Letter to the Editor – Re “Boys vs. Girls Enrollment”


Graphic by Alix Neenan ’12

Your question about the gender differences in  participation in various school subjects has been studied closely over the past 10 years. A review of the peer reviewed research literature shows us that the most significant differences between boys and girls are culture-driven.  We know this because in other countries (particularly in Asia, but  in Europe  as well) the significant differences we see here do not exist.

Graphic by Alix Neenan '12
Graphic by Alix Neenan '12

Story 1:   10 years ago, when I  moved here from Massachusetts, I enrolled my, then pre-school, daughter in an after school science class.

After several weeks, in which my daughter attended class as the only girl amidst several boys, she asked if I could find a few girls to join her.  Universally the parents of girls I contacted told me that their daughters didn’t like science.  DIDN’T LIKE SCIENCE!  What is that about?  Kids love science.  They dig and splash, and collect and inquire, and get dirty and experiment all day if we leave them alone.

Story 2:  At the 2001 KHS autumn picnic simple face painting was among the day’s offerings. The choices kids could make about the face design they preferred were itemized on cards.  One card marked “BOYS” listed a flag and a snake, whereas the “GIRLS” card listed a flower and a rainbow. 

When I tried to explain to the mother running the activity that the card system sent an unnecessarily sexist message, limiting the choices kids would make, her response was, “They are just kids. They won’t know the difference.”

Finally, recent research shows that in the past 25 years or so our society has actually become more sexist, and the choices boys and girls make more restrictive. 

For example, boys and girls used to play together, build forts together, and share toys and activities in a way that is no longer true. 

It is hypothesized that the increased ossification of gender stereotyping has come with the advent of TV advertising (Saturday morning TV ads specifically, and the pink and black aisles of Toys R Us) that portrays all things girl as pink and frilly and all things boys as dark and aggressive. 

As these images have infiltrated our national subconscious, boys and girls have come to play with each other less, and have increasingly avoided behavior or toys that they perceive to be the exclusive purview of the other gender. 

Given the power of the media in our lives it is no wonder that despite Title Nine, and the many gains made since the birth of the  Women’s Movement, the behavior (including thinking and learning) of men and women, boys and girls continues to be unnecessarily limited and constrained by out-dated cultural forces.

My point here is that from birth, children  are taught what to like and what not to like, what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy; and parents very rarely realize that what they have taught their children may ultimately restrict their options and narrow their view of life’s possibilities (or that the video screens to which  children are exposed teach similarly potent lessons). 

It is my personal observation that by age 5 these patterns of behavior and gender identification are  well established.  It would take an amazing role model to help  kids grow beyond their sociocultural biases.  So maybe Ms. Comm and Mr. Corbo need to be talking to pediatricians and parents of preschoolers if they want to see change in the performance and interests of high school students.

Moreover, if students become more introspective about their interests, and consider the ways in which their behavior is culturally driven  the academic, intellectual, and professional  decisions they make might eventually reflect a  personally and societally satisfying balance between nature and nurture that.  

 ­­­—Jill Greenberg, Ph.D.


Click here to read the Boys vs. Girls Article that inspired Greenberg’s letter!