Culture, Socialization And The Gender Education Gap
Last but not least I will discuss the role of culture and the socialisation of boys in the gender education gap and in producing boys lower academic performance. As has been alluded to in the previous articles, boys and girls are raised and socialised differently in our society. This has important implications for institutions like schools, because it means that young boys and girls will behave differently and have different skill sets when they start their education.
So we cannot expect to treat them or educate them the same way. Of course there are also inherent psychological differences between the genders, but many of these differences are small and/or in areas that fail to explain the scholastic achievement gap between boys and girls. We cannot expect to raise boys to be square pegs fitting into the round hole of our feminised education system and be successful.
Social Experience and Human Development
Studies have shown that from birth, boys and girls are treated differently by their parents. Often baby and toddler girls will be spoken to and read to more often. In addition when they cry, parents are quicker to rush to their aid. It is not surprising then that girls often have wider vocabularies and reading ability than boys when they start school.
It is not unexpected either that boys are less likely to ask for help when they need assistance at school. What the gender education gap tells us is that if anything, we should be speaking and reading to boys much more often. We should also be encouraging boys to seek help when they are in trouble (although both genders should be raised to have some degree of independence and resilience).
Perhaps if we raised them this way, the boys would be better suited to our school systems and a curriculum that is highly language based. If boys sort assistance, rather than gave up and switched off, they would also be less likely to fall behind in class.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of social influence impacting boy’s performance in education is our Western culture. I remember when I was growing up being constantly bombarded with messages on TV implying that boys and men were stupid. One example that comes to mind is the portrayal of men in the Simpsons.
The Simpsons Culture
Bart and Homer are portrayed as idiots and Lisa and Marge are portrayed as smart. When we do see a male character in the show come across as smart, like Martin Prince or Frank Grimes, they are portrayed as geeks or losers. We see this treatment again in shows like TheBig Bang Theory. On the rare occasion now when a male is smart on our TV shows, he must be some weird, unpopular nerd.
Again we see in our culture the promotion of many male role models in sport, but basically no attempt to showcase smart, academic or innovative men (Steve Jobs fortunately was one, but he does not have much company). In the movies the guy everyone likes and who gets the ladies, is often not that smart, but instead relies on his physical strength and aggression. Frequently he is a criminal, violent or has questionable character and personal history.
There is a lack of a strong cultural masculine identity in modern Western culture that is associated with intellectual pursuit and other characteristics that are the key to being successful in the modern world (as opposed to the old warrior archetype). Consequently, many boys lack an up-to-date cultural reference of masculinity to direct their life pursuits in ways that lead to success in modern society. They want to be the next wrestler or basketballer, rather than the next nobel prize winner or CEO. This is partially why boys tune out in class, as they are not shown the link between academic performance and future success in the modern world by cultural references to masculinity.
So what takes the place of a modern healthy male identity in our Western culture? Well in newspapers, in advertisements and the TV news, there is no end to the amount of misandric garbage telling young boys that men are lazy and stupid. We have people like Hanna Rosin, Maureen Dowd and so forth, peddling the same old tired story that men are redundant, obsolete and no good.
Do not get me started on the ads. Prof. Paul Nathanson and Prof. Katherine Young have analysed the negative portrayal of men in the media, TV shows, ads, radio, books and popular culture and have written a bookabout it. Their findings highlight a truly pervasive social phenomenon, particularly in Western society, that promotes and encourages misandry. Examples of misandry are not exceptional, they are now a normal part of our culture and are found throughout our media, newsprint, TV, radio, online content and pop culture.
Culture and Socialization: Some Conceptual and Methodological Issues
The messages that get sent to boys from all these different cultural channels of our society, is that we expect that they be stupid and that it is not only okay, but funny and encouraged. If you are a smart boy, then you are a geek and undesirable to other men and to women.
Remember that boys are still forming their identities when they are exposed to these harmful messages. They are quite impressionable and lack the critical thinking of adults to counteract these messages. To make matters worse, the lack of fathers and male role models at school, further increases the influence such messages have on the socialisation and psychological development of boys.
Is it any surprise then, that young boys glorify sports, violence, reckless behavior, aggression and stupidity over intelligence and academia? Absolutely not. Of those traits only one or two are positive, sports and aggression in the right contexts. However, something like study or being smart is discouraged in boys and men.
