Boys and Girls Come out to Play

I was recently training some children in a primary school in New Malden to become peer mediators, something I really enjoy doing. It’s such a joy to watch the children quickly develop new confidence and skills for dealing with each other and working together collaboratively, it never fails to inspire me. This group were particularly good to work with as they were self motivated and extremely well behaved all the time but what was remarkable about this group compared to the average peer mediation training group that I run is that this group was almost all boys. The girls were in a marked minority, out of a group of 25 children only about six were girls which is very unusual for skills-based projects where children have volunteered themselves particularly when the jobs they are volunteering to train for would involve them working at lunchtime when traditionally in primary schools the boys play football.

At one point we were practising the art of restating as a device within mediation for calming everyone down and encouraging warring factions to listen more closely to each other. I had the children sitting in a large circle in the hall and having explained what restating is  I set up a simple exercise where we would hold a group discussion but each time someone wished to contribute to the discussion they had to restate the contribution of the person who had just finished. Anyone could speak by raising their hand and the  current speaker would choose who would be next.  I didn’t join in at all other than to remind a couple of people to restate when they had forgotten and I gave the group the instruction that they could choose a topic in the news. These were all year five and year six pupils so most of them would be able to read magazines and newspapers or watch TV news and documentaries, at least the early evening news.  The first person to raise their hand, a boy from year six, suggested that we spoke about the Libyan situation  so that is what we spoke about. The children joined in with  enthusiasm if not much knowledge but they were very willing to express opinions about the situation as they understood it and the reasons behind the involvement of the British government and armed forces many of which were wonderfully straightforward and uncomplicated, for instance one young man  said that he felt that Libya should give Britain oil for free  because then we would like them and be very good friends to them. The discussion continued for about 20 minutes and because of the restating obligation stayed firmly on track and proceeded in a very orderly manner. However by the end of the discussion not one single girl had spoken or raised their hand to speak and although there were a few boys who had not contributed most had found something to say including those who clearly knew very little about the situation but had still confidently expressed an opinion.

When I commented that no girl had spoken the girls all replied that the reason why they had stayed silent was that they weren’t interested in what we were talking about and that had we chosen a different subject such as certain celebrities or fashion they would have been very happy to join in. What makes me sad is that we know now without question that girls are every bit as smart as boys and in fact tend to outperform boys in school at the year 5-6 age level but that the girls have already internalised that politics and  economics, war and diplomacy are not for them.  Is it a case of popular culture  brainwashing young women or reflecting the things young women are interested in and nothing else? To be fair I meet many many boys who are equally disinterested in world affairs and these boys themselves, had the topic being different may have been more animated or engaged but what was really obvious was that they had some knowledge, some understanding, some interest and an opinion whilst the girls had none of these. It was not so very long ago that women were regarded as people incapable of political opinion and whilst most of the women and girls I meet are certainly not incapable there seems to be a  cultural shift towards girls dumbing themselves down when boys are watching. Even highly educated and intelligent young  women turn into ditsy, hand flapping dizzy little things  in the company of men which, though I accept it’s probably just a fashion, makes them seem far less intelligent and worldly than I hope they are. Perhaps we need to do more as educators and  role models to encourage girls to take an interest in the wider world?

© Olga Ermolaeva |



  1. I was brought up in the 1970s and 80s and was always told that as a girl I could do anything and that being bright was positive. I agree that there seems to be a fashion for being cute and dumb, perhaps so that males will want to look after us. I think we can go a long way in schools to challenge media stereotyping and to support children in being proud of who and what they are.

    ps Loving the new look website.

    1. Thanks for the comment citizenr, I think you are so right – it’s how we are encouraged to see ourselves from an early age that counts. I grew up in the 50 s and 60 s – all housewifely excellence and the emergence of the dolly bird but luckily having a powerhouse for a Mother and two sisters and no brothers I was raised to be very independent as an individual and as a woman. it never occurred to me that decorating, mending the plumbing or rewiring a circuit had any gender attached and though I can’t claim to have set the world of academia alight it wasn’t because I was a girl – in fact I was the only girl in my year to pass physics o level. it must have been all those fuses and plugs I mended!

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