Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Response to Why Gender Matters

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

By Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

Reading Response

As I was reading the last chapter “Beyond Pink and Blue” in Why Gender Matters a couple of quotes struck me. Some matched with my experience, while others I questioned. None-the-less, Dr. Sax has provided an excellent starting point to reflect on the past 30 years in gender identity.

Quote #1

"We need to recognize that our society lost something in the process of dismantling opportunities for boys to learn from adult men in an all-male setting" (238-239)

I think this is absolutely true. All one needs to do is look at the rate of adults achieving post-high school degrees. From 1959 to 2009 males 18-19 years old enrollment in college increased 3 fold. Not bad, but not great when you consider that female enrollment increased by 450%. Women now are enrolled in college at a ratio of 6 to every 5 male students.[1] This is but one statistical example of the economic and societal impact of “dismantling the opportunities for boys.”

Quote #2

"Those kids will learn how to solder copper wire to metal posts, but a genuine connection between the generations is less likely to be established" (239)

This quote felt too much of an opinion without any support. Looking through the footnotes and the paragraph around this quote, I could not find any support. Dr. Sax was referring to robotics class being co-ed, and that this reduced the connection that students will feel to the older generation. I just did not see how this statement could reasonably be arrived at from his prior statements.

Quote #3

The all-boys setting "frees up boys from typecasting and stereotyping of what it means to be a male." (243)

Dr. Sax is quoting Rick Melvoin, the head of the Belmont Hill School, an all-boys school. I think to my experience, which one should not draw any generalizations from, but does not necessary match up with this quote, although I say that with a caveat. I went to a co-ed school, but participated in a number of sports, which were all male. In those situations, it was even more masculine, almost a hyper masculinity. It was with females that I participated with the literary magazine and explored poetry, the arts and politics, topics that I did not broach with males on the sports teams. But perhaps this just reinforces what the quote is saying: in a all-boys setting, sports and the arts are on a more equal setting than in a co-ed setting. None-the-less, I consider myself very fortunate to have attended a co-ed school setting, as I don’t think I would have had as broad of friends or experiences in a all-boys school.

Quote #4

They found at coed schools, you don't need to ask a dozen questions to predict the girl's self esteem. You have to ask only one question: "Do you think you're pretty?" (245 - 246)

In 1993, researchers asked this very question at both co-ed and single-gender schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland. At single-gender schools, appearance was only one of many factors that went into self esteem. Not so at co-ed schools, where it was appearance that was the defining characteristic of a young woman’s self esteem.

Ultimately, this solitary quote should be enough move us to action in reexamining gender roles in schools and in society. If women have some many more opportunities in school, business and society, why does appearance remain such a crucial issue? And in the United States, most young women do not have the opportunity to attend an all-girl school until college. The women answering this survey were middle school, a crucial time period in their development. The feminist movement was among many other things, a movement to allow women to succeed on merit, and yet our female children are coming of age in a culture where they feel they must be attractive to be valued. And that, simply put, is wrong.

Sax,Leonard, M.D., Ph.D.. Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About The Emerging Science of Sex Differences. New York City: Broadway Books, 2005.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division,
Education & Social Stratification Branch.

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