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Girls and boys

December 11 2011 at 12:41 PM
Alan Turing 

Do boys and girls have different levels of misbehaviour at school?

There have been plenty of comments about this question in this Forum. What I'd like to do, in this thread, is to take an extended look at this question, and at the sort of things we can say about it. And to be clear, what I mean is: do they (or did they) actually exhibit different levels of misbehaviour? If you had been a fly on the wall, observing what had actually happened, what would you have seen?

In particular, I'm not talking about what might have happened if "all other things had been equal", because all other things were not equal. Girls and boys might well have been subject to different kinds of social conditioning. Girls and boys might well have been subject to different punishment regimes. No matter: I'm asking what actually happened, given all this.

Also, I want to ask about all misbehaviour, not just that which was identified and punished. So if girls (or boys) were better at hiding their misbehaviour, that makes no difference.

Of course there were no "flies on the wall". We can't get definitive evidence. But maybe we can get circumstantial evidence which points in one direction or another, and which we can then weigh. One source of circumstantial evidence comes from recollections of our own schooldays -- anecdotal evidence. There have been various posts about this in the past, with differing views. But I'd like to go off in a rather different direction, looking at something which most definitely isn't school misbehaviour, but which might throw some light on how we should think about that question.

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Alan Turing

Digging through the archives

December 11 2011, 12:43 PM 

I've been looking at a document from the House of Commons. It's the House of Commons Library Research Paper 99/56, entitled Homicide Statistics. This collects and interprets data from various government sources, and I've been particularly interested in Tables 1 and 7.

Table 1 is entitled "Offences initially recorded by the police as homicide, and current classification (England and Wales)". It covers a range of years, but for reasons which will become apparent I'd like to concentrate on just two years, 1995 and 1996.

In 1995 there were 753 offences initially recorded by the police as homicide, and in 1996 there were 680; taking both years together, there were 1433. Not all these offences retained their classification; I imagine that some might have been reclassified as suicide, accident or natural death. But in any event, after a few years (when this document was published in 1999) the numbers had been revised downwards, to 663 in 1995 and 584 in 1996, totalling 1247.

But why have I chosen to concentrate on these two particular years? The answer lies in the title of Table 7, "Outcome of homicide proceedings by sex of subject (England and Wales, 1995 and 1996)". In these two years 1258 men and 153 women were indicted for homicide. Of course the figures won't correspond directly with those from Table 1, because a homicide from 1996 might not come to trial until 1997 or later, and equally some of the trials in 1996 would have corresponded to offences committed in 1995 or earlier. Also, some homicides might be unsolved, and others might have been carried out by several people acting together. But none of this matters for my argument; I'm concerned principally with the data from Table 7 only.

Here is the remaining data from Table 7, using percentages out of 1258 (for men) or out of 153 (for women):

men women
Convicted of murder: 38%15%
Convicted of s2 manslaughter: 7%12%
Convicted of other manslaughter: 30%35%
Convicted of infanticide: 0%4%
Total convicted of homicide: 74%66%

I think it's clear from these numbers that many more men than women were convicted of homicide in its various forms, provided that one ignores infanticide (where the numbers are very small).

I also think it's clear (and this is why I mentioned Table 1 as well) that many more men than women committed homicide. My reasoning is that the reported number of homicides is normally quite close to the actual number: it's not easy to conceal a dead body, or to avoid noticing that someone has gone missing. That means that there isn't much scope for either men as a whole, or women as a whole, "being better at concealing offences". There aren't that many more offences to conceal.

To summarise: in (approximately) this two-year period, in England and Wales, many more men than women committed the crime of homicide.

And, although I don't have any direct evidence to support the assertion (because I'm not a criminologist, and I'm quite lazy), I'd venture to suggest that this is a common characteristic of most modern western societies: that many more men than women commit the crime of homicide. For whatever reason.

Alan Turing

And your point is ...

December 11 2011, 12:43 PM 

Do men and women commit criminal offences equally?

