No Boy Left Behind? Single-Sex Education and the Essentialist Myth of Masculinity

74 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2008 Last revised: 13 Aug 2009

See all articles by David S. Cohen

David S. Cohen

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

Date Written: February 12, 2008


In late 2006, the Department of Education changed the Title IX regulations to broaden the permissibility of single-sex education in primary and secondary schools. The changes took place in the context of a growing concern over the performance and well-being of boys in American schools. This article describes, dissects, and critically analyzes the narrative about boys, masculinity, and single-sex education that surrounded these changes.

The public narrative about the need for single-sex education focused, in substantial part, on what I call the essentialist myth of masculinity. This article catalogs the important components of this myth: heteronormativity, aggression, activity, sports-obsession, competitiveness, stoicism, and not being girls. The article then shows, using education and gender theory, that this conception of masculinity is harmful to both girls and boys. Instead of pushing this form of masculinity, the law and schools should make room for multiple and varied masculinities for boys (and girls).

The article argues that the Title IX regulatory change that allows for the expansion of single-sex schooling can actually work to further empower and entrench the essentialist myth of masculinity, thus violating its own prohibition on sex stereotyping. By adopting strong interpretations of already-existing jurisprudence about gender stereotyping from both constitutional law and Title IX, the article shows how de-essentializing masculinity is possible and preferable in the law. The article concludes that schools that implement single-sex education must do so for reasons other than promoting an essentialized notion of masculinity and that the law must be vigilant in ensuring that schools' implementation not further reify dominant conceptions of what it means to be a boy.

Keywords: single-sex education, Title IX, masculinity, gender, essentialism, sex discrimination, Equal Protection

Suggested Citation

Cohen, David S., No Boy Left Behind? Single-Sex Education and the Essentialist Myth of Masculinity (February 12, 2008). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 84, p. 135, 2009, Drexel College of Law Research Paper No. 2008-A-02, Available at SSRN:

David S. Cohen (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215-571-4714 (Phone)

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