Category Archives: Childhood

FOUR REASONS WHY GENDER SHOULD BE PART OF THE UK SCHOOL CURRICULUM

Sara-Jane Luke

‘Boys in schools want to learn about gender, it matters to them, it’s important in their lives’- Raewyn Connell

It is undeniable that the UK school system is taking steps in the right direction regarding sex, relationship and sexuality education, with health and wellbeing education becoming a mandatory part of the curriculum by 2020. However, even with this progress the curriculum still neglects to educate the nation’s children about a fundamental aspect of human life: Gender. False ideology and misconceptions surrounding gender have been the source of the oppression of women, and LGBTQ+ people for centuries and yet this is a topic that we still fail to treat with appropriate importance within the education system.

  1. To combat gender inequality

Since the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961 gave women more autonomy over their bodies and life choices, there has been great improvement in gender equality. However, gender inequality is still a substantial issue within our society. For example, within the BBC there are no Women in the top ten highest paid presenters and only two in the top twenty. This is something that is also evident  in our everyday work environments with the IFS 2016 finding that the hourly wage for women is still 18% lower than men’s on average.

Children internalise the stereotypes that perpetuate this inequality at a very early age.

For example, in the Channel 4 series: The Secret Life of Five Year Olds, in which some of the boys demonstrate a historically held view by boys that they belong to a ‘club’ exclusive of girls and that the girls can only join in if they ‘cook’ for them. This shows enforced gender roles, i.e. that women do the cooking while the men ‘hunt’, from the age of five. This is problematic because not only do the boys have this opinion regarding the domesticated role that women ‘should’ play but this sends the girls the message that they may only join in in this ‘male’ world on the boys’ terms. This demonstrates that whether we are conscious of doing so or not, we are sending children extremely problematic messages. For this reason, it essential that we teach our children of both genders that they have equal value from an early age.

  1. To prevent bullying

Bullying relies on the exploitation of people’s differing attributes. Many young people suffer from poor mental health as a result of discrimination, scrutiny and a lack of comprehensive gender education for young people. For example, 52% of LGBTQ+ young people reported self-harm either recently or in the past compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans young people.

Gender education leads to a more accepting society where people can feel safe and secure in their own skin. We cannot expect children to be understanding of difference and diversity if we tell them that this diversity does not exist. Until gender is discussed openly and honestly from an early age, children will be fearful and confused about these differences both within themselves and others.

  1. To enhance children’s self-understanding

 Lack of self-understanding leads to a fear of what others perceive us as and an introversion of our views and understanding of others. Encouraging children to experiment with different groups of toys and clothing regardless of gender allows the child to develop understanding and appreciation of differing views and cultures. Although it may be said that it is the job of the parents to decide what their children play with, school is the only place in which we can ensure that every child is given the appropriate tools to navigate our social world. Making this sort of experimentation a compulsory part of the curriculum ensures through policy that self-knowledge is fostered and embraced.

  1. To tackle Toxic Masculinity

The danger of society requiring men and consequently boys to prove themselves as strongly masculine is that it steers them towards restricted options. To excel intellectually or to find another physical way to succeed in expressing this ‘masculinity’. This puts restrictive pressure on boys and creates friction between and within the genders. It creates segregation between those who express their masculinity intellectually and those who express their masculinity in a more physical way. This differentiation leads to exclusion of ‘gentle’ academic boys and girls, and a lack of academic confidence and support of the boys who express this physical masculinity.

By teaching boys at a young age that showing emotion and being kind is not a weakness but a strength, we will put them on the path to self-knowledge and healthy relationships.

I hope to have provided in brief four of many reasons for making gender education a compulsory part of the curriculum for children in key stage one (aged 5-7). This is the time to lay the fundamental building blocks for future discussion and healthy development for the individual children and society as a whole.

 

The rules for being a man: are these of use to anyone?

Blog post by Aidan Kirkwood 

@AidanKirkwood4 

Gender is a hot topic in the wake of Weinstein and the #metoocampaign, meaning discussions around masculinity hold relevance to the current social climate.

Comedian, actor and writer Robert Webb has written a book called How Not to Be A Boy (2017). Written as a memoir and framed through Webb’s experiences of masculinity. Focusing on the final chapter of his book, I explain that the ‘rules for being a man’ are not of use to anyone. For gender equality to be realised, we must re-evaluate expectations of masculinity.  

 

In the first half of his book, Webb discusses his childhood experiences of masculinity, the difficult relationship he had with his father and the loss of his mother at the age of 17.

Webb’s final chapter ‘Men Know Who They Are’ begins with dialogue between his wife and daughter. His daughter explains that if she’s laughed at for dressing as Spider-man, she’ll tell them they’re laughing because of ‘The Trick’ which makes men unhappy and women get rubbish jobs. The Trick is Webb’s family code word for gender conditioning. For Webb, feminism isn’t about men vs. women, it’s about men and women vs. The Trick. Gender is a social construction built into the consciousness of children and adults. We must not question why girls and boys are different, but ask under what conditions do girls and boys consider themselves to be different (Messner 2000).

Even though he was aware of The Trick, Webb states that when fatherhood arrived, he fell for The Trick himself. Despite his promises to be a 50/50 husband and father, he found himself saying yes to every job. He justified it by telling himself ‘men work’ and ‘men make money’. His experiences reflect a majority of the sociological research which has been conducted on the domestic divisions of labour (O’Connell and Brannan 2016), where sex stereotyping is still unmistakable. For example, wives are 30 times more likely to do the laundry and husbands are 20 times more likely to do the plastering (Warde and Hetherington 1993). The data shows that we still enjoy tasks which confirm a sense of what men and women’s domestic tasks are. There is less evidence for a decline in rigidity in the gendered divisions of housework. For instance, of around 285,000 couples eligible for shared parental leave, only 2% of fathers are taking it up.

Webb wishes to undo gender stereotypes and to give a wider understanding of what it is to be male. Children do not invent gender rules as they get older, they are taught them by adults. Research has found that the most important predictor of marital happiness is husbands emotional happiness; when men undo gender by moving beyond gendered scripts (silent, non-expressive, hegemonic male), wives are happier and marriages thrive (Risman 2009). A just world is one where economic and family roles are available equally to persons of any gender.

For Webb, The Trick is a waste of everyone’s time. To oppose it is a cause that he shares with feminists. He believes that feminism has had some success in challenging the stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be like. What Webb is after, is an extension of that awareness to the male half of the population who may still think that gender conditioning didn’t happen to them. The gender revolution is unequal. Cultural and institutional devaluation of characteristics associated with women means men have little incentive to move into traditionally female activities or occupations (Braun and Davidson 2016; England 2010). Women have had strong incentives to move into traditionally male roles, but the gender revolution hasn’t been a two-way street.

In summary, the rules for being a man are not of use to anyone. Webb maintains that for there to be any progression in gender equality, we must work to oppose The Trick. Webb champions feminism and the progress it’s made for women, but the focus must also be extended to the male population. We must take notice of the dangers associated with the expectations of masculinity. What are the consequences of men being expected to be emotionally silent or dominant breadwinners? Arguably, the consequence is around three-quarters of all suicides in 2016 in the UK being male. Additionally, in the wake of the current debate that is occurring around sexual harassment, it’s crucial that we re-evaluate expectations of masculinity for there to be any positive social change.

As Webb states in his book:

‘Men will struggle to treat women as equals if we haven’t learned to look after ourselves; to recognise our feelings and take responsibility for our actions. We should remember what we knew all along: that we are allowed to be fully human, fully compassionate, fully alive in the moment and fully committed to friendship and love. Self-respect and kindness to others: that’s it.

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[i] Some of the online articles referenced will not be open to all