Gender-neutral teaching is currently at the fore front of research, and is stoking the fires of opinions. As professionals we consider ourselves to be hot on such things as gender stereotyping, and often challenge differing opinions. Or do we just think we do?
Teaching without any (often not known) gender stereotyping is new in the UK, in terms of popular opinion. This is common place however in Scandivania where they have been working to reduce gender stereotyping for almost 20 years, it’s even mentioned in their education act (1998).
Sometimes teachers will use certain language towards boys, and towards girls. This of course isn’t a deliberate attempt to promote gender stereotypes – but is simply the way society works currently (although we believe that any child can do anything). In my classroom for many years, if a child is crying on me over any situation I will use gender specific language. I considered it to be nurturing if I refer to a girl as sweetie or a boy as buddy in these situations.
However, I’ve been missing the point massively. Through the use of sweetie I’m implying that the girl needs the comforting of my words more so than the boy, who I just refer to as buddy! It’s so true, you feel you need to use soft and lovely words towards an emotional girl, and yet not so much an emotional boy. It is something I haven’t thought about as much as I should be. It is common, in schools across the country, to see girls being given more time and space when needed to be comforted in comparison to boys, where they are just expected to get on with it.
Obviously the children can use whatever language they please, but it is about challenging those gender stereotypes whenever they occur. “Only boys can play football,” is a very common one heard across the country in a variety of primary schools. Challenging this, and asking why a child believes this can really open up a good discussion. Which will hopefully lead to a differing opinion.
Why is it always the prince rescuing the princess?
Why are the scary and mean characters almost always boys – and the sweet, cute characters girls?
This sort of questioning during any literature study can open up healthy discussion, debate and inspired writing.
There is an assumption really that us educators will always treat children the same way, boy or girl. But honestly, do you actually? If you do, then great! You are a part of the good fight against gender stereotyping, a rare part however! In the UK it is a well known fact that primary education doesn’t attract as many male teachers as female. I am lucky enough to work in a school where there is a male in every single year group. This really helps breaking down those gender stereotypes, but doesn’t solve the problem. Especially if some of the staff are promoting gender stereotypes. Boys are strong and hard and have to take it on the chin, “Don’t you cry boy!” (I’m not sure I’ve actually heard that, and accept that that is perhaps an extreme example!)
For me when it comes to fighting with the staff’s opinions on gender stereotyping, the hardest part is dealing with what’s said in the staff room. “Oh god, did you see that boy at break? He is so wet, you’d have thought he’d be used to getting a ball in his face” compared with, “Ah that poor girl, she got the ball right to her face. I hope she’s ok.”
Staffing opinions need addressing, to a point where they realise what they are saying is wrong. It is true that very subtle language changes can have the most incredible effects.
It’s really important for everyone working in primary education to realise it’s not about taking opportunities from one gender and giving it to the other, it’s about giving children a full chance in life not just half a chance.
I hope that this sparks an opinion or a desire to read more into this area of education, obviously as a teacher I’m always right (!), but if you disagree or have any opinions to add to my growing understanding on this subject comment away.
A friend of mine has written a series of books about a female heroine who uses STEM skills to her advantage. Helping breaking down barriers to a male dominated career choice. Hopefully the below link works for you.
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