In the previous post, I've given evidence to suggest that this isn't the case for homicide; that men commit far more such offences than women. The difference is too great to be explained by random variation; there really is a difference in the way that men and women behave in this respect. I'm not saying that women don't commit murder; of course not. But far fewer of them do than men. One might try to speculate about the reasons for this, but I'm not going to do so. (There's a difference for infanticide, but that's because the offence applies only to women: see the Infanticide Acts 1922 and 1938.)

This has relevance if one wants to consider the more general question. Of course there are methodological problems about whether the offences should be weighted: is it really sensible to equate a conviction for murder with one one for fraud, or for receiving stolen property, or for driving through a red light? But even apart from that, I think that the particular case of homicide makes it clear that an assertion along the lines of

There's no difference in general between the levels of criminal offences committed by men and by women

is insuportable. It might happen to be the case for some particular types of offence; but there will be other types which it is much more likely for men to commit, and yet others which it is much more likely for women to commit. And these variations mostly won't be random. There will be reasons for them, which sometimes will be obvious, but more often will require serious research to elucidate.


I believe that much the same applies to the instances of misbehaviour committed by girls and boys at school. Perhaps girls are more likely to smoke? (Putative reason: because they think that it will stop them from putting on weight.) Perhaps boys are more likely to indulge in overt displays of violence? (Putative reason: because it makes them look macho, in front of both girls and rival boys.)

Perhaps there are some offences which girls are much more adept at hiding than boys. Certainly there will be others where this skill cannot readily be used. For some offences, girls might be let off more readily than boys; but for others, particularly serious offences, that will surely be much less likely. So comparing punishment rates might underestimate the the number of offences committed by girls; but that underestimate will be a variable quantity. Also, if differential punishments are mandated, then this will have an effect; but the level of the effect, or indeed the direction of the effect, is something which cannot be predicted just by thinking about it.

The local ethos should not be discounted, either. In some schools, there is behaviour which, in other schools, would be unthinkable. These differences might be the same for both boys and girls; or it might not.

And finally: there may well be some offences -- parking infringements, maybe? -- where there genuinely is no difference between the offending rate of boys and girls. Some might -- coincidentally or not -- be offences where the sex of the offender isn't known at the time the offence is booked.

But could it be that, overall, there's no difference between the levels of misbehaviour of girls and boys at school? I don't believe so. Here's why.

If you have two quantities which you can measure, and you measure the two quantities in several components, and if in each component the two measurements differ in one direction or the other, then what happens when you sum the measurements? Certainly you'd expect the overall difference to be reduced, because differences one way would tend to balance out differences the other way. (If the differences had been random then you could have used a formula from probability theory, the Central Limit Theorem, to tell you how much the reduction should be.)

But could the differences balance out completely? No. There would have to be some kind of mechanism which ensured that (say) the greater number of girls who smoked exactly balanced (say) the greater number of boys who indulged in overt displays of violence. It would all have to match.

And that defies credibility.

American Way

Re: Girls and boys

December 12 2011, 1:00 AM 

Alan Turing: "But I'd like to go off in a rather different direction, looking at something which most definitely isn't school misbehaviour, but which might throw some light on how we should think about that question."

Alan you are a brave soul. By the putative reason for smoking offenses girl vanity? Are you seriously thinking of going mano a mano with Jenny? That is not macho Alan but sheer stupidity. wink.gifwink.gifwink.gif

Do all offenses mean offenses outside of school? Are we moving into the criminal code with homicide? Are there gender leanings to breaking laws? If their "wiring" involved it starts with those leanings. Thankfully you cannot be arrested for what you're thinking. happy.gifhappy.gifhappy.gif Who writes the law that determines the offenses studied? True, the Ten Commandments shape our judicial codes in a Judaeo-Christian society but practically speaking, the tripartite government is written by congress, as in accord with the constitution and signed by the president. If you catch my drift the offenses may have built in gender biases not God, for heavens forfend He may not be a He after all. happy.gifhappy.gifhappy.gif

My father (40 year police officer) was fond of saying justice begins with the cop on the beat and ends with the judge in the seat. That certainly applies to the classroom as well. There is a progression from detection to execution where all kinds of monkey wrenches can be thrown into the matter. Gender and race mattered in judicial and corporal punishment as well. Juries are strictly ordered not to consider gender or race but they sure are during jury selection. Our fate was legally to be the hands of twelve men by law but rare indeed would be a case where there would be 12 of a single gender or race are impanelled. As blacks and women rights were acknowledged by the courts convictions were more based on the violation and not the violator here. As these rights progressed both judicial and scholastic corporal punishment declined or abolished. Whether there is a connection I will leave others to speculate?

