No More Boys and Girls (BBC, August 2017) BBC programme documents a 6 week experiment in gender neutrality carried out with one year 3 primary school class in primary school on the Isle of White…. Can our kids go gender free?
Doctor Javid Abdelmoneim (*) believes that these attitudes are not just the result of biology, but down to socialisation, and so establishes a gender neutrality experiment, conducted on one class of year 3s, in which he removes all traces of gender differentiation for a 6 week period, finally testing them to see if ‘typical gender differences’in things such as self-confidence and spatial awareness have been reduced (*I recommend you check out the above profile, on Al Jazeera, he seems like an interesting character!)
The rational for doing this research now is that these children have lived their entire lives under the equality act, which was passed in 2010, emphasizing that men and women should be treated the same.
Thankfully, some generous sole has kindly done the BBC’s job for them and provided an effective and just service to license fee payers by uploading the documentary to YouTube, which the BBC itself only made available for a short time on iplayer, a totally unreasonable action given the cost of the licence fee. Here is said video:
The documentary finding, however, suggest that this is far from the case, and there are several differences in terms of attitudes about what boys and girls should do, and how the teachers treat boys and girls.
The programme starts with a few clips of boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards gender, which suggests that they have very set views about what they suited to do in the future, in which various girls and boys say that:
- ‘If a woman has a baby, the man will have to get a job to look after them.’
- ‘Men are better at being in charge.’
- ‘Men are more successful because they could have harder jobs and earn more.’
- ‘I’d describe girls as pretty, dresses, lipstick and lovehearts’
- ‘boys are cleverer than girls because they get into president more easily’.
There are also early observations of one class in which the teacher clearly uses gender specific terms for girls and boys – calling the girls ‘love’, and boys ‘mate’, for example.
But why do gender differences between boys and girls exist?
Dr Javid visits a neuro-scientist who helpfully tells us that there appears to be very few structural differences in the brains of boys and girls, and thus gender differences are not biologically determined, but exist because of socialisataion – their experiences have taught them different skills and different mental attitudes.
Research from Stanford University suggests that seven is a key age in the development of gender identity, because it is at this age that boys and girls start to develop fixed ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, thus Dr Javid’s experiment should be able to change gendered expectations of boys and girls.
Dr Stella Something now comes in from the UCL psychometric lab to subject boys and girls to what seems to be a pretty rigorous series of activities aimed to measure….
- Their levels of self-esteem
- Their perceived intelligence
- Their understanding and levels of empathy
- Their levels of assertiveness
- How good they are at resisting impulses
- How much vocabulary they have to describe their emotions
- Levels of classroom behavior, hyperactivity and
The basic findings (which are corroborated by the class teacher) are that:
- Girls underestimate their levels of self-esteem, intelligence and assertiveness: three times as many boys overestimated their perceived intelligence, and girls were more likely to underestimate it. 50% of the boys described themselves as ‘the best’, compared to only 10% of girls.
- Boys cannot seem to express their emotions – girls were more able than boys to provide ‘similar words’ to describe every emotional cue-word given to them, except for anger.
- Girls tendED to describe themselves through words about looks (such as ‘pretty’ and ‘lipstick’)
The Control Group
Another, very similar year 3 class which had a regular 6 weeks of teaching was also tested alongside the experimental group to act as a control.
Dr Javid turns up on day one and tells the pupils about the experiment – he basically tells them he wants to ensure than boys and girls are treated the same, because they can all do as well as each other, and he then gives them a load of signs saying such things as ‘girls are strong’ to challenge gender stereotypes, which they put up around the classroom.
For further details you’ll need to watch the programme…. for now – I’ll update with the rest when I get time!
The school where this experiment took place is Lanesend Primary School, on the Isle of Wight, with 300 boys and girls aged 5 to 11,