I have chosen to write this article because I think I have a unique perspective. I’m from a family of 14 children, 7 boys and 7 girls, I’ve got three girls and a boy who are grown children, and My parents were schoolteachers, all of my growing life. I’ve heard the debates, as little as three years ago some MALE scientists were still speculating on the possibility that there was a genetic difference. Others tried to explain that Math and Science were ‘not interesting’ to females. I know better.
My eldest sister is a whiz at math. My youngest daughter is a whiz at computers. In between I have a sister who went to school and became, (gasp) a scientist. My wife hates math, but will use it when she has to. She is always complaining that Math is the language of Science and she wants a second option. What does this have to do with Mentoring? That’s easy, the quotation is “You can’t teach what you don’t know any better than you can come back from where you haven’t been”. Stereotypical models aside, it is probably safe to guess that the average female mentor will be weaker in math and science than her male counterpart. This means that she will probably be stronger in other areas than he is. So the answer is, if you wish to maintain the status quo, you need female mentors for girls.
Looking further into this question, we see that the average male mentor is going to be prejudiced toward his charge, he won’t expect her to be able to perform as well in the “Hard” courses as in the ones he feels are ‘more suited’ to females. She will find that he does not encourage her to explore Math and Science, or the tougher Physical Sports, or anything that is not ‘traditionally’ a female role. Perhaps a woman mentor would do that, if she be versed in the world of endeavor we are discussing. Have we passed the point where men are holding the upper hand in certain areas? I think not. The answer here falls to the student. The girl who is trying to enter the fascinating world of ‘hard’ science and elite mathematics will have to make her own way. If she can find a mentor who will assist, without prejudice and with understanding of the invisible obstacles she has to surmount, she will have an easier time of it, but in no case will she have as easy a time as her male competitor.
If we try an objective approach, we quickly see that women have not yet broken all of the sociological ‘chains’ which traditionally bind them. Not even in the US, where education for women has actually surpassed that of men in terms of aptitude and speed of comprehension. Girls are expected to do better in public school than boys, and it is only in higher education that Men are expected to outstrip women. When, I wonder, do these smarter, more studied, harder working students suddenly become ‘mere women’? What is the cut off age when the female of the species, despite having been well ahead of her male counterpart, suddenly loses her ability to learn? I think it’s somewhere between puberty and the first time an executive considers her for advancement. In some countries, which shall remain nameless, the education of females is considered important only insofar as it makes them more valuable to whatever man eventually marries them. Women are not yet equal in the eyes of world society, and it may be a generation or more before they attain equality. Much as the US still has prejudice with regard to race, color, national origin, creed and lifestyle, there remains a stereotype for women that simply refuses to die.
I must conclude by reminding my reader that, in every situation, it takes breaking through the prejudice to end it. If we suspect that women make better mentors for girls, then by all means we should encourage male mentors for girls. The same would hold true for boys, they should have female mentors. That way we begin to destroy the stereotype and create a generation that has a better chance of realizing equality of the sexes than ours has had.