Gender Equity – Boys Need the Arts as Much as Girls

Moving into fall, you’re just as likely to find girls playing soccer, basketball and any number of other sports as boys. Though athletics used to be the purview of boys, we’ve made strides toward gender equity in youth sports. But when it comes to the arts, we still have a long way to go.

By and large, the arts remain something girls do. This is especially true of certain art forms (think ballet) and certain specialties within disciplines – girls tend to play the flute while boys tend to play the drums.

While families often encourage their daughters to try their hand at one or more art forms, they are not so quick to steer their sons toward the arts. Indeed, at the Cathedral Arts Project, year after year we see families pulling their sons from dance classes no matter how badly the child wants to participate.

The problem with this is that all children – girls and boys – are created with the potential to be creative and the need to be expressive. If we don’t equip our sons as we equip our daughters – with positive tools to give voice to their innate, human needs in healthy, productive directions – these needs will be expressed in counterproductive, and sometimes even violent, ways.

How much more do we need to see to realize we are failing our boys? We are failing them by not raising them up to explore a variety of art forms, just like we used to fail our girls by not encouraging them to play sports.

Growing up today is tough enough without having to deal with the baggage of one’s parents and other adults. And nothing short of adults projecting their own shame, discomfort and fears can account for the message boys receive from society about what it means to be a “real man.”

Why else would empathizing with others, becoming aware of one’s feelings and learning to express what’s inside – all skills associated with participation in the visual and performing arts – be considered negative stereotypes for boys while the characteristics associated with hyper-masculinity continue to be promoted and reinforced?

The arts help boys – just like they help girls – develop essential social and emotional skills. The arts help boys – just like they help girls – explore their feelings. The arts help boys – just like they help girls –express themselves in positive ways, build healthy relationships with those around them and find their place in the world.

In all these ways and more, the arts help boys. It’s time we do too.