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Girls And Boys

( Originally Published 1916 )



IT is not so many years since the champions of " woman's rights " (there were no "Feminists " in those days) felt it incumbent upon them to prove that woman is man's equal in every respect. To do this they made the mistake of many champions of " democracy "; they confused equality with identity. Great emphasis was laid on the stray examples of women who had achieved noteworthy results in mathematics or music; and someone went so far as to point the finger of derision at weakly males who achieved nothing. Obviously this method does not bring us very far toward an understanding of what it were best to do in education and legislation. Through this method, how-ever, men as well as women gradually awakened to the realization that there are great individual differences, so that it is impossible to make universal and exclusive statements about human beings, or about either sex.

Fortunately we have reached the point at which we are able to face facts frankly and to put them to good use. It has always been difficult to make sure just what are the original characteristics of human nature; that is, we cannot tell whether a given trait is the result of tradition and environment, or the spontaneous manifestation of something innate. It is easy to assume that boys are more aggressive than girls ; but it is also easy to argue that girls affect a certain demureness because tradition has made it reputable. For ages we have been expecting—and demanding—one kind of conduct from boys and a different kind of conduct from girls. It has become customary to tolerate boisterousness in boys and (let us say) indirection in girls. Whether boys are " by nature " more boisterous, or whether girls are " by nature " more diplomatic, we have not taken the pains to find out. Modern studies by scientists and educators show us that there are decided differences between the sexes. Whatever they are, we want to know them and not let ourselves be guided in our treatment of boys and girls merely by our traditional prejudices or by our theories of " equality." Now the differences are not easily formulated. Whenever a generalization is made, exceptions will at once occur to us. Thus, when someone says that men are taller than women, we will at once think of the many women of our acquaintance who are taller than the " average " man, or the many men who are shorter than the " average " woman. But the generalization simply means that most of the men are taller than most of the women, and not that every man is taller than any woman. It is in this general way that we are to understand the findings of the investigators.

If you watch the girls and boys at home, you will probably find that girls think in terms of persons more than boys do. Henry may decide to take Latin when he goes to High School because his friend Robert does, but Dorothy is much more likely to make her choice for such a reason. Whatever influenced Henry's choice and however much he may love his teacher, it will be almost impossible for him to study his lesson when the ball game calls. But Dorothy will wear herself out over her Latin—which she hates—and will sacrifice a much desired walk—because she has fallen in love with her teacher.

The same general difference is shown by the observation that when the children get into the " gang " stage, the boy will have a great deal of loyalty toward the group, although he may care little for more than one or two particular individuals in the group. The girl, on the other hand, sticks to individuals.

Another difference that shows itself when one has experience with large numbers of girls and boys is the tendency of girls to be more submissive to authority. They accept the word of the teacher without question in much larger proportions. This does not mean that girls are necessarily more . " law-abiding " than boys, although they may be. But, as someone has said, " girls may be more contrary, but boys are more rebellious."

There are very many more differences and girls and boys are superior to each other in many respects. But the differences are all subtle and so difficult to apply to individual cases that nothing can be gained by enumerating them, even if we knew them all. Yet if we recognize that there are differences we should adapt our treatment of bays and girls accordingly. We can see that in a household full of girls who have no brother, there is something lacking in the children's development. The same thing is true of a lot of boys who have no sisters. Now we cannot distribute brothers and sisters at will to meet the needs of every family, but to a certain extent we can assure to all children the advantages of association with the opposite sex.

One mother blessed with seven sons who had grown up with a very satisfactory understanding of girls and women, was asked how she had managed to bring about this result. She explained that she had made it a point to bring to the house every girl in whom any of her sons has shown the slightest interest. She had done this from their earliest childhood, so that in a certain sense her sons had had " sisters." If a corresponding plan were adopted by a mother of seven daughters, she might be suspected of matrimonial intentions, but she could avoid the suspicion if she began while the children were still very young; and she might avoid much of the inconvenience by placing the children in a co-educational school.

Whether bays and girls should be educated together is a question that has agitated parents and educators for many years, and no person who has real doubts on the subject can be convinced by an offhand answer. There are certain aspects of the problem that deserve more attention than they have commonly received.

Quite apart from any of the specific objects we have in mind in sending our children to school, we must re-member that we expect the children eventually to be-come men and women, and as such, we shall expect them to know how to conduct themselves in mixed company of all degrees of complexity. Now the only way that children can learn how to conduct themselves in the presence of the opposite sex is by being brought up in the presence of the opposite sex. Those who have traveled widely with open eyes can tell you how apparent are the awkwardness and the self-consciousness of children brought up almost exclusively with members of their own sex. We may expect the home to do some-thing to offset the bad effects of exclusive schools, but sisters and brothers do not quite satisfy the needs of the situation—there are not enough of them, usually, and they are likely to be more familiar than are girls and boys found in school and on the playground.

We may differ as to whether girls and boys should be taught altogether the same subjects in school, and as to whether they should be taught in altogether the same way. But there can hardly be any question that much of the daily activity of the growing child should be the same for both sexes, and that they should share a great deal of each other's company.

In every large city, any day, you may go into a classroom and find fifty or more growing, squirming, restless boys in charge of a tired woman on the verge of nervous prostration. This combination is not fair to the boys and it is not fair to the teacher. The boys certainly need the benefits of feminine associations, but do not get it from confinement with a woman teacher who has no sympathy for or understanding of their instincts and desires and needs. Girls are just as much in need of an opportunity to become acquainted with the masculine elements of our civilization. The boy needs to learn more about feminine nature than he can learn from his teacher and mother, and the girl needs to know more about masculine nature than she can learn from her father and the dancing master. It would thus seem desirable, as it is quite feasible, to have girls and boys in the same school, doing much of their work in the same classes, but separating, when necessary, for some of the exercises, and gradually differentiating their work as the interests and needs of the sexes diverge.

We have seen boys subjected to the " feminization " of ladylike teachers and mothers, burst out in good season with all the manly virtues—and at least some of the vices. We have also seen girls given the companionship and freedom of their brothers and grow into " very women." If nothing else, this will show us that there is something distinctly masculine or feminine in the child quite independent of its environment. We must give girls and boys the fullest opportunity to develop the very best that is in them as girls and boys, and this they can do in an environment that is broad enough to include all the activities and interests of girls as well as of boys.



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