambition. According to Mercier et al. (1983), “improving academic grades may require a more sophisticated strategy than merely increasing study time” (p. 7)
Increasing study time does not necessarily contribute to a student scoring higher on a mathematical test, it is one of many other factors that contribute to a student’s mathematical academic success or a student’s mathematical academic failure. Both Hyde et al. (1990), and Musch et al. (1999), contends that math or text anxieties are gender issues that accompany lower test performance (p. 311) (p. 106). When a student is being tested, if the individual feels test anxiety and scores poorly, it does not propose that the individual has a low mathematical intelligence or a low IQ level.
It simply means that the individual had “an emotional reaction that accompanies the awareness of being inadequately prepared for the test” (Musch et al. , 1999, p. 106) Hyde et al. (1990), established that “females experience more math anxiety and this anxiety therefore keeps them out of math-related courses and careers” proposing that because mathematical tests create women to be nervous, women tend to stay clear of math-related courses and occupations (p. 311).
From the time, individuals are babies, they begin to develop skills in order to master the many everyday tasks that they are assigned to in life. Each new task that a child realises adds insight and wisdom into his or her daily life behaviours. This process of learning and developing is often referred to as intelligence which is defined as “the ability to think abstractly and to learn readily from experience” (Baron, 1999, p. 770) Formal education and being “academically intelligent” (Somech, 1999, p. 609) is often a societal debate that certainly leaves a great deal of room for discussion.
It is during that formal education that individuals receive a certain kind of status to go along with it. The statuses received are well-deserved ones which involved studying, being tested and gaining formal academic intelligence or earning the respect from the male domain of the mathematical field. Symbolic Internationalism is the study of the meanings that people give to their words and how they experience reality. The framework is the interaction between the individuals through communication, language, gestures, symbols and words.
Symbolic internationalism was designed by Max Weber, a German psychologist who strongly believed that sociologist needed to empathise with people in order to understand them. Later on, George Mead, an American psychologist contributed to this framework by adding that people interact through languages and without these languages, people would not be able to learn. The symbolic internationalism framework is easily applied to this research of mathematical ability and gender because children learn their concepts of life from their parents and if parents provide their children with stereotypical attitudes on a regular basis.
These stereotypical views are propelled upon individuals due to the fact that “parental attitudes are significantly correlated with their children’s self-perception of math ability as well as their child’s math performance” (Kimbal, 1989, p. 210) all which contribute to the child eventually developing the same attitudes, belief, behaviours and stereotypes as his or her parents. People learn behaviour from which is modelled to them by other family members therefore if a parent or sibling is constantly representing certain behaviours, beliefs and even vocational attitudes toward math related careers that the child will acquire the same beliefs.
Children interpret the beliefs and attitudes that which are modelled to them by society and children experiment with these new beliefs and attitudes. These reappearing trends finally bring us to the simple question of whether or not boys are better at math than girls? This is an interesting question because society may be able to see where children stand in all gender debates when addressing mathematical abilities but if something as little as mathematical ability can help to determine gender than obviously entities such as clothing, extra curricular activities, language and even career choices help in establishing, per say, a child’s gender.
To satisfy the issue addressed in this paper, and as to the extent to which gender role socialization is evident in the mathematical ability and both male and female subjects are dependent on many things, particularly the fact that individuals are socialized to have certain beliefs while growing up. The Feminist Theory applies to this question because feminist believes that traditional socialisation of women has played a major role in how women view themselves and how women participate in society.
This statement clearly identifies that male and females are socialized considerably by different fashions in today’s society. Feminists have a strong belief that men and women are equal and these facts about the Feminist Theory have cause stereotypical child rearing patterns in today’s society to decrease tremendously leaving individuals to choose for themselves their own personal beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.
As the year 2000 is fully underway and the new millennium commences, it is time that parents stop providing their children with stereotypical attitudes toward the many gender roles of a society. Instead of enforcing covert stereotypical attitudes, particularly the ones that relate to male and female individuals regarding mathematical ability, parents should be educating their children with a better sense of value, the true meaning of respect and the significance that good morals have on an individual.
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