The Dream Gap & Our Daughters- Let’s Talk

I’ve lived 37 years and the only time Barbie has ever made me cry was when I stepped on one of her tiny hair brushes at a friend’s house. 

Until today. 

Okay, no. I take that back. Barbie made me cry back in May when the topic of the Dream Gap came up at our meeting at Mattel HQ for the Barbie Global Advisory Council, on which I am a paid member. 

The Dream Gap is based on research that shows that around age 6 girls stop believing in their biggest dreams. They become less likely than boys to see themselves as “really, really smart.” 

I cried when we talked about it because I can look back at the last 18 months with my nearly 8-year-old daughter and see this happening to her. She’s increasingly more afraid to fail. Getting her to read aloud to us wasn’t about teaching her to read, but about helping her understand that it’s okay to not blend the words right at first. She was afraid she’d “sound stupid.” 

“This phenomenon is called the Dream Gap. It rears its ugly head in myriad ways for girls and women around the world—from being unable to identify as very intelligent to being far less likely to picture their future selves as scientists, engineers or working in any STEM career role. This result persists even when girls perform just as well as boys on science and math tests. The erosion in their self-confidence is well underway at six, and they cannot imagine the possibility of another story.” – Mattel

Now watch this Barbie vlog (that’s right, it’s Barbie vlogging, and it’s one of the most emotionally intelligent things I’ve seen for kids in a long while), and tell me you didn’t just sob your face off.

Words matter. They matter, they matter. I tell my kids this all the time, and I feel like it’s such a crucial lesson for EVERYONE right now. 

We have to break down stereotypes, and we also have to teach all our children, but especially our girls, that it’s okay to “fail,” that it’s okay to dream big-even if others don’t understand those dreams, that making mistakes is how people get smarter, and that losses can be more important than wins sometimes. 

Mattel has some other suggestions for how to close the Dream Gap, including:

  • open-ended, unstructured play that fosters divergent thinking and innovation
  • independent exploration
  • personalized, adaptive learning-through-play opportunities
  • collaborative play
  • engaging play that teaches and supports key skills, such as coding as a 21st-century literacy
  • exposure to postive role models
  • challenge gender stereotypes
  • do confidence-building activities together

I want to know:
1. Do you see this happening to your daughter her?
2. If you have an older daughter, can you look back and see when she would have begun to feel this way? Or do you, as a woman, remember this shift happening to you?
3. What are you going to do to close the Dream Gap for your daughter?

My answers to those questions would be:

1. As I mentioned, I noticed a shift around the end of Leyna’s kindergarten year. I think it was when it was becoming more obvious in her school class who was learning to read quicker than she was. She became really uncomfortable trying to sound out words out loud and it halted her reading progression for a while.

2. Personally, I felt empowered to be the smart kid for a long time, thankfully. But around jr. high, I picked up the idea that girls weren’t expected to be good at math and science. While I still got good grades in both subjects throughout school, I lost any passion or excitement I had for both by the time I was in high school.

3. We are all about exposure to math and science. We just signed her up for a coding class through our homeschool program, and she’s LOVING IT. We are also working with everyone in this family on the way we talk about gender stereotypes. My son and I had a great conversation last week about why it’s not ok to say “the boys in our family are the science and math people.” Yes, my husband loves science and math, but I wasn’t ever bad at either, and Leyna can DEFINITELY be one of the “science and math” experts in our family, too.

I am a paid member of the Barbie Global Advisory Board, but I was not required to write this post and am not being compensated for it. I just think this is such an important topic to discuss and be aware of.

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1 Comment

  1. My daughter is in first grade and just completed her testing to go into the gifted program, along with several boys in her class. The lack of girls on her level has been at the front of my mind, knowing that having true peers will help her both emotionally and academically. Her teacher assured us that next year at least, there will be plenty of other girls in the 2/3 gifted room, and I’m just hoping that she finds the connection she needs. On the home front, we’ve been doing the Growth Mindset work since last year, pushing her to fail often and forward, and take away the lessons needed.

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