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Girls = Boys in Math

200872411In the US boys outperform girls in math. But we’re an outlier.  As a Slate article describes it:

The only countries with a wider gap favoring boys are Colombia and Liechtenstein. Many Middle Eastern countries—notably Qatar, Jordan, and the U.A.E.—report a significant gender gap in favor of girls (though lower math scores overall). In Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, the gender gap is miniscule, and the math scores are high. Shanghai registers no gender gap between boys and girls—together, they’re outperforming other teenagers across the globe.

Read the rest of this entry

Repression Shutting Down Teen Girl’s Sexuality

Dilemmas of Desire by Deborah Tolman

Dilemmas of Desire by Deborah Tolman

Young women’s experience of sexuality was ignored by social scientists for years.

But about ten years ago San Francisco State professor Deborah Tolman interviewed high school girls who would be in their late 20s today.

Prof. Tolman had expected to unveil young women’s strong yearnings, but instead she found that most were hazy about their desire. It was dulled. Or even nonexistent. Read the rest of this entry

A Sexy Halloween for Grade Schoolers?

Check out the change in Halloween costumes over the years. Girls are learning that a big part of their job is to look sexy. And they’re getting that message at a tender age.

Now that’s scary!

Then and now images, via Sociological Images:

Halloween Costumes, Then and Now 1 Read the rest of this entry

“You run like a girl!” That’s a bad thing?

You're a girl, Hermione

You’re a girl, Hermione

“You’re a girl.”

Is that a good thing or bad thing?

More than half the population are girls, or were girls. And girls can kick butt.

But some people don’t seem to think it’s such a good thing.

I was watching the movie, “Sweet November,” with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, where a little boy is taunted, “Your girl!” for making a small-ish boat.

Really, girls can make badass boats!

Or, Arnold Schwarzenegger called George H.W. Bush’s presidential opponents “a bunch of girlie men” back in ’88.  Read the rest of this entry

Thigh Gap: Worth Starving For?

14445664-young-woman-measuring-her-thigh-with-a-meter-tapeIs a “thigh gap” worth starving for?

Thigh gap: When a woman’s legs are so thin that her thighs don’t touch. Right now it’s all the rage on social media with Twitterers and Tumblers sharing photos anxiously captioned, “Three inches to go.”

It’s all fueling a mass obsession and deemed a universal “ideal” instead of a crazy trend.

Not so long ago the “perfect woman,” embodied in Miss Universe, was one whose thighs touched. Read the rest of this entry

Why Are Fictional Moms Sick Or Dead?

Hermione-in-HBP-harry-potter-7670321-1919-2560As Harry Potter’s Hermione grew up, her brainy, brave persona turned more sexy, less threatening and less magical, says Sarah Jane Stratford in The GuardianShe continues:

Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can.

The transformation of a brave, adventurous girl into a young woman who becomes weakened by, or defined by, her sexuality, has a long literary tradition. The next step, it seems, is to become a mom who is sick or dead.

I discovered this pattern one year when I let fiction take over my usual nonfiction reading habit.

In The Sound and the Fury we meet adventurous, determined and nurturing little Caddy Compson who is busy exploring the local countryside, climbing trees and sometimes bossing her brothers. Later, she becomes a promiscuous woman, shamed and rejected by her family. And the mother in this story? She’s a neurotic hypochondriac.

Faulkner introduces us to a mother who is dying, and later dead, in the appropriately titled, As I Lay Dying. Her daughter is upset and fixated on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy (instead of her dying/dead mom).

In Atonement creative young Briony Tallis has an over-active imagination that leads to serious trouble. Her older cousin gets raped, and her older sister is overcome by romance. Mom is constantly bedridden with headaches.

Plain Song revolves around a shy 17-year-old whose mother kicked her out after learning she was pregnant. Two young boys have a mom who spends her days locked away, depressed.

I could go on, but you get the point.

If strong, adventurous girls grew up to become strong, adventurous young women,who were also sexual, that would be fine. But too often, sexuality diminishes them or becomes the only thing they’re about.

Maybe that explains why older women (moms) end up sick or dead. Upon reaching womanhood the grown girl leaves behind everything that had empowered and engaged her to become defined by her sexuality. When her allure fades, there’s nothing left.

Which suggests a lesson for real live women. Best to avoid a one-dimensional focus on sexuality that rests on narrow beauty notions. Instead, stay strong and develop many facets of yourself, including an ageless and radiant beauty and sexuality (a la Meryl Streep and Hellen Mirren, et al) to enjoy over a lifetime.

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Girls = Boys in Math

200872411In the US boys outperform girls in math. But we’re an outlier. As a Slate article describes it:

The only countries with a wider gap favoring boys are Colombia and Liechtenstein. Many Middle Eastern countries—notably Qatar, Jordan, and the U.A.E.—report a significant gender gap in favor of girls (though lower math scores overall). In Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, the gender gap is miniscule, and the math scores are high. Shanghai registers no gender gap between boys and girls—together, they’re outperforming other teenagers across the globe.

Why is the US so different? Here, we see math as a male domain, and that explains a lot.

American girls have less confidence in their math skills than boys and so they take fewer math classes. But girls are also less likely to join the math, science or chess clubs, too. And all those clubs help strengthen math skills.

US boys also try harder because they think math will have a bigger impact on their lives. In Jordan girls are the ones who think that, and they do better.

And importantly, when people lack confidence their performance drops. College men and women got similar scores when they were told that men and women typically do equally well. But men did better when told that big gender differences were expected. Even taking a test in a room full of men dampens American women’s performance.

Meanwhile, Asian girls did better when they were told that ethnic differences affect math scores than when they were told that gender differences did.

