Adrian Furnham is British psychologist who studies perceptions of human intellect. He found that while men and women score pretty much the same in IQ, men tend to think their scores are higher than they are and women think the opposite. He discusses his findings in a magazine we at TIME prefer to call Brand X.
Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn’t. Women in most societies spend their lives being told that they are simply not as capable as men, while men spend their lives being told that they are leaders and doers. Of course people think men are smarter than women. It’s the definition of prejudice — people buy into the notion that men are superior at everything except cleaning and taking care of the home and the kids. (Even that notion is meant not to buoy women, but to demean the very difficult and important job of cleaning and taking care of the home and the kids.) This feeds into our warped concepts of gender norms, and causes women and men alike to devalue the ability of women to compete in the workforce. Another big win for the patriarchy.
Isn’t this so true in the workplace, folks? There are legions of studies showing biases in promotions, raises and hiring in favor of men, due at least in part to this perception of higher intelligence and capability. Even if it’s just a self-perception, it comes across in behavior: if I believe I’m smarter and better and more deserving than you, you’re going to believe it, too.
Furnham doesn’t think self-esteem training is the cure. He’s more into positive feedback and whatnot. But, he warns, “Beliefs may be more important than actual ability in certain settings.” Meaning that a dude who thinks he’s a genius may get a job instead of a women who’s supersmart but doesn’t think she is.
How do we counteract that? I think it’s already happening, to some extent. Girls and young women today are encouraged by their parents and teachers to excel. We’ve all read about how women have become the majorities in law and med schools. Here come a generation of gals who are confident, competent and totally ready to whump a lesser dude in their path.
Still, many of their bosses will be men and women of past generations who still labor under the incorrect presumption that boys are just, well, smarter. And I daresay 99% of teenage girls still must run the gauntlet of low self-esteem and self-doubt. How many come out with confidence intact, I can’t begin to guess. I can only sit by and hope for the revolution.