What About Gifted Girls? - Jade Rivera

I started drafting this to you on Galentine’s Day, an adorable pre-Valentine’s day pop-holiday created by the fictional character Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) of the television show Parks and Recreation. Leslie has created this holiday, which lands the day before Valentine’s day, to celebrate the love she feels for her female friends.

As I exchanged Galentine Greetings online and in-person with my dearest female friends (no we did not share a glorious breakfast, but maybe next year), I of course began to think about the young gifted girls in my life.

Last week, I was sitting with a five-year-old girl as she worked through some problems on Khan Academy, a wonderful free educational resource. Khan Academy is one of her self-proclaimed “favorite things in the world”. After getting a few problems correct, she looked up at me and confidently proclaimed, “I’m good at math.”

“Clearly!” I responded with a full heart and a huge smile on my face.

Then, as I revelled in the glory of learning, I felt a little shadow creep into my heart. That shadow had a voice. It said,

“How are you going to encourage this love of math in the face of overwhelming and undermining messaging that girls are not good at math?”

While amplified intensity, sensitivity, and drive are a few of the well-known characteristics of gifted children, this amplification is generally acknowledged in gifted boys as a “call to action” and in gifted girls as a “cause for worry”.

Girls are judged differently than boys. The expectations placed on them are different as well. There is a societal expectation that girls remain in a supportive, empathetic role. Young ladies who step outside of that role when they declare themselves “good at math” are at risk of being seen as “bossy” and “arrogant”. Boys who make the same declaration are considered “enthusiastic” and as a “go-getter”.

The pay-off for a gifted girl driven to defy expectations comes at the end of a long, winding,  partially-paved road. At this point in my life, I still find myself running alongside these ladies. Other times I get to be the one who stands on the side of the road and cheers while handing out paper cups of water.

A lack of healthy messaging for gifted girls makes for a lonely time out on that road. At my most solitary, it’s the gifted women of culture, literature, and movies that have given me guidance. For this reason, I’m always on the look-out for positive images of gifted women in the world that I can share and celebrate.

We need to show gifted girls what’s possible. Show them examples of women who have lived fulfilled lives as leaders. Show them girls that are making quirky, passionate, and sensitive work. Show them how it can be good to be gifted.

Who are your favorite famous gifted women? Share them with me in the comments, so we can get a good list going for our girls!

And in the meantime, sit tight until next month for part two in my “What About Gifted Girls?” series. I’ll be sharing with you my favorite gifted ladies, and yes, Leslie Knope is on the list.