Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Resilient This

There's a fascinating article in the WaPo "proving" that girls are more "resilient" than boys. And, of course, my first response is a knowing smile. Damn straight, we're more resilient. We have to be. Plus, we're not missing that important bit of genetic material that gets cut off of an X chromosome to make it a Y.

But when you think about the article for a moment, it's interesting to consider the underlying sexism.

The article describes a study that looked at boys and girls raised in stressful situations: Besides having a drug-addicted parent, many of the children also had a parent who was jailed or mentally ill. Overall, 62 percent of the children had three or more childhood adversities. So those situations would seem to happen equally to both boys and girls. But, here's the interesting part:

[R]esiliency was defined as either working or being in school, not being a substance abuser and having no criminal record. It's interesting that resiliency was defined as doing what we expect men to do and as not doing those things that men with problems often do. Resiliency, for example, wasn't defined as not being involved with an abusive lover, as not having had early and unplanned pregnancies, as not engaging in anorexic behaviors or bulimia. Stay in school, don't use drugs, and don't get arrested and you're able to deal resiliently with a difficult childhood, I guess. That's what girls do.

I used to teach special education for kids labeled "emotionally disturbed." Not surprisingly, teachers refer to such programs those kids who act out in the classroom and make it impossible for the teachers to teach. Not surprisingly, far more boys than girls got referred and "identified." I kept pointing out that there were girls with emotional problems, but they displayed those problems in ways -- retreating into silence and depression, cutting themselves, starving themselves, giving themselves away sexually in return for an illusion of love, etc. -- that didn't generally disrupt the classroom. And so they went untreated, while the boys, who tended to act out, disrupt, be aggressive, engage in "dangerous" behaviors, got help.

I think it's dangerous to pretend that girls can "take it" better than boys can. It's dangerous for the boys, but it's especially bad for the girls.

Picture found here.


aangus said...

They seem to confuse better with differently.

This is not a good thing.

(Yeah, yeah, I know I'm soaking in it.)

*Deep sigh*

xan said...

This sounds like way too little jam spread over way too much bread. The sample size was very small for starters (although fair sized for a presumably independently-financed project by a state university.) And a short story in the popular press is not going to give the details I'm interested in anyway.

But to take up your point, it sounds to me like they asked about the factors that could be most easily verified from public records. Encounters with law enforcement: easy. Medical incidents like cutting: hard. Self-destructive fuckupedness like overfondness for controlling asshole boyfriends: impossible. Unless they self-reveal in the interview...possible if the interviewers were very good but impossible to prove. So worthless statistically.

But my qualms start not with the kids' status but with the parent. Where was the parent sample recruited? I'm gonna guess not at Betty Ford or some other high-class rehab center where the well-to-do-enough-to-be-insured folk tend to go. And I strongly doubt that very many middle class junkies would agree to paticipate in such a project anyway.

Heroin addiction is overwhelmingly a disease of the poor. Most likely the parents were recruited at free methadone clinics or similar charity treatment facilities. Nowhere in this story is there mention of the socioeconomic class of the parent generation.

Barely mentioned are the other "problems" the parent generation had, including mental illness. That has a genetic component, and addictive behavior may have one of its own. But social class is the most genetically-determined aspect of everyone's life: you almost always wind up in the same class as your parents, moving up or down one level at most.

So in conclusion I agree with you the study is somewhere between worthless and actively evil, however well-intentioned the researchers may have been. They asked the wrong questions of too few people and tried to generalize that to the whole population. Feh and ptooey.

Maritzia said...

This is as bad as medical clinical trials excluding women because they "skew the data". Instead of realizing women have somewhat different biologies and teaching med students about how both respond to different drugs and treatments, they just assume women will react like smaller men.

Assuming the same thing psycholgically is just as dangerous. When will our scientists learn they they need to study both!

Mama Kelly said...

Excellent post (as always), so much of it struck very close to home!

LittleIsis said...

Great post Hecate, and fascinating. I agree with you. I know I was almost mute in elementary school and middle school. That is how girls tend to "cope". They retreat within themselves to dark places. It is emotionally, severely damaging and horrifying, because so many girls all over the world suffer from this.
But then, you are doing the right thing by letting us all know. That is your way, Hecate.