We posed the question; Do schools enable sexism? Here’s what our youth bloggers thought.
In my personal opinion, yes, they do. In some cases, this can be seen coming from Teachers themselves.
Uniform/clothing – In some cases it may be felt that teachers treat some students differently based on their gender, for example female students may feel let down by their schools. This is due to dress codes that are made against them, such as, not being allowed to wear clothing that shows their shoulders however male students are allowed to wear tank tops and other clothing that shows their shoulders.
“In my personal opinion, yes, they do”
Subjects – Football being taught only to boys and not to girls and dance being taught to girls but not boys is sexist. Doing this can restrict children from taking part in hobbies or activities that they like and could lead to students being unmotivated.
“sexual harassment/assault aren’t taken as seriously as they should be”
Empathy – Sexism can be enabled in schools, when complaints about sexual harassment/assault aren’t taken as seriously as they should be. If students are made to feel like they aren’t being treated as well as others, it can lead to a lack of trust in the very people that are supposed to be a support for them.
Tolu, 14, Leicestershire
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Sexism is a huge problem. If you’re a male reading this, I hope to give you some insight to how sexism affects girls, in school. If you’re a girl, I am sure you can resonate with this.
As a girl, I have experienced sexism at school and I can confidently say that too many other girls, I know, have too.
“We were told, by staff, that our shorts were ‘distracting to the male teachers’”
First, I want to talk about the ‘dress code’. I’ve found this form of sexism especially prevalent in sixth form or college. I’m going to tell you about something that happened in my old school. I went to an all-girls school, and so you would think, sexism wouldn’t really be much of a problem – but you’d be wrong! One summer, on a particularly hot sports day, a lot of us got changed into bicycle shorts, as tracksuits were far too hot. These weren’t the school shorts with the logo on them, so any trouble we got into should have been about the uniform. But no. We were told, by staff, that our shorts were ‘distracting to the male teachers’, and ‘inappropriate’. This angered us on a level I cannot describe, as the only inappropriate thing in this scenario was the male teachers looking at us in that way. It shouldn’t have been us getting into trouble over something so disgusting. Should teachers find schoolgirls to be distracting, in this way? Dress codes are body shaming and sexist. They continue to unfairly target girls and students of colour. While a dress code is supposed to make the learning environment more conductive to learning, it frequently does the opposite.
Sexual harassment is also highly prevalent in schools, a place where children and young people learn. It can include verbal, non-verbal, and physical acts – including sexual comments or unwanted touching. Over a third of female students at a mixed-sex school have personally experienced some form of sexual harassment during school, and almost a quarter of female students have experienced unwanted physical touching, whilst at school. Consequently, only 14% have reported sexual harassment to a teacher and just 6% who witnessed it reported it!
“almost a quarter of female students have experienced unwanted physical touching”
Sexual harassment has a detrimental impact on girl’s confidence and self-worth. Girls adopt strategies to avoid being noticed and singled out for unwanted attention, even if this means missing out on positive attention and recognition. School is supposed to be a safe space to learn, not an unsafe environment.
“Sexual harassment has a detrimental impact on girl’s confidence and self-worth”
Sexism is deeply rooted into our school system, and it is far too common. Less than quarter of female students at mixed-sex schools think that their school takes sexism seriously enough – nowhere near enough.
If you have ever experienced anything I have mentioned in this blog, I am sorry. Please don’t feel afraid to reach out to somebody for support. You are not alone, and I am rooting for you.
Macy, 16, Bexley
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I don’t think that underlying sexism, in dress and uniform policy, in the school system is successfully challenged. In my school, whilst Years 7 to 11 wear uniform, Years 12 and 13 do not, though the school has written guidelines on what we can wear. I find it annoying when the dress code guidelines specify not showing ‘cleavage’ or ‘midriff’ and state that ‘strapless’ tops are not allowed; I imagine that this is common in all schools. Some people might say that these dress code guidelines are there for a reason, to encourage students to focus less on things like fashion and more on their education. However, it could also be argued that, if that is the case and schools don’t want students to be too preoccupied with what they wear, they should have insisted on a uniform.
When teachers pick up on dress choices in school, whilst I understand that they may just be following the guidelines, one of the reasons which I have heard given, is that we have to take account of the younger boys in school. I think that this gives girls the message that their bodies are to be covered up.
“I think that this gives girls the message that their bodies are to be covered up”
I like to express myself with what I wear and I like to feel comfortable in my clothes. Sometimes, my most comfortable outfits include shorter, cropped tops. I’m a teenager and I want to dress like a teenager. I believe that this attitude that the female students should not wear anything even slightly revealing ties in to the idea that women who wear short skirts attract and deserve inappropriate comments. It reflects broader societal norms.
Instead of making girls feel that they have worn something inappropriate or sexualised just because it shows a bit of midriff, we should educate boys to deal with their feelings, emotions and attitudes, from an early age. Sort it out early. Don’t focus on the clothes which girls wear, but focus on inappropriate attitudes, educate and challenge. Teach them that girls can wear clothes like that and not be viewed in a sexual way or have to put up with such comments or behaviour.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. What does this mean? It implies that boys cannot help behaving in a certain way because they are boys. This attitude is prevalent in schools and contributes to the idea that boys underachieve in schools, they cannot sit quietly and they cannot concentrate, as well as girls.
“It implies that boys cannot help behaving in a certain way because they are boys”
The Guardian (November, 2019) reported on Lifting Limits, a non-profit organisation, and elaborated on how it ran a pilot programme, over a school year, which five primary schools participated in, looking at everything they did from a gender equality point of view and promoting a whole school approach to challenging gender stereotyping. An initial audit found concerns, such as, staff saying things like “man up” and children showing sexist attitudes in use of language, such as “you throw like a girl”. At the start of the process, roughly two-thirds of pupils who wanted careers in jobs related to science were boys, whilst at least three-quarters of pupils who wanted to work in nurturing roles, such as teachers, were girls. After participating in this programme, which included things like appointing a senior teacher as a gender champion and new books subverting sexist stereotypes, equal numbers of male and female pupils wanted to be scientists and the proportion of boys who said they could be teachers went from 24% to 42%.
The report demonstrated the success of the pilot in challenging gender stereotypes in schools from an early age and hopefully this is something which we can all learn from.
Beth, 17, Leicestershire
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