Who writes the civil and the criminal laws or more importantly on whose behalf are they written for? The citizen, of course, who is subject to the laws he creates; the law enforcement officers he hires; the unpaid jury of his peers and the judge. Who writes school codes of conduct? As I mentioned elsewhere where my matrices, well commented upon, however we disagree Alan, when you started that excellent thread, were more juridical than appropriate for a school in your opinion. I respectfully disagreed for my point was that we have a progression from school, juvenile court to court and the codes of conduct prepare a student for the majority of their life ahead. The rights he is afforded in the principals office, juvenile judge and the judge are in proportion to the remedy called for due to his offense. It has been rightly noted that our schools here are run more juridically. The same perils or fixes can be thrown into the mix between detection and execution but are ameliorated with matrices with the exception of a minimum of disruption due to mitigating circumstances but less rarely a governor's pardon. It is the divine right mentality for those who think they know more than anyone what is good for their charges that leads to the tyranny and revolutions that explains and why the sun sets on a smaller and smaller island as witness this week with the EU decisions. sad.gifsad.gifsad.gif

I know I have gone far afield from the avenue you wish this thread to go but pardon my detour. My mind does not work like the rest nor does it rest. wink.gifwink.gifwink.gif


Re: Girls and boys

December 12 2011, 5:58 PM 

It is wise to have the car full of petrol (gas) and facing out with a sleeping bag, some cans of food, a baseball bat and $1000 cash in the boot (trunk) before venturing into this field.

Gender differentiation in criminal court - outcomes

In New Zealand, governmental/official crime statistics show that women are less likely than men to be convicted of an offence or sentenced to imprisonment, but are more likely to have their cases discharged. Once imprisoned, New Zealand women receive shorter terms than men and are more likely to be granted early release on parole.

By Dr Samantha Jeffries BA, BA (hons), PhD, University of Canterbury

This pattern is not unique to New Zealand. A recent United Nation's Crime Survey concluded that men are disproportionately suspected, apprehended, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned throughout the world.

Based on these official statistics we might conclude that our courts are 'sexist' because men appear to be treated harsher than women. However, in terms of getting the 'bigger picture', official statistics are notoriously problematic. For example, it is possible that sex differences in other key determinants might explain why men's judicial outcomes are harsher than women's. In particular, sex differences in criminality seriousness may account for disparate outcomes.

Women's law breaking is usually less serious and fundamentally different from men's. Thus, any investigation seeking to establish whether men and women are actually being treated disparately by the criminal courts would have to control for these differences.
[. . .]

[. . .]

[. . .]

Is differential treatment by gender warranted?

Research shows that in comparison to men, women generally receive less severe judicial outcomes (e.g. sentences) even when they appear before the court under similar circumstances. Samantha Jeffries discusses the statistics and issues.

[. . .]

[. . .]

Concluding Remarks

The reality is that when men and women appear before the criminal courts they are being treated differently on the basis of gender. It is my contention that this is neither fair nor just. What I would like to see is future feminist discussions aimed at transcending the boundaries of the equality/difference debate by problematising criminal justice processing as it relates to both sexes, rather than simply in terms of women against men. As a societal group, criminal men and women both tend to come from disadvantaged circumstances. Men's criminality, just like women's, does not exist in a social, political or economic vacuum unaffected by unemployment, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, victimisation, general mental and physical illness. This is not to deny that certain circumstances, which are relatively unique to women's experience, may explain, excuse, or mitigate their criminality. Instead, what I am arguing is that there are also certain circumstances, relatively unique to men's experience, which could also explain, excuse, or mitigate their criminality.

