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Module 7: Gender Differences

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Physical Differences in Gender Roles

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Physically, boys tend to be more active than girls, and by the same token more restless if they have to sit for long periods. They are also more prone than girls to rely on physical aggression if they are frustrated (Espelage & Swearer, 2004).

Both tendencies are inconsistent with the usual demands of classroom life, of course, and make it a little more likely that school will be a difficult experience for boys, even for boys who never actually get in trouble for being restless or aggressive.

During the first two or three years of formal school, gross motor skills develop at almost the same average rate for boys and girls. As a group, both sexes can run, jump, throw a ball, and the like with about equal ease, though there are of course wide significant differences among individuals of both sexes. Toward the end of elementary school, however, boys pull ahead of girls at these skills even though neither sex has begun yet to experience puberty.

The most likely reason is that boys participate more actively in formal and informal sports because of expectations and support from parents, peers, and society (Braddock, Sokol-Katz, Greene, & Basinger- Fleischman, 2005; Messner, Duncan, & Cooky, 2003). Puberty eventually adds to this advantage by making boys taller and stronger than girls, on average, and therefore more suited at least for sports that rely on height and strength.

In thinking about these differences, it should be kept in mind that they refer to average trends and that there are numerous individual exceptions. Every teacher knows of individual boys who are not athletic, for example, or of particular girls who are especially restless in class. The individual differences mean, among other things, that it is hard to justify providing different levels of support or resources to boys than to girls for sports, athletics, or physical education.

The differences also suggest, though, that individual students who contradict gender stereotypes about physical abilities may benefit from emotional support or affirmation from teachers, simply because they may be less likely than usual to get such affirmation from elsewhere.