As Michelle Obama touched down in Denver today to promote her efforts to connect America's public school students with professional mentors, she declined to send an invitation to one population who could most benefit: our city's neglected boys.
The First Lady's packed schedule started with a closed "girls mentoring luncheon" at the Governor's Mansion on Logan Street. Next, she'll gather with other state and national figures in meeting with female students from area schools. The high profile list of mentors included actresses Susan Sarandon and Fran Drescher. Also taking part are beltway heavy hitters, including Labor secretary Hilda Solis, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson.
The visit comes just days after Obama hosted a "Women of Excellence" outreach event at the White House, where 20 girls were paired with 20 mentors, and participants were treated to appearances by singers Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys. Obama says she hopes to provide successful female role models to a greater number of students. As the Denver Post reported Friday, "During the launch of the program at the White House 10 days ago, Michelle Obama told the students she felt it important they have mentors who could help them and listen to their concerns."
But what's gender got to do with it?
Especially as Obama lists among her most influential role models her father, a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department, and her brother, Craig. Certainly she's not possibly suggesting that girls need special help in the form of female mentors. That would be both ignorant and sexist.
In Denver today, less than half of all male public school students will ever graduate from high school. Girls, meanwhile, still face discouraging odds, but at least they have almost a 60 percent chance of earning a diploma.
Denver isn't alone in seeing such discouraging outcomes, and the disparities only become more pronounced as students make their way onto our college campuses. According to the National Center For Education Statistics, nearly 57 percent of all college undergraduates are female. For certain racial groups the numbers are even more staggering: just 37 percent of all black college students are male. While feminists like to champion figures concluding that women are drastically underrepresented in some sciences and engineering fields, they neglect statistics demonstrating that women are about half of all medical and law school students today.
The fact is clear: being born a girl today is no longer an impediment to success. To succeed, girls need to hit the books, not rock concerts.
Over the years, I've written frequently about sexism against our boys. Perhaps it seems ironic given that I'm the mother of two girls. I do so, however, knowing that today's girl-power hype sends the wrong message to my own girls. Like professional working moms across the country, I provide my daughters an imperfect but devoted mentor right inside their own home. And gender has nothing to do with it, as they'll also see their father balance life's responsibilities and his own professional ambitions.
To Mrs. Obama, I have this to say. Bring in the rock stars. Bring in the high performing academics. But bring them in for everyone, and after the 3 p.m. bell rings. Don't pat my girls on the head and tell them they need a female mentor to succeed, especially when such help comes at the expense of their male peers.
In an already overly complicated world, I don't need to explain why the First Lady believes that picking winners or losers based on gender is okay. It's not -- never has been and never will be.
Jessica Peck Corry (www.JessicaCorry.com) is a Denver attorney and director of the Independence Institute's Campus Accountability Project.
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