Baalthazaq wrote:You guys are all being too specific to the case in point.

Sure this is how it works for sexism and math. This is also how it works for everything related to generalization.

If the "perpetrator" is the same as you: "You suck at X"

If the perpetrator is different, the difference is blamed. "You suck at X, because you are a member of Y".

With Y being in this case "Women", and X being "Math".

It can be Blondes, blacks, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, democrats, republicans, geeks, jocks, whatever.

It can be a stereotype about sexuality, intelligence, skills, peacefulness, whatever.

With problems of scale (the problem of envisioning 3 billion people), means that when we see 1.5 billion people who are bad at math, we find it hard not to generalize. In theory, ~1.5 billion women should be below average at math. That's normal. Even if you meet hundreds of women bad at math, it's potentially hard to work out the real picture because of the scale.

The only reason the same stereotype doesn't exist for another group is that often, you have a firm standing point in yourself. "Men can't suck at math, I'm a guy, I don't suck at math". That is enough to offset meeting hundreds of thousands of men who are bad at math.

It's just the way the human mind draws pictures of the world around it.

I don't think this generalization works to explain why the particular stereotype "girls suck at math" is entrenched rather than "boys suck at math" or "girls are awesome at math".

If you are a boy and are good at math, sure you might figure that girls suck at math since the average girl is worse at math than you are. But most people aren't boys that are above average at math. Girls that are good at math might mistakenly believe that boys suck at math, girls that suck at math might mistakenly believe that boys are especially good at it and boys that suck at math might believe that girls are better at it.

This is assuming that there is no inherent difference in the math aptitude of boys and girls and there is an equal playing field.

There are obvious genetic differences between boys and girls, so it wouldn't be completely unreasonable to imagine that might translate to brain differences that cause difference in math aptitude. However, I think this is a bad idea to hold such an idea with particular fervor because there isn't enough data to support it.

Firstly, being good at math isn't just one thing. There are a lot of mental skills that go into math. I think what data there is on the subject shows girls being better at some of those skills, boys being better at others and no difference in many of them. So to translate that into a conclusion about which sex is better at math is pretty hard.

Secondly, it's nearly impossible to remove the effect of socialization. If this "girls suck at math" stereotype is out there, I'm sure many girls have heard it and had less interest in math. And with lack of interest breeds lack of competence, and then you get bad data.

Maybe girls are worse at math. Maybe boys are. But I think it is much more harmful to teach a set of children than they are bad at something that they are not actually bad at than it is to teach kids that it is their individual math ability, not their sex, that determines how good they are at math, because that's going to be true regardless.