As a school student, my experience shaped the way I see the world today. My opinions and beliefs were shaped by the people I met and interactions I had in those 14 years. In many ways, my feminist ideas were inspired by teachers and students I was close to. Here are 5 examples of the subtle sexism demonstrated in schools, that are regressive and hurt a student’s learning experience. These aren’t specific to one campus’s population, but issues that reach far beyond into even the best schools of the country.
The purpose of having a school uniform is that everybody looks the same and feels equal. However, girls face a lot more criticism regarding their uniforms than boys do. Pulling one’s skirt down when spotting a teacher is a popular move and being corrected in a hallway or classroom is common. Short skirts are the enemy and valuable class time is spent confronting them.
A female student I spoke to said, “I remember in my first council meeting, the Principal was congratulating all the boys and then she called me aside and I thought she was going to congratulate me too but she said my skirt was too short and it showed a lack of respect for my school and post.”
This is sexualizing girls from a young age, and even when teachers mean well, the message being sent is that a little more of your legs showing is distracting others. Boys who wear tight shirts aren’t told to change or buy another. Wearing the correct uniform is important, otherwise it doesn’t have a use, but the double standard has to go.
Short skirts are the enemy and valuable class time is spent confronting them.
2. Being ‘charming’ vs. disrespectful
In classrooms, the majority of ‘class clowns’ or ‘jokes-ters’ are boys who create a playful rapport with the teacher and get away with the cheekiest lines. Teachers laugh at their jokes and even disrespect is seen in good fun. If a girl tries to do the same, she’s more likely to be called ‘distracted’ or ‘disrespectful.’
One female student says, “During a parent-teacher meeting, my class teacher told my parents I would talk to my boyfriend in class too much and needed to fix my priorities. My boyfriend’s parents were told that it wasn’t a big deal and was all in good fun.” The boys are seen as charming young men and the girls are scolded. There’s nothing wrong with having a good relationship with your teachers and being casual with them if they don’t mind, but the reaction shouldn’t depend on gender.
Also Read: The Classroom Is A Gender Mould In Itself
This is a term thrown about casually in schools, to describe someone who has a lot of knowledge about a subject and isn’t scared to demonstrate it in the classroom. This word is usually used in reference to a girl who keeps putting her hand up or excelling in exams. Someone who is seen as smug and aloof.
The reality is that this term makes girls who are intelligent and confident unsure about participating in a classroom and conscious of their own abilities. A female student says, “Our teacher used to look exasperated when my friends and I used to explain things or put up our hands with the answer and her tone would be more annoyed than it was when interacting with the boys.” A student who is talented should be encouraged by peers and motivated by faculty. Not made to feel threatened by others who are annoyed by her capabilities.
4. Hook-up culture
When students are caught hooking-up in schools, more often than not, the girls face more judgement than the boys. They are both pulled up for the same thing and should face the same consequences. Girls are told that there is ‘better expected’ of them as if their gender identity limits their choices.
For instance, a female student recalls, “We were at our school trip and my boyfriend, a couple of other friends and I were chilling with everyone outside a tent. A teacher came by and told me she wanted to talk to me. That time I had some allergic reaction on my legs so I thought it was about that, but it turned out to be a 40-minute lecture about how it was unacceptable that I was chilling outside a tent with my boyfriend. When I argued that everyone was there she shouted at me and told me to behave myself. My boyfriend didn’t have to listen to any of this”. Why should girls be made to feel ashamed in such situations?
A student who is talented should not be made to feel threatened by others who are annoyed by her capabilities.
5. Student Council
Many schools have student councils, meant to bridge the gap between the student body and administration. They are seen as the leaders of the grade and most students aspire for these posts for years. School elections are held or they are nominated. An occurrence not difficult to pick up on is the probability of a boy being elected instead of a girl.
Boys are seen as natural leaders, who can be decisive and aggressive when needed. Qualities which usually classify girls as everyone’s favourite adjective – ‘bossy.’ Even if a girl is elected, she can find herself being undermined by peers or faculty who don’t give her the same respect as her male counterpart.
A member of one such council says, “I’ve been reprimanded for doing things that boys are encouraged to do because if I’m seen or heard more than them, it undermines them somehow. They’ve forgotten to introduce me while giving 5 minute long monologues about my male counterpart and constantly ignored me when it came to communication about work.”
Girls who are ambitious and hard-working don’t receive the credit they deserve and have to work ten times as hard to get the approval boys receive immediately. Even in relatively progressive schools, this contradiction exists, not necessarily at the hands of only male faculty or students, but female too. We need to learn to show appreciation and support, for everyone. Showing girls that their achievements aren’t as valued when they are younger harms their drive and zeal for the future.
These are in no way the only manifestations of our instituted gender bias in schools, but they are examples. We need to call them out, observe more and pick up on them, and stop, at the very least ourselves, from participating in them. Combating this sexism in schools is of the highest importance.
Of course they are areas of education and exploration, but more importantly, they are the place children go every single day. The place which gives them their first impressions of the world and how they will be treated in it. The world isn’t always fair, but at the very least our schools need to be.
Featured Image Source: Odyssey