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Girls and boys: what's the difference, here?

Joanne Jacobs, guest blogging over at The Volokh Conspiracy, wrote last week,

On The Quick and the Ed, Sara Mead reviews a 1993 Washington Post Magazine article on the problem of "smart girls" who are "hesitant to speak up out of fear that they'll look foolish if they're wrong." Newsweek's boy-crisis story raised the same point:

Middle-school boys will do almost anything to avoid admitting that they're overwhelmed. "Boys measure everything they do or say by a single yardstick: does this make me look weak?" says Thompson. "And if it does, he isn't going to do it."

Mead asks:

(Would it be too radical if I suggest that everybody, regardless of gender, really dislikes and tries to avoid appearing wrong, foolish or weak?)

This is a great example of what I was talking about last month with regards to people looking for difference because it's more interesting. There seems to be a sense that it's more meaningful to say, for example, that girls don't want to look foolish, or that boys don't want to be made to look weak. Who, after all, regardless of sex or gender, wants to feel stupid? Is this a gender difference? That seems unlikely to me, but many researchers can't resist framing it in those terms, because they think they'll get more press.

And the sad part is that they're probably right.