| | Photo by Ordinary Guy|

Remember the talking Barbie doll that caused a minor scandal for Mattel in the early 1990s by telling young girls “Math class is tough!” every time her voice-box string was pulled? According to a recent study comparing people’s perceived Internet skills with their actual Web adeptness, the Internet might be Barbie’s new math.

The study, co-authored by researchers from Northwestern and Princeton universities, identified several trends in Internet adeptness that made perfect sense (younger users were better than older ones; more educated trumped less educated). But because the Internet is a relatively new tool, researchers hypothesized that men and women would be equally skilled surfers.

Not so, their study shows. True, women and men are on an equal playing field in terms of skills. But when asked to rate themselves, women consistently stated that they were less able than men. At the same time, men as a group rated their skills significantly higher than women’s.

These findings match up with studies of ability and perception across gender in math as well, suggesting that the old Barbie-endorsed stereotype isn’t fully dead yet. If women aren’t careful, researchers say, this notion of inferiority may become reality. Says Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern and co-author of the study: “By underestimating their ability to effectively use the Web, women may be limiting the extent of their online behavior, the ways in which they use the Internet and, ultimately, the career choices they make.”

Hopefully, my fellow Web-surfing females, this study will serve as a wake-up call to stop underestimating ourselves. I don’t think this troubled world of ours can bear another Barbie-related gender scandal. —Nicole Price Fasig

Link (Los Angeles Times)

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