Described by Professor Snape as the “insufferable know-it-all”, Hermione Granger, raises her hand high up in the air (she’s almost standing up), dying to answer a question as if her life depended on it, and furiously waggling her hand. While most of us can recall at least one Hermione-esque creature in our own classrooms back in the day, we also knew how tiresome it was to see the same gangly arm so enthusiastic to answer every question. With the number of such being few and far between, young girls are finding it difficult to get their voices heard in the classroom; afraid that they may have the wrong answer or that the boys already know it, so why bother? Recent research declared that by age 6 girls believe they have a low chance to be “really, really smart” and are already battling with self-doubt. Katie Hurley, a psychotherapist says that messages sent from parents, teachers, the media, and culture, like ‘Stay within the lines. Be respectful. Don’t be too much. Do not fail,’ are causing girls to struggle with communication, especially in the classroom. Her book, ‘No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls,’ digs deeper into the issue.
“I thought girls weren’t raising their hands because they were afraid that the answer was going to be wrong and that they would be embarrassed”
In October 2017, Alice Paul Tapper became a New York Times op-ed contributor with an article titled, ‘I’m 10. And I Want Girls to Raise Their Hands’. While on a fourth-grade field trip, she saw that all the boys were standing in the front and raised their hands to answer questions; the girls were standing quietly at the back. “I thought girls weren’t raising their hands because they were afraid that the answer was going to be wrong and that they would be embarrassed. I also think they were being quiet because the boys already had the teacher’s attention, and they worried they might not be able to get it.” All her friends agreed that it was a problem. Deciding almost immediately to change this and encourage girls to have a voice, she created a Girl Scout Patch and presented her idea with her troop to the Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital, which represents more than 62,000 girls in the Greater Washington, D.C., region. Tapper also said, “As of this week, troops across the country can order the Raise Your Hand patch. I’m proudly wearing mine. Its message is that girls should have confidence, step up, and become leaders by raising our hands.”
We all have a story of how we knew the answer in class but stayed silent because of the fear of being wrong
While many say that girls must have at least 90% confidence to raise their hands, boys simply “just raise their hands.” And this problem is apparent not only in schools but also in universities and thus has also seeped into the professional realm. All it takes to silence someone is a small whisper in the corner that you had asked a “stupid question” or had given a “dumb answer”. We all have a story of how we knew the answer in class but stayed silent because of the fear of being wrong or feeling plain and simple self-conscious. Another study titled, ‘Costing the Invisible: A review of the evidence examining the links between body image, aspirations, education and workplace confidence’ analyzed women between the ages of 10 to 60 and revealed that a woman’s confidence was a strong determinant of her role and participation in academia and the workplace.
Assertive behavior from girls is often seen as disruptive and may be viewed more negatively by adults
Hurley further goes on to say, “Girls need to learn (at an early age) that their voices matter. They need to learn how to assert their feelings, thoughts, needs, and ideas. More importantly, they need to learn to state those things with conviction.” Also, research has also shown that girls have a tendency to apologetically ask questions or answer without surety, using, “I think it means,” or “I am not quite sure,” out of being polite and well-mannered. An intelligent statement or an idea is often shot down by themselves even before anyone criticizes it. Though being polite and humble has its place in school, it cannot be synonymous with self-doubt; rarely would you find a young boy who would speak to that level of self-deprecation. EdChange investigated this deeper in their investigation titled, ‘Gender Bias in Education’ and argued that “Assertive behavior from girls is often seen as disruptive and may be viewed more negatively by adults.” Moreover, girls often feel the pressure to be feminine and thus live out the qualities of conventional femininity like being “proper, pleasing, quiet, and nice,” and are afraid of coming off as disruptive or “too loud.”
Girls are often pressured into being “good girls”, this often translates to being “perfect” all the time
In India, the dynamics are almost the same where when a teacher asks a question a boy’s hand will most probably go up even when they don’t know the factual answer. They will joke around but they will just vocalize their mind. However, girls will only answer if they are sure that they know the answer. South Mumbai clinical psychologist Aditi Vaze works with young girls and boys aged 13 to 15 and agrees that girls need more nudging and encouragement to speak up in class, saying, “boys are more vocal and participative and ready to share their opinions during a class discussion,” while girls are afraid to give a wrong answer or make mistakes and “rarely talk over boys the way boys do with girls. They have good points to make; however, they will not voice them, as they feel they will be judged harshly if they goof up. In this aspect, boys are more confident,” she adds. Also, girls are often pressured into being “good girls”, this often translates to being “perfect” all the time, so they are afraid to make mistakes. So, girls are often pushed to the back, literally and metaphorically.
At home is where it all begins when parents encourage their daughters to speak up
Sheryl Sandberg emphasizes on women getting their “seat at the table” and young girls raising their hands in classrooms are the first steps to getting there. At home is where it all begins when parents encourage their daughters to speak up. Whether it’s asking for help in school, or at the local store, training girls to use their voice to ask is a practice; don’t expect it to come naturally without it being a habit. But one of the most important actions is to accept the idea of bad ideas because from them come brilliant ones and adults must help out. Each person is creative in different ways and more often than not, we all tend to censor ourselves until we are 100% sure that our ideas are worthy. At an age when curiosity is heightened, it must be encouraged, and thus speaking up and asking questions will encourage great women in the making to feel encouraged and motivated. “That’s a stupid question!” actually hurts more people than towards the one person it is aimed to. By creating the fear of impending judgment, it blocks healthy voyeurism and questions that might even change the world.
However, most often the raising of hands to ask or answer questions has been looked down upon due to the fear of being branded a nerd or show-off and a miss know-it-all like Hermione Granger. All of them being in the department of archaic name-calling, it’s time to turn these on their head and encourage girls to speak and get their voices heard. Actress Emma Watson herself who played the iconic role explained in an interview, “Hermione was that perfect example of turning on its head this initial prejudice that she gets. Hermione finds a way to wield her intelligence and become really the leader in this group of two other boys. That’s kind of the role that she assumes.” Today, girls should be just as confident and sure of themselves without having to apologize for it. Keep speaking up, never stop asking questions, and keep raising those hands!
Image credit: The Mary Sue