Wellbeing Matters - Teaching about gender equality
Gender equality is more than just boys and girls being treated equally. It is more than ensuring all have access to the same opportunities.
It is about how we behave and the attitudes we display. As I mentioned last week, it is a real task to challenge the accepted norms for how men and women treat each other. It is vital we teach boys how they can be the best person possible and how to behave and think, rather than to leave a disproportionate responsibility for this to girls.
How might we do this in a school setting?
- The first stage is to teach about diversity and difference.
- Next, break down stereotypes and consider how they are damaging.
- Finally, learn about actions and attitudes in society and how to either promote them or push back against them.
A Year 2 child may engage in celebrating various festivals of the year, including his own. Just in recent weeks, we have celebrated Christmas, birthdays and Chinese New Year. All examples of celebrating their own and others' cultures.
A Year 5 pupil may look at different occupations and consider which genders dominate that profession. They may well examine why and consider the possibility that we make assumptions about what jobs people do based on how they look.
In Year 8, a close look at 'Protected Characteristics' and the need to have them enshrined in law, may be an activity they engage in.
In my experience, the boys at Pilgrims' engage vigorously with these activities. I offer to them this idea: Judge someone by their actions and what they say, not how they look. Although not a perfect statement, it is one that sparks healthy debate, as boys look for the exception. That is, until you turn it on them.
How would you feel if you didn't get a job because of the colour of your skin? Or your gender? Or your disability? How would you feel if you couldn't play with your friends because of your religion? Your age?
Dr Essex is a great example, pushing back against the stereotype of which gender should lead a boys' school. In her own words; “Traditionally boys’ schools, including Pilgrims’, had a Headmaster and girls’ schools a Headmistress. But why? Boys and girls need to see that gender is irrelevant when it comes to leading a school just as much as it is when flying a plane or removing an appendix or running a hedgefund. As the Head of The Pilgrims’ School, along with my colleagues, I am passionate about teaching and supporting our boys who will become the next generation of fathers, husbands, partners and work colleagues to treat ALL people well.”
Teaching boys about gender equality is both the same and different from teaching about other important matters like racial discrimination. There are tough lessons to be taught and changing attitudes and having strength of convictions goes well past their time with us. Start young, start gently, and build slowly, is the way we work here. We're in this for the long run.
Ultimately, we want our boys to treat ALL people well. That means thinking about how THEY behave, and understanding important issues around consent, respect and relationships.
L’égalité des sexes.