The difference between boys and girls

10 November 2004
Posted by Martin Westwell.

As the war continues against "lad culture" which, according to David Blunkett, is responsible for boys' consistently poor exam results it may be worth considering some of the real differences between boys and girls, some of which persist throughout life. It is clear that there are real differences in the way that boys and girls think and so it comes as no surprise that the ways in which they learn are different. For example, put a group of 7 year old boys together with a pile of Lego blocks and they will generally try and build the biggest tower, each taking pride in adding the latest block to construction. Girls of the same age will generally build something more meaningful like a house and will discuss and evaluate the project as it emerges, perhaps removing a piece here and there to improve the design and facilitate the addition of blocks elsewhere (removing someone's block from the boys tower would be likely to cause significant irritation!)

In education, the single-minded, goal oriented approach of the boys would benefit from short lessons with well defined individual goals whereas the girls may gain more from an ongoing thread running through a number of lessons with plenty of discussion and coursework. It is often thought that boys thrive in a more competitive environment but this is probably mixing up a goal oriented approach with competition. There is evidence to suggest that boys who struggle would rather not compete than compete and lose.

Single sex classes in certain subjects may be able to utilize these differences to get the most out of both boys and girls, but different teaching techniques must be employed - there is probably little to gain (and much to lose) from just segregating the sexes. Blaming the boys themselves for their "lad culture" is clearly not helpful to anyone (except perhaps lazy journalists) but getting to the bottom of the boys' discontent with school could go a long way.

As adults, men are often notoriously poor in situations where discrete goals are not identified. In my house this means housework! Give me a single well defined job to do like tidying the living room or emptying the bins and I am happy to do so. However, if I'm expected to notice that a room needs hoovering or the linen basket is full - no chance! - I just never think about it. The way we deal with this at home is that I have discrete, regular (goal oriented) household chores to do and my wife deals with the general overview of housework.

The difference in the ways of thinking between man and women is not restricted to the young (with who I like to associate myself). When the elderly carers of Alzheimer's patients are asked what they would like in terms of respite care, there is a marked difference in the responses between the sexes. Male carers generally say that they are happy to go on caring as long as is necessary but find it hard to cope doing everything at once. The men ask for help with the housework, clothes cleaning, feeding, bathing, etc. so as to leave fewer tasks for them to perform simultaneously. Female carers do not have any problems multitasking and so ask for completely different respite care. They will do everything at home but they ask that from time-to-time they are given a complete break for a day or two. Consider with this that 50% of those who care for Alzheimer's patients are over 70 years old themselves and 5% or over 90, shouldn't society and the state give them as much of the right kind of help as possible?

In an age when sexual equality means something practical rather than just idealogical, I think these examples show that sometimes it is important to understand the differences between the sexes and respond accordingly rather than to blame the differences (like the "lad culture") for any problems that may arise.

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