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This article is currently making the Facebook rounds. The author — a woman, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., a social psychologist — asserts that smart* women don't succeed in the same ways smart men do because women, during their girlhood, are taught that intelligence and aptitude are innate, rather than learned or developed.

It's an interesting theory. Take it away, Halvorson:

Smart and talented women rarely realize that one of the toughest hurdles they'll have to overcome to be successful lies within. We judge our own abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than men do. Understanding why we do it is the first step to righting a terrible wrong. And to do that, we need to take a step back in time.


Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable, and less confident, when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty—what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." When we do well in school, we are told that we are "so smart," "so clever, " or " such a good student." This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't.


While I can go with the early life theory here, something about how she's sums up her thesis rubs me the wrong way.

No matter the ability—whether it's intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism—studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a Bright Girl, it's time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.

It's like, what, women should just work harder? Even though Halvorson herself opens her piece by saying, "Successful women know only too well that in any male-dominated profession, we often find ourselves at a distinct disadvantage. We are routinely underestimated, underutilized, and even underpaid. Studies show that women need to perform at extraordinarily high levels, just to appear moderately competent compared to our male coworkers."

How does that work?

Also, I can't help but feel that perhaps all those little girls-grown-up are just victims of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Ladies, we know too much.


*How are we defining smart here? Mysterious!

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