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Where the Boys Are


"One day last September, there were two back-to-back events in adjacent rooms at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "Beyond the Gender Wars", a symposium organized by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), was followed by a rejoinder from the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), "The XY Files: The Truth is Out There...About the Differences Between Boys and Girls." Each event largely followed, a predictable script. On the AASUW side, there was verbiage about "gender, race, and class" and hand-wringing about the "conservative backlash"; despite an occasional nod to innate sex differences, "gender equity" was pointedly defined as "equal outcomes." On the IWF side, there were affirmations of vive la difference and warnings about the perils of trying to engineer androgyny; despite some acknowledgment that there are not only differences between the sexes but much overlap, the old-fashioned wisdom about men and women was treated as timeless truth. And yet, both discussions share one major theme: the suddenly hot issue of boys - to be more specific, boys as the victimized sex in American education and culture.

"Just a few years ago, of course, girls were the ones whose victimization by sexist schools and a male-dominated society was proclaimed on the front pages of newspapers and lamented in editorials, thanks largely to widely publicized reports released by the AAW in the early 1990s. It was probably only a matter of time before somebody asked, "But what about boys?" But as the two National Press Club panels underscored, two contrasting arguments are being made on behalf of boys. In one room, there was sympathy for boys who yearn to be gentle, nurturing, and openly emotional but live in a society that labels such qualities "sissy"; in the other, there was sympathy for boys who want only to be boys but live in a society that labels their natural qualities aggressive and patriarchal.

"Both sides, however, agree that something is rotten in the state of boyhood.

"The most tangible and effectively documented cause of concern is male academic underachievement:

  • Girls make up 57 percent of straight-A students; boys make up 57 percent of high school dropouts.
  • In 1998, 48% of girls but only 40% of boys graduating from high school had completed the courses in English, social studies, science, math and foreign languages recommended as a minimum. (In 1987, there was no such gender gap, though only 18 percent of the students met these requirements.)
  • "High school girls now outnumber boys in upper-level courses in algebra, chemistry, and biology; physics is the only subject in which males are still a majority.
  • "In 1996, 17-year-old girls, on average, outscored boys by 14 points in reading and 17 points in writing. While boys did better on the math and science tests, it was by margins of five and eight points, respectively.
  • Women account for 56% of college enrollment in America. This is due simply, as some feminists claim, to older women going back to school; among 1977 high school graduates, 64 % of boys and 70% of girls went on to college. Female college freshmen are also more likely than men to get a degree in four years."

Source: Learn more directly from the 2/01 issue of Reasons

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Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. - B. F. Skinner

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