Monday, July 10, 2006

Girls are victims, boys are losers

I've been thinking that I should blog some of the more substantial comments I leave elsewhere. That way not every post on F&RS will be indigestibly long.

Lots of people have been buzzing about Tamar Lewin's series The New Gender Divide that started in Sunday's New York Times. In particular, I ran into discussion of it at TPM Cafe, in an article by Joan Chalmers Williams, which prompted me to make this comment:

I think both sides need to be careful on this subject. It's very easy to go out and find a few quotes to support your preconceived ideas, and correspondingly hard to get objective data.

Here's what I see through the lens of my particular biases: When girls systematically underperform or behave self-destructively, it's assumed that they are victims of a system skewed against them. When boys systematically underperform or behave self-destructively, it's because they lack virtue. Girls are victims; boys are losers.

Both genders, for example, feel pressure to make their bodies fit an unrealistic ideal image. Girls starve themselves and get implants hoping to be Barbie. Boys take steroids hoping to be Michael Jordan. The coverage of these parallel issues, from my view, looks completely different. I read many sympathetic articles about anorexics, and even about girls who submit to cosmetic surgery, but steroid-taking boys are cheaters.

What if we could look at the pressures on college students without the victim/loser filter? According to this article, "For men, it’s just not cool to study." That used to be true about women, especially in math and science. Then feminists considered it a cultural problem, a way that girls were held down. Perhaps we should look at the boys' situation the same way.


Elizabeth said...

I'm just wondering if you think that girls' eating and body issues are as widespread as boys steroid use and body issues? As far as I know, these are not proportional.

Doug Muder said...


It would be hard to compare, because there is a judgment call to make about how serious a case has to be before we count it. Probably every adolescent, independent of gender, experiences some anxiety about not measuring up to the unrealistic ideal.