Richardson ISD Boys and Girls Go Guinea Pig for Same Ol' Same Ol' Gender Study

Competition: bad for girls, good for boys. Girls, delicate flowers that they are, get sad and mopey when they don't play nice, while boys become robust like bear. This is science, per SiFy News (which is I think where Stephen Hawking gets most of his science news), not to be confused with Syfy, the home of Ghost Hunters and cheaply animated TV movies.

A recent study out of Cal State and UT Dallas examined 110 12th-graders from Richardson. The two behavioral scientists at the helm of the study say that girls suffer more emotional repercussions than boys when they compete to win (though, it should be noted: Everyone in the study suffered when they competed to win), and both girls and boys did better emotionally when they competed to self-improve or excel.

This is, of course, being spun into the same-old, same-old: Boys are naturally competitive, and girls are wimpy-ass crybabies, instead of being interpreted as an illustration of the cause-and-effect relationship between how we treat and think about girls vs. boys. Via ScienceDaily, which unsurprisingly has more info than SiFy News:

"Competitiveness can be both a virtue and a vice. One person's win can be another person's loss and the drive to be better than others, when taken too far, can appear ruthless and selfish. Consequently, competitiveness may have social and emotional downsides and its effects are likely to differ for males and females. Indeed, research shows that competitiveness is rated both as more typical of adult males and as more desirable for males than for females."

No surprise there. Competitive women are often described as negative and bitchy, while competitive men are go-getters. Which is why I'd be more interested in a study that sought to get to the heart of where those ideas come from, rather than a study that shows that a particular cultural narrative is detrimental to girls. Proper girls shouldn't want to win, we tell our kids, so when they do express a desire to do so, it's unsurprising they suffer more negative emotional consequences than boys. Are these negative emotions coming from within or as a result of outside reactions from others? At what point do they begin to feel bad about their actions/desires? Study doesn't say.

It's the end of the ScienceDaily article that gets me:

Hibbard and Buhrmester conclude: "The overarching issue this study explored was whether competitiveness as a motivational orientation is good or bad for males and females. The findings clarify, to some degree, western cultures' 'ambivalence' about competitiveness. The view that competitiveness is the road to emotional well-being is supported to the extent that one is talking about competing to improve oneself or excel. On the other hand, if one is talking about competing to win or show dominance over others, then females seem to pay a socio-emotional price."
I'm not of the bent that these kinds of academic studies should be interested in determining "good or bad," but rather in determining causes, effects and larger relationships. Science that purports to make value judgments seems shaky at best. Of course, without reading the original study (which I'm working on getting -- thanks, grad school!), published in what appears to be a feminist-minded journal called Sex Roles, it's hard to determine exactly what the findings are versus how they're being reported by journalists looking for an easy headline.

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes

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