Boys and girls are far more likely to admire male celebrities and role models than they are to admire women in the same positions, research shows.
This has not changed in the past 100 years, even though the school curriculum now includes far more examples of female high-achievers, according to academics from the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, in Madrid.
The academics questioned 768 male and female secondary pupils from five countries: Spain, the US, Hong Kong, Qatar and Malaysia. They found that most teenagers’ heroes were drawn equally from three fields: sport, acting and entertainment. Pop singers came in fourth place.
However, 73.1 per cent of teenagers chose male heroes, while only 26.9 per cent named female heroes.
Boys almost always chose a famous male role model: only 4.8 per cent named a woman. But girls did little to redress the balance: 47.6 per cent of them named a man as their role model.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, it was noted that the main source of heroes – school instruction – did not provide enough female figures to be admired,” the academics write in a paper published in the latest edition of the Gender and Education journal.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, we seem to have the same problem…While adolescents have replaced the literary and historical figures admired 100 years ago with athletes and movie, television and music stars, the bias in favour of males still persists.”
Pupils were also asked who they admired most among people they knew in real life. Parents were the most frequently selected real-life heroes. Again, however, men trumped women: 35.5 per cent of teenagers named their father, compared with 29.4 per cent who chose their mother. Other relatives were also named, and 6.2 per cent said they admired their teachers.
In total, 56.2 per cent of pupils said that the adult they most admired in real life was a man, compared with 43.8 per cent who chose a woman.
These proportions varied only slightly between the different countries. For example, while it might be expected that more Qatari teenagers would name male role models than their US counterparts, there was in fact relatively little difference: 73 per cent in Qatar, compared with 66.9 per cent in the US.
The academics also asked pupils to name the traits they most admired in their real-life and celebrity role models. Teenagers from every country tended to most admire stereotypically masculine qualities: ambition, independence and pursuit of a goal. These were far more widely admired than stereotypically feminine qualities, such as understanding or dedication to others.
Masculine qualities also attracted greater teen admiration than gender-neutral, moral qualities such as respect, tolerance and charity. “Adolescents associate professional success with masculine traits,” the academics say.
Previous research, they add, has shown that girls perform better at school when they have strong female role models. They are also more inspired by high-achieving women than by men.
The academics therefore call on schools to address prevailing stereotypes. They write: “Interventions that could be effective range from educating adolescents in the critical analysis of gender stereotypes, to exposing them to information that is inconsistent with stereotypes, by having teachers play non-stereotypical gender roles.”
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