Monday, March 8

Poor Boys

I’m watching a discussion on TV about Feminism (and its impact on the poor, little boys) while I write this. By now, quite some people bemoan the fact that the new schooling in Germany puts the boys at a huge disadvantage.

Fact is that many abilities wanted by employers today are feminine to a certain degree. The ability to work in a team (without the aggressive competition men often seem to display), the ability to understand another person’s feelings (men don’t admit they have feelings, at least in the past) and so on. Those are abilities that were readily marked feminine in the past, by men who never needed those abilities and thought them a weakness (or something). Now, I don’t think team play was amiss among the hunters in the Bronze Age (some of which, as scientists think today, have been women, too). Nor was it a bad thing for soldiers of any age to have. And team sports wouldn’t work without people working together in a team.

But back to the boys. A long time they had it easy – feminists say –, because they were treated better at school and the whole process of learning was optimized for their needs (it wasn’t, by the way, sitting still and listening is something girls have always been better at). Now girls seem to be on the fast lane, passing the boys by and leaving them behind with bad jobs (or no jobs at all).

But are they really? There are a lot more female students around these days, even in classical ‘male’ studies like engineering. They mostly have the safer jobs (meaning the jobs with less hazards around, usually office jobs). But they also do a lot of bad paid work. And in the heights of upper management women still are mostly to be found as secretaries, not as managers. Women still make less money for the same work, too.

People – mostly men, naturally – now claim that the poor boys who will, one day, have to care for a family, can’t get better job and are inferior to the girls in school. And not, because, maybe, girls simply are better students, but because the school system keeps the boys down. Because there are only women taking care of children in kindergarten and primary school.

But why are there only women caring for children in kindergarten and primary school? Because being a caregiver in kindergarten is considered ‘women’s work’ and most men who study to become a teacher want to work in the higher versions of German secondary school (there are three different types of secondary school in Germany). So it’s not ‘we’re keeping men away from these jobs’, it’s more like ‘there are no men around who want those jobs, so we give them to women instead’. Do not misunderstand me here, I think both jobs, caregiver and teacher at primary school are extremely important jobs. The society, however, sees it differently.

New studies actually claim there’s no disadvantage to a boy who spent his early years with female teachers at all. Just as there’s no disadvantage (or advantage) to a girl who spent her early years with a male teacher (but that’s more difficult to prove, because there are less of those around). The school system might favour girls nowadays, but the strange thing is: it hasn’t changed much during the last forty or fifty years. So why do girls suddenly do that much better?

There are programs for them, those in favour of the boys say. There are programs, alright, but they usually focus on making up for disadvantages or simply opening new routes for girls. For example, there’s the “Girl’s Day” every year which is supposed to allow girls to look into jobs beyond the usual ‘women’s jobs’ horizon. There have been experiments to separate the girls from the boys during various classes (science classes like chemistry, physics or biology), in order to give the girls ‘more room’ to outgrow the outdated idea of women being unable to do well in these classes.

But what about those programs or ideas could actually harm a boy’s education? All the jobs girls get to look into at the “Girl’s Day” have been open to boys for as long as they existed. And just because one half of the class is missing (the girls), the other half won’t do worse than before. Where’s the harm in it for the boys?

Is it, one might ask, the simple fact that girls are no longer kept back? For ages, one of the main principle of education was ‘girls don’t need higher education, because they will marry and have children and thus stay at home where they don’t need it’. Girls from ‘better society’, mostly the wealthy middle class, might study something for a while – either to find a husband or simply to pass time between school and marriage. Those girls usually went for courses in arts like literature, music or art history. They didn’t need to learn something they could earn money with.

Ever since the late sixties and early seventies, since women’s liberation and feminism started up ‘for real’, this has changed. Almost all girls learn a profession these days, many of them will later on, even as married women, should they chose to marry, continue to work, simply to make ends meet.

So what would the solution to these poor boys be? Take it all back? Make sure girls receive less education and are banned (as they once were) from most really good jobs? Wouldn’t it be wiser to make sure the boys understand they need to work as hard as the girls and accept that sometimes a girl might be better than them – without giving up, just because it’s ‘all so unfair’?

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