The Gender Gap
by Eliza Scharfstein on Friday, September 19th, 2014
When I walked into Mr. Chun’s computer programming class last year, I was one of three girls in a class of eleven. A total of five girls and 16 boys populated Mr. Chun’s two sections of the course. This year, according to Mr. Chun, his beginner classes are only 35% girls, with six girls and seventeen boys. Twelve boys and two girls were in Advanced, and none in Applications, the third level course. In other words, computer-programming classes at Milton are extremely male-heavy. This trend can also be seen in the real world: according to a New York Times article published on April 2nd, 2012, only “18% of computer science degrees go to women.”
On the other end of the gender spectrum, in Ms. Braithwaite’s Contemporary Literature section, there are twelve girls and one boy. In years past, Ms. Braithwaite explained, the divide was less drastic, but even so, females dominated the class composition. According to a March 2, 2010, Forbes article, the ninth most popular major for females was “English Language and Literature/Letters,” yet it was nowhere near the top ten for males.
We can clearly see a gender divide in disciplines, both at Milton and beyond. Why do men and women gravitate towards particular areas of study? The most likely answer is that men and women generally go where they feel comfortable. From childhood, girls and boys are bombarded with messages of what they should and where they should go; often, chemistry sets are advertised towards boys, while My Little Pony books are aimed towards girls. Commenting on the lack of women in the computer business, a New York Times article dated April 2, 2012 states, “some women are put off when they go for interviews and are interviewed only by men.” If faced with a potentially uncomfortable situation, the article stated that most women would choose not to take the job opportunity. It seems career paths and gender roles are closely intertwined, and these issues embed themselves into both Milton and our country’s culture.
Milton provides so many opportunities, most of which cater to both genders. Yet still the gender divide persists. The gap doesn’t seem to be limited to the classroom; rather it makes its way all around campus, albeit in somewhat subtle ways.
The 2014-2015 S.A.G.E. (Students Advocating for Gender Equality) board at Milton consists of all females. One hundred percent. True, last year, the co-heads were both male, but no boys applied to be on the board this year. Much of this discrepancy may be due to the misconception that “feminism” means placing girls ahead of boys. The true meaning refers to all genders: not just girls, not just guys. As a member myself, I know that the SAGE board fights for gender equality, yet we are missing an overwhelming amount of people the club specifically hopes to address.
On a broader scale, we even see gender stereotypes when we watch movies. It’s a Friday night, and I’m innocently pulling out a bag of popcorn and lying down to watch some boy-meets-girl chick flick. In reality, however, I’m indulging in a wonderfully amusing and very quotable comedy that is chock full of stereotypes. A New York Times article published September 3, 2014 explains that “in the past… too many [actresses]…were typecast as bratty sisters, dutiful daughters or sexpots, and then cast aside. And some of their most memorable characters were, like their adult counterparts, defined by hyper sexuality or asexuality.” The article argues that this unrealistic, homogeneous representation of the female character has been shattered somewhat with movies such as “The Hunger Games,” yet the gender divide persists. The article continues to state that “the picture of girlhood at the movies has become an increasingly diverse, sometimes contradictory array of identities… That said, the faces of these girls remain exasperatingly monochromatic.” Men and boys also suffer from the stereotypical idea portrayed in movies—that they should be buff, athletic, and charming.
Although commonly perceived to be, the gender divide does not just apply to girls and women. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gender most simply as this: the state of being male or female. These stereotypes and predetermined ideals affect all of us. Habits and expectations snake their way into our lives, into our decisions, into our perceptions, and it’s up to us to try to move out of their grasp. It’s up to us to close the gap.
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