The War Against Boys, Chapter 1: Where The Boys Are, Part 1 (pg. 17-33)

August 11, 2010 | NeW Staff

Chapter 1 is a study on the history of gender equality in the United States. Sommers does an excellent job of explaining how the gender gap was realized and who brought it to our attention:

“In 1990, Carol Gilligan announced to the world that America’s adolescent girls were in crisis. In her words, ‘As the river of a girl’s life flows into the sea of Western culture, she is in danger of drowning or disappearing.’ Gilligan offered little in the way of conventional evidence to support this alarming finding. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what sort of empirical research could establish so large a claim. But Gilligan quickly attracted powerful allies. Within a very short time the allegedly fragile and demoralized state of American adolescent girls achieved the status of a national emergency.”

Sommers goes on to explain that Gilligan is the scientific and academic authority on the girls crisis movement:

“She is the matron saint of the girl crisis movement. Gilligan, more than anyone else, is cited as the academic and scientific authority conferring respectability on the claims that American girls are being psychologically depleted, socially ‘silenced,’ and academically ‘shortchanged.'”

Women’s special interest groups were interested in Gilligan’s claims, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) expressed specific concern. The AAUW went on to commission more studies on girls and their supposed depleted self-confidence:

“The AAUW quickly commissioned a second study, How Schools Shortchange Girls. This new study, carried out by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and released in 1992, asserted a direct casual relationship between girls’ (alleged) second-class status in the nations’ schools and deficiencies in their level of self-esteem. Carol Gilligan’s psychological girl crisis was thus transformed into a pressing civil rights issue: girls were victims of widespread sexist discrimination in our nation’s schools. ‘The implications are clear,’ said the AAUW; ‘the system must change.'”

Gilligan’s belief in a girl crisis was was so influential that in 1994 the U.S. Congress passed the Gender Equity in Education Act:

“in 1994, the allegedly low state of America’s girls moved the U.S. Congress to pass the Gender Equity in Education Act, which categorized girls as an ‘under-served population’ on par with other discriminated-against minorities. Millions of dollars in grants were awarded to study the plight of girls and learn how to cope with the insidious bias against them. At the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, members of the American delegation presented the educational and psychological deficits of American girls as a pressing human rights issue.”

Although Gilligan’s girl crisis tugs at America’s heartstrings, the facts prove the opposite is true–boys are the ones in crisis:

“Data from the U.S. Department of Education and from several recent university studies show that far from being shy and demoralized, today’s girls outshine boys. girls get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations. They follow a more rigorous academic program and participated more in the prestigious Advanced Placement (AP) program.”

Sommers goes on to explain how truly disturbing the male crisis is:

“Girls read more books. They outperform males on tests of artistic and musical ability. More girls than boys study abroad. More join the Peace Corps. Conversely, more boys than girls are suspended from school. More are held back and more drop out. Boys are three times as likely as girls to be enrolled in special education programs and four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

It is saddening to see how neglected the male population has become; we must change something before it’s too late. Sommers closes this portion of the chapter with this sobering thought:

“Here we have a genuinely worrisome gender gap, with boys well behind girls. It is this gap that should concern educators, parents, school boards, and legislators. Engagement with school is perhaps the single most important predictor of academic success. But boys’ weaker commitment is not addressed at the equity seminars and workshops around the country. Instead, the fashionable but spurious self-esteem gap continues to be the prevailing concern–the gap that the AAUW, in its zeal to ‘know more’ about Carol Gilligan’s findings, claims to have exposed.”

Discussion Thoughts: Were you aware that boys are falling behind academically? If so, what can we do to help?
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