Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Is Gender Equality Actually Happening?

My 10 year old son recently expressed disbelief and outrage at classic sexism. I was over the moon with pride and a sense of relief that maybe, like winter, gender equality is coming.

Here’s how it went down.

Having just picked the kids up from school, I was listening to them chat about which playground they prefer to play on.

I must stop there to point out that easy, happy chit-chat like this is not normal between my children, so I was soaking it up. It was pure joy to drive without one arm poised to reach behind and break up a fight. But I digress.

I told the children about the school I went to, back in the seventies.

I didn’t tell them how our third-grade teacher struck any child on the palm of the hand with the wooden end of a bright fluffy feather duster if they were unable to tell her specifically what the priest talked about at mass on Sunday.

I didn’t tell them how the same teacher would use that feather duster on any child who appeared to have stayed up too late the night before. She could tell, you see, by looking at the bags under our eyes.

I didn’t tell them about a child who was locked in a cupboard as punishment, or about the child who was forced to wear a sign around his neck mocking his inability to add and subtract.

Instead, I told them the less sinister story about the two playgrounds at my nurturing primary school. One area was grass, the other was asphalt. Black, hot, rough asphalt.

Boys were permitted to play on either.

Girls were permitted on the asphalt only.

I never, ever thought this was fair and clearly I wasn’t the only one. By the time I was in year 6, someone of power had begun to see the gross inequality being served at our school and decided that the girls should indeed be granted access to the grass area (complete with monkey bars). Of course, we were only given one day a week, but hey, baby steps, right?

The boys weren't happy. Why would they be? They were being asked to give up what was rightfully theirs, something they'd been given without question since they joined the school.

In the scheme of things, it’s a small example of blatant sexism and minuscule compared to inequalities of earlier times.But it was real. However small it may seem, it had an impact and it was wrong. Even as a young girl, I couldn’t understand why I was denied a privilege offered so openly to my male counterparts.

Apparently it was for our own protection, because you know, the boys like to play rough. What bullshit.

Anyway, the good news is that when I told my children this story, my son’s first response was beautiful.

“But WHY?” he said, shaking his head. “That’s just stupid.”

Yes, it is. It was unfair and sexist and disrespectful and….stupid.

The ten year old boy nailed it.

It gave me hope.

Do you see gender equality in the attitudes and beliefs of children and schools today? Are we there yet?