Across the Gonad Divide

I’m getting tired of seeing the gender card being played as a veiled excuse for ideological dominance.

David Brooks

Conservative critic David Brooks predictably pines for the good ol’ days when boys were boys and men were men, and schools catered exclusively to the values and needs of these scions of masculinity.

The problem, as Brooks sees it, is that our schools have become feminized and namby-pamby, with anyone who isn’t able to play by the rules liable to be rushed to the school nurse’s office for ADD drugs.

In a recent column, he calls for “more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.”

Feminist pundit Caryl Rivers retorts that schools are appropriately training kids—both male and female—to “succeed in the new workplace in which communication, focus, determination and teamwork are key ingredients.”

Brooks wants to see teachers celebrate and honor “competition” and  “military virtues” in a “boot camp” type of school environment.

I would hope that “communication, focus, determination and teamwork are key ingredients” of military training as well as ordinary schooling.

So what’s the real difference here?

There have always been men who communicated well, who enjoyed sitting in classrooms and paying attention to the teacher without the need for psychotropic medications, just as there have always been women who enjoyed competitive sports and the top-down hierarchical approach of the military.

The problem comes when we view gender difference as a black-and-white either/or issue, rather than more properly as a spectrum of behaviors and characteristics.

Rivers is right that the past decade of funded research on brain physiology and neuroscience has largely come up with nothing: “The alleged great differences between the brains of boys and girls are a myth.”

That’s because boys and girls are not Martians and Venusians—they’re humans, and the human brain of girls and boys is more alike than it is dissimilar.

We should not impose our out-dated gender stereotypes on either boys or girls.  Instead, we should learn to see our children as humans first, and then—somewhat incidentally–as gendered.

We don’t have time to be tilting at the windmills of gender stereotypes right now.

We need all hands on deck—boys and girls, teachers and school administrators, and media pundits too—to focus on the most important challenge of our time: transitioning to a sustainable society.

If gender is a spectrum from female to male, on which we each locate ourselves somewhere, we will need the entire spectrum’s wisdom and strengths to carry us into the next great era of human existence on the planet, the Anthropocene.

The question to be asking ourselves as we move forward is: what do we want the Anthropocene to be known for?

Bloodthirsty violence and competition, military-style?  Or mutual aid and cooperation, diplomacy-style?

I know what I prefer.  And I don’t think the fact that I have ovaries instead of testicles has a damned thing to do with it.

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  1. Reblogged this on retrotextual.

  2. leavergirl

     /  July 16, 2012

    Not surprising the bullies want back into the curriculum. Touchy feely stuff and cooperation freaks them out. 🙂

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  July 17, 2012

      I just watched this today too, Angie! Love it! Simple but not dumbed down, and so true! I hope the message goes far and wide and leads to the kind of action she’s calling for–

  3. This is long but worth it. Find time dear Jennifer and Vera and everyone who’s keen for change. (I watched it while soaking in a bath. Perfect.)

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  July 17, 2012

      Yes, she’s wonderful! I wish she would talk just a little more slowly…but love her and am cheering her on….Thanks for sharing, Angie! That tub sounds good, I must say….

  4. Jennifer, in the spirit of your inclusive and sustainable approach, I’d suggest that Brooks does have something to say. On the data side, more than on the moral-conclusion side. Boys are clearly lagging and suffering in ways that would trouble us if we swapped out the gender and saw it happening to girls. They’re ALL our kids.

    I suspect that some of the roots of that suffering and the suffering boys inflict (Aurora and Gabby Giffords and Columbine and Holland I hardly need to point out were male perpetrators) is gender-based. It’s a mix of nature and nurture (isn’t everything). I don’t think competitive military classrooms is the knee-jerk solution. But I’m glad that Brooks is asking us: What IS going on? As a 54-year old “boy” I think there’ s a both/and out there: We both need to help men to feel and express the so-called “soft” emotions (sadness, fear, etc.), yet I believe we also need to value structure, and competitiveness, and determination and other “male” virtues that are not obsolete and speak to hearts of (many) men.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  July 26, 2012

      I agree with you, Dan, that the so-called “manly virtues” also need to be re-evaluated–what we need is for both genders to become androgynized (my own coinage) rather than the rigidly separated gender roles that hold all of us back. But I’m glad Brooks is using his big bully pulpit to raise these questions, too–


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