Upsetting the apple cart: Overachieving girls, underachieving boys

Fiona Shelton, University of Derby, United Kingdom

Despite the fact that girls were once lagging behind boys in most subjects, girls now dominate the exam leagues in all phases and subjects, and in the UK today there are more women enrolled on undergraduate programmes than their male counter­parts. However, the frequently expressed moral panic in education that girls’ overachievement is a cause for concern is, in itself, a cause for concern. According to Paule (2008) an implication of this is that by ‘overachieving’ girls are somehow being seen as disrupting a perceived natural order, that this is a social problem and that it is the cause of boys’ underachievement. Jackson, Paechter and Renold (2010) propose that although there is a popular sentiment that we are now living in a ‘post-feminist’ world, gender inequality still exists. What constitutes feminine and masculine ways of being are constantly reinforced in everyday interactions, and the process of “gendering” individuals is ongoing and dynamic. Young people draw on their knowledge of norms and stereotypes to enact their social identities, including their gender identities and therefore essentialist thinking needs challenging to ensure that young people are able to negotiate their personal identity in more fluid ways.

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