Food For Thought

Should The Sexes Be Treated Differently?

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Women are occasionally referred to as the “weaker sex.” From the standpoint of pure physical strength, I guess the statement has some merit, although I prefer using a word other than weaker. The term “childbirth” certainly doesn’t bring to mind weakness. The term “mother” doesn’t denote weakness, either.

Men and women have different physical make-ups, which must be taken into consideration in many occupations and activities. The past few decades have seen elimination of many artificial physical requirements, which have kept women from fully participating in once male-dominated segments of society. Women have made a visible appearance in law enforcement, rescue squads, construction, engineering, truck driving, military and other fields of endeavor. Bravery has no gender.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

This article was inspired by recent news items highlighting the accomplishments of women golfers competing against men, and the growth of all-female classes in math and science. The sports articles seem to encourage increased competition between men and women, while the education articles seem to promote separation of the sexes in the educational environment. I believe the reverse should be true.

The Sports World

In the past I have expressed my belief that sports are highly overrated in our society. I’m speaking as a coach of high school golf and other sports. One of my high school golfers was former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer. During my coaching tenure I’ve had several opportunities to coach female athletics and found the experience quite rewarding.

Golf is a wonderful sport. It’s one of the few sports that can accommodate individuals of different playing abilities. Parents can participate with their children, and both have an opportunity to enjoy the challenges of the game at their own ability level. Golfers play against the course, not their opponents. In tennis and many other sports, your enjoyment is based on the ability of the other player to return the ball at a similar skill level. In golf, the length of the course is adjusted to match your ability. You alone hit your golf ball. Golf courses have ladies’ tees and senior tees for a reason. Members of neither of these groups, on average, can hit the ball as far as younger males. When females are given the handicap of using the shorter tees, they can compete against males.

Problems can occur when a winner must be determined using different course standards. Recently, female golfers won a PGA-qualifying tournament and the Virginia High School Golf Championship using the ladies’ tees. One must ask, are they the true champions? My daughter once won the female division of a golf tournament because she was the only female golfer to show up. She said to me, “Dad, I didn’t beat anybody,” to which I responded, “Showing up is the first part of any competitive process; if you don’t show up, you can’t win.” The female golfers deserve commendations for just “showing up.” But the bigger questions are why must they play against the boys, and should different rules apply if girls choose to participate in male-dominated tournaments? Should the foul line, three-point line, or basket be lowered so girls can play boys’ basketball? What do you think would happen if WNBA players faced Shaquille O’Neil or Michael Jordan of the NBA?

In my opinion, we should maintain the separate-but-equal rule. Suzy Whaley, the female golf pro who won the men’s qualifier using the ladies’ tees, has the LPGA in which to display her skills and earn a living. By competing with men, she may get some publicity but little else. There is no way she’s going to beat Tiger Woods or most of the other male professionals playing from the same tees.

In high school sports we need to promote more female sports, not more female participation in traditional male sports. Virginia has established a girls’ state golf tournament. Should we now let the boys compete in that tournament? The answer is obviously no! Should boys be allowed to participate in girls’ softball, basketball, field hockey and other sports just because a few girls might have the ability to participate in some male sports? Let’s stop singling out the few females who can compete at some level with boys and focus more on the value and joy of watching female sports.

Men and women should have some activities they can do without the opposite gender intruding. I think some all-male golf clubs are acceptable. As for the Masters, I believe women should have a presence in the Club’s membership. The Masters represents something more than a private club. It’s part of Americana, which includes everyone.

On Academic Separation

A recent trend, or novelty, has surfaced promoting separate math and science classes for girls, which I strongly oppose. Unlike the physical sports world, the world of logic takes place in individually designed environments called brains. In some ways it’s like having your own individual golf course. You compete against yourself, not other players.

It would be difficult to prove that girls as a group have less brainpower. In fact, my personal teaching experience in math-related courses points to just the opposite. Qualitative observations of female performance in my college research classes showed that women do as well, if not better, than the male students. Women more openly admit to perceived math weakness, but in the final analysis they are just as competent as men.

One of the recent articles on separate math classes stated that girls are distracted by boys and therefore need a separate course to meet their full potential. As I recall, there were many girls and women who distracted me in a number of my educational endeavors. Has anyone noticed how some of the young women come dressed to school? Distraction is a double-edged sword and not a valid reason to establish all-girl math courses. Girls will compete and work with men in many professions. Separate classes can only expand the myth that females can’t compete in an analytical world.

Early childhood experiences, rather than gender, may be a more significant contributing factor in girls liking math-related activities. Boys’ childhood activities just fit more closely with science and engineering. Should we encourage girls to participate in more traditionally male activities during their childhood years? Personally, I don’t know. One thing I do know is that watching my three-year-old granddaughter play against boys in a coed soccer match wasn’t fun. I would have preferred to see her play in an all-girl competition. That boy wearing #6 and his buddies just dominated the match.

But I believe when she gets a crack at them in some math class down the road, they’ll know what it feels like to be dominated. I’m not going to recommend to her parents that they feed her Wheaties so she can compete with the boys on the soccer field. There are too many more important areas of life. I’ll recommend she consider being more like Mother Teresa or Madam Currie than Mia Hamm.

Teacher Honor Roll

In our January issue we asked our readers to nominate their best teachers for our teacher honor roll, and the mail came pouring in! We will publish a few each month until we have acknowledged all of our fine educators.

Nominator: Katherine Narzynski
Teacher’s Name:
Mrs. Hammer
School System: WMMS, Greene County
Primary Subject: History 

I have learned more than last year. She knows more. It’s my favorite subject.


Nominator: K. Evaline (Kohn) Crouch
Teacher’s Name:
Nancy Weir Waters
School System: Manassas High School
Primary Subject: English

She taught a respect for God — such a word as “gosh” was an abbreviation for God’s Flesh.


Nominator: Walter Sydnor
Teacher’s Name:
Ed Newcomb
School System: W.T. Woodson, Fairfax Co.
Primary Subject: Auto Mechanics

He has the ability to teach a skill, and the skill to point you in the right direction in life.



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