Boys Will Be Girls…And Girls Will Be Boys

Expectations for achievement will be embarrassingly low or uncomfortably high. Males and females will attribute their failures to inherent limitations of chromosomal makeup. They will make activity choices based on how they expect others to react, rather than on what they desire.

Misunderstandings will persist. Rather than recognizing and celebrating their common humanity, males and females will see one another as fundamentally different. The belief that there is so much foreign and, therefore, unknown about others can lead to anxious, avoidant behaviors or clumsy, even aggressive ones.

Clearly, no youth development professional wants these outcomes for his or her campers and staff. However, few directors understand how exaggerated the perceived differences are between males and females. Indeed, our collective, non-scientific, almost blind adoption of the “gender-differences hypothesis” leads to complacency. You may be condoning unhealthy behaviors without realizing it. Read the following two studies and decide how you would respond. You might even use these cases–and others of your own design–as the centerpiece of a mid-summer in-service training.

Case Study 1

Nathaniel is a sensitive, 10-year-old boy who struggled with homesickness during his first summer at overnight camp. Now back for his second summer, he is having some trouble making friends. Many of the boys in his unit enjoy organized sports and informal, competitive games. Some even invite Nathaniel to join them, but he usually shies away from rough-and-tumble activities because his glasses get knocked off easily.

On Thursday morning, Nathaniel and the other boys finish cabin clean-up early, and are huddled around the daily schedule trying to choose which activity period to attend. Tom, their cabin leader, is standing nearby, listening to the conversation. Ultimately, it will be his responsibility to be sure each boy has made a selection, and he starts heading out of the cabin when the bugle blows for first period. Tom himself will be headed to the sports field to help coach the 12-and-under baseball team.

“What’s for arts and crafts today?” asks Nathaniel. A few of the other boys chime in: “It was baskets on Monday, so today is probably clay.” “No, it wouldn’t be clay because they did that yesterday. It’s probably charcoal drawing.” “What about painting? Can we paint?”

Tom interjects, “Boys, you can go to arts and crafts if you want to, but those types of artsy-fartsy activities are more for rainy days and stuff. It’s a gorgeous day out, so you might want to pick something more studly and outdoorsy.”

Questions to ponder:

What type of choice is Tom offering his campers?

What is Tom’s message to the boys?

Would things be different with a female leader and female campers? Why?

How might Tom rephrase the issue to convey a healthy, balanced message?

What improvements can Tom make to become a better leader?

Case Study 2

Cassie is an athletically built 11-year-old girl in her fifth year at day camp. As a “fiver,” she has instant respect from many of her peers. Her leadership is evident in the ease with which she organizes pickup basketball games and other court-based competitions during free time. Once or twice, her assertiveness has annoyed the other girls who call her “bossy.” Mostly, however, the girls respect Cassie’s talents and intelligence.

At morning-activity sign-up, Cassie chooses horseback. Almost all of her peers choose waterfront. As Cassie heads up the hill to the riding stables with one other girl, an experienced staff member, Mandy, falls in step with them. “Girls, slow down. It’s a hot day.”

Cassie replies, “I love hot days. I love the summer. And don’t worry, I put on sunscreen.”

Mandy adds, “Or you could just stand in the shade. I find that sunscreen makes my skin feel a little greasy. And then if I sweat, it’s totally gross. My plan is to stand in the shade of the stable. You girls might want to do the same.”

“You mean not ride the horses?” asks Cassie, incredulous. “I love to ride.”

“You girls are both so pretty,” says Mandy. “All I’m saying is that you might want to rethink getting all sweaty by riding today. Remember, tonight is the dance with Rockwood.”

Questions to ponder:

What type of choice is Mandy offering her campers?

What is Mandy’s message to the girls?

Would things be different with a male leader and male campers? Why?

How might Mandy rephrase the issue to convey a healthy, balanced message?

What improvements can Mandy make to become a better leader?


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