My son recently cast his vote for the first time in student council elections, reminding me of my own experience running for class representative in the nineties in Italy.
Seated in the first row, the first one to raise my hand to respond to questions, I had little doubt about running for that role—and sure enough, I was elected by my peers. As years passed, however, I became less and less likely to run for student office. Student council began to feel unpleasant at an age when my nerdy and eye-glassed former self began also focusing on peer acceptance. I became less willing to be seen as the ambitious girl; even being a smart one was difficult enough.
I was not alone. A recent study revealed that, among American high school students, boys and girls are equally interested in running for office. As college students, however, things change dramatically: males were twice as likely to have thought about political involvement than their female peers.
All over the world, girls are made to believe that they are innately less talented than their male peers in a broad variety of fields, including STEM and politics, with such beliefs reinforced throughout their lives. Boys, on the other hand, are told that their value and worth depend on physical strength, sexual prowess and fearless ambition. They are often discouraged from pursuing career opportunities in fields perceived as traditionally “female,” like nursing and caregiving.
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Closing the Political Gender Gap Starts in the Classroom