Giving Girls the Attention They Deserve

How are we shortchanging girls in school and why does it continue to happen?

Posted Jan 03, 2018

It’s nothing new, but it’s getting more and more attention nationwide. Girls are sometimes unwittingly treated differently than boys at school, even by female teachers. According to the Edadvocate: "Research shows many differences in the way boys and girls are treated in the classroom and shows that differences in treatment by teachers and other school personnel may be both conscious and subconscious. Teachers tend to pay more attention to boys than girls by having more interactions with them. They tolerate behavior in boys that they don’t tolerate in girls, and they tend to provide boys with more criticism and praise. Differences in the extra attention given to boys are due in part to the fact that boys simply tend to demand more attention, while girls tend to be quieter and more reticent. Boys tend to dominate classroom discussion, and they also access computers and technology more often than girls do.”

Source: pexels

I am not trying to throw teachers under the bus as I have a tremendous respect for what they do. But because boys’ brains develop more slowly, teachers are often more encouraging and attentive to them than to the bright girls who grasp concepts early on and stay relatively silent. That means bright girls stop trying so hard to be recognized, get bored, and can lose the spark they once had for learning challenging subjects. Once bodacious, spirited girls also quit sports in droves during their adolescent years.

As I have mentioned in my blog here, antsy girls (like my own now-grown daughter) are less commonplace than hyper boys. There are times I swore my daughter could teach an entire class about something, yet because she was often in trouble for being “off-task,” she was never asked to lead, even when her teachers thought her brilliant and told me as much to my face. I honestly wondered what they had to lose by trying. Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg saw the double standard used in schools early on. Her website begins with, “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’”  I understand her sentiments. For some reason labels slapped on girls are rarely used on boys. “Bossy”, “Catty” , “Bitchy” , “Whiny”. “They send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up,” she says.  “By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”

Perhaps it’s not the words others use to describe girls and women that count, but the way they are interpreted.  Honestly —  if someone had called my daughter “bossy,” (a term I never hear used for a boy) I would have smiled and said, “Thank you. She is one to take charge.” I liken her to the character played by Marisa Tomei in the movie My Cousin Vinny — a tough-talking chick who knows her stuff up one side and down the other. Don’t ever underestimate what is going on inside a bossy girl’s head as well as how much she might already know before you arrived on the scene.

The issue of how differently boys and girls grow up and see themselves may also translate differently when it comes to job qualifications. A Hewlett Packard internal report, quoted in Lean In, The Confidence Code and dozens of articles, points to how women tend not to apply for positions unless they meet 100% of the requirements listed in the job description. Men? As one Forbes article put it, “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.” I interpret this as men believing that they can minimize the qualifications they lack by using their best persuasion techniques during a job interview.

As demonstrated in rock star Pink’s memorable sentiments in her speech to her 6-year old daughter at the 2017 VMA Awards about self-image, mothers are the agents and mentors of female strength, compassion, and wisdom to girls -- a sacred duty to make the world a better place for them. Kick-ass. It’s a pair of words we love to use together to describe bravado and assertiveness.  I believe that unless we make a point of helping girls develop confidence and assertiveness on so many levels -- even the quietest of girls -- we do them a disservice as they grow to adulthood in this very competitive world. Doing the opposite reminds me of a quote by Margaret Atwood in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale: "We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it."

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