By the age of four, girls in one study thought their own gender was "cleverer" and better behaved — now that boys are the disadvantaged ones, will people actually take sexism seriously?
The BBC reports that researchers from Britain's University of Kent gave children between four and 10 a variety of statements like, "this child is really clever" and "this child always finishes their work." The kids were supposed to point to a picture of a boy or a girl depending on who they thought better matched the statement. Girls of all ages "said girls were cleverer, performed better, were more focused and were better behaved or more respectful," while boys started out giving evenly divided answers, but as they got older came to agree with girls. Another study tested kids' math, reading, and writing skills — one group was told beforehand that boys usually did worse on the test, while the other was not. Unsurprisingly, boys in the first group did perform significantly worse.
The BBC points out that British boys do worse than girls on average on their standardized tests, and relays study author Bonny Hartley's speculation "that boys' low performance may be explained in part by low expectations." Hartley also "warns against the use of phrases such as 'silly boys' and 'school boy pranks' or teachers asking 'why can't you sit nicely like the girls?'" Let's see, where have we heard this before?
Feminists and girls' education advocates have long argued that girls are disadvantaged in subjects like math by low expectations and the stereotype that they're not as numerically savvy as boys. And these groups have long asked teachers to avoid making comments about girls' supposedly low ability, much like the ones above. But rather than being taken seriously and getting a catchy name like "war against boys," their concerns are often dismissed — girls, we're told, are just innately worse at certain subjects (Cordelia Fine's excellent Delusions of Gender, on which more later, addresses some of these stereotypes head-on). Maybe now the shoe is on the other foot, we'll see how silly this argument is.
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