According to the UN's official website, a gender stereotype is a generalised view or preconception about attributes or characteristics or the roles that ought to be possessed by or performed by women and men. Gender stereotyping becomes harmful when it limits women's, men's or for that matter any gender’s capacity to develop their abilities, pursue their professional careers or make choices about their lives.
In her story, The Power, Naomi Alderman, famous British author, says that gender is a shell game. According to her, women are so often defined as not men and rarely does the reverse ever happen. Schools can play an important role in cracking these misconceptions.
According to the book The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper, schools have the unique opportunity to open the minds of students of all ages about gender diversity. Instead of reinforcing the accepted cultural training of gender, schools can teach children to think for themselves about gender. It is up to the people within the schools to decide whether they want to be a part of the solution or a part of the problem.
Gender stereotyping is very prevalent in our society. When it happens in schools, it reinforces particular ideas about what is expected and acceptable behaviour from women and men. For example, women are believed to be weak and emotional, while men are strong and brave. According to the article Sexism in Schools, published by National Education Union, "a significant portion of teachers report that sexism is an everyday occurrence in the classroom and that small, seemingly insignificant events together create an environment in which pupils of both sexes come to see each other as different".
The conditioning on gender is so strong that is imbibed at an early age.
In the BBC TV series No More Boys and Girls featuring teacher Graham Andre's classroom, Dr Javid states, "Children as young as seven think that boys and girls are fundamentally different." One of the pupils says, 'men are better at being in charge'; another says that 'men are more successful'. Girls are 'pretty'.
The conditioning on gender is so strong that is imbibed at an early age. We must do a proper audit of what to practice ins schools to resist this. If we impose gender identities on students, they will not get an opportunity to learn and grow. We also need to challenge the very idea of the gender binary- boy 'things' and girl 'things'.
There are several counterarguments when it comes to practising a gender-neutral approach in schools like these: Gender is an integral part of society. Children must know their own gender; Childhood and adolescence are confusing. Mixing up ideas about gender is only going to confuse more; If we give children more options about their identity, they will take them for fun and play and for sport. This will lead to a trivialisation of gender.
According to the book The Equal Classroom by Lucy Rycroft Smith and Graham Andre, gender is currently an important part of society. But it need not be that way. In our daily life, we use gender words without much thought and without thinking of its consequences. For example, we use ‘I have two daughters’ instead of ‘I have two children’, ‘the girls’ instead of ‘the children’, ‘my mom and dad’ instead of ‘my parents’. We use the words man, woman, lady, boy, daughter, and son, even if we can use a gender-neutral term. What would happen if we used something other than gendered words? Do we clearly understand the consequences when we do?
Gayle Rubin uses the term 'sex/gender system' to designate the common assumptions that there are only two sexes, that there are only two genders and that sex automatically determines a person's gender. There is a generation of people who have grown under this idea, while some others are the exact opposite. There have been times and places where the whole gender binary has been quite absent, allowing for at least one other designation. There are plenty of examples in tradition like the Hawaiian maju, Najavo nádleehí, and Albanian burrnesha.
Mixing up ideas about gender identity is freeing and not confusing. According to the book The Equal Classroom, it is a playful way to approach identity. This is a time when people all over the globe are happily changing the way they look to redefine the boundaries of what is assumed to constitute masculinity and femininity.
Gender identities are often rigid and stereotyped, and schools play a part in perpetuating these notions.
Questioning gender identities does not trivialise gender. To conceive a world where gender is not so crucially important all the time, it needs a lot of work- the questioning, the cultural work and dealing with the fear and emotion that people cling to. We all are raised on ideas of a gender binary. So we cannot bow down to the idea of gender fluidity suddenly. The key is to be informed and understand the basis for questioning gender identities and their effects on students and us and to be conscious about gender stereotyping in everyday life.
Gender identities are often rigid and stereotyped, and schools play a part in perpetuating these notions. Gender doesn't have to be binary. Students should get the chance to think about gender freely. Teachers and schools have an essential role to play in supporting our pupils to ask healthy and important questions about gender identity and to resist unconscious conditioning of students into cliched ideas on gender.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
How do you describe the term “gender stereotyping” to your students?
Can you think of how teachers could help students to resist unconscious conditioning into cliched ideas on gender.?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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