As a woman I don’t think there is any other century I would prefer to live in than the current one. Not because of the advances in medicine, technology or education, despite how profound they may be, but for how far we have progressed in terms of equality for women. I only have to turn on the TV or pick up my favourite Grazia magazine to see the ongoing debate and continuous success stories surrounding equal pay, maternity rights, work from home opportunities and even diversity in female fashion to realise how far we have come. We no longer perceive the female role as having to stand behind the kitchen sink with her marigolds on. Yes, there is still progress to be made, but like life in any household, the society we live in will never be 100% perfect.
I, however, am a mum of two boys so I will naturally be focused on their position within society, and how I can fully enable them to be successful and have a happy fulfilled life. What has become glaringly obvious to me as a mum of two sons is how much the emphasis in education and family life has changed, and how it is now the males who are lagging behind.
Take education for example, previous statistics stated that white, working class boys were continuously falling behind their female counterparts. Fast forward to the present day and irrespective of your race or social class, if you are male you are statistically behind compared to that of females across most academic subjects. The fact that adult men do seem to currently dominate in many of the ftse board rooms and top white collar professions has obscured the fact that our adolescent males are really behind. Given the amount of emphasis now put on a boys athletic ability, most young boys accept that girls should be the academic ones and boys should be lifting a trophy on playing field somewhere!
Having had two boys, and being an auntie to a niece, I am all too aware of how girls seem to progress at a quicker rate. Especially in terms of their language and social skills. My eldest son started school aged 4 and having never been exposed to the primary schooling system outside of my own personal experience, I was surprised to discover that one teaching style is expected to enable both genders to flourish. It is a psychological fact that male and female minds operate differently, so surely teaching methods should reflect this? Einstein famously said “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” I feel this couldn’t be more apt for boys’ learning styles. Can boys really sit on the carpet for long periods of time learning phonetic blends, or would it be better to have more activity based, kinaesthetic learning given that boys respond better to high energy environments? At my son’s primary school, the clubs tailored towards sport are dominated by the boys, while the gardening and cooking club are 100% girls, reinforcing the point that after a full day in school boys are like coiled springs and need to be a active.
Then there is the feminisation of the teaching profession to consider, as less and less men are applying for roles in primary and secondary education, making fewer male role models available outside of the family home.
Just recently at my local library where I attended a rhyme time session with my youngest, we had a man taking the session due to our normal lady been off with long term sickness. One of the other mums told me how her son was so excited that morning because he knew a man was going to be doing the songs and reading the story. As a 3 year old of a single mum he doesn’t get to see his dad every day and contact with other men will be brief when out and about doing the shopping, or an odd trip to see his elderly grandfather. Yes, this child is a perfectly happy little boy and his mum a wonderful parent, but should we as a society be trying to provide more male role models for him to interact with on a daily basis?
Let’s imagine for a moment that the whole system was flipped and primary education and family were dominated by men. I’m quite confident that concerns would be raised that there was a lack of support for girls emotional and educational needs. This certainly used to be the case, and as a society we have been very successful in reversing this discrimination, but now it appears to have been at the expense of too many boys.
In addition to this, I feel that the most successful companies have always had a mixed workforce with both male and female employees helping to achieve the required goals, though often with a different approach. Both genders providing different strengths within the market they deal with. If you were to have a company purely dominated by either men or women, it simply would be missing out on the other attributes the missing gender could bring.
So what could the solution be? First and foremost we need to realise that the gap is ever present and is only going to grow wider if we don’t tackle the issue now. We can’t strive forward as feminists, banging our drum for equal pay and a work life balance and not acknowledge the fact that there is a new gender facing inequalities. We need to seek out male role models for our sons and the education system and teaching styles needs to diversify to engage both genders. This needs to be addressed pretty quickly before, in my opinion, a large swathe of the male population feel they been left behind and disaffected with no useful role to play in society.