Rebecca Bigler

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Middle school girls who value a sexualized body image tend to have a lower academic performance than their peers, according to research published in the The Journal of Research on Adolescence.

In the study — conducted by psychology professor Rebecca Bigler and Sarah McKenney, a former psychology graduate student — middle school girls were asked to film a mock newscast. Their preparation manners were observed based on their internalized sexualization, or internalization of the belief that it is important to be sexually attractive.

According to the study, the girls who had a higher level of internalized sexualization spent more time with makeup, and the girls who had a lower level of internalized sexualization spent most of their time practicing their script.

According to Bigler, the reason behind these girls spending more time on makeup was because of the internalized belief that they must be attractive to men and therefore focus less on academics. Bigler said gender roles play a large part in this, as roles are often defined at an early age.

“Being hot and sexy has taken over the girl role,” Bigler said. “To be girl means try to be sexually attractive to men. They internalize it, and the study on academics shows they then perform lower in academics.”

Psychology junior Volonda Jackson said she believes young girls are performing at a lower level academically because of gender roles and stereotypes.

“I think it goes into their perception of gender roles in society, that girls with makeup do less because they’re reminded that they are girls, and there is a stereotype that they don’t tend to perform well,” Jackson said.

In a second study conducted by Bigler and McKenney, scores on an internalized sexualization scale were used to predict the degree to which girls wore tight and revealing clothes. The girls whose scores were higher on an internalized sexualization scale tended to show higher rates of body shame than their peers. It was concluded that girls are more likely to be disappointed in the comparison of their own bodies if they value and imitate the sexual image of models.

Bigler said the media, along with gender roles, contribute to young girls internalizing a need for sexual attractiveness.

“Media reflects a sexualized and sexist culture that women are limited in the roles that they can have,” Bigler said.  “Girls see that a way to have money, status and power is to be sexually attractive to men.”

Lauren Canton, student president of the GirlAdvocates! program and neurobiology and nutrition senior, said she has been working with girls in this age group. She said that because they are in a stage where they are concerned with their identity, they often rely on the media for role models.

“We have a mentoring program, and, as we work with this age group, I can say the study was spot on in recognizing that sexual images have a predominant role in forming their opinion in how they should be,” Canton said. “I’ve noticed that, within that age group, focus is on trying to figure out who you are, and you’re looking to the world for role models. Role models in the media are valued for their beauty ideals, and it is not necessarily positive ones.”

Psychology professor Rebecca Bigler’s research, “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling,” reports that there is no tangible scientific link between gender and learning.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Research shows the ineffectiveness of single-sex education, in which students are segregated by sex, and its contribution to the increase of gender stereotypes, according to a report released Sept. 23 by psychology and women’s and gender studies professor Rebecca Bigler and members of the American Council for CoEducational Schooling.

The report is called “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling” because there is no scientific evidence that boys and girls learn differently from each other, and it looks at why single-sex schooling exists, Bigler said. She said there are conflicting hypotheses about the benefits of single-sex schools.

“Gender stereotypes restrict [childrens’] friendships and the skills they learn from other kids, such as verbal skills, reading emotions and using nonphysical ways of influence,” Bigler said. “[Without diversity they] miss out on what could be learned from others, and it affects career goals because kids that endorse more gender stereotypes have much different occupational goals.”

One of the major arguments for single-sex schooling is that boys and girls have different brains and different ways of learning and therefore needed to be separated, but research found otherwise, Bigler said.

The researchers, including Lise Eliot, a neuropsychologist who studies brain development, found no differences between girls’ and boys’ brains supporting single-sex schools, Eliot said.

“Our argument is that not only do [single-sex schools] not promote academic achievement over coeducational schools, but they have the downside of causing kids to be more sexist and being institutionally sexist,” Bigler said.

She said that from research of children, whenever a child’s environment is organized and labeled by a social group, he or she develops stereotypes and prejudices.

“College students should care about the direction of education and [consider if] we want to put tax money into creating single-sex schools when there’s no evidence it works,” Bigler said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex in schools receiving federal funds.

Bigler said that changes were made in the interpretation of Title IX that for the first time allowed for single-sex public schools. Public schools that were single sex had been illegal for decades until 2006, and now single-sex public schools have been opening around the country, she said.

The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is a single-sex public school in the Austin Independent School District, said Michelle Krejci, executive director of the Ann Richards School Foundation.

“It’s a process where the applicants are selected based on grades, TAKS scores, teacher recommendations and an essay,” Krejci said.

She said they don’t look for the straight-A students but the girls who do exceptionally well in all areas to get a diverse background of girls.

Krejci also said they are like other magnet schools in Austin because students must submit applications, and the best candidates are chosen based on performance and their desire to attend college.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that there has been a debate about single-sex schools for years, all I know is that Ann Richards School is successful and it’s working here in Austin,” Krejci said.

AISD proposed opening two more single-sex middle schools, according to AISD’s Draft Annual Facilities Recommendations, which is set to be finalized by Dec. 12. 

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: ''Study shows single-gender schools cause stereotypes''

Black students are more likely to support affirmative action and desegregation policies than white students, according to a recently released UT study. The study, conducted in 2008, took the student population of a well-integrated Midwestern high school and split it in half, showing one group an affirmative action plan and the other a desegregation plan for the district. The object of the study was to find which factors correlated to a student’s support for either of the policies. The most indicative factor was a student’s level of awareness, said psychology professor Rebecca Bigler, who led of the study. “How much a student knows about current inequalities and how the student explains these inequalities is the most important factor in deciding how the student will react to policies involving affirmative action,” Bigler said. Students, black or white, who attributed these inequalities to racism also supported affirmative action policies in three out of four cases, she said. But those who attributed the inequalities to other causes, such as laziness, showed much lower support for such policies. Bigler cites a lack of proper conversation at home as the primary cause. “White people generally adopted a colorblind philosophy [when dealing with race], but the problem is that when they don’t talk about it with their kids and the kid notices it, the kid has to explain it for herself,” she said. “And often their conclusions are not based on reality or fact.” These findings didn’t surprise associate sociology professor Keith Robinson. “[White parents] see it as a way forward, where race is no longer an issue, which is a good thought, but there has to be a healthy way to get there,” Robinson said. “And the healthiest route is where we’re all walking together.” People think desegregation has been achieved because of Brown vs. Board of Education, however, schools are still as bad as they were in 1965, Robinson said. Robinson said open conversation is the first step to achieving true equality. “We’ve been reluctant to sit down and talk about racial relations as they stand today,” he said. “And it’s not just one conversation we need to have. It needs to be a conversation amongst all U.S. citizens, until we’re no longer afraid to talk about race.”