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A Room of One's Own

The GCSE results are out today. And once again, the voices of alarm can be heard bellowing across the swamps of government and media. There's the usual number fretting over standards, but by far the most are concerned with the attainment gap between boys and girls. 'Worrying'; 'something must be done'. If you are 16 and female and have done well today, the message you're getting from society is far from the congratulations you deserve. Instead, you're hearing that there's something wrong, something dangerous, something somehow improper about your achievement.

Young women have heard this every year since equal opportunities in education became law in the UK. If you took your formal exams later than 1972 and you're female, you set your first foot on the educational attainment ladder onto a rung marked 'not for you'. Your mothers and grandmothers, older sisters and cousins fought and suffered to win these rights, but they are not honoured, any more than you. Our so-called equal society continues to panic and preach if men do not always come first. Centuries of male domination -- of preferential treatment and access for males -- were not questioned, but give young women even an approximation of a level playing field, and the war horns ring. The voices on the radio and in newspapers, on tv and in government -- mainly male -- urge new initiative, changes in class-room practices, stronger measures, all aimed at making sure boys do better. No-one thanks the teachers who are helping girls progress, no-one celebrates the young women who are succeeding.

I think they're brilliant, all these young women with their new qualifications. I think they deserve far better from us than this male-centric panic. They deserve everything they have achieved and they deserve us to celebrate them. Well done to every one of them, and may they climb higher and shine in all their future endeavours.


( 52 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 25th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)

Every word of this.
Aug. 25th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
You're absolutely right. I hear this same kind of thing over here, that our education system is failing our boys, because those icky girls are doing so much better than they are. Maybe the girls just work harder and are smarter.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
Yep. Every single year we get the same thing -- OMG! Boys Aren't Top! World Ending! Alert! Panic! And no-one ever stops to praise the girls or think about what this reaction shows.
(no subject) - ms_cataclysm - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 25th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Even within the constant dismissing of exam achievements of both young women and young men, this stands out. You're absolutely right: it's appallingly wrong.
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
I was thinking about Looby Loo, in fact: she will come up against this in a few years, and I don't want for her to feel overlooked or cheated or that she's somehow transgressed by succeeding.
(no subject) - muninnhuginn - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 25th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
I too applaud you and the results for those girls!

I remember the days when I was told I was "lucky" to win a prestigious scholarship, because by the rules of that foundation, only 25% could go to girls. And then, of course, people pointed to the "75% of these are won by boys" as evidence that boys were smarter than girls.

Aug. 25th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)
The hypocrisy is breathtaking, isn't it?
(no subject) - dorispossum - Aug. 25th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ms_cataclysm - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 25th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
Yep! And yet I don't remember ever being in a class where women were given preferential treatment or more attention. Just equal treatment, sometimes. Mostly at university.

Having said that, I do find that it's really hard sometimes to figure out what is going on amongst the students... some of my classes are packed with men who speak up, some with very vocal women. But it's only in the upper-level classes where there seems to be a sort of parity in discussion.
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
In case I was one of the people that sparked this:
I think it is _fantastic_ that the young women did so well. I think they should be justly proud of having done so.

I would merely like to know if there is anything that can be done to help the young men do as well.
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
It wasn't you at all: this can be laid squarely at the door of the various commentators on Radio 4 this afternoon.
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
I went to a women's college because I needed to get away from the preferential treatment given to males--I was very insecure, very naive, had sincerely disliked the public high school I attended, and needed a sanctuary. It was an excellent decision. We had males in the classes--plenty of cross-fertilization from other colleges in the area--but it was OUR space. If they tried to yell us down or mansplain or otherwise push into the space, they got pushed back.

This was in the Seventies. Things have changed, but it's an uphill fight. Now women really are making a mark, and the pushback is ferocious. "But it's not ALLLLLLLL about US any more!" the men are wailing.

When I was at Newnham, there was much Sturm und Drang about the men's colleges going coed. The biggest worry, besides having enough white wine in the cellars, was that women would pull up the averages, and not only would the boys on the bottom be pushed out, those in the middle and on the top would have to work harder to stay there. It just wasn't fair, they said, that boys should have to work for their places.
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)
I went to New Hall for much the same reasons (1980-83).
And we still hear those complaints. Because boys, apparently, should get it all on a plate.
(no subject) - dancinghorse - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - watervole - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rmc28 - Aug. 26th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 25th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
Very well said.
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear.

This is my fourth attempt to write a sensible comment. In the end, my inability to make one clear point about the stupidity and lack of self-awareness of journalists has to stand by itself. Snarl!
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
As an English teacher, the continual pressure to shape lessons/choose literary texts to be 'boy friendly' is deeply irritating. Esp when 'boy friendly' is assumed to mean not very complicated action/adventure by male writers. And that it's not a problem to bore female students rigid with the text choices, because 'they work hard anyway' - as if their PLEASURE in the subject doesn't matter. The unwritten assumption being that boys are tender flowers who must be seduced into study, whilst girls are just worthy workhorses.

I can't describe my feelings when I hear this drivel. Intellectually bankrupt, patronising, sexist drivel, showing zero understanding of real students. Girls aren't all hard-working and easy to motivate. Many are intellectually sharp but very lazy. Boys aren't all lazy macho types who can't appreciate nuance and emotion. Many boys work hard. Many boys achieve good grades through hard work, despite limited ability.. Many boys(at least the ones I know) enjoy Jane Austen.

Anybody, of either sex, has a choice whether or not to commit to their studies. Or not. It's called free will. And the annual 'what about the boys?' anxiety-fest patronises boys as well as dishonouring the girls.
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
Yes. And yes.
(no subject) - ms_cataclysm - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Aug. 25th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - Aug. 25th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC)
Fair's fair. There used to be a lot of concern about boys doing better than girls. If it was fair to focus on ways of helping girls back then (which happened) then the converse should also apply.
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
But there wasn't that focus, not on anything like this scale. Foe centuries, it was considered proper to deny girls any education at all. Grammar schools and colleges had quotas -- some still do. The two things aren't comparable historically at all.
(no subject) - aberwyn - Aug. 25th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Aug. 26th, 2011 10:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorispossum - Aug. 26th, 2011 12:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying what I have started four entries in an attempt to say, and failed miserably.
Aug. 25th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
Word. Thank you for posting this.
Aug. 26th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
When boys were doing better than girls (because girls were't admitted, weren't supported, and often didn't have the resources to succeed) it was accepted as the natural order - boys just are _more intelligent_, because men are provably more intelligent than women. Girls doing well - particular at subjects and on levels where they can't to the typical (and typically-encouraged) girl thing of hard grind and repeating what the teacher said, but need to think for themselves and come up with their own solutions - aren't just undermining boys, but threatening the justifications for the glass ceiling - because women demonstrably are as more more bright and hardworking as men, they just get squashed. Pointing that out to the patriarchy is... not well-received. (I'm also wondering whether leadership styles aren't becoming more macho in response - just to make sure women can't do it as well; the guy who employed my grandmother and who gave his staff a raise because times were tough would be laughed out of todays' boardrooms, yet he was immensely successful in his time.)

And while I am of course concerned about every underarchiever, making it all about the boys is, as you point out, a really nasty attack on girls. No matter how hard they work, no matter how successful they are, they can't get recognition for their achievements - no, they're taking away the boys' classroom time and examn results. And in a way, that's trying very hard to stuff them back into the feminine drawer: girls have to share, and if a man is unhappy, it's the woman's fault for not making him happy.
Aug. 26th, 2011 10:08 am (UTC)
Precisely. It's all about the menz.
(no subject) - aberwyn - Aug. 26th, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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