Ah school, the best days of your life. Our 4-year-old has just started school. Here’s a typical conversation when she gets picked up at the end of the day:
Parent: What did you learn today at school, darling?
4-year-old: Oh you know, just the usual reinforcing of traditional gender roles through a complex combination of adults’ different treatment of children depending on their gender, and peers who police my behaviour to make sure I don’t break out of stereotypical behaviour, and that. Oh, and we did some clay modelling and I made a snail.
Parent: Great, did you remember to bring your PE kit home?
Yes, for the gender-concerned parent, school is the final frontier in exposing your child to the world as it really is. We’ve heard many, many times from followers whose kids did not conform or particularly take note of the ‘things that are for girls’ and the ‘things that are for boys’ until they went to school. The most typical is the boy who likes pink. Several of our kids’ male cousins loved pink until school had the mean-heartedness to wring it out of them. It also tugged on the heart strings the other day when the 4-year-old said she wanted go back to nursery where she could play car races with the boys there, because the boys at school won’t let her play their games. (And before you ask, of course she was reminded that girls play cars too).
There are so many reasons why school can be fuel for the fire of gender divisions. As the 4-year-old so cleverly pointed out, research shows that teaching staff do treat boys and girls differently. In this 2006 UK research paper of 7-8year-olds and their teachers, they found,
“Whilst the pupils believed their teachers treated them in a fair and just manner, three quarters of the teachers interviewed believed they did or should respond differently to pupils according to gender.”
And to those that think it’s necessary because girls and boys (yes all of them, because every single girl is the same as every single other girl, yah?) learn in different ways, read the conclusions of that paper.
So what’s to do? Well overthrow the patriarchy first and foremost, obv, but if that doesn’t come off before half term, here’s our suggestions for ways you can get some badly needed lessons about sexism into a school near you.
This post by the excellent Blue Milk describes her experience of running an anti-sexism session in her daughter’s school class of 5-6-year-olds. She’s not a teacher but was asked if she’d be interested in doing it. Our daughter’s school has similarly asked parents if they’d like to present anything to classes that they have a particular interest in. If you get the same opportunity in your kids’ schools then grab it with both hands. Blue Milk describes a brilliant set of photos and questions she used to challenge the kids’ assumptions about gender, for example:
“the kids were really receptive and by the conclusion of the workshop were readily able to spot sexism in toy catalogues presented to them and were happily repeating phrases in their analysis that I’d been using throughout the workshop, like “colours are for everyone”, “feelings are for everyone” and “toys are for everyone”.
Do read it and even if you don’t do something as big as a workshop, it will give you lots of great ideas for things to say to kids when you want to challenge something they say that is sexist.
Ditto this piece, “It’s Okay to be Neither,” By Melissa Bollow Tempel, a teacher who had a kid in her class who presented with gender variance. She similarly worked on sessions that used photos and questions to challenge assumptions and is well worth plundering ideas from.
A more formal way of getting this stuff into your kid’s school could be Laura Nelson’s Breakthrough Gender Stereotypes Project which has completed an initial trial in a school with 9- and 10-year-olds, holding two weeks gender stereotypes awareness lessons and includes elements of science, geography, history, politics and sociology. The website says, “If you work in a school, or indeed if you work with children who you think would benefit from these lessons, we would love to hear from you.” You can contact them here.
Finally, the Astell Project is “a campaign & community of activists & educators which aims to get Women & Gender Studies introduced into schools for 13-15-year-old girls and boys.” Which is an ambitious aim in the current education climate. You can help them by signing their petition here.
Now in previous blogs we’ve usually had a resource for you to draw on, and we’d like to have a template for something similar to the parent-led workshops mentioned above, but the dog ate it. Hopefully we’ll get that handed in to you in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, as usual, any ideas you can share with us to add to this resource would be gratefully received. Our previous experiences of compiling lists and so on, is that we’re stronger when we put our heads together to use our collective wisdom. Yes, some of you guys clearly picked up a lot in school, but what you managed to shake off was the idea that your gender defined the things you would think. How clever of you! But we all know it’s not that easy. So lets try and give our kids the head start that we never had.