A study out of the University of Warwick found that young girls feel the need to play down their intelligence when they are around boys.
Sociology Professor Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira conducted the study by disguising herself as an eighth grader and enrolling in a school in Lisbon for three months. She had the permission of the school and all applicable authorities.
Pereira participated in all classes and subjects, took exams, and even went out on mall trips after school. She says this allowed her access that most parents and teachers never get.
“There are very strong pressures in society that dictate what is a proper man and a proper woman,” says Dr Pereira.
“Young people try to adapt their behaviour according to these pressures to fit into society. One of the pressures is that young men must be more dominant – cleverer, stronger, taller, funnier – than young women, and that being in a relationship with a woman who is more intelligent will undermine their masculinity.”
“Girls feel they must downplay their own abilities, pretending to be less intelligent than they actually are, not speaking out against harassment, and withdrawing from hobbies, sports and activities that might seem ‘unfeminine’.”
Despite the study taking place in Portugal, Pereira asserts that the study “strongly applies to young people in the UK and other western countries.”
“We must promote ideas about gender which are less rigid, and recognize there are many ways of being a man and a woman,” she adds.
The study was published in Science Daily and spawned a book titled Doing Gender in the Playground: The Negotiation of Gender and Sexuality in Schools.