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Archive for Thursday, September 5, 1996

THE GREAT DIVIDE

September 5, 1996

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Boys and girls see things differently when it comes to career and school opportunities.

If she were old enough, Mallory Frye would vote for a woman for president, and she knows plenty of women who would do the same.

But from the things she's heard and seen -- at home, on TV and in school -- she's not sure that would be enough to elect the country's first female commander in chief.

"My dad said that women are allowed to run for president, but men do," said Mallory, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Southwest Junior High in Lawrence. "Men put them down and say a woman will never win."

Classmate Joe Zimmer sees other opportunities that are the exclusive domain of men and boys.

"There's a lot of different sports with boys," Zimmer said. "A lot of the sports, girls are able to play but they just don't because it's a contact sport, like football."

And all of the professional sports that he watches on television feature men competing against men.

All things being equal, things still aren't equal for boys and girls, according to those surveyed in a nationwide poll.

While researchers have documented the gap in pay and educational opportunities for men and women in the United States and abroad, the non-scientific survey conducted this year by USA Weekend magazine gauged the perceptions of gender-based differences as seen by children in junior high school and high school.

While a majority of the 222,653 boys and girls in grades 6-12 surveyed said they have been raised to believe that men and women have equal career opportunities, 82 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls said that boys have more opportunities than girls.

"I guess that's just how he sees it through the media," said Anita Zimmer, Joe's 36-year-old mother. "Actually, I've had more career opportunities than my husband."

Among the girls surveyed, 58 percent said they expected a female president would be elected during their lifetimes, compared to 52 percent of the boys.

Even in school, boys and girls reported differences in how they are treated. A third of the boys and 42 percent of the girls said they had some teachers who called on boys more often than girls in class.

But the survey results, which will be included in the USA Weekend delivered with this Sunday's Journal-World, also found that most boys and girls think jokes and kidding around are sometimes misunderstood as sexual harassment.

The surveyors didn't define sexual harassment. But 76 percent of the boys and 81 percent of the girls said they had encountered sex-related comments, jokes, looks and touches at school, or been the subject of sexual rumors and gossip.

Of them, 30 percent of the boys and 56 percent of the girls were upset by it, while 19 percent of the boys said they were flattered -- compared to just 3 percent of the girls.

Ten percent of the boys and 18 percent of the girls were confused by the sexual behavior.

"Sometimes people are just joking around and some people take it the wrong way," said Frye, who participated in the survey. "I just think there are some things that should be classified as sexual harassment and some things that shouldn't."

The nation's boys and girls can take some comfort in the latest findings of researchers who study the gender gap globally: Men and women are closer to equal in the United States than in many developing countries.

A 1995 United Nations report ranked 174 countries by a measure that combined life expectancy, educational attainment and basic purchasing power.

Canada, the United States and Japan lead the rankings.

In terms of political and earning power, however, Sweden and Norway were tops.

And the U.N. report concluded that no country offers women the same opportunities that it offers men.

USA Weekend didn't ask children about their own earning expectations or career ambitions.

Nearly all the girls surveyed -- 95 percent -- said they expected their future spouses would work outside the home. That was true for 80 percent of the boys surveyed.

But 72 percent of the boys and 73 percent of the girls said they worried more about finding a good job than about finding a good spouse.

  • Read more about the teen gender gap in USA Weekend in Sunday's Journal-World.

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