The recent federal mandate regarding bathroom usage has touched off a national debate about gender identity. One of the legitimate reasons to have such a debate is the desire to erase unfair barriers created by gender. The logic of this argument goes thus: if society creates barriers to women as compared to men, then we should erase the distinction between the genders so no one sees a person as male or female, only as a person.
Those who argue this also suggest that gender is an artificial designation. Following are the words of Dale O’Leary, a prominent activist: “Although many people think that men and women are the natural expression of a genetic blueprint, gender is a product of human thought and culture, a social construction that creates the ‘true nature’ of all individuals.” I disagree, though society certainly influences the way boys and girls express their gender.
One proof that gender is not a social construct is the similarity of gender roles across all cultures. Here’s what the publication Child Psychology* says: Both within and across different cultures we find great consistency in standards of desirable gender-role behavior. Males are expected to be independent, assertive, and competitive; females are expected to be more passive, sensitive, and supportive. These beliefs have changed little over the past twenty years within the United States and apparently around the world as well… *http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0072820144/student_view0/chapter15/index.html
Real differences exist between the genders, and not all can be attributed to societal influences. Some differences are simply built in genetically. And even if differences could be socially engineered away, why would we want to do that? It’s fine to make opportunities more equal for both genders, but erasing gender distinctions is an extreme and destructive way to do so.
Here are some gender differences that affect teaching. (These are generalities and not true of every individual.)
· Girls focus better in a warmer room, boys in cooler.
· Girls are more verbal; boys more action oriented.
· Girls are more risk averse, boys more risk seeking.
· Girls are drawn to color, boys to movement (videos!)
· Girls learn best via words, boys via pictures.
· Girls enjoy reading/writing more than boys.
· Girls develop fine motor skills earlier than boys.
· Girls learn best in larger groups, boys in smaller groups.
· Girls focus for longer periods, boys for shorter ones.
· Girls are less developed in spatial memory than boys.
· Girls grow more steadily, boys in spurts (and behind girls).
· Girls are more emotion/relationship driven, boys more task/object driven.
· Boys receive indirect confrontation better than direct confrontation.
· Girls solve problems using social relationships. Boys seek to do so independently.
As a former teacher and as a dad of three girls, I support equal opportunities that help each child enjoy all life’s possibilities. Erasing gender distinctions reduces possibilities, however, rather than increasing them, and will undermine every child’s developing sense of order and belonging. The development of a healthy sexual identity is key to emotional adjustment.
In next week’s blog, I’ll share how the above list of gender differences can be used to improve learning for both boys and girls.
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