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July 08, 2006

Gender Gap

Yesterday, this article was the most-emailed article on the New York Times. Its author, Amy Sutherland, spent two years at Moorpark College, which has the nation's top program in exotic animal training and management, so that she could write the book Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched, and in yesterday's article writes about using her animal training techniques to discipline her husband.

I'm guessing that a lot more women were emailing it to their friends with messages saying something like "hey, try this out" than men were emailing it to their friends to complain about the article's blatant misandry. The article was, in fact, hilarious, and I was tempted to pass it along to my married friends. But if I were a man, I would have been deeply offended by it. And if the genders in the article were reversed, if a male animal trainer were writing about using his techniques to discipline his wife, feminist watchdog groups would be all over it. But our society is far too complacent about misandry because so often it disguises itself as feminism. Misandry isn't the opposite of misogyny, however, but rather its counterpart. Referring to one's husband as an alpha male is just as sexist (though decidedly more flattering) than referring to one's wife as a bitch. Both terms clearly connote the animal kingdom. By treating her husband like an animal, Sutherland denies his humanity, or at least suggests that he is less human than she is. Ultimately, however, this article is funny because humans (both husbands and wives) are animals. Not only do her training methods work, but her husband turns them back on herself, and Sutherland has the sense of humor not only to recognize it, but also to appreciate it.

While the New York Times engaged in satire about the gender wars, Ellen Goodman at the Boston Globe confronted it head-on with new data that challenges the so-called crisis of boys falling behind girls in school. Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (which is archived here at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research), Goodman reveals that boys are not falling behind. In fact, they are doing better in school than they ever have before. What is seen as a problem is that they are not doing as much better as girls are doing. First of all, this data should clearly demonstrate the idiocy of David Brooks's recent screed against an educational system that turns boys off to learning. The way he describes the classrom sounds totally foreign to me, and I can bet that I have been in a classroom much more recently than he has. But if things have changed since then, and if the NAEP demonstrates that boys are doing better than they ever have before, then obviously the changes are benefitting them. As Goodman points out, the real issue isn't whether boys are doing better than girls (which they still are on science and math, and they still make up a higher percentage of advanced degree recipients and students at our nation's top universities), or whether girls are doing better than boys (which they are in reading and writing, and they are graduating from college in large numbers). The real issue is what factors are still holding people back, and Goodman identifies these factors as race and class: the greatest gender disparities occur among working-class and non-white students. But there is still an element of sexism here that just doesn't get mentioned, which is the fact that boys don't need college as much as girls do: there are more high-paying male jobs that don't require college degrees than there are high-paying female jobs. For example, David's brother, who went to college but didn't finish, earns more than I probably ever will, even if I get a Ph.D. So why don't I just do what he does? Aside from the fact that irrigation and snow removal don't interest me, I simply can't -- his company doesn't employ women.

The other day, my friend and fellow grad student Ken responded to the cliche that history is written by the winners by insisting that it isn't true anymore: now we have women's history! I found this comment hilarious because I recognized its truth. Yes, we have women's history, but women haven't "won" anything except recognition of our historical agency, and the very existence of women's history as a distinct field serves to perpetuate women's marginalization in the historical narrative and the ghettoization of women in the historical profession. David, on the other hand, didn't find it funny, but rather eerily prescient, predicting that, not long from now, we may find that history is indeed still written by the winners, but that the winners will be women. But feminism isn't about women getting ahead of men; rather it is about eliminating the very idea of ahead.

Posted by eklanche at July 8, 2006 11:20 AM

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