Looking in the rear view
Swagger going swell
Leaving boys behind
I found out a few days ago that my first grandchild will be a masculine grandchild.
Luca Brasi (who sleeps with the fishes) would have been pleased:
I was pleased as well. But I was also concerned, because boys have it harder than girls these days.
“The human male is, on most measures, more vulnerable than the female,” according to Dr. Sebastian Kraemer. “Death, damage and disease are commoner or more severe in males throughout the lifespan.”
Because of the biological fragility of the male fetus, males are at a disadvantage to females from the first moments of life. “Everything that can go wrong from conception to delivery is more likely to affect the male,” says Kraemer.
At conception there are more male than female embryos. . . . From this point on it is downhill all the way. The male fetus is at greater risk of death or damage from almost all the obstetric catastrophes that can happen before birth. Perinatal brain damage, cerebral palsy, congenital deformities of the genitalia and limbs, premature birth, and stillbirth are commoner in boys, and by the time a boy is born he is on average developmentally some weeks behind his sister . . . .
Prenatal life for male fetuses is clearly a struggle – but postnatal life for boys is no bowl of cherries:
Developmental disorders – such as specific reading delay, hyperactivity, autism and related disorders, clumsiness, stammering, and Tourette's syndrome – occur three to four times more often in boys than in girls . . . . Conduct and oppositional disorders are at least twice as common in boys. . . .
Some of these problems are influenced by biology, but the problems faced by older boys appear to be as much the result of nurture as nature.
|(Can you imagine the reaction |
if a store sold T-shirts that read
"Girls are stupid, throw rocks at them"?)
“Cultural expectations about masculinity shape the experience of boys as they grow up,” according to Kraemer:
Most at risk are the "boys who don't talk." They become "ashamed of being ashamed," and try to stop feeling anything. . . . This is not a safe strategy. The excess of non-fatal and fatal accidents among boys seems to be part of a pattern of poor motor and cognitive regulation in the developing male, leading to misjudgment of risk. In adolescence the nature of risk taking may change and lead to dangerous experiments with drugs and alcohol or to violence against self and others. As is now well known, the suicide rate in young men is several times higher than in young women and has risen alarmingly from the late 1970s until recently.
Things don’t get any better for adult men:
Disorders of addiction, particularly substance abuse, are commoner in males. Even when ill, men may not notice signs of illness, and when they do they are less likely to seek help from doctors. This tendency will account for some of the excess suicides in males. In his despair the victim believes that no help is available, that talking is useless. If baby boys are typically harder to care for (see below) it is arguable that they will be more likely to feel lonely as adults.
The biological fragility of males lasts from cradle to grave, according to Kraemer:
Later in life the process continues unabated. Circulatory disorders, diabetes, alcoholism, duodenal ulcer, and lung cancer are all commoner in men . . . . Male suicide rates continue to exceed those in females throughout life, and, as is universally known, women survive men by several years in almost all countries, and the gap is widening.
At this point, I’m not worried about my unborn grandson’s greater vulnerability to heart disease and alcoholism. But I am concerned by the fact that he will be discriminated against in the classroom when he starts school in a few years.
Erika Christakis of the Yale Child Study Center wrote in Time magazine that a recent study found that kindergarten teachers (over 95% of whom are female) discriminate against boys when handling out grades:
A new study on gender disparities in elementary-school performance — the first study to examine both objective and subjective performance — found that boys were given lower grades than girls, even in cases where their test scores were either equal to or higher than the girls’ test scores.
It seems like out-and-out discrimination, except there is an interesting wrinkle: teachers didn’t downgrade boys who had identical test scores to girls if they seemed to share the girls’ positive attitude toward learning.
In other words, kindergarten teachers don’t discriminate against boys just because they are boys – they discriminate against boys who act like boys typically behave, but not against boys who act like girls typically behave.
[T]he well-socialized boys received a small grade “bonus” for their good behavior relative to other boys, suggesting that teachers may be overcompensating when they encounter boys whose behavior exceeds expectations. In other words, boys who match girls on both test scores and behavior get better grades than girls do, but boys who don’t are graded more harshly. Which means that the issue of what to do with underperforming boys just got a lot more complicated.
We’ve known for a long time that boys, on average, struggle with school more than girls do. Learning disabilities and behavioral problems are more prevalent among boys, and high school and college graduation rates are lower. [NOTE: In 1960, about 60% of new college graduates were male. Today, the reverse is true – 60% of new college graduates are females.] Boys also receive two-thirds of failing grades and are more likely to find school boring or frustrating.
What’s new is the finding that these gender disparities start so early and appear linked not only to gaps in relatively objective measures like test scores but also to teachers’ assessments of their own students.
BBC Radio reporter Winifred Robinson – whose only child is a boy – believes that the preferences of English parents when it comes to having boys or girls have changed dramatically over the course of her lifetime:
As one of six daughters growing up in the seventies, girls were so little prized compared with boys that a friend of my father even expressed his sympathy rather than congratulations when my youngest sister, a perfectly healthy child, was born.
Can you imagine that happening now? I rather doubt it. In an almost complete reversal of attitudes, today's parents long for girls.
As the mother of an only child, a son, I do not think I am exaggerating in saying that I detected something akin to sympathy when we announced that we had a boy. . . .
At the heart of this new preference lies the fact that all parents want their children to succeed in life – and quite simply, in today's Britain, girls are more likely so to do.
Building on a trend that began more than a decade ago, girls are outperforming boys at every level in education. They get more and better GCSEs and A-levels, win more places at top universities and gain better degrees.
Robinson believes the pendulum has swung much too far:
Imagine for a moment the outcry that would follow – from parents, politicians, the teaching unions – if girls began to lag behind boys in school.
Yet there is a widespread silence on the very real problem of boys’ underachievement, as though by raising it we are somehow anti-women.
Some education specialists even ask if it matters – as though boys’ failure is the natural downside to women’s greater success; as if the current situation represents some kind of natural order where women must go beyond equality and always come out on top.
Of course it matters, just as it mattered 30 years ago when fewer girls than boys made it to university. It matters because it is unjust, and it matters because it is a shameful waste of talent and one that we can ill-afford.
As someone who has benefitted enormously from the women’s movement, I deplore the prospect of a generation of disadvantaged young men failing to reach their true potential and missing out on university and the chances it brings.
* * * * *
“Bad Girls” was featured on a 2 or 3 lines over four years ago. (You can click here to read that post.)
That is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I remember that post as if I had written it yesterday.
I rarely re-use songs that I’ve previously featured, but the lyrics from “Bad Girls” fit today’s post. Plus I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share the “Bad Girls” music video with those of you who missed it the first time.
PLEASE watch it if you've never seen it. As my son said four years ago, “This is basically the bombest video in history.” Indeed it is:
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: