How school subjects reinforce gender stereotypes
Why are some schools offered Home EC but not others? How does this reinforce gender stereotypes and career choices?
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For our Young Social Innovator (YSI) project we chose the issue of gender stereotypical subjects in schools. This issue focuses on certain subjects being directed to certain genders. This means how in many boys schools Woodwork, Technical Graphics, Engineering and Coding are offered but Art and Home Economics are not. Also in many girls schools, girls are not offered woodwork or metal work but Home EC usually is.
This is an issue that as a class we felt very strongly about and wanted to raise awareness about. This issue is present in many schools in Ireland and something we can all relate to and we experience. This issue started as the simple question of ‘Why do girls do Home Economics and boys do woodwork?’ This question sparked an interest in all of us and got us thinking about gender equality in school subjects and how school subjects can be gender biased. For this issue we all understood that there is nothing wrong with girls doing Home EC and boys doing woodwork. But when people aren’t given the option to or are bullied for the subjects they choose based on prejudices we have in society, that is where the problem lies and what we wanted to raise awareness about.
Although our YSI project is focused on something as simple as the subjects you choose in school, as a class we knew this project was about more than that. It is about gender inequality and ultimately how society views men and women.
We think this is an issue because it shows that even in 2018 we still see men as strong builders and makers and women as cooks and housewives. When we hear the words ‘Gender Inequality’ immediately we think of adults in the working world, we think of the gender pay gap. The thing is though all of these problems and issues stem from school children, as young as primary school, being taught consciously or subconsciously that boys do the physical labour and that women are arty and are expected to be good mothers. This is an issue because boys should not be bullied or slagged for wanting to do Home EC and we need to break down stereotypes amongst young people.
What causes this issue is a lot of different things. We think it’s partly to do with culture and how the world used to be. In the past men were seen as superior, stronger and smarter and their education was put before girls. Men used to be the breadwinner and women stayed at home, cooked, cleaned and minded the children. I think it is somewhat down to that. By having these subjects in place and gender biased we still see society that way even if it is subconsciously. We don’t consciously think ‘Oh girls have to stay at home and cook and men work and build things’ but when Home EC is only offered in girls schools and Woodwork is only offered in boys schools we send subliminal messages to young people.
Before our team started taking action, there was not much thought into the subjects that were offered and what messages those choices were sending to students. For many, it makes it more difficult to study various STEM subjects (which are usually available in local boys and mixed schools). With our project, we set out to change that mindset and to make a positive difference both in the school and the wider community.
One of the positive differences we made was to raise awareness about the issue we were tackling. By putting forward this issue to our school, everyone began to realise that the school subjects being offered affect student’s lives greatly. We made everyone more aware of the fact that many people that attend girls schools in this country are at a major disadvantage when it comes to careers based around science, technology, and construction. Due to this realisation, the school was inspired to think about how they could try to eliminate this disadvantage in our school. From next September, applied maths will now be offered in our school as a Leaving Cert subject. We view this as a very positive change, as it gives people in our school the chance to study a subject, which is usually only offered in boys schools or mixed schools. This gives students in our school a chance to pursue a wider range of maths/ engineering careers, which would normally only be encouraged in boys schools.
Another major positive difference we made was inspiring and educating students in our school and in our wider community. Our first action that was interactive with students, was our survey. By doing this survey, we got the students,both in our own school, and in the local boys school - Ard Scoil Rís, to begin to think about the issue we were presenting. We encouraged them also to think more deeply into the subject choice that is available in our schools and what it means to them. With this survey, the students were given a chance to express their opinions, and let their voices be heard and appreciated regarding this topic.
Our main action was our Genderalisation Fair, which had a large positive influence on the students in our school. In our fair, students were given the chance to learn about subjects they may have not been previously familiar with. They were able to get a taste of all of the subjects offered in local boys schools and mixed schools which are not offered in our school or other girls schools. Along with that, they were educated on gender equality, and were also asked to give their opinions on various questions through posters, voting boxes, sticky notes and much more.
Overall, we made a positive difference with the school itself, and the young students in both our school and schools in the wider community.