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The problem with the genius archetype

FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 2015 10:26 AM

Whether you pop in a movie, turn on the TV or open a book, you can find the same character: it's a he, and he's smart, very smart. This genius solves problems using his intellect and wit, and is often either admired or hated, never simply liked or disliked. He's Sherlock Holmes and Will Hunting. He's also many of the men in academia. And that's the problem some people see in the genius archetype - he's a he and rarely a she. 

According to a study published in the journal Science, women are more underrepresented in fields in which having natural talent (or some level of genius) is a requirement. This includes philosophy, physics, math, music and economics, among others. What's more, the underrepresentation extends beyond women to include other minority groups, such as African Americans and Latinos.

The genius fields
Sarah-Jane Leslie, philosopher from Princeton University and study author, wanted to investigate the genius archetype, so she surveyed people from many academic disciplines. She asked what people in the field thought other practitioners needed in order to succeed. Then, she compared those results to statistics of demographics. The study revealed that women are less represented in fields where natural talent is thought of as a prerequisite. That is to say, fewer women than men are considered geniuses. 

Bridging the gap
Leslie's research does not include a solution to the genius gender gap, but focus on females in traditionally male fields has been increasing. For instance, science, technology, engineering and math are male-dominated industries, but educators and even some legislators have been looking for ways to encourage young girls who may want to go into STEM. 

"One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "We've got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we've got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to."

While the Common Core State Standards does put emphasis on math reasoning, and schools can opt into the Next Generation Science Standards, having more STEM in school doesn't necessarily solve the social problem of the gender gap. Encouragement and acceptance of girls' interest in STEM can start at home and extend to school. Teachers and parents alike can foster girls' interests. Instead of telling girls that LEGO sets are just for boys, why not give them a kit to build?