Recently, The Economist came out with an article bringing attention to the fact that girls are performing better than boys in school and university at an increasing rate. It cites that women’s enrollment at university has increased almost twice as fast as men’s in the past few decades, and that in the OECD countries, women now make up to 56 percent of students enrolled. Despite this, men still dominate at high levels of businesses and professions.
The article discusses many potential causes of boys’ lower academic success, including boys’ lower basic proficiency levels in math, reading and science, less time dedicated to homework outside the classroom and reading for pleasure, the version of masculinity that devalues academic achievement and the fact that women make up eight out of 10 primary school teachers and therefore could potentially be favoring their own sex.
While all of these are valid points, the article fails to examine why girls seem to be more ambitious than their male peers. For example, why are young girls spending more time on homework than boys? The negative effects of gender discrimination on women are widely discussed, but too often we fail to mention how this also negatively affects men, and the statistics showing their declining academic performance is the result.
Because of gender discrimination, women have to do just as well as their male counterparts — and then some — to succeed. They have to be exceptional. So while we are placing immense pressure on girls to prove their capabilities, we are at the same time telling boys they don’t have to try as hard to succeed. While this may be true (unfortunately) at the professional level, where less than three percent of Fortune 500 companies have female leaders, at primary schools it’s a different story. In primary school, reading proficiency is key to future academic (and professional) success, and because of this, sending the message to boys that they don’t have to try hard to achieve their goals has dangerous consequences.
The reality is that women still have to try hard to achieve any amount of success. Women are socialized at a very young age to prove themselves if they want to be the president, constantly being told that they have to be extraordinary because it’s never been done before. While ambitious, intelligent women may be a positive benefit that results from gender discrimination, it comes nowhere near outweighing the costs. What’s the good of having so many well-qualified women if workplace discrimination and inadequate maternity policies create glass ceilings that they can’t break through? And who would want to be in a society that has a scarcity of well-educated men, and a surplus of high school and college dropouts?
Everywhere we look, sexism rears its ugly head, and if we observe the male to female ratio of university graduates without considering the role gender discrimination has played in creating that outcome, then we are missing a large piece of the puzzle.