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Women Worse At Math? New Shirts Make Us Think So

A slew of t-shirts encourage young girls to focus on their looks—not their brains. We take a look at this scary trend.

| September 12th, 2011
JC Penney; David & Goliath
Women Worse At Math?

If someone told you to be quiet and just look pretty, you’d probably lash back with a scathing response or at least give him or her one serious stink eye. But that’s exactly the message a slew of recent t-shirts aimed at young girls are conveying.

With t-shirt slogans ranging from JC Penney’s “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me” to Forever 21’s “Allergic to Algebra” and David & Goliath’s “I'm too pretty to do math," young girls are being told that they’re better off staring at a mirror than a textbook.

Because of vitriol from parents, JC Penney issued an apology and pulled the controversial t-shirt from store shelves. You would think that Forever 21 and David & Goliath (still for sale, here) would learn from JC Penney’s mistake by not printing similar t-shirts to begin with, but no such luck.

However, one could argue that we’re taking these t-shirts way too seriously and are selling kids and teens short—that they see this confrontational fashion trend as ironic and playful rather than as a putdown. “Kids know that math is supposed to be hard, and so they are playing with the irony of it,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., YouBeauty Psychology Advisor. “I don't think that kids are really taking these messages seriously on the surface.  We have to recognize that pre-teens and teens have a developing sense of irony.”

That said, Markman notes these t-shirts still send a dangerous message that can—consciously or not—influence girls’ mindsets. He points out the research on mindset conducted by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and how you can treat almost anything in life as either a talent or a skill. A talent is something you have or you don't, while a skill is something you can learn and develop.

MORE: Developing Skills Through "Flow"

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