Reviews > Culture

Feminist misogyny

Culture | A phony study of gender bias in the classroom and a new movie show how feminists are the real sexists

Issue: "Parable of the perjurer," Jan. 9, 1999

"How Schools Shortchange Girls" was the title of the study published by the American Association of University Women in 1992. It accused teachers of not calling on little girls as often as little boys. This gender discrimination in the elementary school classroom, it argued, injures girls' self-esteem, prevents them from succeeding in courses such as math and science that are prerequisites for success, and lays the groundwork for society's overall oppression of women. The idea that little girls were being oppressed in school was pushed throughout the major media. The study spawned new teacher education courses, anti-discrimination programs, and mandatory sensitivity training seminars for teachers. Since 70 percent of the offending grade school teachers are women, a great deal was said about how women are made to be complicit in their own oppression. The problem is, we now know that none of it was true. Two new studies demonstrate what most people remember from their own experience-that far from being "shortchanged," girls actually performed in school better than boys did. The flawed AAUW study-and the way it continues to be conventional wisdom despite its thorough refutation-demonstrates how it is often the feminists who put down women. Feminist orthodoxy insists on portraying women as weak, passive, and helpless-the sure sign of sexist chauvinism. In her study of the research, Judith Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska found that boys do not, in fact, get more attention from their teachers than girls do. Nor do girls have lower self-esteem. Contrary to the AAUW assertion that girls are discouraged from taking high-level math and science courses, a study of high-school transcripts sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education shows that there are actually more girls than boys in algebra, geometry, biology, and chemistry classes. The rates for calculus, trigonometry, and other science courses are virtually the same (except for physics, taken by 27 percent of the boys and 22 percent of the girls). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Diane Ravitch, education professor at New York University, notes that girls earn better grades than boys do. They score higher in reading and writing. They take more advanced placement and college prep courses. Today, there are more females than males on college campuses-55 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 55 percent of all master's degrees are going to women. "Indeed," observes Ms. Ravitch, "many university campuses have begun to worry about gender imbalance, since men are a decided minority on virtually every campus." For those who see every problem and imbalance as a sign of oppression, the evidence would seem to indicate that, if anything, boys are the ones who suffer gender discrimination. Besides being underrepresented in college prep courses, boys are 50 percent more likely to be held back a grade. More than two-thirds of the children in special programs for those with emotional, physical, or social problems are boys. As for self-esteem, young men aged 15 to 24 are five times more likely than young women to commit suicide. Ironically, the idea that girls do so well in school does not fit well with the feminist agenda, which requires that women be seen as the hapless and helpless victims of the vast male conspiracy. Strong women-particularly those who show their strength in traditional social roles-get in the way of the theory. Anyone interested in strong women would do well to study the 16th century. In Britain, Bloody Queen Mary burned Protestants; and in Scotland, French harridan Marie de Guise was a fierce regent for her infant daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who herself later plotted rebellion. And trumping them all was Queen Elizabeth I, the lady who whipped the Spanish Armada, built her country into a world power, and turned England into a Protestant nation. One would think that modern feminists would have a field day with such an abundance of sheroes, any one of whom would make Xena Warrior Princess look like a Barbie doll. But the current movie on the subject, Elizabeth, feels constrained to portray the woman who was arguably England's greatest and most powerful monarch as a victim of men. In the movie, Elizabeth (played by Cate Blanchett) is a girl who just wants to have fun. Her machiavellian male advisers make her do things she doesn't want to do. What she does want to do is go to dances and have sex with her boyfriend. Never mind the real Queen's habit of sending men who crossed her to the chopping block. And never mind her much-boasted virginity. The movie's finale has her admiring a gray statue of the Virgin Mary in a church (never mind that such images had been removed in the real Elizabeth's church). Reflecting on how the masses paid such devotion to this Virgin, Elizabeth in the next scene paints her face with lead-gray makeup and appears at court looking like a statue and proclaiming herself "the Virgin Queen." (Never mind that Elizabeth's notorious over-use of makeup was considered the height of glamorous fashion.) If a woman seemed to wield power in that sexist age, there must have been men pulling the strings. They must have forced her to give up her femininity so that she could play the male power games. Strong women are just not possible. Although the movie (rated R for sex and violence) is an absorbing costume drama and perhaps deserves some of its Oscar nominations, it remains anachronistic and-with all of its attempts to push the feminist buttons-strangely demeaning to women. Historically, powerful women in politics-from Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria through Margaret Thatcher-tend to be socially conservative, promoting the particular vocations of wives and mothers. So are many of the bright schoolgirls, who later discover that raising a family demands far more brains and creativity than they would need in the corporate world.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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