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Published Date: September 5, 2009

Published Date: September 5, 2009

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Is Gender Stereotyping Hurting Boys Academically?

According to a well-known Christian author, the feminization of schools is to blame for the decreasing grades and academic skill levels of boys over the past few decades. The implication is that a feminizing of schools has redesigned them to teach girls more effectively than boys. Jim Trelease, who advocates for improving children’s literacy, has reached a different conclusion in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook. ((Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.))

“I propose there’s been one significant change in the value system of the male culture. What entered the system between 1970 and 2000? Try ESPN and round-the-clock sports.” (pg. xxii)

“The boy who only sees his father focusing on athletics, who lives in a home or culture where it’s all sports all the time, will allot far less value and time to school than to athletics. The end result has been higher sports scores, lower school scores.” (pg. xxiii)

Taking Trelease’s proposal another step further, I believe that it is the polarizing of what is considered masculine behavior versus feminine behavior that may have branded reading as a feminine activity. Boys seem to be receiving the message that “reading is for girls.” And if boys have been taught not to “run like a girl,” “throw like a girl,” or “cry like a girl,” why would they want to read like a girl? Using the phrase “like a girl” as an insult teaches boys to make negative associations with anything relating to females. The flinging of these types of phrases may well be boomeranging back to hurt males in unintended ways.

Any activity that becomes viewed as girlish, or unmanly, stigmatizes it for many boys. So instead of a feminizing of our schools hurting boys academically, I submit that creating negative associations for boys with anything perceived as being feminine may be a large part of the problem. In recent decades, a shift has occurred in American schools. For a long time, prescribed gender roles hurt many girls academically. Now societal gender confinements may be limiting the academic success of boys who try to fit inside these boundaries.

While this is a complex issue with many factors contributing to these trends, I believe that eliminating gender stereotypes and expectations can help to even out the academic achievement of both sexes. When girls were told that boys naturally did better in math than girls, this often became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why try hard when it isn’t in your genes? Parents and teachers who reinforced these messages often helped to increase this cause and effect relationship. Several times I have heard the message that boys’ brains are wired better for math while girls’ brains are wired better for reading taught at church as well as in Christian books. According to a 2008 study, the gender gap has closed for math scores on standardized tests in the United States. (( Apparently there never was an innate difference in math aptitude between the sexes. So perhaps another detrimental effect of gender stereotyping may be that boys are receiving the message that girls are intrinsically better in verbal skills than boys. If boys are hearing these messages from parents, teachers, and pastors, they might be acting upon these beliefs.

As Christians we should be promoting the intrinsic worth and value of all people. We have all been created in God’s image.

“So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 TNIV)

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10 TNIV)

Both genders can reap rewards if we will teach and practice equal levels of honor and respect for males and females and by eliminating negative stereotyping.