Friday, September 9, 2011

Why Gender Matters

Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

****Interesting findings on the differences in the male and female brain. 

What parents and teachers need to know about the emerging science of sex differences?

One:                 Differences
Two:                Female Brains, Male Brains
Three:               Risk
Four:                Aggression
Five:                 School
Six:                   Sex
Seven:              Drugs
Eight:                Discipline
Nine:                Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Sissy, and Tomboy
Ten:                  Beyond Pink and Blue

What I highlighted while I read (just things that interested me, lots of info between all of my highlighting, not a complete comprisal of authors thoughts...don’t judge the contents by my random highlighted topics, read the book to grasp the entirety of its contents and research behind the statements).


Series of Studies done by Professor John Corso at Penn State during the 1950s and 1960s, demonstrating that females hear better than males.

The teacher is absolutely right about Justin showing a deficit of attention.  But his attention deficit is not due to “attention deficit disorder,” it is due to the fact that Justin can barely hear the soft-spoken teacher.  The teacher is talking in a tone of voice that is comfortable to her and to the girls in the class, but some of the boys are practically falling asleep.  In some cases we might be able to fix the problem simply by putting the boy in the front row.

Our Survey basically asked one simple question:  Who first suggests the diagnosis of ADD?  The results:  in the majority of cases the diagnosis of ADD is made by the teacher.  Not by the parents, nor the neighbors, nor the doctor.

There would be nothing wrong with teachers diagnosing their students as long as they had the training..and the resources, and adequate distinguish the boy with ADD from the boy who just doesn’t hear as well as most girls do.

The failure to recognize and respect sex differences in child development has done substantial harm over the past thirty years…such will be my claim throughout this book.

But school, not drugs, is the “new” problem for boys.  While today’s girl is more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol than her mother was, today’s boy is much more likely to be struggling in school than his father was.  Boys today are increasingly alienated from school.

The average eleventh-grade American boy now writes at the same lever as the average eighty-grade girl.


The left hemisphere of a man’s brain is very important for language, while the right hemisphere of a man’s brain is not.

Women are different.  Women use both hemispheres of their brain fro language.

Girl babies who received music therapy left the hospital nine and a half days earlier on average than girl babies who did not.  But boy babies who received music therapy did not leave the hospital any earlier than boys who did not.  Music therapy was very beneficial for the girls, but not at all beneficial for the boys.

Premature girl babies who were hummed to left the hospital twelve days earlier on average than girl babies who were not.  But premature boy babies who were hummed to did not leave the hospital any earlier than boy babies who weren’t. 

The most plausible explanation is that boy babies don’t hear the music as well, or in the same way that girl babies do.

Found that the average girl baby had an acoustic brain response about 80 percent greater than the response of the average baby boy.

Girls hearing was substantially more sensitive than the boys’ especially in the 1,000-4,000-HZ range, which is so important for speech discrimination.

The boy who is tap-tap-tapping his fingers on the desk might not be bothering the other boys, but he is bothering the girls—as well as the) female) teacher.

Most girls and women interpret facial expressions better than most boys and men can.

The boy babies were much more interested I n the mobile than in the young woman’s face.  The girl babies were more likely to look at the face.

The results of the experiment suggest that girls are born prewired to be interested in faces while boys are prewired to be more interested in moving objects.

The male Retina is substantially thicker than the female retina.

You will find that girls will prefer colors like red, orange, green, and beige, because those are the colors that P cells are prewired to be most sensitive to.  Boys prefer to simulate motion in their pictures.  Boys prefer colors such as black, gray, silver, and blue because that is the way the M cells are wired.

Girls typically draw pictures of people or pets or flowers or trees, arranged more or less symmetrically, facing the viewer.  Girls usually use ten or more colors in their pictures.

Boys typically draw action: a rocket hitting its target, an alien about to eat somebody, a car about to hit another care.  Boys typically use at most six colors.

Girls draw nouns, boys draw verbs.

Fiver year olds like Anita and Matthew quickly figure out that Anita is doing it “right” (teacher likes it) and Matthew is doing it “wrong”.  Matthew will soon discover that he is not very good at trying to copy Anita, that is, trying to draw pictures of people, using lots of colors.  Matthew will quickly decide that he is no good at art.  Only five years old, Matthew has decided that “art is for girls”.

Another difference in how girls’ band boys’ brains work:  geometry and navigation.

Women typically navigate using landmarks that can be seen or heard or smelled.  Men are more likely to use absolute directions such as north and south or absolute distance such as miles or city blocks.

Boys and girls playing…Gender differences in play behavior are present in just about every mammal that has been studied.

Today we know that innate differences between girls and boys are profound.  Of course, not all girls are alike and not all boys are alike.  But girls and boys do differ from one another in systematic ways that should be understood and made use of, not covered up or ignored.

Feelings…Using an MRI to examine how emotion is processed in the brains of children from the ages of seven through seventeen.  In young children, these researchers found that negative emotional activity in response to unpleasant or disturbing visual images seems to be localized in phylogenetically primitive areas deep in the brain, specifically in the amygdale.

That may be one reason why it doesn’t make much sense to ask a seven year old to tell you why she is feeling sad or distressed.  The part of the brain that does that talking, up in the cerebral cortex, has few direct  connections to the part of the brain where the emotion is occurring, down in the amygdale.

In adolescence, a larger fraction of the brain activity associated with negative emotion moves up to the cerebral cortex.   That is the same division of the brain associated with our higher cognitive functions…reflections, reasoning, language, and the like.  So, the seventeen year old is able to explain why she is feeling sad in great detail and without much difficulty.

But that change occurs only in girls.  In boys the locus of brain activity associated with negative emotion remains stuck in the amygdale.  In boys there is no change associated with maturation.  Asking a seventeen year old boy to talk about why he is feeling glum may be about as productive as asking a six year old boy the same question.

Emotions…both positive and negative are processed differently in girls’ brains than in boys’.

Trying to understand a child without understanding the role of gender in child development is like trying to understand a child’s behavior without knowing the child’s age.


When other young men are watching, most young men will demonstrate what psychologists call a “risky Shift”.  If the man tossed the rings from two feet when he was alone, he will back up to five feet when other men are in the room.  If he tossed the rings from five feet when he was alone. he will back up to ten feet when other men are watching…even if he has never met the men before and never expects to see them again.

Many boys enjoy taking risks.  And most boys are impressed by other boys who take risks.  Girls may be willing to take risks, but they are less likely to see out risky situations.

Girls and boys assess risk differently, and they differ in their likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors.  As soon as kids are old enough to toddle across the floor, boys are significantly more likely to do something dangerous; put their fingers I n a socket, try to stand on a basketball, jump off a chair onto the floor.  And when parents try to stop their child from doing something risky, boys are less likely to comply.

Psychologist Barbara Morrongiello interviewed children ages six through ten who had been injured or who had been in “close calls”.  She found that compared to the girls, the boys:
…Were more likely to attribute their injuries erroneously to “bad luck” rather than to any lack of skill or foresight on their part;
            …Were less likely to tell their parents about the injury
            ….Were more likely to be around other boys at the time the injury occurred

A boy is much more likely to do something dangerous or stupid when he is in a group of boys than when he is by himself.

Why? Risky and dangerous activities trigger a “fight or flight” response that gives a tingle, a charge, an excitement that many boys find irritable.

One reason many boys engage in physically dangerous activities may be that the danger itself gives the activity a pleasant tingle.  A mother who warns her son, don’t ride your bike off the boardwalk, you might get hurt, has missed the point.  Her son knows it is dangerous.  He is riding his bike off the path because it is dangerous.

But there is another basic reason why boys are more likely to engage in physically risky activities.  Boys systematically over estimate their own ability, while girls are more likely to under estimate their abilities.
If you have a son, it is obvious that you need to understand his motivations, so you will be able to keep him from riding his bike off a cliff.  While, most young girls need some encouragement to take risks, the right kind of risks, and to raise their estimation of their own abilities.

Moral of the story: if you have had plenty of experiences exploring new situations, facing your fears and mastering them, then you can face new challenges and conquer them as well.  If you don’t have that experience of taking a risk and succeeding, then you won’t be able to summon up your strength when it really counts.

Child psychologist Wendy Mogel has written a charming book called “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.”  Without mentioning the theory of learned help0lessness, she points out that shielding children from injury makes them more risk averse.  And, letting them explore their world…at the cost of a few scrapes and cuts…builds their character and gives them self-confidence, resilience, and self-reliance.

But if your kid doesn’t fit gender-typical roles, then you need to modify your parenting accordingly.  The girl on the ATV could use some of the “hazard precautions” we will describe momentarily.  The boy who doesn’t want to finger-paint could use some”dare training.”

What about the boy who gets a thrill out of taking risks?  There are at least three basic principles involved in decreasing the risk of your child experiencing a severe injury. 

The first principle is: remember the “risky shift.” Boys in groups do stupid things.  Your boy wants a thrill.  Great. Take the whole family skiing or snowboarding.

The second principle is: supervised is better than unsupervised.

The third principle is: assert your authority.


Our greatest moment comes when we find the courage to rechristen our “evil” as the best within us, the same hidden intensity and impulsiveness that had been liabilities for Jeffrey at school became advantages when he was hunting in the wilds of Zimbabwe.  The experience of feeling himself to be a genuinely gifted and talented hunter changed his whole outlook on life.  After nailing a grouse at thirty yards when nobody thought he could do it, schoolwork did not seem so hopelessly difficulty anymore.

Here is the part that many women have real problems with; if Jeffrey had just hit a target on a wall, it would not have had the same effect.  Hitting a target on a wall would not have changed his life.  The fact that he had killed a living thing was crucial.

Psychologist Janet Lever spent a whole year at elementary school playgrounds, watching girls and boys play.  Boys fight a lot, she noticed: about twenty times as often as girls do.  To her surprise, though, she found that boys who fight each other usually end up being better friends after the fight. They are more likely to play together in the days after the fight than they were in the days before.

Girls seldom fight, but when they do…often with words rather than fists…the bad feelings last.

Among boys, preference for violent stories is not an indicator of underlying psychiatric problems.  A preference for violent stories seems to be normal for five to seven year old boys, while the same preference in five to seven year old girls suggest a psychiatric disorder.

Boys who act aggressively usually raise their standing in the eyes of other boys, as long as their action is provoked, that is, as long as it is not bullying.

If young male primates are deprived of the opportunity to fight with other males, those males grow up to be more violent as adults, not less.  They have never learned how to get along with other males in a playful, aggressive way.

Aggression has a different meaning for girls than it has for boys.  For many boys, aggressive sports—such as football, boxing, wrestling—may not only be fun, they may actually form the basis for a lasting friendship.  Aggression between girls does not build friendships, it destroys them.  So it is hard for girls to imagine any positive consequences from aggressive play.

Putting girls together with boys creates special risks.  Boys often employ aggressive behaviors playfully, as a way of making friends (pulling pony tails).

Many school districts have banned kids from playing dodge ball on school playgrounds in the belief that dodge ball encourages violent behavior.

Banning even games like tag “body contact is inappropriate for recess activities”….Other schools threaten expulsion for kids who throw snowballs.

There is no evidence that preventing kids from acting out their aggression in healthy ways will diminish or eliminate their aggressive impulses.  Instead, prohibiting these activities may actually increase the likelihood that the suppressed aggression will manifest itself in less healthy ways. 

Three-quarters of all murders are committed not by overtly aggressive people, but by quite, seemingly well behaved men who have never found a safe or appropriate outlet for their aggression.

Females are wired to respond to stress in a different way than males are.  When most young boys are exposed to the threat and confrontation, their sense sharpens and they feel an exiting tingle. When most young girls are exposed to threat and confrontation, they feel dizzy and yucky.

The result of the shift away from competitive sports to aerobics is that boys who are not athletic enough to make the team now have no socially acceptable outlet for their aggressive impulses…. Thus enters….Video Games

Don’t buy any video games that employ what I call a “moral inversion”…where good is bad and bad is good. I.e. Grand Theft Auto, stealing from and killing policemen, virtual sex with prostitutes….etc.

Better yet, get your son away from video games altogether and toward real life aggressive games.

Violence in girl—Simmons uses the phrase “alternative aggression” to describe these ongoing wars among adolescent girls.  A girl who victimizes other girls in this manner is often the most socially skilled and may even be one of the most popular girls—just the opposite of the typical boy bully.

Whereas boys typically bully kids they barely know, girls almost always bully girls within their social group.  These girls are intimate enemies.  They know each other.  They know where it hurts most.

Take note: The experience of being shunned by other girls can precipitate full blown clinical depression, with the associated risk of suicide.

Girls are at greater risk of being harmed by a negative assessment from a teacher: Girls generalize the meaning of their failures because they interpret them as indicating that they have disappointed adults, and thus they are of little worth.  Boys, in contract, appear to see their failures as relevant only to the specific subject area in which they have failed; this may be due to their relative lack of concern with pleasing adults.

Friendships between girls are different from friendships between boys.  Girl’s friendships are about being together, spending time together, talking together, and going places together.  Friendships between boys on the other hand usually develop out of a shared interest in a game or an activity.

Girl friendships are face-to-face; Boy friendships are shoulder-to-shoulder.

Self-disclosure is the most precious badge of friendship between females.  Boys are different.  Most boys don’t really want to hear each other’s innermost secrets.  With boys the focus is on the activity, not on the conversation.

When girls are under stress, they want to be with their friends more.  When boys are under stress, they usually just want to be left alone.

Girl friendships work best when the friendship is between equals.  Boys on the other hand are comfortable in an unequal relationship, even if they are the lesser party.

Teachers….If you are working with a girl, smile and look her in the eye when you are helping her with a subject.  That gives her nonverbal reassurance that you like her and you’re her friend.  IF you are working with a boy, sit down next to him and spread out the materials in front of you, so you are both looking at the materials, shoulder – to- shoulder.  Don’t hold an eye-to-eye stare with a boy unless you are trying to discipline him or reprimand him.

Small group learning is a good teaching strategy for girls, but seldom for boys.

Rule of thumb…Moderate stress improves boys’ performance on tests…the boys do better than you might expect,whereas the same stress degrades young girls’ performance on tests.

But there is one thing most five year old boys are very good at: figuring out that they have been put in the “dumb group” And they don’t like it.

Those boys develop negative feelings toward school that are likely to persist and color the child’s entire academic career.  Boys who fail to do well in kindergarten develop “negative perceptions of competence,” and those negative attitudes are “ difficulty to reverse as they progress through school.

There is a big difference between delaying a child’s entry to kindergarten vs his repeating first grade a year later.

The failure of schools to recognize differences in how girls and boys learn affects each sex at different ages.  Boys are harmed most in kindergarten and the early elementary years.

For girls, the negative effects of gender blind education become manifest in the middle school and high school years.

Sex differences in learning are not confined to differences in hearing, or differences in responses to confrontation, or differences in developmental timetables.  There are consistent and significant brain based sex differences in how girls and boys learn geometry and how they understand literature.

Most boys prefer to read about strong male characters who take dramatic action to change their world.

Get every child excited about learning.  Once kids have discovered for themselves that reading can be fun and exciting, then you can worry about broadening their taste in literature.

Paradoxically, girls are more likely to be excessively critical in evaluating their own academic performance.  Conversely, boys tend to have unrealistically high estimates of their own academic abilities and accomplishments.

You need to encourage girls and build them up.  Boys on the other hand more often need a reality check.

Almost every child is a gifted child, I believe.  The trick is to discover where your child’s talents lie.


Hooking up, Choosing Virginity?, Oxytocin, Testosterone, and Rape, The male Paradigm, Clueless, Are Boys Human?,

How does impersonal sex harm boys?  I see plenty of harm.  By the time a heterosexual young man is in his early twenties, he will rely on his girlfriend or his wife to be his primary emotional caregiver.  Straight men who don’t have a wife or girlfriend are substantially more likely to become seriously depressed, commit suicide, or die from illness.

Even though many of us think of teenage romance as something that interests girls more than it interests boys, it is the boys, ultimately, who will have greater need for an intimate and durable romantic relationship in their lives.

We all want our children to grow up to enjoy a loving, mutually supportive and lasting relationship.  Many parents imagine, reasonably enough, that romantic relationships in adolescence provide good “practice” for more serious relationships in adult hood.  You can’t run before you walk.  Practice makes perfect.

Psychologists who study romantic relationships in adolescence are coming to a different conclusion.  Practice makes perfect ONLY if you are practicing the right task.

A boy may get in the habit of regarding his girlfriend as a source of sexual gratification without really connecting with her as a human being.  A girl may bet in the habit of seeing her romantic partner as a “trophy boyfriend” without any idea of how to integrate him into her life.  And both of them may get in the habit of dumping their current partner whenever a better-looking or more popular one becomes available.
Furman and Wehner have found, “ these individuals may become more skillful, but more skillful in developing the relationships they have come to expect.  By the time they reach adulthood and it is time to build a marriage that will last a life time , they  have accumulated all sorts of bad habits that they need to break.  They might be better off had they never had those teen relationships.

Researchers have found that teens typically engage in sex in one of two opportunistic settings.  The most common venue for teens to have sex is in their own home or their partner’s home, right after school, before parents come home.


Girls and boys turn to drugs for different reasons.  Girls use stimulant medications such as Dexedrine far more than boys do, for example, as a way to lose weight.  Girls use drugs like Xanax and Vicodin to relieve stress, to calm down, and because their friends are doing it.

Boys get involved with drugs for different reasons.  Most boys who abuse drugs are looking for a thrill.  They want the excitement of ding something dangerous.

Boys are more likely to buy illegal drugs from strangers while girls buy most of their drugs from people they know.

Risk factors;

One risk factor for drug use among girls, is namely, low self-esteem.  Girls with low self-esteem are at much high risk for using drugs and alcohol.  By the same token, depressed girls are more likely to start using drugs and alcohol.  With boys, there is no strong relationship either way between self-esteem or depression on the one hand and the risk of using drugs, and alcohol on the other. 

Academic stress can also perpetuate a girl’s use of drugs.

Interesting fact about dinner:  The more often teens have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

Parents who insist on eating supper together with their kids are more likely to be parents who know what their kids are doing.  Kids who parents are involved in their lives will be kids who are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, compared with kids whose parents don’t bother to make the effort.

If it is an ironclad rule that your kids have to be home for supper, then there is less opportunity for them to be somewhere else.


Norbert Elias has published an important essay on the fundamental ways in which our society changed between 1939 and 1989.

Perhaps the most significant change in our society in those fifty years, was the transfer of authority from parent to child. The result of this loss of parental authority is, status uncertainty, which can also be translated as status insecurity.  Parents no longer know what authority they have over their children.  Another consequence of this relocation of power from parent to child is an “in formalization” of relations between the generations.

The parent-child relationship is not a reciprocal relationship between peers, nor should it be.  You tell your child what she can watch on TV, for example.  She doesn’t have the authority to tell you what you can watch.

Parents seldom feel that they have the authority to tell their child what to do.  Instead, the best parents can do is suggest.

Some parents believe this transfer to be a positive thing.  I don’t agree.  The best evidence suggests that taking authority away from parents and giving it to the children results in:
            More fat kids.
            More teenage sex.
            More teenage criminals

Discipline is only one aspect of parent.  If you don’t have a well rounded relationship with your child. If the only time you interact with your child is to discipline her.. Then no discipline strategy will be effective.
The key to assert your authority not only to discipline your child, but also to introduce your child to new things to do, new hobbies, new adventures.  One of your responsibilities as a parent is to broaden your child’s horizons.

General rule for positive discipline; for girls twelve and under and boys fourteen and under; Don’t ask.  Tell.

Per research and testing:
Boys respond well to strict and authoritarian discipline, which included an occasional spanking.  The stricter the parents’ disciplinary style, the better the boy’s social cognitive skills.

Girls. The “warm and fuzzy” approach promoted social skills whereas strict discipline has a slight negative effect on girls’ social development.

Outline of discipline that works best for boys and girls, at different ages.  pp 186-195

So what happens to modern kids who misbehave…There is growing evidence that these kids are instead being put on calming behavior-modifying drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Metadate.

I call this process “ the medicalization of misbehavior”


You have to read this chapter as a whole to grasp the concepts and ideas he is expressing.  I could not do it justice with what I have highlighted.

More recent work using more accurate methods has failed to demonstrate any differences in the brain between gay men and straight men.  Specifically in the brain between gay men and straight men.  Specifically with regard to LeVays findings; the brains of gay men are indistinguishable from the brains of straight men, and the brains of both gay men and straight men differ in the same way from the brains of women.

McFadden’s team has repeatedly found that women have significantly better hearing than straight men, and straight men have somewhat better hearing than gay men.

And on the most salient “anatomic measure” …whose penis is bigger…? Gay men are hypermasculine.  That is right: gay men have bigger penises, on average, ,than straight men do.

Ears and Penises aren’t the only areas where gay men appear to be “more masculine” than straight men.  Sexual behavior itself is another area where researchers have used the term “hypermasculine” to describe gay men. 

Lesbian: Born or Made? Twenty years ago many experts believed that female homosexuality derived from experience, whereas male homosexuality was thought to be hardwired and innate.  Boys, it was thought, were born homosexual or heterosexual.  Girls’ sexual orientation was more malleable, they believed.

More recent research , however, suggests that female homosexuality is genetically programmed, at least in part.

Anomalous children:  boys whose behavior and interests are more typical of girls, and girls whose behavior and interests are more typical of boys.

Common descriptions of Anomalous Boys:
            More likely to have allergies, asthmas, or eczema than other boys
            More likely to have a regular resting heart rate” whereas most boys have heart rates with lots of beat to beat variability; the heart speeds up when they breathe in and slows down when they breath out
            More likely to have a narrow face, a facial width to height ratio less than .55
            Unwilling to engage I n rough and tumble play
            Are precocious, particularly with respect to language skills
            Are often loners with few close friends
            May enjoy sports, but typically prefer non contact sports such as tennis, tack, bowling and golf.

Many parents don’t recognize that their anomalous son is heading for a special kind of trouble…until middle school begins… When the tidal wave of puberty hits, the neatly arranged life that seemed so stable and peaceful in elementary school is washed away.  For many of these boys, their closest friends during the elementary school years were girls.  When puberty arrives, the girls leave.  Hanging out with the right kids becomes intensely important in middle school, and the anomalous male is not a cool guy to hang with so: the girls are gone.

Sexton found that these boys become intensely anxious about sex around this time.  Some begin using pornography.  Others become suicidally depressed.  The “geek” becomes a loner, withdrawn and resentful, finding solace in his books and his fantasies.         

Jerome Kagan has presented evidence that parents who intervene early – ideally, before the child is three years old…can pull their  anomalous son out of the tendency to withdrawal and feminization.  Kagan has suggested that parenting style is a critical
factor in determining whether a boy outgrows his fearful, withdrawn tendencies or whether he remains stuck in his fearful, withdrawn tendencies or  whether he remains stuck in that mode.  Protective parents who are “sensitive” to their child’s preferences have the worst outcomes.

So what can you do if your son is an anomalous male and he is five, six, seven, eight years old?  Number one:  adopt and maintain a firm disciplinary style (reread prior chapter regarding discipline) Number two: encourage competitive sports.  Next, you have to take an honest look in the mirror.  If your son is an anomalous male, there is a good chance that you have been overly protective, too careful to shield him from the scrapes and bumps of everyday life.

Problems come from overprotective parents and can best be remedied through association with a normal adult male. Try Boy Scouts, all boys summer camps with lots of camping and hiking and sports; avoid computer science camps, art camps, music camps and the like.

While the anomalous boys were noncompetitive, non-athletic and fearful, the anomalous girls were fearless, independent, and competitive.

Boys with many feminine characteristics tends to be less popular and at higher risk for social maladjustment, especially in middle school and high school.   By contrast, the anomalous girl appears more likely to be more popular and well adjusted than her peers.

The girl who is the captain of the lacrosse team is more likely to be a top student than the girl who plays no sports.  On the other hand, the boy who is at the top of the class academically is less likely to be a good athlete.

Girls who show some male typical characterizes such as willingness to confront others openly…generally do better than average socially.  On the other hand, boys who show female typical characteristics such as reluctance to engage in rough and tumble play are more likely to have more problems socially.

Anomalous girls have an advantage in school and in life.  Anomalous boys have an advantage in school but they pay a steep price for that advantage, and their social horizons are likely to be narrower than those of other boys.


We live in what is…or at first glance appears to be a gender blind society.

To sum up the transformation in North American (and Western European and Australian) society since roughly 1970:

Society has blurred any distinction between female and male in terms of social roles;
The educational establishment has erased any gender distinctions in the curriculum;
Children have assumed more authority for the important decisions in their lives.

What has been the end result of these changes? In the 1970’s theorists were correct in their assumption that girls and boys are cut from the same cloth, then we should expect to find that we now live in an era of unprecedented gender equality, an era in which girls and boys both are free to fulfill their individual potential without regard to gender stereotypes.
That is not what has happened.  On one hand, the range of opportunities available to young women today has expanded dramatically in comparison with previous generations.
But the new is not all good.  Psychologist Jean Twenge carefully examined the records of children from the 1950s to the present.  She found that children today are significantly more anxious and depressed than children were in the 1950s and 1960s.  In fact, the average child today is more anxious than the typical child referred to a psychiatrist in the 1950s.  To put it another way: the average child today would have been considered a “mental case” fifty years ago.

Twenge suggest to main causes for the increased anxiety of today’s children.  The first is the unraveling of the social fabric over the past fifty years.

Children today are less likely to have that kind of extended family in the neighborhood and far more likely to be raised by a single parent.

The second cause is an increased sense of instability and threat in the personal lives of children.  Children feel less sure that the parents they are living with today will be living with them tow or three years down the road.  And children today feel more vulnerable to physical violent…

I would like to suggest a third cause is that children today feel less rooted in their gender than children did in the 1950s.  The neglect of gender in the raising and educating of children has resulted in a loss of direction for the growing child and especially the adolescent.

They are less sure of what it means to be a girl or a boy, what it means to become a women or a man.

Gender-comfortable kids were more self-confident and less anxious than kids who were gender –atypical.

The foundation of every durable human community has always been the molding of the younger generation by the older; and this interaction is facilitated in single-sex contexts.

But we need to recognize that our society lost something in the process of dismantling opportunities for boys to learn from adult men in an all male setting.  We lost something when we eliminated many opportunities for girls to learn from women in all girls setting.

Socialization is the name psychologist give to the process whereby children learn the customs and mores of their society.

The neglect of gender in education and child rearing has done real harm. Restless boys are drugged with Ritalin and Concerta so that they will sit still and be quiet in classes taught by soft spoken women who bore them.  Shy teenage girls are medicated with Paxil with the approval of their anxious, misinformed parents.

Boys are hungry for an answer to the question: What does it mean to be a man?  But the formal structures of our society…schools in particular…no longer offer any answers to that question.  So the market steps into the vacuum.

You and I know that being a man means using your strength in the service of others. 

Girls in generations past worried about their character, today most girls’ first concern is with their appearance.

Here’s the paradox: coed schools tend to reinforce gender stereotypes, whereas single sex schools can break down gender stereotypes.

If a girl at a coed school things she is pretty, her self esteem is great.  Conversely, and more darkly; if a girl at a coed school answers no, then her self esteem is low.  It doesn’t matter is she is a straight a student, if her parents have great jobs, is she is an ace soccer players.  If a girl at a coed school things she is ugly, then her self esteem is in the toilet.

For girls at a single sex school, self esteem is a more complex product of school performance, social experience, family income, and other factors.

We all want our children to grow up to be courageous and self confident…attributes that are traditionally considered masculine.  But we also want them to be nurturing, thoughtful, and good listeners…attributes traditionally seen as feminine. 

The best way to raise your son to be a man who is caring and nurturing is to let him first of all be a boy.   Once your son is sure of whom he is, he will be more confident, more able to explore gender atypical ways of learning and listening.

The transition to adulthood…more than in any other realm that is where our society lets kids down.  We offer our children no guidance about what it means to be an adult woman or an adult man.


In the months since Why Gender Matters was originally published, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many teachers who are using the book as a jumping off point for their own investigations into how girls and boys learn.

Questions such as:  Do boys learn better sitting down or standing up?  The basic principle, as presented in Chapter 5, is that the right kind of stress enhances learning in boys but impairs learning in most girls.  Standing up is a mild form of stress.

Three months ago I observed a public elementary school classroom, in Waterloo, Iowa, where teacher Jeff Ferguson was leading a class of first grade boys.  Mr. Ferguson had made sitting optional in his all boy classroom.  One boy was sitting.  The boys next to him was standing.  The next boy was crouching under his desk, and behind him a boy was slowly twirling in circles.  But all those boys were paying close attention to Mr. Ferguson.  And all the boys were loving that class. 

I have seen other elementary school classrooms where teachers waste half the class time trying to get the boys to sit down and be quiet.  In a coed class, the boys have to sit because girls would be distracted by boys crouching or twirling on either side of them.

Teachers at an all boys elementary school in Chicago told me last month that the performance of their boys improved 500% after teachers removed the chairs from the classroom.

According to the NEA study, the gender gap is reading…favoring girls at the expense of boys has grown from a small gap to a yawing chasm.  What was formerly a moderate difference is fast becoming a decided marker of gender identity:  Girls read; boys don’t.

The K-12 literature curriculum may in fact be contributing to the problem. Data shows that “by the time they go on to high school, boys have lost their interest in reading…Bauerlein and Stotsky see boys as victims of a feminized curriculum that has neglected the natural interests and inclinations of boys in the misguided pursuit of political correctness and diversity.

The NEA survey highlighted one aspect of a much broader phenomenon: boys are disengaging from school.  More boys are dropping out of school, and a smaller proportion of boys are going on to college.  Young men who do attend college are less likely to earn a diploma, and those men who do earn a college diploma are now less likely than women are to go on to graduate school.

Do you see the common element underlying these two stories, the Larry Summers story about the under representation of girls in math and science and the NEA survey  showing that boys no longer like to read?  In both cases, the problem derives in part from a neglect of gender differences.  Thirty years ago, teachers did not hesitate to recommend books on the basis of a student’s gender.  Boys were encouraged to read Robert Louis Stevenson and Ernest Hemingway.  Girls were encouraged to read Jane Austen, Willa Cather, and Carson McCullers.  Today, such gender specific advice is often labeled reactionary and stereotyped, if not downright sexist.  But the neglect of gender differences does not break down gender stereotypes; ironically, neglecting hardwired gender differences more often results in a reinforcement of gender stereotypes.  The end result of thirty years of neglect of gender differences is a generation of boys who hate to read.