The Beauty of Double Standards

A new report for the British government urges that boys and girls should be taught separately at school in order to prevent the boys from falling even further behind the girls than, according to the most recent examination results, they already have. “Teachers should be encouraged to tailor classes to fit the needs of boys, with more emphasis on ‘competitive’ lessons and the reading of non-fiction books…” according the account of the report in the Daily Telegraph.

One swallow and all that, of course, but I can’t help wondering if summer’s on its way — or, to change the figure, if this is the straw in the wind that will herald the official culture’s turn away, at last, from its slavish adherence of the past thirty years or so to feminist and unisex orthodoxy. Are boys again to be allowed to be different? Or, rather, are their manifest differences from girls to be officially noticed and provided for rather than suppressed and ignored? And, if so, are men once again to be allowed to be different from women? It’s most unlikely, I know, in this time of the rhapsodic hymning of Nancy Pelosi’s giant leap for womankind. “Women young and old bask in the new speaker’s shining moment,” enthuses the Washington Post, as if there could be no two opinions about the desirability of female leadership just because it is female. But the media may, after all, not have the last word.

Fortuitously, there comes to hand a memory of the late John Rae in the “Lives Remembered” column of the Times of London. Rae, who was headmaster of Westminster School when I taught there in 1980, was a thoroughly delightful man who was reputed to know every one of the hundreds of children under his tutelage by name. He even knew my name, and always treated me as a friend, though we disagreed about many things. For he was quite famous at the time in Britain as a progressive educator whose efforts on behalf of the pressure group STOPP, the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment, were instrumental in bringing about the abolition of the cane in British classrooms. Roger Mintey writes in the Times that Rae “noted that schools for girls functioned well without corporal punishment, fagging, excessive chapel attendance, Officers’ Training Corps parades and an obsession with games. He demonstrated that boys’ schools would benefit by the abolition of these practices.”

That use of the word “demonstrated” to mean “facilely and falsely analogized” is typical of the cultural consensus of our time, one of whose most unquestioned and unexamined assumptions about the world is that female and male must always be treated equally lest the disparity of “power” should lead to the “oppression” of the one by the other. Thus in the spirit of a reader pouncing upon a grammatical or spelling error, a woman named Lynne Leonard of Ellicott City, Maryland, recently wrote to the Washington Post to protest that an article about a new vaccine against the human papillomavirus had mentioned that it might lead to promiscuity in girls while one on the benefits of circumcision in preventing HIV infection didn’t mention anything about its promoting promiscuity in boys. “The double standard is alive and well,” she concluded triumphantly. And indeed it is. Also, the sun still comes up in the east. But there are a certain kind of people that take these physical and moral constants as personal affronts to their own sense of justice and equity. They are already living in utopia, where such things as double standards have been outlawed, and they don’t understand why the rest of us don’t join them there.

Laboring under the same assumption, Richard Cohen of the Post recently took the occasion of Monica Lewinsky’s master’s degree from the London School of Economics to call on his fellow journalists to treat her with more respect. “It would be nice, too, and fair, also, if Lewinsky were treated by the media as it [sic] would treat a man.” There’s that pesky double standard again! Indeed, he continues, “it would be nice if my colleagues in the media would resolve to treat Monica Lewinsky as a lady.” So it would be too. Very nice. It would also be nice if they hadn’t already made her name into a by-word and a scandal, and it would be even more nice if scandal itself weren’t what scandal always is and always has been, which is a permanent and indelible stain on someone’s reputation. But none of these things will ever happen, and neither the media nor anyone else apart, perhaps, from her close friends and family, will ever treat Monica Lewinsky as a lady. This is as predictable — and is for the same reason — as the fact that there will always be a double standard. The world is what it is, and it is particularly obtuse to treat its being what it is as some kind of injustice. That way lies the pretense that men and women are the same, and all the evil that has flowed and continues to flow from it, educationally and otherwise.

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