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What’s gender got to do with excellence?



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Societies are slowly changing and it’s mostly because more people are outrightly thinking differently.

There’s an incessant need to keep challenging issues that have for long been accepted as normal, and one of those issues is the gendered way in which we perceive, speak and debate about excellence.

As a standard measure of performance, excellence has been associated with the male gender even though there are historical and present examples of excellence by women.

The idea that excellence is something that boys are supposed to be while girls just try is the reason why many people get lost in non-existent gender wars.

It’s a fact that endless odds are stacked against a girl from the way patriarchy disrupts every aspect of her life.

Anyone raising a daughter who is to be fully self-sufficient and thriving will tell you the odds are perpetually against them.


They have to contend with outrageous societal norms that expect their daughters to be less in everything they do — from speaking, achieving, dreaming, performing, et cetera.

Of course, this is an unjust way of living and thus the need to push for a shift in the way girls perceive themselves and what they can become.

It’s therefore nonsensical to debate that when girls excel, boys are suffering or have no opportunities.

This thinking assumes that there isn’t enough space for both boys and girls to be excellent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The space for excellence has always existed unless it is structurally hoarded, which was happening to girls.

It should and must be a good thing that girls are performing well as per the KCPE results.

Comments such as “Girls are competing favourably with boys for top academic honours” and “It’s about time we also started thinking of the boy-child” are seriously misleading.

These comments entrench the idea that one gender suffers because another is doing well and blurs the root cause of the issue.

At the root sits capitalistic and patriarchal systems that continually disenfranchise people by discriminating against them based on gender, class, education and so on.

Our outrage should be on these systems and their insidious ways, instead of insisting on gendering excellence.

Watering down female excellence by framing it as a crisis to male excellence can therefore only be a manifestation of misogyny.

We must henceforth stop telling boys that not being at the top means they’ve failed in life because it is simply not true.

We must commit to raising secure boys who know that a girl being great at something is not a capital offence neither does it mean the boy’s opportunities to being great are minimal.

We must teach boys at a young age on how to deal with rejection and failure.

We must also stop telling boys they can only be seen, accepted and celebrated when they’re the centre of attention, and instead teach them that they’re worthy of all these because they’re human beings.

It is possible to celebrate both the girl and the boy without reducing either of them and it is up to the adults to do this work of unlearning and teaching.

For these to happen, we must all agree to fight the patriarchy system because the humanity and vulnerability we want to extend to boys cannot exist in the violent structure of patriarchy.

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