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Recently, Forever 21 received flak for advertising a shirt that was labeled “Allergic to Algebra” for teen girls. Mothers were outraged and demanded that the shirts be taken down off the site immediately. At first glance I thought the shirts were cute, but when you really think about the message the shirt sends,  you can see that the issue goes deeper than what meets the eye.

As we all know our economy is not in tip-top shape at the moment. The United States is in political turmoil, many middle class citizens are still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008 and the unemployment rate continues to inch closer and closer to 10% with new layoff announcements monthly. Throughout all this turmoil people are hoping and praying for a better tomorrow. However, change will not present itself with just a hope and a prayer. Real effort from everyone, as a collective unit, is what is required to help better shape the state of our economy. The best effort that could be contributed is through thorough preparation of the generation to follow.

Even through all the economical dysfunction education and innovation have remained two of the most important issues on President Obama’s agenda during his presidency, and for very good reason. Obama’s goal is to better educate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Students are our future and technology and innovation are two of the most important fields that will help the American economy grow. President Obama recognizes this and it appears that he is creating the sustainable platform for growth. The question is, does the rest of the world recognize this?

An even bigger issue, within this issue, is that women and young girls are playing less and less of a vital role within the STEM community. Which, in turn, means fewer females receiving degree’s and working within STEM fields. Educators are noticing, now more than ever, that young girls and women are choosing beauty over brains, which some say is creating a gender disparity within the STEM community. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), this gender disparity within STEM can be attributed to the following factors:

  • Social and environmental factors shaping girls’ achievements and interest in math and science
  • Continuing importance of bias, often operating at an unconcious level as an obstacle to womens success in science technology, engineering, and mathematics
  • The college environments

According to AAUW’s report Why So Few?, there is a clear subconscious difference with how young girls perceive themselves and what they actually are. Females are not viewing themselves as intelligent, business minded and most importantly good in mathematics. People have the common misconception that males are better in subjects like science and technology than girls, and this misconception is being ingrained in the subconscious of young women today. So what can we do to break down this stereotype?

First, we must do the obvious and break the generational curse that boys are better than girls in STEM subjects. It is easy to see the current divide that boys are expected to work in STEM industries and girls are to activities that do not increase their spatial intelligence. When we diminish this clear divide and let our children create their own path, it does not limit their success in life and it will not limit their future career goals.

Here is a great list of recommendations that AAUW has offered to help educators and parents encourage female participation in STEM programs:

1. Expose girls to successful female role models in math and science.
2. Teach students about stereotypes between girls and boys and their expected career choices.
3. Encourage and help girls to develop their spatial skills.
4. Help girls recognize their career-relevant skills.
5. Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science , and engineer ing classes when available.
6. Teachers and professors can reduce reliance on stereotypes by making performance standards and expectations clear.
7. Creating college environments that support women in science and engineering.
8. Actively recruit women into STEM majors.
9. Teach professors about stereotype threat and the benefits of a growth mindset.
10. Make performance standards and expectations clear in STEM courses.
11. Attract and retain female faculty.
12. Teach girls that intellectual skills, including math and science skills, grow over time.

Lastly, we must remember that over the last decade the U.S. students ranking in science and math have dramatically decreased. There are programs in the world that can help our children, especially our young women to gain experience to prepare them in STEM industries. Lately, I have been reading about technical summer camps and programs for young girls to participate in. These programs will help young girls explore the world around them and figure out how things in the world work. Girls would benefit more in life if they were able to recognize and expand on their spatial skills. Letting girls experience, first-hand, technology and just how innovative they can be could serve to be life changing.

Below is list of organizations that offer technical camps for girls:  

1. Sally Ride Camp – Massachusetts and California locations
2. Girls Start – Austin, TX
3. NASA Summer Camps -Multiple Locations
4. George Mason University Youth Camps – Washington,D.C. area
5. Girls SOAR Summer Camp – Atlanta, GA
6. ID Tech Camps – Los Angeles, CA
7. Dedicated Engineers – Multiple Locations
8. DigiGirls Program – Multiple Locations

For those of  you worried about steep costs, some of these programs offer financial assistance, so be sure to exercise all available funding options.

Some parent’s would not read too deep into a t-shirt that is meant to be funny, but others are recognizing the stereotypes that young girls and women are faced with and won’t stand for it. I have always been told that what you wear is a representation of who you are. So I pose this question to you women, are you allergic to algebra?