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The message should be that boys can compete with girls


‘We shouldn’t be sending messages to girls that there are things they can’t do – because there’s nothing a girl can’t do,’ opines America’s former First Lady, Michelle Obama, in her recently published memoir, Becoming. She would like you to know that when she was a girl her dad even bought her a pair of boxing gloves to match those given to her big brother.

I have no gripes whatsoever about girls taking up boxing. Indeed, if I had a sporting heroine it would be our own UK flyweight champion, Nicola Adams OBE. She happens to be the first openly LGBT person to win an Olympic boxing gold but who cares about the LGBT bit? She is the first woman to hold Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic boxing titles – and that is what matters.

Boxing is not generally seen as a particularly ‘girly’ activity and, to the best of my knowledge, it was never pursued in earnest by Michelle Obama. Equally, ballet is rarely described as ‘boyish’ even if it does produce some great and athletic male dancers. Both boxing and ballet, to be sure, can inspire either sex and provide a wonderful source for personal development.

Michelle Obama’s message, though, is sadly less than neutral. For her, the acquisition of boxing gloves exemplified a form of barrier-breaking for her sex. The feminist ‘girls can compete with boys’ message is as strong as it is wrong. These days, and certainly in the UK and the USA, the message should be reversed to ‘boys can compete with girls’.

Mary Curnock Cook, until recently the head of the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has given the Daily Telegraph a preview of what she intends to tell a conference today. Convened by the Men and Boys Coalition, it will hear that:

Britain’s education system is failing to tackle the “astonishing” underperformance of boys as feminists have made the topic “taboo” . . . the fact that boys are falling behind in education is a national scandal – yet it is such an “unfashionable” topic to discuss that it has become “normalised”.’

In around ten years, Ms Curnock Cook estimates, the gap between the achievement of girls and boys will be worse than that between rich and poor. Girls already out-perform boys at all levels in our education system – on age 6 phonics tests, on SATs at age 7 and 11, at GCSEs and at A-Level.

True, the BBC did report last summer that ‘for the second year running, boys outperformed girls at the top grades’. It did not, however, report that there were 81,000 more girls than boys sitting A-Levels. This offset the slightly higher percentage of boys overall gaining the highest grades. Indeed, 57 per cent of entrants to university last year were women. All of this is a long way from Michelle Obama’s feminist crusade that sees girls as under-achieving, even repressed.

In some areas of life, though, she is correct that boys are, indeed, ahead of girls. This is especially so amongst those young people who live in relative poverty or other forms of deprivation.

For a start the boys are way ahead of the girls when it comes to knife crime and street murder, mugging and molestation, burglary and car-jacking, punch-ups and hooliganism, drug-pushing and solvent abuse, vandalism and scooter drive-by robbery, recreational violence and rape, beating up the elderly and desecrating national monuments. They are also three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school and, although they are a minority at university, they are more than twice as likely to take their own lives.

Feminism? Want to know where it is leading, Michelle? Take a look around you! Open your eyes! Think outside the feminist box. Girls are going to need more than those boxing gloves to make their way through the gathering storm of under-achieving, alienated, disaffected, drugged-up and marginalised males roaming our streets.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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