Friday, 17 December 2010
Boys and illiteracy
So the headlines say, at primary level. It is a subject I come back to since the headlines on boys generally is always bad. When exams come round the papers carry photos of girls hugging each other with hardly a boy in sight. Imagine the fuss it if were to be boys most of the time with not a girl in sight.
The article on the BBC site doesn't mention girls in particular, but then a boys bad news story is always worth having. As an article in The Times colour supplement pointed out a week or so ago, even men joke all the time about how rubbish they are. In TV advertisements the woman is always clever, the man always stupid. Women are simply better at everything is the story. So it continues in film and TV - except in stories that are clearly presented as fantasy.
I don't imagine the story is exactly what operates in real life or down at intimate face-to-face level but long saturation in the world of stereotype does gnaw levels away, one after the other. The feeling is internalised until it becomes reality. It has been no different for about forty years now. It is not uniformly and always the only story but it's the big continuous tidal story.
And the basis for it? I don't know. Maybe it is true that my gender has simply become stupider with each generation but it would be hard to prove that. Demoralisation might be one factor. The sense of being without a role might be another. Boyish virtues don't exist except in terms of irony. Soldiers on the front are 'our brave boys'. Once home they are just a problem. Sporting heroes are only heroes while on the field. The rest of the time they are yobs with dosh.
Suicide in young males almost doubled between 1977 and 1996. The proportion of male suicide to female suicide at that stage was over 7:1. Women self-harm, men kill themselves.
Not so long ago there was a great wave of suspicion of men as fathers (violent sexual abusers, monsters of recovered memory syndrome, heartless absconders, wife beaters, irresponsible feckless deadweights), as secondary teachers (dry-as-dust sadists, bores, abusers) and, as for primary teaching (potential five-star abusers, perverts, keep them away at all costs, and, should they ever become heads, regard them as unfairly advantaged). By 2008 just 2% of primary teachers were male.
I dislike the cant phrases of our time, role model being a leading example, but mostly we know what they mean. When our son was at primary school one of his class teachers was a woman who distinctly disliked boys and favoured girls. She said as much.
There is very little incentive for boys to perform at anything. They know they are expected to be useless. A boy with spirit and little intelligence will kick against the traces, or simply kick.
The generations of subculture boys is trouble now and will be more trouble later. They are not as thick as they are told they are, but nobody is going to tell them otherwise.