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Across the Gonad Divide

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

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

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.”

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 brains of girls and boys are more alike than 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.

Frankly, 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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Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, MA and blogs at Transition Times.

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