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Gifted Girls and Women  

Barbara A. Kerr and Robyn N. Malmsten

There are many special characteristics and needs of gifted girls and women throughout the lifespan. As young girls, gifted girls can often be identified by early language development and precocious reading, and often need early admission to schooling, the opportunity for alone time, and encouragement and specialized training in the domains of their greatest interest. Adolescent gifted girls are often bored in school, conflicted about relationships and achievement, and eager for mentoring; they may need to advance through high school and early entry to college course-taking as well as strong relationships with master teachers and mentors. Gifted teens also need clear information about sexuality and sexual identity, particularly about the association of early sexual activity with lower achievement. Gifted women struggle throughout the world with gender relations, that is, the requirements by most societies that they bear an unequal share of the work of marriage and family life. How gifted women negotiate the dual demands of their societies often determines whether or not they will achieve eminence in their fields. Long-standing controversies concerning sex differences, women’s education, and definitions of eminence continue to have an impact on the educational and career development of gifted girls and women. Moderate sex differences favoring boys and men in sub-factors of cognitive abilities, like spatial-rotation abilities, continue to be highly publicized and are often interpreted to mean that gifted girls and women are less able than men to achieve in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Differences in adult gifted women’s and men’s STEM achievement are also attributed to preferences, when research shows that the most important variable associated with highest achievements are responsibilities in marriage and child-rearing, or gender relations. Controversies over single-sex education continue, with research both supporting and disputing the superiority of single-sex education for women; it may be that gifted women benefit more that average women from this kind of higher education. Whether single-sex or co-educational, the presence of a mentor may be most important to gifted women’s academic and career development. Finally, the concepts of eminence and genius are increasingly under scrutiny by scholars who claim they are highly gendered, with genius nearly always being associated with male dominated professions. Each of these controversies can affect gifted girls’ self-confidence, engagement, and persistence.