The impact of misandry in our culture on young boys thinking, becomes amplified many fold when they begin to play and interact with their peers. These twisted social norms they learn from the media, TV and our culture etc, are reinforced and policed in boys social groups. The peer group pressure on boys to conform to social norms of disobedience, reckless behaviour, violence and being good at sport but bad academically (or not being a “nerd”) is intense.
The jock gets the girls and is popular and the nerd is a loner. Honestly after having gone through primary school and later on to an all boys high school, I confirm this is indeed the mentality. I was very independent compared to most of the other boys and really did not care what they thought of me. I worked and studied hard and achieved really good grades. I can tell you though that the pressure on me to stop being such a “nerd” was intense. Getting an A+ or being awarded Dux put a target on your head. If you did well at sport though, suddenly everyone liked you.
Deprivation and Development
What was interesting to note is that this type of treatment did not happen anywhere near as often with the girl groups at primary school or at our sister all girls high school (when I frequently spoke with them or saw them on the train home or outside school socially). They would praise each other if they did well at school and encouraged each other in their study. Instead of talking about sports, they would be talking about their school subjects or which university or career they were going to pursue (not all the time but definitely more frequently than the boys). Very rarely did they call each other nerds and if they did it was often in reference to a smart yet unattractive or unpopular girl. She was called a nerd for reasons other than being smart.
Another thing I noticed at school, was the stark difference in academic performance when comparing my Caucasian male peers, to my Indian, Jewish and Asian counterparts. Boys from these ethnic backgrounds performed far better academically than the white Anglo-Saxon males. Why? Because in those cultures education was still highly valued in men.
It was the Indian, Jewish and Asian boys getting all the academic awards and scholarships amongst the boys. They were performing as well as or better than the bulk of the female students. At home the ethos of valuing education is instilled in these boys from a young age. The male parent is often around and fatherlessness is almost unheard of. Again I don’t make these remarks to be racist but instead to compliment these cultures.
Frankly we could learn a thing or two from our Eastern counterparts when it comes to the education of boys. We need to more strictly regulate the portrayal of men on TV and in film. We also need more positive and intelligent (of particular importance) male role models in these mediums. To achieve these goals, there needs to be more activism to keep the corporate media and entertainment industry in line, because they have enormous influence on our culture.
This especially applies in present times, where many boys are watching several hours of TV a day and being exposed to vast amounts of online content. We need to be spending less time promoting male athletes and more time promoting our brilliant male thinkers (like Steve Jobs, not that I own anything Apple, but I respected the man). We need to eliminate the misandric articles and reports in the news that are either baseless or built upon poor quality research or a misunderstanding of it.
Until that happens and we change how we define masculinity in our culture, I expect we will keep reinforcing all the behaviours that have led to and perpetuated the gender education gap. If these negative cultural messages and bad stereotypes of masculinity keep telling boys we expect them to perform badly academically, the pygmalion effect tells us it will become a self fulfilling prophecy and this will be reinforced in their peer groups (where they will learn and internalise a twisted form of what masculinity is in their pscyhe). In short, the declining academic performance of boys is a product of our modern man-bashing culture and the imprint it leaves on their identity from a young age.
Again I urge people to look at the study on the classroom environment, which was a classic example of the pygmalion effect and demonstrated it’s negative impact on boys academic performance. I discussed it at length in my article on the classroom environment and the gender education gap.
Boys are failing at school because the classroom environment and curriculum is hostile, irrelevant and unaccommodating to their masculinity. They are failing because they have no male role models as frames of reference and guidance at school or at home. They are failing because they are not being raised with the life skills necessary to make the most of their education.
They are failing because of the negative influence of feminism in our education systems and the bias that induces in the educational environment and cirriculum. They are failing because our culture and society, create, spread and promote messages that attack and downplay male intellect and academic achievement. They are failing because our culture and society spread and endorse misandric messages that tell them that they are no good because they have a penis.
They are failing because their peers exert pressure on them to conform to these twisted social norms and negative associations with masculinity. They are failing because our culture fails to provide boys with proper cultural references of masculintiy and what it takes to be successful as a man in the modern age.
Conclusions and Future Directions
Consequently for all these reasons and more, boys are not motivated to learn or do well at school and they predictably put in no effort, switch off and play up in class. Boys will be boys right? A false misandric justification that leads to a self fulfilling prophecy. The scientific evidence says boys have it in them to perform just as well as girls, if they are taught, socialised and encouraged to apply themselves just as girls are. How sexist indeed is a comment like boys will be boys! Did we make that excuse 40 years ago when we tried to help women in education? No!