Gendered beliefs about intelligence are still very, very real—and people adopt them at a young age.

By Lauren Mazzo
Updated: October 12, 2017
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When it comes to battling traditional gender stereotypes, simply saying "girls are just as good as boys" and sporting #girlpower merch isn't enough.

Right now, we're in the midst of fighting for equal rights (because, no, things still aren't equal) and filling in the pay gap (which is weirdly biased by weight, BTW). It feels like we're making progress-until we get a reality check that we still have a looong way to go. (Did you know gender even influences your workout?)

Today, that reality check comes by way of a group of 6-year-old girls. Apparently, by that age, girls already have gendered views on intelligence: 6-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are "really, really smart," and even begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are "really, really smart," according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Lin Bian, a researcher at the University of Illinois, talked to children age 5, 6, and 7 in four different studies in order to see when the different perceptions of gender emerge. At five years old, both boys and girls associated intelligence and being "really, really smart" with their own gender. But at 6 or 7 years old, only the boys held that same opinion. In a later study, Bian found that 6- and 7-year-old girls' interests were already being shaped by this boys-are-smarter viewpoint; when given the choice between a game for "children who are really, really smart" and another for "children who try really, really hard," girls were significantly less interested than boys in the game for smart children. However, both genders were equally interested in the game for hard-working kids, showing that the gender bias is specifically targetted towards intelligence, and not work ethic. And this isn't a matter of modesty-the Bian had the children rank other people's intelligence (from a photograph or fictional story).

"The present results suggest a sobering conclusion: Many children assimilate the idea that brilliance is a male quality at a young age," says Bian in the study.

There's no other way to say it: these findings straight up suck. Biases are ingrained in young minds faster than you can say "girl power," and they affect everything from how much a girl participates in school to the interests she develops (hey, science).

So what's a strong, independent woman to do? Keep on fighting the good fight. And if you happen to have a young daughter, tell her every damn day that she's smart as hell.



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