“If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.” – Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
International Women’s Day (March 8th) has its roots in a women’s march that took place 109 years ago, when 15,000 participants took to the streets of New York City to demand shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. National Women Physicians Day, designated in 2013 and observed on February 3rd, marks the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female to earn an MD from an American medical school.
While raising awareness is an important step, the fact remains that there are far fewer women in medicine than men, and those women receive a lot less money for doing the same job. In the United States, approximately 66 percent of physicians are male, and female doctors make 24 percent less overall than their male counterparts do.
These problems are undeniable, but their origins are complex. While it might be tempting to treat these symptoms as individual issues, new findings published in Science suggest it would be far more effective to address them all at the source.
Led by University of Illinois psychologist Lin Bian, a team of researchers found that gender stereotypes related to “notions of brilliance,” namely that men are naturally smarter than women, affect the subjects and activities towards which children as young as six years old gravitate. They note that “fields whose members place a great deal of value on sheer brilliance (e.g. mathematics, physics, philosophy) have lower proportions of women earning bachelor’s and doctoral degrees.” A dog-wagging phenomenon takes place, wherein the messages a culture gives its children early on regarding gender influence the work they pursue and the subjects they study regardless of what their actual interests and talents are.
One way to work towards countering this problem could be focusing on what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “incremental theory of intelligence,” as opposed to the “entity theory of intelligence.” The incremental theory suggests hard work leads to the pursuit of mastery and/or long-term success. The entity theory explains intelligence by attributing it inborn traits.