Thinking back to high school, I didn’t have very many female math teachers – I can only think of one (not very nice) one, actually. Subconsciously, this could very well have influenced my decision to pursue an Arts degree in University. Conversely, it could have been the fact that I enjoyed contemplating the probability that Holden Caulfield would face his demons more than the probability of rolling a 3 on two dice five times in a row (8?). Proclivities aside, the point is that in the cultural stratosphere of high school – a cess pool of influences and values that shape who you will become – having female role models in math and science is imperative for young females to have the confidence to pursue studies – and a career – in a science or technology field.
Despite unfounded claims by some, including a former Harvard University president, suggesting that the underrepresentation of girls in science is due to genetic differences, recent findings have now resolutely shown that culture is the driving force behind the underrepresentation. Recent findings have also shown, resolutely, that said president Larry Summers is an idiot. A meta-analysis just published by the American Psychological Association comparing math scores of nearly a half million boys and girls in 69 countries found that when students had the same resources, there were no differences in math abilities. The study results also showed that in countries where gender equity is more prevalent, girls are more likely to perform better on math assessment tests: in Iceland, girls outperform boys. In Korea, boys outperform girls. In Canada, boys and girls perform equally well.
Deeply held cultural values, ingrained in families, the community and society, play a role not just in perceptions of academic aptitude, but in perceptions of well-being and illness as well. Some researchers have gone so far to say that there is no such thing as a value-free assessment of health – well being can only be experienced and understood through a cultural lens. Studies have provided some concrete examples of this – a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that self-esteem was more associated with well-being in countries characterized by individualism. Anthropological studies have shown considerable variation across cultures in the experience of menopause, with typical symptoms experienced among North American and European women (hot flashes, headaches, difficulty concentrating) not being experienced by women in other cultures, including Japan. When one looks at the cultural value placed on menopause – with the North American medical model emphasizing loss and decline and the Japanese model emphasizing a normal and celebrated transition – it is difficult not to see the influence of culture on perceptions and experiences of health and illness.
Within your community, what cultural values shape your attitudes, abilities and experiences?
Other articles you might like: