“Boy or Girl – What Difference Does It Make?”

Gender Bias and Its Impact on Children
By Margaret Combs
Boston Parents’ Paper – August 1998

There was a time when adults believed they knew how to raise children fairly and equally: Pull out trains for girls, doll buggies for boys, swap pink for primary colors, and combine all in the same classroom.

They were wrong. At home, much to many parents’ dismay, the sons drag-raced the buggies and the daughters invited their trains to tea.

In the classroom, gender inequities were even more profound. A series of reports examining girls’ academic performance and released within the past six years painted a dismal picture. How Schools Shortchange Girls, by the American Association of University Women; Failing at Fairness, by education researchers Myra and David Sadker of American University; and Reviving Ophelia, by clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, document how girls are ignored by teachers, and conditioned to defer to boys, avoid math and science, and value neatness and appearance over innovation and intelligence.

The result, according to these reports, is a dramatic drop in self-esteem by the time girls enter middle school, underscored by a “loss of voice” – a condition coined by world-renowned gender researcher Carol Gilligan – which, for many females, remains a permanent inhibiting factor on future careers and relaionships.

Research into gender bias and girls has raised awareness, but many observers say inequities persist and the right solutions haven’t yet been found.

Furthermore, what has been missing from this equation, until recently, is how gender bias affects boys. Now, an increasing number of developmental psychologists – including many who were pivotal in researching girls’ needs over the past 15 years – are focusing on boys. What they’re seeing is equally discouraging.

“The majority of children who are suspended from school, who are expelled. and who are not reaching appropriate reading and writing levels, are boys,” says psychologist William Pollack, director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont, who has specialized in counseling men for 15 years.

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