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Monday, November 06, 2017

Gender equality starts young | Varsity Online - Violet

Photo: Ilona Harding-Roberts
Speaking to children through gender-neutral language might help to solve gender inequality, notes Ilona Harding-Roberts, Varsity.

Children seem to be subject to gender stereotypes from the moment they start school
Photo: Pixabay

When you think of primary school, your mind probably jumps to a place full of children finger-painting, licking crayons, and playing tag at break. They were the golden days, the days of freedom and fun, the days you could gallop across the playground on your imaginary dragon and nobody thought you were weird.
Yet BBC Two documentary ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Schools Go Gender Free?’ unearthed some alarming points about the way children understand gender, and such discoveries suggest that primary school is not such a place of freedom after all.

The show was presented by Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, who believes there is very little difference between the brains of boys and girls. He began by conducting interviews with the children, asking questions such as “are men and women equal?”. Every girl but one said boys were “better”, with one girl arguing that “men are better at being in charge”. Meanwhile, a boy in the class demonstrated some keen political knowledge: boys “get into president easier, don’t they?”. Appearance was also brought up, with another girl answering “girls are better at being pretty”. All pretty worrying findings, particularly given that the kids were just seven years old.

Dr Abdelmoneim’s argument is that the problem is one of nurture rather than nature. In an attempt to combat this, he began putting up signs in the classroom that read ‘girls are strong’ and ‘boys are sensitive’; he paid attention to the books recommended to the children, disposing of any that featured submissive female characters or aggressive male ones; and he corrected the way the teacher addressed the children, eliminating ‘mate’ for boys, ‘darling’ for girls. Essentially, he focused on all those little parts of everyday life we’d not think twice about.

I can see close similarities between the children in the documentary and my own brother and sister, who are both aged nine. While I’ve heard my sister talk about how pretty the other girls are, my brother has never mentioned another boy’s appearance; instead he is concerned with competing over strength and speed. Obviously, my own experiences are incredibly limited, and Dr Abdelmoneim’s study wasn’t perfect either; his study is small-scale and focuses on a class of predominantly white children in just one part of the country, so the research needs to be expanded.

But this appears to be a national problem that runs right up to the top of society: earlier this year, Theresa May mentioned “boy jobs and girl jobs” in an interview on The One Show. Boys love bins, apparently – it must be a genetic thing. Her comments were particularly bizarre given that she is only the second female prime minister Britain has had; her role should surely be to break down gender stereotypes, not reinforce them. Yet it would seem that the problem is not just present in schools, it’s so widespread that it is even being sustained by our leaders.

The findings also speak to nationwide statistics; a poll by analysts Mintel revealed that 44% of children identified jobs like ‘plumber, builder or electrician’ as ‘for boys’. They also linked it to the divide in subject choices, with boys consistently preferring maths, IT and science, and girls widely preferring humanities-based subjects.
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Source: Varsity Online