Courtesy of Steph Montgomery
8 Times Your Child's School Will Treat Your Daughter Differently Than Your Son

by Steph Montgomery

When you hear the word discrimination, you probably think about something insidious. Maybe not being chosen for a job, because of your gender or race, or experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, in our culture there are so many more subtle ways that girls are treated differently than boys, starting in school, and they can have lasting consequences for their self-esteems and futures. There are so many times — both subtle and overt — that your kid's school will treat your daughter differently than your son.

For my daughter it started in preschool and with a gender-specific dress code. The girls had to wear shorts under their skirts and weren't allowed to wear tank tops, while the boys had no dress code whatsoever. None. Girls were offered different activities than boys, like dance class, while boys got to play soccer. Boys got to make wizard hats during craft time, while girls were told to make princess hats, even if one wanted to do the other.

By the time my daughter started elementary school, she was already learning how to be a "girl" in our culture, and I was as heartbroken as I was enraged. For example, in school she was told that boys bullied her "because they liked her." Seriously? Would staff members ever tell a boy that? She's brought home homework with gender stereotypes galore, too. Last year she was invited to cheer camp, along with the other girls, while the boys got to go to football camp. I mean, the list goes on.

In my opinion, these things are examples of social conditioning. The same thing that causes teachers not to call on girls in class might also cause CEOs not to hire, promote, or pay them the same as male counterparts when they enter the workforce. The same culture that accepts people saying "boys will be boys" when they bully girls at school, might let men get away with rape or sexual harassment in the workplace. It's time that it stops.

When They Enforce Dress Codes

Dress codes are often sexist and arbitrarily enforced. Some sexualize girls, are body-shaming, and imply that a boy's right not to be distracted is more important than a girl's right to an education. That is so messed up on so many levels. In many schools (including my kids'), it’s entirely up to the administrator to determine what is or is not appropriate.

The Courts have largely upheld the right of schools to create and enforce dress code policies, as long as they are clearly connected to student safety or the school environment. However, no large-scale studies have demonstrated a conclusive link between school dress codes or school uniforms and improved student achievement or a reduction in violence. Research has shown that body shame can lead to issues such as low self-esteem, disordered eating, and depression in girls and young women.

When They Fail To Address Sexual Harassment

Talking to elementary-aged kids about sexual harassment was not something I expected to see on my mom to-do list. But I have had to explain to my daughters that it is not OK for people to comment about their bodies, make jokes, or touch them.

According to a national survey by the American Association of University Women, girls are far more likely than boys (52 percent versus 35 percent) to experience sexual harassment at school. At the same time, research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showed that teachers both don't know what sexual harassment is and even blame it on what the victim was doing or wearing.

When They Respond To Bullying

My daughter is constantly told that boys who bully her "probably like her." I wish this phrase would die in a fire. When girls bully her, it's dismissed as "mean girl drama," which sucks because it can really hurt.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying looks different for boys and girls. Boys are typically bullied by other boys and experience physical bullying. Girls are bullied by both girls and boys and experience verbal bullying, cyberbulling, rumors, and exclusion. It's important that schools take all types of bullying seriously, as it can lead to consequences like depression, poor school performance, substance abuse, and suicide. We need to do better for all of our kids.

When They Suggest Stereotypical Activities & Books

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

I can't think of one legitimate reason why schools encourage girls to pursue different sports, books, craft projects, and subjects than boys. Not one. And when you consider the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, it becomes even more imperative that we stop. See also: sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace, like that faced by Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit. You don't have to be a bro to code or a guy to science. Girls can do just about anything that boys can with the right opportunities.

When They Don't Offer Girls' Sports

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, she asked to sign up for soccer with her friends. The form had a spot for her to request teammates, and she requested to be with a friend who happened to be a boy. She was then assigned to a girls' team. I asked the coach that she be moved and was informed that since "girls are not as 'athletic' as boys," she wouldn't enjoy being on a boys' team. Um no.

It doesn't stop there, unfortunately. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, girls have fewer opportunities to play sports than boys in high schools — nationally 1.3 million fewer — and are far more likelier to drop out of sports than boys.

When They Offer Segregated Sex Education

According to expert Wendy Sellers, RN, MA, co-author of the Michigan Model for Health and author of Puberty: The Wonder Years, while there are many pros of offering co-ed sex education, including removing stigma, improving communication skills around sex, and fostering empathy, many schools still offer gender-segregated sex education.

Separating kids when talking about something as natural as sex might just leave kids in the dark when it comes to understanding how each other's bodies work, how to do things like negotiate condom use, and result in an unequal or gender-biased education.

When Teachers Call On Them Less

The first time I saw it happen, I was standing in the back of the classroom on parent day. The teacher asked a question and while a ton of girls raised their hands, she literally called on the boys first. It isn't just an isolated incident, either. According to the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, research shows that teachers call on boys more often than girls, ask boys more difficult questions, and give boys more feedback. Girls also have fewer opportunities to speak in class, which sounds eerily like many work meetings and training sessions I've attended in the workplace.

When They Fail To Recognize That Your Daughter Needs Help

Probably the most heartbreaking thing for me, as a mom, was having to fight for over a year to get an individualized education plan (IEP) for my daughter, because she didn't show the same symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) as the boys in her class. It was so messed up. Her teacher actually told me that she "knew ADHD, and she (my daughter) didn't have it, she was just lazy and unmotivated." Nope. She has it, and unfortunately, she's not alone.

According to Ellen Littman, PhD, author of Understanding Girls with AD/HD girls’ symptoms of ADHD can be completely different than boys' — more inattentiveness than hyperactivity — and girls are often misdiagnosed because the diagnostic criteria was designed, based on the experiences of white boys. OMFG. This leaves me wondering what might have happened if I didn't have the time, ability, or drive to be so diligent, because it was exhausting to get her the help she needed.

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