Society, the criminal justice system, and to some extent, feminist discussions (especially those surrounding the victimisation of women by men) continue to present most men in terms of thinking, acting, powerful human beings, while simultaneously embracing women's powerlessness and dependency. As long as this continues, womens right to self determination and power will be reduced and men will continue to vent frustration at a society that refuses to acknowledge their weaknesses and extend them understanding. If this occurs, destructive consequences will continue to be felt, not only by men, but also by women who are so often the victims of mens outrage. Ultimately, perhaps, a gentler and more sympathetic justice system would not be exclusively reserved for women but would be opened up to men as well.

Alan Turing

Re: Girls and boys

December 13 2011, 10:16 AM 

American Way, KK: thank you. Indeed the area of adult criminality is a minefield. The laws themselves might be discriminatory, as might the policing system or the courts. But what I wanted to do, in looking at this, is to take one particular well-circumscribed area where I think the numbers tell us that there is a genuine difference between the behaviour of men and the behaviour of women. The numerical difference is so great that, if it were an artifact of the system, then the system would be so corrupt as to be beyond redemption. I'm not saying that the system's perfect, but I don't think it's that bad.

And then, having convinced myself that there was a genuine behavioural difference in this particular area, I then pointed out that a general claim of there being no difference in criminality between men and women couldn't hold water. I note, indeed, that in the article by Samantha Jeffries quoted by KK, the notion that Womens law breaking is usually less serious and fundamentally different from mens is taken as given. And that's what I'm saying; I'm just giving a particular instance to support the assertion.

And then I wonder why behaviour at school should not follow the same pattern. If it doesn't, then there's a reason.


Re: Girls and boys

December 13 2011, 4:17 PM 

The figures Alan Turing presents speak for themselves, men are more likely to commit homicide than women. The percentage breakdown for women doesn't tell us much. The figures are so small that a small change in numbers gives a large percentage swing so I've calculated the absolute numbers from the percentages and put them in parentheses -

men women
Convicted of murder: 38% (478)15% (23)
Convicted of s2 manslaughter: 7% (88)12% (18)
Convicted of other manslaughter: 30% (377)35% (54)
Convicted of infanticide: 0% (0)4% (6)
Total convicted of homicide: 74% (935)66% (101)

The figures for men don't add up because of rounding errors.

As Alan says, infanticide can only be committed by a women. If a man did exactly the same thing it would be charged as murder but the verdict might be S2 manslaughter ("diminished responsibility"). Adding the infanticide figures to those for S2 manslaughter approximates to the murder figures. It could be that jurors are reluctant to convict a women of murder so presume the "balance of her mind was disturbed" and return a verdict of manslaughter instead.

It's clear that the Criminal Justice System is somewhat lenient towards female offenders. The research paper that Alan took the figures from (Homicide Statistics) states that

"Men appear to be more likely than women to be convicted, and to be convicted of murder.An analysis of the figures for domestic homicides only for the past six years shows not only that this pattern holds true but that when convicted for manslaughter, male suspects are more likely to be given an immediate and longer sentence."

This is sometimes known as the "female sentencing discount".

None of this explains why the overall figures for men and women are so different. Even if we attribute all the unsolved killings (some of which may be unsolved because they were committed by women but police are looking for the man responsible) to women, there would still be a very large difference. Leniency towards women cannot directly explain it but there might be an indirect connection.

Boys and men were (and still are) often treated much more harshly than girls and women. Could they have been so brutalized by there experiences that violence became "normal" for them? As I've asked before, were even girls given a blanket exemption from CP because they were better behaved or were they better behaved because they were given a blanket exemption?

I don't agree that examining homicide figures gives us any insight into school misbehaviour. Many of us were frequently in trouble at school but went on to lead, relatively, crime free lives.

