Girls think they are cleverer and more hard-working than boys from the age of four, according to a recent study. In Gender Expectations and Stereotype Threat, academics at the University of Kent in the UK say that girls think they will do better than boys from the moment they start school. Boys take till they are eight to come round to the idea. The problem, say the authors, is that teachers expect girls to outperform boys from the get go and that expectation is self-fulfilling.
We seem to have come a long way in the last 20 or 30 years with the education system now being seen as biased towards girls. Partly this is the result of changes in the system, post feminism, because it was viewed as biased towards boys. Partly it is due to the impact of "girl power". But I think the rise and rise of what used to be termed biological determinism, fuelled by new developments in and a media obsession with genetic research, is a huge factor. I have four children. Three are girls and the youngest is a boy. I can scarcely go through a day without someone telling me that everything he does, from his sleep patterns to his feeding, is related to his gender. "What differences have you noticed?" people ask expectantly. He is just three months old. I haven't noticed any difference at all. I am too sleep deprived for starters. All my children have woken up every two to three hours for the first six months or so. If I mention that he is waking this often, though, I usually get told that it is because he is a boy. Often, however, I get told completely contradictory information about what his behaviour will be like "because he is a boy". "Boys just take, take, take all the time," said one person. "Boys are so affectionate. There's nothing like the love of a son," says another.
It comes from all sorts of people, regardless of their background.
If everyone is saying this, surely teachers are too and they must believe it. Boys are bad at reading, can't stay still, can't pay attention, can't do much really except destroy everything, as far as I have been told. Maybe I will find this out for myself, but if so, where did all those [male] poets and writers come from? They seemed to read a bit. I have been surrounded by a sea of blue ever since the baby was born. He imbibes the messages of boyness in his sleep. He doesn't stand a chance against this onslaught, I think. Meanwhile, I have one daughter who had problems at school because she likes football. The other two have caught the girl bug and are heavily into pink and dressing up - how could they not be when children's shops are so divided into pink and blue since segregation seems to sell more? Why sell one scooter to a family when you can brand it in pink and blue and get parents who have a girl and a boy to spend twice the money?
It's not that I don't believe there is some genetic component in gender, but, as the new book by Dr Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, suggests, we seem to have bought into a desire to exaggerate this, and in my experience women are doing it more than men when they surely know what it results in. What will be next? We have long had girls and boys schools, but will we develop a boy system of education, which encourages leadership and decision-making, and a girl one which emphasises "girl" skills like communication and nurturing? What will be the result? Girls will once again become an alien species for boys and vice versa and what kind of future will that bring? More domestic violence, more communication problems, more pay inequality and more misery. Is that really what we want for our children?
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