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The Truth About Girls and Boys

The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Truth About Girls and Boys
    Book Description:

    Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett are widely acclaimed for their analyses of women, men, and society. In The Truth About Girls and Boys, they tackle a new, troubling trend in the theorizing of gender: that the learning styles, brain development, motivation, cognitive and spatial abilities, and "natural" inclinations of girls and boys are so fundamentally different, they require unique styles of parenting and education.

    Ignoring the science that challenges these claims, those who promote such theories make millions while frightening parents and educators into enforcing old stereotypes and reviving unhealthy attitudes in the classroom. Rivers and Barnett unmake the pseudoscientific rationale for this argument, stressing the individuality of each child and the specialness of his or her talents and desires. They recognize that in our culture, girls and boys encounter different stimuli and experiences, yet encouraging children to venture outside their comfort zones helps them realize a multifaceted character. Educating parents, teachers, and general readers in the true nature of the gender game, Rivers and Barnett enable future generations to transform if not transcend the parameters of sexual difference.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52530-5
    Subjects: Psychology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
    (pp. 1-10)

    A new biological determinism is sweeping through American society. Old myths about gender differences are being packaged in shiny new bottles and sold to parents and teachers desperate to do the best they can for the children in their care. And the major media—including PBS, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Parents magazine, and many others—are uncritically embracing these new-old stereotypes.

    From the media, you’d think that there is a scientific consensus that boys and girls are profoundly different from birth, and that these differences have huge consequences for aptitude and performance in such areas as...

    (pp. 11-22)

    If your young daughter blurted out that she wanted to be a mathematician—or an architect, or an astronaut—would a rush of fear run up your spine? Would you worry that she would be setting herself up to fail? Would you believe that, in general, the female brain is just not meant for such pursuits? Would you encourage her, instead, to go into a field where she could work with people, use her caring skills and not have to compete with males, who are more suited by nature for such “non-nurturing” occupations?

    Indeed, you might well experience such emotions...

    (pp. 23-42)

    Do males “systematize”? Are males naturally attuned to systems and objects, while females are by nature attuned to people and caring? This notion has received widespread—and uncritical—attention in major publications around the world. It has become a “factoid”—one of those pieces of misinformation that gets repeated so many times that people come to accept it as fact even though they have no idea where it comes from. The idea was set out by psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University in his book The Essential Difference.¹ He claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain,” while the...

  6. 4 MATH WARS
    (pp. 43-74)

    Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, set off a firestorm in 2005 when he suggested that the “innate” aptitude of women was a factor behind their low numbers in the top jobs in the sciences and engineering. In other words, girls just don’t have the right stuff to compete successfully with high-achieving males.

    Both male and female academics complained loudly that Summers was shooting from the hip and drawing very simplistic (if not dead wrong) conclusions from complicated research. As biologist Marlene Zuk¹ of the University of California, Riverside told the Boston Globe, Summers had trotted out “the same...

  7. 5 WORD PLAY
    (pp. 75-90)

    A peculiar concern about boys and books has long been a hallmark of American society. Sometimes we worry that boys are reading too much; sometimes that they are not reading enough—and reading badly to boot.

    In the early 1900s, urgent polemics appeared in newspapers, books, and magazines, warning that young men were spending too much time in school with female teachers and that the constant interaction with women was robbing them of their manhood. They were becoming too “bookish.” In Congress, Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana railed against overeducation. He urged young men to “avoid books and in fact...

    (pp. 91-104)

    We’re often informed that boys “naturally” rush to play with guns and trucks, while girls just as naturally head for the dolls and tea sets. This, we’re told, is biology at work, some “hardwired” impulse that has nothing to do with children’s environment.

    Is this so? Are we dealing with a reality dictated by nature that we are foolish to try to change? Or is the attractiveness of these toys due to superficial features, especially their packaging, that send cultural signals about the toys’ maleness or femaleness?

    One fascinating study¹ shows the power of marketing. The study was conducted with...

    (pp. 105-126)

    Are boys naturally the more aggressive sex? No, this is not a trick question. It turns out that the answer depends on how you define aggression, on the person of whom you ask the question, and on the setting in which the question is asked.

    For a long time, we’ve simply assumed that males are aggressive while females are, in the words of the old poem, “sugar and spice and everything nice.” We have focused so intently on male aggression that we assume it’s omnipresent, and so we often ignore female aggression, assuming that it isn’t there.

    What’s the real...

  10. 8 CARING
    (pp. 127-142)

    We’ve come along way, baby! (Or maybe, we’ve come a long way, dude!)

    The familiar refrain is typically used to highlight progress that women have made toward shedding harmful stereotypes. As we will see, it is equally apt when applied to new understandings of the capacity of boys and grown men to nurture.

    The stereotype of the distant dad is a staple of American mythology. The novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit¹ portrayed the 1950s man, consumed by his need to climb the corporate ladder in an effort to establish his masculine identity. Caring and nurture were not...

    (pp. 143-162)

    There’s a new vision of the ideal classroom—one for girls, and one for boys.

    The girls’ classroom is filled with quiet, focused girls who are comfortable sitting at their desks for long periods of time. The teacher speaks to them in hushed tones, and classical music may be playing in the background. The girls learn about subjects such as chemistry by analyzing “girly” artifacts like cosmetics or perfume or cleaning fluids.

    In the boys’ classroom there’s a lot of noise and activity, as the boys move about, expend a lot of physical energy, and work on hands-on projects such...

    (pp. 163-182)

    U.S. public schools are failing their students.

    Seventeen of the nation’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Cleveland, according to a report released in 2008. The report,¹ issued by America’s Promise Alliance, found that about half of the public school students in the nation’s largest cities receive diplomas. Students in suburban public high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, the researchers said.

    Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma,...

    (pp. 183-196)

    On their journey to adulthood, boys and girls often run into different obstacles. But female children increasingly encounter a worrying and growing phenomenon. A culture that is hypersaturated by media has created a problem of crisis proportions, affecting girls at younger and younger ages, in more and more sectors of society.

    The sexualization of girls was examined by a task force of the American Psychological Association in 2007.¹ The exhaustive report that resulted covered television, music videos, music lyrics, movies, magazines, sports media, video games, the Internet, and advertising. According to the report, Nielsen media research found that children watch...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 197-222)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 223-230)