Criminal offences can be grouped in various ways. If we group them as "actions that offend society at large" and "actions the Government prefer us not to engage in" homicide falls in the former. Murder is a "Common Law" offence, not simply a breach of some Government rule. School rules are often: arbitrary; petty; pointless; and, in some cases, even unlawful. As such, I would equate them with the latter group of crimes. We might laugh at some of the thing we got up to at school, even those thing that were considered "serious offences" like smoking and truancy. As Alan said in this post -

Suppose, instead, that some other "Jenny" had (hypothetically) been stealing money from other students' bags in order to fund her smoking activities. That, I'm sure we'd agree, would have been "wrong". And I suspect you'd have noticed another difference: that this other Jenny would have been much more reluctant to tell us that she'd behaved in this way, or that if she had told us then it would have been as part of a story explaining how her behaviour had been improved by some means or other, and that she'd regretted what she had done.

I mentioned how, when I was younger, we girls used to carry the "herbal tobacco" wink.gif for our boyfriends because we were less likely to be stopped and searched and, if we were caught with it, far more likely to be let off. Offences like that fall in the latter group of crimes. How many of us would say our actions were "wrong"? If, however, I'd said that we girls shot and killed shop assistants who tried to stop our boyfriends shoplifting, because we were more likely to be let off with manslaughter (and get a lighter sentence) than they, I think most readers would take a very different view.

The latter group of crimes are like breaches of school rules in that they involve a refusal to conform to "authority". As penalties for girls and women tend to be less than those for boys and men, the cost/benefit ratio is weighted in their favour. In this group of offences, When both sexes face the same penalties then misbehaviour tends to even out too.

Dr Samantha Jeffries make very good points in her Concluding Remarks quoted by KK above. If we want to reduce offending rates, we need to start treating people fairly.

Alan Turing

Re: Girls and boys

December 14 2011, 3:59 PM 

I'd like to thank Jenny for her thoughtful response. Before commenting directly on the points she makes, I'd like to say what was at the back of my mind when starting this thread.

When looking back at the discussions about "girls and boys" in various of the other threads, I've been struck by different strands of argument which appear, and the way in which the contributors sometimes appear to be talking at cross purposes. So I thought it might be helpful to try to isolate, first of all, the specific question "do girls and boys behave in different ways", asking about their actual behaviour.

Another question which would be worth isolating is "what do you mean by treating people fairly", as a preliminary to discussing what fair punishments might mean. Now you might think that was a pretty stupid question, with an obvious answer; but is it? For instance, the penalty for a traffic offence is often a fine. Is that fair? A £500 fine might be a triviality for the driver of a Rolls-Royce, but a major imposition on the driver of a beat-up old Mini. I remember reading about somewhere where the fine was computed as a proportion of the driver's income instead (sorry I can't recall the details, though I don't think I'm making it up). But in any case, it would be a possible rule: and would that be fair? Or fairer than a fine which took no account of personal circumstances?

I hope you can see where this would be going. Could different punishments for girls and for boys ever be fair? I don't think you can even start to think about answering this without being clear what "fair" means, and I hope you'd agree that it's not absolutely cut and dried.

But let's leave that, for the moment at any rate, and return to the first question, about behaviour. Jenny says:

I don't agree that examining homicide figures gives us any insight into school misbehaviour. Many of us were frequently in trouble at school but went on to lead, relatively, crime free lives.

I think what I'm getting at is a bit more subtle than that. I'm saying that there are certain criminal offences where there are substantial differences between the behaviour of men and women. I'm then going on to suggest that this might be true for other criminal offences, although this might be harder to substantiate directly. After this, I ask whether something similar might be true of misbehaving at school.

Now it's absolutely right to distinguish between "moral" offences and "administrative" offences, as I suggested in the Matrices thread, and as Jenny correctly quotes back at me. I might comment that the boundary between the two isn't absolutely absolutely fixed; one of the problems in society is that certain offences which, as "upstanding citizens", we think of as moral offences, are considered by others as "administrative" (gang enforcers and violence, perhaps). But despite this, I'm happy to accept Jenny's point that many people who were frequently in trouble at school don't, as adults, commit crimes. This could well apply even if the school offences were "moral" ones: kids, teenagers especially, want to push the boundaries, and will often have realised the errors of their ways by the time they have grown up.

