As most people know by now, children learn in a variety of ways: sight, smell, touch, listening to others, and experiencing a lesson on their own. For example, my son is just now learning how to use the toilet. Potty training is proving to be difficult, and I'm having my fair share of trials and tribulations as I attempt to teach my son the art of the porcelain throne. But what about heavier issues, like sexism, racism and gender equality? How will I ever teach my son about those complex, multifaceted points of discussion that continue to plague our society on a day-to-day, dangerous basis? Turns out, I won't have to. Well, I will want to, because so many schools (albeit, probably not all schools) are teaching our children — especially our sons — to be sexist, and it's terrifying.
My son is too young to go to school right now, but already, I have the ability to teach him right from wrong, fair from unfair, and sexist from equal. Usually, our children learn from our subtle actions, not through grand presentations or lectures in a classroom. And it is in these subtle-yet-powerful ways that schools are teaching our sons to be sexist. Whether it's through action or inaction, stated rules or the blatant disregard of specific guidelines, our sons are being taught that specific sexist behaviors are OK because, hey, the big kids are doing it too.
So, with that in mind, here are six ways school is teaching your son to be sexist.
Dress Codes For Young Women
Enforcing dress codes for female students so that male students "aren't distracted" during class or the course of their school day, is subtly (or honestly, not so subtly) teaching our sons that they're not responsible for their own actions or reactions. Instead, we're telling our sons that their actions are a woman's problem, and we're telling our daughters that while they cannot police their own bodies, they must police another individual's possible actions. Dress codes body shame women and are inherently sexist. As a young woman explains in the documentary Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code, "I’ve never seen a boy called out for his attire even though they also break the rules."
Lining Up Kids Based On Gender
When students are lined up and/or grouped together based on gender, they're taught that one gender is somehow better, or worse, than another. We're teaching children to see one another based on their gender (and usually, it's the gender that's assigned at birth; it's not like we're using gender in schools as a means by which to reinforce self-identification). A recent study was highlighted in TIME Magazine, showing the negative effects teacher biases have on women's education. "The first found that gender stereotypes are negatively affecting girls’ math grades and positively affecting boys. The second revealed how disproportionately penalized young black girls are for being assertive in classroom settings."
When children are grouped according to gender, and are allowed to act out specific gender stereotypes in the classroom with little or no repercussions, sexism is allowed to reign supreme, negatively impacting the next generation while simultaneously reinforcing dangerous clichés.
Failure To Highlight Women's Roles In Academic Areas And History
Stop me if you've heard of La Malinche, Anne Boleyn, or Begum Hazrat Mahal. While these women no doubt changed the course of history, chances are you (or anyone, really) haven't heard of them. Maybe they were a bonus question on a quiz once, but that's it: Women's roles in history are largely seen as "bonus" info to know in addition to "real" history. Despite the fact that there are countless women who've changed the world, their names don't grace the pages of high school history books.
The patriarchy has done a bang-up job of making sure that very few women are highlighted in our text books, while men are revered as the discoverers of nations, bringers of freedom, and fighters of justice. Of course, this isn't to take away from the impact of many inspirational men throughout history, but there are just as many women who changed the world as we know it. They deserve to be taught in classrooms across the country, too. And because they're not, our sons and daughters start to believe that only men are capable of positive change. That's a dangerous, fictitious lesson our children are learning.
Overlooking Sexual Harassment
In 2013, The Guardian highlighted a survey by Girlguiding UK, a girl's youth organization that aimed to show just how prevalent sexism still is among children. "Nearly three-quarters of the girls aged 13 and over admitted to suffering sexual harassment; 75% of girls aged 11-21 say sexism affects their confidence and future aspirations." If that isn't enough to make your blood boil, there's always this devastating statistic from a 2003 study from the American Association of University Women (AAUW): "Eighty-three percent of girls and 79 percent of boys report having experienced sexual harassment. For many students, sexual harassment is an ongoing experience: over one in four students experience it 'often.' These numbers do not differ by whether the school is urban, suburban, or rural."
Something is wrong, and that something is the seriousness (or rather, the lack thereof) with which sexual harassment is treated. It has become a part of our education system, and schools are less likely to treat (or even acknowledge) cases of sexual assault, for fear that high incident rates will deter future students from attending.
Failing Sex Education (Or None At All)
Sex education is pivotal in fighting sexism, yet most sex education courses haven't changed in 14 years. Why? We have the Internet now, a never-dry well of (sometimes useful, usually biased, occasionally dangerously false) information that children are turning to for answers. And yet, the majority of sexual education courses do nothing to include the Internet, and the potential dangers it can cause to young men and women. Abstinence-only sex education puts an emphasis on sex after marriage, a choice that can too often reinforce the idea that sex takes away from a woman's person or personality or self-worth or anything that a woman could remotely hold onto as her own. Young men see women less like people and more like prizes, and young women see their desires to be less normal and more unhealthy.
Teaching Our Sons And Daughters That "Boys Will Be Boys"
The idea that "boys will be boys" reaffirms that men are incapable of controlling their actions. Gender is not the end-all-be-all of potential and/or future actions. Gender is nothing more than a social construct used to divide individuals into easily identifiable groups. To use gender as an excuse for poor behavior is to strip a human being of not only their responsibilities and potential consequences, but of their innate humanity. Our sons should not be held to the stereotypes of a specific gender, and our daughters shouldn't have to survive in spite of them.