Occasionally, one of my nieces (ages 8 and 7) and I will discuss school, homework and subjects. Inevitably, I try to get them to tell me what they like best. While my younger niece sometimes says lunch – and I feel ya, girl – it seems neither particularly likes science or math.
Perhaps it’s simply a reflection of their personal choices, but given the shortage of girls in these critical fields and the historical bias against girls and women in them, I feel it’s important to make sure they understand these fields are options for them.
So I lie my face off.
Look, I never liked or was particularly good at either subject. Well, to be honest I never really applied myself after a certain point. I distinctly remember when math got hard for me – fifth grade, fractions. It was the first time I can recall where I didn’t get it right away. I struggled a lot. And my interest or willingness to push through the challenges of math never recovered.
I wish I had a role model to look up to then who could have showed me that yes, these fields are hard, but just because it’s hard for you at first doesn’t make you not smart in them. In fact, it’s documented that praising kids’ efforts instead of abilities is what makes kids smarter. It’s not about participation trophies, but simply about noting that “A” was a function of how hard you worked, NOT how easy it was for you or about the A itself.
It’s also believed that female parents and teachers who are insecure about their math and science abilities pass on their insecurities about these fields to young girls. My “lies” are attempts to “fake it ’til you make it.” I know my nieces look up to me, so I absolutely want them to think I love math and science – maybe they will at least approach it with an open mind that way.
Overall, I think it’s important to think about what kind of role model we’re being for young girls. Obviously it’s not bad to be into typically “girly” things or share a love for those things with the young girls in your life – but do they see you also hustling in your job? Digging into a complex math problem? Managing the family finances? Show them all sides of you – and, yeah lie sometimes if you have to do so.