Still, I don't think that affects my substantive argument. Perhaps I can offer an analogy, one which I'm sure I've used before, maybe a few years ago.

Some people have blue eyes. Let's say that it's x%.

Suppose you investigated the people indicted for homicide. The proportion having blue eyes wouldn't be exactly x%, but I don't imagine it would be too different; it would be nothing like the difference between having 50% females in the population and 11% females in those indicted for homicide. The blue-eye difference would simply be due to random variation.

I imagine that the same would apply to criminal behaviour as a whole; and, indeed, to misbehaviour at school.

I don't know, of course. I bet nobody knows; nobody will have carried out the research. One reason why I'm convinced is that I can't imagine what mechanism would give a connection between blue eyes and criminality, or between blue eyes and misbehaviour at school. If, in the future, someone did find a possible mechanism, then I'd be prepared to change my view.

But in the case of men and women, I do know that there's a difference in terms of indictments for homicide which isn't just random. Therefore there must be a mechanism giving a connection between gender and inclination to homicide, even if I don't know what it is.

This suggests that it's plausible, at the very least, for there to be other mechanisms relating gender and behaviour. (Why just for homicide, one might ask.) Some mechanisms might make it more likely for men to behave in a criminal way, and others for women to do so. It's surely rather different from the case of having blue eyes.

And I don't see why the same argument shouldn't apply to behaviour at school. It's plausible to imagine that there are mechanisms which make it more or less likely for boys or girls to misbehave (either "morally" or "administratively"); it's much more difficult to imagine that there are mechanisms where eye colour can affect behaviour.

That's the point I'm getting at.


Re: Girls and boys

December 14 2011, 6:42 PM 

There are blatant differences between males and females, their roles in life and their behavior in many species. In the case of humans, part of the difference between male and female is due to cultural influences (nurture) rather than underlying genetic differences (nature). As a generalization, boys and girls did, and still do, misbehave differently in school. This not to deny a gender difference in detection rates, or a difference in degree of toleration based on gender, or an overlap of gender attributes.

I do not believe it is possible to find any punishment that can be adjusted to have the same impact on all recipients.

Concerning homicide, perhaps women are just not good at it, lacking the physical strength. They tend to resort to retaliation by psychological means where they have the advantage.

American Way

Re: Girls and boys

December 14 2011, 10:02 PM 

Careful KK: Jenny could disprove your IMHO reasonable surmise if she knew where you lived. happy.gifConcerning homicide, perhaps women are just not good at it, lacking the physical strength. They tend to resort to retaliation by psychological means where they have the advantage.

de Wolf

Re: Girls and boys

December 14 2011, 11:27 PM 

Perhaps KK is in a time-warp where the little lady spends her time at the kitchen sink, doting on her husband, obeying his every command, listening to him implicitly, and agreeing when he gives her a semi-nod.
A woman having an opinion, we would have a total eclipse. Surely it would shake the foundations of our society.
Wake up, it's 2011.

It doesn't require too much physical strength to pull a trigger, or hit someone over the head with solid object, plunge a knife into a body, or administer a poison, does it?


Re: Girls and boys

December 16 2011, 12:46 AM 

de Wolf et al, please see here.

American Way

Re: Girls and boys

December 16 2011, 1:04 AM 

KK Your humo{u}r has enriched this Happy Circle, however slowly acquired a taste it may be for some. Jenny, I assume took it that way, though I dare not speak on her behalf or would do so at my own peril. sad.gif Perhaps an emoticon would have saved a clarification on your part KK for some whom may be unaware of your peculiarities. ;(

de Wolf

Re: Girls and boys

December 17 2011, 1:47 AM 

KK, that is the basis of the meaning "tongue in the cheek". From that you need to apply it to different situations.

My definition is, something that is said, where the speaker is apprehensive of the reaction, to their statement/humour. In other words they haven't the courage of their convictions.

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