Boy v Girl – the School Gender Gap

Posted by Irresponsibility

‘Girls Prevail in New York City Programs for Gifted’ trumpets a recent New York Times headline. The feature highlights a gender imbalance in education, reporting: “Around the city, the current crop of gifted kindergartners… is 56 percent girls, and in the 2008-9 year, 55 percent were girls.” The article further notes that while “boys lag behind girls in measures like high school graduation… the disparity is also turning up at the very beginning of the school experience.” This is certainly a cause for concern. Not because poor, innocent boys are being left in the shadows, however, but because it indicates American society is becoming increasingly adept at indoctrinating girls into servile behavior that will prove detrimental to their adult success and happiness.

Fuelled by a spurious anxiety about the privileged status of men, Otterman notes ominously: “Young girls are favored by the standardized tests… because they tend to be more verbal and socially mature at ages 4 and 5 when they sit for the hourlong exam” (emphasis mine). “Verbal and socially mature” in this context is clear code for able to follow orders. After all, sitting still for an hour requires no special skills, and calls into practice no higher faculty than simple obedience. Insofar as standardized tests discriminate, they serve only to separate the meek from those who will eventually inherit the earth.

Otterman graphically illustrates the behavioral differences between gifted boys and the girls who outnumber them:

The difference could be observed one day last week in the lunchroom, where a cluster of boys sat at one end of a table, fooling around until one of them spilled a carton of chocolate milk. The girls sat calmly at the other end, eating meatballs without a stain on their sundresses.

This juxtaposition is alarming, but not for the reason the Otterman suggests. The boys are healthy social animals: playful, rambunctious, and interacting freely with their environment. By contrast the girls are docile, already so attuned to their ornamental function they are afraid to stain their dresses. Otterman also observes that during playtime the boys choose constructive, collective enterprises, congregating to build “an intricate highway structure and a factory from wooden blocks” while a girl attempts to organize a lesson and “on a roster, neatly recorded the names of the three children who joined her” – none of them boys. It isn’t the actively engaged boys we should be fretting about but the girl child who imaginative play is limited to taking on the ultimate stereotyped female role of teacher.

Little girls are cropping up in gifted classrooms in greater numbers because they are more intensely socialized to be submissive and responsive to external authority. In theory, this is a universal value, but in practice American culture idolizes rebels, renegades and rule-benders. The grown-up world may acknowledge the properness of neat little girls in sundresses but it is very much rooting for the careless boys. The story quotes seventh-grader, Alec Kulakowski, enrolled in a gifted program who, “considered his status as part of the school’s second sex and remarked, ‘It’s kind of weird’.” He’s right. What’s weird is the faux-anxiety about boys falling behind when education is in fact doing exactly what our culture requires of it: reinforcing gender differences and encouraging self-defeating female behavior. The proof? Girls’ supposed advantages disappear with age – and fast.

“Eight high schools… that use the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test to select students all have more boys than girls,” writes Otterman. She adds that, “boys tend to catch up with girls, especially in mathematics, through middle school and, at the high end of the achievement spectrum, surpass them.” In other words, when simple obedience and rote learning are demanded girls are, unsurprisingly, more proficient. But once higher order thinking skills come into play boys, accustomed to freedom and encouragement to be creative and innovative, vault ahead.

We really don’t need to worry about the men. The older women get, the more obvious it becomes that there are diminishing returns for the eagerness to please that wins approval in kindergarten. The increase in women accessing higher education has not resulted in a leap forward in gender equality; all it has done is give employers access to an educated female labor pool that is 20% cheaper than its male equivalent. Nor can women point to significant achievements in accessing the inner sanctum of the corporate world: while women make up 50.6% of “management, professional and related occupations” they comprise only 14.8% of Fortune 500 board seats and a mere 2.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs – a number so insultingly small it’s practically a margin of error.

Women do pull ahead in some areas in later life. They are more likely to more likely to live in poverty than men; perhaps in part because they account for approximately 85% of single parent households. Ninety-five percent of the victims of domestic violence are women and the Department of Justice reports that: “[Women] were 7 to 14 times more likely [than men] to report that an intimate partner beat them up, choked or tried to drown them, or threatened them with a gun or knife” . Women also account for 78% of victims of reported rape.

Is it absurd to suggest a correlation between the prevalence of gifted girls in kindergarten and the endemic suppression of adult women? No. Access to a good education does empower individual women – no doubt many of the current crop of little New York City achievers will go on to great things – but American education as a whole is designed to reinforce existing gender dichotomies. By rewarding girls for being obedient, and encouraging boys to be active, it perpetuates a social structure based on female subservience. Women suffer physically, emotionally and economically as a result.

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