The Magazine

Girl Power! and Other Idiocy

Government propaganda for boys and girls.

Jan 14, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 17 • By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men," was stopped from completing her remarks at a government conference on drug-abuse prevention for boys, held in Baltimore on November 1. Partway through her talk, Sommers, an invited speaker, was cut off by the moderator, insulted by a fellow participant, and jeered by many in attendance. According to Stanley Kurtz, who reviewed a tape and transcript for National Review Online, "Sommers was silenced the moment she began to raise questions about 'Girl Power!'--the female counterpart of the 'Boy Talk' drug prevention program that was the subject of the conference." We asked Sommers to describe these two taxpayer-financed educational campaigns.

GEORGE W. BUSH'S Department of Health and Human Services is planning to extend to boys a favorite initiative of the Clinton administration, a program sporting the perky name "Girl Power!" Oddly enough, plans for "Boy Talk" are going forward despite the absence of any evidence that the six-year-old Girl Power! campaign has succeeded at its stated mission--discouraging substance abuse among girls by boosting their self-esteem and academic achievement. But then indifference to scientific soundness has been a hallmark of this enterprise from the beginning. Girl Power! was launched in 1996, at a time when federal officials were deluged with statistics showing that an educational gender gap was indeed growing, and those on the wrong side of it were boys.

In 1995, the Department of Education, for example, released "The Educational Progress of Women," a report comparing male and female achievement. Among its findings: "Females are more likely than males to come to school prepared to learn and to participate in school activities." Girls were more likely than boys to assume school leadership positions, to qualify for honors programs, and to enter college. One of the most disquieting findings was that "the gap in reading proficiency between males and females [favoring females] is roughly equivalent to about one and a half years of schooling."

But during the years when such findings were becoming better known, Donna Shalala was in charge at Health and Human Services, and underachieving, at-risk boys were not a priority. Rather, Shalala subscribed to the principle that girls are shortchanged victims in need of special attention. To shore up this notion, her department disseminated misleading or flat-out erroneous claims.

Thus, HHS "fact sheets" inform us that "teachers often defer to male leadership and social dominance" and that "girls (more so than boys) may develop low self-esteem . . . and perform less well in school." But girls perform better in school than boys. And if teachers are deferring to male leadership, the students themselves appear to be unaware of it. In a 1993 Department of Education study of several thousand tenth graders, 72 percent of girls but only 68 percent of boys "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the statement "Teachers listen to what I have to say."

HHS "fact sheets" and "talking points" similarly claim that "adolescent girls are twice as likely to attempt suicide than boys." They leave unmentioned the fact that boys actually kill themselves at five or six times the rate of girls. According to Centers for Disease Control reports, in a typical year (1997), there were 4,483 suicides of people between the ages of 5 and 24. Of these, 701 were females, 3,782 males.

The HHS researchers and officials who developed Girl Power! kept a discreet distance from the data reported by the Department of Education and the CDC. Instead, they relied heavily on advocacy research of girl-partisan groups such as the American Association of University Women and on the "findings" of gender scholars like David Sadker of American University and Carol Gilligan, Harvard's first professor of gender studies. These scholars, when asked, notoriously fail to produce the data that allegedly support their claim that girls are "shortchanged," "silenced" victims of gender bias in the schools and in society at large.