Looks like boys aren’t better at math, we just think they are.

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Marcella Learns Sexual Bliss is Shameful Sin

marcellaWith no sex ed, a squeamish mom and friends who laugh at her naïveté, Marcella grew curiouser and curiouser about her body and its changes.

She seemed to have a secret cavern right inside her body… but where did it end? Exploring, she felt tingles and ripplings … the body’s song… Ohhh, she can’t wait to go to bed each night. And then one night they come,

bigger, and harder and… oh, enormous wind-torn gusts of feeling that… rumbling! …

No part of her felt the same after…

She thought sometimes that what she’d done was wrong, that she shouldn’t do it again, that maybe it was like sinning. But how could it be? … All bliss, and calm, like floating out on soft warm waters afterward, with heavenly music coursing in her ears. God must surely approve.

One day her mom hands her a book called So You’re Growing Up. A chapter entitled “Peeping Through the Keyhole” talks of masturbation. She’s not sure what that word means but by the time she’s done reading she knows it’s bad.

Eventually she learns exactly what the sin of masturbation is. This pleasure, which had once seemed a gift of God, turns out to be evil and perilous.

Desperately, she tries to stop. She just can’t disappoint God and go against her Christian values. She doesn’t want to go to Hell. But as she fights the urge she gets even more obsessed… and guilty and shameful… and more obsessed.

She seeks help from the Minister who brought her to God. And he sexually assaults her.

Seeking sanctity, she wanders into an empty church and eventually finds her way to the church kitchen and its drawer full of knives. If only she could cut off her hands… no, that wouldn’t be enough, she would need to cut off her arms… or just off herself, entirely.

What will happen to Marcella?

Marcella is a coming of age tale written by Marilyn June Coffey, an award-winning poet and author. The ground-breaking novel will be republished this year, 40 years after making literary history as the first English work of fiction to use female autoeroticism as a main theme. I had a chance to interview her. The discussion below was first posted in Ms.

What inspired you to write Marcella?

My psychoanalyst. He asked me, “But have you ever tried to commit suicide?” And I remembered descending to the church basement (as Marcella does), selecting a knife, and sawing at my wrists. That memory provoked the novel.

How did you expect Marcella would be received when you wrote the book in 1973? Were there any surprises?

I thought God might send down a lightning bolt and kill me. But He didn’t.

The biggest surprise was the strong support from feminists. They lauded my controversial novel. Ms. published the menstruation chapter as “Falling Off the Roof.” Gloria Steinem hailed Marcella as “an important part of the truth telling by and for women,” and Alix Kates Shulman praised the book in her New York Times Book Review.

What sort of effect do you think your book has had?

Varied. From a refusal to read it to “Thank you for telling my story.”

What kind of response do you expect for the republication? 

Lisa Pelto of Concierge, my specialist in marketing, suggested that we offer Marcella to a Young Adult audience. This surprised me, since in 1973, my audience consisted of adults.  Then I considered the sophistication of today’s young adult reader compared to her counterpart forty years ago. I’m sure that today’s young reader is so much more savvy about sexual matters that my book wouldn’t shock her. So I think my audience for Marcella will broaden.

I understand that in 1989 you attempted a public reading which was eventually canceled after public outcry. Since you are once again planning a public reading, I’m wondering how the response has been different and why you think that is.

I think the response to this year’s reading is largely different because of place. Omaha, Nebraska, is a sophisticated city that supports the arts and wouldn’t attempt to ban our marathon reading.

But in 1989, I had agreed to read a marathon in Orleans, Nebraska, population 400 in my home county of 4,000. I love my roots, but sophisticated they are not. My Orleans reading was initially accepted, but when word spread about its descriptions of mas -tur – ba – tion, a brouhaha erupted.

How do you see reactions to your book and to public readings as relating to today’s war on women by the extreme right?

I am appalled by the attacks on women’s rights by the extreme right. I thought we’d settled all that decades ago. I have three recurring elements in Marcella, her Christianity, her masturbation, and her love of music. I expect the first two might give the extreme right reason to dislike my novel.

I’ve heard you describe Marcella as being sexually addicted. What do you think caused that? Do you feel her desire for nightly masturbation was addictive, or did the addiction come more after she began feeling guilty about it?

In my experience, sexual addiction is the result of trauma. Two things traumatized her, her belief that masturbation was sinful and Big Jim’s unexpected sexual attraction to her.

Do you see parallels to Marcella’s pedophile Minister and to pedophile priests of today, and public reaction?

A pedophile is a pedophile whether in Marcella’s day or now. But today children are taught to speak out about behavior that makes them uncomfortable. That has caused, as you know, a tremendous outcry against pedophilia.

However, Marcella thought that the sexual experience with the minister she trusted was her fault, not Big Jim’s. Who could she speak to? No one.

What sorts of letters have you received from those who have read your book – or from those who haven’t?

The Internet has coached us to expect many responses from readers, as I experienced with the recent publication of my Mail-Order Kid: An Orphan Train Rider’s Story and with A JoLt of CoFFeY, my blog. But I received very few letters in response to Marcella. They were laudatory.

The response I valued most was from a woman who saw me in an art gallery. When she read my name tag, she cried out, “Oh, are you the Marilyn Coffey who wrote Marcella?”

Ah, fame! Fleeting but delectable.

Coffey’s new collection of tart poetry from the sixties, Pricksongs, will also be published in 2013. It will include her Pushcart Prize winning poem, “Pricksong.” 

Her most recently published book is an adult biography, Mail-Order Kid: An Orphan Train Rider’s Story. It’s a best seller on Amazon and the recipient of The National Orphan Train Complex’s Special President’s Award. 

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