Man shushing

This Date in UCSF History: Gender Equity Backlash

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Originally authored by Dr. Amy Levine — Director of UCSF’s Center for Gender Equity — and published in Synapse on May 5, 2006.

I’m writing in response to the Matier and Ross column in the Chronicle, “Center for Gender Equity makes some more equal than others.” Since the column was printed on April 27, I have received incredible support from parents and colleagues who appreciate the value of the UCSF Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day program. 

Unfortunately, I have also been inundated with hate mail from men who believe that there is no need for gender sensitivity training for boys. I have been called “human garbage,” “disgusting and revolting,” “nazi” and “butch” because the Center for Gender Equity offers a program for girls and boys that questions stereotypical gender roles. 

The concept of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day was created by the Ms. Foundation as a national effort to ameliorate the negative effects of sex role stereotyping on girls. 

Workplaces that have developed Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day activities and events attempt to address issues confronting adolescent and preadolescent girls. Adolescence brings on pressure for girls to be concerned about their appearance rather than their capabilities and skills. 

Organizers of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day programs believe that bringing girls to work provides an opportunity for them to see strong role models and participate in activities that foster essential self-esteem. UCSF has proudly sponsored its own Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day program for over 10 years. 

This year we accommodated 360 children in 60 programs at three UCSF campus sites. Although the program was created initially for girls, for the past several years, boys have participated in this exciting and educational day. Early attempts to incorporate boys into programs with girls were unsuccessful, as the children mirrored the same behavior that they exhibit in the classroom. 

Boys demanded different kinds of attention, and our volunteer program planners agreed that the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day experience of both boys and girls would be enhanced by providing separate programs that address their respective general experiences in society. 

What are girls experiencing in their adolescence? Studies show that 54 percent of girls under age 16 have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention; one in four women have been victims of rape or attempted rape and 38 percent of them were 14, 15, or 16 years old at the time of the assault. 

Research on girls aged 8-11 reveals that 85 percent of them have been sexually harassed at school. Between elementary and high school, the percentage of girls in the U.S. who are “happy with the way I am” drops from 60 to 29 percent. Ninety percent of those afflicted by eating disorders are adolescent and young adult women. 

When girls internalize the messages they receive about how to behave, they may compete for male attention, have eating disorders and become unassertive. What are boys experiencing? Boys aged 8-18 surveyed in one research project spent 40 minutes a day playing computer or video games. 

The number of violent interactions in a 10-minute play period ranged from two to 124. Boys who witness violence learn that violence is an appropriate way of resolving conflict. Recent studies in the United States show that 80 percent of boys say they tease, harass and sometimes threaten other students. In addition, males cause 86 percent of all drinking and driving incidents and are 76 percent of binge drinkers. 

Why do we offer fewer programs for boys? The Center for Gender Equity offers as many programs as we can for both girls and boys. The reason that there are fewer programs for boys is because we are dependent on volunteer program planners. We can only offer as many programs as we have volunteers to provide them. 

If you believe that there are not enough programs for boys (or girls), please contact us to volunteer. If you choose, we will help you put together your program ideas. At this point, we would have to take programs away from the girls to offer them to the boys.

What does the boys program constitute? 

The boys play some games, including: “What’s My Line?” where they ask questions of a panel of men and women in non-traditional occupations (male nurse, female firefighter, etc.), to learn to think outside of gender stereotypes with regard to job choices. 

Men and women program leaders use images of action heroes, popular culture icons, and cartoon characters to discuss with the boys what they think it means to be a man in our society. 

Typical discussion questions include: Are men supposed to be considerate, strong and have the courage to stick up for what they know is right? How can boys and men support those who don’t fit into stereotypical norms of behavior? 

Following this 90-minute program, each boy attends a program offered by volunteers from our medical center staff and faculty (the same experience provided for the girls). Evaluations of the program highlight that boys have a fun and enriching experience. 

Why do we have separate programs? Girls and boys have dissimilar needs because their experience of growing up is shaped by gender norms. 

Both are harmed by stereotypical social construction of femininity and masculinity, yet they are affected differently. Generally speaking, girls tend to internalize the effects and hurt themselves. Generally speaking, boys tend to externalize societal pressure and hurt others and themselves. 

We can support both girls and boys through programs like the UCSF Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work day where both boys and girls are encouraged achieve more balance — girls are supported for their competence and potential and are encouraged to be assertive, and boys can learn to support each other and learn that violence is not a solution to life’s difficulties. 

Isn’t this what we hope for future generations? 

Dr. Amy Levine, Director of UCSF’s Center for Gender Equity.