Expecting the Expectations

As a girl, I’ve noticed that standards have been held higher for me, whether rightly so or not. Often I’ve been told to be “a polite little girl” while boys were allowed to throw things and yell, and now that I’m in my twenties, I’m told by my mother to be “lady-like” when I either say crude things or bluntly state the obvious. But what really gets my goat is that I’m expected to have better grades than my male counterparts.

It’s been pounded into my head since childhood that girls age faster than boys, and sure, physically that’s true in most cases, but we’re really not all that different. I think when people place the expectation of being less mature or studious on boys, it makes them expect the same thing. Acting as somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if teachers and parents alike think the same thing about boys, they’ll be held to lower standards and not have the same consistent encouragement that the girls receive. I don’t know how many times in high school I heard a teacher say, “Boys will be boys,” followed by an eye roll. The male teachers seemed to empathize while the female teachers seemed to have given up on their gender altogether.

When my brother was in high school, my mumsy would offer to help with his homework and often demand he do it in front of her just so that he would get it done. While this may seem like she’s holding him to a higher standard, she actually wasn’t. While my brother toiled away at the kitchen table under my mother’s watchful eye, I was left to my own devices up in my room. I was expected to perform my homework tasks alone, because my parents believed I shouldn’t need help. When report cards rolled around, I usually had all A’s. But if a single B was on it, my parents scolded me and told me that I could do better. It was only after they admonished me for my B grade that they said they were proud. My brother on the other hand, would come home toting C’s and B’s, and even an occasional D. When this happened, my parents applauded his B’s as if they were perfect scores, and then they would say a C wasn’t so bad in a class such as that, but that he should study more. The rare D’s were just sighed at.

I remember asking my mumsy about this unfair judgement. She explained, “Katie, it’s different for your brother. Boys aren’t as serious about school work as girls. We push you because we know you have it in you.” I couldn’t believe that my supportive mother was implying that she and dad didn’t believe in my brother as much as they believed in me. I don’t think she would ever admit to it, and she may not have even known the implications of her speech, but there it was. I was the prodigal daughter because, well, I was the daughter.

I understood this concept better when I read an article called “Between a ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ Place”. In the article, the author said that “soft” characteristics, such as studying, paying attention in class, and sitting still are seen as feminine, and so boys often try not to be associated with them. Looking back I can definitely see at the middle school and junior high levels male students thinking it was cool to be aloof about class. Any male that broke this unspoken bro code was ridiculed, often by saying they were a teacher’s pet or an overachiever.

Girls and women are more often rewarded for their quiet virtue while boys and men are more often rewarded for being the ultra masculine, rebel archetype. I think it’s because of this division of accepted masculine and feminine characteristics that boys and girls have such noticeable gaps between their GPAs. Holding all students to equal standards is the only surefire way to see results. A kid needs someone to say to them what my mom said to me, “We push you because we know you have it in you.” What more assurance does one need?


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