As promised here are the slides and presentation notes from my workshop at @teachingtotal last weekend. If you weren’t there hopefully you’ll get the gist…
Last year I wrote a blog on the importance of discussing the themes within fairy tales to avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes. You can read this blog here.
As a school we had begun to realise that the books we were sharing and those in our library didn’t reflect the diversity of our children. The majority of children’s literature we were using had male protagonists and where there were females they were often engaged in domestic chores. There were also very few books in which the male protagonist was seen as sensitive or nurturing – Dogger being one of those rare examples.
We then extended our research to look at our wider curriculum and this was a real eye-opener. The majority of our wider curriculum consisted of #deadwhitemen – where were the women?!!! In our art, history and science curriculums women rarely made an appearance. Around school it also became clear that boys and girls were continually separated from one another. This either happened by choice (there was barely a girl on the Key Stage One football pitch) or by they way we spoke to the children (lining up boy/girl/boy/girl). The children were often referred to by their gender e.g. ‘come on girls’ or ‘let’s go guys’.
When speaking to the children it became clear that they saw themselves as different to one another in numerous ways. One year 3 child explained how girls brains were very much smaller and two thirds of the class were in agreement!
But it was some comfort to discover that this is a widespread issue and not just us.
I looked at the online, long term plans of 30 primary schools and it was clear that men feature much more prominently in the curriculum and again predominately dead, white ones. There were women but no scientists and a fairly small field. Ofsted’s list of the top ten poems used in primary schools paints a similar picture.
So what’s the problem with treating boys and girls differently? Are we very different from each other and need to be treated differently? Are our brains just wired differently?
Turns out no they are not. Advances in science are enabling us to learn more than ever about how the human brain works and in recent studies it is becoming clear that there are very few differences based on gender. Our brains differ because we are all different but not because we are men or women. There isn’t a map reading section in the man’s brain and women are not predisposed to multi-task.
So why do we continue to treat boys and girls differently. It’s important when it comes to reproducing but when else does it actually matter whether you are a man or a woman, a girl or a boy and why do we put so much emphasis on it?
We are all human so surely we all deserve to be treated equally?
The consequences of gender inequality are far reaching …
The messages that we give to our children from the moment they are born could be affecting the way they see themselves and how their brains develop.
Watch this social experiment here which was conducted as part of the BBC Bafta nominated documentary. #nomoreboysandgirls . It shows how we unconsciously perpetuate gender stereotypes based on our preconceptions of what boys and girls will enjoy. (Other parts of the documentary, featuring @grahamandre, can be found on youtube)
The marketing ploy to sell more clothes by separating them into girls and boys plays on gender stereotyping but what do these clothes say to our children about what is expected of them?!
@lettoysbetoys analysed the language of children’s toy adverts. Unsurprisingly the language for boys is the language of leaders, problem solvers and those in power whereas the words in the adverts aimed at girls are those of a someone who cares about how they look and cares for others.
And the words we all use perpetuate these stereotypes. When our children hear us say ‘typical bloke’ or ‘well he’s a boy what do you expect?’ we are saying that we expect men to behave in particular way because they are different. How many of these words have you used or do you use? There are words that would never be used to describe the opposite sex. How often do you hear of a ‘working Dad’ ?
We’ve come along way since the 1950’s when my Granny was unable to get a job because she was expected to look after her ageing parents and then the home. My Grandma didn’t learn to drive because she would ‘be a nightmare behind the wheel’ and consequently often felt trapped and isolated – ironically my Grandfather’s driving was pretty awful. But we haven’t come far enough. What can we do in schools to encourage our children to see themselves as equals? How do we encourage our boys to see that it is ok to be sensitive and nurturing and for more men to enter professions that require these qualities. We need more of our girls to see jobs in science, technology and engineering as a viable options.
At our school we’ve begun by addressing the curriculum – this is very much a work in progress and we are currently working on a new, more diverse curriculum catered to the needs of our children for 2018-19. Our book stock is now much more diverse and allows all the children to see themselves represented within books much more widely.
We are also using picture books much more widely and pairing fiction, non-fiction and narrative non-fiction where possible and encouraging the children to make links. Surrounding images with vocabulary to describe how the people maybe feeling in these books then allows the children to make comparisons and discuss how we all feel at times because we are all the same on the inside no matter what we look like on the outside.
We’ve made a start in terms of the wider curriculum and the children will look at the lives of both men and women within their topics. For example Year 2 always enjoy their space topic and look at Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – we have now included Helen Sharman and discussed how both men and women have impacted on space travel. A small change but now when the children are asked to draw astronauts they are not almost exclusively men.
We are now actively challenging gender stereotypes and this discussion prior to designing a toy really encouraged the children to question why they had chosen one toy over another based on whether the child was a girl or a boy.
We are developing more opportunities for drama and role play. If you can act like brave adventurer and talk like a brave adventurer you are closer to believing you can become one!
Debating is also a brilliant way to encourage children to see both sides of an issue and to learn how to discuss it a measured way, without resorting to arguing. We need to make sure our children understand that all their voices are equally important and that they are brave enough to stand up and share their views. In order to do this we have to give time to developing a rich vocabulary and encourage activities that allow children to hone their speaking and listening skills. This debate involved children from another school visiting and debating whether it was right or wrong for the suffragettes to break the law. They wrote their own speeches and an impassioned debate gave all the children a much deeper understanding of the issues as well as allowing them to practise speaking in public. They were amazing!
As a school we have signed up to the @gendercharter and through working with them we will continue to address gender inequality in our school. This link here explains more about the gender charter in a short video clip – well worth a watch! After signing up you will be sble to complete a short questionairre from which you will receive next steps guidance fot your school (home or business).
Next up for us is to address our language in how we address the children and how we refer to each other in order that we are not constantly separating ourselves in terms of male / female or boy / girl. We are also considering the titles of ‘head girl’ and ‘head boy’ and changing this to ‘head students’ – we don’t have head woman and head man so why do we do this?
We are seeing signs of early impact and are looking forward to finding more ways to building on this in school. There are plenty of people out there #smashingstereotypes and if we can bring these discussions into more of our schools then we can really begin to close the gender gap!!!!!