In the first of a series of posts detailing the barriers to women entering math, science, and engineering fields, Penn State University graduate student Destiny Aman brought my attention to an analysis of Girl and Boy Scout manuals by sociologist Kathleen Denny.

In addition to finding that boys have more badges related to science, the study found that 27% of Girl Scout badges have “playful” names, whereas 100% of the Boy Scout badges are descriptive.  So, the Boy Scout badge for learning about geology is called “geologist”; the same badge for the girls is called “rocks rock.”  Likewise, the Boy Scout badge for learning about astronomy is called “astronomer” (left) while the girls’ badge is called “sky search” (right):

These badges certainly encourage girls to think rocks are cool and to explore the sky, but the boys’ badges do more than tell boys to be interested in these topics; they encourage boys to identify with a scientific occupation.

Interestingly, and in contrast, Denny also found that Boy, but not Girl Scout manuals taught “intellectual passivity.”  When faced with unanswered questions, girls were often encouraged to do further research, while boys were told to look up answers in the back of the book.  This gendering of academic ambition reflects the ongoing feminization of education.  Second wave feminism brought women greater educational opportunities and women have grasped those opportunities.  But because we live in a sexist society that tells men to avoid anything girly, and as women have increasingly proved themselves to be capable students (girls now earn higher average grades and outnumber boys on college campuses), men seem to be distancing themselves from academia.  In other words, because women do well in school, it’s no longer manly to do so.   So masculinity becomes increasingly associated with anti-intellectualism, thus the “intellectual passivity” Denny describes.

These are complicated phenomena, of course.  Despite their lower grades, just-college graduated men still get higher salaries than women who are hired for the same job.  And even if masculinity and anti-intellectualism are becoming linked in our collective imaginations, it doesn’t mean that masculinity is any less associated with being work-oriented, earning lots of money, and supporting a family by breadwinning.  We still think men are the best scientists, even if women earn higher grades.

Ah gender ideology, what twists and turns you take!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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