Thursday, November 18, 2010

Breaking: Boys and Girls Are Inherently Different, Except When Boys Prove Worse At Stuff

Isn't it funny when anti-gay and anti-feminist advocates who claim that male and female humans have vast biologically-explained differences are subsequently found claiming that societal factors, rather than biological ones, explain the Boy Crisis in education?

On the one hand, they peddle the myth of sex/gender complementarity by, for instance, claiming that two men or two women should not be parents because each child needs a male and a female parent. But, when boys or men are found to have negative outcomes in a given situation, these same folks readily leap to alternative, non-biological and non-gender-essentialist explanations for these disparities, rather than following their own reasoning that these disparities can be explained by all of the inherent differences between the sexes they allege exist.

The latest purveyor of this theoretical hypocrisy is same-sex marriage opponent Maggie Gallagher, writing in The New York Post:

"In 2008, black men over age 18 were just 5 percent of the college-student population but 36 percent of the prison population. But it's not just race. Black girls consistently outperform their male peers. That means it can't be just genetics or family: Black boys and girls come from the same families."

Goddess forbid biological determinism and statistics be used to "prove" that boys are Just Inherently Dumber than girls, as has been done to girls pretty much forever whenever statistics put girls in a bad light. Nope, when boys show negative outcomes, it's all OMG, society/teachers/schools/girls/parents are failing boys, what can we do to solve this?! And while I agree with many societal explanations for such disparities, especially racial ones, I think it's worth noting how rare it is for anyone to say, "Well, now that girls have been attending school on parity with boys for awhile now, we are seeing that they are actually inherently smarter than boys."

When Larry Summers suggests that men are inherently better at math than women, anyone who's not a feminist hails the man as an anti-PC just-telling-it-like-it-is crusader, completely discounting all social explanations for Girls Are Bad At Math Statistics. Yet, were a woman to suggest that girls outperform boys in school because they are inherently smarter than boys, she would be railed as a misandrist feminazi bitch.

So here, I should note that I am sympathetic to the negative outcomes of boys, especially black ones, with respect to education. The statistics Gallagher cites are indicative of real disparities and I have no doubt that societal, economic, and racial factors, rather than genetic or biological ones, explain them.

What I am not sympathetic to is an anti-gay advocate of Gallagher's caliber who advocates harmful gender essentialism in other political arenas who co-opts the gender-disparities-can-be-explained-by-social-factors argument to further entrench her gender essentialist ideology. She does this by contriving an interesting explanation and incredibly sexist solution to the Boy Crisis.

Gallagher writes:

"Why are schools failing boys so badly? No one knows for sure, but a simple answer may lie in the books we ask boys to read."

You got that? Books. Not urban infrastructure, public school funding issues, racism, fatherlessness, poverty, or the criminal justice system.

Gallagher's "explanation" illustrates why, in general, I think we should be incredibly wary of simple answers to social issues, especially when they emanate from those with simplistic worldviews.

She continues:

"Like other males, boys are intensely status-conscious, aware of who is 'on top' and who is 'one down,' and they're acutely anxious to avoid being the latter.

They hunger for achievements that signal successful maleness (and will find it in violence and misbehavior if that's all the maleness society provides), and they avoid activities that get labeled as 'female' because, well you can't achieve status among boys by excelling at girly things.

Let's face it, reading has become a 'girly thing' in our schools. It's taught at earlier and earlier ages, when girls start out with certain developmental advantages. The girls start out ahead, and the boys are then given books that bore them and are encouraged to read by overwhelmingly female teachers (and by families that overwhelmingly lack fathers in low-income communities).

We have a gendered problem; we need to abandon genderless ideologies to find new solutions."

Notice how instead of criticizing the cultural denigration of "girly things," Gallagher is complicit in it. She accepts it as a matter of self-evident course that boys, being boys, would reject an activity associated with girls.

Her brilliant solution to the boy crisis in education is, I kid you not, for schools to create gender-segregated bookshelves.

Whew, that was easy!

Yet, oddly, and counter to her own gender essentialist argument that boys and girls inherently like different types of books, she suggests putting the same books on each shelf. Boys will just get the superior satisfaction of having their own special separate-but-equal bookshelf that isn't tainted by its association with girls. Nevermind, I suppose, the insidious message such a regime would send to girls, who would learn that, due to the suckiness of themselves and everything girly, boys couldn't be expected to do well in school if they had to draw their books from the same shelves as girls.

And, in a way, aren't these segregated bookshelves the perfect symbol for gender essentialism peddled by such hypocrites? Different labels slapped on incredibly similar substance for purposes of maintaining hierarchy that places boys and men "on top" (Gallagher's own words). And, isn't this such an incredibly predictable, and heinous, solution coming from one who dedicates a large portion of her professional life to ensuring a separate-and-unequal marriage regime for heterosexual and same-sex couples? It is a regime, I might add, that sends the message to all of us that some couples are better than others.

To end here, if boys truly reject reading because they see it as "girly," a far better solution for geting boys to read would be to encourage boys not to loathe, diminish, and ridicule girls and girly things. By only fixating on What's Best For Boys, and ignoring an evident instance of cultural misogyny that is harming both boys and girls, I would venture that Gallagher is part of the problem, rather than the solution.

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