“But don’t you think there are differences between men and women?” I thought for a moment, and responded, “Well, I know that brain differences at birth are minimal, and it seems to me that the gender constructs created by society drastically amplify those differences.” The conversation continued for a moment, still focused on binary gender differences, and I added, “But we don’t even know what would happen if a child were to actually grow up in a non-patriarchal society. I only know of a few isolated examples.” My friend affirmed that a few matriarchies do exist, at a minimum two in China that she knew of.
Before you keep reading, I’d like to invite you to read a piece my friend Christina Torres wrote for Teaching Tolerance entitled “We Can’t Dismantle What We Can’t See: Teaching Concepts of Masculinity.”
<pause>Done? Good. Thanks.
In Humanities 7 classes, the students design most of the units and, along with group work, choose individual Focus Questions to explore. For a recent unit on Education, Beatrice '20 chose "Should we teach gender in schools?" and created the essay below as a basis for her in-class presentation, which generated a thoughtful and moving discussion.
At Stoneleigh-Burnham, we support religious freedom and ask that all members of the community be treated with respect. I should be clear in that context that Beatrice pointed out during her presentation that she does not believe the family mentioned in the first paragraph represents all Christians, or even all Catholics. And later on, the point was specifically made that many Christians embrace the full spectrum of gender and sexuality with love.
As does this class.
With Beatrice's permission, then, here is her essay.
- Bill Ivey
“Gender needs to be taught in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something,” was written in the suicide note of 17 year old transgender girl, Leelah Alcorn. “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s f---ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.” Leelah was a mistreated girl from an oppressive Catholic family. Her family's disapproval of her transgenderism caused her to commit suicide last year. It was this and even more recent death of a transgender boy named Zander, that ignited something in my mind. A fire called injustice burned. They weren't even adults yet and they died because of ignorant people, bullying, and no one being there to help them. This turned something over in me because I knew that this wouldn't have had to happen if someone had helped them and accepted them. Why no one did, I don't know. So should we teach gender in schools? There are positives and negatives to teaching it. But think, if kids were taught how to deal with this in school, how to help friends with their problems then maybe we could start on 'fixing society' as Leelah requests. But on the other hand, considering this would be an entirely new topic, how can we teach to young kids and explain to them what it means to feel that you are not who your chromosomes tell you to be?
“When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” So begins the website at http://banbossy.com/, a new organization co-founded by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In Foundation and the Girl Scouts of America. The website points out that girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boy’s from elementary to high school, that girls are twice as likely as boys to worry about being called “bossy,” and girls are still called on less and interrupted more in class. (Ban Bossy) There’s no question that we need to do something about that, and there’s no question we know some of the things that work.
On the Girl Scouts’ website, for example, they share the results of a study done in 2008 that showed the following (Girl Scouts):
- Girls, even at a very young age, have definite ideas about what it means and takes to be a leader.
- Promoting leadership in girls is primarily a matter of fostering their self-confidence and providing supportive environments in which to acquire leadership experience.
- To be relevant to and successful with girls, a leadership program must address their aspirational or preferred definition of leadership, their need for emotional safety, and their desire for social and personal development.
- Girls have a range of “leadership identities,” from strong aspiration to outright rejection of the leadership role.
Filed Under: gender, All-Girls, gender stereotypes, intersectionality, The Girls School Advantage, On Education, anti-racism, social justice, Parenting, On Parenting, community, diversity, All Girls Education, Feminism, Women in media, girls' school, Current Events, gender activism, Education