Sally M. Reis
Yet, it is the masculine values that prevail.
Why do some gifted and talented women achieve and gain prominence or eminence while others who had as much or more potential fail to achieve the dreams they had as girls? Research with talented females has revealed a number of personality factors, personal priorities, and social emotional issues that have consistently emerged as contributing reasons that many either cannot or do not realize their potential. Not all gifted females experience the same issues, but trends have been found in research about talented women that identify a combination of the following contributing reasons: dilemmas about abilities and talents, personal decisions about family, ambivalence of parents and teachers toward developing high levels of potential, decisions about duty and caring (putting the needs of others first) as opposed to pursuing one’s own talents and a host of other personal, religious, and social issues.
These personal and often emotional issues occur across women’s lifespans. Some affect girls at very young ages and some are only apparent to women who have become involved in serious relationships in their college or graduate school years or later in their lives when they have children. Research indicates that many older gifted women resolve some of the personal issues relating to ability and social issues experienced by younger gifted girls. It is also important to understand that some of these dilemmas cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone. Rather, some dilemmas shift or are resolved when changes in a woman’s life occur, such as the maturation of her children and, in some cases, the dissolution of a relationship, the reemergence of other relationships, and a change in environments at work or home. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, when discussing social and emotional issues, to discuss gifted girls without discussing gifted women because many young gifted girls believe that they can “do it all” or “have it all,” while many older gifted females have learned that they cannot. Many gifted girls were academically gifted in school, but as they become older, ambivalence about their future caused their hopes and career dreams to waver. Preventing this and learning more about why hopes fade is the reason that much of the research about gifted girls and women continues.
What factors help some smart young girls become self-fulfilled, talented adults who can achieve at high levels and enjoy personal happiness? Some research has suggested that belief in ability and self-confidence of talented females is undermined or diminished during childhood or adolescence. It is imperative that research continues on this population as studies of gifted women provide essential information about experiences of smart girls during their childhood and adolescence, times at which both parents and teachers can have the most impact in their lives.
Few questions can be raised about whether or not the underachievement of gifted girls and women exists; the fact remains that in most all professional fields and occupations, men continue to surpass women in both the professional and creative accomplishments they achieve, at least when traditional standards of accomplishment are considered. It may be argued that these facts alone are not an adequate measurement of the underachievement of talented girls and women; however, research indicates that when many talented women reflect about their lives, they perceive many lost opportunities (Reis, 1998). If female underachievement is best measured by the many talented women in our society who look back at their lives with feelings of regret, it then becomes our responsibility to help future generations of gifted and talented females before they, too, underachieve.