Thinking Out Loud

Girls or Boys: Who is worse off?

Like many, I’m drawn to reading research and opinions about the state of boys and girls in today’s world and which sex is struggling more. It’s a question I’m not going to answer both because I don’t think it’s a particularly helpful question and because I don’t think it can be answered.

To see the differences clearly, we could make a chart showing the good and bad elements for both girls and boys. For example: More boys have ADHD, more girls have low self-esteem. Boys have higher SAT scores in math, girls have better verbal communication skills. Let’s not take our foot off the feminist accelerator or girls will get marginalized. Let’s not forget the high school drop out rate for boys. . . . To do this thoroughly, we’d need to weight the elements to find out which sex has it worse, but doing that, I’m sure, would devolve into some kind of political warfare. How could it not?

Answering the question doesn’t help us focus on the real issue: What is it that all kids need to thrive in today’s world? Is it really so different, what boys and girls need? I don’t think it is. Should we pay more attention to our girls’ evolving self-esteem than our boys’? Should we work harder to keep boys in school than girls? Of course not. What we do need to do is pay careful attention to the individual needs of each child.

I recognize that there are differences between males and females, but we are more similar than we are different. I’ve seen numerous charts that list the characteristics of men and women that focus on opposite needs. For example, in the male column it might say “autonomy,” and in the female side “connection.” But don’t we all need connection and autonomy? The only difference is the amount and the type—and those are individual differences, not gender ones. Putting all men and all women in classes by themselves discounts the commonalities and sets up an us/them mentality, . . and don’t get me started there.

Girls and boys: they need the same basic things when it comes to their home and school lives. The kind of care and education they need is not the rocket science part of it. The really hard part has to do with the negative forces in society that interfere with meeting those needs.

We know a lot about child development, good parenting and good teaching but we haven’t found a way to systematically implement these best practices. Politically and economically we have not found the will to do what’s right. If improving the lives of our children was important enough in our society, we would not be competing for resources on behalf of boys or girls. There would be no need because we would identify the individual needs of kids and help them in whatever way is necessary—male or female.

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