The Trouble with Stereotypes

Last week’s Newsweek cover story was called “The Trouble with Boys.” Unfortunately, it’s now only available in their paid archives, and we wouldn’t pay $3.00 for it. Basically, it’s a 3000-word whine about how poorly the schools are treating innocent boys now that girls are benefitting from the attention they’ve (finally) received in the last three decades. There’s no shortage of angry feminist attention to this issue: we especially note Feministing‘s post on the subject, as well as Katha Pollitt in The Nation.

And of course, we understand and share that feminist outrage … and it’s no more a whole story than Newsweek‘s article. For a more balanced view, try this online Q&A session with Peg Tyre, the bylined author of the cover story, though we would guess she’s not too happy with the final printed version. Her repeated point, which is also our point, is stressed throughout the session: “There are plenty of boys who are smarter than girls — and plenty of girls who struggle in school. Boys and girls both need recess and opportunities to blow off steam. When we talk about gender, it is easy to forget that we are talking about averages — about boys and girls on the whole — not about individuals.” We would make a distinction between “smart” and “does well in school,” and we still like her point.

The trouble with boys appears to be that across all demographics (but much more in nonwhite and/or lower class groups) are doing less well in school and are less likely to go on to college than girls. As far as the stereotypes go, girls are doing better than boys because girls finally have some traction to do well at all. Privileged boys are not doing as well as girls because … well, any group that has been coddled and over-entitled for decades if not centuries is going to suffer when some of their protections go away. And as far as oppressed children go, they are being misused based on their color and class, absolutely regardless of gender, and the two issues should not be conflated.

That being said, all children benefit from recess and the chance to run around. And some kids, of all genders, will pass up that chance and sit inside with a book, or a GameBoy. (Note the name.) All kids benefit from attention and respect. And one of the reasons the Newsweek article is particularly frustrating, is that it doesn’t treat with what we think are the important tragedies in how we raise and school boys.

Epi_LJ, a fine source of blog fodder, pointed us to this story about a teenage boy who wore the “wrong” team’s jersey to his — get it — ethnicity class. The student was forced to sit on the floor to take his test, and other students were directed to throw crumpled paper at him. “If he felt uncomfortable, then that’s a lesson; that’s what [the class] is designed to do,” [the teacher] told The Denver Post. “It was silly fun. I can’t believe he was upset.”

Right. Let’s humiliate boys. Let’s teach them that their job is to make other people feel stupid and inferior, while suppressing any feelings of stupidity or inferiority they might have. (One of the great quotations from the original Newsweek article talks about how boys would rather fail than look stupid.) Let’s have our ethnicity classes teach students, intentionally and consciously, that singling someone out for their choices is good clean fun. And then, just to put the icing on the cake, let’s blame the whole problem on brain chemistry and make sure that boys get recess and chances to run around, while girls get soft surfaces and chances to talk about their problems.

That will take care of it. We’re confident of that.

<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">boys</a><br /> girls<br /> school<br /> education<br />

3 thoughts on “The Trouble with Stereotypes

  1. Thank you so much. I feel like I can breathe again. My mother sent me a copy of the article, thinking, I guess that I would be interested since I have a son. My blood has been boiling for days. I have been working with kids for 13 years and am convinced that “the trouble with boys” has everything to do with the cultural construction of masculinity and very little to do with biological sex. I volunteer at an after school program. The other day, we were going through the Lost & Found box, holding up each item and asking who it belonged to. A young boy sitting next to me commented on any “boy” item that he did not approve of: “that’s so gay,” “that’s a girl’s shirt,” “I would never wear that.” Of course none of the boys would admit to being the owner of “gay clothes.” There is such a code of coolness & toughness among boys. Right now, being smart is not part of that code. But suggesting that that’s because girls are getting too much attention and schools have become girl-centered is misguided. The Newsweek article was one big sterotype, but I guess that’s what always happens when gender differences are explained in terms of bioloigical determinism. I fear this is yet another example that we as a culture are turning back the clock on gender equality.

  2. Libby Ryan-Kem,

    Thanks for the comments. Obviously I couldn’t agree with you more and I’m glad the blog was helpful.

    Your son is lucky to have a Mom like you.

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